The Portland Trail Blazers played with fire Saturday, doing everything they could for three quarters to make the Phoenix Suns look like a respectable basketball team. But they were rescued by the heroics of Damian Lillard, who erupted in the fourth quarter to put the team on his back and will them to a 106-104 victory on the road.
The Blazers allowed Phoenix to hang tight for the early going and even fell behind by as much as 14 in the second half when Devin Booker started feeling it and for a moment looked like could take over the game. Booker was impressive in his own right, but the Suns were completely undone by Lillard’s fourth quarter performance, then fell apart down the stretch.
With the win, the Blazers improved to a season-high eight games over .500 at 34-26 and are now sitting at fifth place in the conference standings. They’re 1.5 games behind third place Minnesota (who just lost Jimmy Butler for an undetermined length of time), and 3 games ahead of 10th place Utah.
Make no doubt, this outcome was just as much due to the ineptitude of Phoenix, which allowed for Lillard’s brilliance in the first place. Going up against 28 out of 29 other teams in the association, this is a loss, but if you can put on your rose-colored glasses, Dame’s fourth-quarter comeback was stacked with plenty of eye candy.
What Time Is It?
Give this man a theme song. Name a street after him. Buy every copy of his record.
First let’s just get the stat line out of the way - 40 points, 10 boards, 5 assists - Most of his damage was done in the fourth, but Lillard along with maybe C.J. McCollum were the only guys who could produce anything close to consistent offense, and you had to figure it was just a matter of time until one of them got it going. Lillard resoundingly threw his hat into the ring with a pair of impressive and acrobatic tip-ins early in the run, including this MASSIVE dunk which brought the house down:
After missing ALL of his outside attempts up until that point, Lillard suddenly looked unstoppable, drilling a pair in the clutch and setting the table for another improbable game winner to add to his legend:
Dame, again, was absolutely spectacular and saved his team from embarrassment, ridicule and doubt with a win they had no business even sniffing. This was a superstar moment for sure.
Not An Excuse
Coming off of two of the more impressive wins of the season, it was a letdown to watch Portland struggle against the bottom-dwelling team in the Western Conference. While it may be a different Phoenix from what the Blazers clobbered by nearly 50 in the season opener, this was a game where Portland should have taken care of business. Maybe you could chalk it up to fatigue on the second night of a road back-to-back, but outside of Dame, nobody had it going tonight and the Suns took advantage. That can’t happen.
Coldest Place in Phoenix
It’s tough to convincingly win games when you don’t make shots, and tonight the Blazers all collectively endured one of the worst shooting nights of the season. Portland only managed to shoot 39% overall from the floor, including an excruciating 6-30 from deep as the offense sputtered. The signature movement and creativity which usually defines team was for the most part lacking, as guys settled for early in the clock jumpers and threes. For the first half, that was still enough to hold the lead heading into the locker room, but once Phoenix found some rhythm in the third quarter it looked like the Blazers would be left in the dust.
By the final frame, if we were looking at video game avatars everybody on Portland would have Gatorade icons stamped next to their names. Shabazz Napier even finished with a goose egg off the bench - 0 points, missing all 10 of his attempts in 21 minutes. The team just looked spent. Lillard’s burst looks all the more impressive when you have to imagine the energy required to pull off such a ridiculous feat.
Bright Side of the Sun is probably used to it.
The Blazers will come back home to to the Moda Center to face the Sacramento Kings Tuesday evening at 7 p.m.