Kings coach Dave Joerger was pleased with his team’s defense of Portland All-Star Damian Lillard – for one part of the game.
“I thought we did a super job on him in the fourth quarter, where we held him scoreless,” Joerger said.
Lillard didn’t play in the fourth quarter.
That comic relief was all the respite the Kings had from Lillard, who scored 50 points in three quarters to defeat the Kings 118-100 Friday night at Golden 1 Center. It was the most points the King have allowed a player this season.
There were several teachable moments for the Kings and their rookie point guard De’Aaron Fox, who started the game defending his counterpart, and like every King who tried to contain Lillard, had no luck slowing him.
“It was a good experience, if you want to call it that, for our young guys, our rookies,” Joerger said.
Lillard made 16 of 26 from the field, 8 of 13 from 3-point range and all 10 of his free-throw attempts. It was tough to watch, but Fox might learn from it, though he wasn’t the one who couldn’t stop Lillard.
Fox was asked what he could learn from Lillard’s night.
“Of course it’s difficult every night, especially playing this position,” he said. “But when somebody is making shots like that, ain’t much you can do.”
With George Hill traded to Cleveland and Frank Mason III out until after the All-Star break recovering from a heel injury, Fox is the Kings’ only healthy point guard for at least the next three games.
The Kings (17-37) believe Fox has the size, athleticism and ability to become an elite defender. If that’s the case, Friday’s game will be something Fox can look back on in a couple years and know the tricks to keep a player like Lillard from getting hot.
Lillard recalled when Kyrie Irving scored 50 points against the Blazers (31-25) early in his career, something he took “personal” even though he didn’t guard Irving most of the game.
“I think it’s just something being young – as a young player in this league people got on me about my defense all the time,” Lillard said. “I think it takes time to learn the terms, to learn coverages and player tendencies.”
He became the third player this season to score 50 or more through three quarters, joining teammate CJ McCollum and Houston’s James Harden. Lillard had 28 points in the first half and 22 points in the third quarter, both highs for a Kings’ opponent for a half and a quarter this season.
“They just kept running a high ball screen and he came off and shot it or he just came off and made a play,” Fox said. “When a guard (has) got it going like that, a guy like that is tough to stop. You just try to contain him.”
Lillard empathized with Fox and his struggles on Friday.
“It’s experience in this league that allows you to become a better defender, so really it’s not on the guy or his fault when he’s young,” Lillard said. “There’s a lot of ways you can be manipulated as a young player, and that’s what happened to me at times. De’Aaron competes hard – he’s competitive.”
Lillard and his teammates were the latest to take advantage of the Kings’ struggles to defend the perimeter.
Portland shot 15 of 35 from 3-point range.
“A bunch of guys guarded me; it wasn’t just all on one person,” Lillard said. “That’s also something about this league. Anytime you’re playing against a guy that gets hot or is an elite scorer, it takes a group defense to slow guys down. It’s hardly ever one guy.”