Fast Finish Can't Make Up For Slow Start In Season-Opening Loss To Kings

by Casey Holdahl
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In the waining seconds of close games, Damian Lillard has a habit of crafting little narratives in his head about how the final moments are going to play out. Those attempts at trying to imagine his thoughts into existence often include the other team turning the ball over and always end with Lillard hitting a shot to win the game. It’s basically the NBA equivalent of the mock buzzer-beater routines -- “Three... two... one!” -- that play out thousands of times a day on basketball courts all around the world.

So when CJ McCollum forced a Tyrese Haliburton turnover that was corralled and laid up by Lillard to cut what was a 18-point lead down to one with 11.1 seconds to play, the 6-3 point guard’s mind was already churning out a storybook ending.

“After every play at the end of games I’m always making up some shit that I think is about to happen,” said Lillard. ‘So when I laid it up, I looked at Luke (Walton), he called timeout, I was like ‘Alright, we down one, we gonna foul, there’s 11 seconds left, they gonna make one and miss one and I’m going for game.’ That’s literally, on my way to the bench, that was what I thought in my head. They gonna foul, they gonna give us one and then they won’t be in a position to foul us to make us go to the line and I’m gonna go for game and that’s going to be my one (made) three.”

But that story would remain fiction. Instead, Kings guard Buddy Hield made two free throws and Lillard’s attempt to send the game to overtime as time expired became his ninth three-point miss rather than his first make as the Trail Blazers fell 124-121 to Sacramento in front of a crowd of 17,467 Wednesday night in their regular season opener at Moda Center.

“We got off to a tough start, just kind of fighting up hill the whole game,” said Trail Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups. “I thought we played hard, we gave ourselves a chance to win at the end. We played hard enough to win, we just didn’t play quite smart enough to win.”

The Trail Blazers have now dropped their last two home openers after winning 18-straight home openers. The loss also ends a three-game winning streak versus the Kings.

Portland started their 2021-22 season by going down 13-5 in the first five minutes of Wednesday’s contest. Though after a slow start, they settled in on both sides of the ball, eventually cutting Sacramento’s lead to 24-23 by the end of the first quarter. But Sacramento pushed right back, outscoring Portland by 12 in the second quarter to take a 62-49 lead into the intermission.

The Trail Blazers offense improved considerably in the third quarter, with the home team going 14-of-26 from the field on the way to putting up 36 points in the quarter. But they were completely unable to slow King forward Harrison Barnes, who scored 18 points on 6-of-6 shooting from three, resulting in Sacramento adding two points to their lead going into the fourth.

“Give them credit, (Sacramento) made shots,” said Billups. “Harrison Barnes was fantastic, he really was. He made us pay every time we made a mistake.”

However, as we’ve seen so many times throughout the years, Portland managed to chip away at Sacramento’s lead in the fourth behind McCollum’s shotmaking and a defensive effort that held the visitors to 36 percent shooting in the quarter.

But while the Trail Blazers would have a chance to at least send the game to overtime, Lillard couldn’t managed to get the three-pointer to fall, an issue that plagued Portland from start to finish.

“Had a chance to tie the game, force overtime,” said Lillard. “I was just trying to get to a position where I could get a comfortable look and I did and it just didn’t go in.”

STATISTICS

CJ McCollum led Portland with 34 points on 14-of-24 shooting from the field to go with six rebounds, five assists and three steals in 35 minutes. Damian Lillard finished with 20 points on 8-of-24 shooting from the field and 0-of-9 shooting from three, though he did also logged 11 assists and six rebounds in 40 minutes.

Jusuf Nurkic put up a double-double of 20 points and 14 rebounds while also handing out two assists. Norman Powell added 14 points and Anfernee Simons contributed 11 points, four assists and two rebounds in 17 minutes.

Harrison Barnes led all scorers with 36 points to go with nine rebounds, two assists and two steals in just under 37 minutes. De’Aaron Fox had 27 and Richaun Holmes also had a double-double with 21 points and 11 rebounds.

QUOTABLE

“It’s not my first time they went 0-for-9 or 10. I’ve done it a few times in my career. I don’t think opening night is the night you want it to happen especially in a game where you lose by three. You can’t help but think if I had 3-for-9 or 4-for-9 it’s a completely different game because maybe if those shots go in I don’t miss the next one, it’s a completely different game. But it happens, it’s part of the game. -- Damian Lillard

POSTGAME NOTES

• The Kings snapped a three-game losing streak to the Trail Blazers.

• The Trail Blazers fell to 2-2 against the Kings in season-opening games. The team’s last met on opening night on November 3, 1989.

• Portland outrebounded Sacramento, 49-43, and outscored the Kings in the paint, 58-46.

• The Trail Blazers connected on 19-of-22 free throws (86.4%) while the Kings were 23-of-29 from the line (79.3%).

• The Kings had 20 fast break points to Portland’s two.

• The Trail Blazers outscored the Kings in the fourth quarter, 36-24.

• Damian Lillard recorded a double-double, finishing with 20 points (8-24 FG, 0-9 3-PT, 4-5 FT), six rebounds and 11 assists in 40 minutes.

• With his 13th point tonight (5:54 3rd quarter), Damian Lillard moved past Elton Brand for 100th on the All-Time NBA scoring list.

• CJ McCollum scored the 10,000th point of his career with a three-pointer at the 9:27 mark of the fourth quarter. He is the eighth player in team history to reach 10,000 points with the Trail Blazers.

• CJ McCollum led the Trail Blazers with 34 points (14-24 FG, 6-11 3-PT) to go with six rebounds, five assists and three steals.

• Jusuf Nurkic had a double-double of 20 points (6-10 FG, 1-1 3-PT, 7-7 FT) and 14 rebounds to go with two assists and one block in 29 minutes. It was the 16th time in his career that he’s recorded at least 20 points and 14 rebounds.

NEXT UP

The Trail Blazers will now have two days to prepare before hosting the defending Western Conference champs, the Phoenix Suns, Saturday night at Moda Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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