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.