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Thunder 87, Trail Blazers 83

John Rohde Modified: April 12, 2013 at 6:45 pm •  Published: January 14, 2013

Some observations from the Thunder’s scrappy 87-83 victory Sunday night over the Portland Trail Blazers before a sellout crowd of 20,423 at the always rowdy Rose Garden:

  • This game was Exhibit A for all those times you’ve heard the sports phrase “defense travels.” Playing in one of the league’s toughest road venues without two starters and scoring 19 points under its season average, the Thunder still managed to win. The reason why was its defense, pure and simple.
  • Thunder guards Russell Westbrook (5 for 21) and Kevin Martin (1 for 8) shot a combined 20.7 percent from the floor.
  • Take away Kevin Durant’s 12-for-21 shooting from the field and 7 for 8 from the free-throw line and OKC shot 40 percent (20 for 50) from the field and 71.4 percent (10 for 14) from the line.
  • Until Sunday, injured forward Serge Ibaka (chest contusion) had started every game since the trade that brought Kendrick Perkins from Boston on Feb. 24, 2011.
  • Thabo Sefolosha was in street clothes because of a strained neck. Thunder coach Scott Brooks chose DeAndre Liggins as Sefolosha’s replacement in order to keep his substitution patterns as routine as possible. Liggins mirrors Sefolosha’s defensive-mindedness, plus sixth man Kevin Martin could remain in his usual role.
  • Liggins had a triple-double in the season opener for the Developmental League Tulsa 66ers, and he nearly had a double-double (11 points, nine rebounds) making his first start in 31 career NBA games. You can read about it here.
  • The status of Ibaka and Sefolosha for Monday night’s game at Phoenix will be a game-time decision because it’s the second game of a back-to-back and the Thunder will not have a morning shoot-around session at US Airways Center. “I’m good,” Ibaka said an hour before tipoff. “Just a little sore, but I’ll be fine.”
  • Ibaka said it does not hurt to breathe or move. “We’ll see how it’s going then (Monday night),” he said.
  • The 32-year-old Collison learned about an hour before tipoff that he would replace Ibaka in the starting lineup: “Won’t be much different for me,” said Collison, who made his 170th career start in nine seasons. “Getting in the game earlier will be a little bit different, but once I get over that after the first couple possessions it’ll be fine for me.” Collison finished with eight points (4 for 5 from the field) and three rebounds.
  • This was an old-fashioned Texas shootout between Durant and Portland forward LaMarcus Aldridge, a pair of former UT Longhorns who each finished with 33 points. Durant was 12 for 21 from the field and Aldridge was 15 for 26.
  • All you Perkins critics get ready to roll your eyes … Perk was huge Sunday night. Brooks said so, as did every teammate who spoke. Perk’s 12 rebounds were a season-high. He disrupted numerous pick-and-roll situations, which helped frustrate rookie point guard Damian Lillard to coincide with Westbrook’s superlative defensive effort.
  • The 6-foot-11 Aldridge is unstoppable when his jumper is falling. With his high release point and velvet touch, it makes no difference who defends Aldridge – pretty much like it frequently is trying to defend Durant.
  • Durant on Aldridge: “He was hitting some tough shots. Perk was great defensively, but LaMarcus Aldridge is an All-Star, and he’s going to make those shots. It’s hard for him (Perkins) to guard the pick-and-roll and then get back to his man when Aldridge is such a great shooter.”
  • Brooks on Aldridge: “L.A. is a hard guy to guard. He’s one of the toughest guys in this league at that position. Defensively, it was one of our best defensive games of the year, and it’s kind of surprising because we did not have two of our best defensive players in the game. But that’s what (good) teams do. Teams have to step up and figure out ways to win, and our guys came in off the bench and did a great job.”
  • Aldridge’s final attempt of the night was a potential game-tying 20-footer that he airballed with 1.7 seconds left while being closely defended by Perkins. No one on the OKC roster is better equipped to defend Aldridge than Perkins, but Perk admitted he was at Aldridge’s mercy in the final sequence. “I just tried to make it as hard as I could for him, but there were times I couldn’t do nothing about it,” Perkins said, shaking his head. “He’s tough to guard when he gets it going with that stroke.”
  • Durant on the sequence: “After Perk made his one free throw (with 8.5 seconds left) to give us a little cushion, he came back down and played some great defense on LA (Aldridge). You can’t ask for much more than that from a big man. He was unbelievable on that play.”
  • Aldridge on his final attempt: “It felt good when it left my hands, but it definitely wasn’t good when I shot it.”
  • The Thunder’s fan support on the road is impressive. Durant hit the game’s first bucket with a 3-pointer and it sounded like half the arena erupted with a cheer. This came two nights after Durant and Westbrook drew numerous “oohs” and “aahs” at Staples Center, where fans booed the home team on several occasions.
  • On Nov. 2, the Thunder beat the Blazers 106-92 at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Portland forward Nicolas Batum shot 1 for 11 from the field and finished with three points in 37 minutes in that game. On Sunday, Batum shot 6 for 17 (3 for 8 on 3-pointers) and had 21 points in 44 minutes.
  • What’s going on at the free-throw line for the Thunder? On Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers, OKC shot 50 percent (7 for 14) in first half and 85.7 percent (12 for 14) after intermission. On Sunday, it shot 66.7 percent (6 for 9) in the first half and 84.6 percent (11 for 13) after intermission.
  • Once again, OKC has the league’s best record at 29-8 (.784), thanks to Orlando’s upset victory Saturday night over the LA Clippers (28-9) at Staples Center.
  • The loudest sound system in the NBA is at FedExForum in Memphis. The second-loudest is the Rose Garden. The loudspeakers inside The Peake crank pretty good, but nowhere near the decibels here, folks.
  • Thunder’s farm hands came up huge against the Blazers. In addition to Liggins, Reggie Jackson played 14½ solid minutes with six points and 3-for-5 shooting. Forward Perry Jones had a rebound and an authoritative dunk (and also was whistled for three fouls in just 7:42).
  • The smartest thing to do when Collison breaks down a game is to simply share the transcript: “Liggins did a heck of a job, all our young guys did. They put in the work every day, our young guys. This organization is really good at development. You have to be there a half-hour early and you have to stay late after shootarounds, so when their number is called, they’re ready to go. Perry gave us good minutes … Reggie gave us good minutes. We’ve got guys who can play. The good thing about it is how professional they’ve been. For young players, it’s not easy when you’re not playing to stay motivated, do your work and they’ve done a good job. I’m sure they’re not super-excited about going down to Tulsa, but they take that and they get the most out of it. It was a great team win and I was really happy to see that tonight.”
  • One question: With so many great Thunder players at their call, why are the Tulsa 66ers just 9-10 and riding a three-game losing streak?
  • Collison was one of many in the OKC travel party who thought this was the most rewarding/gratifying/satisfying victory of the season, given the circumstance. “Yeah, I think so,” Collison said. “To have a total team effort was huge. We had a lot of guys give us good minutes. Perk played great.”
  • Portland shot 36.0 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from 3-point range in its own gym as the Thunder snapped the Blazers’ nine-game home-court winning streak. Defense travels.

- John Rohde