On Election Night, in a game few likely paid attention to, the Portland Trail Blazers avenged a road loss last week against the Phoenix Suns. winning a 124-121 nail-biter at the Moda Center to improve to 5-3. The Blazers were led by CJ McCollum (33 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds), who carried the Blazers early, and Damian Lillard (38 points), who carried them late. Moe Harkless contributed 20 points to the cause.
The Blazers hit the ground running, playing like a team with purpose as Portland played maybe its best quarter of season, albeit while losing one of its starters in the process.
After jumping out to a quick 15-6 lead, at the 7:52 mark Al-Farouq Aminu left the game during a timeout, noticeably limping on his left leg with what would later be called a "left calf strain." Replay showed Aminu awkwardly bring his left leg down during a non-contact play, but didn't reveal much more. He did not return.
Without the Chief, the rest of Portland's starters continued to keep up the pace, thoroughly dominating the Suns in the opening period behind a three-point barrage. C.J. McCollum picked up right where he left off in Memphis, with a scorching hot 7-7 start, including three longballs for 18 points as the Blazers kept pouring it on. Damian Lillard took advantage Phoenix's lack of interior defense sans Tyson Chandler - who joined the ranks of starting centers inexplicably missing games against Portland due to "personal reasons" - and put in nine of his own as the Blazers put on a show for the Moda Center crowd.
End of First: Portland 42, Phoenix 25
The Suns started to regain some footing in the third quarter behind Devin Booker and Leandro Barbosa, who used their size to elevate and effectively shoot over the smaller Portland guards. To make matters worse, the Blazers turned the ball over seven times in the period and looked mostly disjointed on offense after looking as fluid as ever 12 minutes before.
After Phoenix pulled within six on P.J. Tucker's free throws, McCollum and none other than Shabazz Napier managed to stop the bleeding, scoring six apiece - including two timely threes from Napier - to keep a more palatable lead heading into the locker room.
Halftime: Portland 63, Phoenix 55
After more or less alternating quarters during the first half, both teams were locked-in to begin the third quarter - Maurice Harkless seemed to have a hand everywhere, scoring 11 points, blocking rookie Dragan Bender at the rim and connecting on a nice running layup that gave Portland a 14-point 81-67 lead.
But for everything the Blazers would do, Phoenix had a counter behind Brandon Knight, Eric Bledsoe or Barbosa, who slowly chipped away at Portland's lead. Barbosa earned his way to the line to pull within 11 at 86-75, and then Bledsoe scored nine of the Suns' final 11 points of the period to pull again within single digits heading into the final frame.
Al-Farouq Aminu left the game with a left-calf strain, and his status is unknown.
End of Third: Portland 89, Phoenix 82
What McCollum started in the first quarter, Lillard finished in the fourth, scoring 22 points of his own to will the Blazers to victory. Bledsoe and Booker did their darndest to keep the Suns in a spot to win the game, including a heaving three from Booker which pulled Phoenix within just three with five seconds to go, but Lillard coolly knocked down free throws to give Portland the edge.
The Blazers hit the road for the second half of a back-to-back tomorrow against the Clippers in Los Angeles - tip is set for 7:30 pm. Stay tuned to Blazer's Edge tonight, for extended analysis of this game from Willy Raedy.
-- Ryan Rosback | email@example.com | Twitter