OKLAHOMA CITY – Let’s start today’s little off-day story by making it clear that the Trail Blazers can win their first-round playoff series against Oklahoma City without ever having to win a game on the road. Everybody knows that.
Portland has homecourt advantage. Just keep winning in Moda Center and when Game 7 is over, the Trail Blazers will be headed for the second round of the playoffs.
But that’s a dangerous game to play. Usually, one team wins a game on the other team’s court and you don’t want to be the team that loses at home – particularly late in the series when it’s hard to wrestle back that homecourt edge.
That’s why I think it’s extremely important for the Trail Blazers win Game 4 Sunday night. And on many levels.
Yes, if they win Sunday they can wrap up the series Tuesday night at home. Quick series means more rest prior to the start of the next one.
But more than that, the Trail Blazers are getting sick of the Thunder. I don’t know any other way to put that, but playing a team four times in the regular season and then facing it for a possible seven more games in the playoffs is a lot – particularly when that team brings all the antics the Thunder throw at the opposition.
Russell Westbrook rocks the baby, never stops talking and overall, makes himself as obnoxious with opponents as he is with the media. Dennis Schroder was mocking Damian Lillard’s wrist tap for “Lillard Time” at the end of Friday’s game. Paul George did a reverse dunk on the Blazers just after the final horn went off and that’s considered an unprofessional act in the NBA.
“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. “I think that would be big time.
“You know, it would put a lot of pressure on that team to win a game on the road. And I know, going back home, our fans would be super excited to be closing out a series at home.”
And is it extra motivation to win, just so you don’t have to deal with their garbage?
“Yeah, it is,” he said with a laugh. “You know, they come with a lot of extra stuff when they win. WHEN THEY WIN. They are a lot less talkative when they don’t. We just have to go in there tomorrow and handle our business and focus on that and see what happens.”
Enes Kanter is in a unique position of having played for the Thunder and is now playing against them in this series.
“I used to get nervous going against them,” Kanter said. “They are just going to do everything to get under people’s skin. So we need to just keep our calm and go out there and do our job.”
And how are his new teammates doing with that?
“I’m very impressed with Dame and CJ, especially, and they are doing a very good job… just keeping their coolness,” he said. “Russ is trying to do everything to get under their skin but especially Dame, doing an amazing job of just keep coming, focusing on what they need to focus on.”
Kanter understands the need to grab that third win Sunday night.
“This is very, very important,” he said. “I remember, I was with Oklahoma City Thunder three years ago and we were up 3-1 against Golden State and they came back and beat us 4-3.
“Every game matters. Every possession matters in the playoffs.”
Lillard said it would be “really important” to win Sunday night.
“Last game I thought we played a solid game,” he said. “We just came up a little bit short. Tomorrow we’ve got to come with that same energy and that same focus. We want to get that one tomorrow.
“You don’t want to just count on winning home games. You want to get at least one on the road and put more pressure on them.”
Coach Terry Stotts falls back on the “every game is important” stance, as he should. As a coach, you can’t really go all in on any one game. And as far as giving the Thunder momentum if they tie the series at 2?
“Momentum changes game by game in the playoffs,” he said. “If we win, they win, there’s a pendulum that goes over a little stronger one way or the other. Momentum is a fickle thing in the playoffs.”
Stotts did admit that he intended to get that technical foul he was called for in Game 3.
“I wanted to get one, yes,” he said. “There were three plays in a row – I thought Enes got fouled on a shot, I thought Enes got pushed underneath and that last one was an obvious hold. So I think it was the culmination of those three consecutive plays.”
Glad that was accomplished. It was cool to have a rare Angry Stotts sighting.