Tag - Cameron Payne

Thunder Grades: Terrance Ferguson

In the 2018 edition of the Thunder Grades, we’re going to break down what we think went well and went poorly for players and coaches. We’re going to avoid players who barely play. So, Nick Collison, Kyle Singler, Daniel Hamilton and PJ Dozier won’t be graded.

We’ll do it in there ways: The Good, the bad and the conclusion. We’ll release two a day, hopefully flying through all of these.

Previous grades: Billy Donovan

Next up: Terrance Ferguson

Terrance Ferguson

The Good

The rookie taken 21st in the 2017 NBA Draft was expected to learn behind Victor Oladipo and Co. However, things change. Dipo’ was shipped off to Indiana and the void left at the two-spot forced Ferguson into some action that frankly he wasn’t ready for. However, he used his length and athleticism to try and carve out a role for himself. He didn’t play with the G League much, stuck with the senior team for all but three games.

“I think I had the best rookie season,” Ferguson said. “Just a lot of people around to help me with my game.”

There are some serious bright spots. He’s three-point barrage in a win over the Lakers in early January showcased what he could really do.

Coming from a prep academy that was purely about basketball and then going overseas, his adjustment at each increased level has been tough but Ferguson has taken it in stride.

“I think a lot of guys you look at, and you notice they have that ‘it’ factor,” Paul George said. “Terrance has that ‘it’ factor. As a young rookie in this league, he’s not afraid, he’s not scared of the moment. That stands out, and that goes a long ways.”

For all his of faults, Ferguson wasn’t afraid to get dirty. He’d do whatever was asked of him and did it without complaint. Instead of being a spot up shooter, Oklahoma City would benefit by using him slashing to the rim, ala Andre Roberson.

The Bad

Where to start? His experienced showed on both sides of the ball. He constantly was beat off the dribble and often left his teammates to cover his tracks, which left them in compromising positions. His shot didn’t look broken but absolutely was. Outside of the Lakers victory, Ferguson was really a non-factor. It’s really surprising, especially for being a first round selection.

“The biggest challenge? It was probably at the beginning of the season, just coming in, not playing a lot, and then having to go right into starting,” Ferguson said

Which is a bit surprising given his lack of play in the Australian league. You think he’d be used to it by now.

His splits were bad. He had some really rough defensive games and that led to him being yanked out the second he made a mistake, the Billy Donovan rookie special.

The inexperience at the professional level was obviously exacerbated this season as he was forced into starting games when he wasn’t ready. Ferguson could’ve used a year in the G League, honing his craft. Instead, he was forced to guard James Harden and getting cooked.

The Conclusion

Ferguson definitely had more negatives than positives this season. The kid is not even 20 years old yet. So, there’s plenty of room for growth and improvements. We’ve seen it in players like Reggie Jackson. Sometimes it takes a year or two to adjust to the speed and the NBA game.

“I just want to come back a totally different player, working on my skillset,” Ferguson said. ”This offseason I definitely want to be able to make my own shot.”

That’s what Oklahoma City will need from Ferguson if he’s going to fit into the rotation of a contending team. Presti’s draft picks lately haven’t been the best. Ferguson can buck the trend by improving and getting better, avoiding the Cameron Payne way of the NBA.

In his limited minutes, Ferguson had thunderous dunks and hit some big threes. He’s 6-7 and has some real length and that goes along way in this game. He’s shown the ability to hit threes and get to the rim. He needs to put on some muscle, weighing only 184 lbs, if he’s going to play the two and three positions.

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Raymond Felton shining in back up role

Besides the Thunder’s lifelong search for a serviceable 3-and-D wing player, the backup point guard position for the team has also been a wasteland. That’s where Raymond Felton comes in.

Since Eric Maynor, bet you weren’t expecting to hear him, the Thunder has seen the likes of Reggie Jackson, Ish Smith, Sebastian Telfair, Cameron Payne, and *shudders* Derek Fisher running Westbrook’s backup.

While Payne excelled at running the pregame dance routine with Westbrook, Jackson saved the Thunder’s season against the Grizzlies and Fisher did Fisher things, none of these players did what a backup point guard is supposed to do: make the game easier for his team.

Now enter “Treymond” Felton, the backup point guard of your dreams. While Felton’s body does not scream NBA point guard, Felton has done everything the Thunder have desired from its backup point guard. Felton can actually run the offense, whether he is with the starters or with the bench.

As most experts observed during Westbrook’s One-Man Band Triple Double Tour and especially during the first round matchup with the Rockets, once Westbrook hit the bench, the Thunder went from outscoring opponents by 4.9 points per 100 possessions to being outscored by 51.3 points per 100 possessions. It does not take a math genius to know figure it out.

“That’s what he does,” Russell Westbrook said. “It’s what he’s been doing all season long, just being solid.”

The main reason for this drastic drop off was the Thunder’s bench could not run an offense to get any quality looks at the basket and it certainly did not help having Semaj Christon piloting that unit. Although Felton’s stats: 7.0 points; 2.7 assists; and 2.1 rebounds per game are not eye popping, they do not reflect Felton’s real value to the team.

“His greatest strength is how cerebral he is, how smart he is,” Thunder head coach Billy Donovan said. “That to me is the biggest thing, that he’s a very smart, experienced player who’s got a calmness and a disposition when he’s out there.”

With Felton—an experienced 12-year NBA veteran—Donovan has felt comfortable allowing Felton to run pick and roll with Jerami Grant or Patrick Patterson. Whether it leads to a Grant drive or dunk, or a Patterson three-pointer, Felton makes the game easier for his teammates.

Sometimes the best way to judge a player is to use the eye-test. Despite only shooting 34 percent from three and 40 percent from the field this season, and averaging 32.7 percent from three over his career, you’ll notice Felton’s uncanny ability to hit key threes in succession to hold of an opponent’s run or take the lead. Felton’s impact is being felt by the opposing teams, because Felton has demonstrated an ability to hit an open three, so the opposing teams have to respect that threat.

Felton’s underrated ability to control the pace can go unnoticed.

“Really good feel how to play,” Donovan said. “Great tempo. Reads defense. Understands matchups.”

Even when Felton is playing alongside Westbrook and the starters, Felton helps make the game easier for the team than Payne or Christon could. If Donovan chooses to keep Felton in with Westbrook, then both players can take turns bringing the ball up court and initiating the offense, which allows the other to conserve energy. If Donovan plays Felton with either Carmelo Anthony or Paul George, Felton can either initiate a pick and roll, or play off the ball Anthony and George can draw attention looking for their shot, which leads to either an open three for Felton or another Thunder player.

“A lot of guys I play with demand a lot of double-teams and a lot of attention, so it’s giving me chances to have a lot of open shots,” Felton said. “And I just got to take advantage of it.”

While this season the bench is scoring 25.1 points compared to last season’s 36.1 points, there are reasons to explain the drop: this season’s starting unit is vastly stronger. You can account that to Donovan staggering his lineups to usually have one starter with the bench, and the Thunder shortening its bench in the two 2-for-1 player trades it made for Anthony and George.

Say what you want about the Felton’s numbers and his body, the guy has been the backup point guard the Thunder have needed for years.

“Whatever it is this team needs me to do, whatever coach needs me to do to help this team out, to help us get a win that night,” Felton said, “I’m gonna do.”

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A brief history of the Thunder on deadline day

Nothing gets me more amped than a 2:08 p.m. tweet from Adrian Wojnarowski relaying the Oklahoma City Thunder swooped in and stole a last second trade idea. It’s happened before and It’s sure to happen again. It’s one of Sam Presti’s monikers.

While not every move Presti move has been significant. There’s always some moving pieces happening. Some historic things as the Tyson Chandler thing and some things that changed the face of the franchise, ala, Kendrick Perkins. So, here are what the Thunder have done on trade deadline day in the Presti era.


Chris Smith and Joe Wilcox and the draft rights to DeVon Hardin to the Hornets/Pelicans for Tyson Chandler


When it came down to it, the Thunder medical staff had the big whiff, assuming Chandler’s foot had issues. That was untrue and Chandler went on to win Defensive Player of the Year and a ring with the Dallas Mavericks. This is one of the biggest what ifs in Thunder history.

Joe Wilcox to the New York Knicks for Malik Rose

Wilcox was supposed to be in New Orleans, instead he went to New York and Malik Rose appeared in 20 games for Oklahoma City, scoring only 5.0 points per game. This deal was done about 1 p.m. in the afternoon.

2009 first round pick (Taj Gibson) to Chicago for Thabo Sefolosha

It’s hard to believe both players would play in Oklahoma City at one point in their career. I guess that’s how the cookie crumbles. Sefolosha had fallen out of the rotation after being drafted in the first round. However, he was a staple and a big reason on why the Thunder became such a good defensive team. His time in Oklahoma City is well remembered. Another deadline buzzer beater for Presti.

2010: Nothing

Surprisingly, the Thunder made zero trades. They sat back and just chilled as they rolled to their first 50-win season.


Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic, cash and a 2012 1st round draft pick (Fab Melo) to the Boston Celtics for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson

I remember where I was when this went down. I was working for US Cellular and I was in a meeting. I get a text message at the time and I raced out of the meeting, onto my work computer and saw the trade. I wasn’t and still am not the biggest Green fan. The night before, Green had air-balled a game winning three against the Spurs and I was done with the former Georgetown Hoya. To my happiness, he was traded the next day. The rest was history. Oklahoma City became an entirely different team and eventually marched to the Western Conference Finals against the Dallas Mavericks. This was also done at the deadline buzzer.

Morris Peterson and D.J. White to the Charlotte Bobcats for Nazr Mohammed

DJ White was drafted in the same class as Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook. He was a stud at Indiana. Injuries and just a lack of separation from the rest of the talent eventually led to his demise in the NBA. If you can’t find a niche in the league, you’ll be out soon enough. Nazr Moahmmed, in all his wisdom and glory, found himself in the midst of a division winner and became as solid back up behind Perkins. This also wasn’t report for almost 20 minutes after the deadline had passed.

2012: Nothing

Again, a bit of a surprise. However, the Thunder did sign Derek Fisher in the buy out market as the Thunder would go to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history, falling to the Miami Heat.


Eric Maynor to the Portland Trail Blazers for Giorgos Printezis. Oklahoma City also received a trade exception from Portland

Poor Maynor. A torn ACL and the guy never was the same. He struggled to meet old expectations and was shipped off to Portland for a player we’ll never hear of again. Derek Fisher was back to run the offense and Maynor fell off to the wayside. That trade exception expired by the way. (another buzzer beater)

A 2014 2nd round draft pick (Xavier Thames, who?) and cash to the New York Knicks for Ronnie Brewer

Brewer was an okay addition for a second round pick. He wasn’t of much value and didn’t really hurt the Thunder. He appeared in only 10 games, mainly mop up duty. (Announced after the deadline).

2014: Nothing

Every other year at this point, the Thunder are avoiding deals. They would sign Caron Butler in a buyout signing. Butler was with the Milwaukee Bucks, but was bought out a few days before.


Grant Jerrett, Kendrick Perkins, Tibor Pleiss and a 2017 first round draft pick to the Utah Jazz; the Oklahoma City Thunder traded Reggie Jackson to the Detroit Pistons; the Detroit Pistons traded D.J. Augustin, Kyle Singler and a 2019 2nd round draft pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder; the Detroit Pistons traded a 2017 second round draft pick (Thomas Bryant, who?) to the Utah Jazz; and the Utah Jazz traded Enes Kanter and Steve Novak to the Oklahoma City Thunder. (UTA first round pick received from OKC is protected).

Yeah, tears of Joy for that long, bolded trade. Essentially, the Thunder sent Perkins to Utah for Kanter and they sent Jackson to Detroit for Singler and Augustin. Pleiss barely played with the Jazz and fizzled out quickly. We know about Singler.

Ish Smith, Latavious Williams, cash and a 2015 second round draft pick to the New Orleans Pelicans for a 2016 second round draft pick. (NOLA 2015 second round pick received from Oklahoma City was protected and not conveyed). (OKC 2016 second round pick received from NOLA was protected and not conveyed).

This was just to free of some roster spots.


Traded D.J. Augustin, Steve Novak, a 2016 second round draft pick (Petr Cornelie, who!?) and a 2016 2nd round draft pick (Daniel Hamilton) to the Denver Nuggets for Randy Foye. (2016 second round picks from OKC to Denver are OKC pick and bottom-five protected Charlotte pick)

I never really cared for Foye’s time in Oklahoma City.


Joffrey Lauvergne, Anthony Morrow and Cameron Payne to the Chicago Bulls for Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott and a 2018 second round draft pick

I’ll miss Anthony Morrow but Cameron Payne looks more like a bust every day. Taj Gibson was a Godsend for the Thunder and McDermott wasn’t too fond of his playing time here. He spoke well of the city but didn’t like his role. He’es enjoying his time in New York City right now.

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Thunder Game Day No. 14: vs. Chicago Bulls

Oklahoma City Thunder (6-7, 4-2 home) vs. Chicago Bulls (2-9, 1-5 away)

Wednesday, Nov. 15 :: 7:00 p.m. CST :: Chesapeake Energy Arena (18,203)

TV: FS Oklahoma (DirectTV 675, Cox 37, HD 722, Tulsa Cox 27, U-Verse 751/1751 HD)
Online Streamhere.
RadioWWLS Sports Animal 98.1 FM/640AM/97.1 Tulsa
View from the enemy: Here.
Line: The Oklahoma City Thunder are a 12-point favorite. The over/under is 201.5.
Notes: Thunder: here | Bulls: here


  • Oklahoma City is going for their third straight victory with the Chicago Bulls in town.
  • Oklahoma City beat the Bulls 101-69 earlier this month in one of the largest victories in Thunder history.
  • Chicago is 1-5 since playing the Thunder.
  • At 93.6 points per game, Chicago has the worst offense in the NBA.


  • You can catch the radio on Oklahoma City’s WWLS, 98.1 FM. Matt Pinto will be your play-by-play voice. If you’re in Tulsa, catch it on 1450 AM.
  • Brian Davis and Michael Cage call the game on the Thunder’s flagship station, Fox Sports Oklahoma. You can watch the game there, catch it on NBA League Pass, or use the Fox Sports App (If you’re in Oklahoma).
  • You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook for game updates.


  • The Chicago Bulls are 2-9 on the season, 14th in the Eastern Conference. Only Atlanta has a worse record.
  • The Bulls are 1-4 in their last five games.
  • Oklahoma City beat the Bulls 101-69 in their first meeting.
  • In their all-time series, Oklahoma City is 71-73 against the Bulls.
  • Since moving to Oklahoma City, the Thunder are 11-7.
  • When the game is at the Peake, the Thunder are 9-8 vs. Chicago.
  • Oklahoma City has lost back-to-back games vs. the Bulls.
  • In their last time game, the Bulls were spanked by the Spurs 133-94 on Saturday.
  • Justin Holiday (personal) is out.
  • David Nwaba (ankle) is a game-time decision.
  • Zach LaVine (knee) is out.
  • Nikola Mirtoic (face) is out.
  • Cameron Payne (foot) is out.
  • The Thunder’s largest margin of victory over Chicago came on Oct. 28, 2017, where Oklahoma City prevailed by a score of 101-69 (32-point margin of victory).
  • Meanwhile, the Thunder’s largest margin of defeat (28 points) vs. Chicago occurred during an 100-128 loss on Feb. 1, 2017.


  • The Oklahoma City Thunder added a bunch of new faces this year.
  • Paul George was acquired on June 30 for Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo.
  • Carmelo Anthony joins the Thunder after Oklahoma City sent Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a second round pick to the Knicks for Anthony.
  • Oklahoma City also signed Raymond Felton and Patrick Patterson via free agency.
  • Terrance Ferguson was drafted in the first round out of Australia.
  • Oklahoma City also added PJ Dozier, undrafted rookie out of South Carolina to a two-way deal.


  • The trio of Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony combined for 5,992 total points last season, which is the most by any other set of three teammates in the league this year. They are followed by Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler (5,810 combined points) and Cleveland’s Isaiah Thomas, LeBron James and Derrick Rose (5,307 combined points).

Anthony moving up the ranks

  • Carmelo Anthony currently ranks 24th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list (24,399 points) and fourth among active players behind Dirk Nowitzki, LeBron James and Vince Carter.
  • Anthony is also one of six players in league history alongside Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce to record 24,000 points, 6,000 rebounds, 2,500 assists, 1,000 steals and 1,000 three-point field goals.

Turnover a New Leaf

  • Through the first ten games of the season, Oklahoma City leads the league in both steals per game (10.60) and opponent turnovers per game (19.0).
  • The Thunder has yet to finish within the Top 5 in the NBA in these categories since they moved to Oklahoma City as their previous season bests were 8.28 steals per game in 2012-13 and 15.2 opponent turnovers per game in 2013-14.
  • Additionally, the Thunder tops the NBA leaderboard for deflections per game (19.2) and forced turnovers on 19.6% of opponent possessions, which tops the league.
  • Paul George ranks first in the league in deflections per game (4.8) and in steals per game (2.40)

Adamsant Scorer

  • Steven Adams currently ranks second in the league in field goal percentage (.676, 48-71 FG).
  • On Oct. 27 at Minnesota, Adams went 8-for-8 through the third quarter, which is his personal best start from the field.
  • As a point of reference, the Thunder record from the floor is held by Serge Ibaka when he went 12-for-12 on 1/31/14.
  • He has scored in double figures in six of the first seven games and led the team in rebounding four times while posting four double-doubles.

Injury Report

  • Steven Adams (calf) is out.
  • Carmelo Anthony (back) is a game-time decision.

Still good odds

  • According to Sportsbook, the Oklahoma City Thunder have the sixth best odds to win the Larry O’Brien trophy.
  • They have the fourth best odds to win the Western Conference behind, the Clippers, Spurs, Rockets, and the Warriors.

Next Up

  • The Thunder goes to San Antonio on Friday to play the Spurs. ESPN has your 7 p.m. broadcast.
  • Oklahoma City then goes to the Pelicans on Monday, Nov. 20.
  • Then, the Thunder host the Warriors on Nov. 22.

Three Keys to the Game


The Bulls offense is the NBA’s worst offense. Oklahoma City needs to go out and score and put this game into Lawler’s Law. The Bulls are 0-6 when their opponents hit the 100-point mark. So, get to 100 points and you win the game.

Share the ball

Like rebounding, sharing the ball can be key. Oklahoma City is a cool 4-2 when Russell Westbrook has 10 or more assists. If the MVP gets 10, you might as well chalk up a W tonight. Hopefully he doesn’t try to do it all tonight.

Get to the line

Oklahoma City has done a good job getting to the line during their last two wins. However, they have yet to hit 30 free throw attempts. The Thunder are 4-2 when they attempt more free throws than their opponent. Maybe that’s something they can do tonight.

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OKC still interested in Rudy Gay

The former Sacramento King small forward Rudy Gay is still on the Oklahoma City Thunder‘s radar.

According to The Vertical‘s Adrian Wojnarowksi, the soon to be free agent will be hosting suitors in Austin, Texas while the Thunder “continues to be a team that sees fit.”

Ever since the departure of Kevin Durant, Gay and Oklahoma City have been linked in numerous trade rumors prior to the achilles injury he sustained on January 18 against the Indiana Pacers. At the time, Gay and former Thunder back up point guard Cameron Payne were linked in a potential deal.

It is unclear what role Gay’s achilles tear will play in his free agency experience. As Fred Katz of the Norman Transcript points out, players who have suffered a similar injury — such as Dallas Maverick Wes Mathews — have never fully bounced back from an achilles tear.

Considering Oklahoma City is near the tax, the Thunder may not extend the full mid-level extension towards Gay as that would hard cap them, according to Katz.

The fit is a little puzzling. While his position is that of a small forward, Gay has experience playing power forward in small ball lineups. Not typically known for his rebounding or defense, the experiments in Sacramento at PF did not yield pleasing results.

The Thunder have plenty of bigs at the PF and center positions.

His shooting skills, scoring and offensive versatility are what Thunder general manager Sam Presti probably see in potentially adding him in free agency.

Prior to his injury, Gay was averaging 18.7 points per game on 45 percent shooting to go along with 37 percent from beyond the arc. The former University of Connecticut Husky is a career 18.4 point scorer and averages just over five rebounds per game.

Free agency meetings can begin on Saturday, July 1 at 12:01 a.m.

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Player Grades: The bench

The Thunder certainly had a season that they can be proud of after the slap in the face that ruined July 4 for Thunder fans everywhere.

There are several gaps that need to be filled if this team hopes to compete for a title during the Westbrook era, assuming he signs the “super max” deal this July which would be the biggest contract in NBA history. The Thunder made headlines at the trade deadline after acquiring Doug McDermott and Taj Gibson from the Bulls in exchange for Anthony Morrow and Cameron Payne, which was a steal for the organization in terms of what the Thunder were lacking which was a sharp shooter from three to spread the floor and a veteran big man with experience to bring positive energy to the locker room.

Even though the trade was in the Thunder’s favor, they still lack a deep and productive secondary unit to get the weight off Westbrook’s shoulders. Fans who religiously watch Thunder basketball all have that one player that comes to mind that when they are on the court or have the ball in their hands, they make you want to throw the remote at the TV.

Here we rank and grade the Thunder’s bench  players of the 2016-17 season in terms of productivity and minutes played per game.

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Who is the worst Thunder player ever?

Oklahoma City just finished up their ninth season. Oklahoma City has seen some fantastic players come through and some truly bad players. However, has been the worst of them all?

To set down a list of worst players of all-time, we have to need criteria:

Anyone can be really bad player in only couple of games. We need to limit it to at least 20 games played.

We’ll choose one person from every season, so that would narrow it down to nine players. If it’s the same player in multiple years, we’ll label them such Player 2010 and Player 2011.

We’ll factor in PER, PPG, FG%, eFG%, TS%, ORTG-DRTG adjustment, and RPM. We’ll give them a number ranking based on the team, and whoever has the HIGHEST average, meaning worst on the team, will be the worst.

Seasons in which a player is traded are ineligible for the list. Such as Kyle Singler’s first year in Oklahoma City in 2014-15, he was bad but since he was traded at the all-star break, he’s out. We’ll make a single exception, if said player appeared in 50 or more games.

Any player who spent time in the D-League that season is not out. Because you can go down and still come back up and perform.

So, without waiting, here are each worst player for each season.

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OKC fall late to Portland

Mar 2, 2017; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Taj Gibson (22) scramble for a ball on the floor during the second half of the game at Moda Center. The Blazers won 114-109. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

45 points from Russell Westbrook wasn’t enough as the Thunder couldn’t hold on in the fourth quarter. The Trail Blazers outscored the Thunder 33-24 in the fourth en route to a 114-109 win over Oklahoma City.

The Thunder fell to 35-26 on the season and are seventh in the Western Conference.

A 16-0 fourth quarter run saw the Portland Trail Blazers turn a 101-96 Thunder lead into a 110-101 Thunder deficit. It eventually became the point where Oklahoma City could not overcome.

Oklahoma City newcomer Taj Gibson added 15 points, including a high-arching buzzer-beater from 61 feet away to put the Thunder up 60-57 at halftime.

Enes Kanter had 18 points and 10 rebounds off the bench. Steven Adams struggled with a cool -23 in the game. He scored only 2 points and was 1-of-3 from the floor.

Alex Abrines’ 3-pointer put the Thunder in front 97-89 with 7:48 left for their biggest lead of the game. But Al-Farouq Aminu made a layup that tied it at 101 with 3:43 left. He missed the free throw, but Jusuf Nurkic got the tip-in to give Portland the lead.

Lillard’s 3-pointer extended the lead to 106-101 before Westbrook’s driving layup and free throw pulled Oklahoma City to 110-106.

Abrines’ 3-pointer with 17.7 seconds left narrowed it to 110-109. Lillard was fouled twice in the final seconds and made all four free throws before Westbrook and Doug McDermott both missed 3-pointers at the end.

Westbrook hit all 15 of his free throws. He had eight rebounds and four assists.

The Thunder were coming off a 109-106 victory over Utah. Westbrook had 43 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in that game for his fourth straight triple-double and 30th of the season. The Thunder opened the game against the Jazz with 12 straight threes.

The Thunder were without Victor Oladipo for a fourth straight game because of back spasms. Abrines started in his place. Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan said he did not think the spasms were the sign of a more serious issue.

The game marked the Thunder debut of guard Norris Cole, signed on Wednesday to help fill the void after the team traded backup point guard Cameron Payne to the Chicago Bulls. Cole won NBA titles with the Miami Heat in 2012 and 2013, but most recently played with the Shandong Golden Stars of the Chinese Basketball Association.

Gibson and McDermott, acquired in the trade with the Bulls, were playing in their fourth game with the Thunder.

Portland took a 20-8 lead on Lillard’s layup and Nurkic’s short jumper. Oklahoma City went on a 16-6 spurt to close to 26-24 at the end of the opening quarter.

Cole hit a 3-pointer early in the second quarter, his first field goal with the team, and the Thunder went up 27-26. But the Blazers reclaimed the lead and went ahead 52-45 on Aminu’s 3-pointer.

CJ McCollum’s hit a three to give Portland a 57-48 lead. However, Westbrook made consecutive 3-pointers and three straight free throws to tie it before Gibson’s stunning shot from beyond halfcourt.

The Thunder led 85-81 heading into the final period.

Oklahoma City heads to Phoenix tonight to complete the back-to-back. Game time is set to tip-off at 8 p.m.

Keys to the Game

Play Smart: C

Oklahoma City struggled at points throughout the game but really overcome in the early parts of the game. Oklahoma City fought back but couldn’t close. The Thunder can and should do better going forward.

End Strong: F

It’s weird to talk bad about this category. Oklahoma City has done a great job all year of taking care in the final minutes of games. They were tied for the least losses in the fourth when leading. That changed tonight. Call it a blip on the radar. It’ll change back to normal when Oklahoma City gets Victor Oladipo back.

Capitalize on Blazer mistakes: C

Oklahoma City found themselves down early down 20-8. However, they clawed back and even took an 8-point lead. However, they couldn’t really make the Blazers pay when they needed and that was their down fall tonight.

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Could Oladipo be a backup point guard

Dec. 9, 2016; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Victor Oladipo (5) drives to the basket between Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) and forward Trevor Ariza (1) during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Victor Oladipo is arguably the second-best player on the Thunder roster.

His ability to slash to the rim and finish is great; his shooting stroke from the corners is even greater. He can defend and create on offense.

Oladipo is listed as a shooting guard, and he can play the position well. When he plays with Russell Westbrook passing him the ball, it makes his job much easier.

The past two games, Oladipo has been sidelined with back spasms. Alex Abrines has started in his place and played well. Abrines has made eight 3-pointer’s and scored a career-high 19 points against the Lakers on Friday night. He played 35 minutes against the Pelicans on Sunday night and he is relishing his first two starts of his NBA career.

Abrines has shown he is capable of starting in the NBA. His shooting ability helps space the floor with the starting unit, and if he continues to knock down shots it will make him more valuable to this team.

None of this is Oladipo’s fault. His health is important to this team with about a month and a half until the playoffs start. But with the recent trades and improvements to the roster, it gives Thunder coach Billy Donovan more flexibility with the roster.

Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott are both capable of starting. They both give you scoring on offense. Gibson is one of the best defensive bigs in the league and McDermott’s defense has improved greatly since he entered the league.

Donovan has a problem, but a good one. There’s a lot of talent on the roster and its hard to figure out minutes especially with the new pieces around.

When the Thunder traded away Cameron Payne, they lost a player who was the most reliable backup point guard on the roster. Semaj Christon is growing and needs to continue to play to grow his game, but the Thunder could benefit from Oladipo being the backup point guard.

Oladipo has come off the bench 57 times in his career. He’s started all 48 games he’s played with Oklahoma City, though Donovan has experimented with him in the backup role. Oladipo would go to the bench early and come back with the second unit. He wasn’t the point guard, but he handled the ball in the second unit a lot.

If Oladipo was the backup point guard, the starters could be Westbrook-Abrines-Roberson-Gibson/Sabonis-Adams. Oladipo could come off the bench while still playing 30 minutes a night. He’s playing 33.7 a game as a starter. The minutes wouldn’t change much.

Oladipo-McDermott-Grant/Sabonis-Kanter could be the players to make contributions of the bench. OKC would have three scorers coming off the bench with Oladipo, McDermott and Kanter. Sabonis and Grant could switch depending on matchups and if you need more offense or defense.

Therefore, Oladipo could be a backup point guard and help this team tremendously. His ability to create off the dribble and score would open up the bench’s offense and help the team become stronger heading into the playoffs.

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Thunder acquire Doug McDermott and Taj Gibson for Payne, Morrow, Lauvergne, and pick

The Thunder and Sam Presti have done it again. Shortly before the trade deadline was reached, Oklahoma City is sending Cameron Payne, Joffrey Lauvergne, and Anthony Morrow to the Chicago Bulls in exchange for a second round draft pick, Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott.

Cameron Payne, second year out of Murray State struggled last season and the 14th overall pick in the 2015 draft has yet to come on after being injured in the summer. Oklahoma City now has only two point guards to show for their roster. He’s averaging 5.3 points on 33 percent from the floor and only 30 percent from three. He had a lot of interest over the summer, primarily the Sacramento Kings. His foot injury nixed any opportunity for a trade.

Morrow was a beloved player who fell off the mountain. His shooting numbers plummeted and he’s really never really recovered. He’s shooting a career low 29.4 percent from three-point range. He’s averaging only 5.8 points per game, second lowest of his career.

Joffrey Lauvergne was acquired in training camp from Denver and he’s a stretch four who adamantly does not want to play the center position. He tries to shoot threes and struggles when he does. His defense leaves you guessing what he’s going to do as he makes unorthodox decisions that hurt his team.

Gibson who is only 31 years old, has been a staple in Chicago for many years. This season Gibson is averaging 11.6 points and seven rebounds on 52.6 percent shooting from the floor.

While Gibson will be a significant upgrade over the youth of Domantas Sabonis, he’s on an expiring contract this season. He’s making $9 million this season.

Fun fact about Gibson: He was originally drafted by Chicago in 2009 with the first round draft pick Oklahoma City sent to Chicago in exchange for Thabo Sefolosha.

McDermott was a three-time First-Team All-American at Creighton. He averaged 21.7 points in his four years as a Blue Jay.

McDermott is averaging a career high 10.2 points per game on 37.6 percent from deep, also a career high, and 44.5 percent from the floor. His 25 minutes a contest are also a career high.

While McDermott can shoot the lights out, his defense leaves little to be desired. His defensive rating of 113 rivals that of Anthony Morrow. In fact, their offensive and defensive ratings are almost identical.

He’s set to make $2.4 million this season and the Bulls already picked up his option for 2017-18, giving him $3.3 million next season. He’ll be a restricted free agent if no one can sign him by Halloween.

Oklahoma City also acquired a second round pick from Chicago in the upcoming draft. That’ll provide Oklahoma City with a few more assets. They also used some of their trade exception from acquiring Jerami Grant to finish off the deal.

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