The Thunder beat the Blazers 98-95 in a rousing showdown Tuesday night in Portland. Many were the reasons for the victory.
Kevin Durant was spectacular again. Reggie Jackson went from awful in the first half to excellent in the second half. Jeremy Lamb and Nick Collison kept the Thunder alive during a woeful first half stretch. Kendrick Perkins’ and Collison’s defense was sensational on LaMarcus Aldridge. Serge Ibaka woke up.
But here’s a lost statistic in the victory. The Blazers, one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the league, made seven of 23 from 3-point range. The Thunder made seven of 14.
The Thunder matched the Blazers in 3-point makes, with nine less tries. That’s nine possessions for OKC to do something else with. Take a 2-point field goal. Get fouled. Commit a turnover. Lots can happen in a possession. But nine extra chances is huge in a three-point verdict.
Remember back early in the year, when the Thunder was abysmal from 3-point range? The Thunder shot 31.8 percent from the field through November.
Kevin Durant was decent in November, making 36.2 percent of his 3-point shots. Jeremy Lamb was promising, 40.4 percent. But the rest of the squad was ghastly. Russell Westbrook 30.4. Serbe Ibaka 22.2. Reggie Jackson 20.0 percent. Thabo Sefolosha 26.7. Derek Fisher 15.4 percent.
The analysis was clear. The Thunder needed better outside shooting to be a title contender.
The Thunder indeed found better outside shooting. But not from trades. From within.
In December, the Thunder made 37.5 percent of its 3-pointers. In January, 37.7 percent. So far in February, 35.6 percent.
Suddenly, the Thunder is 14th in the NBA in 3-point percentage, at 36 percent. That’s not great. But it’s not bad. And it’s getting better. San Antonio leads the NBA at 39.1 percent, followed by New Orleans and Golden State, each at 38.2 percent. Portland is at 38 percent.
The Thunder has eliminated a weakness.
Now look at the individual 3-point percentages: Durant 41.8; Fisher 38.6; Ibaka (IBAKA!) 37.5; Lamb 36.3; Perry Jones himself 35.1; Thabo 33.3; Jackson 31.7; Westbrook 30.9.
Sefolosha’s percentage is rising after a rough start to the season. Jackson runs hot and cold, and Westbrook always has, so I assume he will continue that trend once he returns. But Durant and Fisher are very dependable 3-point shooters, and Lamb has joined them. Ibaka and Jones mainly short from the corners, which is the league’s best shot.
So the 3-pointer has become a Thunder weapon. Not a Thunder weakness.
Biggest play of the game last night? Lamb’s 3-pointer off a Jackson feed with 1:38 left. Portland led 95-93, but Lamb’s 3-point gave OKC the lead for good, 96-95.
Could the Thunder use more outside shooting? Sure. Most teams could. But it’s no longer a critical need. The Thunder over 21/2 months has shown that it’s a solid 3-point squad. And getting better.