The Blazers flipped an early deficit into a second-half blowout against the Kings Tuesday night at the Rose Garden, winning easily, 101-79. It was Portland’s second victory in as many nights.
In a bit of foreshadowing of the notorious back-to-back-to-backs yet to come in this lockout-shortened schedule, Marcus Camby told reporters afterwards that were there a game Wednesday, he’d be ready. The news was shared with LaMarcus Aldridge.
“He can go play by himself,” Aldridge chuckled. “I need a day off.”
Aldridge continued: “When the game started my legs felt like quicksand. I felt like dirt.”
Fortunately for Aldridge and the rest of the Blazers, Gerald Wallace was raring to go from the start, scoring eight-consecutive points in the first quarter. Wallace’s efficiency offensive efficiency remained throughout the night. He finished with a game-high 25 points on 8-11 shooting from the field and 8-9 from the line.
But it was Wallace’s tenacious defense that kickstarted the Blazers’ slowing of Sacramento that turned a 12-point first quarter deficiet into a halftime tie. It was a comeback the Rose Garden willed, in part, and surely seemed to put the fear in Sacramento.
A few minutes into the third, Portland were running away.
Wallace’s coup de grace came in the fourth quarter. He came flying in and blocked Tyreke Evans at the basket, corralling the ball in the air. In the same smooth motion Wallace began screaming immediately the other way. From near half-court he found a streaking Nicolas Batum for an uncontested layup on the break. It was back-breaking: take away the opponents slashing attempts and get yours the easy way.
While Wallace’s explosive play both carried the Blazers and shocked them back to life, Sacramento did their part as well. After shooting over %50 in the first half the Kings quickly fell from grace as the Blazers closed the half on a 9-0 run.
Caught like a deer in headlights, Sacramento stopped sharing the ball. They stopped making shots. Stopped playing defense. A few minutes into the fourth quarter the Kings had essentially waved the white flag. They may have looked good against the Lakers the night before, but the young, offensive-minded Sacramento team showed they are easily rattled.
After a rather lackluster opening night performance, Portland got a much more cohesive outing from Batum, who would’ve finished with a lot more than the 15 points he had Tuesday if a few more of his early chip shots at the basket rolled in.
Batum was also part of a long, agile and athletic lineup—including Camby, Aldridge, Wallace and Jamal Crawford at point—that terrorized Sacramento’s minuscule back-court subs, the 6’2” Jimmer Fredette and 5’9” Isaiah Thomas.
Coach McMillan said the lineup was due to two things: first, they were playing the hand they were dealt, in part thanks to Wallace’s racking up five quick fouls on Sacramento’s John Salmons; second, Crawford got the late-game reps at point guard because Coach McMillan thought Raymond Felton looked a little tired, evidenced by a few sloppy turnovers late.
Intriguingly, McMillan added that at this point Crawford and Felton are basically interchangeable in that each is capable of running the same sets.
The Blazers get Wednesday off to rest before hosting the Denver Nuggets on Thursday. And while they’re still working their way into shape, at this quicked pace it shouldn’t take too long.