Famed actress and quasi-bad-girl Mae West once said that an ounce of performance is worth a pound of promises. Her wisdom played out on the court tonight as the Portland Trail Blazers faced the Sacramento Kings. Both teams boast tantalizing talent. Neither played to their full potential this evening but the Blazers benefited from a dramatically good showing from CJ McCollum while the Kings buried themselves underneath a comedy of errors. In the end 36 points from DeMarcus Cousins and 15 assists from Rajon Rondo weren't enough to overcome Portland's execution and poise (and CJ) as the Blazers reeled in a much-needed road win, 98-94.
I can't count the number of times this year that the main storylines of a Blazers game showed up in the first 4 minutes of play. It happened again tonight. CJ McCollum blistered the nets from the outset, opening Portland's scoring with a layup and splashing down a pair of three-pointers after, leading his team to an 11-3 lead at the 9:00 mark of the first. Sacramento's response: turnover, turnover, turnover. Rinse, lather, repeat, and you have the basic gist of the game.
Despite McCollum's early brilliance, the Blazers weren't fated to stay ahead. DeMarcus Cousins would lead his team to a 51-49 halftime lead on his way to the 36 points we just cited. But every time the Kings would surge forward because of a Cousins layup or an unbelievable Rondo dish, they'd end up doing two stupid things and slipping back again.
Portland's performance wasn't pretty. The non-McCollum portion of the starting lineup shot 8-30 for the game. Even counting McCollum the starters only managed 5 three-pointers in 19 attempts. But Sacramento's ghastly 22 turnovers kept the door wide open for the Blazers. CJ and a few offensive rebounds were enough to carry the Blazers through it.
The final four minutes of the game were just as illustrative as the first four. A Cousins layup cut Portland's lead to 89-87 with 4:03 remaining. Sacramento's next possessions read: Cousins turnover, Cousins missed three, Cousins missed 20-footer, Cousins blown layup. The Kings would miss four more threes and a pair of close shots before the final horn sounded. In the same span McCollum scored 7 points all by himself.
With Portland's superior execution and discipline serving as bookends, the mushy middle for both teams didn't end up mattering much. Talent coupled with teamwork beat talent coupled with crazy. The names on the back of Sacramento's uniforms may be bigger, but the grey matter between the Blazers' ears more than compensated for it tonight.
When nobody else in the starting lineup proved effective, CJ McCollum took over this game. He did it with style too. His 35 points came off of 14-28 shooting...50%. He shot 3-9 from distance. His 11 rebounds and 9 assists put him one tick short of a triple-double. His four steals put this game on a pedestal for him. 2 turnovers...2 personal fouls...you couldn't have wished for any better performance from McCollum tonight. He was amazing.
This was good, as the contributions from his starting teammates proved...muted. To put it kindly. Mason Plumlee collected 5 fouls in 22 minutes. Crabbe had 5 fouls too, plus he shot 4-13 from the field and 2-7 from distance. Noah Vonleh shot 1-6 and collected only 3 rebounds in 14 minutes. Al-Farouq Aminu committed 4 turnovers in 22 minutes. It's like the rest of the starters said, "Hey...let's lose this one!' and CJ kept saying, "Come on guys, we gotta win it!"
Fortunately Portland's bench put in one of their finest collective efforts of the season. Meyers Leonard led the sub crew with 16 points off of 4-7 three-point shooting, adding in 11 rebounds for good measure. Moe Harkless wasn't far behind with 13 points, 6 boards, and 3 steals. Tim Frazier kept the ball moving (for better and worse...he committed 3 turnovers) and he shot 3-6 for 9 points. Gerald Henderson remains the lone holdout in Portland's bench resurgence, shooting only 2-8.
Links and Such
In back-to-back outings the Blazers have won pretty versus Cleveland and ugly versus Sacramento. Let's see what happens on Wednesday night at 7:00 p.m. versus the Denver Nuggets.
Sactown Royalty will feel that this game should have gone the other way. Rajon Rondo is like a gooey doughnut with shards of scrap metal inside: equal parts delicious and dangerous.
Will CJ McCollum go off again when the Trail Blazers play the Kings on March 28th, or will it be Damian Lillard next time? We don't know for sure, but we do know it'll be Blazer's Edge Night. We're planning on sending 2000 underprivileged kids to see the Blazers play these same Kings that night and we need your help. You can donate tickets to the cause through this link:
Promo Code: BLAZERSEDGE
Ticket Costs range from $7-13 (There is a $5 processing fee per order.)
You can also call our ticket rep, Lisa Swan, directly at 503-963-3966. You will need to indicate to her that you are donating the tickets you order to Blazer's Edge Night.
PLEASE celebrate this win by sending a child or two! Donations have been strong but we've had a LOT of requests and we're not to 2000 yet. Help if you can.
If you want to take a Kings fan up on a wager to that effect, you can find it here!