The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Sacramento Kings 112-97 on Tuesday night, holding DeMarcus Cousins to 17 points on 4-21 shooting. Meyers Leonard's defense was instrumental in pulling out the win. CSNNW takes us inside the Blazers' locker room:
Like I mentioned after the game, I give credit when it’s due. He’s a very good player, able to score in many ways—down on the block, on the perimeter, etc—but I thought, for the most part, I did a good job on him. The rest of the guys did a good job on him; the guards digging, double team schemes a couple times. So we were really locked in to what we needed to do tonight. It was just a great team effort.
Do you enjoy going toe-to-toe with a guy like that?
Absolutely. It’s a challenge. I guess I could compare it to something like the playoffs last year against [Marc] Gasol. Similar physical, you know, just trying to do whatever I can to keep him away from the rim and help the team however I can, so it was definitely a fun matchup tonight.
Did you guys talk much or was it really just a physical match?
Not a lot. I think he sometimes tries to get in my ear, but I pretty much just smile and keep it moving.
Do you think you got in his head tonight?
I’m not sure. Maybe a tiny bit. Just trying to be as physical as I can with him. That’s my job; to try to keep him away from the rim and do my best.
Meyers, I thought your physicality tonight was big. That’s something that, quite frankly, has been lacking in your game. Why was it here tonight?
I think it was just a focus of mine. Often times, I understand that my job is spacing, being on the perimeter for the most part, guarding guys on the perimeter, but when I’m called on to take on another task, another role, I think I really took pride in that.
For that matter, in Sacramento earlier in the year—it’s funny, my best friend texts me and says ‘Man, you got to keep doing that every night. Just try to be an absolute animal, regardless of who you’re playing.’ So, to his credit, he’s absolutely right, and I have to know that being physical and being a bigger presence and not only locking into shooting threes or playing on the perimeter, is something I can do and something that can help the team with. It’s good to see that I can tap into that and that I’m capable of that—and I know that, but I just have to do it more often. And again, just simply understand that I’m much more capable of doing many, many things.
So is it safe to say maybe that tonight was a turning of the corner for you?
I hope so. There’s always times when you take a step back or take a small step back, and then there’s times when you take a huge step forward. I have to, again, be more consistent with it, understand, again, that I have more talents and abilities that I can tap into every night, help the team, help myself, so I definitely think this is a good moment or time that I can look back and say ‘You know what? This is how I have to be and this is what I know I can do.’
So, like, what—do you drive to the game going ‘I know I’m going to be physical. I know I’m going to hold my ground against him.’? How does that work?
Number one: Starting with film, understanding what he likes to do, because you have to put yourself in the right position to be able to stop him, number one. Number two: You have to hit him early. And three: Just play him as physical as possible because he’s such a force. That’s all there is to it. Again, 56 and 12 or 13—whatever he had—then 48 and 12 or 13 the game before. He’s able to do many things, but I’m glad I was able to hold my own.
So when he comes at you like that, you didn’t even flinch. What went through your mind there?
I just stood my ground. If he swings, I’m certainly going to defend myself, but this is a physical game. I didn’t think it was a dirty play. I actually thought, for the most part, I got a block, but again, everything is happening so fast. It’s my job to hold my ground and that’s something that I know the coaches and for the rest of the guys, I think I gain respect by showing that I’m willing to be scrappy and stand in there for myself.
Our bigs did a great job. They played physical from the jump. They took the challenge. I thought a lot of our wings, our guards as well, did a good job of digging and just making them feel our presence. You know, spinning into two guys and it was just a lot of activity out there. We got to give a lot of the credit to our bigs for how physical they played. They challenged shots, they took fouls when they needed to, but they just did a great job and that gave us a chance to win the game.
It seemed like you were really aggressive early, attacking the rim, getting the ball to guys. Meyers was saying that guys were kind of on the team, you were like ‘They just played double overtime.’ Can you talk about the message you gave the team early and tell me what you said?
We all watched the game last night. It was a double overtime game. I was texting G [Henderson], I was texting CJ [McCollum], I was texting Tim [Frazier], Ed [Davis], we all just kind of separately was having like separate conversations because we was all watching the same thing. I knew that they were going to be tired, you know, that’s a lot of minutes. I knew they would get here late, and we were ready, so I told everybody ‘We got to run ‘em, we got to push the ball, we got to make ‘em work on the defensive end of the floor and then push it right back at ‘em.’ Eventually we’ll have a chance to wear them out and I thought in the second half of the game we did that.
Seven in double figures tonight, I mean, how big is that? That balance taking some of the scoring load off you and CJ?
It was huge. When we play defense the way we did tonight, we get out in transition, we move the ball, we find the open man, and it works out that way, but I think because of the fact we didn’t have to play a lot in the half court like we usually do, that made it a more balanced game.
That finally brought that out. He doesn’t bring that every night—the defense, the holding his ground and stuff.
I mean, well, I’m always talking to him. Everybody on our team, I’ve seen multiple guys come up to him, like ‘Meyers, just go block that, Meyers, just stand your ground.’ We all know the value that he brings to us offensively spreading out the court, how smart he is, the advantage he gives us as guards—myself and CJ—and what he did tonight defensively was huge. I think what brought it out was he realized that we needed it from him. It was going to be times where he was going to be on the court tonight and he had to take that challenge or DeMarcus Cousins would have just took over the game. I think it was just him manning up. He chose to man up and take the challenge.
You know what I like? He didn’t flinch when Cousins went like that.
I mean, he was not even close to him when he did it, so I’m not sure anybody would have flinched, but I was standing right there and he was kind of far away from him. He would have had to take a few more steps to get close enough to swing, but maybe he just wasn’t scared.
We started off pretty strong. I think defensively we had a really good second quarter, kept them under 100 for our defensive rating for the quarter, and we knew as the game wore on they would be a little more tired. I know Cousins had a heavy load in that double overtime, so we wanted to try to run them as much as we could after we got stops. I think down the stretch, we did a better job of getting stops and getting easy baskets.
CJ, how would you describe Meyers’ defense today?
Good. He was aggressive. He tried to get position early, made them work for every basket, and I think he did a really good job of using some of that strength from that H & P. Shout out to H & P.
You watched their game last night What is it like as an athlete to go from a double overtime or a crucial game like that and have a back-to-back like tonight.
It’s a lot and I was hoping they’d get a couple more overtimes, personally. The more tired they are, the better, because we’ve all been there. We’ve all had late games and then travel and fly and play in another game, and it’s definitely a disadvantage, but it’s part of the NBA. We all go through it, so eventually you got to lock in and try to get as much sleep as you can.
Right now, you guys are in the eight spot. Does that mean much to you?
It’s nice to be there, but at the same time, we still got what—33, 35 games left? So we got a long way to go to kind of lock that down and hold it down. Five more home games, so we got to take advantage of those one at a time, and do what we can to stay in that top-8.
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