The score was 39-25, Trail Blazers leading after the first quarter. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum shot lights-out to begin the game.
It was a great start for what was sure to be a tough game.
Of course, as everyone knows, it's how you finish that counts in an NBA game of runs.
Sunday afternoon, it was Enes Kanter who finished off his former team.
In the last 91 seconds of Game 1 on Sunday, Kanter came up with two huge offensive rebounds and a driving left-handed lay-up that his team would praise him about afterwards as the Trail Blazers held off the Thunder, 104-99.
The 26-year-old finished with 20 points and 18 rebounds, seven of which were on the offensive end. This was Kanter’s third postseason game with a double-double.
As Kanter walked off the floor, Trail Blazers General Manager and President of Basketball Operations, Neil Olshey made sure to find his newest acquisition.
“After we got the win, I was walking to the locker room, I saw the GM Neil,” Kanter said. “And, he told me, ‘what a great decision, right?’ I said, “I appreciate it, thank you so much,’ because if you look at it, I was on the worst team in the league and I wasn’t even playing.”
There’s no doubt Kanter is thankful to be in Portland rather than New York City where he started the season. Kanter has been preaching that since the first day he put on a Blazers uniform.
As for Game 1, it was a physical battle between these two teams, just as expected.
It came down to the wire and there was Kanter, boxing out Steven Adams to snag two key rebounds in the final seconds; Lillard gave a lot of credit to the big fella after the game.
“He was the MVP of the game,” Lillard said. “Especially down the stretch getting us second opportunities, third opportunities. He had a huge presence down the stretch and played a huge part in us winning this game.”
For Kanter, it was strange to face his old teammates, his old friends, in a game of such importance.
“A big game like this, it did feel really weird, and I was very nervous before the game. I tried to talk to Steven [Adams] and he didn’t even look at me, he was just so focused on his game and I knew he was going to do that, but I think all the credit goes to my teammates, they made me very comfortable,” Kanter said.
Thunder head coach Billy Donovan wasn’t phased by what Kanter was able to do against his former team, especially in crunch time.
“He does what he always does, offensive rebounds… It’s where a lot of his points came from; he had one face-up and maybe a couple of post-ups… But, Enes has been doing that for a long time,” Donovan said.
“Toughness” is one of the words Blazers head coach Terry Stotts used to describe Kanter’s play.
“He gave us a lot of toughness inside,” Stotts said. “Obviously with his rebounding and scoring, but I thought his conditioning was really good. He maintained a high level of play for a long period of time.”
Portland needed the rebounding and toughness from Kanter. The Blazers were also fortunate that the Thunder did not make several wide-open looks, especially from three-point range.
OKC was playing through Steven Adams on offense early in the game. Adams had 13 of his 17 points in the first half.
Many feel that Adams can expose Kanter down low in this first round series, but Blazers head coach Terry Stotts does not feel that way.
“One-on-one against Steven Adams, he can hold his own on the block. Pick and roll defense, he gives good effort, he’s communicating, so as a coach that’s all you can ask for is that a player is giving effort, trying to do what you want him to do. Enes has been like that from day one with us.”
Lillard echoed the same sentiments and also, acknowledged that people dog on his defensive game too.
“I’m not considered a great defender, but I think when the effort is there, when your focus is there and you care enough, the desire is there, you can do something for the team. I think that’s shown since [Enes] has been on our team and it showed tonight,” Lillard said.
As the Blazers now take 1-0 advantage over the Thunder in the best-of-seven series, Kanter was reflecting on what it has meant to be a Trail Blazer in the postseason.
“A couple days ago I looked in the mirror, I am blessed to just be here. What an amazing organization. What amazing teammates and they trust me,” Kanter said.
Trusting each other is what could make or break this playoff run for the Blazers.