Enes, anyone? Thunder can't stop Kanter in Game 1 defeat
PORTLAND, Ore. — Enes Kanter tried to chat with Steven Adams. Knowing Kanter, there’s no chance it was trash talk. The international man of peace wants only to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. Kanter was just glad to see his old pal, his ‘Stache Brother for life.
But Adams didn’t even look at Kanter. We don’t call him Stone Cold Steven Adams for nothing. Adams had on his game face. Kanter knew Adams wasn’t going to go Auld Lang Syne.
So Kanter had no other option than just to play.
And play he did. Kanter looked nothing like the weak link he was pegged to be in Portland’s lineup. The missing link was more like it. The Blazers, swept in back-to-back playoff series the previous two years, beat the Thunder 104-99 Sunday in the Moda Center, and the hero was Kanter.
Traded by the Thunder 19 months ago for Carmelo Anthony. Cast off by the Knickerbockers, who banished Kanter to the bench so they could lose games in the Zion Williamson Derby. Signed by Portland in February as an insurance policy.
There’s a reason the insurance exists. Sometimes you need it.
When Jusuf Nurkic suffered a broken leg in March, the Blazers needed a center, and what a center Kanter was Sunday: 20 points, 18 rebounds, a game-best plus-15 in point differential. Kanter at the minimum neutralized his old buddy Adams, who had a big game himself, 17 points and nine rebounds, but didn’t dominate the paint the way the Thunder needs in this series.
“The MVP of the game,” Portland star Damian Lillard called Kanter. “He had a huge presence down the stretch.”
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Billy Donovan famously said “can’t play Kanter” during that Thunder-Rocket playoff series two Aprils ago. But Portland couldn’t play without him Sunday. Kanter sat for 13 minutes, 41 seconds, during which the Thunder outscored the Blazers 35-25.
“He does what he always does, offensive rebounds,” Donovan said. “It’s where a lot of his points came from — but Enes has been doing that for a long time.”
Kanter is such a sweetheart, he declined to pop Donovan for past sins.
Kanter effectively sealed this game for Portland. On back-to-back possessions in the final two minutes, Kanter rebounded Blazer misses, allowing Portland to run off 36 and 35 seconds of valuable time. And with the Thunder trailing 98-94 and the shot clock winding down, Kanter drove to the basket and made a left-handed scoop shot. With 11 seconds left, the Blazers had Game 1.
Kanter spent 2 1/2 seasons with the Thunder and endeared himself to everyone from Elk City to Broken Bow. Teammates, fans, media. Didn’t matter. We all loved Kanter. And Kanter loved us back.
“I’ll be honest,” Kanter said. “It did feel very awkward and very weird, playing against them in a big game like this. I was very nervous before the game.”
The loss was a gut punch to the Thunder, but everyone in Oklahoma had to feel a little pleased for Kanter. The Thunder was supposed to take advantage of Kanter’s defensive liabilities, and that happened often Sunday, with Russell Westbrook routinely getting to the basket with Kanter’s feet stuck in mud. Kanter was supposed to be the reason the Thunder would win this series, but the Blazers won Game 1 in part because of Kanter’s play.
Kanter reflected on his journey.
“After we got a win, I was walking to the locker room, I saw the GM, (general manager Neil Olshey),” Kanter said. “He told me, ‘What a great decision, right? I said, I appreciate it. Thank you so much.
“You look at it, I was with the worst team in the league, and I wasn’t even playing, because they thought I was too old to play. Just so frustrating. Couple of days ago, I looked at the mirror and said, ‘Man, I’m blessed to be here with an amazing organization and amazing teammates.”
That’s the kind of stuff Kanter used to say about Oklahoma City. Heck, he still says it.
Until Sunday, the guy still could have been elected mayor of OKC. And truth is, despite this Game 1 wound, Kanter still deserves a rousing ovation when he’s introduced as a Blazer starter in Game 3 back at Chesapeake Arena.
“I can’t say enough about how amazing the Thunder fans mean to me,” Kanter said. “I think they’re going to cheer for me. But I don’t know, it’s a playoff game. I’m not sure.”
I’m not sure, either. But we all should wish Enes Kanter well.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.