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Trail Blazers big man makes it clear: ‘Can play Kanter’

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Oklahoma City’s Paul George (13) and Portland’s Enes Kanter (00) collide in the fourth quarter during Game 3  Sunday. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman]
Oklahoma City’s Paul George (13) and Portland’s Enes Kanter (00) collide in the fourth quarter during Game 3 Sunday. [Nate Billings/The Oklahoman]

Enes Kanter began his thank-yous in a surprising place.

“First, I would like to definitely thank the Knicks for waiving me,” he said with a smile Tuesday. “That would never happen if they didn’t waive me, so I want to appreciate the whole Knicks organization.”

Kanter didn’t mention the Thunder by name as he continued his thank-the-doubters speech after Portland’s 118-115 win over OKC. But he could have. And not just for losing in five games to the Trail Blazers to send Portland, with Kanter as its starting center, to the Western Conference semifinals.

In September of 2017, The Thunder traded Kanter to the Knicks, along with Doug McDermott and a 2018 second-round pick, for Carmelo Anthony. Although, in another twist of fate, Kanter could have played for the Trail Blazers sooner if OKC hadn’t matched Portland’s offer sheet in the summer of 2015.

Kanter continued to speak highly of the Thunder and his former teammates after departing. Last season he showed up at Chesapeake Energy Arena wearing a Stache Brothers T-shirt to cheer on the Thunder in Game 5 of its first-round series with the Jazz.

For that, he earned the continued adoration of the fan base. In Games 3 and 4 back in Oklahoma City last week, the cheers for Kanter during starting lineup announcements were almost as loud as the ovation for the Thunder players.

So this year, Kanter didn’t call out any member of the Thunder organization in his Game 5 podium interview. But he did reserve a subtle dig on Twitter for the Thunder — or at least its coach.

About a half an hour after the Blazers won on Damian Lillard’s 37-foot buzzer beater (“I’ve played with amazing players, but Dame is definitely No. 1,” Kanter said), the post appeared on Kanter’s verified Twitter account.

“CAN play Kanter,” it read.

The tweet referenced an infamous moment in the Thunder’s Game 1 blowout loss to Houston in 2017. The broadcast caught Thunder coach Billy Donovan turning to assistant Mo Cheeks and appearing to say, “Can’t play Kanter.”

Kanter — who moved into the Blazers starting lineup after Jusuf Nurkic suffered a season-ending leg injury in March — took the podium Tuesday with his left arm in a sling and shoulder wrapped in ice. He said he separated his shoulder in the first quarter when he collided with his former Thunder teammate and Stache Bros. counterpart, Steven Adams. But even playing through injury, Kanter grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds.

Portland played Kanter for 32 minutes.

Injury update

Paul George shot the ball Tuesday like it was December again, about two and a half months before he would injure his right shoulder, and then his left.

But the kinesiology tape crisscrossing both the Thunder All-Star’s shoulders in the Thunder’s 118-115 loss at Portland still raised the question: What would it take to return George to full health?

George remained vague in his postgame interview Tuesday when asked what his offseason plans were for his shoulder.

“We’ll approach it, we’ll address it this summer,” George said. “Come back next season healthy. That’s the plan, get as healthy as possible going into next year.”

George made 14 of his 20 shots Tuesday to lead the Thunder with 36 points.

Maddie Lee

Maddie Lee followed an NBA team from Seattle to Oklahoma City, she just took a 10-year detour in between. Lee joined the Oklahoman in October 2018 as a Thunder beat writer, fresh off a stint in Oxford, Miss., where she covered Ole Miss for the... Read more ›

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