Few in the NBA had pegged the Phoenix Suns (5-3) to be off to such a good start when they were included in talks about tanking the season for how strong the upcoming draft class is going to be. The Portland Trail Blazers (6-2) meanwhile were riding a mini three-game win streak and wanted to get back at the Suns who snatched the first game of the season in embarrassing fashion.
As easy as the offense came against the Pistons, the Blazers and Suns had to work all night long in a tough, contested battle that saw the lead change numerous times and no one gaining a real advantage. Phoenix threw off both Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge for most of the night, so it was due time for some of the reserves, mainly Thomas Robinson and Mo Williams to take charge and keep the Blazers above water. In the last seconds, Lillard drives inside for a wide-open, game-winning layup to put Portland on top for good 90-89 and improve to a four-game win streak in preparation for their East Coast road-trip.
It was apparent right from the start that Phoenix studied the scouting report as Portland depended heavily on the three-point shot as of late, closing in and choking the Blazers’ bread-and-butter. Portland started 1-5 shooting but things weren’t so hot for the Suns either as they were 2-7 from the field. Aldridge picked up two quick offensive fouls, (someone give Channing Frye an Oscar) and the Blazers were left to work for every single possession. With Aldridge out it was an early shift for Robinson who need to prove he deserves more minutes and automatically gobbled up offensive boards and cleaned up missed layups.
Speaking of which, there were a lot of missed layups tonight. A lot. Some were wide open, on the fast break, shots any rec league player would be able make didn’t go down for anyone easily. Portland shoots a mere 39% in the first quarter and crawl to 43% by halftime in which the Suns had a 43-41 lead. Between Lillard and Aldridge, Lillard only had 4 points between them on 2-13 shooting from the field.
Give credit to the Suns who all but effectively shut down Portland’s three-point shooting and held them to just one make in a whooping ten attempts for the first half.
Portland immediately wanted to establish Aldridge early and after nailing a few jump shots he seemed to be back into his groove. Robinson would return and hustle on the glass, cleaning up misses that the guards couldn’t make up close. The lead swap back and forth till Mo Williams and Nicolas Batum connect (finally at last) from distance to gain some space. However the Suns would answer back, distribution from Dragic to Bledsoe, Gerald Green and one of the Morris twins would respond to any run the Blazers could build. They effectively built their largest lead of the night 68-62 heading to the final period.
Robinson again would feast on open boards and on one key possession grabbed a rebound, scored, ran back and created a turnover to give to Batum for a corner three en route to an 8-0 Blazer run. The entire fourth quarter was back-and-forth as neither team could take full advantage of the runs they could generate.
With Phoenix up by one with 12 seconds left, Lillard receives the ball and calls a pick from Aldridge. Like Moses splitting the Red Sea, Lillard is surprised to find the paint wide open, he dances inside and for the eventual game-winning layup with the Suns a chance to respond with less than six seconds left. Bledsoe on the last play attempts to get enough contact below the rim to get sent to the line but his shot hits rim, Markieff Morris gets the rebound and can seal the win with a open shot but the ball bounces off the right side as time expires.
Who Was Hot
- Good for Thomas Robinson to finally get some meaningful minutes and he played with his heart and soul on the court tonight. This is a first of his career to lead any team in scoring and coming off the bench: 15 PTS, 8 REB, 1 STL, 1 BLK on 6-9 makes in very productive 17 minutes. He started multiple runs in the fourth quarter and had one nasty put-back slam to put the Moda Center on their feet:
- The other big man in need of recognition is Robin Lopez who continues to be such a pleasure to actually have some size down low. He scored the first four points and was there at the right time on both ends of the court: 13 PTS, 15 REB (10 defensive) and 1 block.
- LaMarcus Aldridge needed the second half to get going after being handed two quick fouls but was effective as the game was tight and continues his double-double streak: 12 PTS, 12 REB on 5-19 makes.
- Damian Lillard was hounded nonstop from Bledsoe; he was frustrated with his shot in the first half as a few makeable layups rattled out. I think nailing the game-winner will make up for it: 11 PTS, 8 AST, 3 REB on 4-13 shooting and 0-2 from three.
- Eric Bledsoe is a little bugger isn’t he? After sitting for much of his young career behind Chris Paul, he can finally control his own team and with his athleticism and quickness, he can be dangerous when left alone: game-high 23 PTS, 6 AST, 3 REB and 10-21 makes.
Who was Cold
- Reining Western Conference Player of the Week Markieff Morris, who has shot the lights out hitting 30-38 from the floor the last couple of games, was not so bright tonight. He made his first two attempts and then blurred into the background: 8 PTS, 4 REB, 4 AST, and 3 STL in 26 minutes of action and 3-8 from the field.
- The Blazers shooting percentage dipped to as low as 38% at one point and bumped up to just 41%, Phoenix was slightly better at 43% but the second quarter was ugly basketball.
- Again much of that is due to the Suns’ perimeter defense that did their job in shutting down points from distance. Talk about 6-15, all coming in the second half and ends Portland’s streak of 8+ threes. Phoenix was surprisingly worse going 5-15.
- The Blazers allow 20 fast break points and only get 4 themselves. Another win for Phoenix.
- Portland coughs up 16 turnovers.
- Tonight was also a night for first sighting of Hack-a-Robinson. He went 3-9 from the line and Phoenix thought they would stall the Blazers run and foul him enough to get back into things. The only action that poor Dionte Christmas got to see was smacking Robinson and then being ordered back to the bench.
Highlight of the Night
Lillard’s eventual game-winning basket. I bet the Suns are kicking themselves for letting him get that easy after dogging him the other 44 minutes.
The Blazers last year probably would have lost a game like tonight when the ball simply wasn’t falling easy. It was refreshing to see some able bodies coming off the bench to make the big plays and because of that, we sit at a pretty 6-2 record. Portland heads out on Friday to face former-Blazer Gerald Wallace and the Boston Celtics for the start of a four-game Eastern road-trip. After Boston, we head to Toronto, Brooklyn and Milwaukee and honestly, the Blazers could go undefeated before coming back to the Moda Center to play the Bulls.