The Portland Trail Blazers crawled into Phoenix Friday, completing a tough 7-day, 4-game road trip which included two second-half blown leads to the Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavaliers. Despite missed opportunities, Portland would be hungry to salvage an even 2-2 record away from the Moda Center against the Suns, whom have had the Blazers' number as of late, winning the first two meetings so far this season by a combined 29 points.
The Blazers were led by CJ McCollum (26 points, 4 assists, 3 steals), Damian Lillard (18 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds) and Allen Crabbe (18 points, 5 rebounds). The Suns were led by Eric Bledsoe (31 points, 5 assists) and Mirza Teletovic (15 points, 6 rebounds).
It was Star Wars Night at Talking Stick Resort Arena, so perhaps it was fitting that it took a little while for both teams to awaken. The Blazers turned the ball over on its first three possessions and didn't score until Al-Farouq Aminu's and-1 layup more than three minutes into the opening quarter.
The Suns hardly made them pay, only managing a six point advantage before Portland's backcourt woke up and wreaked havoc on Phoenix's defense like a pack of X-Wings infiltrating the Death Star (no more Star Wars references, I promise).
Lillard relentlessly attacked the rim, taking full advantage of the absence of Tyson Chandler while McCollum punished Phoenix from the outside. Dame's driving layup off a nice pass from Mason Plumlee brought the Blazers within one at 11-10, and McCollum's three-pointer punctuated a quick 12-4 turnaround to take its first lead at 15-13.
When Crabbe subbed in halfway through the period, he immediately followed suit - coolly draining back-to-back three-pointers and looking in rhythm with his jumper en route to 10 first quarter points.
End of First: Portland 33, Phoenix 26
The Suns answered back with a three-point barrage - Teletovic and Devin Booker checked in and both connected twice from the long range to close the gap at 43-40 before Jon Leuer and Ronnie Price joined the party to quickly re-claim the lead at 49-48.
Portland pushed the tempo all night and and were rewarded for the effort; Aminu corralled the rebound and led the fast-break on two consecutive possessions, giving a much needed boost while the Blazer guards suddenly struggled to convert.
Halftime: Portland 57, Phoenix 61
The battle between the two prolific backcourts was rather one-sided early, as Brandon Knight missed all eight of his shots in the first half, and then missed two more before getting yanked just a few minutes into the third quarter.
Meanwhile, McCollum continued his strong shooting night, scoring five points to cap another Portland run which put the Blazers head 73-67.
The Suns rode the pressuring defense of Price to tighten its grip and hold Portland without a field goal for over four minutes until Meyers Leonard's jumper ceased the drought. During that stretch, Bledsoe hit two threes and was the propelling force as Phoenix re-claimed the lead.
End of Third: Portland 78, Phoenix 82
The Blazers battened down the hatches themselves, holding the Suns to just three baskets halfway through fourth. Portland's defense looked as tight as it has anytime this season, suffocating the ball like a Darth Vader force choke (I lied, what are you going to do?) and forcing several strongly contested looks.
Knight scored his first point of the evening off of a defensive three-second technical free throw but continued to struggle from the field, finishing 0-12.
McCollum continued to be the engine for Portland, scoring on a pretty baseline fadeaway and then finding Aminu for a wide-open corner three to take a 92-89 lead. CJ then found Crabbe for an open jumper and piled on another three of his own to open up a 97-89 gash, from which Phoenix would not recover.
Credit to McCollum - this might have been his most impressive showing since his 37-point opening night outburst against New Orleans, and perhaps even better if you consider his defense on Knight. He made mincemeat of the Suns' and scored from just about everywhere.
Lillard put the exclamation mark on the contest with back-to-back jumpers to ice the game.
The Blazers return to the Rose City Saturday to host the return of Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo and the New York Knicks - tip is set for 7 p.m. Stay tuned to Blazer's Edge tonight, for extended analysis of this game from Dave Deckard.
-- Ryan Rosback | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter
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