CJ McCollum scored 37 points in a 6-pointer 6-11, while the Portland Trail Blazers wiped the floor with the Sacramento Kings tonight. McCollum spurred the Blazers early, late, and everywhere in between, making sure his teammates could relax and enjoy the evening. Carmelo Anthony and Enes Canter took full advantage of the bench, not only holding but also extending the edge that CJ deposited in their laps. The cumulative effort led to a 30-point lead in the third quarter and a 125-99 final score.
The Blazers jumped to a quick 16-8 lead after 9 quick points from McCollum. He scored inside and from a distance, confusing Sacramento̵
Sacramento threw a modified defensive zone when the second period began. The Portland bench looked worried, except for the rare holdings when they found an open-air shot. The Blazers, on the other hand, had no answer for the inside game of Hassan Whiteside and Sacramento. The Kings started inside, then threw the ball out when Portland collapsed in the alley … a refrain that should sound familiar to anyone who has watched the Blazers’ defense for the past two years. As soon as Whiteside sat down, Canter turned to the glass. He and Anthony saved the Blazers in the middle of the second, as the threes stubbornly refused to fall. Despite all the problems, the Portland holders inherited a 50-38 lead when they registered for their substitution at the end of the half. With the table in front of him, Damian Lillard hit and handed out passes to Youssef Nurkic, tearing the kings’ defense. Sacramento also heated up to end the half, but they made no progress. Portland led 66-49 per intermission.
Third and fourth quarters
The Blazers increased the defense to start third, forcing the Kings into difficult passes and shots. As Sacramento stumbled, Portland streaked. Lillard centers the attack, penetrating and passing. McCollum became a favorite target, hitting three three-pointers and a short shot, dropping 11 more points before the quarter was five minutes away. Jones Jr. and Nurkic also joined. Realistically, anyone who wanted to point out could. They kept up the pressure and pace as the kings had to shout “Uncle.”
Terry Stots held McCollum until the second half of the fourth. Realistically, he could have defeated the kings alone tonight. Throwing in a decent central game and a fine rebound kept the race completely uneven. Tyrese Haliburton was the only Sacramento player to make a fuss in the second half. It looked great, but it wasn’t close enough. The Blazers found a 30-point lead and never looked back, finishing the game with 26.
Notes and analysis
CJ McCollum scores so easily right now, his reel emphasizes ballet. Close or deep, with one or two legs, with the ball or catch and shoot, everything is in rhythm and VOICE. Tonight, McCollum even committed five fouls, turning his attention-grabbing production into a completely unfair one. He scored 37 in 13-22 shots, 6-11 from depth, with 3 assists and 2 steals in 29 minutes. If the Blazers can get big and keep their starting guards under 30 minutes in a game like this, they will look pretty good with the year.
Damian Lillard scored 17, shooting only 1-7 from the arc, but he seemed happy to play in the stream and give way to other players, especially McCollum. But Lillard also found Yusuf Nurkic with a few assists, putting the big man in the action.
Nurkic responded with 4-8, 8 rebounds, 10 effort points in 23 minutes of play. He was as active in defense as he was all season, even running and diving on the floor after a loose ball in the third quarter, when the game was already won. His passing was schematically early, but sometime in the second quarter the moment snapped into place and he began to look a bit like Nurkic from the old days. This is a positive sign for Portland.
Carmelo Anthony was effective early on, making sure the Kings couldn’t shave any of the Blazers’ lead in the first half. He finished shooting with only 4-12, perhaps giving himself a little permission in the offense, but by the time he started to miss hardcore, the game was still won. Even when effective, Carmelo slows the disorder. The more I roll, the more the second unit stands still. Take a coin, whether it is good or bad; depends on the situation and the opponent. On the plus side, Anthony defended vigilantly in the second half. And yet it is a walking puzzle. He is at the center of one of the big philosophical questions of the season: is Portland’s bench just designed to score or should they do more?
Enes Canter joined Anthony on a bench patrol, shattering Sacramento’s hands every time they tried to escape effectively. He came out with 15 fights in 19 minutes. He was pushed by Hassan Whiteside and scored by everyone who came into the lane, but when someone missed a shot, Canter was there. On the one hand, it’s a “simple” rebound, but on the other hand, without worrying about who’s watching the glass, it frees Portland’s defenders to comply with their perimeter tasks.
17-41 (41.5%) shooting with three points was the biggest “Easy Button” factor for the Blazers in this game, especially when the Kings shot only 8-30 (26.7%) from a long distance. But the vile statistic was Portland, forcing 15 turns centered around 10 thefts. The theft made the violation quicker and easier, making the probable victory certain.
The crime of crossing Portland looks better than it did a few weeks ago. The Blazers had 26 assists on 44 shots. These numbers do not tell the whole story. They didn’t miss each other or read opportunities as much as they did at the beginning of the season. Sacramento didn’t defend so well, but Portland wouldn’t let them defend either. Aside from McCollum (who made shots correctly almost every time he had them), the Blazers collectively moved their legs and ball well.
Not everything was pink. The Kings threw a broken zone defense in the second half, which briefly brought out the Blazers. Portland contented himself with threes with an odd angle instead of breaking it aggressively. Between their shooters and missing out on Nurkic’s ability to get out of the middle, a zone should never catch Portland at a loss. In fact, they are designed to break it. Let’s see if they will develop if other teams try to do the same.
Internal defense also remains a serious concern. The huge margin of results obscured him, but when Sacramento drove or let in, good things happened to them.
These are small fears of huge profits. Blazers not only took care of the business tonight, they closed the store earlier and got a mini vacation. That’s all you could ask for in a regular season game against the Kings. Well done.
The Blazers welcome the Toronto Raptors at the Moda Center on Monday night at 7 p.m.