Damian Lillard microwaves Trail Blazers offense in Game 4 victory over Thunder
Damian Lillard’s Easter egg was from a goose. For much of Sunday night, Lillard had a big fat 0 under his ledger for baskets made.
Lillard had tried one of his patented 30-footers, assorted other 3-pointers, a drive to the bucket and a mid-range jumper. Nothing had fallen until the final 75 seconds of the first half.
And the Thunder still trailed by four points.
Uh-oh. Lillard heated up and quick, because that’s what primo shooters do, and soon enough Portland had a massive lead and a 111-98 victory that sets this Thunder season on the edge of forever.
The Blazers lead this Western Conference playoff series 3-1. To survive, the Thunder is charged with winning three straight, despite not playing well in consecutive games since Valentine’s Day, and two of those three wins will have to come in Oregon, where OKC is 2-10 since 2014.
This series is not complicated. Portland’s stars are outplaying OKC’s stars.
While Paul George and Russell Westbrook can’t seem to both play well in the same game, Lillard and C.J. McCollum have no such problem.
“You’re surprised when those guys miss,” Billy Donovan said of the Blazer bombardiers.
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Lillard scored 24 points on 7-of-19 shooting and McCollum scored 27 on 10-of-20 shooting. Together, they made nine of 17 3-pointers.
Meanwhile, while George found his rhythm and scored 32 points, Westbrook struggled. Westbrook made just five of 14 shots in the first half, then went scoreless in the second half until a foul shot 1:55 before the end. Westbrook’s second half: 0-of-7 shooting, one point, three assists.
Like I said, not complicated, when compared to the Blazer duo.
McCollum was the more effective scorer Sunday night. But Lillard microwaved Portland’s offense. He scored five points in the final 1:12 of the first half to key an 11-0 run that gave the Blazers a 50-46 lead at intermission.
That made Lillard feel downright swell at halftime and made Donovan feel rather uneasy.
“I mentioned it to our guys at halftime,” Donovan said. “He was going to go out and be more aggressive, just based on what happened in Game 3 (another slow start for Lillard, followed by a 25-point third quarter).”
Sure enough, Lillard nailed three 3-pointers in a four-possession span early in the third quarter, and suddenly Portland had a 66-54 lead. In 6½ minutes of game action, the Blazers had gone from seven down to 12 up, and the game seemed over. The season, too.
“I wasn’t making shots, but … defense was solid, so I didn’t feel the need to try to be overly aggressive in that first half, once I saw how the game was going,” Lillard said. “But in that third, I felt that was the time we needed to hit the gas. We came out of the locker room saying, turn it up, get more aggressive on offense, keep trusting each other, but let’s tighten up on defense. And I was able to get going on the offensive end.”
The Thunder, swept in the first two games in Portland in large part because of anemic 3-point shooting, was good from deep Sunday night. OKC made 15 of 40 from 3-point range, a robust percentage of .375. That’s the same as the Thunder’s percentage from 2-point range.
Yet still Portland won, dominated really. The Blazers, playing without standout center Jusuf Nurkic, are the better team, at least in this series, and that’s because its stars have played better.
Starting with the guy who went almost a half without making a basket but made up for it quickly.