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SPORTS: Oklahoma City Thunder

Sad New Year: Blazers Storm Back To Stun Thunder

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OKLAHOMA CITY -

There are some holiday sports traditions that will never change.

Major League Baseball on July 4. The Cowboys and Lions on Thanksgiving. And of course, the Thunder playing on New Year's Eve.

For the sixth straight season, Oklahoma City rang in the New Year by celebrating at Chesapeake Energy Arena. This year though, it wasn't so happy.

Kevin Durant's 37 points wasn't enough as the shorthanded Thunder fell to Portland 98-94 on the final day of 2013.  The loss is the Thunder's first ever on New Year's Eve (previously 5-0).  

Facing a Portland team playing in a back-to-back, Oklahoma City's early energy was tough. The Thunder swarmed Portland in the first half, holding the NBA's No. 1 scoring team (108.6 ppg) to just 42 points.

Meanwhile, Durant couldn't miss. The NBA's leading scorer dropped 22 points on 8-12 shooting in the half, helping OKC seize a 12-point lead at the break.

The Blazers caught a second wind in the third quarter and rediscovered their scoring prowess. Portland's "Big 3" of LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and Nic Batum combined to score the Blazers' first 22 points of the period as things tightened up a bit. Portland outscored OKC 29-24 in the period to cut the deficit to nine. Durant continued to put the Thunder on his back, scoring 14 in the third alone.

Then things really got tight. It was the Blazers' turn to play defense, and boy did they ever. After the Thunder scored six points in the first two minutes of the fourth, Portland jolted out on a 10-0 run to cut the score to 84-83 before Reggie Jackson's bucket finally stopped the bleeding at the 5:18 mark.

But Portland got right back at it. A 7-2 spurt gave the Blazers a 90-88 lead with 3:24 to go.

The Thunder trailed 94-91 with less than 30 seconds left and needed a stop. Wesley Matthews' 3-pointer rattled off, and it appeared Portland had the offensive rebound. But Thabo Sefolosha hustled over, took the ball, and drew a foul. Sefolosha sank both shots to cut the Thunder deficit to 94-93.

With 15.8 seconds left, the Thunder fouled and Mo Williams stepped to the line for two. But as Chesapeake Energy Arena got louder and louder, the 92-percent free-throw shooter missed both. The crowd's excitement turned to horror as the rebound bounced around and into the hands of Aldridge, who promptly kicked to Matthews and Portland got two more shots.

Matthews hit both and the Blazers took a 96-93 lead with 10 second left. Portland took to fouling and Durant got a chance to answer with two of his own. After sinking the first, he missed the second, and another wild scramble ensued. This time, Durant wound up with it and a clean look to tie it up from five feet away, but the ball clanged off the rim and that was the end of the Thunder's night.

"I wish I could replay that," Durant said about his last shot.  "That's gonna replay in my head the rest of the night. I with I coulda hit it for my team."

Thunder coach Scott Brooks talked postgame about the necessity to get Durant more involved with the game on the line.  

"They did a pretty good job of being real physical with him," Brooks said.  "We have to figure out better ways to get guys off of him. That's on me. I will continue to look at film and figure out ways that we can get him free and not allow guys to hold on to him as much as they did tonight."

Considering its offensive play through three quarters, the Thunder's fourth-quarter struggles came as a shock to the sold-out crowd. Durant didn't hit a shot in the game's final period as Jackson dominated the ball down the stretch.

Serge Ibaka finished with 17 points for the Thunder, but hauled in just four rebounds against the Blazers' huge front line. Jackson finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and six assists, while Jeremy Lamb added 10 points off the Thunder's bench.

Durant was upbeat after the game, but was also puzzled as to how the game slipped away.  

"I looked at the stat sheet and I think we beat 'em on everything."

He wasn't wrong.  

The Thunder outrebounded the Blazers 52-43, shot 43.9 percent from the floor to Portland's 39.6, outscored them 46-28 in the paint and blocked one more shot.  

Aldridge finished with 25 points and 14 boards for Portland, while Lillard added 21 points and 11 assists.  Matthews added 16, Batum 15 and Robin Lopez 12 points for the well-balanced Blazers.  

OKC (25-6) is back in action Thursday night against the disappointing Brooklyn Nets. Portland snapped a two-game losing skid and improved its record to 25-7.

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