Five Thoughts: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Game 3 is in the books and the Portland Trail Blazers now lead the Oklahoma City Thunder 2-1. As we wait for Game 4, here are five thoughts on the series.
1. Getting out of the first round is important for both teams
Interestingly enough, both teams came into this series having been knocked out in the first round of the Playoffs for the last two years. OKC lost to the Houston Rockets in five games in 2017 and then to the Utah Jazz in six in 2018. The Blazers have had it worse though, getting swept by the Golden State Warriors in 2017 during their first year with Kevin Durant and swept again by the New Orleans Pelicans in 2018. For one team, this series will break the vicious cycle of first-round exits; for the other it’ll be a continuation of them.
2. Paul George is injured at the worst possible time
It’s no secret there’s something wrong with Paul George’s shoulder. Leading up to the All-Star break, George was a solid third place MVP candidate. He was genuinely playing the best perimeter defense in the league while being a flamethrower on the offensive end, knocking down 41% of his 3-point attempts. Post-All-Star break, though, his 3-point accuracy has dropped to 34%, a bad sign for an OKC team that was already dangerously light on shooting and spacing. With George playing at an MVP-level, OKC was a dark horse NBA Finals contender. With him injured and having difficulty shooting, OKC is having trouble just getting out of the first round.
3. Damian Lillard is a low-key superstar
While Lillard is generally accepted as an NBA star, not everyone is ready to say he’s a superstar. To his fault, getting swept in the first round twice will do that to your reputation. But make no mistake, the Blazers guard is a superstar, or at the very least has played like it this series. He’s outdueled Westbrook, a superstar point guard of his own, in two of the three games so far, averaging 30.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game while connecting on 42.9% of his 9.3 3-point attempts per game. His play is a big reason why the Blazers are up 2-1 right now. Sounds like a superstar to me.
4. Westbrook and Lillard are having a point guard showoff
I’ve already mentioned Lillard’s stats and play, but Westbrook has certainly been living up to his superstar status as well. The OKC guard has averaged 23.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 10.7 assists per game this series. They’re the leaders of their respective teams and have been actively going at each other, trading plays as they fight for supremacy. So far this series, the winner of each game has been dictated by which guard has won their respective battle. Expect to see that trend continue for the rest of the series.
5. This series looks like it can go the distance
I wrote an article earlier this week ranking the watchability of each playoff series, in which I listed this one as the fourth most entertaining. Were I to rewrite it now, I’d at least move it up to second, maybe even first. Westbrook and Lillard have been putting on a show, the games have been close, and there’s real competitiveness between the teams. The only thing you could ask for is this series going a full seven games, which isn't unlikely given the way the teams have played so far. Here’s to hoping.