In a Nutshell
The Blazers ride physical play and huge nights from Jamal Crawford and Gerald Wallace, disposing of the Kings as expected.
Game Flow AND Take-Away Points (since they melded into each other tonight)
The Blazers started the game playing down to the Kings' level. They fell prey to the same trick that's been pulled on them over and over again this season. As mentioned in the preview, the Kings are a bad defensive team. There's no way around that, no permutation of their lineup that changes it. But the Blazers make any opponent look good defensively when that opponent puts 4-5 people in or near the lane on post touches. Watch what happens when LaMarcus Aldridge gets the ball. Freeze your DVR and count how many opposing defenders have a foot in the paint. Aldridge is smart. If he doesn't have the move he'll kick out. But Portland's perimeter players have to hit in order to make the defense pay. When they don't...well...any defense looks marvelous. The Kings looked marvelous as long as the Blazers tried to feed the post in the first quarter of this game. Sacramento streaked out to some early easy buckets and took a lead.
Fortunately the Blazers remembered that post offense wasn't necessary to beat the Kings. Their "D" is poor from any angle. So Portland went with the next best thing: attacking the rim with guards. Raymond Felton looked brilliant in this respect. The Blazers kept their big guys on the weak side and let the Felt Man work...and indeed, he was smooth. A few halfcourt layups and some attention to transition defense was enough to right the ship. The rest of the period turned into an ugly foul-shooting contest in which both teams came out roughly even. Jamal Crawford and Jimmer Fredette each hit a long jumper. Other than that it was nothing but line work. Both teams were tied at 21 following the first.
A couple things happened in the second quarter to blow the game open. First Craig Smith bulled his way inside against paper-resistance to keep the rim attack going. Then Crawford took advantage of the openings that created outside and began his game-long blistering of the nets. He hit seemingly everything from everywhere, particularly in the second. Both of those developments took a back seat to one a little less obvious but also less subtle. The Blazers got physical against the Kings. You'd think this would be a natural stance for a team stuffed with intimidating athletes but all too often this year the Blazers have been content to win pretty. They like steals, straight running, swooping blocks from behind, soft shots. The second quarter was far less elegant and far more brutal. The Blazers punished the Kings on the boards, knocked them aside for loose balls and steals, creamed them whenever they even thought about coming inside. When the Blazers turned green and ripped their shirts the Kings meekly retreated and tried to work around the Beast. It didn't work. Tyreke Evans had to hit a halfcourt three at the end of the second to bring the score to 53-38 at the half.
The third period featured more of the same. The Blazers dominated on the boards, scored inside, got their shooters wide-open looks with their feet planted, didn't let the Kings close. Only turnovers marred the stanza but the Blazers did make up for it with some nice transition defense. They probably would have scored 30 if they could consistently make passes to open three-point shooters that weren't wide, high, or low. A passing drill may be in order so that our guys can find their gunners in rhythm. As it was the Blazers won the period 21-18 and headed into the fourth with a comfortable lead.
Anyone who's wondering why Nate McMillan doesn't use his bench more should look at the nearly-all-bench lineup that started the fourth quarter of this game. This wasn't even the ultra-deep bench, just a bunch of the middle-rotation guys playing together. Their defense was horrible. And this isn't a new story. In 2 minutes, 20 seconds Portland's lead went from 20 to 13. Had they held the fort longer--or at all--no doubt the next move would have been to the bottom-rotation guys. Instead the starters had to return and the blowout crew didn't enter until 1:20 was left on the clock. That was the only real blemish to an otherwise good evening. The Blazers win by a dozen, 101-89.
LaMarcus Aldridge took only 14 shots tonight and scored only 13 points. If you want to know why, check out the section just above. The great thing was that the Blazers didn't need him to dominate the halfcourt offense. They found an alternate and appropriate way to attack beyond just chucking jumpers. The even greater thing was his 16 rebounds, 9 offensive. He broke the Kings' backs with those. Also if he's going to be a true team leader he has to find ways to dominate even when it's not his best offensive night. Let's hope he picks up more of that impulse.
Gerald Wallace got inside a few times early and finally got some close-in shots to fall. That freed up his outside game which soon followed suit. He ended up 9-12 from the field for 20 points with 8 rebounds and 2 steals.
Marcus Camby was a non-factor for the second game in a row, picking up 3 personal fouls in 13 minutes, contributing 6 rebounds during his brief stay on the floor.
--Add-In Note: DeMarcus Cousins has amazing ability. Amazing. I hope for the sake of NBA fans that he gets/keeps his head on straight because he could carve holes in this league for years. He's like a 6'11", 270 lb guard when he gets the ball in scoring position. There's nothing he can't do. He'll either be a huge star or a huge disappointment. I know all of that has been said before but you can't watch his game without it coming to mind.
The Felt Man had another fine night, now stringing a few together in succession. His drives to the rim gave Portland escape velocity in this game. He understood that this was supposed to be easy and played accordingly. 5-12 shooting, 1-4 from distance, 11 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds.
Wes Money scored 14 points but spent 14 shots doing it, hitting 5. He had some nice hoops during the break-away but struggled most of the evening.
Nicolas Batum played 19 minutes and scored 0 with but 2 rebounds.
However one should look at Portland's guards and wings and then look at the line of Sacramento's starting guards: 2-14 shooting, 9 points, 5 assists combined.
Jamal Crawford also feasted on easy defense tonight, looking completely unconcerned with every shot he took. He ended up 9-18 on the night, 2-5 from the arc, 6-7 from the foul line for 26 points. He also added 5 assists. This was the good side of Jamal.
Craig Smith continues to justify his rotation promotion, shooting 4-8 for 10 points and 7 rebounds in 22 minutes. Consider this: So far this year Smith is the only off-season acquisition performing better than advertised. Wow.
Kurt Thomas played 18 minutes and had an uncharacteristic 2 point, 1 steal, 0 rebound night. Then again, who did he get to watch?
Luke Babbitt set the crowd on fire with the chalupa shot.
Fun With Numbers
- Blazers 52 points in the paint, Sacramento 36. We did mention the Kings' permissive defense, right?
- Blazers shoot 47% from the floor, 37% from the arc. They'll take that most nights. What's happening to their league-leading free throw percentage lately though? They went 12-21 tonight, barely over 57%. When we opined that this team could use a Shaq-like player or two, we didn't mean that way.
- Blazers 19 offensive rebounds and a 53-36 rebounding edge overall. Hulk smash now!
No starter played over 35 minutes and Aldridge played only 28. Fewer minutes overall for the starting lineup would have been appreciated but that's good enough...hopefully. Grizzlies tomorrow.
Check out the Kings' view at Sactown Royalty