Long Story Short: The Blazers use timely defense to thwart Sacramento's repeated stabs at the rim, hobbling the Kings enough that Portland's own (somewhat clumsy) paint attack prevails.
Circle two names on your scorecard tonight: Nicolas Batum and Marcus Camby. On a night when the ups and downs of the Blazers' offense made the Kings look goo...uhhhh...adequate defensively those two defensive stalwarts made sure that the game never got out of hand. Both halves of the game had a similar progression. The Blazers streaked out to early leads. Then Portland relaxed and Sacramento came clawing back to pull even. Scoring dogfights ensued the rest of the way: Evans vs. Roy, with a little Beno Udrih and LaMarcus Aldridge thrown in for good measure. After the see-saw wore out Portland used scrappy defense, rebounding, and just enough offensive sense to pull ahead and stay there.
After falling down 12-2 at the start of the game the Kings rode Carl Landry and Beno Udrih, mounting a sterling comeback. They took advantage of Blazer turnovers, switches, and inattentive lane defense for a 24-12 run. The problems started around the 7-minute mark but got markedly worse when the second unit guys checked in. Brandon Roy scored 6 points late to save the Blazers from a demoralizing drubbing but Sacramento still led 29-25 at the end of a quarter they were once getting blown out of.
The second period offense started out horribly for all but two Blazers. Rudy Fernandez scored on a two and a three. Martell Webster, though, lit the joint up. (In the good sense, not the late-90's-Blazers sense.) He scored on a bevy of jumpers and one layup, most assisted but still opportune. He had 8 points in the first 6 minutes of the quarter. Between them Fernandez and Webster accounted for 13 points early. That's exactly the total the Kings would score for the quarter. The Blazers just looked at Tyreke Evans and said, "Anybody but you tonight." Evans begged to differ, attempting plenty of shots. Portland's resolve won out over his talent, at least in this period. That's no small feat either, as Evans is as composed and smooth of a rookie as I've seen since Roy. I'm not necessarily comparing the two, nor their futures. I'm saying that sometimes a guy shows you he's special just by the way he moves and sees the game. Evans is one of those players. When Evans couldn't score, though, the Kings reverted to a perimeter plan. It was wildly unsuccessful. Meanwhile the Blazers finally started treating the Kings' defense like it was the Kings' defense, moving the ball and getting open shots for everyone. Having been down 4 at the start of the period the Blazers went into the locker room up 10.
The NBA Manual says that in these situations the best plan is to come out blazing in the third period, put your opponent down by 20, and remove any doubt about the game. The Blazers are rebels, though. They don't need no stinkin' rules. Even though LaMarcus Aldridge scored a couple of times early it wasn't enough to make up for the vaunted lane defense of the second period morphing into the reviled lane defense in the third. The Kings immediately put up 14 points, mostly on layups and short shots, and pulled within 2 just five minutes into the new half. Then the Blazers woke up again, packed the lane again, forced some turnovers, and got a couple of easy buckets and free throws to push the advantage back to 9 by the end of the period.
The NBA Manual now says that since you gave the opponent their Big Run in the third it should be easy to keep your attention and energy high in the final period and just complete the inevitable blowout. After all you've learned your lesson about letting up. Besides the finish line is in sight. But the Blazers promptly stuck it to The Man by missing just about every shot they attempted for the first six minutes of the quarter. Juwan Howard made 1 of 2 free throws with 8:30 left. Marcus Camby made a 20-footer with 6:30 left. That was it. Meanwhile Tyreke Evans figured if the Blazers were going to keep him from scoring his teammates might as well have a little fun. He slipped the Portland defense enough to get Francisco Garcia a 3-pointer, then got two jumpers for Sean May (of all people). Then he made a driving layup after which he assisted Jason Thompson in doing the same. Tie game, broken only by Camby's aforementioned jumper. In the immortal words of Mrs. Puff: Why, Spongebob? Why???
However this is where the cavalry came to the rescue. Part of it was Brandon Roy coming through down the stretch. You know what that looks like. The bigger part of it was Nic Batum (with a little help) locking up Tyreke Evans like he was a Raiders fan at the old Veteran's Stadium. Plus Marcus Camby started smacking the Kings like they were a baby with matches. It seemed like Evans' drives went nowhere and every second Sacramento shot was getting sent back. They shot late, they shot deep, they couldn't pass...everything fell apart. In the end that defense was enough to secure the 7-point win, 88-81.
The numbers of the night for Portland were 18 fast break points and 44 points in the paint, both exceeding the Kings' output. These numbers multiply in significance when you consider the Blazers scored only 88 points total. Getting half of their points in the lane is an unusual feat for this year's Blazers. A +5 point total at the foul line also helped. For the most part the teams played evenly otherwise. One might be inclined to ask whether playing evenly with the Kings on one's homecourt is praiseworthy, but at this time of year a win is a win, period. Mission accomplished. Well done.
Marcus Camby gets to lead tonight with 8 rebounds and 5 blocks plus a really nice dive-to-the-floor hustle play late. If he's a hired gun he's sure throwing his heart into it. He saved this game for us.
In addition to the defense Nicolas Batum managed 6-7 shooting for 14 points. He was fading in and out a little early but his late-game buckling down was a sight to behold.
Brandon Roy had a rough night with the jumper but still went 8-16 for 19 points plus 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. His late-season M.O. has really been laying in the weeds until his time comes and then letting loose. Half the game you swear he's going to disappoint but the other half he comes through in spades. I wonder if that'll work in the playoffs or, if not, how the Blazers will adjust.
LaMarcus Aldridge struggled on offense, shooting deeper than he'd like and managing only 6 hits out of 15 shots. He did have 4 assists to go along with his 13 points. He's appeared more conscious of offensive continuity the second half of the season...certainly more than he has been in previous years. Down the road that quiet development may become as important as anything we're seeing from him. He added 7 rebounds as well.
Andre Miller hit a respectable 4-9 shots, a fantastic 6-6 free throws (I love how he abuses slighter guards in the post), and dished 5 assists alongside his 14 points. Didn't his hair look a little unkempt to you though? I don't know. It did to me.
Martell Webster and Juwan Howard had the best nights of the bench crew. Martell had that furious scoring flurry in the second period to finish with 11 points in 15 minutes. Howard had 8 rebounds in 21 minutes.
Rudy Fernandez and Jerryd Bayless had uncomfortable nights. Bayless got cooked a little on defense, shot too quickly from the perimeter on offense, and ended up going 0-4 for the evening with 2 assists in 10 minutes. Fernandez hit a couple of shots but shot 2-8 overall for 5 points and 3 rebounds in 20 minutes. Rudy did rip a nice rebound out of the Kings' hands though. Props for the machismo. Oh, and he had an amazing hanging reverse layup, Rudy style. Props for the ballet too.
Dante Cunningham picked up a foul and a rebound in 3 minutes.
In the end this felt more like a road-game-style win than a home game victory. But maybe it's good the Blazers won that way because Golden State comes up on Thursday and then these same Kings on Friday, both on the road. Neither place has been easy for Portland historically. In fact the Blazers have been to Oakland what the L*kers are to Portland. The Blazers will need to pick up at least one of these games and both would be far, far better.
Anticipate the rematch at SactownRoyalty.