CJ McCollum scored 37 points on 6-11 three-point shooting as the Portland Trail Blazers mopped the floor with the Sacramento Kings tonight. McCollum spurred the Blazers early, late, and everywhere in between, making sure his teammates could relax and enjoy the evening. Carmelo Anthony and Enes Kanter took full advantage off the bench, not just holding, but extending, the edge CJ deposited in their laps. The cumulative effort resulted in a 30-point lead in the third quarter and a 125-99 final score.
The Blazers jumped out to a quick 16-8 lead behind 9 quick points from McCollum. He scored inside and from distance, confounding Sacramento’s defense at every turn. Both teams seemed content to keep it in the halfcourt early, which suited Portland’s guards just fine. The tempo picked up as the quarter progressed. At first that seemed to favor the Blazers, as Robert Covington and Derrick Jones, Jr. passed and dunked, but at least four of the Kings’ players like to get out, while only a couple of Portland’s do. The Blazers’ defense got exposed a bit, particularly on the interior. Their offense drifted into deep shots that missed. Carmelo Anthony came in with a mid-quarter course correction, taking the offense inside (and further into halfcourt isolation, which turned out to be a good thing when protecting a lead). ‘Melo scored 8 in the period. 50% shooting, a half-dozen assists, and an incredible 10 free throws in the period—coupled with relatively bad shooting from Sacramento—helped the Blazers carry the quarter. They led 38-24 after one.
Sacramento threw a modified zone defense as the second period began. Portland’s bench looked flustered, except for the rare possessions when they found an open distance shot. On the other end, the Blazers had no answer for Hassan Whiteside and Sacramento’s interior play. The Kings started inside, then tossed the ball out when Portland collapsed to the lane...a refrain which should sound familiar to anyone who’s watched the Blazers defend over the past two years. As soon as Whiteside sat, though, Kanter had his way on the glass. He and Anthony saved the Blazers during the middle minutes of the second, as the three-pointers stubbornly refused to fall. Despite all the troubles, Portland’s starters inherited a 50-38 lead when they checked in for their end-of-half shift. With the table set before him, Damian Lillard hit shots and dished passes to Jusuf Nurkic, tearing apart the Kings defense. Sacramento also got hot to end the half, but they made no headway. Portland led 66-49 at intermission.
Third and Fourth Quarters
The Blazers turned up the defense to start the third, forcing the Kings into tough passes and shots. As Sacramento stumbled, Portland streaked. Lillard centered the attack, penetrating and passing. McCollum became a favorite target, hitting three threes and a short shot, pouring in 11 more points before the quarter was five minutes old. Jones, Jr. and Nurkic got into the act too. Realistically anybody who wanted to score, could. They kept up pressure and pace until the Kings had to cry, “Uncle”.
Terry Stotts kept McCollum in until the latter half of the fourth. Realistically, he could have beaten the Kings by himself tonight. Throwing in decent center play and fine rebounding kept the contest totally unequal. Tyrese Haliburton was the only Sacramento player making noise in the second half. He looked great, but it wasn’t near enough. The Blazers opened up a 30-point lead and never looked back, finishing the game up 26.
Notes and Analysis
CJ McCollum is scoring so effortlessly right now, his highlight reel resembles ballet. Close or deep, off one leg or two, with the ball or catch-and-shoot, everything’s in rhythm and LOUD. McCollum even drew five foul shots tonight, turning his production from eye-catching to totally unfair. He scored 37 on 13-22 shooting, 6-11 from deep, with 3 assists and 2 steals in 29 minutes. If the Blazers can get up big and keep their starting guards under 30 minutes per game like this, they’re going to look pretty good as the year wears on.
Damian Lillard scored 17, shooting just 1-7 from the arc, but he seemed content to play in the flow and cede shots to other players, particularly McCollum. But Lillard also found Jusuf Nurkic with a couple assists, getting the big man in the action.
Nurkic responded with a 4-8, 8-rebound, 10-point effort in 23 minutes of play. He was as active on defense as he’s been all season, even running and diving on the floor after a loose ball in the third quarter when the game was already won. His passing was sketchy early, but somewhere in the second quarter the timing clicked into place and he started looking a little bit like the Nurkic of old. That’s a positive sign for Portland.
Carmelo Anthony was effective early, making sure the Kings couldn’t shave anything off the lead the Blazers built in the first half. He finished shooting only 4-12, perhaps giving himself a tad too much permission in the offense, but by the time he started missing hardcore the game was won anyway. Even when he’s effective, though, Carmelo slows down the offense. The more he gets rolling, the more the second unit stands still. Flip a coin whether that’s good or bad; it depends on the situation and opponent. On the plus side, Anthony defended alertly in the second half. Still, he’s a walking puzzle. He stands at the center of one of the great philosophical questions of the season: is Portland’s bench just meant to score or are they supposed to do more?
Enes Kanter joined Anthony on bench patrol, smacking Sacramento’s hands every time they tried to mount an effective run. He came up with 15 rebounds in 19 minutes. He got shoved around by Hassan Whiteside and scored on by everybody who came in the lane, but whenever anybody missed a shot, Kanter was there. On one hand, it’s “just” rebounds, but on the other, not having to worry who’s watching the glass frees Portland defenders to mind their assignments on the perimeter.
17-41 (41.5%) three-point shooting was the biggest “Easy Button” factor for the Blazers in this game, particularly with the Kings shooting just 8-30 (26.7%) from long range. But the sneaky-good stat was Portland forcing 15 turnovers, centered around 10 steals. Thievery made the offense quicker and easier, turning a probable win into an assured one.
Portland’s passing offense is looking better than it did a couple weeks ago. The Blazers had 26 assists on 44 made shots. Those numbers don’t tell the whole story. They didn’t miss each other or fail to read opportunities as much as they were doing at the start of the season. Sacramento wasn’t defending that well, but Portland didn’t let them get defensive footing either. Aside from McCollum (who properly took shots nearly every time he had them), the Blazers collectively moved their feet and the ball well.
Not everything was rosy. The Kings threw an intermittent zone defense in the second half that gummed up the Blazers for a while. Portland settled for odd-angle threes instead of aggressively breaking it down. Between their shooters and Nurkic’s passing ability out of the middle, a zone should never catch Portland at a loss. They’re practically made to break it. Let’s see if they evolve should other teams attempt the same.
Interior defense also remain an area of serious concern. The huge scoring margin masked it, but whenever Sacramento drove or posted inside, good things happened for them.
Those are small concerns in a huge-margin win. The Blazers not only took care of business tonight, they closed down the shop early and got a mini-vacation. That’s everything you could ask in a regular-season game against the Kings. Bravo.
The Blazers welcome the Toronto Raptors to the Moda Center on Monday evening at 7:00PM.