DeMarcus Cousins pulled his headband over his eyes as if to shield himself from the disappointment.
The Sacramento Kings haven’t seen much success this year, and to have a chance at a late-season silver lining yanked away from them was clearly frustrating.
After quickly falling behind, the Kings made a push in the second half, even taking the lead with seconds to go, but a Dorell Wright corner three stole the Portland Trail Blazers a 100-99 win.
Throughout the first half, Portland’s execution was far superior to Sacramento’s. The Trail Blazers built an early lead with ball movement that was aesthetically pleasing in its sharpness and efficiency. Pick-and-rolls exposed the Kings’ defensive flaws, as LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez waltzed through the heart of Sacramento’s defense after setting screens.
A Ray McCallum three at the buzzer managed to cut the lead to 10 at halftime, but the discrepancy in the two teams’ performances was apparent. Portland was shooting 61.8 percent from the field to Sacramento’s 35.4 percent.
Little was going the Kings’ way, and then Cousins spearheaded a second-half effort to reverse his team’s fortunes.
When left open at the top of the key in the first quarter, Cousins hesitated, pump-faking before knocking down the shot. In the second half, there was little latency. Cousins caught the ball, shot it, and, more often than not, made it.
He opened up the half with a mid-range barrage, smoothly sinking 18-foot jumpers, which brought the Kings back into contention.
Cousins drew double-teams on the block for most of the night, but in the high-post was afforded more freedom. From there, he displayed court vision, finding teammates with passes from both static and dynamic positions. Once Trail Blazers defenders gave him less slack, Cousins took to the paint, tallying points by driving, posting up, and rebounding.
By the end of the third quarter, it was a game again. With 14.8 seconds left in regulation, Cousins hit two free throws to give the Kings the lead.
Portland responded by knocking down shots all night, though. Wesley Matthews had a cold start to the game, but came on, scoring 19 points and making shots that were crucial in building the Trail Blazers’ early lead.
LaMarcus Aldridge, who led Portland with 22 points, made the contested mid-range turnaround jumpers he shot look easy.
Wright played just 15 minutes and made only one shot, but it proved to be the most important. As he and his teammates celebrated a win that essentially cemented their playoff position, Cousins, 30 feet away, couldn’t hide his frustration.
Cousins, who scored 30 points and registered his 51st double-double of the season, has made huge strides this year, but the Kings find themselves in the lottery yet again.
Three more games and everyone, Cousins included, can look forward to next season.