If you like pretty NBA basketball, you should probably not look at the Portland Trail Blazers and Sacramento Kings right now. Sacramento isn’t clicking on all cylinders. The inexperienced and increasingly-injured Blazers don’t even have cylinders to click on.
But boy, did these two franchises engage in a fierce battle on Wednesday night at Golden1 Center. Fast pace of play, prodigious rebounding, and an all-hands commitment to score deep in the paint led to a knock-down, drag-out fight between teams hungry for a win.
Appropriately, the game came down to the final possession of overtime. Portland had a chance to win it, but fell just short, 121-118, in what was surely one of the most spirited and excusable losses they’ll face this season.
Blazers forward Jerami Grant was the shining star of the evening with 38 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists in 46 minutes. With his team bereft of all experienced point guards, Grant became a transition dribbler, facilitator, and scorer all at once in one of his best outings since joining the team.
Skylar Mays, pressed into extended duty by an injury to Malcolm Brogdon, scored 18 points with 11 assists in 37 minutes.
The Blazers started the game in rough fashion: two missed jumpers on the offensive end, two offensive rebound put-backs given up to the Kings. A three by Malcolm Brogdon and a lane half-hook from Deandre Ayton righted the scoreboard quickly, but the little knot in the stomach wouldn’t go away entirely.
With both teams running hard, Portland at least got a chance to get some shots off, but Sacramento got back on defense quicker than Portland did. Their shots came easier, usually closer to the bucket as well. At the first mandatory timeout, right around the 7:00 mark, the Kings led 11-10. Portland was close, but already counterpunching rather than controlling the ring.
Skylar Mays took the point in the middle minutes of the first. He set up plays WAAAYYYY outside. This forced a Sacramento defender to come out above the arc, but it also forced Mays’ teammates to get out of their effective offensive zones when setting picks or creating passing angles. Jerami Grant got an iso mid-range shot and Shaedon Sharpe earned a couple of free throws on a drive—foreshadowing things to come—but all of Portland’s potential offensive rebounders might as well have been in outer space. This contributed to one of the themes of the period: domination on the glass by Sacramento. Continuing stick-backs allowed the Kings to triple Portland in paint points, quintuple them in offensive boards.
The story remained the same as the quarter wound down. Sacramento scored again and again at the rim. Sharpe and Grant performed heroics on the other end to keep the Blazers even. As soon as the Kings began to sniff that out, turnovers and run-outs mounted. Sacramento ended up ahead 34-29 after one.
The Blazers made a concerted effort to get inside during the first half of the second period. Leaving behind the three-pointer, Portland went hard with Sharpe, Grant, Mays, Matisse Thybulle, and Deandre Ayton. Collectively, high-percentage shots overcame a hot streak for Sacramento.
The Kings continued to pound the Blazers inside, but Portland did a passable job defending the arc. Sacramento also missed some open attempts from range. A 1-8 start to the quarter on three-pointers kept the Kings from escaping. Portland didn’t let the lead get bigger than 5, at times cutting it down as far as a single point.
With Malcolm Brogdon out, having strained his left hamstring in the first period, Portland shifted up their approach. They went less through Mays, their traditional point guard, far more through Grant and Sharpe. They started the offense farther inside, putting themselves in scoring position right away. They were able to generate decent looks against single coverage, short tosses to each other (or Ayton) when the Kings tried to help.
With 2:54 remaining in the second, Grant stroked a three-pointer after a perimeter pass from Sharpe. Grant was also fouled on the play. The ensuing free throw gave Jerami his 18th point of the half. It also put Portland up by 1, 53-52.
With Grant demanding constant coverage, powering the rock towards the hoop and daring the Kings to stop him, Sacramento’s defense finally bent. Moving side to side with penetration threats spread the floor despite the lack of three-point shooting on Portland’s side. Driving lanes opened for Sharpe and company, leading to more opportunities, fouls, and points. Despite the lack of point guards and a serious inability to keep the Kings out of the lane, Portland led 60-56 at the half. Grant had his 18, Sharpe 11. Domantas Sabonis had 15 for the Kings.
The Blazers came out to fight in the third quarter. Once again they went hard into the lane, refusing to take any shot outside their range.10 of their first 11 shots came from the top of the painted area or closer. 6 of those fell.
Sacramento gave as good as they got, though. They didn’t just score in the lane, but in the restricted area, organically or off of rebounds. But once again, 8 three-point attempts yielded only 2 conversions. Their near-100% success rate close to the hoop fell apart in the face of their distance shooting woes.
The Blazers got markedly better at keeping control of the ball as the third period unwound. The Kings got several picks and run-outs in the initial minutes, but Portland stayed close afterwards when they shut off the parade of miscues.
At the late timeout with 2:59 remaining, Portland led 77-76. Bad things happened after that, though. Kevin Huerter hit a rare three, followed quickly by lane points and free throws for Sacramento. A couple of Skylar Mays shots kept the ship from sinking entirely, but the game was close to tipping. Then an and-one for Sharpe with 31 seconds remaining saved the Blazers’ bacon once again, Sacramento led 85-84 after three with an intense fourth quarter looming.
The top of the fourth became the Mays-Grant Show. Mays curated possessions, making sure not to turn over the rock for easies. Grant scored inside and out, as he had all game long. But Portland couldn’t keep up their lead because Sacramento continued to run and rebound, generating the simplest buckets imaginable.
After the early flurry from Portland, Harrison Barnes hit an open corner three with 6:15 remaining to put his team up, 100-98. After an offensive foul way out on the floor against Deandre Ayton, the Kings were poised to make a run. Instead they turned it over. Twice. In a row. That’s just the kind of game it was. Nobody was getting out cleanly.
Toumani Camara helped Portland play slightly stouter defense as the waning minutes of the quarter drifted by. Mays continued to attack, Grant to threaten and facilitate. But again, the Blazers scored seemingly several times, but found themselves up only 1 or 3.
Ayton came to the fore in the fourth, scoring on three mid-range face-up shots when Sacramento tried to crowd the lane inside. Portland’s offense finally looked good. It looked darn great when he hit a fourth at the 2:00 mark to put his team up 109-104. It was as strong as a lead as we saw throughout the entire second half.
The Kings would get it down to two again, but Camara continued to prove his worth, getting picks on the defensive end, frustrating Sacramento’s attempts to come all the way back.’
And with all that glorious play, the Blazers still only led by 2, 111-109, with 50 seconds remaining. And then they turned over the ball.
For some ungodly reason, Sacramento opted for a long Huerter three-point attempt off a stacked strong-side defense with Malik Monk as the closest secondary relief option...not ideal. When that shot missed, the Blazers had a chance to close it down.
Unfortunately, Mays drove into four defenders and got stonewalled, leading to a block and an easy Kings recovery. Sacramento had 13.9 seconds to make up a 111-109 deficit.
Monk, who had scored 12 in the period to that point, drove the lane against Camara, who channeled him away from the bucket to the baseline, where Shaedon Sharpe lay waiting to take the charge. It was a brilliant effort, especially when the officials called a charge on Monk. But upon review, Sharpe was in the restricted area and the call was reversed to a block. That gave Monk a pair of free throws. It also disqualified Sharpe on personal fouls.
8.3 seconds remained when Monk stepped to the line for his free throws. He hit both, tying the game at 111. Portland would have one more chance in regulation. Mays ended up taking a sidestep three which hit rim, but not twine. Into overtime we went.
Jerami Grant hit a straight-away three to start overtime, giving the Blazers a boost of confidence. That is, until Davion Mitchell hit a sideline three to tie it again. The Blazers gave up a layup, then traded missed threes, then Grant hit a layup to knot the scoreboard once more. Then the Blazers forced a turnover on a botched pass in the lane right before botching an alley-oop pass on the ensuing break-away. Good, bad, or indifferent, these two teams were mirroring each other something fierce.
Sacramento scored. Then Portland scored. The Kings turned over the ball, then the Blazers did. This was getting downright spooky. Frenetic duplication lent a playoff-like atmosphere, which was pretty incredible given the current state of these teams. We may not have started with the expectation of pretty NBA basketball, but we sure got a high-octane, high-intensity contest.
Domantas Sabonis broke a 118-118 tie by hitting 1 of 2 free throws with 42 seconds remaining. Portland had the ball, down 1.
Grant got a good look at a layup after the inbounds, but he missed off the rim. Portland needed one more defensive stand, then a conversion, to win it.
They got about a third of what they wanted. Camara, with the help of Matisse Thybulle, forced Monk into an improbably-high-arcing finger roll, which missed. But in a call back to an earlier theme, the Blazers ceded the rebound to the Kings. With fewer than 24 seconds remaining, they had to foul Monk intentionally. He sank both free throws, which left the Kings up 121-118 with 13 seconds remaining.
Even without Sharpe, the Blazers have a few options in their bag of tricks. The three-pointer is not a reliable one. To their credit, they got two good looks at it. Grant darted to the sideline on a delay on the inbounds, but his shot rimmed out. They grabbed the offensive board, then got it to a fairly-clear Grant again. His second shot missed as well, and that was the ballgame.
Stay tuned for extended analysis of from the game coming soon!
The Blazers head to Los Angeles to face the Lakers on Sunday night at 7:00 PM, Pacific.