The Kings' defense was the talk of the offseason, as a historically poor unit committed to making strides, they made that clear with the selection of Davion Mitchell in the first round of the 2021 NBA Draft. After the 124-121 win in Portland, Kings coach Luke Walton emphasized the difficulty of winning on the road against Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers but explained why he wasn't thrilled with Sacramento's attention to detail on the defensive end.
"To me, it was pretty clear, in the first half our rotations were great, our activity with our hands was great, we were getting deflections, we were rotating from the weak side, making plays, and in the second half, we started getting a lot of wrapping fouls and they were in the bonus early in the third, they were in the bonus early in the fourth," Walton said following the win. "Our rotations started being late, when we did get there in time we weren't being aggressive, we were just kind of standing there letting guys finish on us, so that will be the biggest thing we can show them in film tomorrow is really just the difference in what it looks like."
Walton's assessment of it being a game of two halves is fair. Portland managed just 49 points in the first half against the Kings, with Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard shooting just 3-10 from the field.
In the second half, Portland rang up 72 points, and four of the Blazers' five starters put up 10 or more points. A 13-point lead was shrunk to one in the final minute before some clutch free throws from Harrison Barnes put the game out of reach.
Walton's players remain confident in their ability to improve defensively but recognize the difference in how they performed between the first and second halves.
"We just got a lot of dogs on our team, we got a lot of competitive guys, a lot of guys who want to dig their heels in, especially on the defensive end. You know, just building that trust, knowing that one guy has our back if we miss a rotation, non-stop scrambling, that trust means a lot out on the floor. As we continue to build it we will continue to get better defensively," Richaun Holmes told reporters following the win.
"We can't let those guards get going, they've got good guards, it's hard to contain them but we've got to find ways to stop them when they get going, shut the water off," Buddy Hield said.
Lillard and C.J. McCollum combined for 54 points in the loss.
After all the frustration of last season, the Kings have to be happy with getting a road win over a playoff team to begin the 2021-22 campaign.
There are things to build on defensively, but for a group that struggled to stop anybody a season ago, progress should be celebrated.