PORTLAND, Ore. — When TNT’s cameras caught Oklahoma Metropolis Thunder coach Billy Donovan apparently saying “cannot play Kanter” about then-Thunder middle Enes Kanter throughout Sport 1 of the Thunder’s 2017 first-round collection loss to the Houston Rockets, it captured well-liked sentiment about Kanter’s defensive limitations within the playoffs.
In one other Sport 1 on Sunday, taking part in for the Portland Path Blazers towards Oklahoma Metropolis, Kanter changed that reminiscence with a extra optimistic playoff second. His 20 factors and game-high 18 rebounds, the latter a postseason profession excessive, have been crucial to Portland’s 104-99 win over the Thunder to take a 1-Zero lead of their best-of-seven collection and snap a 10-game Blazers playoff shedding streak that dated to 2016.
“I am not thought-about an excellent defender (both),” Portland All-Star Damian Lillard stated, “however I feel when the trouble is there, when your focus is there and also you care sufficient — the need is there — you are able to do one thing for the crew. I feel that is proven since (Kanter) has been on our crew, and it confirmed tonight.”
Portland’s win Sunday was its first in the postseason since 2016, ending a 10-game skid and making good on a tweet from CJ McCollum to a fan that went viral last summer.
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Damian Lillard scored 30 points and the third-seeded Portland Trail Blazers opened their playoff series against the No. 6 Oklahoma City Thunder with a 104-99 victory on Sunday.
Donovan explained after the infamous clip that he was talking about playing Kanter in certain defensive coverages, not placing him on the ground, and Kanter stated Sunday that he believed Donovan’s rationalization. Nonetheless, Kanter performed simply 29 minutes off the bench within the last 4 video games of that collection — his final for the Thunder earlier than being traded to the New York Knicks as a part of the 2017 commerce that despatched Carmelo Anthony to Oklahoma Metropolis.
With New York, Kanter’s capacity to remain on the court docket within the playoffs was immaterial. However the Knicks waived Kanter after the commerce deadline, and he signed with the Blazers for the stretch run, a transfer he advised Portland GM Neil Olshey after Sport 1 was resolution.
“I used to be on the worst crew within the league, and I wasn’t even taking part in as a result of they thought I used to be too outdated to play,” Kanter stated. “The state of affairs and all of the drama, it was so irritating as a result of all I wished to do was go on the market and simply win. A few days in the past, I regarded within the mirror and stated, ‘Man, I am blessed to be right here with a tremendous group and superb teammates that belief in me.’ It positively feels superb, and it is positively a blessing.”
Initially, Kanter was signed to offer frontcourt depth in Portland. His position modified on March 25, when middle Jusuf Nurkic suffered a compound fracture of his left leg that ended his season, thrusting Kanter into the beginning lineup and a key position on this collection towards his former crew.
The Blazers went 6-2 with Kanter beginning at middle the remainder of the common season, largely towards lottery-bound groups. Sunday’s recreation was the hardest take a look at of Kanter’s protection, and he greater than held his personal. Portland was a game-high plus-15 in his 34 minutes, and he blocked a pair of pictures. Oklahoma Metropolis scored simply .81 factors per likelihood in 27 pick-and-rolls involving Kanter, in response to Second Spectrum monitoring, as in comparison with the Thunder’s common of .91 factors per likelihood throughout the common season.
“I feel it is unlucky, quite a lot of occasions you get a repute and that repute form of sticks with you, whether or not you deserve it or not,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts stated. “I feel Enes has been actually good for us defensively. He offers nice effort.”
“He works. That is the largest factor,” Portland guard CJ McCollum stated. “He places the trouble ahead, he communicates, he moved his toes tonight. Clearly, Russ (Westbrook) coming downhill, PG (Paul George) coming downhill, (Dennis) Schroder coming downhill, these are powerful covers for any massive man within the league, and I believed he held his floor properly.
“He held his floor towards Steven Adams and confirmed his versatility. I feel he is completed job for us, and clearly he is been a key acquisition for us with Nurk happening. We’d like him producing at a excessive stage.”
For Kanter, the chemistry and belief he has constructed along with his new teammates have been key to his success defensively.
“I feel protection is all about communication for us,” he stated. “I feel we did an excellent job speaking on the pick-and-rolls and trusting one another. I do know each time I bought beat or anyone else bought beat, my teammates have gotten my again, and I’ve bought their again.”
In consequence, on Sunday, the Blazers not solely might play Kanter but additionally wanted him on the court docket to beat the Thunder.