The Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns played a thriller in U.S. Airways Center tonight. Down 25 in the second quarter, missing LaMarcus Aldridge and 2 of their top 3 centers, the Blazers still managed to pull even and take the lead in the fourth quarter. The game teetered on a razor's edge until the final plays, but in the end Portland's weaknesses proved slightly more dominant than their strengths.
Authorities declared an air quality warning for the Valley of the Sun around 7:10 local time as a clinging, litter-box-scented miasma infiltrated the vicinity. After checking for paper mill explosions, sewer plant eruptions, and tipped-over semis full of Limburger cheese, they finally tracked the source to the arena where they promptly issued gas masks to all who had to watch the Trail Blazers in the first 20 minutes of this game. Instead of talking about all the things that went wrong for Portland early, it'd be easier to talk about what went right. They shot well. That was about it. But shooting 70% halfway into the first quarter and still not having a lead spells trouble. Right on cue, trouble came.
It came in rebounds not secured; it came in dunks which were endured.
It came from guards that stayed unguarded; it came from hustle, quarter-hearted.
It came from unforced bad turnovers, we looked like possums, they, Land Rovers
It came in boxes, crates and barrels, it came in scoops too big for Farrell's (shout-out to old-school 503, y'all!)
It came and came and came some more, it flooded tables, swamped the floor.
Until we cried, "That's it! Enough! Why should we, must we, watch this stuff?"
On the bright side, for the first time in the last 4 games the Blazers did not allow 30 points in the first quarter.
Instead they allowed 40.
Next time they rub the lamp, they need to word their wish more specifically.
When Portland fell behind by 25 in the second period. this game held all the charm of a dingleberry milkshake. But here's where you get to choose your own narrative, because the Blazers actually came back from that deficit. With the help of free throws (the Suns attempted 0 in the middle quarters of this game), three-pointers, and guard scoring the Blazers clawed their way out of the tomb. Nicolas Batum started the rally, Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews consummated it. Portland narrowed the gap to 15 by the end of the third, then got within 6 midway through the fourth quarter. Everybody 6'8" and under pitched in as Terry Stotts rode the small lineup. Portland's 37 fourth-period points almost equaled the 40 they gave up in the opening frame. Considering Aldridge's absence, the effort was near-heroic even if it did end up falling short.
On the other hand the Blazers never held control of the boards for long, didn't get back in transition, and defended the lane against opposing guards with all the effectiveness of a hotel concierge trying to thwart a bedbug infestation with a pair of tweezers. Between them Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, and Gerald Green shot 34-66 and scored 88 of Phoenix's 118 points. Let's say that again: 75% of the opponent's points came from the guard positions. If you were guessing blind, you'd look at that number and say Portland's backcourt was decimated by injuries, not the frontcourt. It goes to show you how much help Portland's guards need to contain their men and how badly they suffer when that help isn't forthcoming, If they had stayed in front of dribblers, dealt with picks, defended on the break--anything at all...even a shadow of a glimmer of a heartbeat--the Blazers might have won this one. No such luck.
Lillard and Matthews did provide offense, but it was Costco-style: plentiful, mostly cheap, and took a lot of trips to carry. They scored 22 each by shooting 14-39 (36%) from the field and 4-15 (27%) from the arc.
The big development of the evening was Nicolas Batum poking his head out of his hole and not getting scared by his shadow. Batum shot 9-15, an incredible 6-8 from distance, and scored a team-high 27 points with 10 rebounds 5 assists, and only 2 turnovers. His night wasn't perfect, but it got within hailing distance. No word what this indicates 6 more weeks of, but let's hope it's good.
Dorell Wright started in the place of Aldridge and provided 15 points, 3 triples sunk, 5 assists, and 2 steals. That's about as much as you could expect.
Portland's bench was generally dismal. Thomas Robinson grabbed 7 rebounds, blocked 2 shots, and hit all 3 of his shot attempts in 17 minutes of play. That was great. Everybody else had to be checked with a stethoscope to detect signs of life. In 52 combined minutes Steve Blake, Meyers Leonard, Will Barton, and CJ McCollum totaled 7 points on 2-11 shooting, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals. 8 of the 9 rebounds belonged to Leonard...clearly the highlight of the lower bench crew.
Put another way, Isaiah Thomas doubled up Portland's entire bench, scoring 27 to their combined 13.
The Blazers scored 17 on the break tonight and shot 41% from the arc on 32 shots, both of which are excellent numbers. They hit 22-28 free throws, providing a 7-point advantage. In the end, though, defense proved their undoing even when everything else was going well. They never stopped those guards, never plugged the lane, never felt all that secure retrieving misses, and couldn't hold the Suns below the 50% mark from the field. Whether you consider it a great effort made out of a game that could have been wasted or the waste of an otherwise great effort, it ends up in the loss column just the same.
The Blazers face the Boston Celtics in the Moda Center tomorrow evening. The word on LaMarcus Aldridge is still indeterminate. They've done an MRI, its results are inconclusive, and they're going to examine further.
Bright Side Of The Sun gives you the Phoenix view on 118 points and Isaiah Thomas going crazy.