When and where: April 16, 2019, Moda Center, Portland, OR, 10:30 PM ET
The Portland Trail Blazers struck first in the opening series of the NBA Playoffs on Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Not even the All-Star combination of Russell Westbrook and Paul George was enough to stop a motivated Trail Blazers team playing in front of a raucous home crowd. Portland might have a small-market franchise, but that fan base’s love for their team packs a mighty punch. The Thunder were likely still feeling the effects from that blow on Monday morning.
Offense not clicking for the Thunder
The Thunder were taken out to deep waters and nearly drowned by the Trail Blazers in the first quarter of Game 1. Desperation quickly set in as shots failed to fall and turnovers kept piling up. The Thunder looked like a team that was trying to win a sprint and not a 48-minute marathon.
Even worse, Paul George, one of the team’s star players, didn’t look like himself coming off a shoulder injury. If the same George that showed up on Sunday shows up throughout the series, the Thunder will see an early exit this year. Russell Westbrook’s one-man circus act is null and void in the playoffs, where the best teams in the league lurk.
“I thought we got great looks,” George said after the game, via USA Today. “Great looks all night. For me, it’s just rhythm. Four days ago I couldn’t even lift my shoulder. Fast forward to today, it’s the first day I shot the ball. Tomorrow I’ll get shots up, get back in tune. We’ll try and get the same looks that we got tonight.”
This was easily one of the Thunder’s worst shooting performances of the season. They shot 39.8 percent combined from the floor and an even worse 15.2 percent (5-of-33) from 3-pointer. Center Steven Adams was also completely outplayed in the paint by former teammate Enes Kanter.
Westbrook netted a triple-double in the finish with 24 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, while George dropped 26 points, 10 rebounds and four steals in the 104-99 loss.
Kanter delivers on the big stage for the Trail Blazers
One of the most underrated moves of the season was the Trail Blazers signing center Enes Kanter after he was waived by the New York Knicks. Leave it to the Knicks to underutilize a talented player that is capable of thriving in the right situation.
That right situation was in Portland after starter Jusuf Nurkic went down with a season-ending injury. Kanter has stepped right into the lineup and delivered quality minutes for the Trail Blazers, and on Sunday afternoon, he was key in their Game 1 win over the Thunder.
It truly has been a significant role reversal from his time with the Knicks.
“I was on the worst team in the league, and I wasn’t even playing because they thought I was too old to play,” said Kanter, per ESPN’s Kevin Pelton. “The situation and all the drama, it was so frustrating because all I wanted to do was go out there and just win. A couple of days ago, I looked in the mirror and said, ‘Man, I’m blessed to be here with an amazing organization and amazing teammates that trust in me.’ It definitely feels amazing, and it’s definitely a blessing.”
Meanwhile, All-Star guard Damian Lillard continued to prove why he’s the most underrated player in basketball by dropping a game-high 30 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals. It was a standout performance when most expected him to wilt under the pressure of going head-to-head with Westbrook.
Kanter contributed a double-double with 20 points and 18 rebounds, while McCollum finished the game with 24 points, six rebounds and three assists.
- Thunder are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games after an ATS loss
- Thunder are 5-2 ATS in their last 7 Tuesday games
- Thunder are 5-2 ATS in their last 7 when their opponent scores 100 points or more in the previous game
- Trail Blazers are 8-24-2 ATS in their last 34 Conference Quarterfinals games
- Trail Blazers are 1-3-1 ATS in their last 5 games against teams with a winning straight up record
- Trail Blazers are 2-8 ATS in their last 10 Tuesday games