Team chemistry has been a major topic of conversation as of late when talking about this 2018-19 Trail Blazers squad.
There’s a strong connection on and off the court with the Blazers, that’s evident in being around them at practice and before and after games.
Off the court connections always seem to translate nicely on the court and that is one of the reasons why the Blazers were able to survive a young Knicks team that would not back down on Tuesday night. Portland beat New York in the final seconds, 118-114 behind CJ McCollum’s 31 points and Damian Lillard’s 29.
It was another good showing of team ball on Tuesday as Portland finished with 25 assists. Keep in mind; the Blazers averaged 19.5 assists last season.
At Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, all of Nik "Sauce Castillo" Stauskas’ first half assists went to Meyers "The Hammer" Leonard. Stauskas had three assists through the first two quarters. And all of Leonard’s first half points came from Stauskas as he scored eight first half points.
“It’s really easy to play with him in the pick and roll and off dribble handoffs. He does a really good job with setting screens and I was just trying to be aggressive getting down hill as a result of that he ended up being open a lot of the time. He does a good job of making himself available,” Stauskas told NBC Sports Northwest’s Dwight Jaynes.
Yes, the second quarter magic between Stauskas and Leonard just happened with Leonard getting open down low and out on the wing, which helped the Blazers keep pace with the Knicks.
“I think that our second unit and the first unit does a good job of moving the ball, trusting each other, playing off flares, DHOs, pick and rolls. So, Nik and I had it going there in the first half… Whoever the open man was I feel like we’re going to find each other, but it just happened to be Nik and I,” Leonard told reporters.
The Stauskas and Leonard dominance all happened with a few minutes of each other early in the second.
At the 10:52 mark, Leonard slammed it home after Stauskas found him down low.
Then with 9:58 left in the quarter, Leonard nailed a three point jumper, assisted by Stauskas, and finally at 9:03 Stauskas found Leonard who drained another three.
But, there was one three-pointer in the third quarter that Leonard passed up that could given Stauskas yet another assist.
In the locker room postgame, it sounded like Leonard has now learned he better not pass up another good look like that one again.
“First thing we came in after the game, CJ tells me good job, but don’t turn down shots. It’s a good problem to have. It’s better than people tell me not to shoot,” Leonard laughed.
“I just have to be confident ready to shoot the ball… That’s one of my biggest assets is shooting the ball, spacing the floor and providing a different dynamic,” Leonard said.
Do you still not think that Stauskas and Leonard were on the same page? Well, they both hit buzzer beaters vs. the Knicks, so tell me that isn’t some synergy right there?
Stauskas heaved a half court buzzer beater to end the first quarter.
The real question is, did Nik call bank?
“I can’t say I called bank, but huh, I’ll take it… Stauskas said with a smile.
“Once I released it I thought there was a chance it was going to go in. I just didn’t know if it was going to be off the glass or if it was gonna be a swich, but I’m glad it did,” Stauskas said.
Leonard had a buzzer beating dunk to end the third.
“Yes, I knew the game clock was going down and that I needed to be prepared to score, I was ready,” Leonard said. That dunk came after Leonard passed up the three-pointer, but in case you were wondering, it was Lillard who assisted on the Leonard slam.
Hey, Nik can't have them all, but Rip City should look forward a new equation that seems to work just fine for the Trail Blazers, Sauce + Hammer = Buckets.