Blazers go up 2-0 against the Thunder with 114-94 win
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — CJ McCollum likes when games get gritty.
The guard scored 33 points as the Portland Trail Blazers took a 2-0 lead in their playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder with a 114-94 victory on Tuesday night.
Tense at times with plenty of jawing back-and-forth between the teams, the series now heads to Oklahoma City for Game 3 on Friday.
“I love it, that’s what I live for,” said McCollum, who missed 10 games late in the regular season because of a knee injury. “Just like playing on the playground.”
Damian Lillard added 29 points for the third-seeded Blazers, who opened a playoff series with two wins for the first time since the 2014 playoffs, when they beat Houston in six games.
Russell Westbrook, who had his ninth career postseason triple-double in Oklahoma City’s Game 1 loss, finished with 14 points, nine rebounds and 11 assists. He was pulled with 3:31 with most of his fellow starters after Portland built a 112-91 lead.
Westbrook was just 5 of 20 from the field, including 1 for 6 on 3-point attempts. Collectively, the Thunder were 5 of 28 from the perimeter.
“I’ve got to play better,” Westbrook said. “Tonight, the loss, I’m going to take full responsibility of tonight because the way I played was unacceptable. I’m going to be better.”
Paul George had 27 points despite lingering questions about his right shoulder, which was covered with kinesiology tape.
Portland’s victory in Game 1 snapped a 10-game postseason losing streak that included four-game sweeps in the past two seasons — first by the Warriors and then last year by the Pelicans. Lillard had 30 points in the 104-99 win on Sunday.
Oklahoma City beat the Blazers in all four meetings during the regular season. The Thunder have been to the playoffs for eight of the last nine seasons, but they haven’t gotten past the opening round for the past two.
Oklahoma City started with a lot more energy than in Game 1, when it fell behind by 19 points in the first half. When Westbrook hit a 3-pointer in the first quarter, he pounded his chest and the Thunder went on to lead 31-26 at the end of the period.
Lillard hit a 3-pointer and was fouled to close the Blazers within 48-43. But the game began to get heated, with Lillard and Westbrook getting into it when Lillard tried to strip the ball. The officials reviewed it for a “hostile act” but concluded there were no fouls on the play. It was chippy for much of the game, and at one point Lillard and Steven Adams stared each other down after Adams set a screen on the All-Star guard.
“With this team it’s physical. It’s physical every time we’ve played them,” said Portland’s Maurice Harkless, who finished with 14 points. “It’s only magnified now — and it’s only going to get more physical.”
Westbrook collected three fouls in the first half and headed early to the bench, as did Portland’s Enes Kanter, who was so successful against the Thunder in Game 1. Together the teams had 29 fouls in the opening half and there were 54 for the game.
McCollum nailed a 3-pointer off a pass from Lillard at the buzzer to tie the game at 54 going into the break. Then McCollum turned to the crowd and simply nodded.
“My body feels good,” said McCollum, playing in his fourth game since the layoff because of a left knee strain. “Coming off an injury, being able to get into a rhythm and get up and down. Being able to find that rhythm is very important to me.”
Portland pulled in front on McCollum’s jumper and extended it to 69-63 with Lillard’s long 3-pointer. Seth Curry had back-to-back 3s to put the Blazers up 85-73 late in the third.
The Blazers’ hopes for postseason success appeared to take a blow last month when center Jusuf Nurkic was lost for the season with a broken left leg. Nurkic was averaging 15.6 points and 10.4 rebounds when he sustained the gruesome injury during a game against the Brooklyn Nets.
Kanter, signed just before the All-Star break after he was waived by the New York Knicks, has started in Nurkic’s place. Kanter had 20 points and 18 rebounds in Game 1 but finished with six points and five rebounds on Tuesday.
At one point in the first half Kanter got knocked in the hand and X-rays at halftime revealed a contusion. But he said following the game that he’d be fine for Game 3.
Thunder: Thunder coach Billy Donovan was emphatic before the game: “No injuries, no one out, no game-time decisions.” … It’s the first playoff series between the teams since the Thunder moved from Seattle to Oklahoma City.
Trail Blazers: Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who just signed a contract extension that makes him the highest paid player in the NFL, was among the fans at the Moda Center, as was Gonzaga coach Mark Few. … Jake Layman, who did not play in the series opener, came in to start the second quarter.
TROUBLE FROM DISTANCE
Donovan said he’ll take a look at why the Thunder aren’t faring well from 3-point range. The team also struggled in Game 1, making just five of 33 attempts.
“For the most part, I think we got fairly decent looks and we’re going to have to take them,” Donovan said. “As the ball gets driven downhill, and teams bring help and protect the rim, you just can’t force the ball in there and take tough, ill-advised shots. And when the ball gets sprayed back out to the perimeter and guys are open, it’s hard to say, ‘OK, just drive it right back to the help again and hope they move out of the way.'”
UP NEXT: Game 3 is set for Friday night in Oklahoma City.
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