(photo by Torrey Purvey)
By Michael Kinney
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Portland Trail Blazers knew they would be seeing a Russell Westbrook with fire in his eyes.
With the Oklahoma City Thunder riding a three-game losing streak, it was inevitable that Westbrook was going to throw on the cape and pull out a Superman-type performance.
However, the Trail Blazers had the perfect counter. With seven players scoring in double figures, it was enough to overcome a career-high 58 points from Westbrook as Portland defeated Oklahoma City 126-121 on Tuesday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“Russ is incredible, no doubt about it,” the Blazers’ Meyers Leonard said. “Extremely talented, able to make plays for others. Able to score the ball obviously, rebound, defend, everything.
“But with that being said, it sometimes becomes a one-man show. Now he is capable of that. But I think it’s to our credit, top to bottom we had a lot of guys contribute. We were sharing the ball, we believed in what we were doing, we believed in each other. This was a very big win for us.”
Westbrook shot 21 of 39 to go along with nine assists. He was the only Thunder starter to register an assist.
Victor Oladipo scored 16 points in his first game back from injury and Enes Kanter came off the bench to score 11 points for Oklahoma City (35-29).
Allen Crabbe posted 23 points to lead Portland. Damian Lillard scored 22 points on 8-of-17 shooting. CJ McCollum added 21 points for the Blazers (27-35).
“Up and down, all nine guys who played made a contribution,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “I think we are playing better. It can be fleeting, so I don’t want to go overboard. I think since the break, we’ve played some good basketball. I think we’re playing pretty positive with how we’re playing.”
Westbrook drained a jumper with 4:03 remaining. On the next possession, he dished to Andre Roberson for a breakaway dunk to close the deficit to 112-111.
Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic hit a pair of free throws before Westbrook hit two of his own.
The Thunder came up with a stop and Westbrook was sent back to the free throw line. He hit 1 of 2 to tie the game at 114. After Westbrook broke his career high in scoring, he missed three consecutive shots and the Blazers took an 118-116 lead with 41.9 left.
Nurkic put the Thunder up four with a whirling spin in the paint that led to a right hook shot.
Coming out of a timeout, Westbrook found a trailing Oladipo who drained his fourth 3-pointer to close the gap to 120-119.
McCollum hit two free throws with 15.1 seconds left to give the Blazers a three-point advantage. After a timeout, Westbrook had a good look at a game-tying 3-pointer, but it was off the mark and the Blazers held on.
“I just missed them,” Westbrook said. “Made them all game, missed that one. But it’s all right. It is (frustrating). But at the same time, we put ourselves in that position. We should be defending at a high level. Those are definitely shots I will live with because I will make them 9 out of 10. I just happen to miss that one.”
Both teams started the night at a break neck pace. They combined for 69 total points, seven 3-pointers and 13 assists as Oklahoma City led by 11 after one quarter. The 40 points the Thunder posted was the most they have scored against the Blazers in any quarter this season.
The pace and shot making slowed down considerably in the second quarter. That is except for Westbrook. He dropped in 16 points in the second alone and gave Oklahoma City a 67-61 halftime advantage.
While Westbrook was playing like a one-man gang, the Blazers spread the wealth throughout the lineup. Not only did Lillard and McCollum cause havoc, Crabbe, Leonard, Al-Farouq Aminu and Noah Vonleh all found success exploiting a porous Oklahoma City defense.
Westbrook said the level of defensive intensity the team is playing with is unacceptable for this time of the year.
“We don’t really have time for that,” Westbrook said. “This time of the year when you have to be playing your best basketball, and figuring out how you want to move forward.”
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth