The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Sacramento Kings 98-94 on the back of CJ McCollum, who tallied 35 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists. He and Meyers Leonard discuss how the team excelled and where that last assist could have come from for a triple-double. Videos via CSNNW.
Well since we’re talking about it, first we start off with Meyers, you know, pump faking and taking those side dribbles—this is how I talk to him, you know. It happens, but I honestly didn’t know I was close. Ed [Davis] was like, ‘Just give me one more assist,’ with, like, three minutes left. I’m like, ‘Yo, it’s crunch time now, dawg.’ Like, I’m trying, but it’s hard to get the pass across when [DeMarcus] Cousins in there late switching on the passes in the air, picking up my dribble when I have nowhere to go, so it’s tough.
But then secondly I’d like to blame Allen Crabbe down the stretch, you know. No, I’m just kidding. I’m kidding. I’m kidding. They did a great job of knocking down shots all game long. It’s the reason why I had nine assists. Guys were making shots, making plays. There were a couple times I had a pass and I didn’t pass it, so it’s a give and a take. I got to do a better job of finding guys and continuing to trust them and they got to continue to trust me.
Where did all the rebounds come from though?
I don’t know. Long rebounds I guess. Long rebounds, blocked shots. I try to let the big guys get them, but Ed’s out right now. I usually let Ed get all the rebounds, but Ed’s outs, so I figured I’d help out a little bit.
With all the injuries and the foul trouble to Mason [Plumlee], you kind of closed with a group that probably hadn’t played much together. What does that say about this team?
I think it just shows that guys can play basketball. Guys are starting to learn our offense, they’re starting to learn our sets pretty well, and I get more comfortable. You see guys like Moe [Harkless] playing some four, guarding [Omri] Casspi as well as guys being able to switch on the guards, and then I don’t know who else was out there. I was just locked in, so who was out there?
Meyers, Moe, Tim [Frazier], and AC.
Oh yeah. See, that’s a great lineup right there. We got speed, we got guys who are able to knock down shots, and defensively Tim does a good job of pressuring the ball, getting in there and helping out the bigs on rebounds and, you know, AC and Moe are really good rebounders and defenders as well.
I don’t necessarily think people need to have a career night, they just need to be efficient, take care of the ball, and make plays, and I think tonight guys made plays. Even last night, the box score may not have showed it for everybody, but I thought everybody played a really solid game individually by being in their shell, closing out, making the extra pass, making the hockey assist, some stuff that doesn’t necessarily go into the box scores. I mean, tonight I had a pretty good night and then some other guys stepped up, but I don’t necessarily think it’s going to take career nights every night.
Dame [Lillard] kind of joked that maybe he won’t come back soon.
I told him ‘Take your time, but hurry up.’ I don’t know if that’s confusing him or not, but I want to make sure he’s healthy, but at the same time I text him like, ‘Yo, I need you out there, dawg. It’s not the same. It’s not the same without you, man.’
It’s definitely different in many ways. Certainly guarding fives is different than guarding fours. Being more down in the paint, on the block on the defensive end, counted on to rebound a little more as compared to being out on the perimeter guarding someone like Casspi or Kevin Love, closing out threes and getting long rebounds. I was in there more at the rim. On the offensive end, spacing, trying to do my best to keep Cousins away from the rim. We knew really he was their only rim protector and, for the most part, he doesn’t want to foul because they need him in the game. So it was definitely a different dynamic.
I thought I was able to take advantage for the most part, but I still need to go back and look at the film. There’s definitely times where I’m probably a little more open than I think, trying to anticipate if guys are closing out hard versus trying to just stunt at me. You know CJ giving me a little bit of a hard time, he was one assist away and maybe I could have taken a couple more threes, but hey, it is what it is. We put together a really good game. Overall, first game we won this season not scoring a hundred, so that’s a big time step for us; especially on a back-to-back.
How do you think you played?
I thought, again, it’s always good for me—similar to what coach [Terry] Stotts always says—I like to watch the film before I can really make a solid judgment on the game, but I thought, for the most part, I did a pretty good job guarding the perimeter some, guarding Cousins down in the block some, being counted on to rebound the ball more, which I’m happy that they expect me to do that and want me to do that, because I feel like I can do a lot and bring more to the table than just shooting. And then on the offensive end, again, continue to look to be a little bit more aggressive, look for my shots a little more, but overall, I thought I spaced the court well, shot when I was open, and tried to make some plays for others, but now, again, watch the film, move on, figure out what we can do better, and try to get another win.
What’s it like defending Cousins at the block?
Well, in my opinion, he’s the hardest to stop. It certainly takes a team defense. There’s not a lot of guys that are going to stop DeMarcus Cousins 1-on-1. I thought Moe did a really good job getting his hands in there on a crab dribble a couple times—I think Tim maybe once—but as far as holding my ground, I thought I did a pretty solid job. It feels good to be out there and to be counted on; especially at the end of the game. A lot of times they may pull me and say ‘Mason get in there,’ even though he had five, to rebound and guard DeMarcus, but I know I’m more than capable, I have to continue to prove that and I thought tonight was a good first step, but, as always, it’s a learning curve, it’s an understanding of what I can do better, and moving on throughout my review process.
The kind of challenge, though, that you don’t get in the NBA much anymore. That used to be a nightly thing with big 7’2" centers that weighed 300 lbs…
Without question. You know, it’s funny, [Chris] Kaman always talks to me about how the game used to be and how it’s changed into spacing and scoring. Now you don’t really go down to the block much. Talk about guys for him: Tim Duncan, Yao Ming, Shaq. Guys where they throw the ball in there 20-30 times a game and you’re counted on to really hold them up. So it’s a little different, but again, I thought I did a pretty solid job guarding overall, in pick-and-rolls, on the block, but again, it’s a really good feeling to be counted on and to do well.
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