Trail Blazers, Billups Get First Win In Blowout Fashion Versus Suns

by Casey Holdahl
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PORTLAND -- “I’m going at everybody, every night,” said Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum after Saturday night’s win. “I don’t really care who we’re playing.”

That may very well be true, but the 6-4 guard out of Lehigh’s performance was especially timely considering the quality of the opponent.

McCollum put up 15 points in the third quarter and 28 points overall to lead the Trail Blazers to a 134-105 rout of the Phoenix Suns, the defending Western Conference champs, in front of a crowd of 18,558 Saturday night at Moda Center.

“That was an incredible win for us today,” said Chauncey Billips of his first victory of his head coaching career. “Things came together. We just played extremely hard on the defensive end, and we finally started getting some shots to go. Nowadays when you get shots to go, it helps the defense. If people are playing with confidence, everybody’s kind of getting and moving the ball, sharing the ball. There were times out there when it looked like we may have had six guys on the floor.”

The Trail Blazers are now 1-1, with both games played at Moda Center.

Though the end result didn’t show it, the Trail Blazers felt like they had played well, particularly on the defensive end, in their season-opening loss to the Kings Tuesday night at Moda Center, they just had a few too many breakdowns in transition and missed a considerable number of quality attempts. But they managed to correct those issues Saturday night versus a Suns team playing on the second night of a back-to-back. They got contributions up and down the roster on offense, did a much better job of rotating on defense and found their stroke from the three-point line.

“I feel like we did clean some things up (from Tuesday game),” said Billups. “Like I said after Game 1, I felt like we played hard enough to win the game. We just didn’t shoot the ball well. I thought we generated good shots tonight, we made shots, and defensively, man, we were just all over the place.”

After a mostly back-and-forth first quarter, Portland got some separation in the second behind 27 points from their three-guard lineup of McCollum, Damian Lillard and Norman Powell. Both teams shot better than 50 percent in the quarter, though Portland made three times as many three-pointers, pulled down twice as many rebounds, forced five turnovers and outscored the Suns 7-0 in transition to take a 67-47 lead into the intermission.

That momentum carried over after the half, with Portland blowing the game open behind the shooting of McCollum, who went 5-of-7 from the field and 3-of-5 from three for 15 points in just under nine minutes in the third. McCollum was so effective that Billups had a difficult time subbing him out, as every time he was prepared to get him out of the game, he made another shot.

“CJ has been great, tonight he held us,” said Billups. “He continued to stay aggressive. We were spreading the floor, and we were able to take advantage of the coverage they played on him, and he stayed aggressive. Like, there was a time or two when I wanted to get him out of there, because he had been running kind of long. And I just kept saying, ‘Alright, next play,’ because he keeps making the shot. ‘Maybe I’ll get him next play.’ And he just kept going.”

Between McCollum’s accuracy and the play of the reserved, Portland went up by as many as 26 points in the third before taking a 106-81 advantage into the fourth. With a sizable cushion, Billups was able to rest Robert Covington and Damian Lillard in the fourth, with Jusuf Nurkic and McCollum playing just the first four minutes of the quarter before calling it a night, which also allowed for everyone who dressed to play at least half a quarter.

“Obviously, we caught them on a back-to-back, that’s an advantage,” said Billups. “I’m proud of these dudes, man. We’ve been working extremely hard. We have shown some spurts obviously, and today we did for the entire game.”

STATISTICS

CJ McCollum led all scorers with 28 points on 10-of-19 shooting from the field, 6-of-12 shooting from three and 2-of-2 shooting from the free throw line to go with three rebounds an an assist in 30 minutes.

“I thought I played pretty well,” said McCollum. “I was aggressive, I got some good looks from three, got to the middy. The refs actually put me on the free throw line... I thought I played well.”

Damian Lillard went 6-of-11 from the field and 2-of-7 from three after going 0-of-9 from deep in the opener to finish with 19 points and eight assists in just 24 minutes. Anfernee Simons went 50 percent from the field and from three for 18 points, three rebounds in 24 minutes.

Nassir Little had arguably the best game of his career as a Blazer, bringing a ridiculous amount of energy to the floor on the way to 11 points, seven rebounds and two assists in 27 minutes.

Norman Powell went 6-of-8 from the field and 2-of-4 from three for 16 points in just 12 minutes before leaving the game with a left knee injury in the second quarter. An MRI taken Saturday night I’reportedly did not show a serious injury, though the team has released no additional information.

Devin Booker led the Suns with 21 points in 28 minutes.

GAME NOTES

• Portland head coach Chauncey Billups earned the first win of his head coaching career.

• Portland’s bench outscored the Phoenix reserves, 56-51.

• The Trail Blazers shot 42.0% from three-point range (21-of-50) while the Suns shot 32.1% from deep (9-of-28). It was the fifth time in franchise history that Portland has attempted 50-plus three-pointers.

• The Trail Blazers outscored Phoenix on the fast break, 21-6.

• Portland outrebounded the Suns, 48-38.

• It was the 17th time since 1998 that Portland has scored at least 134 points in a regular season game. The Trail Blazers are 17-0 in those games.

QUOTABLE

“The natural trust that Chauncey has in me gives me enough confidence to go out there and play my game, go out there and play free. I go out there and play my game no matter what. Doesn’t matter how bad it is, how good it is, he just trusts me to be myself each and every time I go out on the court.” -- Anfernee Simons

NEXT UP

The Trail Blazers how head south to Los Angeles for their first road game of the season, a one-off trip to face the LA Clippers Monday night at Staples Center. Tipoff is schedule for 7:30 p.m.

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