Thunder's second chance all about 3's
The age-old adage — and it's an accurate one to a point — is that an NBA playoff series doesn't really start until a visiting team wins a game.
Even so, Portland can really put Oklahoma City behind the 8-ball with a victory in Tuesday's 7:30 p.m. Game 2 at Moda Center.
The Trail Blazers, who won the opener at home 104-99 on Sunday, can seize a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, which swings to Oklahoma City for Games 3 and 4 on Friday and Sunday. If that were to happen, the Thunder would have to win four of the final five games, including at least one on the Blazers' home court.
"The (Blazers) did what they were supposed to do — win on their home floor," OKC small forward Paul George said Monday after the Thunder's practice session. "A (playoff) series is about adjustments. We'll adjust. We'll be ready for (Tuesday's) game."
Well, sure. That's straight from the manual of what the losing side is supposed to say after Game 1. The Thunder know Tuesday's encounter is pretty close to must-win territory, and they'll need their resident superstar to be much better than he was before the ABC cameras on Sunday afternoon.
George was the best thing the Blazers had going for them. The OKC All-Star put up 26 points and 10 rebounds on his statistical line, but he made only 8 of 24 shots from the field, including 4 of 15 from 3-point range. George missed nine of its first 10 attempts from beyond the arc, but he just kept casting them up, over and over and over.
The 6-9 George — who had averaged 38 points as the Thunder swept four games from Portland during the regular season — had been a game-time decision Sunday due to a sore right shoulder that had kept him out of OKC's regular-season finale against Milwaukee on Wednesday. George said after Sunday's game that the injury hadn't been the problem. And after Monday's practice, George struck a positive tone about everything Thunder, and in particular, the health of his shooting shoulder.
"The shoulder's good," George said. "I'm pain-free. It's well enough now to throw out any injury problems (as an excuse). It didn't have an effect on my game. I just hadn't shot or picked up a ball for four days. It was about rhythm.
"I had a good day out there today. I feel good about it."
George had plenty of company in the "that-3-point-line-is-a-long-ways-out-there" pile of misery. His teammates combined to clank 17 of their 18 shots from distance. On his way to a triple-double, Russell Westbrook went 0 for 4 from you know where. All totaled, the Thunder were 5 for 33 — the worst performance by a Portland opponent all season.
"We didn't make shots," George said. "It cost us. I take a lot of that (responsibility) — good looks I had and missed. That's what today's practice was for, to get into better rhythm, a better flow."
It wasn't as if the Blazers were playing stifling defense at the 3-point line. That, in fact, was a point of emphasis in coach Terry Stotts video review session before Monday's practice.
"We gave up too many open 3's," Stotts said. "We can be better defensively, even though we gave up only 99 points."
"There is a lot of stuff we could have done better, things (the Thunder) could have taken advantage of, but didn't," said Portland point guard Damian Lillard, who scored a game-high 30 points but also had six turnovers. "Like allowing Paul George to get some open looks at 3's that he didn't make. When they miss a shot and come up with an offensive rebound, we have to find guys, especially George. If we're going to lose somebody, it can't be him."
OKC grabbed 18 offensive rebounds that turned into 21 second-chance points. The Thunder won the fast-break points battle 16-9 and forced 19 Portland turnovers, which resulted in 15 OKC points.
"I turned the ball over a lot," Lillard said. "They pride themselves on forcing turnovers and getting out in transition. As much as I have the ball in my hands, I have to be much better about playing into their hands.
"We let them get into transition, gave them too many second-chance opportunities, lost too many guys on defense. It didn't cost us the game, but we have to be better in the second game."
The Blazers would like to bottle the precision and energy they showed in a 39-point first quarter in Game 1 in which they connected on 7 of 10 3-point attempts. The final three quarters, they were only 4 for 15 from beyond the arc.
"It's a good feeling, being up 1-0 in the series but also knowing how much better we can play," reserve center/forward Zach Collins said.
Portland's bench didn't have a player score in double figures Sunday. That didn't happen over the last 26 games of the regular season.
"But it was the best they've played (collectively) against OKC this year," Stotts said. "I'm not talking about having a big game offensively. I'm talking about setting the tone both offensively and defensively."
Stotts changed up his rotation, using center Meyers Leonard early (though he played a total of five minutes in the game) and sticking a DNP/CD on small forward Jake Layman.
"I anticipated playing Jake going into the game, but I changed my mind," said Stotts, who said the rotation could change from game to game.
It wouldn't be surprising to see Stotts give Seth Curry — who finished third in the league in 3-point percentage (.450) and has been a force off the bench all season — more time, perhaps alongside Lillard and CJ McCollum in a three-guard lineup.
"I'm sure it will be about matchups," said Curry, who had eight points in 16 minutes in Game 1, making 3 of 6 shots from the field and 2 of 3 from the 3-point line. "Depending on who (the Thunder) have out there, my minutes will go up or down. It's hard for one of us to be matched up with Paul George because of his size, but you never know what's going to happen. It's a long series. It may be me out there more, or Rodney (Hood) out there more."
Curry won't fret about playing time.
"I've had games where I've played well in short minutes," he said. "It's the playoffs. Every possession is magnified. Every minute is important. I can't take two or three minutes to get warmed up. I have to be ready when I get out there."
So does George, if the Thunder aren't to return home in an 0-2 hole. He said Monday he was encouraged that the Thunder rallied from a 19-point second-quarter deficit to trail by only one point inside the final three minutes of the opener.
"We fought our way back," he said. "We're a good team. We're confident. We're in a great place. We have to come out (Tuesday) night and take it to (the Blazers), be the aggressors."
The Blazers, of course, are of the same mindset. They won't sustain any injuries patting themselves on the back for the Game 1 triumph.
"We just won one game," Lillard said. "It feels good to get back on the winning side, but it's more about how we can sustain it.
"A series can change quickly. We can't forget that. That bad taste of failure in the postseason doesn't go away with one win. It's humbled us, but we're going to come out with that business attitude in Game 2."