Berry Tramel: 'Peake crowd is different compared to past years
Chris Paul made a 14-foot shot midway through the third quarter Wednesday night, giving the Thunder its first lead since the first quarter, and the Oklahoma City crowd responded. With some claps. Maybe even some cheers.
But there was no eruption. No roof-raising. No roar from Loud City.
And a few minutes later, when Danilo Gallinari answered C.J. McCollum’s 3-pointer with a 3-pointer that restored the Thunder lead, same thing.
There was no boom in Boomtown, and the only thing that might have ignited the gathering into the Chesapeake crowd of old — a dramatic Thunder victory — was not to be. Damian Lillard made sure of that.
Apparently not needing his arch-nemesis to drive a stake through Thunder hearts, Lillard scored or assisted on 20 straight TrailBlazer points in the final 5 1/2 minutes, and Portland left town a 102-99 winner.
Thunder fans went home with more evidence that things have changed.
When Thunderland last saw Lillard, he was swishing that 37-foot shot over Paul George last April that ended not just a playoff series, but an OKC era. Soon enough, George and Russell Westbrook were gone, and Lillard was left with a strange feeling upon his first trip back to the ‘Peake.
“When the news happened, I was like, ‘Man, Russ not on the Thunder anymore?’” Lillard said Wednesday. “Then after that, I was like, it didn’t have nothing to do with me. It is crazy, though.”
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Westbrook always got fired up for Lillard, and Lillard seemed to get fired up for Westbrook. The Thunder had to hope that Lillard would not be the sharpshooting assassin we’ve seen him be in Portland-OKC roustabouts, but he was.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Lillard had made just one of six 3-pointers, and OKC led 83-80. Then in a span of 86 seconds, Lillard lasered in three of those deep darts for which he’s famous, and some of the Thunder crowd took to the aisles with 3:59 left in a five-point game.
Such is the status of Thunder optimism these days. No sane person ever walked out when Westbrook was on the court and the Thunder had a mathematical chance of victory.
Westbrook played like Braveheart and the adoring crowd stayed with him. It will take time — maybe much time — for Loud City to hand over such devotion to this team. Especially since pockets of empty seats are much more apparent than ever before.
“It’s definitely going to be different,” said Blazers coach Terry Stotts. “He’s been such an important part of their team for, what did you say, 11 years now?”
The early exit crowd had to be sweating, if they happened to turn on their radios for the drive home. Lillard was fantastic — after his barrage, the Thunder sent more bodies at him, and he dished four assists off drives to the basket, three of which created 3-point shots.
Still, the Thunder was within four points when Gallinari missed a corner 3-pointer with 1:17 left and still was within four when Gallinari desperately missed from deep with 13.5 seconds left.
Another entertaining game, but another loss for the Thunder in this 1-4 start.
“It’s definitely different, it’s definitely new,” Lillard said. “You think of the Thunder, you think of Russell Westbrook. He’s not on that team anymore.”
You don’t have to tell Oklahomans, who are teaming with the Thunder to make Chesapeake Arena something quite different from what it used to be.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.