Trail Blazers Just Good Enough To Get Past Suns

by Casey Holdahl
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PORTLAND -- The Suns team the Trail Blazers hosted Saturday night at the Moda Center looked and played markedly different than the team they blew out in Phoenix on Opening Night. But while the second meeting in less than two weeks between the two teams was much closer this time around, the end result was still the same.

Despite continued struggles on offense, the Trail Blazers managed to defeat the Suns 114-107 in front of a crowd of 19,343 at the Moda Center.

“It was a tough win,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I’m really impressed with Phoenix, they really turned around their season in a short amount of time. It’s certainly a different team than we played a week and a half ago or whenever it was. I think they’ve really bought into what Jay (Triano) is trying to do at both ends of the floor… They’re a much better team than the first time we played them.”

The Trail Blazers are now 4-2 overall in their first six games for the first time since the 2013-14 season and 2-1 at home. Portland has now won five-straight versus Phoenix.

Portland trailed for the first few minutes of play before outscoring Phoenix 16-5 in the final six minutes of the first quarter to take a 29-24 lead thanks in large part to the play of third-year guard Pat Connaughton. The 6-5 wing out of Notre Dame made his first four shots, with three of those coming from three, for 11 points in eight minutes spanning the first and second quarters.

“When (Connaughton) sees the Suns I guess that ball just go in,” said Damian Lillard of Connaughton, who scored a career-high 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting in the first matchup versus Phoenix this season. “Even in the games where he hasn’t made every shot, he’s been consistent. Since he’s been on our team he’s been like that, even in practice… He’s just one of those guys that you love to have on your team, never doing the wrong things so he’s had a huge impact on our team this season.”

The game would remain close from the second quarter on, with the Trail Blazers never looking as though they could pull away and the Suns showing no signs of giving up. Though they led for almost the entirety of the game, Portland held just a four-point lead going into the intermission and a three-point lead going into the fourth quarter.

Phoenix cut the lead to 105-104 with two Tyson Chandler free throws with 4:06 to play in regulation, and considering how Thursday night’s game versus the Clippers ended, one could imagine fans at the Moda Center were a bit nervous about Portland’s chances of winning a close game.

But unlike in Thursday night’s loss, the Trail Blazers closed the game out by holding the Suns to four points in the final four minutes while also making their own free throws to come away with the seven-point victory.

“Right now things aren’t falling but I think right now our defense is leading to our offense,” said Evan Turner. “I think right now we’ve done a decently good job of spreading the ball around, guys stepping up making shots. I think we have a lot more guys contributing but right now it has to be more consistent.”

The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who struggled shooting from the field but still managed to finish with 25 points to go with nine assists and seven rebounds in 35 minutes. CJ McCollum went 9-of-20 from the field for 23 points while also adding six assists, five rebounds and two steals in 34 minutes.

Jusuf Nurkic scored 12 of his 17 points in the second half to go along with nine rebounds, two assists and a block in just under 28 minutes. Al-Farouq Aminu scored all 10 of his points in the first half while also finishing with five rebounds, two steals, two assists and two blocks in 29 minutes.

“Farouq really sparked us in the first half,” said Stotts. “He got the block — I think he got two blocks — hit a three. His defense along with the three really sparked us in the first half.”

Maurice Harkless and Turner each added 10 points, while Connaughton scored just two points in the second half to finish with 13 points on 26 minutes.

Suns guard Devin Booker led all scorers and almost single-handedly kept Phoenix in the game with 34 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the field, 4-of-7 shooting from three and 8-of-9 shooting from the line. TJ Warren and Alex Len each added 12.

Next up, the Trail Blazers finish a four-game homestand by hosting the Toronto Raptors Monday night. Tipoff is schedule for 7 p.m.