Before Damian Lillard hit the shot that will be replayed in Springfield until the end of time, there were 47 minutes and 50 seconds of basketball played, with enough back-and-forth between the two teams to write a movie that would eclipse the Avengers: Endgame in runtime. Frankly, each and every possession of the game deserves to be watched and re-watched and broken down, but I fear my editors might not like that very much. Rather than breaking down all of the 224 possessions in this game, we’re going to pick up the action with 3:28 left in the fourth quarter and talk through the ending to this instant classic.
Oklahoma City has taken a 113-105 lead, thanks in part to a lengthy run that took them from down nine to up 15 with 7:45 left. Portland got it down to five, but Oklahoma City bounced back with a little run of their own to get it back up to eight before they took a timeout. Billy Donovan had three timeouts left and would have lost one if he didn’t take it before the 3:00 mark, so no matter what, he was going to use this to ensure his players were ready for the stretch run.
To this point, Portland had played nearly the entire series with a true center. One of Enes Kanter, Meyers Leonard, or Zach Collins were always on the floor at any given time; the only time they went with no true center was on end-of-quarter, offense-only possessions, but head coach Terry Stotts had otherwise always opted to stay big, even in the face of Oklahoma City’s smaller outfits.
In a surprise move, Stotts came out of the timeout with a small-ball unit to match the Thunder. Damian Lillard, Seth Curry, C.J. McCollum, Moe Harkless, and Al-Farouq Aminu closed the game, while Oklahoma City countered with the same lineup they used for the final 10:20 of the fourth quarter: Russell Westbrook, Dennis Schröder, Terrance Ferguson, Paul George, and Jerami Grant. Those ten players would see out the remaining 208 seconds of the series.
Seemingly not expecting the small lineup from the Trail Blazers, Oklahoma City came out of the timeout with a George-Grant pick-and-roll. The intention was to target Kanter in the action with which he’s struggled throughout his career defensively, though it has to be said that he played good defense against the Thunder.