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Blazers Outfox Kings with Guard Defense, Bench Scoring

It was the game of the year against a quality opponent.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers knocked out the best game of their season on Tuesday night, smashing the visiting Sacramento Kings 130-113. The Blazers took control in the middle of the first quarter and never looked back, largely because of huge contributions from their reserves.

130 points marks a season-high for the Blazers scoring. Center Deandre Ayton sat out the game, but reserve Duop Reath responded with career highs in scoring and rebounding. Guard Scoot Henderson also registered a career high in assists and his third-best scoring game ever. Anfernee Simons led the Blazers with 29 points.

If you missed the game, you can find our quarter-by-quarter recap here. After that, here are a few other things to know.

No Threes, No Pain

The Kings rank third in the NBA, averaging 45.8 points per game from the three-point arc. They shoot 36.8% from distance on average. Tonight the Blazers held them to 10-42 three-point shooting, 23.8%, for just 30 points beyond the arc.

Portland’s superlative guard defense did half the trick. The Blazers were active and fast going around screens. They switched well too. Matisse Thybulle and Scoot Henderson, Malcolm Brogdon and Anfernee Simons, they all seemed interchangeable as long as Sacramento kept the ball on the perimeter.

This falls in line with Head Coach Chauncey Billups’ apparent philosophy of taking an opposing team’s strength and clamping down no matter what the cost. Even for a team missing its starting center, Portland’s interior defense was suspect. The Blazers allowed the Kings 62 points in the paint, largely because any drivers or post players ended up single-covered, often on the good side of mismatches. Domantas Sabonis had 34 all by himself. That’s the price Portland paid for shutting down the arc. On this night at least, it worked.

Simons Looks Different

As mentioned above, Anfernee Simons scored 29 on a very Christmas-like 12-25 shooting, not an atypical stat line for him lately. How he got it was slightly different, however. He started the game trying to initiate the offense, as per usual. Sacramento had that read and were prepared to crowd him. But Malcolm Brogdon and Scoot Henderson led the Blazers into an evening of active ball movement that left the ball in the hands of several open shooters around the perimeter, including Simons. Ant looked relaxed and competent receiving the ball for catch-and-shoot attempts. When those started falling, defenders closed harder. At that point he drove past them and began attacking the lane. But even those drives came after the ball had moved, usually.

Full credit to Simons for stepping up and controlling the offense in prior games when the team needed a savior. They don’t need one quite so badly when the ball doesn’t start and end in his hands.

Center of Attention

Moses Brown started the game in the absence of injured center Deandre Ayton, but Brown didn’t see much court time past his first shift. Instead Duop Reath took over the action. He hit open threes, bodied up tough on Sacramento bigs when nobody else seemed able to, and ran the floor like a gazelle. If not getting the start bothered him at all, Reath compensated for it in the best way possible: making the coach play him. The reserve center was key to Portland’s second-quarter separation run. He played strongly in the second half as well, en route to a final stat line of 25 points, 9 rebounds, a steal, and a block in 32 minutes of play.

Guarding Guards

All of Portland’s backcourt players defended well tonight, but Scoot Henderson and Matisse Thybulle demand special mention. When paired together, they patrolled the perimeter like cheating AI. They were the catalyst as the Blazers stumped Sacramento’s three-point attack. They also made passing difficult for the Kings’ ball-handers. That left Sacramento driving into the lane against coverage, trying to loop shots over outstretched hands, with plenty of Portland players packed in waiting for the rebound.

Portland’s big men had no such luck against Sabonis, as mentioned above. Nor were the guards bulletproof against De’Aaron Fox, who finished with 43 points on 16-26 shooting. But the Sacramento stars had to work hard for the vast majority of their buckets.

No TO’s

Way back in 1974, ex-Beatle Ringo Starr released “The No-No Song”. Written by acclaimed tunesmith Hoyt Axton, its chorus ran:

No no no no, I don’t [blank] it no more

I’m tired of waking up on the floor

No thank you please, it only makes me sneeze

And then it makes it hard to find the door

The “blank” in question could be snorting, smoking, or drinking, depending on the addictive, intoxicating vice Starr was referencing in each respective verse. The idea was that he’d had enough of such substances during a life of hedonistic pleasure and wanted to go clean.

It was a not-quite-quietly-kept secret in the industry that, at the time, the superstar was actually deeper into his addictions than he ever had been, making the vow slightly ironic and not at all predictive.

The strains of that tune come to mind tonight as Portland committed only 10 turnovers total, only 8 before garbage time. Long-time listeners will realize that’s about a quarter and a half of TO’s for Portland normally, or maybe one Scoot Henderson’s worth.

Starr was going back to snorting and sipping soon; the Blazers will no doubt return to coughing up the ball as well. But tonight, they were magnificent. Were they to claim, lyrically or not, that they had turned a corner, one might be tempted to believe them.

Nor was the low total a fluke, a product of isolation ball. Portland netted 28 assists, more than 5 over their league-trailing average. The ball touched everybody’s hands, flying to intended targets instead of to opponents, with an on-time percentage that would make any airline blush.

The net result of this surprising ball care was 98 total field goal attempts, leading to the comparatively-high final score. That made the game fairly easy, certainly more so than almost any prior outing.

Bravo Bench

Henderson captained the Blazers bench tonight with 17 points, 11 assists, and just one turnover. It was his smoothest, and least-flawed, game of his rookie campaign. But he and Reath weren’t alone in their contributions. Jabari Walker joined his compatriots with 17 points on 6-8 shooting. All of that was in addition to the fast, active defense that kept the second unit on the floor for large swaths of each half.

At the end of the game, Portland’s bench had tallied 65 points compared to just 17 for Sacramento’s reserves.

Up Next


The Blazers have a night off before taking on the San Antonio Spurs at home on Thursday night at 7:00 PM, Pacific.