The Trail Blazers ended a 10-game playoff-losing streak following a 104-99 victory over the Thunder on Sunday in Game 1.
Portland led by as many as 19 points, while Oklahoma City’s largest lead all game was one.
Yet, despite CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard’s hot start and the dominance of Enes Kanter, especially down the stretch, the feeling after Blazer practice on Monday was there is plenty that needs to change in Game 2.
But the Blazers’ mentality won’t change.
“We can’t get caught up in, ‘oh we won a game’… Series change quick. We can’t forget that. I think that bad taste of, I guess, failure in the postseason, doesn’t go away with one win… We’re going to come out with that business attitude and our focus is going to remain the same,” Lillard said after practice.
Portland came out hot in the first quarter, scoring 39 points and shooting 60 percent from the field. Moe Harkless’ first-quarter defense on Paul George did not go unnoticed. Lillard and Blazers head coach Terry Stotts knew Harklees’ two quick blocks and aggressiveness on defense really helped set the tone for the night.
Portland is ready to execute better in a few areas on Tuesday night for Game 2 though.
Zach Collins, who got into foul trouble on Sunday, was frustrated with his own play with unnecessary fouls, but he also knows as a team they can crack down on certain miscues.
“I definitely think we can play a lot better… We made a lot of, I don’t want to say like careless mistakes, but definitely correctable mistakes and I think if anything we are just more confident going in because we won and we’re up 1-0 in the series and we know how much better we can play,” Collins said.
Cutting down the turnovers
In the Blazers’ 104-99 win Sunday, Portland finished the game committing 18 turnovers to the Thunder’s 16.
Lillard believes heading into Game 2 turnovers are the biggest focus.
“I think number one is taking care of the ball,” he said. “We had, I think, 19 turnovers. That’s a lot more than what we had over the second half of the season. We’ve been taking really good care of the ball. It’s even more important against a team that loves to be out in transition.”
“They love deflecting passes, getting transition threes, and attacking the rim, drawing fouls, and stuff like that and the more we turn the ball over, the more we’re making it a fun game for them, allowing them to play their style,” Lillard said.
Lillard also took onus following a night where he committed six turnovers in Game 1.
“I turned the ball over a lot… As much as I had the ball in my hands, I gotta try to be much better about playing into their hands and not allowing them to dictate the game in that way and kind of force me into doing things that they want me to do,” Lillard said.
Coach Stotts differentiates turnovers. He doesn’t believe all turnovers are created equal.
“The turnovers are, to me, it’s either decision making or execution. If you don’t catch the ball or if you throw a bad pass, we just have to do that better. To me, the decision making of turnovers those are the ones that are concerning – whether it was a right decision to make that pass or split a double team or whatever it is, those are the ones that we have to clean up,” Stotts said.
This season Portland averaged 13.9 turnovers per game, the 13th most in the league.
Limiting the Thunder’s 3-point shots
OKC helped the Blazers out by not hitting open shots in Game 1. Paul George, who scored 26 points, made just 8-of-24, including 4-of-15 from three. He was a main topic of conversation after Blazers’ practice Monday.
“A lot of stuff that we could’ve done better. Things that they could’ve taken advantage of, they tried to, but didn’t, like allowing Paul George to get some open looks from three that he didn’t make, Lillard said.
“We still gave up too much in transition, gave up too many second chance points, gave up too many threes. So, I think we can be better defensively given that they still only scored 99 points, I think we can still be better,” Stotts said.
Coach Stotts also discussed the many ways his team can defend the three better for the rest of the series.
“Closing their space, having good close outs. Some of it was on offensive rebounds they kicked out for some threes, transition threes,” Stotts said.
While, Harkless’ focus is determining who can sag off their man to help make sure George can’t get a good look.
“With George, we just got to make sure that we know where he is at all times and then do the same with the other shooters. You know, not help as much off of Paul and find guys who we can help off of,” Harkless said.
The Trail Blazers made 11-of-25 threes, the Thunder made just 5-of-33 on Sunday night.
PG13 is and will be the focus on defense.
“If we’re gonna lose somebody it can't be him,” Lillard said.
Exposing smaller wings down low
Whether it was Rodney Hood or Evan Turner there were many times the Blazers were able to take advantage of a smaller defenders and Portland knows this must continue.
“I think it’s important for us to look for mismatch opportunities when a smaller wing gets crossed up on Enes or a small guard ends up switched on Rodney or Evan or Moe or something like that. We’ve gotta make sure we are looking for those opportunities because they’re big wings and all three of those guys are good post players when they have a mismatch, so that’s definitely something that we should be looking to take advantage of when it presents itself,” Lillard said.
Of course the Blazers aren’t the only ones looking to make adjustments heading in to Game 2. The Blazers are trying to stay ahead of what they think OKC might change.
“You try and anticipate what they might do. I had one of our assistants view the film as if they were Oklahoma City and what they might possible do,” Stotts said.
“Generally it’s the team that loses that tends to make more adjustments than the team that wins,” Stotts added.
Let the adjustments begin.