By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript
OKLAHOMA CITY — After back-to-back losses in which it was unable to get stops in the fourth quarter, Oklahoma City has seemed to find the right remedy. For the second straight game, it used lockdown defense to pull out a victory Sunday when it beat Portland 103-83 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“We have to keep building on this great defensive output we’ve had in these last three games,” Thunder forward Kevin Durant said. “Hopefully next game is better.”
The Thunder (52-19) went by 11 early in the fourth quarter before the Blazer’s Rookie Damian Lillard and Eric Maynor started knocking 3-pointers. They closed the gap to 86-81 with 6:34 left in the game.
But that is when Oklahoma City’s defense hunkered down and took away the Blazers’ (33-37) open shots. Portland stopped going to LaMarcus Aldridge and relied on perimeter shots.
The Thunder got its transition game rolling along with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook hitting timely shots down the stretch. They pulled away and the Trailblazers were unable to stop them. Oklahoma City outscored Portland 28-15 in the period and closed the game with a 15-0 run.
“The 6-0 and 8-0 runs are what kills people when they come in here,” Maynor said. “And I already knew that. We have to learn from stuff like this. It’s only going to make us better. We’re just trying to take steps forward.”
Durant led all scorers with 24 points on 10-for 17 shooting. He also pulled down 10 rebounds and only turned the ball over three times. Westbrook added 21 points and nine assists, while Serge Ibaka collected 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting to go along with five blocked shots.
Lillard paced the Blazers with 19 points and was 4 for 9 from behind the arc. Nicolas Batum chipped in with 13 points and eight rebounds. Aldridge was held to 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Oklahoma City got off to a slightly sluggish start as Portland took an early 8-6 lead. It didn’t get rolling until Nick Collison entered the game and the team’s hustle energy seemed to automatically pick up.
The Thunder outscored the Blazers 18-11 the rest of the period and took a 24-19 lead into the second quarter.
Portland kept grinding and stormed back into the contest behind J.J. Hickson, Batum and Lillard. The trio took turns coming up with baskets and kept the Oklahoma City’s defense off balance.
The Blazers tied the game in the final minute of the second quarter. They then forced Durant into a missed shot with five seconds on the clock. Portland got the rebound and threw an outlet pass to Hickson, who was able to hit an off-the-glass bank shot as the clock expired. Portland led 47-45 going into halftime.
With Aldridge struggling to find his shot, Oklahoma City focused its defense on Lillard. With Westbrook guarding him, they kept the rookie point guard from getting into the paint. This took away his playmaking opportunities and regulated him to throwing up nothing but 3-pointers.
“They had two guys that patrol the paint and that are physical,” Portland’s Wesley Matthews said. “And they get away with being physical. I guess that is one of the perks of being one of the better teams in the league.”
Yet, Portland still found a way to score and tied the game at 63-63, but the Thunder went on a 12-5 run to end the third quarter leading 75-68.
“Our defense was good,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “We didn’t give up anything easy. We didn’t give up a lot of points on second chance points.”
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