Blazers roll over Thunder to improve to 16-3
The clock showed 37.2 seconds left in the game Wednesday night when the Trail Blazers had the ball out of bounds on the right side of the court, clinging to a 105-104 lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder. And what followed was a classic illustration of why the Trail Blazers have been so effective in the early NBA season.
Nic Batum inbounded the ball and then began a cut to the basket that finished on the the opposite wing. It was part of a play designed by Terry Stotts during a Portland timeout. A play designed to get the ball to the low post for LaMarcus Aldridge. Damian Lillard tossed the ball to Batum, who was then to feed it from the wing to Aldridge, who had been on fire all night.
But Kevin Durant, defending Batum, lost him when Batum back-cut past him with a terrific bit of finesse. Batum slow-played Durant for a few steps, lulling him to sleep with an easy trot behind Durant toward the basket -- as if he wasn't a part of the play -- then busting his tail hard to the opposite wing. I believe Durant was probably pondering the possibility of double-teaming Aldridge, whom he expected to get the ball. But Batum, finding himself wide open for a three-point field goal, did not hesitate for a second.
He buried the three-pointer, which gave Portland the lead and effectively shut the Thunder down for the night.
Here's the play in its entirety:
I liked so many things about the way the play turned out.
First, there was enough misdirection designed into the play to have allowed Aldridge to get the ball on the low block without the Thunder being able to lock in on him. Better than that, it allowed Batum to be open on the wing. But most of all, I liked that Batum -- a hesitant player at times in the past -- had no doubt about his intent to knock down the open shot. He drilled it immediately.
Durant later lamented his defensive nap and as great players most often do, took full responsibility for his mistake.
This, by the way, was the essence of good NBA offense. You design plays, yes. But it's up to the players on the floor to recognize the available options based on what the defense does. The coach trusts his players and the players trust each other. Batum in this case, acted with confidence, poise and purpose.
That's a big part of winning games in any league.