Still without star point guard Damian Lillard, the Blazers could hardly hope for another opponent to just roll over and die, as did the Cavs, and instead faced a haymaker-packed back-and-forced contest, which was close from wire-to-wire and included a heap of lead changes.
The Blazers were led by CJ McCollum's near triple-double (35 points, 11 rebounds, 9 assists, 4 steals). He was a monster and had his hands in just about everything tonight. Meyers Leonard had a good effort off the bench (16 points, 11 rebounds, 4-7 from deep). The Kings were led by DeMarcus Cousins (36 points, 6 rebounds).
McCollum came out with the clear objective of making things happen on offense, burying his first three shots - including two three-pointers - to push Portland out to an early lead 11-5 lead. His supporting cast, however, went ice cold, struggling to convert inside the paint against the interior presence of Cousins.
The Kings overcame some carelessness, turning the ball over six times in the opening period, and Cousins led a 20-2 run in which Sacramento took a 23-15 lead on Rajon Rondo's runner.
After appearing to struggle with his confidence as of late, Leonard was assertive, drilling two threes of his own and, perhaps more importantly, not passing up open shots.
End of First: Portland 29, Sacramento 30
Terry Stotts and George Karl are both considered offensive-minded coaches, and it couldn't be any more apparent than during the first half Sunday. Both sides agreed to a frenetic pace and didn't care how many open looks they had to concede to achieve that. The Kings all but ignored the three-point line and hardly sneezed at Portland's outside shooters, leading to eight threes.
A rolled ankle forced Allen Crabbe to take a seat halfway through the second quarter, but Maurice Harkless was there to pick up the slack, scoring on a driving and-1 layup which restored the Blazer lead at 37-35.
Meanwhile, Cousins continued to plod himself to high-percentage buckets in the post, overwhelming Portland's undersized bigs and taking advantage of the absence of Ed Davis, who missed the game with a bruised ankle of his own. His dunk pulled the Kings back within two at 43-41, and then hit the go-ahead free-throws in the final minute for two of his 21 first-half points.
Halftime: Portland 49, Sacramento 51
The rapid pace from earlier dwindled down to a bit more of a half-court affair, and with it most of the offense. McCollum continued to be the go-to guy for Portland, instigating most of what was cooking for the Blazer attack.
He connected on back-to-back jumpers early in the period, and then later found Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu streaking for a set of impressive one-handed tomahawk and a two-handed flush jams, respectively, the latter pulling Portland back within two at 73-71. His and-1 fadeaway in the closing seconds tied the game heading into the fourth.
Mason Plumlee played aggressive defense against Cousins but got into a bit of trouble, picking up his fifth foul just about halfway through the third quarter, relegating himself to the bench for a crucial chunk of crunch time.
End of Third: Portland 80, Sacramento 80
With McCollum getting a short rest to start the final period, it was up to the Blazer bench to keep the ship afloat. The lead volleyed back and forth, claimed by Leonard's three to open the quarter, and then following Darren Collison's free throws on Harkless's driving dunk. Leonard extended the lead with a top-of-the-key jumper to push it to 89-85.
While Aminu wasn't much of a factor on offense, both he and Harkless did a splendid job guarding Rudy Gay, holding him to just one field goal and leaving mostly a non-factor.
But perhaps it was fitting that it was McCollum, the star of the night to put the stamp on the night, sticking with his own miss to gather an easy lay-in, and then coolly icing a dagger from the top of the key in the final minute to go up 95-89. Cousins threatened with a three in the final minute, but the Kings weren't able to muster enough for a comeback.
The Blazers get a couple days off and then return to the Moda Center Wednesday to host Will Barton and the Denver Nuggets - tip is set for 7 p.m. Stay tuned to Blazer's Edge tonight, for extended analysis of this game from Dave Deckard.
-- Ryan Rosback | email@example.com | Twitter
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