Thunder win 3rd straight with 96-93 victory over Portland
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Luguentz Dort had 23 points to help Oklahoma City hold off the Portland Trail Blazers 96-93 after a close fourth quarter on Friday night, giving the Thunder their first three-game winning streak since December.
The Thunder trailed by as many as 10 points in the third quarter but closed the gap in the fourth and pulled ahead 88-82 on Josh Giddey’s basket with 5:45 left.
CJ McCollum’s hook shot got Portland within 91-86 with just under two minutes left, and he added a layup that narrowed it further. But a scramble under Oklahoma City’s net gave free throws to Mamadi Diakite to make it 93-88 with 14 seconds to go.
Portland wasn’t quite finished. Anfernee Simons’ layup and free throw cut the gap to 95-93 with 3.6 seconds on the clock. After Dort missed the first of two free throws on the other end, Simons missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer for the tie.
The Thunder’s current streak started earlier this week with a 98-81 victory at home over the Blazers on Monday, which snapped a seven-game skid. The last time Oklahoma City won three straight was from Dec. 18-22.
“We’ve won three in a row and a lot or those have come down to crunch time,” said Giddey, who had 16 points. “Earlier in the year, we were losing those games but as the season goes were learning how to win those games — and we’ve been winning them lately.”
Oklahoma City was without Aaron Wiggins because of a sprained right ankle suffered in Wednesday’s 120-114 overtime victory over Dallas.
“I thought we were gutsy, especially in the second half. We just made lot of physical plays, really good rim-protection plays,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “We were contesting everything around the rim. We did a lot of good things to close the game.”
McCollum and Simons led Portland with 19 points apiece, and Jusuf Nurkic had 14 points and 16 rebounds for the Blazers, who have lost four straight.
Portland was shorthanded after Friday’s trade of Norman Powell and Robert Covington to the Los Angeles Clippers. In exchange, Portland got Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, rookie Keon Johnson and a second-round pick in 2025. But those players had not yet arrived.
Plus, Larry Nance Jr. was not available to play for Portland because of right knee inflammation, and the Blazers continue to miss star guard Damian Lillard, who is out indefinitely after a procedure to treat an abdominal issue.
Simons’ floater at the buzzer gave the Blazers a 50-46 lead at the break, and they stretched it to 65-55 on Nurkic’s layup midway through the third quarter.
The Thunder pulled within 67-66 on Giddey’s 3-pointer but Portland clung to a 76-75 lead going into the final quarter.
Mike Muscala’s 3-pointer put Oklahoma City in front 81-80 with 9:40 left in the game.
Simons admitted the Blazers have a tougher task moving forward. The teams is currently in 10th place in the Western Conference.
“We’re all competitive guys, no matter who is out there. We’re all trying to win,” Simons said. “So a lot of young guys are going to be able to play and get an opportunity, learn and grow together, build an identity for ourselves as the roster fills out.”
Both teams were playing the first of back-to-back games.
Billups confirmed before the game that Friday’s trade was made to create cap flexibility, getting Portland under the luxury-tax threshold.
He was asked how the Blazers, in 10th place in the Western Conference and in danger of missing the playoffs, will approach the rest of the season.
“Obviously everybody knows where our record’s at, where we stand. No secret,” said Billups, in his first year as a head coach. “I just try to win every single game and try to keep getting better as a coach, no matter what is kind of thrown at me, what we have or what we don’t have. I can’t control those things.”
Thunder: It was the second of four meetings this season. The Thunder won the first in Oklahoma City. … Shai Gilgeous-Alexander missed his third game with a right ankle sprain. He is not expected to return until after the All-Star break.
Trail Blazers: Powell started 39 games for the Blazers this season, averaging 18.7 points. Covington averaged 7.6 points with 5.7 rebounds. … Portland was home after a 1-3 road trip.
Thunder: Visits Sacramento on Saturday.
Trail Blazers: Hosts Milwaukee on Saturday.
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