Trail Blazers vs Thunder Friday, 04/01/11 AT 07:00PM

Portland Surges Past Thunder, Into Sixth Place

04/01/11
  1. Written by: Grant Lucas  / avg. rating: 5.0

    Behind LaMarcus Aldridge's game-high 32 points and eight boards, as well as suffocating defense on the league's top scorer in Kevin Durant, the Portland Trail Blazers (44-32) regained control of the Western Conference's sixth spot, defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder (50-25) 98-91 at the Rose Garden.

    "Gut check for us," Head Coach Nate McMillan said. "Tonight, we did the things we talked about we needed to do - we got to the free throw line, did a much better job of taking care of the ball... We got stops and made plays when we needed to."

    Helping out the offensive attack was Nicolas Batum, who tallied 19 points and six rebounds off the bench. Andre Miller posted 13 points and seven assists, while Gerald Wallace put up 13 points and six boards.

    "That's a big win for us... no team wants to get swept four times in their division," Miller said. "And the playoff race is close. We found a way. Coach called a timeout - they came out pretty sharp in the third - after the timeout we found a way to control them a bit."

    That timeout came a little more than three minutes into the third quarter, after three offensive rebounds earned Thabo Sefolosha a dunk. After that break, Portland held Oklahoma City to five points for the remaining 8:53 of the period.

    The key, however, was aggression on both sides of the court. Durant shot 5-for-7 from the floor for 13 points in the first quarter with Russell Westbrook adding five points on 2-for-4 shooting. For the remainder of the game, the two combined for 7-for-28, including a 3-for-14 mark from three-point range.

    "Got a little closer," McMillan said about defensive changes on Durant. "I mean, he was hot. I thought we gave him some space that first quarter and we needed to get a little closer. I thought our guys did a better job of getting more aggressive - the first few possessions of the third quarter looked the same as the start of the game, though. Then we tightened up."

    On the offensive end, the Trail Blazers attacked the rim, getting to the line 27 times and cashing in on 25 of them. Portland also gave the ball up a season-low five times - all coming in the first half - in the game, while forcing 17 Thunder turnovers that resulted in 15 points.

    Durant finished the game with a team-high 25 points and 11 rebounds, while James Harden contributed with 21 points off the bench. Russell Westbrook had 16 points, nine rebounds and six assists.

    "It was tough. It felt like our offense and defense flip-flopped in the second half," Durant said. "We were on first in the first, and our defense wasn't as good as we wanted it to be. In the second half, we couldn't hit a shot, and our defense was pretty good, I think. But you're going to have nights like that. You have to stay positive."

    Oklahoma City owned the boards, outrebounding the Trail Blazers 48-35, but Portland's defense held the visiting squad to a mere 11 points in the third quarter and just 32 in the second half after allowing 59 first-half points.

    Durant started out red-hot for the Thunder, accounting for 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting. Behind its star forward, Oklahoma City put together a 15-4 rally to go up 24-12 late in the first quarter.

    Portland began to chip away, however, trimming the deficit to 47-45 after a Batum three-ball capped a 13-5 run.

    Following the halftime break, things started to click for the Trail Blazers. After allowing Oklahoma City to shoot 56.4 percent in the first half, Portland clamped down on defense and held the Thunder to 25.6 percent from the field while also hitting 16 out of 18 free throws.

    "Defense, we kind of went cold in the fourth, our defense held us on until we could make some shots down the stretch," Aldridge said about the difference between halves. "I think the first half, we really didn't get too close to them. They had a lot of open looks. It was kind of like they were going through practice. I felt like the second half, got more physical, got in their way and forced them to take tough shots."

    Portland began the third with a 19-6 rally, including a 15-0 stretch, to jump ahead 72-65. Aldridge notched eight points during that span and finished the period with 12.

    In that third quarter, the Thunder made four shots on 19 attempts, with Durant going 0-for-8, including an 0-for-5 mark from beyond the arc. The Trail Blazers used that time to jump on Oklahoma City, shooting 50 percent in the frame and outscoring the Thunder 25-11.

    "(The Trail Blazers) were playing good defense - challenging us, making us take tough shots - and we were missing the easy ones when we did get them," Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said. "We got three-happy, I thought. We were taking too many threes. We've improved our three-point shooting as the season's gone along, but I thought we settled for too many outside shots tonight."

    Portland carried an eight-point lead into the final frame and never allowed Oklahoma City to get within five, despite the Trail Blazers shooting 23.5 percent from the floor. Ten free throws, however, allowed Portland to stay out of striking distance and seal the win.

    "Minus the trip, we just needed this because of the standings," Aldridge said. "Houston beat San Antonio. Memphis beat New Orleans. So, we want to win every game but we can't be stuck on the last road trip. We have to try to win every game now to stay in this playoff race."

    The Trail Blazers will have their chance to do that when they continue their three-game homestand against the Dallas Mavericks (53-22) on Sunday night.

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