In a Nutshell
The Blazers allow the Kings to play to their strengths in the first half, falling behind by double-digits in the second quarter. Solid defense, forced turnovers, and fast-breaks make up that difference through the end of the first half and all through the second. The young Kings have no answer for Portland's knockout punch and lose big.
The opening minutes of this game belonged to Marcus, DeMarcus, LaMarcus, and Chuck. Both teams made a conscious effort to get their bigs involved early. Marcus Camby drove to the hoop, shot from the key, smacked a shot and posed for the crowd, plus directed a little traffic for the Blazers. DeMarcus Cousins responded with a series of twirling moves and awesome leaps towards the rim. LaMarcus Aldridge tried to answer in kind against Chuck Hayes but found his efforts thwarted by a Sacramento defense that swarmed him every time he got within ten feet of the hoop. LMA either rushed his shots or abandoned them entirely, leaving Cousins looking like the only major star on the floor. Back and forth the teams went until somebody shouted for the four horsemen to clear out. It was time for The Apocalypse, a.k.a. Gerald Wallace. He started his assault with a couple of nifty off-ball baseline cuts and proceeded to dismantle the Kings piece by piece. He streaked, he poked, he became the hub of Portland's offense...the successful offense anyway. 10 first-quarter points later he had made up for whatever hijinks Cousins managed and staked Portland to a narrow 25-23 lead after one.
And then the bench came in.
And you know, if facepalming were a violation the Blazers bench would be the most penalized unit in the league.
In the absence of Camby the Blazers couldn't grab a rebound to save their lives. Sacramento started feasting on their own missed shots instead of ruing them. In the absence of Wallace and Aldridge the Blazers had no credible scoring attack. Jamal Crawford started slowly once again, attempting plenty of shots but missing almost all. Without any Portland offensive rebounding to speak of the Kings were free to dine and dash off the glass. Their young athletes surged ahead while the Blazers mustered a series of weak jumpers in return. Coach McMillan dribbled the starters back in a little at a time but the gaping, Camby-less hole in the middle remained and Portland's other players couldn't gain traction. The Kings went up 10 mid-period. That's when Camby returned. All of a sudden the game normalized. A couple of Wesley Matthews splashes and sparks of life from Aldridge allowed Portland to crawl back to a tie, 46-all at the half.
The game was there for the taking in the third quarter. The victor would be whichever team figured out the other's weaknesses first and exploited them most thoroughly. This is where Portland's veterans helped. The Blazers decided three things were going to happen on defense: 1. Cousins wasn't going to score anymore. 2. If the Sacramento guards did damage, it wouldn't be on the break. 3. No more offensive rebounds for the Kings. They were flawless in both resolve and execution in these matters. After that the game was a cakewalk. Sacramento had to struggle for every point. Meanwhile the new and improved rebounding allowed Portland's small forwards--first Wallace and then Nicolas Batum--to leak out on Sacramento's frequent jumpers. Six or seven layups later this game was out of reach. The Kings rolled over and died, looking fatigued and demoralized. The Blazers looked lily-fresh, forcing turnovers, running the ball, and generally having a good time. Nate left the core players in until the final couple minutes to ensure the victory and Portland waltzed with a 101-79 trophy for their case.
See if this sounds familiar:
- Marcus Camby makes a huge difference for this team because rebounding is required for the Blazers to have a chance.
- Transition offense is crucial because the Blazers have trouble scoring inside otherwise. They get the ball near the hoop but just cannot seem to finish in there. If they're not O-rebounding and not running the game gets hard for them.
- This team hangs its hat on forcing more turnovers than it creates.
- If LaMarcus Aldridge doesn't produce in the halfcourt the Blazers get exposed. Their outside shooting can't spread the floor enough to allow easy shots.
- The main way the Blazers do get easy shots in the halfcourt is sweet-looking jumpers off of screens.
- You also have to love how the entire team is committed to drawing charges. Team spirit and defensive sacrifice FTW!
- Once again the Blazers got ahead by preying on a somewhat less-experienced, somewhat less-talented, vulnerable team. Congratulations to Portland for seeing those weaknesses and exploiting them while covering their own enough to win. The big question: What happens against teams that punch back just as hard and don't have those same gaping vulnerabilities? Do the Blazers have another gear, another plan, even more resolve?
Holy Crackers. Gerald Wallace kind of saved the Philadelphia game but he completely redeemed the Blazers in this one. For large stretches of that first half he was literally the only thing Portland had going. He also led the charge out of the gate in the second half. He did everything tonight on both ends. He is playing magnificent ball right now whether you want to talk about tangibles, intangibles, or the effect on the team. 8-11 shooting tonight, 8-9 free throws, 25 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks, sick...sick...sick. Ger-ald WALL-ACE!
After that stumbling start LaMarcus Aldridge took full advantage of attention getting diverted elsewhere and scored his rear end off. All LMA needs is a small window...a little help to get uncorked. Tonight he got it from Wallace and that was all she wrote. 24 points on 10-15 shooting and 8 rebounds. I don't think he missed more than two shots after the first quarter.
The stats cannot describe what Marcus Camby means to this team right now. Wallace aside, the Blazers prospered when Camby was in and struggled when he sat until the lead got so big that no individual was that meaningful. Camby had better stay healthy this year. 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks and plenty of good defense in 24 minutes.
Wesley Matthews struggled with his three-point shot tonight, matching his struggles to finish when he puts the ball on the floor. I'd be more comfortable if he would develop a single, money shot (probably the three) and the Blazers set him up for it and let the rest of his offense develop more slowly. I do like that he's staying aggressive and I do like that he is committed to defending come what may. The Blazer guards held Sacramento's backcourt power duo in check tonight and Matthews was a large part of that. 4-14 shooting, 0-5 from distance, 8 points, 5 rebounds for Wesley.
Raymond Felton also stayed aggressive, not shying away from the drive or his shot even when neither was working as well as he'd like. He's a veteran and he's not going to get rattled. Portland fans will just have to be patient. When he finds his comfort zone, providing he can hold it, he'll be an asset. The worry is that he appears to fade as games progress. That'll be something to watch. But his early drives look good. 2-8 shooting, 5 points, 6 assists.
As mentioned, Jamal Crawford had another slow start tonight. Unlike the Philly game he never got on track for this one, finishing 2-11 in 25 minutes. He did have 4 assists. That said. the Blazers need him to connect if he's going to be out there. Matthews is a better defender if both of them are going to shoot under 40% and miss threes.
Nicolas Batum went 29 minutes, went 6-6 from the foul line, and copied Gerald Wallace's leaking out ways for some nifty fast-break conversions. His defense was strong as always and his rebounding continued to look good. Like Matthews, his shot isn't falling early this season. He went 4-12 , 1-4 from the arc for 15 points and 5 rebounds. Those 15 points will show you what aggression going to the hoop will do even when your shot isn't connecting. That's a good sign for Batum.
Kurt Thomas played 18 minutes tonight. 3-4 from the field for 6 points and 3 blocks were the good part. He also threw his body in the way for charges. I love it when veterans know they're playing limited minutes and aren't afraid to go hard the entire time they're on the court. That's Thomas. That said, those young Kings athletes made him look not so young tonight on defense.
Craig Smith had a couple of moments on offense en route to 4 points in 8 minutes.
Chris Johnson had a couple of moments where he looked not ready to fill in for Camby en route to 2 points and 2 rebounds in 8 minutes.
Nolan Smith hit 2-2 shots for 4 points in 7 minutes but couldn't run the point and couldn't defend, looking even more not ready than Johnson.
Eliot Williams and Luke Babbitt got a couple of junk minutes. Just move along, nothing to see here.
--Blazers 10 turnovers, Kings 18
--Demarcus Cousins scores 16 but almost all came in the first half. The Blazers iced him when it counted. Marcus Thornton scored 14 but took 15 shots to do it, Tyreke Evans earned only 4. The Blazers might not have the best defense in the league exactly but they sure know where to aim it.
--Kings only notch 11 assists and 7 fast break points. The Blazers look great by comparison with 25 and 17.
--Portland eventually tallied 52 points in the paint...an indication of just how badly the Kings broke down.
So far, so good! This is a much more fun team to watch than the Roy-less or Half-Speed teams we've seen the last couple of years.
Check out the reaction at SactownRoyalty, no doubt feeling a little less regal tonight.