Scene: A high-end Sacramento hotel, October 31st, 2014, 6 hours before tip-off. The Portland Trail Blazers gather together to discuss what costume to wear to their Halloween evening game against the Kings.
"Let's go as vampires! Then LaMarcus can get his cape action going!"
"Naw, man, I don't look good in a cape. Besides, where are we gonna find 12 capes at this time of day in Sacramento? We ain't exactly in the Pearl District."
"How about Iron Man?"
"Come on, Wes. That is so last year."
"I know! We can go as Redneck Godzilla Frankenstein! We can get one of those swamp boats with the big fan on back and wear alligators around our neck and put bolts in our heads and get a harpoon and breathe fire!"
A voice emerges from the back of the room.
"How about we all go as a big pumpkin?"
The chant swells. "PumpKIN! PumpKIN! PumpKIN!"
Consensus achieved, the Blazers showed up at Sleep Train Arena in their fancy new costume. And the Sacramento Kings proceeded to carve them up.
That might be a slight oversimplification of Portland's 94-103 loss to the Kings tonight, but only slight. The Blazers showed up ready to repeat the pattern that held them in good stead in their opening night win versus the injury-weakened Oklahoma City Thunder: play sleepy-time basketball until the fourth period then wake up and slash through an inferior opponent. The Kings don't have the same name value as the Thunder but they also weren't injured. Instead of folding as the Blazers tried to push in the fourth, they pushed back...taking the close score as an indication of opportunity rather than a harbinger of eventual doom. Instead of Sacramento looking silly, reduced to hero-ball against a better defending, better-rebounding, more poised opponent, the Blazers took that mantle upon their shoulders. It didn't become them, but they'll be wearing it until they put a complete game together and show signs that they're ready to play this season instead of watching it go by them, expecting teams to bow to their hot-streak reputation.
You can get a quick summary of the game flow, reaction from the GameDay Threads, and post-game media reaction in our Instant Recap.
"Sloppy" is the best word to describe Portland's opening period. They didn't get back on defense, didn't work around screens, left the Kings open paths and open space enough to get confident on offense. You knew it was going to be an interesting night when, on Sacramento's first possession, Darren Collison saw Damian Lillard watching him 1-on-1 and blew by him like he had just been given a sack full of King-sized candy bars.
Sacramento didn't even need their usual DeMarcus Cousins barrage to keep up with the Blazers early. Rudy Gay came with his mid-range shot fully armed and operational, hitting the Blazers where they're weakest. The Blazers allowed Sacramento to pass the ball anywhere they pleased as long as it wasn't right in the heart of the lane. Sacramento took that deal and ran. Gay would end up scoring 10 in the period.
The Blazers, meanwhile, were turning over the ball, missing layups, and not squaring up for jumpers. Sacramento's defense had something to do with it, but when money-time jump-shooters all of a sudden start splaying their feet akimbo on shots, that's more than the "D" talking. As happened on Wednesday, LaMarcus Aldridge came to Portland's rescue, scoring off of jumpers and a couple fouls in the post. 11 points from their main man would keep the Blazers within 24-26 as the period expired.
Again in a seeming replay of the Thunder game, Portland watched the opposing bench stall in the second period. Play got ragged and neither team could manage much until Cousins and Gay took over towards the end of the period. Chris Kaman again provided a bright spot for Portland's bench, scoring at a point-per-minute pace and making the Kings devote extra men to cover his threats. But the Blazers' offense found no more rhythm than the Kings' offense did. Instead Kaman and Wesley Matthews provided a late barrage to counter Gay and Cousins, leaving the game tied at 48 for intermission.
If the start of the second had been choppy for the Blazers, the start of the third period was a gale-force nightmare. Their trends of not getting back, not covering screens, and not stopping passes intensified. Except now instead of just getting mid-range shots, the Kings were making hay in the lane and at the arc...deadly sins in Portland's defensive bible. The offense was no better, with turnovers and 1-on-1, bail-out basketball holding sway. The Kings bullied their way to a 62-54 lead. 8 points doesn't seem like much, but in this flat of an outing, it felt like the edge was doubled.
But then, apropos of the holiday, Boogieman made an appearance. Not the good DeMarcus Cousins, but the scary one. Frustrated at the lack of a foul call on a drive (and perhaps by a bogus moving screen call earlier), Cousins pulled out his patented, "I'm going to pick up a stupid foul in protest" move. He tried to swipe the ball away from Lillard on an inbounds play, caught Dame's head instead, and trudged to the bench with 4 fouls at the 6:41 mark of the third.
All of a sudden, everything turned Portland's way. Lacking a center, the Kings weren't able to keep Robin Lopez from dunking or rebounding, nor keep other Blazers off the boards when they did. The Blazers scored 15 points in 4 minutes, all but 2 of them in the lane, beyond the arc, or at the foul line. Everything the Blazers wanted, they got. When the smoke cleared, Portland had tied the game at 71 heading into the fourth.
Once again the Blazers turned up the activity level in the final period, hustling on defense, moving the ball, stroking threes. When Matthews and Steve Blake tripled on Portland's first two possession of the period, you could hear Blazers fans give a collective, "Awwww...yeah." The team had been here before. This is how they do.
Except the Kings had read that particular script and come up with a counter-plan of their own. They also turned up the defense big-time. They shored up that rebounding problem that had plagued them after Cousins' departure as well. Their hustle kept Portland from capitalizing on momentum even when the Blazers ran their starters and Sacramento stuck to the bench. After the initial barrage the teams combined for 2 points total over the next 4 minutes of play. When Cousins and Gay returned to the floor for their final shifts in the fourth, they found their team down only 2. You could see their eyes light up. Then you saw the nets light up.
The Kings proceeded to hammer the Blazers into submission with Cousins' interior play, Gay's shooting, and Collison's quickness. Portland's only answer was Lillard waking up from a game-long slumber and trying to carry his team to victory with a dizzying array of drives and long bombs. Even with some charitable whistles going his way, it wasn't enough. Sacramento's team play and hustle proved better than Portland's star play and reputation. The Kings walked away with a 103-94 victory, sending the Blazers to a 1-1 record.
You already heard the basic story. The Blazers weren't coherent enough, energetic enough, or committed enough to succeed except when they had an obvious lineup advantage on the floor.
In some ways the Blazers started behind to begin with, as this was a clash of styles. Portland wants to protect against close buckets and threes. In order to do that they'll concede mid-range shots. The Kings field plenty of good mid-range shooters. When Gay got hot it created an interesting problem for Portland. They weren't able to follow him off of screens. Eventually he got so far in the groove that they couldn't cover him straight up either. But what were they going to do? They couldn't double him out on the floor without the whole rest of their defensive philosophy breaking down.
But Gay's 40 points weren't the only problem. The Blazers could have compensated for that had Cousins and Collison not been able to threaten the defense at every turn. Neither one could be contained by a single defender either, which meant the Blazers were constantly collapsing and recovering...or just watching those two get good looks...or watching Sacramento forwards get offensive rebounds because the defense was bent.
Even then the Blazers might have survived if their offense was in sync. It wasn't. Part of that was Sacramento "D" but it also looked like the team was running sets that they expected to work automatically. They weren't crisp, they weren't detailed. It was like taking your car in to get some sweet flame details and the guy just tossed a bucket of Glidden down each side.
We saw this work in reverse last season. A highly-touted opponent would come into Moda Center expecting to win and the Blazers would outdo them with energy, efficiency, and chemistry. Tonight the Blazers got outdone. Except you have to wonder why Portland would walk into any arena outside of Philadelphia or half of Staples Center expecting to win just by showing up. This is the second straight night we've seen this...7 out of the 8 quarters the Blazers have played so far this season. They need to switch into gear before Sunday when the Golden State Warriors come to town, because last season those battles were epic even when the Blazers were running on all cylinders.
Fun With Statistics
Not much fun to be had tonight, actually.
- Portland shot 41% from the field, 35% (9-26) from the arc. Sacramento didn't do much better at 42% overall and 40% (4-10) from distance but the Blazers are theoretically more efficient and powerful on offense than the Kings, not about the same.
- The Blazers needed to be more powerful on a night when they shot 17-19 from the foul line and Sacramento shot 31-35. There wasn't much to complain about on Portland's side either. The Kings were more aggressive, more crisp getting inside. If anything, the Blazers got some reputation-based foul calls in the post and on drives.
- Portland got 10 offensive boards but allowed 14.
- The Blazers committed only 10 turnovers but forced only 10. This should be a big advantage point for Portland.
- Portland does continue to thrive on blocks. 8 isn't bad for an evening. When they can get help to the lane in time their size and length really tells.
- Rudy Gay: 13-19 from the floor, 11-13 from the line. Ouch.