Business Handled Saturday Night Versus Suns

by Casey Holdahl
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PORTLAND -- Despite the differences in their respective records, the first quarter of Saturday’s game between the Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns had all the trappings of an dogfight between two Western Conference teams.

Then the second quarter happened.

After showing little energy and not much interest in the first 12 minutes, the Trail Blazers outscored the Suns by 18 points in the second quarter, thank in large part to a boost of energy from their bench, on the way to a 127-120 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 19,851 Saturday night at the Moda Center.

“Really good, solid win," said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. "For three quarters, I thought we got a lot of contributions from everybody, just up and down the roster. Everybody who played in the first three quarters just did a nice job, I believe we won every quarter, so it was a good solid win for us.”

The Trail Blazers are now 40-26 overall and 25-9 at home this season. Portland has now swept the season series 3-0 and have defeated Phoenix 10-straight times, a streak dating back to the early days of the 2016-17 season.

With the win, the Blazers move into a tie with the Thunder for fourth in the Western Conference standings with 16 games to play in the regular season.

Despite entering Saturday’s contest after dropping consecutive games to the Grizzlies and Thunder, the Trail Blazers seemed to lack motivation in the fist quarter against a Suns team that had won three-straight and four of their last five. Starting the game shooting 1-of-6 from the field certainly didn’t help Portland’s cause, though if they had fought for loose balls or crashed the boards with any kind of effort, they probably could have done better than taking a 24-23 lead into the second quarter.

Though it didn’t end up mattering much, as the Blazers went on an 11-0 run early in the second quarter to take their first double-digit lead of the night at 35-25. With the starters struggling, the play of the bench, and specifically Seth Curry, gave Portland the boost they’d need to begin to pull away.

After shooting 29 percent in the first quarter, the Trail Blazers went a tidy 15-of-20 from the field, 3-of-6 from three and 9-of-13 from the free throw line to outscore the Suns 42-24 and take a 66-47 lead into the intermission. Behind 11 points from Curry, Portland’s bench outscored Phoenix’s 22-6 in the first half.

"We played well," said Curry of the second unit. "We came in, shared the ball. It was about getting stops that was going to help us open up the game. We did that in stretches to get a big lead. When the bench came in, we played with a lot of energy, shared the ball and just having a lot of fun."

And the starters would wake up in the third quarter, with CJ McCollum, Damian Lillard and Al-Farouq Aminu combining for four three-pointers in the first two and a half minutes of the second half to take an 80-56 lead. That lead would increase to 25 by the start of the fourth quarter and 29 early in the final frame.

“We knew it was going to be a competitive game, especially at the beginning because they’ve been playing well, playing with a lot of confidence," said Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard. "We didn’t shoot the ball well to start. I thought our defense was pretty solid but we just didn’t make shots. We struggled in the paint. Over the course of the game, I knew if we continued to move the ball and break their defense down, eventually shots will fall. It was a matter of us continuing to get stops, we did that and built up the lead."

From there, all the Trail Blazers had to do was trade buckets to assure an easy victory. That wouldn’t be the case, as mistakes and nearly non-existent defense from Portland’s deep bench allowed Phoenix to cut the lead down to as few as five points with 10 seconds to play, though the Trail Blazers were ultimately able to gut out the final few moments to secure the seven-point victory.

"They've got a lot of offensive talent, they play with good pace and good energy, play fast, so you've got to be locked in the whole game to beat those guys," said Curry of the Suns. "They're out here beating teams the past couple weeks. We couldn't go out there and take them lightly."

TOP PERFORMERS

CJ McCollum scored a game-high 26 points on 11-of-14 shooting (4-7 3-PT) to go with three rebounds and four assists. It was his third straight game with 25-plus points.

Seth Curry matched his season high in scoring with 22 points (6-11 FG, 3-6 3-PT, 7-7 FT) to go with two rebounds. It was his second game of 20-plus points this season and the 17th of his career. His seven free throws matched his career high. Damian Lillard recorded 18 points (4-11 FG, 2-4 3-PT, 8-9 FT), two rebounds and nine assists. It was his third consecutive game with at least eight assists.

Jusuf Nurkic recorded 14 points (4-12 FG, 6-8 FT), nine rebounds, one assist and one block in 22 minutes. Enes Kanter had 12 points (5-7 FG, 2-4 FT), eight rebounds, one assist and one block in 17 minutes off the bench. It was the fourth time Kanter reached double figures in eight games with Portland.

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NOTABLE

• The Trail Blazers shot 50.0% from the field and 44.8% from the three-point line while holding the Suns to 41.7% shooting from the field and 33.3% shooting from deep.

• The Trail Blazers scored 120-plus points for the second game in a row and the 22nd time this season.

• The Portland bench outscored the Phoenix reserves, 55-40. Portland improved to 8-0 when the bench scores at least 50 points.

• The Trail Blazers outrebounded the Suns, 52-43.

• Portland scored 42 points in the second quarter, matching the most points the Trail Blazers have scored in a second quarter this season (three times).

QUOTABLE

“I threw it to him – he’ll remember that forever. I threw him the first three of his career.” -- Damian Lillard on assisting on Anfernee Simons' first career three-pointer

NEXT UP

Next up, after a brief respite at home, the Trail Blazers how hit the road against for three games over the course of a week starting Tuesday in Los Angeles versus the Lakers. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

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