Paul George says Thunder will 'hang on to' fourth-quarter approach against Damian Lillard
The Thunder had something special prepared for Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard in the fourth quarter of Game 3.
“It’s just mixing it up,” OKC forward Paul George said after practice Saturday. “They’ve been seeing the same thing all game. Just give them something different, and hopefully that catches them off guard. And late in the game, it’s something that they can’t really scout at that point.”
After Lillard scored 25 points in the third quarter Friday, it was clearly time to mix it up. So, the Thunder put an emphasis on trapping him, a tactic the Pelicans had success with last year in their first-round upset of the Blazers. In the Thunder's 120-108 victory over Portland, Lillard scored just three points in the final period. OKC (1-2) claimed its first win of the postseason, and in the process it ironed out a new strategy to disrupt the heart of the Blazers offense.
“I thought I was still able to turn the corner,” Lillard said after the game. “I think they just wanted me to get rid of the ball instead of keep scoring the ball. And we got good looks, we just weren’t able to make shots fall.”
When Lillard stepped back on the floor with about eight minutes to go — Portland coach Terry Stotts gave him a breather after his dominant third quarter — Thunder guard Dennis Schroder matched up on him.
Schroder and center Steven Adams successfully limited Lillard's scoring. But Lillard kept passing out of the trap to Blazers center Enes Kanter. When the Blazers cut the Thunder’s lead to 104-98, Kanter had scored Portland’s last eight points.
OKC coach Billy Donovan called a timeout at about the five-minute mark to adjust matchups. When play resumed, Thunder forward Jerami Grant was on Kanter, freeing Adams up to play back under the basket.
At first, Schroder stayed on Lillard, but as the game wound down, George took his turn guarding the Portland point guard.
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With about three minutes left in the game, Lillard met George just beyond the Thunder logo in the center of the court. Lillard dribbled behind his back and through his legs as he waited for Kanter to set a screen on his left side. Once Kanter got there, Lillard drove the opposite way, with George matching every step.
Schroder, who was trailing CJ McCollum as he cut out to the perimeter, paused in his pursuit of McCollum to throw a hand in Lillard’s path. It was enough to force Lillard to pick up his dribble.
With George and Adams forming a barrier in front of him, Lillard tossed up a bank shot as he fell, unsuccessfully trying to draw a foul. Adams grabbed the rebound, and Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook drained a mid-range jumper on the other end.
On Portland’s next possession, Lillard tried to go up the other side. Kanter set a screen, and Grant switched onto Lillard.
“Jerami’s a flexible defender,” Donovan said. “You can switch with him. You can be in any kind of coverage you want to be with him.”
Grant shuffled in front of Lillard until he passed the ball to McCollum at the top of the arc. McCollum’s 3-point attempt missed.
“That’s not how we’re going to open up a game,” George said of OKC's approach to the final five minutes, “but there will be times throughout a game where that’s something that we can go to, just to slow them down, give them a different look, different speed.
"It worked, so we’ll hang on to it.”