OKLAHOMA CITY — “Never forget who you are,” Tyrion Lannister told Jon Snow outside the main hall of Winterfell. “The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used against you.” The Imp of Casterly Rock could have been speaking to the Oklahoma City Thunder as they took the floor of the Moda Center in Portland.
OKC entered the postseason ranked 22nd in the NBA in three point percentage at 34.8. Despite their percentage, the Thunder wore their armor and kept the threes flying, bottoming out as an average shooting team. After their Game 1 performance from beyond the arc, an average performance for the Thunder from three would have been a gift from whichever of the seven gods who watches basketball.
Oklahoma City dropped Game 1 104-99 thanks in large part to their awful-bloody performance from three.
OKC only hit five of their 33 attempts. They started 0-for-7 from three in the game — hitting their first three on a Paul George attempt at the 9:08 mark of the 2nd quarter. They finished the first half 2-for-15 from deep.
Meanwhile the Trailblazers played with the skilled-assassin play akin to a Faceless Man early. C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard combined to shoot 6-of-8 from three, scoring 20 points in the first. The Blazers led 39-25 heading into the second.
“I think we need to play more downhill,” a frustrated Billy Donovan said during the TNT broadcast. “We let them get in rhythm early on and we didn’t do a good job of countering it.”
The lead eventually ballooned to 19 points for Portland in the second quarter. This would have been the perfect situation for a Russell Westbrook meltdown, right?
Instead, Westbrook (24-10-10) played under control and helped the Thunder cut into the Portland lead. The defense from Oklahoma City followed suit. After OKC settled down, the deficit stood at six heading into the locker room. The Thunder’s defense held Portland to 15 second quarter points on seven made shots.
This is where the Thunder should feel optimistic. George was less than a shell of his self. The three-ball was dropping well below their average percentage and Westbrook did not make it a Clegane Bowl between he and Dame. Their defense held the hot-shooting Blazers at bay.
Offensively, Oklahoma City must attack the paint more than they did. With Portland being without a Mountain to protect the rim, Westbrook and Dennis Schröder can attack at will. Steven Adams got a plethora of looks early on with Enes Kanter defending the rim.
While Westbrook played well throughout, his lack of defending Lillard’s 30-foot three with the Thunder down one late in the fourth could be an image that could haunt OKC.
For George, this was his first game since Tuesday. After a few days of heavy milk of the poppy doses to ease his shoulder soreness, George appeared slow, unsure of himself on drives and missed a plethora of wide open shots he has knocked down all season.
George shot 8-of-24 from the floor and 4-of-15 from three. Thunder runs were cut by ill-advised three point attempts considering the evident bad night at the office from deep. OKC’s armor did them in with three after three along with George’s poor performance.
“For the last three days I haven’t been able to lift my shoulder,” George said afterwards. “Today was the first time I was able to get some shots up. I’ll be able to tomorrow at practice for Game 2.”
Speaking of Kanter, the former Thunder Stache Brother went full Arya Stark against Walder Frey revenge mode on the OKC defense. Kanter dropped 20 points and pulled in 18 boards — seven offensive. His 20th point was the biggest.
With 11 seconds left and the Blazers up 98-94, Kanter hit a running layup aided by a travel that would make Gendry Baratheon’s sprint to Eastwatch blush. Kanter’s relentless attack of the boards countered any of the obvious defensive issues he brings to the floor. Westbrook and Schröder had their way with Kanter, but the Turkish big man and Portland won this one.
“I was on the worst team in the league and I wasn’t even playing because they thought I was too old,” Kanter said referring to his stint with the New York Knicks. “I feel blessed.”
If the Thunder are going to take Game 2 on Tuesday, they will have to shoot better. But even with another poor shooting performance, they have the tools necessary to eventually take control of the series and force Portland to bend the knee.