1. CJ McCollum had a monster evening, scoring 30 points on 55% shooting from the field.
2. Moe Harkless showed why he now and forever deserves more playing time than he's gotten so far this season.
3. The Blazers won 115-107, inching another step closer to what now looks like a near-inevitable playoff berth against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Other than that, this game was a 48-minute slog through awfulness and pain, featuring one team that couldn't get its act together and another that couldn't escape their clutches anyway. Individual efforts and bright moments peppered the evening but they barely provided enough seasoning to keep proceedings palatable.
The Blazers and Kings announced their intentions for the game early, playing defense like a bag of Doritos on 4/20. DeMarcus Cousins tore through Portland defenders like they weren't there. CJ McCollum darted around and shot over half the city of Sacramento on the other end, barely impeded. Meanwhile Rajon Rondo embarked on a one-man mission to prove he was the best point guard in the building while Damian Lillard chilled and wondered what the fuss was since he was going to score 20 no matter what and his team would probably win. That star-studded quartet accounted for most of the intentional scoring in the period, bolstered by various run-outs off of turnovers and offensive rebound put-backs. Between sparkly plays bad passes sprouted like weeds. Sleep Train Arena held Mike Bibby Night tonight but multiple players stepped on sidelines in homage to early Jarrett Jack. Together the teams displayed about as much focus as a Nikon going over Niagara Falls. At least they scored plenty. The Kings led 33-30 after one.
The second quarter started slightly better for Portland as McCollum and Gerald Henderson took turns feasting on the still-sorry Kings defense. But Portland's offense soon sputtered while Sacramento's never really caught on. The Blazers' attempt to take over the game died in a hail of botched plays and turnovers as they stumbled towards halftime. Sacramento ended up winning the quarter 24-21 and took a 57-51 lead into intermission.
The Blazers needed a spark coming out of the locker room lest the Kings spit the bit and run away with it. The current remained placid for the first couple minutes of the third as the Blazers held to the routine. Then with a rebel yell, they cried, "Moe! Moe! Moe!" That's when oft-forgotten Maurice Harkless pricked up his ears and rushed to the fore, pouring in 8 points with 2 offensive rebounds in 1:25 of play. The Kings rushed back with a couple of three-pointers but Harkless' rebounding remained dominant ever after. He would not let the Blazers slip, correcting every error with energy and sticky hands. As Moe exploded his teammates made enough shots around him to stake the Blazers to an 84-80 lead heading into the fourth.
During the final period the Kings demonstrated why they can field perhaps the best center in the game, watch their point guard cruise to a 27-point, 10 rebound, 12 assist triple-double, shoot amazingly well from the field, but still lose their 47th game of the season. Kim Kardashian showed more commitment to her Kris Humphries marriage than Sacramento showed to defense in the fourth. Most teams go under picks or over picks; the Kings took souvenir photos. Damian Lillard can normally get off shots with 6 inches of separation between him and a defender. In the final period he had 6 yards. Again and again the Kings stood and waited for Portland to shoot, hoping the ball would carom off for a rebound. That's bad form when you're down by 25, let alone in an nip-and-tuck game. Granted, Cousins would sometimes swoop in to block a layup as if by magic, leaving dropped jaws and shattered dreams in his wake. But those moments were balanced by the number of times he spent defensive possessions searching for pockets in his nylon shorts to stick his hands into.
And oh, the turnovers. Don't even talk about the turnovers. The Kings signed over the title to the game on that basis alone. Ugh.
In truth, Sacramento could have won this one. Despite their inglorious ineptitude they kept it within a possession or two down to the very end. But by that time they had squandered half a dozen defensive opportunities and ceded an extra 8-10 points to the Blazers...points that would have been preventable had they even played bad defense instead of no defense. As it turned out, the Kings were forced to foul for possession as the clock dwindled and Portland's guards were more than capable of hitting enough free throws to keep the game out of reach despite last-ditch jumpers falling on the other end.
Technical fouls on Cousins for shoving Henderson on his way to a timeout huddle and Quincy Acy for somehow deflecting a Portland inbounds pass when he wasn't even checked into the game added the requisite amount of "Geez, Kings...it figures" ridiculousness to the game. Whatever Sacramento ends up doing next year, it's got to be different than this.
The Blazers should be proud they won this game, especially since they didn't play anywhere near their best. Portland shot 43% from the field and 39% from the arc but gave up 53% from the field, 50% from long-range. Cousins scored 30 on 11-21 shooting, Rondo 27 on 11-17 plus the triple-double mentioned above. Seeing those stats in isolation, you'd think the Blazers had a rough night. And they did, except for a few things:
1. 19 offensive rebounds for Portland boosted their field goal attempt total to 93 while the Kings languished with 3 offensive rebounds and 78 shot attempts for the game. Rebounding absolves a host of sins for the Blazers.
2. Sacramento committed 19 turnovers. Some of them were unforced but Portland's defense also contributed. This contributed to the Kings' low shot total on a night the Blazers couldn't defend them.
3. Behind or ahead, the Blazers kept their cool while Sacramento lost theirs. Though the Kings hold the experience edge, Portland looked like the more veteran of the two teams by far.
All that combined with a decent free throw shooting edge proved enough for the Blazers to pull through.
CJ McCollum lit up the Kings once again. His ability to score from any range allows him out outlast Sacramento's attention span on defense. His 30 points on 11-20 shooting, 5-10 from the arc ended up nullifying the ultra-dominant Cousins.
Maurice Harkless had a second half for the record books. He scored zero points in the first two quarters but ended the game with 20. He added 16 rebounds, 7 offensive. McCollum may have kept the Blazers in striking distance but Harkless turned the game.
Mason Plumlee contributed 6 offensive rebounds and 3 blocks in 27 minutes before fouling out trying to guard Cousins.
Damian Lillard looked overmatched and tired but still scored 22 on 6-19 shooting, mostly thanks to hitting 7 of 8 free throws. That's exactly what stars do on off nights...turn mid-teens into low 20's at the foul line. Lillard dished 8 assists balanced by 4 turnovers.
Everybody else was mediocre or worse except for Gerald Henderson who came off the bench for 13 points on 5-11 shooting. That's not a ton for 32 minutes of play but at least it was something. By comparison Al-Farouq Aminu, Allen Crabbe, Noah Vonleh, and Ed Davis scored 18 points in a combined 74 minutes of play. Aminu rebounded well and Crabbe had a couple steals.
Links and Such
Sactown Royalty can change their motto to: "Supporting Sacrament...oh well."
With the victory the Blazers push their record to 42-37, good for 6th place in the Western Conference playoff race, just a half game behind 5th-place Memphis. The Blazers hold a 2-game lead over 7th-place Dallas, 2.5 games over 8th-place Utah, and 3 games over 9th-place Houston. Portland can clinch a playoff spot with a win tomorrow night against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The game tips off at 7:10 p.m. at the Moda Center.