The Portland Trail Blazers lost a heartbreaker 121-118 in Overtime on Wednesday night to the Sacramento Kings. The Blazers were led by Jerami Grant’s season-high 38 points but lost Malcom Brogdon to a hamstring injury early in the first quarter. The Kings were led by Domantas Sabonis and his near 27-point triple-double. Malik Monk came off the bench to score 23 points and dish out 10 assists to carry Sacramento down the stretch.
After the Blazers fell behind 41-31 in the second quarter, they were able to get stops that led to easy baskets. The rest of the game went back and forth. It saw 28 lead changes and 15 ties. We were also treated to a one-on-one from twin brothers Keegan Murry (Kings) and Kris Murray (Blazers) that saw Kris get the better of Keegan with a nasty block.
The Blazers fought hard and got a gutsy performance from Skylar Mays, but just didn’t have enough in the tank to out duel the Kings.
If you missed the game, you can find our quarter-by-quarter (and overtime) recap here. After you’ve read that, here are the details that defined the contest.
The Hero We Needed
Tonight was officially Skylar Mays’ coming out party for the Blazers. Mays was forced into early action when Malcom Brogdon left the game in the first quarter with a hamstring injury. Mays took the opportunity and seized every moment of it. He finished with 18 points on 8-15 shooting along with 11 assists, 2 rebounds, and 2 steals. But more importantly than that, Mays played 37 minutes and really ran the show for the Blazers.
Mays has perfected the old man game, showing off multiple floaters and using his body to control his defender. It was good to see his confidence grow as the game went along knowing he would have to fill starting guard minutes to help the Blazers try and close out the Kings. Even though Portland fell short tonight, Rip City should feel good about what they saw with Mays and his steady performance.
Points Points Points
Jerami Grant must use a Visa credit card because he was everywhere you want to be tonight on the offensive side of the ball. Grant dropped a season high 38 points, going 12-25 from the field and 5-8 from the three-point line. Grant also stuffed the stat sheet with 9 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 blocks. He was simply dazzling from all over the court.
The turn-around jumper was falling, the three point shot was hitting, and his drives to the rim either finished with a layup or applied a ton of pressure on the defense. Finishing 9-12 from the free throw line was the proof in the pudding.
Grant was not a big contributor on the offensive side of the ball towards the end of the 4th quarter, but other Blazers showed up to carry the team into overtime. The Kings threw multiple looks and defenders at Grant all night, but he did a nice job of navigating those waters and turned in his best performance of the season.
Portland allowed 121 points to Sacramento tonight, but they needed overtime and an unfortunate blocking foul on Shaedon Sharpe in regulation to get there. I was impressed with how the Blazers defended the Kings, who are coming off one of the greatest offensive seasons in NBA history.
Portland ranks 13th in opponent points per game, in the top half of the league. You can tell the coaching staff is putting an emphasis on defense this year. The Blazers’ man-to-man defense looked strong because of their ability to switch and communicate on cutters. Early on in the year, teams like the Clippers and Magic had uncontested layups and dunks on the Blazers. At least tonight, that was not happening against this Portland squad.
One of the biggest difference-makers is the emergence of Portland’s defensive anchors, Deandre Ayton and Toumani Camara. Both gave fits to any and all Kings trying to get to the rim. Ayton is a force in the paint, while Camara plays those passing lines like a fiddle. Forcing the Kings into 21 turnovers was a huge reason the Blazers were able to fight back from a 10-point deficit in the second quarter.
My favorite defensive sequence came with a minute left in the third quarter. Jabari Walker took on the speedy Davion Mitchell, forcing him into two missed shots and a traveling call. Walker continues to impress on the defensive side of the ball with his effort, hustle, and rebounding.
King Among Kings
Domantas Sabonis, son of legendary Blazer Arvydas Sabonis, was everything for the Kings tonight against the Blazers. He was their rebounder, defensive anchor, and point guard. He set the tone in the first quarter and remained a steady force throughout the game. He finished with 27 points on a staggering 11-14 from the field, with 11 rebounds, 9 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block. He also logged about 35 tip rebounds back to his teammates that kept multiple possessions alive.
Sabonis is a special player. He was the reason the Kings won the game tonight. His ability to initiate the offense by setting a screen up top at the three point line put the Blazers in tough positions to defend both the arc and the driving lane. Malik Monk will get the praise for his performance in the fourth quarter and overtime, but Sabonis was the straw that stirred the drink.
Man in the Middle
The history of centers over the years hasn’t been kind to Portland, but I am falling in love with Deandre Ayton. Battling Sabonis all night is no easy task, and holding him to just 11 rebounds in an overtime game is no small feat. Ayton collected 10 rebounds of his own and created multiple other opportunities for his teammates to collect rebounds.
Ayton’s offense down the stretch of the fourth quarter almost carried the Blazers to the victory. He connected on four mid-range jumpers, continually giving his team the lead in the final 6:00 minutes of regulation. If Ayton can knock down the open 8-12 footer, the Blazers will be very tough to defend once all the injured guards return to the lineup.
Missing the Steadiness and Depth
As exciting as the game was down the stretch, the lack of depth really doomed the Blazers. Already missing Robert Williams III, the Blazers also lost Brogdon to injury midway through the first quarter. RWIII and Brogdon have been the steady veterans for this young Blazers team. Brogdon providing stellar point guard play and RWIII contributing steady center minutes when Ayton needs a breather. Without them, the Blazers called upon Justin Minaya, Kris Murray, and Moses Brown to play extended minutes. All three showed signs of growth and impact on the game, but filling the shoes of RWIII and Brogdon will take time.
Can’t Leave Without Saying Goodbye
Shaedon Sharpe struggled against the Kings, fouling out at the end of regulation. But as always he had two or three plays that took your breath away. A near-poster dunk on Alex Len would have certainly been the dunk of the year had Sharpe not gotten mauled at the rim. He also assisted on a sweet alley-oop dunk to Ayton that drew reaction from the Sacramento fans. Rip City should be thrilled to see Sharpe and Ayton building chemistry together.
Matisse Thybulle played one of his best games of the season. He was hitting shots going 4-8 from the field, but I was most impressed with his drives to the basket. He was not hesitating to make a move and he was rewarded with trips to the free throw line. As usual he was aggressive in the passing lanes recording 4 steals and multiple deflections.
Seeing fight and growth from the Blazers on the road this season are good signs. It was tough losing a game that they should have won, but as long as Portland keeps their eyes on development, there can be silver lining in a game like tonight.
The Blazers head to Los Angeles to face the Lakers on Sunday night at 7:00 PM, Pacific.