The Portland Trail Blazers and Sacramento Kings engaged in an Old West Shootout tonight, a game in which the teams combined for 86 three-point attempts, won by the Blazers 132-126. In the process, the Blazers broke a franchise record with 23 made threes. Damian Lillard led the way for Portland with 40 points and 13 assists. CJ McCollum also poured in 28 with 10 assists, marking the first time that both Lillard and McCollum have notched double-digit assists in the same game.
The Blazers went with the usual Big 3 offense to start the game. Lillard and McCollum bombed away from deep, Jusuf Nurkic got multiple touches inside. They didn’t hit a ton of shots but three-pointers kept them viable. Sacramento went inside instead, finding paydirt repeatedly. That went fine until Sacramento also started hitting deep jumpers. An 8-9 shooting start will make anybody look great, and the Kings did. Lillard spent the period bombing from super range with ease. He had 13 in the first, most from distance. Behind their leader, Portland shot 47% from the arc in the period. If they could have defended anybody, they would have been up big. Instead they (somewhat incredibly) allowed 43 points to Sacramento and trailed by 10 after one.
Sacramento’s three-point storm continued unabated in the second period. Imagine the wingspan of a California Condor. Now imagine a U-Haul truck parked next to it. That’s how much shooting room the Kings had off of simple screen action or a drive and dish. Portland continued to trail by 10-12 throughout the quarter, though Sacramento spiked their lead to 20 once. As the period closed, the guards started getting serious. Lillard and McCollum either took or assisted on almost every Portland shot. The Blazers took several trips to the foul line, which didn’t hurt. Sacramento never really stopped scoring, but Portland closed the lead when the Kings started missing slightly more often. A last-possession stop by Robert Covington followed by a last-second three from McCollum (one of thirteen total for Portland in the half) brought the Blazers within three at intermission, 65-68.
Portland’s scoring slowed in the third period. Covington got into the three-point act, hitting a pair, but the guards got grounded by Sacramento’s defense. The Kings had no such problem, hitting five threes before the period was half done. Portland went down by 18 again, then another barrage of distance shots brought them back within single digits once more. It’s hard to shoot your way out of giving up 100 points before the third period is over, though. Sacramento still led 105-100 at the end of three.
Portland’s defense stiffened as the fourth quarter started. Nurkic was a catalyst. With the lane protected, Portland’s perimeter players were able to generate steals. Suddenly Sacramento stalled. The Kings went small and Portland’s guards started feeding Nurkic inside for layups or foul shots, giving Portland an alternative to the long bomb. This provided the edge that the Blazers were waiting for. Energized by the opportunity, Nurkic took over, standing huge on both ends of the court with blocks, steals, stops, and chip shots. The Kings appear to tire, as their open threes started falling short. Thanks to Nurk, they couldn’t re-engage the interior scoring. The Blazers pulled away for the lead, followed by the win.
This game was all about the three-pointer. Starters or bench, forwards or guards, Portland was stroking them. They gave them up at a like pace. The two teams combined for 42 makes on those 86 attempts, a 48.8% success rate.
This was also about Damian Lillard rescuing the Blazers whenever they got down, either via the three or the drive and dish. Lillard was a superstar tonight. He and McCollum each played 42 minutes, though, their contributions critical because of the extended bad “D”. Portland plays tomorrow. Hopefully Dame and CJ can recover.
Portland looked good when they got their act together on defense. Those moments were too infrequent until Nurkic came to the rescue in the fourth. It’s hard to overstate how important he is as the connection point for the forwards, the backstop for the guards. The points may be credited to the guards tonight, but the win can be credited to Nurk.
Stay tuned for the extended recap a little later on!
The Blazers face the Indiana Pacers tomorrow night at 7:00, Pacific at the Moda Center.