OKLAHOMA CITY- The Oklahoma City Thunder bucked their recent trend of slow starts to outpace the Portland Trail Blazers.
Tired legs were to be expected with both teams playing on the second night of a back-to-back, but injuries and a trade lead to both teams missing a pair of starters.
On a night where both teams were depleted, Chris Paul dazzled to propel the Thunder to their first home win in their last four outings.
Paul forced the issue from the jump, scoring 12 of his 30 points for the evening in the first quarter.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said Paul’s performance was no shock to anyone on the Thunder.
“Chris [Paul] has been doing this at a very high rate for a very long time, and I expect nothing less from him,” Gilgeous-Alexander said.
Thunder coach Billy Donovan said he was pleased with how Paul set the tone in the first quarter, and that Paul has the ability to spur the offense forward with both his scoring and his ability to distribute the basketball.
“He’s such a cerebral player and such a smart player,” Donovan said. “He’s looking for opportunities to get us off to a quick start and a fast start.”
“That doesn’t mean that he necessarily needs to score, it just happened to be scoring.”
After four straight games where the Thunder surrendered more than 30 points in the first quarter, Oklahoma City was able to limit Portland to just 24 points in the opening 12 minutes.
“I thought we came out and started better which was positive,” Donovan said after the game.
“It was encouraging.”
Thunder guard Dennis Schröder said the team stressed the importance of the fast start.
“We didn’t do it, like I said, the last three or four games,” Schröder said.
“I think we’ve got to come out with a mentality, “hit first”, so that’s what we did tonight.”
With the absence of CJ McCollum, the onus was on Damien Lillard to shoulder the load for the Trail Blazers.
Lillard was on attack mode early, scoring 24 points on 7-of-12 shooting in the first half.
“Lillard obviously had a great first half and he was hard to contain,” Donovan said. Out of the halftime break, Oklahoma City was able to clamp down on Lillard, holding him to just 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting from the field.
Donovan said he was pleased with his team’s effort defending Lillard in the second half.
“A lot of times when those guys do shoot the ball, you’re at the mercy of wether they miss it or make it,” Donovan said. “I think our guys just kept battling and kept working.”
“I don’t know if there’s anything necessarily that we did other than giving great effort.”
Oklahoma City had to rely on younger players to contribute with starters Danilo Gallinari and Terrance Ferguson inactive for the contest.
Hamidou Diallo and Darius Bazley were called upon to start, and though they only combined for 13 points, Donovan said he was pleased with how they impacted the game in other facets.
“A lot of times young players evaluate wether or not they played well or not based on the ball going in the basket,” Donovan said. “I wouldn’t say any of those guys got it going offensively but they all impacted the game.”
“We really are pleased with the way everybody stepped up and contributed.”
Oklahoma City’s grueling January schedule presses on.
The Thunder hit the court again Monday afternoon as they travel to face the Houston Rockets.
Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m.