The Portland Trail Blazers overcame a 28-point deficit to defeat the Sacramento Kings and end the season on the highest of notes. Terry Stotts only used a six-man rotation consisting of the rookies and deep bench players, but the scrappy unit willed itself to a win and secured the third seed for Portland.
To succinctly summarize the game: The Kings starters couldn’t miss a three and built up a large lead that lasted until the late third quarter. The Blazers shot well and implemented a zone to preserve energy, but the deficit remained. Then, in an entirely unexpected turnaround, Anfernee Simons stole the hot hand and fueled a Blazers team to victory by outscoring the Kings by 20 in the fourth quarter. The rookie finished with 37 points, six rebounds, nine assists and seven threes on 13-21 shooting.
Through the entire fourth, every Portland player on the bench stood and cheered. The rambunctious group celebrated every made shot and every defensive stop. Evan Turner even played some defense when Sacramento players attempted threes in the corner. Then, after the game, Turner and Al-Farouq Aminu drenched Simons in water to cool him off.
A perfect ending to a wonderful 53-win season.
Anfernee Simons or Young Damian Lillard?
Neil Olshey said that Portland selected Simons based on his upside. Well, we saw that upside tonight. He scored the most points by a Blazers rookie since Damian Lillard and efficiently recorded nine assists.
As the 37 points suggests, Simons displayed incredible versatility on offense. The rookie knocked down seven triples, most of which were off the dribble after dropping behind a Meyers Leonard or Skal Labissiere screen. When he played off the ball down the stretch, he also sunk his catch-and-shoot opportunities.
Simons masterfully executed several euro steps through traffic to finish at the rim, taking advantage of smaller defenders like Yogi Ferrell on drives. The most surprising aspect of his offensive game was his passing, though. He collected nine assists, many from pick-and-rolls, and only turned it over twice from late-game pressure at half court.
Gary Trent Jr. Shows Promise
Despite the label of a catch-and-shoot wing based on his record-setting days at Duke, Gary Trent Jr. struggled from three. He made one of five attempts, the one conversion coming on a lucky bounce off the front rim. He consistently left his triples short, but showed the prowess of a catch-and-shooter by craftily bending around screens and quickly releasing shots without hesitation.
To compensate for his outside shot not falling, Trent Jr. hit several step back midrange jumpers. Defenders adjusted accordingly by staying tight and preparing for the step back, which provided him room to drive past and score at the rim. He forced a few layups on his right side when a teammate was open under the basket, but the court vision will develop with more experience.
Defensively, he performed well when isolated. Although Buddy Hield made a few threes in Trent Jr.’s face, the rookie contested shots without fouling and prevented Hield from driving past him for an easier bucket. Like with Simons, he always stepped over screens and got caught behind the ball handler, leading to easy midrange buckets when Leonard or Labissiere didn’t step out to help.
Skal Labissiere Gets Revenge
In a revenge game versus his former team, Labissiere recorded 29 points, 15 rebounds, two steals and one block on 12/17 shooting. The Blazers provided him with a chance right off the bat to ignite his offense, and he capitalized.
After sinking a tough hook shot over Willie Cauley-Stein to get Portland on the board first, Labissiere began experimenting with all types of shots. He knocked down a few face-up jumpers, running hooks from the post, and step back three-pointers. Most importantly, he threw down two monster dunks on put backs. The second dunk provided the Blazers with a buffer in the final minutes and energized the team to halt Sacramento’s late surge.
On the other end, Labissiere struggled to defend pick-and-rolls alongside the rookies. Once the team switched to a zone, however, he manned the paint more effectively. His length disrupted the Kings on drives, plus his speed and athleticism allowed him to contest shots on the perimeter. He and Leonard also swallowed up the rebounds once Sacramento’s shots stopped falling.
With this win and the Denver Nuggets’ surprising comeback against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland earned the three seed. They therefore face the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs. They tip off Sunday at 12:30 p.m. PDT on ABC.