The Trail Blazers secured their third victory in a row on Thursday with an eventful 123-119 victory over the Kings. Led by Damian Lillard’s 44-point outburst, the Blazers did just enough down the stretch to outlast an energized Kings squad. Opposite of Lillard, De’Aaron Fox notched 32 points—18 of which came in the final frame of the contest.
After a prolonged final minute, that included a series of unlikely plays and outcomes (more on that later), the Blazers clinched a solid victory before the All-Star Game.
For a detailed rundown of the action, see our Instant Recap.
Here are the key points that stood out from tonight’s result.
Each quarter of play featured a different rhythm and style of pick-and-roll offense from Lillard. In the first quarter, the former Weber State star methodically lulled his defender to sleep by dancing around Enes Kanter. From beyond the arc, Lillard masterfully inserted his lethal step-back shot into the mix of balanced lateral movements. By keeping his defender guessing, Lillard produced a flawless 15 points in the opening frame.
Once Lillard checked back into the action in the second quarter, he utilized a more dynamic set of downhill moves. The change in pace left his primary defender in the dust, forcing the Kings’ help defense to aggressively pursue him as he sliced through the paint. That shift in attention opened up the floor for Enes Kanter to finish uncontested shots at the rim. Somehow, Lillard managed to shift his pace and weave through the Kings’ defense without committing a single turnover in 38 minutes of action.
In the final stretch, Lillard’s offense spurred a single-handed 10-0 run that put the Blazers back in front of the Kings as the one-minute mark approached. Thanks to his clutch and multi-faceted scoring ability, Portland’s recent four-game losing streak feels like a distant memory.
Better Late Than Never
Through simple ball movement and textbook post play, the Kings were just a pass and rebound away from easy buckets throughout the night. Sacramento hauled in 18 offensive rebounds and notched 25 assists as a team. No matter the situation, it felt like the Kings had an extra man on the floor each time the ball careened off the rim. Even Kanter, who recorded 21 rebounds, looked like he was caught in quicksand for long stretches.
The action underneath was not the only issue for Portland. For the majority of the game, the Blazers only reliable defensive play was the hope that someone could poke the ball away as ball handlers flew to the basket.
After a Fox-led flurry from the Kings, the Blazers faced an uphill climb in the final moments. Led by Kanter’s pesky play, Portland’s defense somehow turned the tide with consecutive stops. Sandwiched between Lillard’s stellar output on the offensive end, Kanter forced turnovers and rejected shots with the game on the line.
Judging by the final seconds of this game, the basketball gods appeared set on squeezing every bit of juice out of the Blazers’ pre-break schedule. The Kings found new life after Robert Covington committed an over-and-back violation with 10.9 seconds left. Things became even tighter after Fox added a three-pointer to Sacramento’s tally with 6.6 seconds left—pulling the Kings within a single point.
Then...well...things got wonky.
Ahead by three points after a pair of free throws from Gary Trent Jr., the Blazers decided to foul Fox directly off the inbound—forcing him to the line for two shots. Fox made the first, then intentionally missed the second shot with a line-drive attempt that cleared the rim and hit the underneath portion of the backboard.
Initially, the officials ruled that attempt as a violation—since the ball did not contact the rim. Blazers ball. After review, it was decided that the ball technically contacted the rim when it came in contact with the orange square that connects the rim to the backboard. Call overturned. Fortunately for Portland, Kanter had established possession after the miss—keeping the ball in the Blazers’ possession.
In a truly odd year of basketball, that sequence and result provided a new lesson.
Damian Lillard, Robert Covington and Anfernee Simons return to the floor on Sunday for the festivities at the All-Star Game in Atlanta.