Trail Blazers Make Amends During Win In Phoenix

by Casey Holdahl
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PHOENIX -- Saturday night in Portland, the Trail Blazers gave up a substantial second-half lead before eventually losing in overtime. Portland faced a similar scenario less than 24 hours later in Phoenix though with one important difference.

Despite giving up an 18-point lead in the second half, the Trail Blazers managed to settled themselves late in the fourth quarter to come away with a 110-101 victory versus the Suns in front of 16,664 Sunday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

“We’ve had our fair share of close games this year, and especially on the heels of last night, I liked the way we didn’t give in, we didn’t cave in,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “(Phoenix) missed some shots but we came up with the rebound, Dame (Lillard) made some clutch plays, I thought Al-Farouq Aminu’s block in transition was a big momentum play for us as was his three. It wasn’t necessarily a pretty game by either team. I think both teams having played last night, neither team really probably played their best but I thought both of them really competed hard.”

With the victory the Trail Blazers have won six of their last seven games while improving to 29-36 overall and 12-22 on the road this season. Portland is now 1.5 games behind the Denver Nuggets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with 17 games to play in the regular season.

Portland got off to a slow start Sunday night, perhaps due to not arriving at their hotel in Phoenix until nearly 3 am after playing an overtime game the night before at the Moda Center. But after some early stumbles, the Trail Blazers used a 17-1 run to take a 27-16 lead with under two minutes to play in the first quarter. Damian Lillard would go 5-of-8 for 15 first-quarter points, which helped Portland take a 33-18 lead into the second quarter.

“They tried to have (Derrick) Jones out there early picking us up full court and wear us out,” said Lillard. “At that point, I knew we’d be able to get in some pick-and-rolls and be able to get downhill early in the game. I also knew it was important for us to set the tone from the first quarter, just being aggressive and being the hungrier team. We really needed to come out that way in this game, especially after last night, just to throw ourselves into this game, I guess. That was kind of my focus.”

While Portland would help themselves by shooting 62 percent from the field, holding the Suns without a bucket for over five minutes late in the first quarter was surely the more impressive feat for a team that has struggled defensively this season.

The Suns would push back early in the second, cutting Portland’s lead to six after a Marquese Chriss three-pointer with just over four minutes to play in the first half. But the Trail Blazers closed out the half on a 20-10 run to take what was at the time their largest lead of the night at 66-50 into the intermission.

“I like the way we finished a lot of the quarters,” said Stotts. “The first and second quarters we were able to put together some good defensive stops.”

But as was the case Friday night, Portland’s first-half lead in no way ensured a victory, as the Suns started the second half on a 20-5 run and would hold the Trail Blazers to 26 percent shooting in the third to cut the lead to 82-79 by the start of the fourth. At that point, you would be correct to assume the memories of what happened the night before started to creep in.

That concern likely spiraled into near panic in the fourth after the Suns took a one-point lead, their first since early in the first quarter, on a Tyler Ulis pullup jumper with 6:37 to play in regulation. The lead would be traded back and forth for the next two minutes until a mini 10-2 Portland run gave the road team a 104-97 lead after an Allen Crabbe three with 2:16 to play. Portland would eventually push the lead to nine, the final margin of victory, while avoiding what would have been a devastating repeat of their overtime loss the night before.

“I think when you end up in situations like that a lot of times it works out in your favor,” said Lillard. “It seems like every time something doesn’t go in our favor this year we end up right back in that same position and we have an opportunity to make it right… It’s always an opportunity for you to grow, an opportunity for you to step up and get it right and make it right. I thought that was the kind of thing that happened tonight. It’s a game of runs, we ended up in the same position and we got it done this time.”

The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who scored 28 of his game-high 39 points in the first half. Lillard went 13-of-26 from the field, 4-of-10 from three and 9-of-9 from the free throw line while also grabbing six rebounds and handing out two assists in 38 minutes.

“I thought (Lillard) pretty much willed us to the win” said Stotts. “You could just tell by how he played, his demeanor, the way he fought through some of the adversity. I thought he really shouldered a lot of the responsibility.”

CJ McCollum came on strong in the second half to finish with 26 points on 11-of-20 shooting, four assists and four rebounds in 39 minutes. Jusuf Nurkić added a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds while also blocking three shots in 30 minutes of play.

The Suns were led by Devin Booker, who shot 50 percent from the field to finish with 28 points in 40 minutes. Eric Bledsoe added 19 while Ulis and Alan Williams combined to score 22 points off the bench in the losing effort.

Next up, the Trail Blazers head to New Orleans to face Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and the rest of the Pelicans for the final time this season at Smoothie King Center. Tipoff is scheduled for Tuesday at 5 pm on KGW and 620 AM.