(PRESEASON) TRAIL BLAZERS 109 – KINGS 105: VENGEANCE AND AIR GUITAR SOLOS

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Revenge is a dish best served when the stakes are low and it’s being served to starving eaters desperate for anything remotely edible to sink their teeth into (in that metaphor, we’re the eaters and our teeth is our enthusiasm and Thomas Robinson is that hopefully edible thing). Starting in place of the hobbled LaMarcus Aldridge against the team that drafted Robinson fifth overall in 2011 (before trading him halfway through the year to the Houston Rockets), the second year forward took the first possession of the game straight to the rack with the same strong spin move that he relied on heavily in Las Vegas Summer League. On the second possession, he knocked down a long two-point jumper from the top and things were off and rolling for both the former Kansas Jayhawk and the Blazers’ offense. Robinson would finish the game with 14 points and 8 rebounds while the Blazers rode their torrid shooting as a team to a quick 30-19 lead at the end of the first quarter.

The second quarter saw the single most spectacular moment of the game, a moment of explosion so awesome that it deserves its own paragraph. It began when Nicolas Batum missed an open three from the left corner. Robin Lopez, who had been working tirelessly on the offensive glass all night, found good position underneath to corral the missed shot, and boxed out Sacramento’s Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez. But as the shot bounced off the iron and then the backboard, caroming towards Lopez, Thomas Robinson, who had been out of the television frame for most of the sequence, all of a sudden appeared. And when I say appeared, I mean he surged in from the top of the key, leapt from just outside the restricted circle, soared over the mortals waiting hopefully for rebound scraps, then grabbed the ball at its highest point with his left hand and dunked it all over Patterson, Lopez, and the many galaxies contained within Lopez’s hair. Poor Patrick Patterson, bless his heart, was left frozen in the immediate aftermath with his arms out to his sides, slightly hunched over, seemingly frustrated that his favorite purple road uniform was now drenched in the invisible gore left from the violence of Robinson’s dunk.

Not to get lost amongst Robinson’s dynamism in the contest was the strong play from the rest of the Portland frontcourt. Robin Lopez toiled unrelentingly down low, both on the glass and in finding easy buckets, finishing with 14 points and 7 rebounds. Meanwhile, Joel Freeland played some very inspired ball himself, recording 7 points and 9 rebounds. They obviously didn’t see the post-ups or isolations that Portland runs with Aldridge out there, but some nifty passing and smart movement got the big men the ball in favorable positions, just as it also got the shooters open looks and found the wing players on cuts to the rim. In fact, even Meyers Leonard flashed an Arvydas-ian bounce pass from the high post through a tight window to find a cutting Dorrell Wright for a baseline dunk. If such unselfish, free-flowing play in the offensive end can carry into the regular season, the fate of the Blazers’ results may not be as tied to the shooting performances of the stars, which is not at all to say that their star shot poorly in this game.

Apparently Damian Lillard decided sometime this summer or early autumn that the third quarter would be the time when he lays waste to all in his path. On Friday, he used the period to burn Chris Paul’s hall of fame application essay. Then on Sunday, Lillard decided that no one player on the Kings felt worthy enough for his focused attention, so instead he just destroyed all of them, especially that nylon punk hanging all nonchalant from the rim. Raining jumpers off the dribble and spotting up, Lillard scored 16 of his game-high 28 points in the third quarter as the Blazers led by as many as 12 with 4 minutes to go in the period. During the game, Blazers team blogger Casey Holdahl tweeted that Lillard spoke after the Clippers performance about letting the game come to him in the first half before asserting himself more in the second half. Word, Damian, I’m pretty sure William Tecumseh Sherman said something similar before burning down most of Georgia. Keep getting in your Zen space in the first half and leaving behind scorched Earth in the second half.

But like the game against the Clippers on Friday, the Blazers’ surge in the third quarter didn’t leave their opponent as dead as Portland might have thought. The Kings stormed back into the game with a run that bridged the latter stage of the third quarter and first half of the fourth quarter, culminating in a three-pointer from Ben McLemore that gave Sacramento a 90-88 lead with five minutes left in the game. On Friday, Blazers coach Terry Stotts left his bench in the game to close out the Clippers, but in this one, he reinserted the starting lineup for crunch time. Both teams traded buckets for a short stretch until the Portland starters began to pull away. A three-pointer from Nicolas Batum put the Blazers up 9 with just over 2 minutes to play, effectively deciding the game.

The exciting performances from Lillard and Robinson may have highlighted the night for fans (and this blogger), but Stotts is likely to be thinking about how his team let an opponent close what should have been a comfortable gap for the second straight game, and he’ll most definitely be wondering how his team gave up 27 points to Patrick Patterson. Yes, Patrick Patterson scored 27 points. Patrick Patterson. 27 points. If Thomas Robinson needs any ingredients to cook up some more vengeance for when these teams meet again, he could probably start with that.

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