PORTLAND — Jamal Crawford made his Trail Blazers debut Monday night.
Well, at least according to him he did.
Before Portland took on the Kings, the struggling Crawford said that he had adopted a new mindset — that he was “free,” and that it was “like Day 1 for me.”
And it turns out that on the shooting guard’s premiere night, he was the game’s premier player.
Crawford scored a game-high 26 points as the Blazers hammered Sacramento 101-89. He entered the game having made just 22 of his past 76 shots while failing to shoot 40 percent once during Portland’s recent six-game road trip. Monday, however he was 9 for 18 and hit 2 of his 4 3-point attempts.
Asked afterward about the difference his performance, Crawford echoed his pre-game mentality.
“Honestly, talking to Coach (Nate) McMillan, talking to LaMarcus (Aldridge), talking to Ray (Felton), (Blazers president) Larry Miller — just play. You’ve got to be the person that you’ve been before you came. You can’t try to fit in, that’s not why we brought you here,” Crawford said. “So coming into the game, I just felt good. It was a fresh start … I’m just playing. I’m just hooping.”
Crawford’s production seemed reflective of what was at least a temporary rejuvenation for his homesick team, which had spent nearly a week and a half out of the Rose City while going 2-4 during that stretch.
Although the Blazers (10-7) still appeared jet-lagged through the first 12 minutes — missing 13 of their first 19 shots and ending the first quarter tied at 21-21, they pounced on the Kings in the following period and went ahead by as many as 20.
Wallace shared the first-half spotlight with Crawford, scoring 15 of his 20 points during the first two quarters on a night in which he shot 9 of 12 from the field. The forward sat out because of a sprained right middle finger in Portland’s 94-91 loss to Detroit on Saturday, and while the digit was still a nuisance Monday, it wasn’t nearly tender enough to keep him on the bench.
“After you get over that first shock of catching the ball, dribbling the ball, and shooting the ball, the adrenaline kicks in,” said Wallace, who was benched against his will vs. the Pistons. “Then, you’re home free.”
The Kings (6-12) never crept to within double digits in the second half, and ended the game shooting 40 percent from the field. The Blazers shot 6.6 percent better, but the key statistic was Portland’s 53-36 rebounding advantage. The primary perpetrator in the lopsided result was Aldridge, who finished with 16 boards in 28 minutes.
Two games earlier, Aldridge had corralled a career-high 23 boards in the Blazers’ win over the Raptors.
Asked if his attitude toward rebounding has changed in recent days, the power forward admitted there may have been a shift in his approach.
“Once you get 23, you want to do it again,” said Aldridge, who grabbed eight of his rebounds in the third quarter and finished with 13 points. “Once you do it once, you want to do it again — like tattoos.”
DeMarcus Cousins led Sacramento with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Jimmer Fredette scored 13 points and knocked down 3 of his 4 3-point attempts.
Wesley Matthews added 14 points for the Blazers, Raymond Felton put up 11, while big man Craig Smith scored 10 in 21 minutes.
Aldridge was asked after the game what Smith brings to the team.
“To me, he brings rest,” Aldridge said. “Much needed rest.”
And the Blazers may need rest this week more than ever. Tuesday, they will host Memphis, and Wednesday, they will travel to Golden State to play their third game in as many days.
The physical strain may afford forward Luke Babbitt some playing time should McMillan want to rest some of his more regular players — although it’s doubtful he can top Monday night’s high.
With 29 seconds to go, Babbitt connected on a 3-pointer to push Portland over the 100-point mark and provide the Rose Garden fans with free chalupas.
And there’s no doubt Babbitt felt the magnitude of the moment. His post-game comment?
“It feels good to give the fans Taco Bell.”