PORTLAND — In less than a week, the Trail Blazers will roll the credits on this season but who knows if it will be a happy ending.
On Friday night, the Blazers’ free fall hit a new low. During the 106-90 defeat, Portland could not escape Oklahoma City Thunder blanketing defense and rang up only seven third-quarter points, the lowest of the season.
“The third quarter was obviously the difference in the game,” coach Terry Stotts said. “Our offense just ground down. We stopped moving the ball. We didn’t create shots for each other and we were loose with the turnovers. It was a bad combination.”
Such a difference from Wednesday night, when the Blazers (33-46) gave a scare to the Los Angeles Lakers and created season-best scoring totals for a quarter and the first half. But that feisty and fighting team did not show up on Friday night, instead spiraling into its 10th straight loss.
“I think everybody wants to get a win, we definitely don’t want to go out losing every game,” said LaMarcus Aldridge who only scored 12 points (6 of 14) and grabbed two rebounds. “That’s been the focus these last games. Hopefully, we can get one.”
After his career-high 38-point performance against the Lakers, Damian Lillard spent a tempestuous ride on a 3-for-14 shooting slump. Coincidentally, the line reflected his night during the Jan. 13 home loss to the Thunder. So in the anticipated point guard matchup, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook won easily. Westbrook scored more in the third quarter (17) than the 10 points that Lillard could muster all game and finished with 33 points on 10 of 18 shots. Kevin Durant produced 16 points and six assists and the Thunder clinched the Northwest Division title for the third consecutive year.
“It feels great,” Westbrook said about the division title. “That’s not a given. A lot of guys came back better, and we’ve put in the work to put ourselves in a position to win it again.”
Oklahoma City (59-21 and first in the Western Conference) took control by the first quarter and matched its largest lead of 11 points after three minutes had expired in the second quarter. In that frame, Will Barton, the rookie replacement starter for the injured Wesley Matthews, found opportunities to stand out. Barton showed an array of creative finishes at the rim — a two-handed tomahawk slam dunk as well as an up-and-under reverse layup — that highlighted a 12-0 run as the Blazers took the 46-44 lead with 3:09 remaining. Barton finished with a team-best 18 points on 8-of-19 shooting.
However, the Thunder closed the second quarter with Thabo Sefolosha canning a corner 3-pointer at the buzzer. Sefolosha and his Oklahoma City teammates made it look so easy scoring on that side of the court as they hit over 50 percent of their shots and held the 55-54 lead.
By the second half, Lillard’s teammates encountered the same invisible lid on the rim.
The Blazers missed their first eight shots to start the second half and when Lillard tried to galvanize his guys by throwing down a dunk over the 6-foot-11 Durant, his shot was blasted to the baseline. Three Thunder players celebrated by channeling Dikembe Mutombo, the great shot blocker who wagged his index finger in the air to suggest “not in my house.”
Overall, the Blazers only made three of 17 shots and committed nine turnovers in the quarter as the Thunder opened a 20-point lead.
“That third quarter, man, just killed us,” Barton said. “That’s what a great team is supposed to do. We’re young. We’ll get there. It’s just another lesson learned.”