Gang-guarding Kevin Durant is one thing. Gang-guarding the Oklahoma City Thunder’s scoring star and getting the desired happy results is quite another.
For the Portland Trail Blazers Tuesday night in OKC, small forwards Gerald Wallace and Nicolas Batum led a group effort that paid off in a 103-93 victory. Wallace and Batum bothered Durant into 8-for-26 shooting and the Blazers fouled him only twice in shooting situations. Durant’s 19 points were only the second time he finished with fewer than 27 this season and the fewest he has scored in defeat since his 11-point, 3-of-14 night against Memphis in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals last May.
“My thing was just to try to stay into him, make him take tough shots, take contested shots, keep a body on him,” Wallace said after Portland moved atop the conference standings, the only team on that side of the NBA with only one loss (Chicago, Miami and Indiana woke up as the lone-defeated out East).
“You don’t want him running free the whole time,” Wallace said.
The Blazers played bump-and-chase with Durant, wrote Joe Freeman of The Oregonian:
Wallace pushed and prodded Durant all game, making him fight to get open. And Baum chased Durant all night, making him shoot contested shots. Durant said afterward he got “good looks” but also credited the Blazers’ defense, which held the Thunder to 40 points and 34.2 percent shooting in the second half.
“They did a great job of stopping him when he needed them to,” [Portland guard Raymond] Felton said. “Making him shoot contested, tough shots. Not letting him get in his comfort zone. … I’m proud of both of them.”
There were others, natch. LaMarcus Aldridge worked inside and out for 30 points on 10-of-19. Felton and Wes Matthews combined for 28 points, nine assists and 10 rebounds. Wallace and Batum provided 25 points and 17 rebounds in a combined 57-plus minutes.
As Felton said afterward, it’s only Game 5 of the season – not Game 5 of a possible playoff series between the Thunder, heavily favored in the Northwest Division, and the Blazers. But Portland fans are encouraged by what they saw on TV Tuesday, along with the sense that the Blazers will continue to adapt, post-Brandon Roy, and get better as the season progresses.
Oh, and there is some precedent working in the Blazers’ favor: The last time the NBA emerged from a lockout, back in February 1999, Portland pulled itself together on the fly and went 16-2 a few weeks into that truncated season to vault from fourth in their division that season to first, reaching the conference finals.