As the players left the locker room late Wednesday night, many of them had smiles on their faces knowing they had locked up the third seed in the Western Conference and were set to face the sixth-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs.
But for Blazers' rookie Anfernee Simons, this game meant he was walking out of the locker room with the final box score in his hand and an array of dazzling highlights to look back on.
“That was fun. That was probably one of the best times I had all season, just being out there, coming back and just winning, honestly,” Simons said.
Simons notched a career-high in all three major categories; finishing with 37 points, nine assists, and six rebounds.
It was the 19-year-old who led the Blazers to a thrilling 136-131 comeback win over the Kings after being down by as many as 28 points.
“Dame told me to be aggressive the whole game, so that’s what I did,” Simons said.
Rookies out here ballin' pic.twitter.com/bZC3663rks— NBC Sports Northwest (@NBCSNorthwest) April 11, 2019
Simons also made seven three-pointers, attempting 11. From the field, he went 13-of-21.
Lillard watched from the bench like a proud big brother.
“Ant had a huge game. It’s kind of what we’ve been talking about all year, just his skillset, ability to shoot the ball, his quickness, athleticism,” Lillard said.
Being present and active in every possession was what Lillard wanted to see from the young buck.
“I was super proud of him because I told him, I was like you’re going to be out there a lot, so you’re going to have a lot of opportunity and don’t have those moments where you just float, you’re aggressive here and then you kind of passive and you’re just out there, being out there,” Lillard said.
“I said you need to be making plays, you need to be attacking, be aggressive, shoot the ball, show what you can do, and he took that challenge. He had a huge game,“ Lillard added.
For the Trail Blazers’ main rotation players, Wednesday night was all about getting some much-needed rest. Blazers head coach Terry Stotts valued a night off for his regular players, and went with a six-man rotation against the Kings.
Portland started Jake Layman, Skal Labissiere, Meyers Leonard, and the rookies Gary Trent Jr. and Simons. Zach Collins was the lone sub.
The young squad put on show to complete the comeback.
The Blazers other rookie, Gary Trent Jr., finished with 19 points on 8-of-19 shooting. Trent was proud of his running
"Anfernee was exceptional," Trent Jr. said. “He was hoopin’, he was hoopin’ tonight. We’ve been working together this whole year so to finally see us translate on the court, it was a great feeling.”
Simons is now the 11th rookie in franchise history to score 30-plus points in a game, joining Damian Lillard on that list.
As you would expect, Simons was presented with the game ball in the locker room.
The 24th overall pick of the draft last year showed his worth and proved to Blazers fans he is the real deal.
Simons now joins a very short list of teenagers in NBA history to have scored 37-plus points while dishing at least nine assists.
The other two players on that list?
1. Lebron James
2. Kevin Durant
Not too shabby.