PORTLAND, OR—The Oklahoma City Thunder had a great game going through three quarters on Wednesday night in Portland. The Trail Blazers were stymied in every possession and as the fourth quarter dawned, it look as if the Kevin Durant-less Thunder might have themselves an opening night victory on the road in in the Moda Center.
Oklahoma City could not sustain in the fourth quarter however, and saw the lead that they had built going into the fourth quarter quickly evaporate. The Trail Blazers passed and eventually topped the Thunder 106-89.
The Thunder came to Portland with just nine healthy players. In addition to Durant’s foot injury sitting out the opener for Oklahoma City were guard Reggie Jackson (right ankle), forward Grant Jerrett (ankle surgery), guard Jeremy Lamb (lower back sprain), forward Mitch McGary (left foot fracture) and guard Anthony Morrow (left MCL sprain).
The Thunder battled to a five-point lead at halftime and managed to have a slim two-point edge going into the final twelve minutes. Portland picked up the pace in the fourth quarter and once they pulled ahead 89-80, the Trail Blazers owned the game.
“I thought we played hard. That’s the only thing I can ask from the guys. Just compete, play hard and play for each other. They did that tonight but we made too many mistakes at the end of the game,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.
Much of the weight of the team is resting on point guard Russell Westbrook’s shoulders, and the 6trh-year pro was up to the challenge. He scored 38 points and had six assists against the Trail Blazers on Wednesday. It was also a career achievement night for Serge Ibaka, who turned in his 1,000th career blocked shot and three others in the contest.
Westbrook was brilliant in the first half for Oklahoma City, draining five straight free throws and adding a huge slam dunk just before halftime for emphasis. He pull the team out to a six point lead midway through the third quarter, but Portland had the Thunder in sight and capitalized on the slacker defense offered by Oklahoma City in the fourth quarter.
LaMarcus Aldridge led the scoring for Portland, notching 27 points, three rebounds and two assists. Aldridge drained a key three pointer late in the fourth quarter helped seal the game for the Trail Blazers. Damien Lillard had ten points and Robin Lopez also had 10 boards in the game for Portland. In all the Trail Blazers outscored the Thunder 31-12 in the fourth quarter to give the home team an opening night victory, their 14th straight home opening win, which ties the Boston Celtics for the most opening night wins. The Celtics set that record back in 1979.
Oklahoma City will travel to the Staples Center for their first meeting in the 2014-15 season with Blake Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night before returning home to the Chesapeake Energy Arena on November 1st when they will take on the Denver Nuggets.
Photos by Greg Duke, Tulsa Today.