The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Sacramento Kings, 101-89, at the Rose Garden on Monday night to improve to 10-7 on the season.
This game went from mundane to wacky quicker than a Jamal Crawford two-step crossover. On a night when Blazers forward Luke Babbitt delivered Chalupas and then explained how great it felt and a young woman completely shocked her boyfriend with a jumbotron proposal (see game notes below), the meaningful gameplay wound up feeling like an afterthought.
This was Sacramento's second trip to Portland; this was the second time they were beaten soundly. This wasn't quite the post-Christmas thrashing the Blazers put on a Kings group that was clearly interested in formally ending its relationship with former coach Paul Westphal, but it was a decisive victory that reflected the clear separation in talent between the two sides.
But Portland's victory didn't come without some book-ending stress. In the first quarter, seemingly every Blazers big man wound up in foul trouble, a fact that led to some deep bench play and a tight scoreboard. In the fourth, Portland kept giving up mini-runs that let Sacramento stick just a teensy bit too close for Nate McMillan's comfort, necessitating some extra minutes from Portland's starters, a tough situation given the looming back-to-back-to-back.
In the mid-game, though, clear dominance, thanks mostly to a strong second quarter push keyed by Crawford and Gerald Wallace.
Crawford's steady trigger-happiness can often do more harm than good, but in a game where the first quarter began with extremely low-energy both ways and featured a young opponent that plays weak perimeter defense, the compulsive desire to find and take shots can be a major positive, particularly when those shots are falling.
Crawford finished with 26 points on 9-for-18 shooting, with 12 points coming in the second quarter.
"He played within the flow of the game," McMillan said. "He took some good shots. Offensively we ran some sets for him at the two position. He made his shots. I thought defensively he was pretty active. That group in the second quarter just forced some turnovers to create that momentum and we kind of rode that throughout the game."
Wallace, meanwhile, put up 20 points, 8 rebounds and had two steals. It was back-to-back uncontested Wallace baskets in the second which seemed to deflate Sacramento's spirit. Kings coach Keith Smart called a timeout in hopes of inspiring his troops out of a scoreless drought, only to have Wallace force a turnover, finish one lay-up, and then finish another one after Wesley Matthews keyed another break with an opportunistic defensive play seconds later. That turbo boost left Sacramento reeling and tilted this towards blowout territory.
"Sacramento is a team that likes to get up and down the court," Crawford said. "If you can kind of take that away from them a little bit. Get some steals, get some easy baskets, it breaks their will a little bit because they are a free-wheeling team that likes to get up an down. We just picked up our intensity."
Speaking of intensity, reserve forward Craig Smith finished with 10 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal, stepping up when force-fed by McMillan in recent games. Shot-creation was not an aspect of his game that Smith mentioned much when he signed in December, but he is pleased to be able to unveil it now.
"I've always been able to score," Smith said. "Whatever you've got to do to find your niche, defense, rebounding at first, then you can establish it on the offensive end. It's just part of a progression."
As part of Portland's perimeter-dominated second unit, Smith essentially has the paint to himself for stretches at a time.
"Smith has been a calming effect for us," McMillan said. "A guy who we've been going to here lately. He's been making good plays. He's been able to allow us to rest LaMarcus as somewhat of a go-to guy. We've kind of got that balance with that second unit now. It's not just jacking jump shots up, we have an inside presence that we can go to. He's making good decisions with the ball.
"Coaching against him when he was in Minnesota and when he was with the Clippers, this is pretty much what he did. He was a guy who could score on the post, at the elbow, and he makes good decisions with the ball. He uses his body well. He finishes well. Good passer out of that. That has helped us."
Smith, like his Blazers teammates, also made one point clear: It felt good to be home after a six-game, 11-day road trip.
"Rhinos need the home cooking," he explained.
Random Game Notes
- After some talk that the streak might end, the Blazers announced another sell out. It was a larger crowd than the Cleveland game.
- Blazers center Marcus Camby left the game with a minor groin injury in the second half but the team reports that he will play on Tuesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies.
- Kings guard Tyreke Evans hit an amazing high-arcing halfcourt buzzer-beater to end the first half. Video here.
- Blazers forward Nicolas Batum and Acting GM Chad Buchanan both confirmed that a contract extension negotiation meeting took place on Monday. No deal was reached. The deadline is Wednesday. Talks will reportedly continue Tuesday.
- Batum was fairly despondent post-game, frustrated after going scoreless in 18 minutes and upset because his mother had visa trouble entering the United States, as reported by Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com. (Batum said later, "Thank for you support, and my mom and sister are ok. I hope they will be here soon.")
- "They talked before the game, so I don't know yet," Batum said of the negotiations. "I don't like to talk about it. We'll just wait and see. If something gets done, something gets done. I don't know what happened today. I'm going to talk to my agent now and we'll see."
- Many times I've had fun with the Jumbotron marriage proposals. But never quite like Monday night. Over the last few years, we've likely seen a dozen or so couples embark on their journey towards a lifetime bond in front of 20,000 strangers. We've even seen a man wearing a Rudy Fernandez jersey propose to a woman wearing a Rudy Fernandez jersey.
- But, I repeat, never a marriage proposal quite like this. On Monday, a brave woman proposed to her boyfriend, Jeremy, on the big screen. She even presented him with a ring. The crowd reaction was instantaneous, as fans began taking pictures of the jumbotron and exchanging Twitter messages and dropped jaws. Jeremy, clearly stunned by this public development, looked legitimately terrified but not necessarily unhappy. Saying that Jeremy did not know how to react or what to do would be an understatement. He looked, mostly, like his current situation had never, ever, ever occurred to him as a possibility. Eventually, he appeared to say "yes" and the camera cut away somewhat abruptly as the couple kissed, with public address announcer Mark Mason saying something about leaving the pair alone. Yes, it was captivating.
- A few minutes later, after pondering Jeremy's reaction and the ever-present awkwardness that goes with any public marriage proposal, I probably took things a jump stop too far, joking: "Sources: Jeremy has filed for divorce."
- That's when the following message came in response: "Very funny!! Been watching from home but they did not show it on tv. My adopted daughter Amber did the proposing. Woohoo!" Then, another message came in a few minutes later: "I am so happy for them. That was my sister."
- * Looks down and shakes head self-loathingly *
- Well, that marked a new personal low. Time to atone.
- Amber: Congratulations on both your bravery and on your engagement. Jeremy: Congratulations, and I'm not totally sure how these things work but I'm almost positive that you owe Amber a ring now.
- Matt Calkins of The Columbian considered asking Blazers coach Nate McMillan if Jeremy simply waited too long to make the proposal but we all know McMillan would have asked us to give him a break on that.
- It would be awesome if Jeremy, with 24 hours to gather his thoughts (and a ring), ceremonially completed this circle by proposing to Amber at Tuesday night's game against the Memphis Grizzlies. Just a free idea. Throwing it out there. Spitballing. Workshopping. Brainstorming. Take it or leave it.
- Blazers forward Luke Babbitt delivered the highlight of the night, sinking a 3-pointer to push Portland over 100 points. It was his first basket since last April and it came after a number of missed attempts by the Blazers which left the Rose Garden crowd anxious for free Chalupas. "It's just good to make a shot," Babbitt said afterwards. "You don't get a whole lot of opportunities so any chance you get, you try to take advantage of it. I'm happy to get them all Taco Bell. I think they would have been pretty disappointed if we kept missing all those shots for them. It feels good to give the fans Taco Bell."
- Batum is driving a new Porsche Cayenne hybrid SUV.
- Blazers center Greg Oden was wished a happy belated birthday on the big screen too. He turned 24 on Sunday. He was met with cheers.
- NFL player and Oregon native Kevin Boss was also shown on the big screen.
Nate McMillan's Post-Game Comments
We missed some shots early but I thought our defense got aggressive in that second quarter, started to force some turnovers, create some easy baskets. I thought it got us more in the flow offensively. I like that we were attacking but we missed our free throws. Just aggressive play. We've got to just continue to build off some of the good things we did tonight.
I thought his shots, he played within the flow of the game. He took some good shots. Offensively we ran some sets for him at the two position. He made his shots, he made his shots. I thought defensively he was pretty active. That group in the second quarter just forced some turnovers to create that momentum and we kind of rode that throughout the game.
He came out and played well. The things he did earlier in the year as far as disrupting defensively. Getting out in transition. Even with the taped finger, I thought he shot the ball well, probably shot the ball as good tonight as he has throughout the season with that wrapped hand. I thought he played a solid game. His energy and disruption on the defensive end of the floor, which created some offense for us, whenever he's done that, we
Rebounding is a mindset. LaMarcus changed his attitude?
We hope so. I think he can do it. LaMarcus, his skill level playing 38, last year 40 minutes, you can fall into 5 or 6 rebounds. If you make your mind up to get another 4 or 5, there's no reason he shouldn't be a double-double guy.
Bench carrying some of the load
Smith has been a calming effect for us. A guy who we've been going to here lately. He's been making good plays. He's been able to allow us to rest LaMarcus as somewhat of a go-to guy. We've kind of got that balance with that second unit now. It's not just jacking jump shots up, we have an inside presence that we can go to. He's making good decisions with the ball. Nolan is coming in and playing some spot minutes to pick up the ball and allow Crawford to play off the ball. Kurt has been solid. Nic has been pretty solid so if we can get that group, both groups, playing good basketball on both ends of the floor we should be hard to beat.
Expect this from Craig
Our guys knew that he could play. Coaching against him when he was in Minnesota and when he was with the Clippers. This is pretty much what he did. He was a guy who could score on the post, at the elbow, and he makes good decisions with the ball. He uses his body well. He finishes well. Good passer out of that. That has helped us.
All your problems disappeared now
No, but it's good to get a W.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter