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Westbrook vows to play better after loss

PORTLAND, Ore. — After a deflating 114-94 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 2, the Oklahoma City Thunder are heading back home Wednesday in an 0-2 hole with Russell Westbrook taking responsibility for the team’s poor performance and vowing to play better in Game 3.

“Starting with myself, I’ve got to play better,” Westbrook said. “And tonight the loss, I’m going to take full responsibility for tonight. Because the way I played was unacceptable. I’m going to be better, so I’m not worried one bit. My job is to make sure I continue to come out and will and lead our guys and make sure we have a chance to win the game.”

Game 2 contained standard elements for the Blazers playing great: Damian Lillard was electric with 29 points, CJ McCollum poured in a game-high 33 and, like Game 1, the Thunder shot the ball miserably from three-point range (5-of-28). The storyline of Game 1 largely centered around Paul George’s shoulder and his struggles shooting the ball, but he bounced back with 27 on 11-of-20 shooting, looking far more comfortable with his jumper.

It was Westbrook, though, who didn’t do the complementing this time. He finished a rebound away from a triple-double, because of course, but with six turnovers and some sloppy moments — including a sequence where he shot an airball in the second quarter and then didn’t hustle back on defense which led to Jerami Grant fouling Lillard on a made three — Westbrook didn’t make his typical impact.

There’s a history between Lillard and Westbrook, with the two sharing some trash-talking moments as long-time division rivals, and they scuffled slightly again in Game 2. Late in the second quarter, Westbrook was corralling a loose ball as Lillard tried to tie him up. Westbrook called timeout and there was some contact and Westbrook fell back. After a review, there were no fouls or technicals assessed.

“They’re both pit bulls,” McCollum said. “You’ve got competitive guys who play hard. Well-known All-Stars, faces of their franchises and the stakes are high, so if you’re a competitor you look forward to these moments and these opportunities to not only put yourself on the map, but you’re team on the map as well.”

The Thunder trail 2-0 in their series against the Blazers, but star Russell Westbrook remains optimistic. “Let’s just stay with it,” he said. “We’re a great basketball team.” Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Lillard went on to outplay Westbrook, leading the Blazers on a series of runs that culminated in a 60-40 second half. Lillard played a stellar defensive game, locking in on Westbrook with physical, hounding defense, knocking the ball away in post-ups and challenging Westbrook into questionable shots.

“I don’t really have a choice but to embrace it,” Lillard said. “That team is going to go as far as him and Paul George.”

Lillard, who has hit one fewer three in the series (nine) than the entire Thunder team (10), was a plus-27 to Westbrook’s minus-27. In Game 1, Westbrook was able to charge downhill at the Blazers, especially in transition, but wasn’t able to find the same kind of space in Game 2.

It’s a bit of a standard fare for Westbrook to sit at the podium and take responsibility or make a proclamation after a disappointing playoff performance. For example, after Game 3 against the Jazz last postseason where Ricky Rubio had 26 points, Westbrook said “I’m gonna shut that s— off next game though, guarantee that.”

In that next game, Westbrook came out over-aggressive and picked up four fouls in the first half.

The series turns to OKC for Game 3 on Friday, a virtual must-win for the Thunder.

“They won their first two home games, obviously wanted to try to steal one when we can, but let’s just stay with it,” Westbrook said. “We’re a great basketball team, a lot of great guys on this team that I trust in to make shots and make plays on both sides of the basketball. And we’ll be alright.”

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