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Hot Second Half Propels Trail Blazers Past Suns

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Jake Layman and Seth Curry provide the bench spark that rockets Portland past Phoenix.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers visited the Phoenix Suns expecting to get a win. They got it behind 20-point performances from Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and pesky reserve forward Jake Layman. Phoenix put up a good fight, corralling Portland center Jusuf Nurkic and spouting guard points like a slot machine, but Portland’s depth and experience proved too much for them to overcome.

The Plot Thickens

Remember how classic James Bond villains always think of elaborate methods to kill the British spy? They explain their master plan, then strap him to a helicopter programmed to fire missiles at itself (GoldenEye, 1995). Bond always escapes and doesn’t waste his opportunity to stop the villain from executing their evil plan.

Tonight’s game versus the Phoenix Suns followed a similar process. The Portland Trail Blazers trailed by one after 12 minutes, very different from their 25-point first quarter lead in the last matchup. Instead of extinguishing any hope Phoenix had garnered after a 31-point first quarter, Portland continued its elaborate plan by failing to generate a lead larger than six before halftime.

The third quarter showed signs of the helicopter-firing-missiles-at-itself plan working as the Blazers opened up a double-digit lead, only to blow it, then regain it. In the movies, the fourth quarter would be when Bond escapes and completes his mission, but Jake Layman and Seth Curry had other intentions. The duo kicked off the fourth with 12 combined points in two minutes, putting Portland in front by 20 and allowing the team to coast to the buzzer.

Blazers win, 120-106. The streak stays alive as Portland is now 30-0 when leading after three quarters.

Blazers Win Streak vs. Suns at Nine Straight

Dating back to November 2, 2016, the Blazers have won nine straight games over the ever-rebuilding Phoenix Suns. In the first matchup this season, Portland broke out a 25-point lead after one quarter and never looked back. Tonight, it took until the fourth quarter for the lead to become insurmountable. Damian Lillard and Co. always looked in control, but turnovers and poor shooting let the Suns stick around a little too long.

Al-Farouq Aminu Injury

With four minutes left in the first quarter, Aminu helped Lillard on a Kelly Oubre Jr. drive and walked away from the play holding his hand. His composure made it seem like he simply jammed his finger, only for him to reveal a pinky finger bent at a 90-degree angle.

A trainer quickly hustled Aminu to the locker room, where he remained through halftime. A report surfaced of Aminu’s probable return, and when the team came back out onto the floor, he led the group and participated in shoot-around.

On his first action since the finger injury, Aminu drove to the hoop and finished a near-dunk, hitting the floor and doing a push-up to get himself back on defense. Looks like he’s OK and hopefully won’t miss any time. Phew.

Jake Layman and Seth Curry Carry the Bench

Layman and Curry totaled 37 points together, seven shy of Lillard and CJ McCollum’s combined total (44). They accounted for 37 of Portland’s 48 bench points and were both +11 on the night.

Both players exuded confidence when shooting and attacking the rim, especially to kick off the fourth quarter. The sequence of events:

11:48 - Curry three-pointer

11:26 - Layman dunk (Curry assist)

11:06 - Curry two-point shot

10:17 - Curry step-back jumpshot

9:53 - Layman three-pointer (Curry assist)

The Blazers move to 11-0 when Curry scores more than nine points.

Jusuf Nurkic Misses Opportunity

A few hours before tipoff, the Suns announced that DeAndre Ayton and Richaun Holmes would not play. They make up Phoenix’s big man rotation, leaving a lackluster combination of Dragan Bender and Quincy Acy to patrol the paint. The frontcourt hole reminisced of Nurkic’s hot streak when he played team’s without an elite big man and tore them apart.

However, Nurkic started the game shooting 1-8, all eight attempts coming inside the paint. His go-to post moves weren’t falling and neither were his putback attempts. (He recorded four offensive rebounds.)

The Bosnian Beast finished the game with 16 points and nine rebounds on 4-13 shooting and 8-8 free throws. The stat line matches his average for the season but disappointed fans expecting another historic night.

Portland heads home to play the Atlanta Hawks, another opportunity for Nurkic to dominate the paint and restore his energy and motivation.

Fastbreak points

As usual, the Blazers were outscored in transition, this time by a margin of 14 points. They turned the ball over 16 times, illustrating a passive mindset coming from playing the Western Conference’s worst team. The 16 turnovers are even more frustrating as few resulted from strong Phoenix defense; many were unforced and strayed from Portland’s usual style of play.

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