In a game where Portland led by as many as 17, Sacramento went to an ultra-big lineup, limiting second-chance points and generally causing a ruckus to grab their first lead with just 1:31 left in the game, but a Damian Lillard kickout to Dorell Wright in the corner for three saved the day. The Trail Blazers pulled off the 100-99 win in uncertain fashion.
It really wasn’t supposed to be this hard. The Blazers shot over 50% and held the Kings to under 43%. That would leave you wondering why a blowout didn’t ensue, and trust me, you wouldn’t be the only one left scratching your head. Answer number one: the Kings went big, really big, playing the
6’8” former Trail Blazer Dante 6’4” former OSU Beavers standout Jared Cunningham (thanks to commenters Nadia Aazad and disqus_pA8BBoeTox for the correction) at the 2 for extended minutes, daring the Blazers to shoot outside where they were just 7-23, and dominating the offensive glass 14-5. Answer number two: turnovers, nearly 5 per quarter, where the Kings took full advantage and scored 23 points off them. Answer two and a half is that the Blazers chose to rest Mo Williams, losing the 10 points and 5 or so assists he provides off the bench.
The Blazers, perhaps trying to flesh out what they can pull from their hat during the playoffs, doubled DeMarcus Cousins (mostly in the first half) to mixed results. The extra pressure limited him to 8 first-half points, but it left Portland out of position for rebounds and also seemed to tick Cousins off, as he adjusted to the outside int he second half to end the game with 30 and 12 (for those of you with calculators, that’s 22 second-half points).
But the big story at the end of the day, and the highlight that will (and, some may say, should) play endlessly in the minds of Blazers fans is Dorell Wright’s game-winning three.
With everything feeling sloppier than elementary school hamburger slaw, the Blazers were down two with the ball and 14 seconds in the game. Lillard took the ball up top, cutting hard to the middle against Cousins and looking like he was trying to get the extra step past him, failed, was pushed right, but tried curling far too late to make a move at the hoop. Going right to left, Lillard jumped and zipped a dangerous pass just past Reggie Evans‘ fingertips to the left corner. The pass came in very low, but Dorell Wright caught it, squared up, and canned it with Evans right in his face. It’s almost unheard of that a bench player, who’s had spotty activity in the rotation, no less, who was 0-4 from the field to this point, would take the game-winning shot. Mike & Mike even quipped that they didn’t see him enter the game. But spot-up shooters are gonna spot up, and the Blazers played acceptable defense to force a long jumper from rookie Ray McCallum that rimmed off to end the game.
LaMarcus Aldridge is the owner, CEO, CFO, and Senior Vice President of this team. 22 and 8 with 2 steals and a block might seem a little yawn-worthy for 2014 LaMarcus Aldridge, but there’s no denying that this team will go just about as far as he can carry them (or create an offensive presence strong enough to open up everyone else).
Having said that, Damian Lillard is the Lead Manager, the one making sure that if a mess needs to be cleaned up, it gets cleaned. He lays back much of the time, and definitely opted to play facilitator in this one beyond what his 10 assists show, but his 19 points came at opportune times, and his aggression peaked when the rest of the Blazers’ lulled. He needs to work on not turning the ball over come playoff time, however.
The other starters played their parts, but the third story here should be Thomas Robinson. He’s developing, and it’s sorely needed. His 8 points and 9 rebounds came in just 14 minutes. He may have had 4 turnovers, but really, can you ask for more production? Not that this is fair or accurate, but that would be 20 and 22 if he played 35 minutes. Just nutty stuff. If he keeps this up and Freeland comes back as 90% of his former self, the Blazers will have a big boost come playoff time.
Speaking of playoffs, the Rockets did the Blazers a favor by losing, and now Portland is just 1.5 games back of Houston and 2 games ahead of Golden State for the 5th spot. The Blazers have just 3 games remaining, the next coming Friday against the Jazz at 6:00 p.m. in Utah.