By Michael Kinney
For the second time in three days, the Oklahoma City Thunder played host to the Portland Trail Blazers. When the two teams faced off Monday, it ended with a walk-off game-winning jumper by Oklahoma City’s Shai Gillgeous-Alexander.
On Wednesday, Oklahoma City used its defense down the stretch and the athletic ability of a rookie to secure a 101-98 victory at the Paycom Center.
“I really thought the guys did a good job of carrying over the lessons from last game,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “We knew they were going to be better, and I thought they were. And I thought we were better too. That’s what you do when you are a good team, turning around and playing the same opponent for the second time in three nights.”
With five minutes left in the game and the score tied at 91-91, the Thunder force the Blazers into a turnover. That led to a fastbreak dunk for Lu Dort and a Thunder two-point lead.
However, Anfernee Simons and Jerami Grant scored seven straight points to put the Blazers back on top by five with 2:56 left.
Gillgeous-Alexander scored and then got a steal that led to a Josh Giddey bucket, which cut the deficit to one point.
Trailing 98-97 with just two minutes left in the game, Giddey swung the ball to Jalen Williams on the perimeter. The rookie then drove straight into the paint for an outstretched dunk to give the Thunder the lead.
Damian Lillard tried to make sure the Blazers didn’t leave Oklahoma City without at least one victory. But Dort forced him onto some tough shots that wouldn’t fall and they walked away with the win.
“I was in the same zone I am in every game,” Dort said. “Dame Lillard is a tough matchup and I just tried to come in locked in and take the challenge.”
Grant led the Blazers with 17 points while Lillard was held to 16 points on 6 of 19 shooting.
“It’s kind of hard to play back-to-back teams in this league,” said Jusef Nurkic, who scored 12 in the loss. “I thought we had a pretty good start to the game. Unfortunately, we couldn’t finish. But give them credit.”
Gillgeous-Alexander led all scorers with 27 points on 8 of 19 shooting. He added six rebounds, two steals and five turnovers as well.
Williams had 15 points while Dort chipped in with 14.
As a team, the Thunder shot 8 of 24 from 3-point range and turned the ball over 18 times. However, they outrebounded Portland 48-40 and forced 18 turnovers as well.
“It was a good team effort,” Dort said. “I feel like we did a good job just talking to each other, trusting each other. We did good at that night.”
After getting off to a slow start Monday, Gillgeous-Alexander didn’t wait around the second time around. He was aggressive from the opening tip and was taking the game to the Trail Blazers.
Gilgeous-Alexander scored 18 points in the first half. However, the Thunder still trailed 54-49 to a balanced Portland squad.
The third quarter was a different story for Oklahoma City as more players got into the scoring action. Isaiah Joe came off the bench to drop in a pair of 3s while Williams and Giddey found ways to get their points as well.
Oklahoma City outscored Portland 29-24 in the quarter to tie the contest at 78-78.
The Thunder (14-18) will be back at home for a sixth straight home Friday when they will take on the New Orleans Pelicans (18-12).
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