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Blazers edge Thunder in overtime

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OKLAHOMA CITY — In a year when the Western Conference is as tough as it’s ever been, every game is important. No team that hopes to contend for a title can afford to give away contests.

When the Portland Trail Blazers faced off with the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday in a battle of Northwest Division foes, the intensity came to the forefront.

Damian Lillard scored 40 points, including a game-tying 3-pointer near the end of regulation time, to lead the Trail Blazers to a 115-111 overtime victory over the Thunder.

“Well, that was a remarkable win,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “That’s an understatement. I think it just kind of shows the type of character that we have on this team.”

The win pushed the Blazers to 23-7 on the season. The Thunder, which let a 13-point lead with five minutes left in regulation slip away, dropped to 13-16 with their third straight defeat, even though Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook also scored 40 points.

“We lost our composure,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.

In overtime, Lillard put the Blazers up by four with two free throws with 2:43 left in the extra period. Westbrook answered with a jumper and cut lead to two. But again Lillard proved he can hit from almost anywhere as he made a 3-pointer with 2:08 remaining while falling backward and the shot clock running down.

After Westbrook shot an airball, he fouled out on the other end trying to defend Lillard.

Reserve guard Ish Smith cut the Blazers’ lead to three before Lillard hit a pair of free throws and Portland led 113-108 with 1:05 to go. That was enough for the Blazers.

However, in the final seconds, Thunder forward Serge Ibaka and Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge got tangled up under the basket and both were ejected from the game. During the official review, a fight broke out in the stands in the Thunder’s family section.

Besides his 40 points, Westbrook collected 10 rebounds, three steals and six assists. However, a late technical foul by Westbrook helped the Blazers to get back into the game.

“I have to do a better job of controlling my emotions,” Westbrook said. “Especially when the game is on the line like that. I take the blame for that. It turned the whole game around and gave them a chance to win the game.”

Thunder guard Reggie Jackson added 21 points and nine rebounds for the Thunder while Ibaka posted 16 points and four blocked shots.

Aldridge scored 25 points to go along with nine rebounds, and guard Wesley Matthews scored 22 points for the Blazers.

“We always feel like anything is possible,” Aldridge said. “I think guys always stay confident in the moment. We understood that if we got some stops in a row and our offense started to get a little better for us, that it was possible.”

After three quarters of back-and-forth basketball, the Blazers and Thunder entered the fourth quarter tied at 73.

The Thunder seemed to have things under control when they took a 13-point lead with 5:02 remaining, but the Blazers made a late surge.

With 2:50 left in the game, Aldridge completed a three-point play and cut the Thunder’s lead to 93-85.

The Thunder still held a 10-point lead when Ibaka scored on a dunk with 2:15 left in regulation, but Lillard then scored six straight points and Oklahoma City’s lead was down to 95-91 with 59 seconds remaining.

Westbrook and Aldridge traded baskets before Ibaka missed a 15-foot jumper. Aldridge was fouled on a fastbreak attempt and hit both free throws to get the Blazers to within 97-95 with 6.4 seconds on the clock.

Westbrook was fouled and went to the line to try to seal the game. He missed one of two from the line, and the Thunder led by three with 5.2 seconds left.

The Blazers got the ball to Lillard at the top of the key. He calmly drained a game-tying 3-pointer to send the contest in overtime.

“Everybody was still locked in, and still willing to fight and that’s all that mattered because we kept defending,” Lillard said. “It just shows that we’ve got a lot of guys coming in ready.”

NOTES: Oklahoma City F Kevin Durant sat out a third consecutive game due to a sprained right ankle. Overall, Durant has missed 20 games this season. “Still day by day,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “Every day he gets a little bit better.” … Blazers G Nicolas Batum did not play Tuesday, one night after tweaking his ailing right wrist in a loss to the Houston Rockets. “I don’t know if I would call it re-injured it or re-aggravated it,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “It was a setback.” … Brooks attributes the team’s fast starts over the past month to more than just the return of Durant and G Russell Westbrook. “We’ve done a good job of executing at both ends,” Brooks said. “You have to be locked in defensively to give yourself a chance to get a stop. There are so many good offensive players, especially at the point guard position. I like what we’ve done in the past.”

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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