Lillard, Layman Turn Game Versus Suns Into A Laugher

by Casey Holdahl
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PORTLAND -- The Trail Blazers needed Damian Lillard to all but will the team to a victory in the fourth quarter of their last regular-season game versus the Suns.

He didn’t bother to wait as long the next time around.

Lillard scored 12 points in the first five minutes before finishing with 25 points to lead the Trail Blazers 108-86 past the Suns in front of 19,001 fans Thursday night at the Moda Center.

"I just wanted to come out and be aggressive," said Lillard. "Obviously they're struggling as a team and we've been struggling. A game on our home floor that we expected to win, but crazier things have happened in my career, so I just wanted to come out and be aggressive and try to take control of the game early."

The Trail Blazers are now 14-11 overall and 9-4 at home this season. The victory breaks a three-game losing streak for Portland while extending their winning streak versus Phoenix to eight games.

"Good to get back on track with a win," said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. "I was really pleased with our defense in the first and third quarter. I thought that set the tone for us."

With C.J. McCollum sitting out Thursday’s game with a sprained left ankle, there were more than enough shots available for Lillard, not that he’d need to engage in volume shooting versus a Suns team already short on talent without Devin Booker and T.J. Warren. Lillard would make his first five shots, including two three-pointers from well behind the line, before finishing the quarter with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field and 3-of-4 shooting from three.

"I thought (Lillard) managed the game really well, got people involved," said Stotts. "He was aggressive when he needed to be but didn't force too much. I thought his overall floor game was his leadership."

But for as efficient as Lillard was in the first quarter, he was outdone by Jake Layman. Despite not playing in the last five games after starting the first 19 games of the season, the 6-9 forward out of Maryland came out on fire, going 6-of-6 from the field and 3-of-3 from three in just six minutes to match Lillard’s 15 first-quarter points.

“(Layman) was great," said Lillard. "Obviously, he started the season getting a lot of minutes starting with Moe being out but then fell out of the rotation which happens sometimes. It wasn’t anything that he hasn’t experienced. It’s been like that so far in his career but I think it just speaks to the kind of person that he is and the kind of player that he is, and how committed he is in our team and trusting our coaching staff. It would be easy for a guy to be like, 'Man I was playing well. I was in the starting lineup, now I’m not playing.' But he was prepared. His mind was right and in the right place and he came in and impacted the game from the start.”

With Both Lillard and Layman scoring early and often, the Trail Blazers finished the first quarter leading the Suns 34-9 and thus, effectively ended the contest with three quarter to play.

But play those quarters they did. To their credit, the Suns never really gave up, though they never got closer than within 20 while shooting 39 percent from the field and 19 percent from three. And even after putting in their second and third string, Portland still pushed their lead to as many as 31 in the fourth quarter before coming away with the 22-point victory.

"I didn’t think they were the most sharp team out there offensively but it was more about us," said Lillard. "I think we came into the game saying let’s build habits and be disciplined instead of going out here and think it’s going to be an easy game and play an ugly game. I thought we were pretty solid in our discipline and doing things the way we wanted to do it, winning the game, making the kind of plays and doing the kind of things we want to do to win any other game, and I thought we did a good job of that.”

TOP PERFORMERS

The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who finished with 25 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the field, 3-of-5 shooting from three and 6-of-7 shooting from the free throw line to go with eight assists and five rebounds in 28 minutes.

Jake Layman surpassed his career-high in scoring, set in his first game in the NBA, with 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting from the field and 3-of-5 shooting from three while also grabbing seven assists and two steals in 27 minutes.

Zach Collins was Portland’s only other double-digit scorer with 10 points to go with five rebounds in 26 minutes. Jusuf Nurkic came one point short of a double-double with nine points and 14 rebounds in 23 minutes.

Troy Daniels led the Suns with 15 points off the bench. Josh Jackson added 14 and Elie Okobo and De’Andre Ayton both finished 11.

LISTEN UP

NOTABLE

• The Trail Blazers won their eighth consecutive game against the Suns.

• Portland’s reserves outscored the Phoenix bench, 57-43. It was the most points the Trail Blazers bench has scored in a game this season.

• The Trail Blazers outrebounded the Suns, 56-41, and outscored them in the paint, 54-50.

• Portland assisted on 24 of their 41 field goals. Phoenix had 20 assists on 35 field goals.

• The Trail Blazers held Phoenix to 5-of-27 shooting from the three-point line (18.5%). It was the lowest three-point field goal percentage by a Trail Blazers opponent this season.

• Portland led Phoenix 34-9 after the first quarter. The Suns nine first quarter points were the fewest points allowed in a quarter by the Trail Blazers this season.

QUOTABLE

“He was great. 15 points basically in 4 minutes. I was happy for him. One of my assistants said it’s good karma." -- Terry Stotts on Jake Layman

NEXT UP

The Trail Blazers finish up a quick two-game homestand Saturday night in their third game of the season versus the Minnesota Timberwolves. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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