Another 30-plus point performance by DeMarcus Cousins wasn’t enough as the Blazers ran over the Kings by double-digits twice in as many days, 96 to 85. Portland survived Lillard tying his career low of 4 points off 1-15 shooting, but he did add 6 boards, 6 assists, and 3 steals.
The Trail Blazers started off trading blows with a slightly more invigorated Kings team, happy to be playing at home. The first great moment of the 1st quarter was when Lillard slashed down the lane and drew DeMarcus Cousins’ 2nd foul, forcing him to sit until a good way into the 2nd quarter. The next lasted almost the entire 1st quarter for LaMarcus Aldridge, who entered the 2nd with 12 and 6. Freeland offered his much-lauded Mr. Verticality (nickname stolen from the Oregonian’s Mile Tokito) defense, going straight up to challenge shots at the rim and just generally being effective on the defensive end. A LaMarcus Aldridge offensive board led to a reset and a 3 to end the quarter with the Blazers finding themselves up 21-18.
Freeland’s contributions continued into the 2nd quarter, and the Blazers opened up a double-digit lead. Lillard never woke up, finishing the half with 2 points off 1-7 shooting, the Blazers defense took Freeland’s lead, setting itself up for a 3-person straight-up-and-down block of Sacramento which I don’t believe showed up on the score card. After a mini-run by the Kings, the Blazers found themselves up 45-38 at the break.
FIRST HALF TAKEAWAYS:
- Aldridge already had a double-double (16 and 11), but the next 3 leading Blazer scorers were Dorell Wright (8), Robin Lopez (7), and Mo Williams (6). Nobody else had more than 2. Notice that includes Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum, and Wes Matthews… not exactly what you want from your starting backcourt (we’ll throw Nic in as a backcourt player).
- Rebounds, rebounds, rebounds! The eye test said the Blazers were dominating the glass, not allowing 2nd-chance points, and keeping possessions alive. The stats test agreed: The Blazers out-rebounded the Kings 28-13 in the first half, and 11 offensive boards to Sacramento’s 2. Numbers like that make it a lot easier to win games.
- Freeland had the most important 2-point, 1-rebound half a person could ask for, going straight up to challenge shots, playing solid interior defense, providing a stopgap when Lopez was on the bench, and setting the tone for the rest of the team. He’s a pleasure to watch on defense. Meyers Leonard better be paying attention.
The second half began with the Kings scoring first, and for a brief moment the game felt like it could swing toward the home team. Then, regardless of his poor shooting performance, Lillard took advantage of his scoring reputation, collapsing the defense enough to kick it out on 2 straight possessions, one leading to a 3 from Matthews and the other leading to a 3 from Batum. Dazzled, the Kings called time with the Blazers up 12. Basketball being a game of runs, the Kings took another stab and the Blazers responded, but it seemed like the Blazers’ responses were always a little stronger than the Kings’, and Sacramento called time again, staring at a 63-48 deficit. The Blazers kept the pressure on, and they were up 69-54 going into the fourth.
The Blazers refused to wilt even with their bench players in, and Matthews stepped up, giving the Blazers their offense. The game quickly got out of control, and the Blazers were up 80-58 with 9 minutes left off of a Matthews three. The focus on rebounding continued to pay dividends, as Thomas Robinson extended a Blazers possession by drawing the foul while boxing out. Then the Kings made a huge push to get the game to within 8, as Lillard looked tired and couldn’t get anything going. Aldridge knew what was up, hitting an impossible shot that only he could make, with Lopez working very hard on the glass, keeping possessions alive and getting firey with Cousins.
Still, the Kings were swaggering, their crowd was feeding them, and they got it as close as 7. Lopez probably made the difference in the quarter with his energy under the basket, and followed his own miss to get fouled and halt the Kings’ momentum by making a pair. Cousins responded, but Batum slapped the life out of the crowd by nailing a three with just 1:38 remaining, putting the Blazers up 10. Matthews’ clock-beating prayer and Lillard’s free throws put the game to bed for a final score of 96-85.
- LaMarcus Aldridge now has a 6th gear where he once had 5. He’s able to flip a switch from “very good” to “dominant” at will. It’s an absolute pleasure to watch. He finished with 22 and 14.
- Matthews is a better player this year. He’s worked on his handles, his post-up game, and his midrange playmaking. He’s able to slash into the middle and curl just below the free throw line for jumpers he wouldn’t have made last year. His 21 points and 5 boards were much appreciated.
- The Blazers are playing a LOT better team defense, and their rebounding was a sight to behold tonight. A lot of it is effort, but more than that, it’s going into each attempted shot with a purpose to find a man, box him out, and put the team (not necessarily the individual defender) in a position to grab it if it comes off. It paid off, and the Blazers finished the game with a 52 to 33 rebounding advantage, 19 to 8 on the offensive end.
- Robin Lopez finished with 12 and 10, and has quickly become a huge asset. He works very hard keeping possessions alive, challenging shots at the rim, and frustrating the oppositions’ big men. There’s nobody else like him on the team, but one would hope that maybe someday Robinson can do even two thirds of what Lopez does on defense and the glass.
- The Blazers are also showing that they can win a number of different ways. On a night when arguably their best offensive player in Damian Lillard scored only 4 points, they still won by 11. That’s a huge help.
- Batum was in the right places at the right times, and finished with 12, 7, and 5.
- Mo Williams had his least-frustrating game as a Blazer. Good for him. He contributed 8 points on 3-5 shooting and 5 assists.
- Poor Sacramento… riding DeMarcus Cousins will only get you so far. I’m curious what he’d look like on a good team when he’s not being fed 3 out of 4 possessions.
The Blazers (4-2) will take on the Detroit Pistons (2-3) at 7pm Monday in Portland.