Portland Trail Blazers drop inconsistent opener to the Kings
It may be a new season with a new coach and a handful of new faces, but it's still approaching Halloween. And familiar ghosts haunted the Portland Trail Blazers throughout a 124-121 season-opening loss to the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night at Moda Center.
Whether it was a product of a relatively unchanged cast of key contributors, first game jitters, the slop and struggle of early season NBA basketball, or just a hot night from beyond the arc for Harrison Barnes and Sacramento, this version of the Blazers was flat in its debut. Whether Portland reaches the heights it wants to achieve is dependent on whether the issues present on Wednesday become a trend, and whether the team can exorcise its defensive demons which linger from last year.
"We got off to a tough start and were just fighting uphill the whole game," first-year Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups said. "I thought we played hard and gave ourselves a chance to win. At the end we played hard enough to win, we just didn't play quite smart enough. We've got to be able to execute. We turned it over a lot in the first half, and I thought we did a really good job of taking care of the basketball in the second half."
HELLO & WELCOME TO PORTLAND, CODY pic.twitter.com/6ZZFUvE63s— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) October 21, 2021
The Blazers committed 10 turnovers in the first half and just two in the second. That, along with improved shot-making, allowed Portland to cut an 18-point deficit down to one in the final seconds, but it wasn't enough to win. Poor defense throughout the game â€“ particularly on the perimeter â€“ got the Blazers in the predicament in the first place.
"You've got to be able to execute defensively," Billups said. "They were doing a lot of things where they created movement, getting to the paint, paint touches. Our rotations were late a few times, and our rotations were wrong a few times. If you get a team that can really shoot or a team that just gets hot, those are mistakes you just can't make.
"When you allow paint touches, which is the reason we want to get paint touches, it collapses your defense. When the defense collapses, you've got to have guys x-ing down on the back side. I felt like sometimes we may have over-helped … And sometimes you have to be closer to him no matter what the coverage is."
Damian Lillard's potential game-tying three-pointer clanked off the rim at the final buzzer, as every one of his nine attempts from three did. Forty hard-playing minutes and 20 points from Portland's superstar â€“ along with 34 points for CJ McCollum and a 20-point, 14-rebound game from Jusuf Nurkic â€“ weren't enough to mask the glaring problems that forced yet another comeback attempt.
Despite the rough shooting night, Lillard moved into the top 100 of NBA all-time scorers, passing Elton Brand. Lillard has 16,835 career points to take over the No. 100 spot.
McCollum also reached a notable career milestone, reaching 10,000 points at the start of his eighth season in the NBA.
Barnes scored a career-high 36 points for Sacramento, hitting eight of his 11 three-point attempts. Many of them were either wide open or a rotation was just late for Portland, allowing a hot shooter to stay hot.
"I think we did a lot of things well, and we had a lot of breakdowns that we've talked about that we had during the preseason," Lillard said. "Specifically, how we handled the pick and roll. Our help was there once they got to the weak side and when they got out of the pick and roll, but we had some breakdowns and guys got hot. I felt like that was a huge part of the game."
The core of this Portland team is no stranger to comebacks. It's been a common theme of the Lillard years and one that has elevated the pulse of Blazer fans time and again. Often, Lillard's heroics are enough to mask the situation the team puts itself in earlier in the night. And it's created moments that are etched into team lore.
But on Wednesday in the opener of what portends to be a pivotal season for the franchise, even Lillard couldn't rescue the Blazers from a sloppy, inconsistent performance. Still, Lillard said he sees comebacks as part of the team's identity.
"That's who we are," he said. "That's one thing about our team that's always remained regardless of what the score is or what the situation is. We play to the end and today was no different."
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