Three-Point Defense, Turnovers Undo Blazers Against Suns

by Casey Holdahl
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PORTLAND -- One of the purposes of preseason games is to figure out what areas you need to work on before the start of the regular season. And in that regard, Saturday night's game versus the Phoenix Suns was a success for the Trail Blazers, inasmuch as they now know of at least one facet they need to improve before the games start to count.

The Suns, despite playing without Devin Booker, Ricky Rubio and Deandre Ayton, shot 51 percent percent from the field and made 24 of 45 attempted three-pointer on the way to besting the Trail Blazers 134-118 in front of 18,468 at the Moda Center.

"Obviously they shot the ball really well, some of that is on us," said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. "I don't think we ever made them feel necessarily uncomfortable with their shots and they got some confidence going with it. I didn't think we started the game really locked in and that set the tone. Hat's off to Phoenix, they shot the ball really well... I told the team it's a good less because on any night, teams can get it going. And they got it going tonight."

The Trail Blazers are now 1-2 in preseason play with a road back-to-back yet to play in their 2019 exhibition season.

While the Trail Blazers held their own on the offensive end, shooting a stellar 53 from the field and a respectable 38 from three, the same could not be said for their defense, especially on the perimeter. Mikal Bridges, Aron Baynes, Kelly Oubre Jr., Frank Kaminsky and Cameron Johnson all netted three-pointers in the first quarter for the Suns, helping the road team go up by as many as 10 points in the early going.

“On the ball, we did a solid job but after a team’s making that many threes, you’ve got to start running guys off the line," said Damian Lillard. "I think we understood that but we weren’t in a position to do that sometimes. Not in the spots that we needed to be on the floor defensively to get to guys where they can’t just catch and shoot.”

Portland managed to finish the quarter on a 11-2 run to take a 33-32 lead into the second quarter, but their issues on the defense end would never abate.

"Our defense wasn’t very good," said Zach Collins. "We let them shoot a lot of threes and they made a lot, you’ve got to give them credit. They shot the hell out of the ball. But we obviously, we should have turned up the defense. We talked about it at halftime and we just didn’t come out and play as hard as we should have, so it’s mostly on us."

To make matters worse, Portland turned the ball over early and often. While they improved on that front as the game went on, they still gave the ball up 22 times, leading to 33 Suns points.

"Room for growth," said Lillard. "The easy thing to say is it's preseason, which it is, they made a lot of shots. But we had a lot of areas we need to clean up. We had a lot of miscommunications, to start the game we allowed them to get they confidence early, they made a bunch of shots. Sometimes that happens, but I think it was a little bit too comfortable for them. Once they got going, they stayed that way for the rest of the game."

TOP PERFORMERS

Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum led all scorers with 27 points on 10-of-17 shooting from the field, 4-of-7 shooting from three, three rebounds, three assists and a steal in 30 minutes.

Damian Lillard shot 50 percent from the field on the way to 18 points, four assists and two rebounds in 29 minutes.

Zach Collins, who came off the bench with Anthony Tolliver getting the start, finished with 16 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two blocks in 24 minutes. Hassan Whiteside went a perfect 5-of-5 for 12 points while also tallying six rebounds, an assist and a block.

Anfernee Simons rounded out Portland's double-digit scorers with 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting.

Seven Suns players finished in double figures led by 19 points from Kelly Oubre Jr. and 18 apiece from Tyler Johnson and Cameron Johnson.

QUOTABLE

"Dame and CJ played a lot of minutes for the first three quarters and we didn’t have enough to get over the hump, so certainly, it shows that we’re not a finished product by any means.” -- Terry Stotts

HIGHLIGHTS

NEXT UP

The Trail Blazers have a few days of practice to address some of the issues they've endured through the first week of preseason play before hitting the road for a back-to-back starting on Wednesday with the Jazz in Utah. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.

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