Trail Blazers Get Signature Win Over Kings Behind Career Nights From Scoot Henderson, Duop Reath
Plus, Ibou Badji makes his NBA debut.
PORTLAND, Ore. — There haven’t been many wins to come by for the Trail Blazers this season, let alone anything that can be called a “signature” win.
What they did on Tuesday qualifies.
Down two starters (Deandre Ayton and Shaedon Sharpe were both out), against a good Sacramento team, Portland not only didn’t play the entire first half from behind—as they’ve done entirely too often lately—they controlled the pace and didn’t beat themselves.
Duop Reath got his first-ever game ball after a career-high 25 points and nine rebounds, Scoot Henderson played the best all-around game of his career, Portland only turned the ball over seven times and, on the other end, held the NBA’s 12th-ranked offense to 111 points.
That was the part Chauncey Billups was happiest about.
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“When we play well, it’s our defense that fuels the offense,” he said. “So many times, we came out and thought we could outshoot teams and out-offense teams. We’re not built that way right now. We got back to that. I thought our defense was flying around the whole time.”
With Ayton out with knee tendinitis, Billups started Moses Brown at center, which he said was to address the rebounding issues that had been laid bare in Friday’s loss to Golden State. Brown did his job, grabbing 11 boards in 14 minutes, but it was his backup, Reath, that was the story.
That was really the case across the board—the starters did their jobs, but it was the bench that stood out. Portland’s reserves combined for 65 of their 130 points and, as Tom Haberstroh pointed out, it was the first time in 30 years that three Blazers players each scored at least 17 points off the bench in a win.
Maybe the most encouraging performance of the night was Henderson. The counting stats were good—17 points and a career-high 11 assists—but it was the confidence attacking the rim and the only one turnover that made this Henderson’s new best game as a pro.
“He played with ferocity tonight, which is what I'm always on him [about],” Billups said. “You should play fast. Play athletic. I'm living with the mistakes. Don't worry about the mistakes. Just play aggressive.”
The highlight of the game, for me, was the final 52 seconds. With the game well in hand, Billups emptied his bench and put Ibou Badji in for the first time. I don’t know how many of the people still in the crowd even realized it was happening. He didn’t record any stats in that less-than-a-minute garbage-time shift. But he’s now appeared in an NBA game after spending all of last year on a two-way contract with the Blazers and not seeing a minute.
It’s fitting that Badji became the first player from the NBA Academy Africa program to play in an NBA game on the same day that ESPN published a story about the upcoming wave of prospects from the program set to be future lottery picks.
As a reporter, you don’t root for the team you cover. But it’s hard not to want the people to be successful if you know them, and I’ve gotten to know Badji well over his season-plus in Portland. He’s one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Rip City Remix existing, and depending on what happens in the second half of the season, there’s a chance he gets to play more. However the rest of his career goes, he’s a pioneer. This is the kind of stuff I love about doing this job, much more so than the trade speculation and endless relitigation of draft picks and coaching decisions.