OKALHOMA CITY – “Ohhh Chief, I love the way you played tonight, boy!!”
That comment was heard from across the Trail Blazers locker room as Maurice Harkless was singing, or rather yelling, Al-Farouq Aminu’s praises following the Blazers 111-98 victory over the Thunder in Game 4 of the best-of-seven-series.
Harkless was the first Blazer player to talk in the locker room and thus he was the first to give Aminu a shout-out.
“Chief was great. He was knocking shots down; he was rebounding, getting some blocks… Those things are huge, they add up and they led us to making runs, that’s how you get out to a big lead,” Harkless said.
One of the big Trail Blazers’ adjustments in Game 4 was to find the open player who was spotting up on the opposite side of the pick-and-roll action with Damian Lillard and Enes Kanter.
Aminu was that player.
And, he was ready for it.
“I don’t know how many threes [Aminu] made, but, it felt like he made every time he shot it. I mean, he was great and Dame and CJ [McCollum] did a really good job of finding Enes and Enes did a really good job making good decisions,” Harkless said.
There’s no doubt Aminu was in zone. He hit his first three three-pointers and ended the game going 4-for-9 from deep. The Blazers starting power forward finished with 19 points and nine rebounds.
Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was not surprised one bit by Aminu’s stellar performance.
“He does it every night,” Stotts said. “Sometimes he scores, sometimes he doesn’t, but he gives a great effort every night. We ask him to do a lot of things on the defensive end, to rebound. He’s probably a better shooter than people give him credit for, and he’s been an important part of our team since he’s been here.”
For Chief, it’s about putting personal stuff on hold and only focusing on his team.
“This part of the year everybody is so locked in on winning. Not to say that you’re not locked in during the season, but the stakes are higher. You kind of put yourself to the side a little more and you put it into the team,” Aminu said.
“I think we trust each other. We’ve got to continue to trust each other,” Harkless added.
Throughout his career in Portland, Aminu has been the go-to defensive stopper for the Blazers and that has continued in this series with the Thunder.
Aminu made Paul George’s life difficult once again, along with the other Thunder forwards, in Game 4, but he was quick to give his teammates credit for how well they’ve been playing on that end of the floor.
“I thought we did a great job [on defense]. We helped each other. I thought Enes at the rim was big. He had a lot of verticals, as well as Zach. Zach was just flying around out there. He was giving us energy… The guards were getting into guys… I think we’ve been great defensively throughout the series,” Aminu said.
Aminu finished with the second best plus/minus on the team with a +19 behind CJ McCollum’s +25. Aminu was happy to help his team put up points.
“I’m just glad I was able to alleviate some of the pressure… Those are the shots that we are going to have to hit,” Aminu said.
“It’s important,” for Aminu to make sure he is involved in some kind of shooting competition whether it’s during his pregame routine or after Trail Blazers practice.
“I don’t really like to just come in and just shoot jumpers, just to be shooting and I feel like it doesn’t add that element that you feel when you’re in the game whereas, you know, you’re nervous a little bit, you don’t want to lose to the other guys. It adds that competitiveness and I think it helps me,” Aminu said with a smile.
The Trail Blazer now take a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series against the Thunder. Portland also snapped its eight consecutive postseason road lossing streak with Sunday’s win.
With all the Thunder antics and trash talking, it was clear the Blazers were happy to not only get Game 4 on the road, but to not listen to OKC chirping in the second half on Sunday night.
“Tonight was just a good day for us to shut them up,” Harkless said. “We’re focused… We’re heading home, can’t wait to get home to our crowd and we’re excited about Tuesday. We’re going to play hard and play even better than we did tonight.”
You heard Harkless, Moda Center crowd, the Blazers are coming for you and they are eager to closeout the first round series at home.