The Portland Trail Blazers redeemed their opening-night loss to the Denver Nuggets by winning their first road game of the year this evening, downing the Sacramento Kings 122-112. Hassan Whiteside had his second straight strong outing, amassing 22 points on 9-10 shooting with 9 rebounds and 3 assists. Damian Lillard scored 35 in the victory.
The Kings opened the game attempting three wide open threes. They missed all of them, or the Blazers would have trailed 9-2 instead of leading 2-0. The Blazers were fortunate that , didn’t happen because soon after, Sacramento went on an 11-0 run which included two fouls called against Damian Lillard. It’s safe to say this is not how Head Coach Terry Stotts drew up the game plan.
Portland settled down with a little bit of guard scoring, but the Kings switched up their approach, attacking the rim effectively as soon as Hassan Whiteside went to the bench. Sacramento started missing again as the quarter closed. Portland’s bench scrapped for opportunity buckets. The scramble ended up more or less even; the Kings led 27-25 after one.
The second period started with the Kings bench driving deep against a collapsing Blazers defense, then executed a simple pass for a wide-open three. They continued to miss the mark, allowing the Blazers to stay right with them. Whatever ailed the Blazers was solved by Anfernee Simons, who scored here, there, and everywhere. The persistent leak in Portland’s defense was never patched, though. Sacramento started pulling away with perimeter shots, embarking on an 11-2 run late in the half. Then Portland came back with turnovers and run-outs. Once again, nothing was solved. The score read 57-all at intermission.
Portland’s starters took over at the beginning of the third, forcing turnovers and running out. They embarked on a 12-0 run as Sacramento’s offense ground to a standstill. The resulting dozen-point lead should have sustained them through the game, but they gave it back before the quarter was much past its midpoint. When De’Aaron Fox wasn’t scoring, the Kings were mopping up offensive rebounds for dunk-backs.
After Sacramento crawled back within one, the Blazers made a concerted effort to get inside, re-starting their scoring and keeping the Kings at bay. Sacramento attempted to match them, but instead of finding threes they ground the ball into Hassan Whiteside’s teeth. That did not work. When Anfernee Simons hit a three with 1:47 remaining in the quarter, Portland led 90-76. Then Whiteside went Miley Cyrus, playing like a wrecking ball in the final 90 seconds of action. Behind their dominant center, Portland led 94-84 heading into the fourth. They scored 37 points in the period.
Nursing a double-digit lead, the Blazers started the fourth period with a mobile defensive unit, It was less of a “make things happen” approach than, “Make sure nothing goes too wrong.” Kent Bazemore and Zach Collins defended well. McCollum and Simons manned the backcourt, but they weren’t great at keeping containment. Despite Mario Hezonja scoring on drives, Sacramento began to crawl back in it...again. The Kings closed the lead to 5 at the 9:19 mark, but that was it. Portland went into the penalty with 8:10 remaining, Sacramento a minute later. The rest of the game became a slog to the foul line, punctuated by the occasional beautiful jumper from Lillard or McCollum. Portland extended, and finally held, their lead, winning by 10.
Thoughts and Impressions
- The Blazers have yet to solve a basic defensive conundrum: With Whiteside on the floor, they have no perimeter coverage. Without Whiteside, they have no interior coverage. That’s not necessarily Hassan’s fault. He’s giving them everything possible; his sphere of influence is just smaller than they’re able to cope with right now.
- Zach Collins continues to grow on defense. He already gets around opponent picks better than any Trail Blazers player we’ve seen in the Stotts-Olshey era. Skal Labissiere is growing similarly on offense. His screens are solid and he’s finding the right spots to move on the floor. Unfortunately, the inverse is not true for either yet.
- Kent Bazemore provided 8 rebounds.
- Anthony Tolliver’s three-point shots did not look good.
- Anfernee Simons hit 6 of 9 shots for 15 points. Sacramento couldn’t defend him.
- Damian Lillard just MAY be great.
- The Blazers look better on the run than in the halfcourt right now. Forcing turnovers and creating speed are far more important components of Portland’s offense so far this year.
- This game was a mix of brilliant passes and “GAAAAACKKK!”-inducing turnovers. Hearts are in throats every time a play starts to develop.
- The longer a given possession goes, they more the unfamiliarity of the roster becomes evident. The Blazers usually make the first defensive rotation count, but if they need a second, a third, or sometimes just a rebound after the stop, they look lost. They’re better on offense, but plays still develop a tick too slow and three feet off course.
- Both Coach’s Challenges got used tonight. The result: slowing down an already-sloppy game. Twice.
The Blazers won this game fair and square, but they also won because the opponent was seriously sub-par. The number of open looks the Kings had tonight would have made this game difficult for Portland had Sacramento been able to hit. The Blazers did what they needed to do, but whether they showed what they needed to show is up to interpretation.
Celebrate the first win of the year by purchasing a couple tickets so some amazing kids can see the Blazers play in March!
The Blazers travel to Dallas to face the Mavericks on Sunday at 4:00, Pacific.