When Oklahoma City takes the floor Sunday afternoon against the Trail Blazers in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series, the Thunder will undoubtedly take some confidence with them for having swept Portland 4-0 during their season series.
But I’m never certain that what happens in the regular season carries over into the playoffs. And this season series was marked by something uncharacteristic that may not be repeated in a playoff series.
The biggest reason the Thunder held a 4-0 edge on the Blazers was three-point shooting, OKC did it well and Portland did not.
And by a wide margin. Which I’m not sure will continue to happen.
Oklahoma City made 39.3 percent of its threes against the Trail Blazers. For the season on the whole, the Thunder made just 34.8 percent from three-point range.
In the four games vs. OKC, the Trail Blazers managed an anemic 28.5 percent from three – and this was a team that shot .359 for the season from that distance.
Looking at it another way, the Thunder took 27 fewer three-point shots over the four games between the teams but made four more.
And if you want to talk individually, the first thing you need to know is that vs. the Thunder, Damian Lillard made only 25 percent of his threes and OKC’s Russell Westbrook hit 35 percent of his. For the record, Westbrook managed to make just 29 percent of his three-point attempts against the league this season. And he’s a career 30.4 percent shooter from distance, while Lillard was a 36.9 percent shooter from three this season.
There were mitigating circumstances in those four games, of course. There always is during a long season.
“They’ve shot the ball very well against us from three and we haven’t,” Portland Coach Terry Stotts said Saturday. “That’s been the deciding factor in most of the games.”
Is that something OKC did on defense or was Portland just missing good shots?
“In general, it’s a little bit of both,” Stotts said. “You’ve got to credit their defense but I think we had a lot of makeable shots… that’s part of basketball.
“As I mentioned yesterday, I don’t know if fatigue was a factor but two of the games were second of a back-to-back and that could have been a factor, and another was after a seven-game road trip.
“That could have been a factor. I’m not blaming that. But it could have been a factor.”
Seth Curry, the Blazers’ most accurate long-range shooter (45 percent in the regular season), went only 2-11 in the four games vs Oklahoma City.
“A couple of games were tough schedule-wise,” Curry said. “I think we’ve created good shots against them every time we’ve played them, pretty much. We’ll be able to knock them down.
“They’re a good defensive team but with Dame and CJ and myself coming off ball screens, we’ll be able to create good shots. As long as we create good shots, we’ll live with the results.
“You’re not going to shoot a good percentage if you’re taking bad shots. If you’re taking good shots, you might miss a few in a row but eventually it will even out. You’ll be back to your average.”
Curry also made a good point. These games were not played in a series – they were spread from January through March.
“It was four games throughout the year,” he said. “It’s not in a vacuum. You play a lot of games in between. It wasn’t four games in a row against one team.
“Create good shots, have strong legs and a strong base to shoot the ball. Regular season numbers don’t tell the story.
“We’re a different team than when we played them. Our rotation is different. This is a much different team they’re playing.”
For sure, including Curry’s minutes, which have increased as the season has moved along.
Lillard, as is his habit, has taken a close look at the games -- and came away shaking his head.
“I was looking at it on film,” he said. “I forgot, we got some great looks – we just didn’t make shots. That’s been our focus, shooting the ball with confidence.
“This is it. I don’t know what else to say. This is it. Looking at our four games against them, we got great looks. Our offense on the weak side was there, we were finding shooters but we didn’t make shots. Hopefully that turns in our favor.”
And when you look back at what happened during the season, you’d have to conclude that the Thunder will win this playoff series if it continues to dominate Portland from the three-point line.
But percentages do take over as the sample size increases. And that’s why I expect the Trail Blazers to win the series.