PORTLAND -- Three weeks ago, the Blazers blew the lead and a game in Oklahoma City simply because Kevin Durant couldn’t miss down the stretch.
On Tuesday, back in Portland, that wasn’t a problem.
The Thunder superstar, red hot until the fourth quarter, went ice cold late. He couldn’t buy a bucket in the deciding moments.
But neither could the Blazers.
And because of that, Oklahoma City was able to escape Rip City with an impressive 98-95 win, strengthening its recent stranglehold atop the Western Conference standings.
OKC can thank its late-game defense.
Using its length and some cranked up intensity, the Thunder clamped down.
After rookie CJ McCollum hit a floater with 5:45 left to put Portland up 89-87, the Blazers went 1-of-8 to close out the game.
LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, Portland’s two All-Stars, went a combined 1-of-17 in the second half.
Overall, Aldridge went 5-of-22, with Kendrick Perkins disrupting his flow the entire night.
“Forcing them to shoot tough shots and challenging them at the rim,” Durant said. “That’s the name of the game for us.”
Down the stretch, OKC’s offense wasn’t much better, with Durant missing all three of his shots in the final three minutes and committing a nearly deadly turnover with 12 seconds left.
But they did enough.
Reggie Jackson, after a disastrous 0-of-9 start, got hot late in the third quarter, scoring all 17 of his points in the final 19 minutes, making seven of his last 10 shots.
And he made two of the game’s most crucial plays, a driving layup to tie it with 2:10 left and a drive and kick for a wide-open Jeremy Lamb corner three to put the Thunder up for good.
“He made some tough shots in the paint,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said of Jackson’s 17 second-half points. “A lot of them were contested.”