OKC now enters into the back half of its five-game road trip and the second half of a back-to-back after an extended stay in Los Angeles for a pair of games against the Clippers.
In its mini-series against the Clippers, the Thunder showed tremendous improvement from one game to the next, taking the experiences and lessons from game one and applying them against the same team 48 hours later.
In the first matchup, the Thunder fell behind by 18 points in the first quarter only to outscore the Clippers by four through the remaining three quarters. Despite the scrappy fight, OKC fell 120-106 and in that matchup, the Clippers were +18 on the glass and +4 in points in the paint.
These tangible aspects of the game all stood out to the group during Saturday’s film session and lit a match for OKC to throw a better punch in its second bout against the Clippers. In that early game on Sunday, the competitiveness could be seen clearly. The Thunder fell behind early once again, this time by 17 after quarter one, but through the next three frames, the squad would whittle the lead to single digits on multiple occasions – including in the final three minutes of play.
Although OKC ultimately, fell by eight the squad outscored LA 66-42 in the paint and finished plus-5 on the boards including a season-high 12 offensive rebounds. All the while, OKC held the league’s best 3-point shooting team to just 30-percent from deep.
“All the things specifically that we addressed coming out of Friday – the defensive coverages on the defensive glass, not falling offensively, our pace and ball movement, and our overall competitiveness – I thought all that stuff improved [on Sunday.]”
On Sunday, Thunder guard George Hill erupted for a season-high 22 points thanks to a stretch in the fourth quarter where the veteran cashed in three consecutive 3-pointers to bring the game to single digits in clutch time. It was Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who led the Thunder’s scoresheet in both games. The third-year guard scored 30 points on Friday followed by a 23-point performance on Sunday.
“I think for us, it’s just worrying about ourselves and focusing on what we can control. So bringing the energy, playing simple basketball, playing for each other and then just being competitive, having fun,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “I feel like if we do those things, it doesn’t matter if it’s back-to-back, whoever we’re playing against, we’ll give ourselves the best chance at winning.”
Like the Thunder, Portland also enters into Monday’s matchup on the second night of a back-to-back. The Blazers hosted New York on Sunday night in a 116-113 win to advance to 9-6 on the season. In that game, Portland’s All-Star in Damian Lillard scored a game-high 39 points on 11-17 shooting, 6-10 from the 3-point line and 11-11 from the charity stripe. In addition to Lillard, four other Blazers scored in double-figures on Sunday including third-year guard Anfernee Simons who chipped in 16 points off the bench.
Portland is without two of its starters in guard C.J. McCollum (26.7 points per game) and center Jusuf Nurkic (9.8 points, 7.7 rebounds) who are both out with injury.
The majority of Portland’s high-powered offense is generated outside of the paint with a massive portion coming from the 3-point line headlined by Lillard who attempts 10 triples per night. On the defensive end, however, the Blazers hold the league’s fourth-lowest defensive rating while allowing the sixth most points per contest.
It will take a five-man locked in defense to contain the league’s fourth highest scorer in Damian Lillard who averages 28.1 points per game. The five-time All-Star will look to score at all three levels of the floor as he ranks in the NBA’s top 10 in field goal attempts (9th), 3-point attempts (3rd) and free throw attempts (6th).
Stat to Watch
3-Point Percentage – Keep an eye on the 3-point percentage on Monday evening between the Thunder and the Blazers. In its two matchups against the Clippers who held the league’s best 3-point percentage, the Thunder held the group to just 30 percent from deep in both games.
The Thunder will once again face 3-point heavy offense in Portland who averages the league’s second-most attempts per game (42.4) and the third-most makes with 15.9.
Although the Thunder got out to slow starts in both of its games against the Clippers offensively, the group responded tremendously though the remaining three quarters. OKC shot on average 32 percent from the field in its first quarters on Friday and Sunday, but increased that clip to 51.2 percent on average through the second, third and fourth quarters. Look for the Thunder to work to bring that offensive efficiency to the opening frame in its tilt against the Blazers.