In their first game since leading scorer Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was injured, the Oklahoma City Thunder scrapped their way to a win.
Lu Dort had 18 points and the Thunder defeated the Portland Trail Blazers 98-81 on Monday night to snap a seven-game losing streak.
Gilgeous-Alexander, who averages 22.7 points per game, is out until after the All-Star break with a sprained right ankle sustained last Friday against Indiana. Without him, the Thunder trailed Portland by 18 in the second quarter.
Gilgeous-Alexander has often been the catalyst when Oklahoma City has launched comebacks from large deficits. But this time, his teammates filled in and stepped up.
“I said when he went out that we want to be a team that solves problems with five guys," Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “That’s like internal messaging we use with the guys pretty regularly. And not having a player like Shai is a problem. You know, we would love to have Shai. And I thought tonight ... we solved the problem with five guys."
Darius Bazley scored 15 points and Josh Giddey added 14 points and 12 rebounds for the Thunder.
CJ McCollum had 21 points and Norman Powell added 18 for Portland, which has lost four of five.
“For the most part, this is one of those games where you couldn’t make a shot," Blazers coach Chauncey Billups said. “Eighty-one points — anybody in the league scores 81 points, there’s no way you’re going to have a chance to win the game. But I thought we played the right way. Just couldn’t make them.”
Portland took charge early, leading 31-19 after one quarter and 40-22 early in the second before the Thunder rallied and trailed 47-39 at the break.
“I thought early, especially, we were moving it, we were making the right play. But we were just like, not doing it in the rhythm that we’re capable of and that we needed to,” Daigneault said. “And then we, as the game went on, we kind of got our feet wet.”
Oklahoma City started strong in the second half, and a 3-pointer by Dort cut Portland's lead to 51-49. A basket by Derrick Favors tied the score at 51, and the Blazers called a timeout. Ty Jerome's 3-pointer late in the quarter put the Thunder ahead 61-59, and a steal and floater in the lane by Dort as time expired in the third gave Oklahoma City a 65-61 lead.
A behind-the-back pass from Jerome to Kenrich Williams led to a dunk that put the Thunder up 73-65. It was part of a 15-0 run that gave the Thunder an 80-65 lead and control for good.
“It wasn’t one person carrying a load, it was just a style and team orientation that allowed us to play off advantages," Daigneault said. “And I thought the guys did a really good job of that.”
Trail Blazers: F Trendon Watford twisted his ankle after landing on Thunder forward Mamadi Diakite's foot in the first quarter and left the game. Diakite was called for a Flagrant 1. Watford returned later in the game. ... Former Thunder coach Scott Brooks returned as an assistant with Portland. ... Top scorer Damian Lillard has been out for about a month with an abdominal injury.
Thunder: Outscored the Blazers 20-16 in the second quarter despite shooting just 26% from the field. Portland shot only 30%. ... Made 16 of 17 free throws. ... Held Portland to 7-for-38 shooting from 3-point range.
Daigneault, on what Billups said to him after the game: “He was just very complimentary and classy. You know, it’s one thing when you lose a game like that — to say something with that level of humility is impressive. I’ve never met him before."
In the second half, the Thunder shot 50% from the field, 40% from 3-point range and 100% from the free throw line.
Trail Blazers: At the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.
Thunder: At the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: twitter.com/CliffBruntAP
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports