The visiting Oklahoma City Thunder shocked LaMarcus Aldridge and the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday by capitalizing on a questionable goaltending call at the end of regulation and pulling away for a 111-107 overtime win.Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kevin Durant combined for 80 points -- including the final 36 scored by OKC on the night -- to overcome a spectacular 39-point performance by Aldridge. With LMA playing extremely well and Portland winning of 11 of their first 12 at home, everything suggested the Blazers would pull the game out. Instead, Durant kicked down the door and then closed it from the other side as the Thunder handed Rip City their second home loss of the season in spectacular fashion. Don't look now, but a rivalry may be developing in the Western Conference.
The Blazers relied on their biggest star for most of their scoring. LaMarcus Aldridge, who is awaiting a much-deserved All-Star nomination, simply could not be guarded for most of the night. Kendrick Perkins got into early foul trouble trying to hold him down, and Nick Collison took his turn as well, but Portland's big man ripped off 17 points on 8-10 shooting in the first half alone. He mixed low post moves with face-up jumpers and poured in seven straight field goals at one point in the first two periods, and somehow managed to keep up the same superhuman pace in the second half -- at least until crunch time. He dominated the game on the offensive end and defied a a healthy majority of the defensive efforts by OKC's frontcourt on his way to a game-high (and season-high) 39 points on 14-28 shooting and 11-11 from the free throw line.
With starting point guard Raymond Felton inactive due to a sprained left foot, Jamal Crawford opened in the starting lineup and came out firing. He scored 11 points on 4-9 shooting in the first half and 15 points on the night. He saved his only made field goal of the second half for the final minute of regulation, when he drained a clutch 16-foot jumper off pick-and-roll to give Portland a fleeting 103-101 lead that was eventually erased by a controversial goaltending call.
With Aldridge switched onto Durant in high pick-and-roll for the Thunder's final possession of regulation, the Durantula attacked the rim on a left-handed drive and tried to lay the ball up with his right hand on the left side. Aldridge stalked Durant's attempt from the beginning and swatted the effort off the backboard, but officials awarded the Thunder the basket because LMA allegedly pinned the layup against the backboard. The call tied the game at 103 and effectively sent contest into overtime, much to the chagrin of a boisterous Rose Garden crowd and Nate McMillan. The Crawford jumper marked the last time the Blazers would hold the lead on the night, but the warning signs developed much earlier in the game.
Even with Aldridge and Crawford getting off to a hot start and Westbrook, Durant and Harden combining for 10 early turnovers, Rip City hit the intermission trailing the Thunder by eight points. How is it that Portland found themselvestrailing at halftime for the first time in the Rose Garden since a January 11 loss to the Orlando Magic? Kevin Durant's 16 first half points certainly didn't hurt, but the true advantage came on the glass. Oklahoma City out-rebounded Portland 30-17 over the first two quarters of play, grabbing offense of rebounds on nine of their 20 misses and putting in 12 second chance points. Serge Ibaka did most of the damage by hovering around the basket and crashing the boards, as he snatched five offensive rebounds and scored 10 quick points on putbacks and easy looks in the paint. He ultimately finished with 12 points, 13 rebounds (7 offensive) and 4 big blocks, while OKC out-rebounded Portland by a margin of 59-39 on the evening.
Extreme volatility infused the action in the second half. The Blazers briefly reclaimed the lead with an early 12-0 run fueled by six from Aldridge, but OKC counter-punched with an 18-4 spurt punctuated by a trio of dunks from Westbrook off Portland turnovers. Then Nate McMillan used Nicolas Batum to switch pick-and-rolls involding Westbrook, Durant and Harden, and his defensive work helped erase an 11-point deficit to even the game at 93 with 6:52 remaining in regulation. After setting a franchise record with nine made three-pointers in Saturday's winover the Denver Nuggets, Batum cooled off considerably from beyond the arc and hit only one of his six attempts. However, the 6'8 Frenchman's defensive versatility bothered the Thunder's offensive flow and helped limit OKC to just 18 points in the fourth quarter -- including a 9-minute stretch where they only scored six points.
As mentioned above, the Thunder received some assistance from a very questionable goaltending call on a Kevin Durant drive with just six seconds left in the game, which set the score at 103-103 and led to overtime. The Blazers came out a bit stunned in the extra period, while Westbrook, Harden and Durant each scored quick field goals to give the Thunder a 4-point lead with two minutes left in overtime. The defense on Aldridge from Perkins and Ibaka suddenly suddenly turned from hopeless to harrowing in crunch time. LMA got pushed farther away from the basket and had to take more difficult looks as well, leading him to miss his final six shot attempts of the night.
Westbrook, Harden and Durant committed 15 of the team's 19 turnovers on the night, but there has been a method to their madness all season. OKC leads all NBA teams in turnover rate, but the eventual payoff has almost always been worth the trouble. As noted above, the dynamic trio scored 80 of the Thunder's 111 points, including a stunning string of the final 36 points OKC scored on the night.
Westbrook finished with 28 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists, adding huge offensive rebounds in crunch time to help the Thunder keep the lead for good and coming up with 7 points and 3 assists in the fourth quarter and overtime. Harden stabilized the offense when Westbrook got into foul trouble in the first half, and finished with an important 19 points on 6-12 shooting and 6-6 from the line. As for Kevin Durant, he owned the night for OKC. Although KD only earned one trip to the free throw line the entire game, he still managed to produce a team-leading33 points on a career-high 33 shot attempts.
Oklahoma City improved to 19-5 overall with the win, including a 6-1 record in games decided by five points or less. Meanwhile, Portland dropped to 14-11 and is just 1-8 in games decided by five points of fewer so far this season. Here's a look at the goaltending violation. You make the call: