In a Nutshell
Portland took advantage of turnovers, rebounding, and some hot perimeter shooting to narrowly best a Kings team that scored at will inside.
The post-Marcus-Camby era began with a bang--actually several--as the Kings jumped out on the Blazers by cutting and stuffing the ball inside. They scored repeatedly at the rim in the first period, jumping out to an 8-2 lead that got new starter Dante Cunningham benched in favor of Joel Przybilla. The Blazers made up the difference slowly by virtue of some great jump shooting, a theme which would continue throughout the evening. Sacramento drifted outside as well during the middle portion of the first but then found the rim again late as Portland's second unit filtered in. Sacramento led 26-21 after the first.
The second period was slightly less damaging to Portland but the early trends continued. The Blazers failed to rotate time and again, giving the Kings easy looks. On the other hand Rudy Fernandez and company were stroking threes like they were born to it. Portland narrowed the Kings lead to 2 by the break, 48-46.
The third period saw Portland pick up the defensive intensity, especially on the dribble and in the passing lanes. They frustrated the Kings something awful, either outright picking the ball or forcing it to stay in one player's hands for a lame and late shot attempt. The Kings played tit-for-tat by focusing their defense on LaMarcus Aldridge. With a seemingly never-ending supply of fresh big bodies to throw at Aldridge, Sacramento forced him farther and farther away from the cup. Portland's shooting was off a little in this quarter, so the Kings didn't pay full price for their peskiness. With Portland scoring 19 in the frame and Sacramento only 17, the score was knotted after three at 65 apiece.
The fourth period featured great performances from Sacramento's Beno Udrih and Aldridge. Udrih sliced and diced the Blazers with jumpers and passes. Though still harassed in the post, Aldridge made lemonade out of lemons by grabbing offensive rebounds and stuffing them back home. Portland's rebounding was superior in this period overall, taking the sting out of the inability to score with regularity. Portland's zone defense kept everybody but Udrih in check as both teams alternated well-run sets with complete stink-bombs. After Aldridge got pushed farther outside than he wanted (thanks to sterling defense from Samuel Delambert) and missed a half hook for the win in Portland's final possession he dust settled on a tie game, 85-all. To overtime we went.
The overtime belonged to Aldridge. First he drew a foul on Delambert, hitting 1 of 2. Then he had a nice under-the-bucket tip of an Andre Miller miss. Finally with the Blazers offense stalled because he had been pushed out of the post yet again, Aldridge simply went with the flow, stepped outside, and sank his traditional 20-foot face-up shot. He scored 5 in overtime. That's all the Kings scored as a team. A clutch Miller jumper and some decent rebounding was all the Blazers needed to seal the deal, 94-90.
It was a win, to be sure, but not a confidence-inspiring one. The Blazers needed their 37.5% shooting from distance, really good shooting nights from Rudy Fernandez and Andre Miller, and 13 steals to prevail against Sacramento. How often do those things happen? And how often does Portland play the Kings?
On the other hand, the Blazers do have that Working Hard thing going for them. It became clear quite quickly tonight that unless the Kings got something easy they weren't bothering with it. You have to admire the Blazers' willingness to move their feet and keep after the ball. This team is hurt but it's not lazy.
The best thing about LaMarcus Aldridge's game tonight was that, despite the pressure defense and the closeness of the game, he never gave up and never panicked. When a door got shut he went through the window. His offensive rebounding putbacks were the backbone of the Blazer attack late. He ended up with 23 points, 5 offensive rebounds, 9 rebounds overall. He committed 5 turnovers, again a sign that they were hounding him hard.
Nicolas Batum did a ton of damage early, ending up with a game-high 24 points on 9-16 shooting with 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. He also went 2-5 from distance and made the Kings reconsider several passes. It was a great time for him to step up.
Rudy Fernandez had an awesome shooting night. For the first couple periods it looked like he was not going to miss any threes. He ended up 5-10 overall, 3-7 from the arc, had 5 assists, 3 steals (in a game where turnovers mattered), and got plenty of critical minutes down the stretch until he injured himself saving a possession for Portland by diving out of bounds. The Blazers got the ball but lost Rudy. It was a heck of an effort from him.
Andre Miller played 42 minutes and shot 9-20 on a night when the only shots available to him were jumpers. He had 20 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists and quietly played the role of Aldridge's wingman down the stretch, using veteran mojo to help pull this game out.
Dante Cunningham had 6 points and 5 rebounds (and this block) in his 26 minutes but his contributions were sporadic.
Joel Przybilla saved Portland's bacon by coming in for Dante, playing 29 minutes, and grabbing 11 rebounds with a steal, a block, and 3 assists. His defense isn't to his pre-injury levels but at least he got those boards.
Wesley Matthews had a really rough night. He got beaten on defense and shot 1-7. On the bright side he joined the steal brigade with 3. It's really fun to watch him, Fernandez, and Batum mess up carefully-planned offenses.
Patty Mills had 4 points and 3 assists in 11 minutes.
Sean Marks had a rebound in 3 minutes.
Stats of the Night
- Blazers 13 steals
- Blazers 6-16 on threes
- Blazers 12-13 on free throws, Kings 15-22.
- Blazers win fast-break battle 11-2. Yay turnovers!
- Portland only 38 points in the paint.
Odd Notes and Links
Bill Walton sat in with the Sacramento TV crew for the second and third quarters of this game. He's not quite as hyperbolic as he used to be but he's still weird. But at least he's willing to call people out, including those on the team for which he's broadcasting.
Hear the shrugging disappointment at Sactown Royalty.