The Portland Trail Blazers have been jeered this season for assembling a team low on experience and depth. As if proving the point, their starters struggled on Tuesday night versus the Sacramento Kings. But the bench might as well have been staffed by a crew of Mt. Rushmore Hall-of-Famers. Active defense, willing passing, big rebounding, and a few well-timed three-point strikes propelled Portland’s second unit to a dominating performance against the Kings, eventually leading to a 130-113 win.
Anfernee Simons led Portland with 29 points, but he was flanked by center Duop Reath with 25, forward Jabari Walker with 17 points in 22 minutes, and rookie guard Scoot Henderson with 17 points, 11 assists, and a single turnover, all off the bench.
De’Aaron Fox scored 43 for Sacramento, followed by Domantas Sabonis with 34. But nobody else scored more than 9 on the Kings’ ledger, a direct contrast with Portland’s overwhelming team performance.
Here’s how the game unfolded.
In true form, the Trail Blazers got off to a shaky start. The Kings overplayed everybody but new starter Moses Brown, leading to every pass finding a covered player. Three-pointers were guarded tight, drives doubly so. Misses ensued. Portland wasn’t rebounding well either. That let the Kings build a 10-2 lead before the game was much more than two minutes old.
At that point, Portland’s veterans took over. Jerami Grant displayed a nice back-and-forth juke down the baseline for a dunk in the halfcourt, then hit another shot besides. Malcolm Brogdon hit a three. That brought the Blazers all the way back. They trailed 12-11 at the first timeout with 6:39 remaining in the period.
As the quarter unfolded, the Blazers did a good job hounding Sacramento at the three-point arc. The Kings started the game just 1-7 from distance. Their lack of points made every Portland score seem more weighty. The Blazers also hit their own threes. Simons stroked a couple personally, putting the Blazers up 20-18 with 5:00 left.
Portland couldn’t maintain their lead, though, largely because Domantas Sabonis was making hash of them in the halfcourt and a turnovers led to Kings run-outs for easy buckets. Portland’s passing remained quick and willing, but they had to pass in order to generate points whereas the Kings developed them more quickly (and, ultimately, surely). When Sacramento had to pass, they got a disturbing number of alley-oop dunks.
Sabonis had 14 points at the end of the first, but Portland got saved by Sacramento’s utter ineptitude at the arc. 4-7 three-point shooting left Portland behind just one, 33-32, after one.
The Blazers cobbled together offense at the start of the second period. A couple of foul shots, an offensive rebound, a forced turnover. If Sacramento wanted to play straight, Portland was going to dirty it up. The Kings weren’t ready and were forced to call a timeout down 42-38 with 9:44 remaining.
The regroup did not help, though. Scoot Henderson and Matisse Thybulle proved a near-unbreakable combination on defense. Jabari Walker rebounding and Duop Reath running the floor hard yielded plenty of contested Kings misses that turned into quick Blazers scores on the other end. When Henderson converted a layup with 6:50 remaining, Portland led 53-40. When he dunked in the halfcourt on the next play, the roof blew off the Moda Center. With 5:50 left, Sacramento called another desperation timeout with Portland up 15, 57-42.
Sabonis kept bumping and grinding to the rim, but he was no more effective than Henderson driving and dishing or Simons okie-doke-ing his way into the lane for layups. Reath and Walker kept rebounding and scoring, leading to an extra-long stretch for the second unit. Head Coach Chauncey Billups kept reserves in well past the 3:00 mark.
Portland got the lead to 19 with a little over three minutes left, but Sacramento made a mini-run late, perhaps taking advantage of a little bit of fatigue on Portland’s part. Inside shot led to open looks from distance. A couple of those fell, at last. That last, big 14-2 run brought the Kings back to within 7. Portland led 67-60 at the half.
Portland’s starters hiccupped again to start the third period, just as they had at the top of the game. They got forced into long, contested shots while led to quick offense on Sacramento’s end. Perhaps taking inspiration from the second unit’s previous play, they shook it off and started driving. Conversions resulted. Even though the outside shots weren’t falling, Portland bullied the Kings in the lane.
No matter how quickly Sacramento got into their offense, the Blazers did a good job of covering at the arc. Portland isn’t near the threat from distance overall that Sacramento is, but in the midst of the Kings’ drought, every triple the Blazers hit felt like a bowling ball upside the head to the visitors.
Portland still led 81-74, their same margin from halftime, at the mid-quarter timeout with 6:30 remaining,
Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox hit back-to-back threes between 2:50 and 2:30 remaining in the period, threatening to start a Kings run. But Scoot Henderson scored an and-one and a layup in return while Jabari Walker filled the sandwich with a three and a layup of his own. Far from being vanquished, the Blazers pushed the lead to 13 again on their way to a 104-95 lead after three quarters.
Chris Duarte gave the Kings a brief spark at the start of the fourth, making a layup and hitting De’Aaron Fox for a three. But the bench stomped all over that fire again, as Duop Reath hit another triple and Jabari Walker converted a tip-in after a Scoot Henderson miss.
After that initial flurry, Sacramento missed 4 of their next 5 shots. Portland couldn’t connect regularly either, crowded and stymied at the rim, but the three-point shots continued to fall. The Kings needed everything to go right in order to make up a double-digit deficit. Those deep shots were enough to keep the brass ring firmly out of Sacramento’s grasp.
The writing was on the wall when the Kings called a timeout just past the 6:00 mark. Leading 122-105, the Blazers just needed to avoid falling on their faces. They were up to the task, walking away with the best home victory of their season so far.
Stay tuned for extended analysis, coming soon!
The Blazers have a night off before taking on the San Antonio Spurs at home on Thursday night at 7:00 PM, Pacific.