NBA

Game 4: Everything you need to know from pregame as Trail Blazers prep for Oklahoma City Thunder

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Game 4: Everything you need to know from pregame as Trail Blazers prep for Oklahoma City Thunder

OKLAHOMA CITY – It’s almost tip-off time for Game 4 of the Trail Blazers and Thunder First Round series. Portland is looking to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

The media got a chance to ask their final questions before Game 4 for Thunder head coach Billy Donovan and Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. 

Coach Donovan discussed how he can always count on his point guard Russell Westbrook.

“I think he always plays with great energy, great intensity. I give him a lot of credit… His confidence never wavers,” Donovan said. 

Donovan also discussed how important it has been and will be moving forward in the series to have his role players like Jerami Grant and Terrance Ferguson step up and hit shots.

Hear from Coach Donovan right here:

The Blazers are not concerned with not getting as many assists as their season average (22.8). Coach Stotts mentioned when you have players like Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum who can create their own shots so well, it’s not too big of concern that the team assists are down in the series.

Coach Stotts also discussed how the Thunder have been defending Lillard.

“They were trying to trap him all game, not just the 4th quarter. He’s gotten really good about dealing with traps… Scoring 25 in the quarter while they were trying to get the ball out of his hands… They’ve been trying to take the ball out of his hands the whole series, the whole season, so it’s nothing we haven’t seen,” Stotts said.   

Hear from Coach Stotts right here:  

Just "go hoop" -- Trail Blazers not concerned with Oklahoma City's crowd

Just "go hoop" -- Trail Blazers not concerned with Oklahoma City's crowd

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Oklahoma City Thunder will be trying to even up their Western Conference First Round matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers Sunday. Portland won both games at home before the Thunder took Game 3 on their home floor.

There’s no doubt that home court can and has played a major factor in NBA playoff games.  

Game 3 Friday night, the Oklahoma City fans were on their feet and going crazy whether it was a made corner three from Terrance Ferguson or a Russell Westbrook block on Damian Lillard.

Portland was able to quiet the crowd by hitting timely threes of their own. CJ McCollum and Lillard both hushed fans with big threes or big time drives to the basket.

Blazers head coach Terry Stotts compared hitting a big shot on the road vs. at home.

“Anytime you’re on the road when you can quiet the crowd, I mean, as a player that’s always a good moment, in some ways it’s as good of moment as getting your crowd at home fired up with a shot,” Stotts said.

“Quieting a crowd [when a team] is making a run, that’s a great part of our game,” Stotts added. 

Chesapeake Arena seats just over 18,000 fans and with their team being down 2-0 in the series on Friday night, the crowd was eager to support and help their team with their loud cheering and clapping of “Thunder sticks.”

After playing for the Thunder for two years, Trail Blazers starting center Enes Kanter knows how disruptive the OKC crowd can be, saying,  “that’s why they call it the Loud City.”

But, the Blazers are focused solely on themselves when they’re away from home.

“I just go hoop. I don’t really worry about the fans. I don’t worry about where we’re at… I just go play basketball,” McCollum said.

“It’s always been the same for me, home or away. I approach it the same way,” McColum continued.

For media people watching the game in media row, being surrounded by fans, it can sound a lot louder than what the players are hearing on the court.

“A lot of times, you know, you sit in the stands you can hear how loud it is,” McCollum said. “For us, it’s generally not noticeable until you try to talk, so just the communication has to be better because it’s louder.”

Oklahoma City is a 6-point favorite heading into Sunday’s Game 4 with home court advantage, but Lillard believes there is a way to limit the advantage of loud, rowdy fans.

“You just gotta focus on the game, Lillard said. “I think we did a pretty good job of just focusing on the game and we were down 10 at half [in Game 3], we came out, we just kept playing, we didn’t panic, you know, buy into the crowd, and what they were saying, how loud they were, we just kept playing and I think that gave us a chance.”

“If we do us, those types of things will happen – not allow the crowd to get into it so much, I guess you can limit what the home court advantage is,” Lillard said.

The Trail Blazers don't NEED to win a game in OKC to take this series, but it sure would be nice if they could quiet the crowd and steal Game 4. 

Game 4 of Portland Trail Blazers vs. OKC Thunder: How and Where to Watch

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Game 4 of Portland Trail Blazers vs. OKC Thunder: How and Where to Watch

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your Blazers and stream the games easily on your device.

The Blazers are locked in for Game 4, and they think it would be "big time" to win on Sunday. “It would be huge if we were able to take the game tomorrow night and go home with some momentum and try to close it out at home,” said Maurice Harkless Saturday. “I think that would be big time."


GAME DETAILS

Where to Watch: NBC Sports Northwest

Where to Watch on the go: Stream the game live on the new MyTeams App

Tip-Off Time: 6:30 p.m. 

Point spread: Oklahoma City -6

NBCS NW Coverage: Blazers Outsiders Pregame Show (4:00 p.m.), Blazers Outsiders Postgame Show (immediately after the postgame show). 

Radio: 620AM Rip City Radio

 

INJURY UPDATES

For the Trail Blazers, Jusuf Nurkic (left leg) is out for Tuesday's Game 4 vs. OKC.

For the Thunder, Andre Roberson (left patellar) and Hamidou Diallo (right elbow) are out.
 


QUICK LINKS

Dwight Jaynes: Homecourt matters as Oklahoma City Thunder bounces back to beat Trail Blazers

Jamie Hudson: Thunder finally zero in on the pick-and-roll, but Trail Blazers like where they're at

Scoop Podcast: Inside the Trail Blazers locker room after the Game 3 loss in OKC

VIDEO: Thunder brought a new attack in Game 3

VIDEO: Game 4 looms large for the Trail Blazers



Download the brand new MyTeams app today - This is the app for everything Blazers: games, highlights, articles, podcasts and more from your NBC Sports Northwest Blazers team.

Sore but encouraged: Trail Blazers film review prepares them for Game 4

Sore but encouraged: Trail Blazers film review prepares them for Game 4

OKLAHOMA CITY -- It was a heated and physical battle on Friday night as the Thunder defeated the Trail Blazers 120-108 in Game 3.

The chippiness and the Thunder's antics were on full display in front of their home crowd.

Yet the Trail Blazers are not focused at all on the trash talking or anything OKC has been doing to try and get under their skin.

“That’s their team. They can do whatever they want. Our team was wearing red last night, so I was worried about the team in red,” CJ McCollum said Saturday afternoon.  

Portland is focused on themselves and being able to rest up and learn from the game film.

Damian Lillard came back to the hotel on Friday night after the game to watch the film and break down certain areas of the team’s performance. 

“I think last night it was what I thought it was – a lot of fouls, they were at the free throw line a lot, some of our coverages -- we weren’t as sharp in as we needed to be,” Lillard said.

“Sometime when we wanted to blitz Paul George and trap him it was softer than we needed it to be. So, even though we were getting the ball out of his hands it was easy for him to make a pass out and then they were playing to the weak side, so it was tough, like that’s where we could’ve been sharper, we could’ve made things a little bit harder on them and we didn’t,” Lillard added.

McCollum has watched a little bit of game film as well, but for him it’s not only figuring out what needs to change in Game 4, but it’s also about getting your body right.

“The feeling [this morning] was rest up, get some treatment and get ready for Game 4,” McCollum said.

The Trail Blazers starting center and former Thunder big man Enes Kanter was also focused on his body the day after a very physical game.

“I woke up pretty sore,” Kanter said with a smile.

“I went to bed really late last night… I couldn’t really get to sleep because I was just continuing to think about the game, but we just went back to watching some film and if we just do some clean up, we feel pretty good about Game 4,” Kanter said. 

On a night, where Maurice Harkless was ejected from the game after fouling out and the officials felt that he needed to be tossed after throwing his headband, Harkless had a little trouble falling asleep too.

“I was a little frustrated last night, going to sleep, but then waking up this morning I kind of felt better about it. I think we still played a good game, a lot a good to take from that game,” Harkless said.

Harkless knows he can’t let the officiating change his performance on the defensive end.

“We’ve played through the foul trouble,” Harkless said. “You’ve just gotta to adjust to the whistle. In a playoff series you can’t really lose your aggressiveness.”

So with a day to rest and watch film in between Game 3 and Game 4, the Blazers are eager to get another crack at OKC on their homecourt.

“We’re not running from nobody and we’re looking forward to it,” McCollum said.

“We’ll have a shot,” Lillard said confidently.

Thunder finally zero in on the pick-and-roll, but Trail Blazers like where they're at

Thunder finally zero in on the pick-and-roll, but Trail Blazers like where they're at

OKLAHOMA CITY -- After shooting under 18% in both of the first two games in their best of seven series against the Trail Blazers, OKC roared back in Game 3 by shooting 51.7% from deep as a team.

“They’re going to make shots from time to time. Did we expect them to shoot 50% from three? No. We’ve got to do a better job of running them off the line. We’ve got to continue to lock in on Paul George. We can live with some of those guys shooting threes. We’ll live with it,” CJ McCollum said.   

There’s no doubt the three-point shooting helped OKC beat the Blazers 120-108 on Friday night. But there were a few more factors that the Blazers pointed out in their postgame interviews.  

The free throw discrepancy was quite a lot. Oklahoma City attempted 15 more free throws for the game.

“They lived at the free throw line and we didn’t,” Damian Lillard said postgame.

But, as Blazers head coach Terry Stotts mentioned, one of the biggest differences in OKC’s approach was how they defended Lillard and how they defended the Blazers’ pick-and-roll. 

“Dame got hot in the third quarter. We were able to set some good screens on him and get him open, but it was clear from the beginning of the game that they were taking Dame and CJ out of our pick-an-rolls… They changed some match-ups. They took [Russell] Westbrook off of Dame and put him in the corner and had other guys guarding him, so we’ll look at film and see what we can do,” Stotts said.

Lillard scored 25 points in the third quarter to help keep Portland within striking distance. He finished the game with 32 points on 10-of-21 points. He still felt like he was able to get to the hoop even with the Thunder’s adjustment.

“They got a little more aggressive on the ball. Instead of the big just trying to stay in front of me they were coming up a little higher. I noticed [Jerami] Grant in [the pick-and-roll defense], somebody that’s more agile, athletic, so maybe they could try to trap or be more aggressive. I thought I was still able to turn the corner. I think they just wanted me to get rid of the ball,” Lillard said.

“They were more aggressive, playing at home, a little bit more energy, a little desperate, and they did a better job of guarding us in the pick and roll early,” McCollum added.

The change on defense was just one of Maurice Harkless many surprises on the night.  

Harkless was in foul trouble for most of the game. He ended up getting ejected, but he didn’t realize it. Harkless said he thought he just fouled out, which he did, but then he was surprised to learn he had to head back to the locker room with 19.2 second remaining in the game because the referees thought he had thrown his mouthpiece.

The Trail Blazers starting small forward also couldn’t believe it took the Thunder so long to make the defensive adjustment on Lillard and McCollum.

“I think they tried to towards the end of the game… put Grant on Enes [Kanter] to try to get them a guy who is a little more active in the pick-and-roll. They were a lot more aggressive tonight, all night, in the pick-and-roll on Dame and CJ. We kind of expected that. I’m kind of surprised it took them until Game 3 to do it,” Harkless said.

While it stunned Harkless it took OKC this long, Thunder big man Steven Adams praised his team’s defense on the perimeter.

“The guards did a really job tonight, just getting in [and] influencing them one way. It makes the bigs’ job a lot easier, way, way easier, so they did a really good job tonight for the whole game. So, that’s what it was really. That was the difference I think from Game 1 [and] Game 2 to now,” Adams said. 

Here’s the thing though -- Lillard and the Blazers are still up 2-1 in the series and they are still feeling really good heading into Game 4 on Sunday.

“I think we’re still in a good place, still confident,” Harkless said.

“We defended well. We’ve just got to limit our turnovers, limit their second chance opportunities… I like where we’re at,” McCollum added. 

As for the Trail Blazer captain, Lillard is expecting and hoping for a similar style game on Sunday.

“I think we go into Game 4 liking where we are. It was a competitive game. We got to the fourth quarter and we had a shot. So, we want to make it that same type of game in Game 4,” Lillard said. 

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 3

Rapid Reaction: 3 Quick Takeaways from the Trail Blazers loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 3

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Thunder got their revenge in Game 3 after the Trail Blazers took a 2-0 advantage. 

OKC was looking to make it more of series in front of its home crowd and the fans were ready for it. The Thunder crowd was bringing the energy even before the game started. The fanbase welcomed back Enes Kanter with a loud applause during the pregame introductions, but that was the first and last time they gave any love to the big fella.

Early in the third quarter it looked as the Thunder were going to run away with this one. OKC’s biggest lead was 16 points.

Then, Damian Lillard happened...

Lillard scored 25 points in the third quarter to help keep Portland within striking distance.

The Thunder’s lead dwindled down to just four points heading into the final period.  It was a hard fought battle in the fourth quarter, but the Thunder had the last word, defeating the Blazers.

Final Box Score: Thunder 120, Trail Blazers 108

Here are some quick thoughts from the Blazers Game 3 loss:

1. A low scoring affair early

If it wasn’t for the Thunder’s three-point shooting in the first quarter, the start of the game would’ve been real rough for OKC. Yes, you heard that right.

Shooting on your home court can make all the difference and it sure did for Oklahoma City.

The tide turned for the Thunder from the perimeter. After shooting just over 15% from three in Game 1 and over 17% in Game 2, OKC started the game going 5-for-8 from deep. Yet, the Blazers still had a 22-21 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Playing at home really helped out shooting guard Terrance Ferguson. He went a perfect 3-for-3 before missing his first three-point attempt midway through the 3rd quarter.

2. It wasn’t pretty one

Neither team had a very clean offensive game, particular in the first half. Both teams were committing turnovers and there were plenty of offensive fouls to go around. 

But when you are the road team making it an ugly game can be an advantage just like the Godfather Dwight Jaynes pointed out.

To have 13-first half turnovers and only be shooting the ball 37.5% as a team on the road, Portland could’ve been a lot worse shape at halftime. The Thunder led by 10 at the break.

3. Fouls changed the game

Paul George had 10 points at halftime, but once the Blazers got into foul trouble he was able to get cleaner looks and was able to convert. Midway through the third quarter, Portland’s top defenders on George, Maurice Harkless and AL-Farouq Aminu both had been hit with four fouls each.

The foul trouble for Portland disrupted their defense, and in the end, the Blazers weren’t able to snag this one on the road.  

NEXT UP: The Trail Blazers and Thunder will tip-off Game 4 on Sunday night at 6:30pm pacific time. You can catch the game on NBC Sports Northwest. Our pregame coverage starts at 5:30pm.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your Blazers and stream the games easily on your device.

Game 3: Everything you need to know from pregame as Trail Blazers prep for Oklahoma City Thunder

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Game 3: Everything you need to know from pregame as Trail Blazers prep for Oklahoma City Thunder

OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Trail Blazers head into Game 3 against the Thunder, up 2-0 after winning Game 1 and then blowing out OKC in Game 2. The Thunder will look to make it more of series tonight in front of their home crowd.

Before Game 3 tipped off, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts and Thunder head coach Billy Donovan addressed the media.

Coach Donovan gave a lot of credit to Russell Westbrook and his work ethic, saying Westbrook always brings the “effort.”

“I think every coach wants this from their team – he gives effort, and I’ve said this befote there’s a comfort as a coach that you know your point guard is going to give everything he has while he is out there,” Donovan said.

The Thunder are looking to flip the script on this series now that they are back on their home floor.

“We have to play better all the way around,” Donovan said.

Hear from Coach Donovan right here:

Coach Stotts said big man Enes Kanter (right hand) is ready to play and his doing “fine” after suffering a contusion in his right hand in Game 2.

Stotts also discussed what this Blazers team has learned after getting swept in the playoffs last year.

“Well, we had to live with it through the summer and it’s been pretty much the narrative for eight months about our playoff failure and 10 straight losses… So, I think it’s given us a focus, a bit of a determination not to listen to the noise and really stay focused at the task at hand,” Stotts said.

Hear from Coach Stotts right here:

Tonight's X-factor in Oklahoma City won't be ON the court

Tonight's X-factor in Oklahoma City won't be ON the court

OKLAHOMA CITY – With the Oklahoma City Thunder down 2-0 to the Portland Trail Blazers in the best of seven series, the Thunder know adjustments need to be made and shots need to go down.

Coming off Game 2, Russell Westbrook went 5-of-20 from the floor and also committed 6 turnovers, while Damian Lillard finished with 29 points on 10-of-21 shooting including 4-of-8 from three. Portland’s backcourt outscored OKC’s 62-21.

After the Thunder wrapped up Friday morning’s shootaround, their shooting struggles were addressed, as well as what the Thunder feel may just make a big difference in Game 3.

OKC’s shooting woes

In Game 2, OKC shooting woes were front and center. The Thunder shot just 40.7 percent from the field as a team and 17.9 percent (5-of-28) from 3-point range and shooting 15.2 from three in Game 1.

During the regular season, Thunder starting power forward Jerami Grant averaged 11 points vs. the Blazers. In the first two playoffs games, he has scored 13 points combined on 3-of-15 shooting. 

Grant discussed how he and his teammates have been talking to each other about how they can’t shy away from taking shots because the tide will eventually turn.

“Just missing shots,” Grant said. “We’re fine though. We workout enough we know how to shoot the basketball. We know what we gotta do. We’ll be fine tonight.”

The X-Factor: Home Court 

After getting blown out in Game 2, the Thunder are now favored by 7.5 in Game 3. What's changed? Simply put: home court.

OKC finished the season with a 27-14 home record. Two of those home wins were big time performances against the Blazers.

“Um, we’ll see” was Westbrook’s simple response to “how important will homecourt advantage tonight?”

Westbrook did have a thoughtful answer though when it came to describing the Thunder fan base.

“Especially during this time of year they’re very, very excited, loud, intense throughout the whole game so it’s kinda good to always get in front of them. Westbrook said.

It sounds like having the home crowd behind them it what just might make the difference in Game 3.

“It’s huge, it’s huge. Playing at home, especially with the fans that we have it’s an extra man on the court with us. We’re definitely excited for this,” Grant said.

The Trail Blazers also understand what it means to play in front of your homecourt. After Portland’s shootaround, Lillard talked about the key to getting a win on the road.

“A lot of times you get on the road and it’s a little bit harder to do some of things you do at home when you get on the road because you’ve got… the crowd... it’s a standing ovation, they’re trying to get you going. Every shot that you make the crowd is going wild, making you feel good about everything little thing that you do… Those are the feel good things that you get from being a home team,” Lillard said.

“Then when you go on the road. It’s the exact opposite. Every time they make a shot it’s like the end of the world… So, it’s us being able to keep our focus and sustain what our mentality has been regardless of home or on the road,” Lillard added.

Game 3 between the Blazers and Thunder will tip-off at 6:30 pacific time on NBC Sports Northwest and the MyTeams App.

Three things the Blazers have done right and three things to watch out for vs. OKC

Three things the Blazers have done right and three things to watch out for vs. OKC

The Portland Trail Blazers are leading the Oklahoma City Thunder 2-0 in their first-round series and everything looks rosy in the Rose City. But the series now switches to Oklahoma and Chesapeake Energy Arena is no easy place to play. 

The Blazers find themselves in an interesting position, particularly given the late-season injury to Jusuf Nurkic. That anybody predicted they would be up on the Thunder at this juncture would be a stretch, even given Paul George's shoulder injury.

Over the first two games the Blazers have looked like the better team, and by a significant margin. With that, it’s time to look at three things that have gone right for Portland, and three things that they’ll need to watch out for moving forward.

Damian Lillard’s defense

Damian Lillard has been incredible on the defensive side of the ball in this series, agitating Russell Westbrook and Dennis Schroder. The Blazers PG posted a regular season defensive rating of 112, but he’s ratched that down to just 95.

Lillard has been particularly adept at using his left hand to swat at the ball, which is part timing and part film study. It’s led to several outright steals, not to mention poke aways and swipes down on the basketball during drives.

If Portland’s going to continue to be this impressive on defense, Lillard is going to have to be a part of it. Luckily he’s been whacking away possessions, blocking shots, and mucking up passing lanes during the first two games.

Blazers defense

Lillard’s defense is a part of a bigger picture that folks haven’t really talked about yet. Terry Stotts and his staff appear to have put together a clear defensive plan around one tenant: unless it’s Paul George, don’t jump on any Thunder wing’s 3-point attempt.

Portland has taken to actively rushing to the 3-point line against OKC — Seth Curry, Rodney Hood, and all the Blazers backcourt have been seen sprinting hard on close outs — but when defenders arrive they’ve taken to getting low and protecting against the dribble drive.

It’s part of the reason the Thunder have shot just 16.4 percent from the arc, far and away the worst mark of any team in the playoffs. George’s shoulder has played its part as well, but make no bones about it — the Blazers have a gameplan, and it’s working.

Portland’s shooting

The Blazers have been the second-best team in these playoffs in terms of 3-point shooting percentage, and are fifth in made 3-point attempts. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have led the way in that respect, and Seth Curry has provided quite the spark off the bench.

The Thunder just haven't been able to contain Portland's long-range gunners, and both Lillard and McCollum have put up shots from deeper than perhaps OKC would have predicted.

Oklahoma City has declined in large part to double-team either player, much the way teams have in the postseasons past. That's allowed some more freedom for Lillard and McCollum, and the Blazers have made the Thunder pay dearly. 

Oklahoma City doesn't have the confidence in its roster to double-team the Blazer guards and still contain the rest of the Portland offense effectively. That's played right into the Blazers’ hands, and should continue unless Billy Donovan somehow comes up with a more athletic forward who can switch on to either guard. 

Westbrook’s determination

After Game 1 Russell Westbrook appeared to be mopey. After Game 2, Westbrook was energized.

The former NBA MVP said that he took full responsibility for the loss in Game 2, and it seems like he isn't going to let things stand as they head back onto his home court.

Oklahoma City hasn't used its home court advantage quite the way that seems like Portland or Denver have this season, but Westbrook is certainly more dangerous. He’s a better scorer at home, and shoots 1.3 additional attempts at the free-throw line per game at Chesapeake than away. That disparity could play a difference in a tight playoff game.

And remember, Westbrook and Lillard have a history. The Thunder guard once trash-talked Lillard by telling him that he’d “been busting that ass for years”. Now the shoe is on the other foot, and Westbrook is poised to go off like a bomb. 

Paul George’s shoulder

George didn't exactly have a poor game to start the series, but he did look susceptible to blocks by Moe Harkless. Put simply, he wasn't quite himself.

George has shot no better than 28.6 percent from the 3-point line in any game this series, and that's been a huge issue for Oklahoma City. George is by far and away the most important 3-point shooter the Thunder have on their roster, both in terms of made threes and 3-point percentage, and he has more than twice the made threes than the next closest Thunder in Dennis Schroder. 

That brings us to George's shoulder. The Thunder star looked much better in Game 2, and if he's ready to play at a higher level and feeling less pain, that could spell trouble for the Blazers. If George comes back as a relevant 3-point shooter, that will change the geometry of the floor for Portland's defense in a major way.

Evan Turner as a non-factor

Turner did not have a good March but he came on strong in the five games Portland played in the month of April. As the season came to a close, it seemed that Turner would play a large role in the playoffs as one of the Blazers’ most important players and as the leader of the second unit.

But Turner has played sparingly, logging just 16 minutes in Game 1 and 11 minutes in Game 2. He hasn't made an impact in the box score, and his plus-minus has been nominal.

Portland is firing on all cylinders right now — on both sides of the ball — but the strength of this team outside of Damian Lillard has been its bench. Turner is one of the big reasons for that and when the Blazers eventually face adversity against this Oklahoma City team, they're going to need him to show up and journey forward.

CJ McCollum is rising to the occasion and so is the Trail Blazers defense

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CJ McCollum is rising to the occasion and so is the Trail Blazers defense

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Trail Blazers and Thunder series now shifts to OKC with Portland leading 2-0.

Before Thursday’s practice, the Blazers spoke with the media on a number of topics and it’s apparent this team is dialed in.

Trail Blazers Head Coach Terry Stotts said all of his guys are available for Friday’s game, including Enes Kanter, despite Kanter suffering a contusion to his right hand in Game 2.

Just as CJ McCollum put it, the postseason is a different animal.

“Playoffs is a different brand of basketball. The intensity is different, the magnitude is different,” McCollum said before the Blazers hit the court for Thursday’s practice ahead of Game 3.

Playing in OKC is not gonna be easy

As the saying goes, “it’s not a series until someone wins on the road,” and for the Blazers, this squad is looking forward to continued success against the Thunder, but they’re expecting a different kind of energy playing in Oklahoma City.

“It’s different playing against a team on your home floor vs. their home floor. They have a great crowd here. It’s probably gonna be the toughest game of the series up to this point. I’m just excited about the opportunity to come out here and get another win,” Lillard said.

“They’re playing at home, so they may be more comfortable. As an opponent we don’t worry about the other team… We don’t worry about what the Thunder are going to do, we don’t worry about what their mindset is going to be, their approach, we worry about our team,” McCollum added.  

If history is on the Thunder’s side, they’ll take Game 3. Oklahoma City is 3-0 in Game 3 when they’re down 2-0.

By no means are the Blazers thinking OKC is just going to roll over.

“I expect them to come out and play super hard,” Moe Harkless said Thursday before practice. “We expect them to come out and be very aggressive on both ends of the floor and give us their best shot from the jump. We just have to be able to withstand that and punch them right back.”

McCollum is “rising to the occasion”

CJ McCollum has been taking it to Terrance Ferguson through the first two games. McCollum is averaging 28.5 points in the series.

When Lillard was asked about the difference in play from McCollum’s regular season performance against OKC to his current playoff performance, Lillard answered by first stating,  “I think a lot of things play a factor.”

“Obviously, CJ is a tough cover to begin with. I think in the regular season sometimes you’ve got a team on a back-to-back and sometimes you’ve got this team and then after that you’re fatigued. Right now I think we are all they have to worry about and they’re all we have to worry about, because this could be it for both teams, Lillard said.

“So, you just lock in more, you’re sharper. I think CJ has come into the series sharper. I think that could present a bigger problem than maybe some of those other times [in the regular season.]” Lillard added.

As for McCollum, he mentioned how his “shark-like” mentality has helped him with the game of basketball from a very young age.

“I’ve always been a killer ever since I was a kid. I’ve taken this game very seriously and that’s why I’ve been successful. With failure and success you’ve got to have the same mentality and same mindset. I’ve always said it -- I’m a shark; sharks eat. Sharks are killers, they figure out ways to provide for themselves and that’s what I’ve done,” McCollum said.

 

Being able to throw different guys at George has been key

Maurice Harkless has been tasked with the tough assignment of starting out the game guarding Paul George.

Harkless knows the importance of not allowing PG13 to see the ball go through the hoop early.

“It’s big time,” Harkless said of jumping on George early.

“He’s the kind of guy that once he gets into a rhythm, it’ll be hard to stop him. You’ve got to set the tone early and I think we’ve done a good job,” Harkless said.

Blazers Head Coach Terry Stotts mentioned how nice it has been to have Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, Evan Turner and Rodney Hood all defend George at different times.

Harkless agreed with his coach. 

“Everybody plays him a little differently. So, it’s kind of hard for him to get consistency throughout the game and that’s huge for a guy like that because once he gets going it’s hard to stop him,” Harkless said.

The team knows it’s about making it as tough as possible on the Thunder All-Star forward.

“I don’t think Paul George is somebody you can just lock down, you know what I’m saying, he’s hitting threes and crafty, pulling up midrange, drawing fouls, getting to the rim. It’s hard to lock him down. But I think being able to make his life hard. We’ve been able to throw bodies at him. All of our wings have done a good job of not allowing him to just come out here and have his way,” Lillard said.

As for Coach Stotts, he has been pleased with his team’s overall defense.

“I thought Game 2 was a big improvement over Game 1. The areas that we were concerned about we got better in each one of them – transition, offensive rebounds, pick and roll defense. Up and down the line we were much better in Game 2,” Stotts said.

Game 3 between the Blazers and Thunder tips off at 6:30 pacific time on NBC Sports Northwest and the MyTeams App.

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