The Sacramento Kings fended off the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night to win by a score of 133-116. Sacramento trailed by as many as 16 points, as they weathered a torrential start from Portland to cling on to the victory and the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.
Seven Kings scored in double figures, led by an effortless 31 points on 11-15 shooting from the floor from De’Aaron Fox. Domantas Sabonis notched his league-leading double-double No. 46 on the season in a triple-double effort, scoring 18 points to go along with 18 rebounds and 10 assists.
The Blazers showed continuity and high basketball IQ early, and eventually were led by a combined 50 points from Nassir Little and Cam Reddish. Keon Johnson, Trendon Watford and Ryan Arcidiacono all gave Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups valuable minutes, but were unable to maintain an early lead that led to a game-defining surge from the Kings.
The second quarter was the most defining 12 minutes of play, as Sacramento scored 37 points and held Portland to 20. On the night, Sacramento dominated the glass 51-33, and points in the paint by a margin of 56-44 en route to victory.
Read our instant recap for in-depth analysis of how tonight’s game went down play-by-play. Lets examine each team, especially how your Blazers played individually.
Slow and Steady Doesn’t Always Win
In the first quarter, Rip City gave viewers what they were hoping for. Coach Billups featured a lot of dribble hand-offs at and around the top of the key. All five Blazers were active in penetrating for contested finishes inside as well as spotting up for three.
However, as the game drew on, even a novice could take notice of the paced play of the Trail Blazers. Arcidiacono manned the point for much of the night, with Johnson backing him up, and neither player knew when to accelerate off the miss on the other end and incite productive fast breaks.
For this reason, Portland only finished with six fast break points on the night. Their ability to get the step in transition and get anything going before the opposing defense set up was completely non-existent.
Sacramento did not do much better. They only had 11 fast break points for the game. Even with an early injury scare to De’Aaron Fox, they were able to play faster than Portland, but not productively nor convincingly so. This was one of the major themes on the night, especially for modern NBA standards.
Signs of What Could Be
Blazers fans must be excited with what they saw from their young talent despite the loss. Without their four best players, Portland was able to run up 37 points on the Kings in the first quarter and make it a game for three, before being overtaken.
We saw flashes of brilliance from newly-acquired forward Cam Reddish. He took the likeness of a Paul George-esque player, able to put the ball on the floor and draw contact for highly difficult lay-ups, weasel his way through traffic inside with gorgeous step-throughs to guide the ball into the rim, and put on a set shooting exhibition from outside. He began hot with seven points in six minutes. As the game drew on, he relied on getting to the line for consistent offense, where he finished 7-7 overall.
Nassir Little showed that he is more than a spot-up shooter and high-energy defender. He remained consistent with his three-point shooting, amping it up with five long balls on the night. But he was getting to his spots, connecting on one and two dribble pull-ups, and leading the offensive charge as the game progressed. If tonight was telltale in any sense of the word, Little’s play, combined with his size, versatility and confidence, may have been an audition for the starting forward spot next to Jerami Grant that sways coach Billups.
Trendon Watford continued to impress. His feel for the game was a beauty to watch. He played, as he always tends to play, at one speed — a speed likened to his matchup on the night, Trey Lyles. As a big man, he displayed ball handling ability. He made correct reads when driving to the cup, looked to score and get teammates involved, and let the Sacramento crowd know that his second jump is serious. While he only had one offensive rebound and was a -20 in this one, he had 15 points and four assists. Watford played like a Gregg Popovich product, instilling confidence in his teammates, coaches and fans that he can produce under any circumstances.
The Evolution of De’Aaron Fox
The way Fox has matured in the NBA has been phenomenal. Conjuring up his play style from college at UCLA, Fox was a dynamo, the living embodiment of his name. He carried over such electric speed and raw athleticism into the NBA as his professional career grew wings.
Now a seasoned veteran, Fox demonstrates a style of play that one Derrick Rose (New York Knicks) would have profited off of at the zenith of his career. While he remains one of, if not the fastest players in the entire association from baseline to baseline, his speed has become much more deceptive, controlled and rationed.
Fox could be seen trotting up court after scoring on several occasions, conserving his energy and letting the game slow down for him. In half court sets, he played with a grace like Chris Paul. He's able to curl off of the screen, find his way to an open spot from 12-15 feet out, and rise up for smooth jump-shots. He’s also developed an elite-level floater that must now be mentioned with the likes of Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors) and Trae Young (Atlanta Hawks).
A slow start did not derail Fox’s ability to take back control of the game. He coupled his calculated attack with unguardable quickness when driving baseline, finishing with english on multiple occasions.
Matisse Thybulle is not known for his offensive game, but Thybulle did what we all expect from him on the defensive end tonight. He played the passing lanes well, collecting two steals. But his impact on the game was otherwise dormant.
If Portland is going to exceed expectations and make a push to close out 2023, they will need stellar defense as well as offense from whoever they put in their starting rotation alongside their big four. Thybulle did not instill confidence in all watching tonight that he can do both consistently enough.
Ryan Arcidiacono played like a Villanova product would. He was patient, smart, and kept his turnovers down, with a 6-1 assist to turnover ratio.
Sometimes, turnovers are indicative of sloppy play. Other times, they are understood as a casualty of war in exchange for rapid advancement. The Blazers failed to advance the ball and keep their foot on the Kings’ necks, and their point guard bears culpability for that, with 34 minutes of set offense.
Sacramento is Deep
Terence Davis and Malik Monk are a problem off of Kings head coach Mike Brown’s bench. Trey Lyles provides Swiss army knife dexterity and Davion Mitchell has all the potential in the world to have a game or two in the playoffs.
Davis and Monk showed out, combining for 35 points as catalysts of the Kings’ comeback. Monk had a highlight layup with extra jelly on which gave Sacramento momentum. Davis’ energy and stop-and-go play kept the Blazers defense on their toes, despite Portland switching from zone to man periodically.
Portland will host the visiting Houston Rockets on Sunday, Feb. 26. The Rockets are the worst team in the league with a 13-45 record. They are 5-25 on the road and 2-8 in their last 10 games.
The Blazers will be without Anfernee Simons and Justise Winslow, but may yet get Lillard, Grant and Jusuf Nurkic back. Tip-off is slated for 6:00 p.m. PT.