By the Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY — Chris Paul had become annoyed with Oklahoma City’s recent slow starts, so he did something about it.
He scored 21 of his 30 points in the first half, and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers 119-106 on Saturday night.
Forward Danilo Gallinari, Oklahoma City’s No. 2 scorer, rested. That prompted Paul to look for his shot more.
“Just trying to be aggressive,” he said. “You know, without Danilo, we’ve got to find scoring. So I tried to come out and pick my spots early and made a few shots early.”
Portland coach Terry Stotts has seen it all before during Paul’s 15-year NBA career.
“Paul was a really good player tonight,” Stotts said. “Well, he’s been a really good player for his career, but he had a really good game tonight. He managed the game, scored.”
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 22 points and 10 rebounds and Dennis Schroder and Nerlens Noel each added 15 points for Oklahoma City.
The Trail Blazers had just eight players available. Portland’s Kent Bazemore and Anthony Tolliver were not with the team, and coach Terry Stotts declined comment amid reports that the players were to be traded to Sacramento in exchange for Trevor Ariza, Wenyen Gabriel and Caleb Swanigan.
Portland guard C.J. McCollum was out with a sprained left ankle. He ranks second on the team, averaging 21.5 points.
Damian Lillard, who played despite dealing with an upper respiratory illness, led the Trail Blazers with 34 points. Gary Trent Jr. scored a career-high 30.
The Thunder led 64-57 at halftime, a switch from recent games with big deficits against the Los Angeles Lakers, Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat.
“We just didn’t have to play from behind,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “We knew what we needed to do going into this game. We are coming off a back-to-back. We knew it would be a little bit tough, but if we wanted to win, we had to do it, and we did it tonight.”
Lillard scored 24 points in the first half to keep the Trail Blazers in it, but Oklahoma City pushed its lead to 87-77 after three quarters and cruised in the fourth. Stotts wasn’t sure if his team wore out.
“That’s possible,” he said. “You know, we were hanging close. They made some runs. I don’t know if we ran out of gas or not. The minutes were kind of under control, but like I said, I thought it was mostly Chris Paul’s impact on the game more than anything else.”