After a harrowing road trip to start the new year, the Portland Trail Blazers were in dire need of a competitive, spirited game to restore some joy.
That’s exactly what Portland delivered on Sunday night against the Phoenix Suns in a 127-116 loss. Despite the outcome, an undermanned Trail Blazers squad gave Kevin Durant and company a run for their money behind big contributions from the likes of rookies Scoot Henderson, Kris Murray and Rayan Rupert.
In the postgame press conference, Portland coach Chauncey Billups, looked much happier and discussed just how much “fun” he had coaching his young players to a solid performance.
We were incredibly undermanned in the game obviously, but I just told our guys, ‘play fast and play fun. Share the ball and help each other on defense and just play free.’ They did that and it was just fun. It was fun watching them. It was fun coaching them. So many guys played well.
With a host of Trail Blazers out on the injury report — Jerami Grant, Malcolm Brogdon, Deandre Ayton, Matisse Thybulle and others — Henderson led Portland with a career-high 33 points on 11-31 shooting (4-9 of on 3s). He also posted nine assists, seven rebounds and three steals.
Billups loved what he saw from the rookie point guard.
I just love his confidence. I loved his intention, he was aggressive the entire time, his playmaking. He was looking for guys, too, he wasn’t just looking to shoot. He did a good job tonight of when he didn’t have an advantage just getting off of [the ball].
Going forward, the third-year head coach said he wanted Henderson to sustain this type of confidence and aggression, even when the team is closer to full strength. Billups said all of the young players could use that advice.
I want him to play with the same pop and intensity, no matter if we’re undermanned or got our whole team. I want him to just be aggressive and on the attack the entire time. That doesn’t mean shooting, that just means break down the defense and find the right play. I think so many times when we do get — this is not just with Scoot, this is with all of our guys, I mean literally all of them — when we do get guys back and our team gets semi-whole, then everybody’s looking around like, dang, so what should I do now? And you should just do the same thing.
Along with the praise for Scoot, Billups discussed the solid play by Rupert and Murray against Phoenix. Murray posted 13 points, three assists and three steals, while Rupert added 11 points, five rebounds and two assists.