Not much boogie in Cousins as Blazers roll
Through the month of January, DeMarcus "Boogie" Cousins had been on a one-man rampage through the NBA.
In Sacramento's first dozen games of the month, the Kings' 6-11, 270-pound center had averaged a Wilt Chamberlain-like 34.4 points and 13.6 rebounds, with eight games of at least 30 points and 10 boards.
Cousins scored a franchise-record 56 points, making 21 of 30 shots, in a 129-128 double-overtime loss to Charlotte on Monday. Two nights earlier, he had collected 48 points in a 108-97 victory over Indiana.
The runaway train finally went off the track Tuesday night at the Moda Center.
With Portland's inside defenders waging MMA warfare and its wings providing all kinds of help, Cousins managed only 17 points and five rebounds in the Trail Blazers' 112-97 victory.
Cousins missed nine of his first 10 shots and finished 4 for 21 from the field. The only resemblance to the "Big Dipper" was Cousins' 9-for-17 performance at the line.
The Blazers used Mason Plumlee, Meyers Leonard and Ed Davis on Cousins, and all were effective in primary coverage.
"They're big," Sacramento coach George Karl said. "The big numbers (Cousins) has been putting up have been against teams with not much size. Tonight, we didn't get a lot of easy, efficient shots for him. (Portland's defense) has to be a piece of it, but another piece is we didn't do as good a job as we've been doing."
"Our bigs did a great job," said point guard Damian Lillard, who contributed 15 points and 13 assists in 33 minutes. "They played physical from the jump. They took the challenge. Our wings, our guards did a good job of digging and making (Cousins) feel our presence. He was spinning into two guys a lot. There was a lot of activity in there."
Lillard had watched the Sacramento-Charlotte marathon on television.
"I knew (the Kings) were going to be tired," he said. "I knew they'd get here (early Tuesday morning). We were ready.
"I told everybody, 'We gotta run 'em. We gotta push the ball. We gotta make them work on the defensive end of the floor, and then push it right back at them.' In the second half, we wore them down."
The Kings conceded as much.
"You hate to make excuses, but honestly, that played a big part in it tonight," Cousins said. "We just didn't have the usual pop. We still had a great chance to win this game, but we totally let it get away toward the end."
"As a coach, I don't like that excuse," Karl said. "As a human being, it's probably justifiable.
"The game was too long for us tonight, no question. I don't know if it was mental or physical fatigue, but when the game turned the wrong way in the second half, we didn't have that recommitment. And my team has been really good at that this year in persevering."
Sacramento hung in for a half, trailing 58-52 lead at the break. The Kings were still within 74-67 midway through the third quarter, but the Blazers went on a 7-0 run to make it 81-67. They started the fourth quarter with a 10-4 spurt to stoke their lead to 98-78, and it was over.
"It was a very good win for us," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "We won every quarter. I liked our defense. (Lillard) set the tone early with his assists. (The Kings) may have been a little fatigued, but nevertheless, we played well."
Leonard got more time defending Cousins than anybody. And as in Portland's 98-94 win at Sacramento on Dec. 27, Leonard made Cousins work for everything.
"It's a challenge," said Leonard, who finished with nine points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes off the bench. "I can compare it to the playoffs last year against (Memphis center Marc) Gasol. I was trying to do whatever I could to keep (Cousins) away from the rim. It was a fun matchup tonight."
Did Cousins have much to say to Leonard?
"He sometimes tries to get in my ear," Leonard said, "but I pretty much just smile and keep it moving."
Did Leonard feel he got into Cousins' head?
"Maybe a tiny bit," he said. "Just trying to be as physical as I can with him. That's my job."
Cousins seemed annoyed at the Blazers and, in particular, at Leonard.
"I could tell what their scheme was -- to try to frustrate me, get under my skin," Cousins said. "Meyers whatever you say it -- yeah, Leonard -- took advantage of the situation a little more.
"If you want to credit them, go ahead. A lot of shots didn't fall. We didn't have a good flow tonight offensively."
The Blazers moved percentage points ahead of the Kings in the battle for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
"It was an important win tonight," Leonard said. "It was about protecting homecourt, and we're in the eighth spot now and looking up. Coach Stotts said we haven't scratched the surface, and I truly believe that. We have really good pieces. Guys like each other. We're willing to come every day and work."
"It feels good today," Lillard said. "Everybody in here would like to stay in that spot -- maybe move up. But we have to stick with it. You can't act like we made the playoffs just because if it started today, we'd be in them."
NOTES: The fourth opponent in Portland's current seven-game homestand is Charlotte on Friday night. The Blazers are 6-2 in their last eight games. They have won four straight against the Kings dating to last season. CJ McCollum scored 18 points on 7-for-16 shooting and had five assists for Portland, which had seven players score in double figures. Plumlee had 12 points on 5-for-5 shooting with eight rebounds and two blocked shots in 23 minutes. Stotts has shortened his rotation the last two games, leaving small forward Moe Harkless out until garbage time. "The nine-man rotation worked well tonight," Stotts said. Cousins got hit in the right hand late in the third quarter and left the game, but returned to action. "He has been so good, I'm not going to complain about his play tonight," Karl said. "He has been our horse, and he has led us through a lot of good things. He wasn't the only one who had a down night. He was one of a few." The Kings were without small forward Rudy Gay, who suffered a corneal abrasion of his left eye in Monday loss to Charlotte.
Stotts, asked pregame how he would describe Cousins' recent play: "I don't know what the word would be. He is doing some things that haven't been done in a long time. It's admirable to watch and a challenge to prepare for." Stotts was asked how he decides for whom to vote for Western Conference reserves for the NBA All-Star game. "I put a premium on winning," he said. "There are some cases (in which you) make an exception. If you're a good player on a winning team as opposed to a good player on a losing team, the winning team gets the push." Would that adversely affect the chances for Lillard to make the team? "In some of the voters' minds, probably. but there are exceptions," he said. "Everybody picked us to be one of the worst teams in the West. We're not that, and Damian is the primary reason. I think Damian is the exception." Karl was asked if Lillard deserves to be an All-Star. "He's an All-Star talent, but there aren't enough roster spots for all the All-Stars in the Western Conference," Karl said. "I've always been an advocate of expanding to 15-man rosters and maybe make it a 60-minute game. maybe play quarters, and make it a showcase of their talents as much as the game." Cousins, asked the same question: "Absolutely. 'Dame' is one of my favorite players to watch in the league. He's a good friend of mine. He and CJ have made this team very competitive." Karl on McCollum: "He looks like he really worked on his pick-and-roll game last summer. He has a bounce, a great release, and he's becoming not only a great shooter but a good, efficient scorer. I don't know how Terry does it with those two guys out there. It's a tough choice who should have the ball."