None of the Kings wins have come easily this year, and tonight was no different. Sacramento had already played Portland twice this season, and had been easily handled by the Blazers in both games. In the first half of this game, it looked as if it might be the same case tonight, as Portland got up by as many as 13 points in the 2nd quarter, and led by 9 going into halftime.
The Blazers were led by LaMarcus Aldridge, who had 28 points and 14 rebounds. Most of that damage came in the first half, when the Kings seemingly had no answer for him and he couldn't seem to miss. Aldridge is a true star, and it will be a shame if he's not selected as an All-Star Reserve next week, as he definitely deserves it. Portland also got good contributions from Raymond Felton (15 points and 10 assists) and Jamal Crawford (17 points) although neither player shot very well. Kurt Thomas (10 points) was the only other player who scored in double digits for Portland, as the Kings continuously left him open for mid-range jumpers, which is about the one thing Kurt Thomas can hit.
Meanwhile, Sacramento welcomed back Marcus Thornton, who had missed four games in a row, and he didn't disappoint. He had a rough shooting night from the field, going just 4-13, but he was very aggressive attacking the basket, and got 12 free throw attempts because of it. He ended up with a team high 20 points, 8 of which came in the crucial 4th quarter.
Another big contributor for Sacramento tonight was John Salmons, who was clearly frustrated that he had been snubbed by the voters for a spot as an All-Star Starter. He came out with a vengeance and had his best game of the season, scoring 19 points on 8-14 shooting (3-4 from three) to go with 8 rebounds and 2 assists. He also played very good defense on Gerald Wallace, who only scored 8 points and didn't get nearly as many open looks as he did in the previous two games the Kings and Blazers matched up in.
Portland got way too many easy buckets and open jumpers in the first half thanks to poor rotations and miscommunication. One instance in particular saw Chuck Hayes switch off LaMarcus Aldridge, thinking that Jason Thompson would come up to cover him, but instead JT switched onto a different player, giving Aldridge a straight line to the basket for a dunk, with nobody in his way. Portland scored 56 points on 60% shooting in the first half,
The second half brought a change in attitude and effort by the Kings. The rotations were better, shots were contested, and Portland couldn't find an offensive rhythm. Chuck Hayes played a big part in that, helping to limit LaMarcus Aldridge's impact, and nobody else on the Blazers really stepped up. As such, the Blazers were held to just 36 points in the entire second half, and just 13 points in the third quarter when the Kings made their run to regain the lead.
The Kings were never able to gain too much separation from the Blazers in the 4th however, and the Blazers eventually took the lead back on a Jamal Crawford three pointer with 6:26 left at 81 - 79. Marcus Thornton came back the other way and ended up losing the ball, leading to a 3-on-1 Blazers breakaway for what looked like an easy layup.
Then Isaiah Thomas did this:
That block brought the crowd to its feet, and on the next possession, Isaiah found Marcus for a three, which he hit to give the Kings the lead back, and Sacramento led the rest of the way.
It got a bit scary at the end however, as Sacramento made some bad decisions that led to easy Portland buckets the other way. Isaiah had a particularly egregious turnover in which he dribbled into a corner and was trapped and tried to throw it over a few defenders instead of simply calling timeout. That's a rookie mistake for you. The Blazers cut the lead to 95-92 with 13 seconds left on an Aldridge layup, and all the Kings had to do was get the ball to someone and wait for Portland to foul. They did just that, getting it into Marcus Thornton, but Gerald Wallace came over and slapped the ball out of Marcus' hands and came away with it. He probably could have gotten a layup, but instead chose to dish back to Raymond Felton, who missed the three. The rebound was snagged by Wesley Matthews though and he dished it to Jamal Crawford, who also missed the contested three. This time Aldridge grabbed the board, but the shot clock expired before he could get the ball to the three point line himself and Sacramento came away with the victory.
Tyreke Evans had 18 points on 8-20 shooting to go along with 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Portland is one of the best teams in the league in terms of personnel to handle Tyreke Evans, thanks to athletic, defensive minded wings, and long shotblockers to guard the rim when he does manage to get by them, but he managed to find a way to contribute. His jumper was not falling all night, but he did hit the most crucial one to give the Kings the final bucket and enough cushion for the lead.
Jason Thompson was once again very solid for the Kings, getting his second straight double-double with 13 points (on 5-7 shooting) and 12 rebounds. With DeMarcus Cousins only playing 15 minutes thanks to foul trouble, the Kings needed JT to have a big game, and he delivered.
Coach Smart played a tight nine man rotation, with Chuck Hayes (29 minutes) the only bench player to really see a significant amount of time. Isaiah Thomas provided a big lift with his energy, and has seemingly bumped Jimmer Fredette out of the rotation. Jimmer received his first DNP-CD of his career, and with Tyreke and Marcus both playing heavy minutes (both played 41 tonight), it's probably not going to be the only one. Travis Outlaw and J.J. Hickson rounded out the rotation, and both came in and played their roles well. Outlaw once again had a poor shooting night, but he played aggressively and got to the line at least.
Sacramento finally gets to stay at home for more than one game in a row when Golden State comes into town on Saturday. The Kings probably should have won the last game they played against the Warriors, and hopefully can carry the momentum of tonight's win into that game.