The stat sheet may only show four Portland Trail Blazers players in double digits on the night, but contributions came from all over in a solid effort that just came up short.
The Portland Trail Blazers lost a close game 118-112 vs Oklahoma City Thunder At home this evening. The Blazers fell to 32-42 on the year and one day closer to eliminating playoff contention while the Thunder improved to 37-38 and live to see another day as the No. 10 seed in the Western Conference.
Shaidon Sharp and Nasir Little did the heavy lifting for Portland, as they combined for 57 points. Keon Johnson and Kevin Knox II were the only other Blazers to score in double digits as head coach Chauncey Billups went deep into the 10.
After a slow start, 2023 superstar Shay Gilgos-Alexander found his way to another 30 blocks, scoring 31 points on 9-17 shooting from the field and 13-15 shooting from the foul line. Jalen Williams and Isaiah Joe provided him with much-needed offensive support with 23 and 20 points, respectively, while Josh Gede came in late and grabbed 11 rebounds while handing out six assists.
Without Damian Lillard, Jerami Grant, Anfernie Simmons and Jusuf Nurkic, the Blazers put up a good fight, but were unable to hold on to an early lead. Here are some key takeaways from the event, but first, be sure to read Conor Bergin’s instant rundown of the play-by-play analysis.
Coach Billups moves the pieces on the chessboard
The Blazers came to man defense, with Watford’s Trendon on Jalen Williams and Sharpe and Matthys Thibul alternating on Gilgos Alexander. Soon after, Coach Billups was shaking things up and posting a 2-3 zone that saw Drew Eubanks play high up the middle.
The Thunder played through the middle man, with Gilgos Alexander and Williams cutting toward the center of the free throw line looking to break down the defense on their own or kick to open shooters.
The defense was a major catalyst for Portland’s early success. He got Gilgos Alexander to work for all nine of his points in the first quarter, pulling off shots from the outside and helping the Blazers to a 37-25 lead after one point.
For the rest of the game, Billups would automatically alternate between man and area defenses, and whoever he was posting got weaker as time dwindled. Gilgeous-Alexander was soon getting into position with ease. Also, Jalen Williams proved consistent from whistle to whistle, being able to breach inside for tricky ends and also from outside the arc going a perfect 2-2.
Despite Billups shaking things up, the ongoing problems throughout the season weren’t completely cleared up. The pitchers became more open up the stretch and turnovers appeared out of nowhere, especially in the second half. Apparently, these issues are the Blazers’ problem, and it’s not just their best players that are to blame.
Award winning support team?
The Blazers may not have held must-win expectations without their heavy hitter in the rotation, but a win was still possible. However, the biggest assessment lied about who could be the main contributor to the rotation for next season.
Eubanks has shown that his defensive instincts are always on. He tied a season-high six blocks in the affair. His ability to shape the ground and protect the edge coming from the weak side carries value going forward.
Sharpe has continued to mature and look like a reliable sixth man for the near future. He drilled a set of back-to-back threes, put on some electrified dunks and managed to find his own shot. More importantly, he didn’t fall victim to a host of rookie errors he made earlier in the season, even ones that didn’t appear in the stat sheet. Although he suffered a tough finish in the end, he looked like a player who was waiting for the moment to step up, and wasn’t afraid of it.
Knox II had nine points in the first quarter, draining three trifectas. After the lottery is selected for New York Knicks Coming out of the University of Kentucky, Knox fell into obscurity. However, he shot confidently and showed his ability to hit contested attempts.
Little continued to make the case for an increased role on the line with a massive game while Thybulle impressed by going 2-4 from the three-point line. Ryan Arcidiacono controlled the tempo and scored a fantastic five-man pass to Turnover in 27 minutes but failed to pick up the pace in the right situations. Keon Johnson was able to play faster and shoot well on the outside, and he provided balance.
What happened down the stretch?
The Blazers got to 100 points with just over 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Once the timeout was called with 3:33 to play, the Blazers scored only seven points in elapsed time.
A free Josh Giddey got the open three-point tries, more careless turnovers sank the Blazers, and an ill-advised dribbling attempt landed Sharpe on the floor for a Luguentz Dort steal and dunk to seal the game.
All the while the Thunder had a quick route to the paint and when Eubanks came out Jabari Walker was able to smash the offensive rebounds but as a unit Portland couldn’t thwart a points battle in the paint as they lost 56-42. Down the stretch, Oklahoma City’s tenacity on the inside opened up for them long balls that they hit. Isaiah Joe started with enthusiasm and finished the same, and his contributions on the outside were paramount to OKC’s victory.
The Blazers will play the upswinger New Orleans Pelicans Tomorrow night at the Moda Center. The Pelicans have struggled mightily without Zion Williamson in the lineup over the past couple of months, but have bounced back with a current four-game winning streak. Information submission is scheduled for 7:00 PM Pacific Time.
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