Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 3/19/12
OKLAHOMA CITY Kaleb Canales was in the middle of his own, personal "One Shining Moment." With an NBA flair, Canales coached March Madness style. In just his second game in charge of the Trail Blazers, since taking over for the fired Nate McMillan, Canales gave it the ol' college try, bleeding with every possession, fist-pumping after made shots and going all hands-to-the-face after misses or questionable calls. You know, the kind of stuff reserved for games where cheerleaders cry and players cut down nets. Not really the typical scene in the grind-it-out NBA. With a Final Four kind of feel, but a 16-seeded kind of team, Canales brought the emotion. But it was the Thunder brought the energy, and that's something that hasn't been too common around here lately. Sunday, it was obvious the Thunder had a new sense of direction and desire. Instead of sluggish, Oklahoma City came out smoking, which was more than enough to overcome Portland inside Chesapeake Energy Arena, reverse a disappointing trend, and win all in the same game. The Thunder dominated the Trail Blazers 111-95, and they didn't really celebrate. They just exhaled. Any win is a good win at home these days, but c'mon, this is a Portland team playing itself off the bubble. The Blazers slipped to 21-24, are in 13th place in the Western Conference and can't really be considered anything but an afterthought when playoff chatter commences. Not really worthy of a storm-the-court celebration. Portland's record and issues didn't matter Sunday because Oklahoma City was more interested in changing its ways. The Thunder haven't exactly played like the top seed they are recently at home, losing to Cleveland, Houston and San Antonio in its past four games in OKC. "This is one of the best buildings in basketball," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "We've had some tough games of late here." Tough because they lost. And more to tough ones to come, too. The Thunder will be in Utah on Tuesday. Then it's home games against the Clippers, Minnesota and Miami in the next week. "It was a sense of urgency," said Thunder energy conductor Nick Collison. "We hadn't been playing as well. We had to pick it up." The Thunder fell behind by 27 on Friday against the Spurs. Before that, it was a 13-1 Houston run in the last 2 minutes on March 13. Throw in a stinker against Cleveland on March 9, and you're looking squarely at a home slump, with only a win against lowly Charlotte to offset it. So, what was different Sunday against the Trail Blazers? Simply put, the Thunder started better. Oklahoma City got off to a 31-15 lead after one quarter while holding Portland to 26 percent shooting. "The first quarter was one of our best defensive quarters of the season," Brooks said. "We held that team to 15 points. The mindset we had going into the game was good." The Thunder never trailed and really were never threatened the rest of the way. And the result was a 55 percent shooting night, including a 61 percent effort (11-of-18) on 3-pointers. Thunder starters were 9-of-11 on 3-pointers. Russell Westbrook had 28 points, Kevin Durant had 26. The Thunder had more rebounds (45-35), more assists (24-15), and more blocked shots. "You're looking at a team that lost their last game at home," Portland guard Raymond Felton said. "They were fired up. It happens sometimes. You have to weather that storm and weather that first push or punch." Give the Blazers credit. They played OKC even the final three quarters. Jamal Crawford had 23 points off the bench. Felton had 19 points. Wesley Matthews had 16 and LaMarcus Aldridge had 15. But clearly the Thunder were interested in landing that first punch. Brooks said so after the game. "It was important to get off to a good start," he said. "We got down 27 (against San Antonio). "That's not who we are. Tonight we came out with some toughness, and we started the game off with some good defensive energy. Tonight was a good win for us." And a good effort from Canales and his Blazers. Instead of the traditional post-game wave, coaches give each other in the NBA, Canales went through a wedding-like processional, hugging players and coaches from both teams and embracing about anyone he could get his arms around. "I didn't even notice," Brooks said when asked if he saw how Canales coached his team Sunday. "I talked to him before the game. He's excited. He has a great opportunity. He is a friend of mine, and it's good to beat friends." Bad timing for Canales and the Blazers to come to Oklahoma City. Good timing for the Thunder to start playing a bit better. "We were better," Collison said. "More locked in."
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