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BY KERRY EGGERS/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Blazers coach says he expects 'a great effort' from Thunder as Portland aims to wrap up NBA playoff series in five games


OKLAHOMA CITY — Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, Terry Stotts met with a small group of media at the Trail Blazers' hotel Monday morning, less than 12 hours after his team had finished the job on its most important victory over the season.

A 111-98 win over Oklahoma City in Sunday night's Game 4 put the Blazers in position to close out the Thunder at Moda Center at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

"Thunder Up" is Oklahoma City's theme for these NBA playoffs, but the Blazers turned it into "Thunder Down" on Sunday, pushing their opponents to the point where Tuesday could call for their post-mortem.

"To get a win on their court feels good," Stotts said. "We did a lot of good things. I liked the way we kept our composure, made big plays. It wasn't an easy game. It's good to be up 3-1, but we have to close them out now."

With point guard Russell Westbrook setting the tone, there were plenty of extracurricular activities during Oklahoma City's Game 3 win on Friday night. The Blazers were determined not to get caught up in it in Game 4.

"We weren't emotional about it — we were just competing," said Portland's Damian Lillard, who scored 24 points in Game 4 and is averaging 28.8 points in the series. "We were passionate about the game as well (as the Thunder), but we didn't engage in it. Our focus was our team.

"We're not going to go crazy on the referees, get into shouting matches (with the Thunder). We're going to focus on the things we need to do to win the game. I was proud our team stuck with that."

Stotts said that was a point of emphasis in the Blazers' preparation for Game 4.

"It was about being us, doing what we do, doing what's in our best interest," Stotts said. "Our approach to it was in our favor. We went about our business, played our game, didn't get caught up in anything other than what we needed to do.

"It's good to be going home and having a chance to close them out," he said, "but our demeanor, our approach isn't going to change in Game 5."

Asked what the Thunder must do to win Game 5, OKC forward Paul George answered, "Score more points."

He wasn't being a wise guy. OKC scored 120 points in Game 3 but has been held under 100 points in each of its losses.

Marksmanship goes along with that. George is averaging 26.8 points and 8.5 rebounds in the series but is shooting only .370 from the field and .308 from 3-point range. Westbrook is averaging 21.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 9.8 assists but is shooting .363 from the field and .231 from the 3-point line.

Meanwhile, Lillard is 36 for 82 (.439) and McCollum 38 for 82 (.463) from the field in the series. From 3-point range, Lillard is 18 for 38 (.444). McCollum — who is averaging 26.3 points in the series — is 16 for 31 (.516).

The Thunder are shooting .413 from the field and .308 on 3-point attempts in the series.

The Blazers' numbers are .441 from the field and an excellent .415 from beyond the arc.

OKC swept four regular-season games from Portland, but all were single-digit outcomes. What has changed?

"I can't point to anything in particular," Stotts said. "All four games regular-season games could have gone either way. Paul George had three big games against us. During the regular season, two of them were the second of back-to-back games, so that may have had something to do with it.

"We're two evenly matched teams. The games have been very competitive. We're both playing hard, and we're probably playing better (now than in the regular season)."

Stotts is right with the last point. Even without center Jusuf Nurkic, the Blazers are a better team than when they last met up with the Thunder in the regular season in early March.

The Blazers also are playing with extra motivation after being swept by New Orleans in the first round of the playoffs a year ago.

"It was really embarrassing," McCollum said after Game 4. "Everybody talked about it. It was on TV every day. They talked about me getting traded. Talked about how (Lillard and McCollum) can't win together and all of that stuff. We remember it, and we understand that feeling of going home early."

The Blazers were eliminated so quickly, McCollum had time to fly to Europe and watch his brother, Errick McCollum, play in the EuroLeague playoffs for a Turkish team. Errick is now playing in Russia.

"I told him this year I was not going to be able to make it," CJ said.

The Blazers would love to wrap up the series Tuesday night, which would give them an opportunity for some rest before beginning a Western Conference semifinal series against either Denver or San Antonio. The Nuggets and Spurs are tied 2-2 and will end their series no earlier than Thursday night.

The Thunder's body language walking off the court after Game 4 was not good. It could be that their collective spirit has been broken. Stotts, of course, wouldn't have anything to do with that notion.

"They're pros," he said. "I expect a great effort from them. You lose a game on your home court, you're going to be dejected. But I would expect them to bounce back in Game 5."

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