This one will both hurt and haunt the Thunder.
With a chance to secure yet another party-starting victory on New Year’s Eve and avenge a loss to a division rival, Oklahoma City blew a 16-point lead and watched Portland steal a 98-94 victory on Tuesday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The blown lead wasn’t the worst part.
It was the mental mistakes, the missed opportunities and the mind-boggling decisions.
And, of course, those back-breaking missed free throws.
Oklahoma City, the league’s second best free-throw shooting team, missed four freebies in the final three minutes, each one allowing the Blazers to keep the Thunder at bay for just a little longer until time ultimately ran out.
With the Thunder trailing by two with 2:34 to play and trying once again to rally for a wild fourth-quarter win, Reggie Jackson went 2-for-4 from the stripe, Serge Ibaka went 1-for-2 and Kevin Durant split a pair.
Durant hit the first of two with 8.2 seconds remaining, bringing the Thunder within 96-94, but missed the second. Ibaka, however, had a point-blank tip-in opportunity that rolled off the rim. It squirted right into the hands of Durant, who again missed a wide-open jumper in the lane.
Three chances for the Thunder to trim or erase the deficit.
“My teammates told me if I was contested that I probably would have made the shot,” Durant said of his missed jumper. “I’m sure that’s going to replay in my mind for the rest of the night.”
Before that sequence, the Thunder squandered a chance to win it in the closing seconds.
Thabo Sefolosha had just made two free throws to pull the Thunder within one with 23.6 seconds remaining. The Thunder intentionally fouled Blazers point guard Mo Williams, who stepped to the foul line and missed both free throws. But the Thunder couldn’t corral the rebound despite two Thunder players getting their fingertips on the ball. Portland recovered and Wesley Matthews put the Blazers back up by three and set up the Thunder’s final offensive sequence after a pair of free throws.
It was just the second home loss for the Thunder (25-6) and the end to the Blazers first two-game losing streak of the season.
Durant scored a game-high 37 points with a team-high 14 rebounds but scored just one point in the decisive fourth quarter.
It was a tough finish to what had been a terrific night.
Durant came out scorching, scoring 16 points in the opening period and making six of his eight shots and both of his 3-point attempts.