The Portland Trail Blazers managed to overcome Devin Booker’s 34-point performance on Saturday night, besting the Phoenix Suns and capturing their fourth victory of the season. CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard both struggled from the field, but as has often happened this year, Portland’s role players were able to pick up the slack on their way to a 114-107 win.
CJ McCollum and Devin Booker got things started by exchanging baskets on the opening two possessions, a sign of things to come. Portland then shifted towards Jusuf Nurkic - allowing the big fella to touch the ball on all but one of Portland’s trips down the court in the first four minutes. The plan worked smoothly for the Blazers at first, as consecutive possessions ended with Nurkic hitting an open Maurice Harkless then Al-Farouq Aminu for easy points. The Suns were able to build a slight lead, however, as TJ Warren’s 4-for-6 start gave the Suns a seven-point edge halfway through the first. But Pat Connaughton closed the final two minutes of the first quarter with a pair of three-pointers, giving Portland a 29-24 lead.
Connaughton continued his scoring streak as the second quarter began. McCollum and Ed Davis worked in tandem to create space, capitalizing on Phoenix’s soft pick-and-roll defense. The Suns countered by picking up the intensity, forcing a series of Portland turnovers parlayed into transition points. Once again the Blazers closed the quarter strong with a successful combination of defensive trapping and free throws. Portland finishes the first half up 61-57.
Nurkic got his own offense going with two layups and a open midrange shot to start the third quarter. Booker was able to keep the Suns close with jumpers and a barrage of trips to the free throw line. Lillard went to work on Mike James, but Portland’s second unit failed to protect the paint as the quarter came to a close. Despite Portland’s offensive fireworks, they led only 92-89 after three.
The fourth quarter began with McCollum and Evan Turner taking turns sinking midrange jumpers. Portland’s lead expanded to seven, but Phoenix reclaimed ground on the backs of Booker and Josh Jackson. The Blazers finally threw on enough defensive pressure down the stretch. The lead never got comfortable; Portland led by only two with 30 seconds remaining. But when the Blazers needed stops down the stretch, they got them. Free throws pushed the final margin to seven, in a decent, if flawed, performance for the Blazers.
Subtracting Devin Booker’s 4-of-7 night beyond the arc, the Blazers managed to hold the Suns to just five three-pointers tonight. Portland’s halfcourt perimeter rotations looked sharp; the majority of Phoenix’s favorable three-point looks came off of turnovers.
Portland’s now-standard rebounding advantage was curbed by Phoenix’s long, bid-bodied frontcourt. Alex Len and Dragan Bender combined for 15 rebounds off the bench tonight. Ed Davis contributed 11 all on his own, though.
After a 4-of-6 start from distance, the Blazers never looked back. Three-pointers smoothed over Portland’s turnover issues and most other woes. The Blazers finished the night shooting 11-26, 42.3 percent beyond the arc.
Jusuf Nurkic started the night going 0-for-4 from the field to along with two early turnovers. After that he went 6-11, committed only one more turnover, and finished the night with 17 and 9.
Damian Lillard kept Portland’s offense rolling even when his own shot wasn’t falling. His 9 assists provided a high mark for the season. Plus he held Mike James to 2-8 shooting.
Pat Connaughton was crucial to the second unit’s success on offense tonight. The former Notre Dame standout started the game hot, giving Davis and McCollum plenty of floor space to work pick and roll magic. Connaughton shot 3-4 from distance and scored 13.
First-round rookie Zach Collins made an appearance in the first quarter instead of Caleb Swanigan, but was unable to get anything going. He notched an assist and 3 personal fouls in 8 minutes.
Our friends at the Bright Side Of The Sun are currently coming to terms with coach Jay Triano’s first loss.
The Blazers will return to action on Monday as they host DeMar DeRozan and the Toronto Raptors at 7pm Pacific.
—Steve / @SteveDHoops / BEdgeSteve@gmail.com