It was almost perfect. So much so that Chauncey Billups called what the Trail Blazers did on Saturday “beautiful.”
They shared the ball. For long stretches, it seemed they couldn’t miss. And on defense — oh my. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a Blazers team rotate, recover, and help like they did against Phoenix, the reigning Western Conference champions.
“There were times out there,” Billups said, trying to contain a smile, “when it looked like we may have had six guys on the floor. People were giving just so many multiple efforts defensively.”
It would have been a perfect night had Norman Powell not suffered a left knee injury midway through the second quarter; an injury that doesn’t look serious after initial imaging. And for Billups, it would have been closer to perfect if the team hadn’t used such cold water to douse him in celebration of his first NBA coaching win.
“They couldn’t find room-temperature water?” Billups asked after being forced to change into what looked like his weekend comfy clothes.
The final on Saturday was Portland 134, Phoenix 105, and it wasn’t so much that the Blazers won in a rout, it was how they did it. They showed teamwork in how they helped on defense. They showed communication in how they rotated on defense. And they were unselfish in how they moved and shared the ball.
It was everything Billups wants the Blazers to become, and everything he has been preaching and drilling into this team since training camp began last month.
To finally see results — real, sustained results — well, it couldn’t have come at a better time.
This has been a trying time for the Blazers. Billups ran a taxing training camp, one of the hardest Damian Lillard could remember. What progress the team was making was subtle and noticed mostly behind closed doors. When they played in front of the public, the Blazers were not only winless in the preseason, they weren’t competitive. Then, they looked mostly disjointed during an opening-night loss to Sacramento.
So on Saturday, it looked, and felt, a little more meaningful than just a regular-season win when CJ McCollum spun a silky 28 points; when Nassir Little roared his arrival with some ‘did-you-see-that?’ moments; when Anfernee Simons continued to look like a breakout player; when the defense played with ants in their pants while holding Phoenix to 47 first half points.
It was validation that all of the trying times in the past month were worth it. All the hard practices, all the mistakes, all the frustration that came with Billups’ mantra of “breaking bad habits.”
“We played as good as we can play, to be honest,” Billups said. “We made shots, defensively we did a really good job, we took care of the basketball, we were focused on all of our coverages, and man, it was just beautiful. Just beautiful to see. Not only for me, but for the guys to see what we are capable of when we are focused.”
Funny thing is, Billups knew this was coming. He might not have known it was coming Saturday, but he knew it was coming.