Sports Illustrated published an article this week ranking the opening round match-ups of this year’s playoffs from most to least watchable. And wouldn’t you know it, the Trail Blazers versus the Oklahoma City Thunder was ranked number one. All rabid fandom and loyalty aside, there is no arguing with their placement. This match-up is nothing short of a Wrestlemania main event—with Damian Lillard as the likable, confident, yet gracious good guy, and Russell Westbrook as the ugly, sneering, evil heel who will stop at nothing to defeat him.
Westbrook really is the perfect heel. He’s got a mean swagger and the skill to back it up. The NBA as a whole logged 127 triple-doubles this regular season. Westbrook perpetrated 34 of those. One of said triple-doubles was a 20-20-20. So depending on who you ask, that one could count for two. Plus, he just has that contemptible look in his eyes all the time. Westbrook is easily hate-able. Again, the perfect heel.
The force that is Westbrook is certainly intimidating, but Dame has always been a thorn in the side of him and the Thunder. During the four regular season games against the Thunder, Dame averaged over 34 points, seven assists, and two and a half steals. With his unselfish play of late, that assist column is definitely gonna tick up in this series.
Aside from the vicious cage match that will be waged between Dame and Westbrook, both teams have something to prove after their performances in last year’s playoffs. Both were ousted heinously in the first round. After Jusuf Nurkic nuked his season and likely most of the next with his gnarly broken leg, the Blazers were immediately discounted by talking heads as having little to no chance in the post season. Yes, losing the Bosnian Beast was about as catastrophic as every player on the Blazers losing their right eye, but Enes Kanter has stepped up magically in the starting big man roll, with an average sitting at 13.7 points and 9.8 rebounds.
In short, this series is gonna be as courageous and contentious as any in the history of the NBA, but the Blazers are ready. In the words of Dame in the game opener at the Moda Center, “We don’t just survive the storm, we become the storm.”
The Blazers play in the opening quarter was chill inducing. At the halfway mark, they were shooting 77 percent from the field, and 100 percent from the three point line. They looked like surgeons on the offensive side just slicing up the Thunder’s defense. On the defensive side, they dismantled every approach the Thunder tried. The Thunder was shooting a dismal 38 percent, and Westbrook only had three assists. No points, no rebounds. He ended up scoring two points and pulling one rebound before the quarter ended, but those little numbers did nothing to stop the Blazers from taking a 14 point lead into the second quarter.
Things got a little heated between CJ McCollum and Terrance Ferguson in the second. The two were dealt off-setting technical fouls after things got a little too lip-y and shove-y between the pair during a dead ball. Tensions were building, but the Blazers did a fantastic job staying composed. The Thunder chipped away at their lead, but couldn’t surpass it. The Blazers took a six point lead into the locker room.
The Blazer train kept on chugging to start the third. They maintained their lead and defended the Thunder’s hoop fiercely. For some unexplained reason, there was a certain apathetic air to the Thunder. There was no passion coming from them at all. They just seemed sedated. Steven Adams is typically quite stoic, so that wasn’t too much of a surprise, but Westbrook seemed like he didn’t care which direction the game went. Early in the third coach Billy Donovan was spotted with his head dipped in his hand, messaging his temples. Things must not have been going the way he expected.
The Thunder cut the Blazers’ lead down to one with two and a half minutes left in the fourth, but the Blazers never let go of the wheel. Dame quickly brought the Blazers lead back up to four with a big three. From there, the Blazers white-knuckled it until the clocked ticked down to 0.0, and the scoreboard read 104-99.
If yesterday's game was a taste of what the rest of this series will hold, then please, Blazers, may we have some more?