Batum: Showing up in 2nd half, defending KD
OKLAHOMA CITY – “I’m glad your flight arrived at halftime,” is how Wesley Matthews and LaMarcus Aldridge greeted Nicolas Batum at the team’s locker room entrance at the end of tonight’s game.
Batum held the leading scorer in the league in Kevin Durant to one point in the fourth quarter and Batum posted 15 huge points in the second half that helped the Portland Trail Blazers break a two-game losing skid with a 98-94 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
LaMarcus Aldridge went for 25 points and 14 rebounds. Damian Lillard contributed 21 points, four rebounds and 11 assists. Wesley Matthews supplied 16 points.
This story sounds all good and dandy but that’s not the way things started out, especially for Batum.
Zero points. 0-for-3 and three turnovers was his statline at the end of the first two quarters. Not to mention his assignment on the defensive end being Durant, was scoring at will with 22 first half points.
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Batum had disappeared. He was nonexistent and quite frankly, he was a burden to the team.
“It was one of those nights where you don’t know why,” he said. “I had the same routine. I got my sleep. I can’t explain it.”
The small forward has been incredibly consistent this season. He’s appointed the task of doing a little bit of everything. His production is overlooked sometimes but the intangibles he brings to the game are highly important to the success of the team.
But nonetheless, tonight was a night where the team needed him to step it up a bit on the offensive end in order to make Durant work on both ends of the floor, and that’s exactly what occurred in the second half.
Getting some easy buckets in transition got him going and in the process, he began to see Durant fatiguing. Realizing the impact he was having, Batum remembered what Durant was missing and he proceeded to execute.
“Sometimes when K.D. is tired, he would just give the ball to [Russell] Westbrook and rest a little bit,” Batum explained. “Now he has to do all the work. I know they got good players around him but it’s different with Westbrook out. I’m not saying he was tired at the end, but when you don’t have your other go-to guy on the court, it makes it harder.”
Batum also had help guarding Durant down the stretch. It wasn’t help in red jerseys. It was assistance from a player in a black uniform in point guard Reggie Jackson.
Down two with under three minutes to go in this contest, the Thunder tried to get Durant the ball. Durant walked Batum down and popped back up to the left wing and stood there wide open.
However, Jackson, who had the ball, for some reason didn’t pass him the rock. Durant stood there puzzled. He then went on to go towards Jackson for the dribble handoff but Jackson still didn’t get him the ball.
Jackson would keep the ball and get fouled driving to the lane only to make one of two free throws. Batum says that was a strange sequence, but said he’ll take all the help he could get.
“K.D. was running around and he got open,” Batum expounded. “I kind of stopped in a stance knowing he was getting the ball. I was shocked that he didn’t pass it to him. I was like, ‘okay.’ Then K.D. went over to get the ball from him and he still didn’t give it to him. I was even thinking to myself, ‘get him the ball.’
“But you know what, I’m good with that. I thank him.”
[WATCH GAME HIGHLIGHT Blazers comeback, win in wild fashion at OKC]
Durant poured in 22 of his game-high 37 points in the first half and he even helped out on the boards a little bit with 14 of them. Serge Ibaka added 17 points and three blocks and Jeremy Lamb led all reserves with 11 points.
“Obviously that was a terrific win, to get a game like this on the road during a back-to-back against the best team in the league right now,” Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts said. “Shooting under 40 percent, 24 percent from the three, it was a gritty defensive performance in the second half.”
When Batum is aggressive, the team is in good shape. He was asked why isn’t this something we see on the regular as far as his aggression level on the offensive end.
“That’s a good question,” he replied. “And I don’t know the answer. I can’t say I’ll be aggressive every night because it depends on the game. It depends on what the team needs me to do. That’s who I am on this team. Some games I’ll get 20 points or some games I’ll get 12 assists. That’s me. That’s who I am right now.”
Right now, he and the Trail Blazers are winners. The loss to the Pelicans last night put Portland in a dangerous position with the high probability of walking away from this two-game road trip without a win.
In a hostile environment, Portland ends the New Year on a good note. Batum’s flight arrived just in time. If it had landed in 2014, this would have been a disastrous evening.
“I’m just glad we got the win,” Batum said.