With a little less than 5 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter of the Trail Blazers contest against the visiting Sacramento Kings at the Moda Center on Friday night, the Portland lead had been reduced to just 6 points at 90-84. Kings center DeMarcus Cousins was playing with purpose, while their point guard, Isaiah Thomas, looked about ready to throw down with Blazers center Robin Lopez in the weirdest UFC undercard ever. 6 months ago, the Blazers might have let this kind of game slip away. But then LaMarcus Aldridge lifted everyone onto his 6’11” shoulders – squeeze in close, everyone, they’re slender – and rose to that transcendent cloud city utopia of jump shot making where no one, and certainly not Patrick Patterson, can possibly stop the onslaught. Aldridge backed down poor Patterson on the left block and hit a turnaround 13-footer. Then he did it again, and again. Each one was slightly deeper than the last, until the fourth jumper in as many possessions came from just inside the three-point arc and with DeMarcus Cousins now smothering Aldridge in 270 pounds of Boogie gravy. It didn’t matter. Splash. The Blazers were up 98-86 with 2 minutes left, assuring a victory that ended 104-91. Aldridge finished with 20 points and 7 rebounds.
The Blazers withstood a monster night from Cousins, who scored 35 points on 13-25 shooting to go with 9 rebounds, despite both Robin Lopez and Joel Freeland (back after being sidelined with a hip injury) playing fairly well against him. Cousins had a jumper of his own going early that made him nearly impossible to check, especially when instead of getting complacent on the perimeter, he mixed the jumper with some effective, rugged play around the basket. Unfortunately though for Sacramento, Cousins couldn’t find much help. Isaiah Thomas only mustered 13 points on 5-15 shooting and though he had 7 assists, most of those (if not all) were to Cousins. Marcus Thornton, who for some reason played 40 minutes, shot a woeful 2-11 from the floor for 5 points. The Kings in general look like a collection of spare NBA parts assembled, or permanently disassembled, with no sense for how they fit together. Their offense looked broken unless Cousins was posting or running pick-and-rolls with Thomas, and their defense looked lazy and uncommunicative.
Taking the most advantage of the Kings’ sloppy defense was Damian Lillard, who led Portland with 22 points and 8 rebounds, as well as 7 assists. Someday, teams might finally learn to stop going underneath the screen when Lillard is the ball handler but this was not that day, as Lillard went 4-9 from beyond the arc. Lillard’s backcourt mate, Wes Matthews, may have played his most complete game of the season so far, scoring 18 points on efficient 7-11 shooting, finding open spot-up looks as well as attacking the rim off the dribble when available. Nicolas Batum also added 14 points and a team-high 8 assists, while Thomas Robinson provided a nice spark off the bench, scoring 10 points and pulling down 4 rebounds in his 12 minutes, displaying his typical ferocity and toughness on both ends. The individual stats for the Blazers undermine the observation that as a team, the offense didn’t look quite as smooth and efficient as it has in stretches in other recent games — or maybe I’m just bitter that we didn’t get to see any Dorrell Wright paired with Aldridge up front on this game. But as Aldridge proved again this season in crunch time, as long as everyone else can keep it close, LaMarcus will be there with his jumper crafted from liquid silk and butterfly tears, ready to take us all to the cloud city.