Thunder's early defensive breakdowns set tone for loss at Portland
The Trail Blazer’s hot start was a sign of things to come in the Thunder’s 136-119 loss at Portland Wednesday.
“Once they made their first couple, I thought there were some really hard shots there,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “… Because what happens, you start making some shots, the ball goes in the basket, and all of a sudden you make tougher ones.”
The Blazers started the game 10-of-10 from the field on their way to a 42-point first quarter, Portland’s highest-scoring quarter this season. The Trail Blazers finished the night shooting 46.7 percent from 3-point range.
Portland guard CJ McCollum opened the game with two wide-open corner 3-pointers. Both times, Thunder guard Chris Paul was drawn into the paint, leaving McCollum open on the perimeter.
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First, Paul lingered in the post to help Steven Adams and Terrance Ferguson try to wrestle the ball away from a bobbling Hassan Whiteside. But Whiteside maintained possession long enough to toss a pass out to McCollum in the left corner.
On the next Portland possession, Paul left McCollum to pick up Whteside as he cut to the lane, with Adams and Ferguson double-teaming Damian Lillard. Lillard passed to McCollum in the right corner.
After the game, Paul took responsibility for not setting the tone defensively.
“We’ve got to communicate better,” He said. “I think early in the game I was late on all my rotations.”
After McCollum’s first two buckets, it was Whiteside’s turn to serge.
The 7-foot center took advantage of a mismatch with 6-foot-1 Chris Paul to drop a floater over his head. Whiteside and Lillard exploited the Thunder’s pick-and-roll defense. Whiteside made a pair of contested mid-range jumpers over Adams. He dunked a precise bounce pass from CJ McCollum. Whiteside made five of the Blazers’ first 10 buckets.
“I thought there was some opportunities where we let Whiteside get down too deep,” Donovan said. “We didn’t meet him early enough.”
Rodney Hood and Carmelo Anthony also got in on the action. The Thunder left Hood open twice, first trying to double team Lillard and then rotating a step or two too late as Anthony slung a pass out to the perimeter.
Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander tipped a pass meant for Anthony on the right wing, but Anthony regained possession and powered past Gilgeous-Alexander.
“They just never felt us defensively,” Paul said. “We were just letting them get just about anything they wanted.”
After beginning the season out-performing defensive expectations, the Thunder slid down to No. 14 in defensive rating.