It was a Hollywood kind of night Thursday in the Moda Center. It was the world premiere of LeBron James with the Los Angeles Lakers and the paparazi from all over the country were there to chronicle it.
But on this special night, an extra stole the show. Who amongst the sellout opening-night crowd of 19,996 knew they were going to be treated to a basketball version of “A Star is Born”?
Nik Stauskas, the last of the 11 players used by Coach Terry Stotts when he entered at the 2:18 mark of the first quarter, nailed back-to-back three-point shots off feeds from Meyers Leonard to end the period and was off and running on a breathtaking shooting night that finished with 24 points, including 5 of 8 three-point shots.
“Meyers got me open on two good looks in that first quarter,” Stauskas would say afterward. “As a shooter, you get two good looks to go down, things kind of start opening up after that, so I just tried to be aggressive and my teammates did a good job of finding me.”
Stauskas is a big-time shooter and although it may have surprised the Lakers (“The way I was open on the first two shots, I don’t think I was on the scouting report,” he said), but it didn’t shock his teammates.
“We all know he can shoot the crap out of the ball,” said Maurice Harkless. “When a guy is shooting like that you just keep feeding him the ball until he burns out and tonight he was just hot all night.”
Harkless missed the entire preseason schedule but gave his team 18 minutes 26 seconds in his first live-game action since last season. And he did the usual Harkless things – solid defense, had six rebounds, two assists, three blocked shots and seven points.
“He made a lot of good momentum plays, got some key blocks, a tip in,” said Portland Coach Terry Stotts. “… He made a nice three, but I think more it was the energy plays that he made and kept our momentum going.”
The Blazer bench was critical to this 128-119 win.
Only one Portland starter finished in the plus category of plus-minus, while five of the six off the bench were heavy in the plus column, including Zach Collins, who was a game-high plus-24. You can read more about Collins' night in Jamie Hudson's postgame column.
The Trail Blazer bench scored 55 points and had 16 of the team’s 21 assists, nine of its 10 blocked shots seven of its 13 three-pointers.
“Our bench was terrific,” Stotts said. “Nik got us going. He just got in the groove and the guy can shoot. I mean, we’ve seen it in practice and I was really happy for him to start the season like that with a new team.”
Collins chalked up a triple-six with six rebounds, six blocks and six points and was the defensive anchor for the second unit.
“Zach had a huge night,” said Evan Turner, who had 13 points and six assists off the bench. “He protected the rim and played tough. His recognition and awareness were great.”
Turner promised that this was no one-hit-wonder for his supporting cast of players off the bench.
“This is how we’re going to keep playing,” he said. “We played tough and got stops. We did enough for our stars to come back and put the game away.”
And that’s exactly what the supporting cast is supposed to do for the stars, isn’t it?