McCollum and Harkless lead Blazers past Kings 115-107
The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Sacramento Kings 115-107 to finish off the road portion of their schedule and keep pace with the Memphis Grizzlies in their chase for the fifth seed in the Western Conference Tuesday night. The Blazers needed a big second half to pull out the victory, led by 30 points from CJ McCollum and a monstrous performance from Moe Harkless of 20 points and 16 rebounds, who did most of his work in the second half.
Damian Lillard had 22 points and eight assists but struggled from the field as the Kings defense was keyed on trying to take him out of the game. Lillard had a better second half but did enough from the field and with his playmaking as the Kings overplayed him. Luckily for the Blazers, they are much more than Lillard. McCollum, Harkless and Gerald Henderson all played major roles in the 4th quarter to get a win that looked doubtful for a lot of the game, even though the Kings rested Rudy Gay and Kosta Koufos.
As expected, DeMarcus Cousins went off on the Blazers to start this game. Cousins had 36 points in the last meeting in Sacramento but his production seemed to slow down when the Blazers had Meyers Leonard. Without Leonard in the middle, the Blazers had to change up how they approached things and instead of going to Noah Vonleh or sticking Ed Davis on Cousins, they went to veteran Chris Kaman.Kaman had the task of guarding Cousins and he did a decent job, but more importantly, the Blazers as a team played better defensively and were more patient offensively. The Kings were playing hard defense but switching everything and the Blazers started to exploit it more. Their offensive rebounding was also key.
The Blazers were just more patient, passing the ball around to get the match-ups that they wanted and although it took a while and played some bad defense at the start, the Blazers were down by only 3 after trailing by 8. But unfortunately, Kaman’s presence didn’t make it to the end of the quarter as he turned his right ankle and had to go to the locker room.
The experiment of playing two big men didn’t work and in the second half Stotts went to an exclusively small ball look. With Cousins as the catalyst for everything, the Blazers needed to get creative with how to beat the Kings because trying to slow down Cousins through traditional means is a tough task when you don’t have the right personnel. Cousins finished with 30 and 9 but had only 12 in the second half.
After a subpar shooting night against the Warriors, CJ McCollum answered the call in Portland’s final road game of the regular season. McCollum carried the Blazers offensively but they were unable to slow the Kings down offensively in the first half. Cousins exploited the Blazers in a variety of ways and Rajon Rondo played pretty well as well, finishing with a triple-double of 27 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds.
Lillard struggled in the first half, ditto for Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless who failed to produce a field goal between them in the first half. The Blazers advantage in athleticism was yielding few results with Willie Cauley-Stein making plays on the defensive end and the Kings running the floor well in one of their final games ever at Sleep Train Arena.
The Kings looked like an inspired team intent on winning the first game of their final home stand at their old arena. This sequence that started with a Cousins block was a beautiful display and indicative of the way that the Kings played for most of the game with their bigs playing pretty solid defense leading to transition opportunities.
The Blazers needed somebody other than McCollum to step up and Moe Harkless obliged in the third quarter, scoring 14 points and recording a double-double after three quarters helping the Blazers lead 84-80. Harkless finished with 20 points and 16 boards after posting no points and two rebounds in the first half. Harkless has been a catalyst for the Blazers in their recent run of success and it was only right that they got a big quarter from him when they needed it. As expected, going small was the right move against the Kings and Harkless was the biggest reason why it worked. Al-Farouq Aminu picked things up but Harkless played the entire second half.
Down the stretch, Gerald Henderson delivered in crunch time for the Blazers once again. The Blazers would be nowhere without Henderson and once again he delivered, on Tuesday in more ways than one. He hit big shots and then he also baited DeMarcus Cousins into a technical by subtly moving into him, ticking off Cousins who then shoved Henderson in front of the ref, an easy target for the nearby refs. It was a brilliant set-up from Henderson to get Cousins out of his game and get a free point.
The Blazers didn’t exactly roll from there but they continued to slowly distance themselves from the Kings. A CJ McCollum 3-pointer put the Blazers up 106-96 with just under three minutes left after the Blazers snagged several offensive rebounds to set up that possession, as part of a 19-3 advantage on the offensive glass.
- The Blazers were unable to gain ground on the Memphis Grizzlies for the fifth seed in the Western Conference thanks to the Grizzlies getting a win at home over the Chicago Bulls. The Blazers remain a 1/2 game back of the Grizzlies as they return home to play their final three games against two teams against the sub-.500 teams. The Oklahoma City Thunder also just locked in the third seed and it would appear they have little reason to play their star players after playing Denver Tuesday.
- I wouldn’t read much into what the Blazers did with the back half of their rotation tonight. It looks clear that Harkless will get a lot of playing time but it looks like the 9th man in the rotation is up for discussion. Noah Vonleh looked good when he did get on the floor after Kaman turned his ankle and I would expect that he will play more thanks to his mobility on defense. But in the playoffs, I would not be surprised to see Stotts pair down the rotation to eight players leaving Vonleh and Kaman on the outside. Harkless and Aminu have been so good at power forward that it might be worth considering.
- According to NBA.com, the Blazers current startling line-up has the 4th best net-rating (+15.5) of any line-up that has recorded over 200 minutes.
- Portland’s win tonight guaranteed them a winning record for the third straight season.