You would think that when two of the most gorgeous offenses in the league face off against each other in a nationally-showcased game, observers would be in for a dazzling display of basketball. Not so much tonight as the Portland Trail Blazers hosted the Phoenix Suns. If Ugly had an even uglier stepsister--a stepsister who had been dropped off the family credenza as a baby, sucked into a vacuum cleaner, then removed with a sharp stick--that girl would still be better looking than the display that the Suns and Blazers put on most of the evening. Fortunately Portland came up with some great defense early and enough offense late to make sure that this ugly game went in the win column. The victory and LaMarcus Aldridge becoming the franchise leader in double-doubles (220 total) provided reason enough for Portland fans to celebrate even if the rest of the show wasn't up to par.
The night started with a conversation between the Blazers and Suns rosters before warm-ups.
"Heya Phoenix! Tonight is one of our promotion nights and we're doing a 'red out'. We'll be wearing our alternate road uniforms and you guys will need to wear your home whites."
"No problem. But it'd be even cooler if we made it a full-on masquerade party!"
"Great idea! What are you guys going as?"
"We're thinking blindfolded drunkards who got their hands sewn on backwards in a freak surgical accident. How about you?"
"I dunno. Imperial Stormtroopers I guess."
And both teams shot accordingly in the first half.
Sure, Portland eked out a 27-point first quarter but that's because the Suns held onto the ball like it was made of lard-covered Jell-o. 8 Phoenix turnovers in the opening period gave the Blazers extra opportunities, some of which were too easy to miss. Everything else came from the perimeter for both teams. Once released, the ball stayed away from the rim like it had cooties.
The big bright spot for the Blazers was a second-period point blitz by CJ McCollum, who butchered the Suns' backcourt defense off the drive. But late-quarter turnovers prevented the Blazers from taking full advantage. Portland's 46-point total at the half could be considered anemic, but not when compared with the Suns' horrid 35-point tally. It was hard to feel positive about an 11-point lead when you had no clue what was going on from play to play. The game had a bad case of "3 a.m. at the YMCA"-itis.
Phoenix staged a big comeback in the third period, finally establishing some of their famed tempo. The Blazers, on the other hand, appeared to be playing on mismatched stilts. The Suns' smaller lineup managed to rebound well, score in the paint...basically everything Portland had prevented so far in the game. A 10-point edge in the quarter brought the Suns back to within 65-66 as the fourth period loomed.
(Yes, the score was 66-65 at the end of three. Whee.)
A couple of three-pointers at the start of the final stanza opened up the floor for the Blazers and they never looked back. Finally managing to spread the floor allowed Portland's guards and centers to operate inside. Phoenix tried to match Portland's three-point prowess but their shots never fell. As a result, Portland defenders were free to patrol the lane and keep the Suns from anything easy. Taking care of the ball also helped. Portland scored 42 against a demoralized Suns defense in the period; Phoenix managed only 22 in response. The Blazers left the arena with a 108-87 win.
1. Well...that happened.
2. 12 rebounds, 4 blocks and 5-10 shooting was a nice stat line for Robin Lopez, but the best development of the night didn't show up in the boxscore. Before Lopez got injured Portland's opponents faced quite a conundrum. They could get into the lane via penetration but once they arrived they found themselves surrounded by 2-3 tall, immovable players. Even for the best of guards, getting a shot up through that thicket proved daunting. After Lopez went down penetration turned into Easy Street. When Lopez returned, so did the Wall of Doom. Lopez isn't creating it singlehandedly but he's the foundation upon which the rest gets built. His size and positioning slows down drivers enough for trailing defenders to catch up and off-ball defenders to close. As we've said multiple times, the Blazers aren't the quickest team out there but they sure are long. Lopez helps that length tell.
3. Portland's defense in the first period was both active and superb. The 8 forced turnovers told part of the story but honestly, Phoenix got almost no good looks. It's been a while since we've seen that coordinated of an effort so early in a game from the Blazers. It suits them.
4. Portland's bench also performed admirably, all but equaling their more accomplished Phoenix counterparts. McCollum and Meyers Leonard were the obvious examples but Steve Blake ended up outplaying Isaiah Thomas. That's a huge reversal from the last meeting between these teams.
5. The Suns shot 39% from the floor, 26% from the arc, and committed 16 turnovers. The Blazers tied them in fast break points at 23 apiece, a major victory for Portland.
13 rebounds and 2 blocks highlighted the night for LaMarcus Aldridge. His best looks came off of putbacks. His jumper looked rushed and broken...a common malady tonight. He shot only 7-18 and scored 19.
Rushed and broken also describes nearly every Damian Lillard attempt that wasn't a layup. Dame looked secure and calm on the drive but his outside shot was recent-vintage Nicolas Batum. Lillard fired 0-5 from beyond the arc. His defense looked pretty good tonight though, almost as if he accepted guarding the Suns backcourt as a personal challenge.
Wesley Matthews shot only 2-8 from the arc and 5-15 overall but he had 8 rebounds and his defense was similarly good.
Nicolas Batum stayed engaged with the offense tonight, dishing 7 assists to go with 20 points on 6-13 shooting. He flowed through this game, which is a good sign.
We've already talked about Robin Lopez. Nice to see him back.
Meyers Leonard decided that if the Suns were going to run, he was going to run faster. He had some nice break-aways, a couple good passes, and kept pretty good containment on defense. 8 points and 8 rebounds.
CJ McCollum went counter-cultural tonight. When everybody else on the floor was shooting jumpers he asked, "Why exactly aren't we driving?" This resulted in a serious "I coulda had a V-8" moment as he converted 3 layups in the first 6:00 of the second period. Adding in a 3-pointer, CJ accounted for 9 of Portland's 11 points in that span.
Steve Blake did a little bit of everything with 5 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals in 23 minutes. He opened up the fourth-quarter three-point parade, assisted on Portland's next 2 makes, then scored again...starting the Blazers hot in their 42-point romp through the period.
Bright Side Of The Sun will have a hard time finding a bright side to this outing.
Read about the Moda Center crowd responding to this game and their reaction to the return of a controversial former star in our In-Arena Report.
The Blazers face a tough weekend, traveling to Dallas on Saturday and Houston on Sunday. Stay tuned.
Please help underprivileged youth, children, and chaperons see Portland's March 30th game against these same Phoenix Suns by contributing tickets to Blazer's Edge Night. The cost of a ticket is low and the joy it brings into the life of a child who otherwise wouldn't get to see a game is immeasurable. We're looking to send over 1000 kids this year. You can find all the details here. Please help with a ticket or two (or 10!) if you can.