The NBA is a league of opportunity, it’s said. The saying proved true tonight as, 24 hours after logging a disappointing performance against the Sacramento Kings in northern California, the Portland Trail Blazers surged back into form in the rematch. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined for 47 points, the Blazers shot over 50% from the field, and Portland defeated the Kings 102-90, completing a much-needed bounce-back.
After failing to hit a three-point shot for the first time all season in Sacramento last night, CJ McCollum started the game with a triple in Portland’s opening possession. This signaled a complete 180 for Portland’s offense as a whole. Lillard—the prospective savior yesterday—missed his first 4 shots while the rest of the roster started 6-10 from the field. Portland did a great job keeping the Kings from the rim; Sacramento did not make a field goal within 5 feet of the basket until 2 minutes remaining in the quarter. After Portland’s opening flurry, both teams struggled on the offensive side of the ball. A McCollum three at the buzzer was waved off, leaving the Blazers with a 21-20 advantage at the end of the first.
The Blazers looked focused on the defensive side of the ball in the second period. They continued to keep the Kings from finding success deep in the paint. The Blazer bigs did not allow any separation on post ups, forcing tough shots. The team collected 5 first half blocks in the process. The rest of the Trail Blazers remained discipline on their rotations forcing kick-outs and not allowing open passing lanes to cutters for easy baskets. The Kings hung around for a while by shooting midrange jumpers. The Blazer defense seemed okay with it, forcing Sacramento to live off of shots out of the paint. It worked. Portland closed the period on a 16-6 run and entered halftime up 53-41. Ten Blazers played seven minutes or more in the half.
The game got out of control as Portland jumped out to a 20-point lead early in the third. Sacramento possessions continued to end in long jumpers or contested paint shots. Portland’s ball movement looked better than it has lately and the offense looked good. Lillard grabbed the game by the horns, creating good shots and finding open men. The Kings made a push to get within 13 but Portland responded and had it back to 20 in the blink of the eye. The Blazers entered the fourth quarter with a 80-63 lead.
The Kings hung around in the fourth, even getting the deficit down to 13 points again, but Meyers Leonard and Shabazz Napier came up with big baskets to keep Sacramento at bay. The starters played well enough in their late shift to earn the right to watch the end of the Blazer bench finish off the game, by then an easy win.
It was nice to see the Dr. Jekyll version of Portland once again. Defense was the key to the victory, but the offense made the biggest turn-around. The ball was not as stagnant as it was a night ago, and Lillard went from leading the team with his scoring to leading the team by orchestrating a team attack (+20 for the game). Offense depends largely on the degree of difficulty of shots taken. The Blazers moved the ball and it led to easier, open shots. Meanwhile, Sacramento found few easy junk baskets that their offense thrives on.
The big three of Lillard, Nurkic, and McCollum played well, which is a great sign. The Blazers will need productive minutes from players like Leonard, Napier, and Ed Davis to be special this season. Tonight, at least, they got them.
Meyers Leonard generated momentum with the first two buckets of the second quarter. The Blazer guards looked to get him the ball early, an encouraging sign of confidence from his teammates as Leonard tries to get back. He followed with two more fourth quarter threes to keep the Kings from making a late run.
Jusuf Nurkic looked like the player Blazers fans hope he is. If he was sick before, he looked healthy today. He controlled the paint defensively, rebounded well, and scored like you would expect from the team’s third option. Nurkic is also increasing his value through screening. His first two fouls of the game were both screen-related, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Garrett Temple took aim at Nurkic on a pick, which started a light scuffle. Temple’s frustration was evident after being blown up on a few previous Nurkic screens. Nurk is giving opposing guards a heck of a time.
CJ McCollum’s worst moments come when he stops the ball and goes one-on-one. This also describes his best moments. Today, he shot the ball very well and generated a great stat line. The Blazers were also a -1 with him on the court. He’s impossible to stop with one defender so he gets a lot of iso chances, but he often times kills the flow of the game in those possessions. He is so talented, he could be used as a finisher on a set more often than he is. Either way, a great performance from CJ.
Shabazz Napier - Shabazz has found a role on this team as a bench-unit spark plug, a third guard alongside Lillard and McCollum. His confidence is high and he played like it again with some great second half plays to keep the Kings from making a run. He scored 11 on 5-6 shooting.
Maurice Harkless played 19 minutes but you wouldn’t know it if you watched the game. Harkless has made a habit of disappearing in games this season, but tonight he completely took the night off. Hopefully he joins the team Monday in Memphis.
Zack Randolph - The big ex-Blazer is still hanging around the league, and he was the focal point of the Kings offense tonight. Portland forced him away from the rim, but as Blazer fans know so well, his mid-range game is solid. Randolph finished the game with 17 points...impressive, but not enough to keep Sacramento close.
Sactown Royalty will still be happy about the split.
The Blazers travel tomorrow, then face the Memphis Grizzlies at 5:00 p.m. Pacific on Monday.