Two teams headed in the wrong direction met up on Monday night in Portland, and it was the visiting Phoenix Suns who emerged victorious over the Trail Blazers 122-116 to snap an 11-game losing streak in the head-to-head series. The Blazers blew a 19-point first quarter lead en route to their fourth consecutive defeat overall.
Devin Booker led the way with 33 points, including a perfect 15-15 from the line, while Kelly Oubre Jr. added 29 points, going 7-10 from three-point land. Damian Lillard led the Blazers with 33 of his own, 16 of which came in the first quarter.
After the Suns started the game on a 7-2 run, the Blazers caught fire from distance, hitting their first four three-pointers and jumping out to an early 16-7 lead. A Lillard four-point play put them up 24-13 at the 4:30 mark. Lillard kept rolling, and Gary Trent Jr. provided a nice scoring spark off the bench as the lead ballooned to 38-19 at the horn.
The Suns came out hot to start the second, as Cameron Johnson drained a couple of triples to help them open the frame on a 10-2 run and force Portland to call a timeout. Oubre helped keep Phoenix’s run going after the break, briefly trimming the deficit to single-digits, before the Blazers turned up the defensive pressure to extend their lead back to 55-41. That trend continued over the next few minutes, before the Suns rallied for 10 points in the final minute of the half to make it 64-55 at the break.
The Blazers tied a franchise record by knocking down 12 three-point field goals over the first 24 minutes of action.
The Suns continued to chip away at the lead in the opening minutes of the second half, pulling within four, before the Blazers began to attack the paint and extend the lead back out to double-digits. Hassan Whiteside and CJ McCollum were particularly effective over the stretch, with the former also providing several key blocks defensively. However, a pair of costly Portland turnovers in the final minutes helped the Suns make the score 89-83 heading into the game’s final stanza.
The teams went back-and-forth to start the period, until the Suns pulled within two half-way through the frame. Carmelo Anthony forced a pair of contested jumpers on back-to-back possessions, and Oubre knocked down a three with 3:30 left to pull Phoenix within one at 108-107. Less than a minute later, they took their first lead since the opening minutes of the game on a Deandre Ayton tip-in, erasing a once 19-point Blazers lead.
The Suns extended their lead to five before a key three-point play from Lillard pulled the Blazers within two with just over a minute remaining. After a floater from Booker put the Suns back up four, Lillard drew a pair of free throws—splitting them—before Oubre hit a dagger corner three to make it 120-114, with the Suns holding on for the 122-116 victory.
Despite the fact that the Blazers were playing without Skal Labissiere, who will also miss the team’s upcoming road trip, this was still a very winnable game against a Suns team that recently snapped an eight-game losing streak. Ayton was playing just his third game of season for Phoenix, and Portland got solid production out of Whiteside (16 points, 22 rebounds, 3 blocks), who was able to stay out of foul trouble and log 37 minutes.
The rebounding battle was almost dead even (44-42 Suns), so the fact that the Blazers had only a single player over 6’8” (outside of the single minute logged by Moses Brown), their lack of size wasn’t really the issue. Unfortunately, other familiar trends reared their ugly head in the collapse.
The Blazers let the Suns remain in the game at both the end of the second and third quarters thanks to a couple of sizable runs sparked by Blazer turnovers. The most glaring example of this occurred in the final seconds of the first half. The Suns, down twelve, got a three from Aron Baynes with nine seconds left, only for Oubre to go full Reggie Miller—stealing the ensuing inbounds pass and knocking down a quick three of his own—to cut the lead down to six, the final margin of the game.
A similar situation, though not as immediate or dramatic, happened in the closing minutes of the third quarter, with Nassir Little committing a pair of bad passes for turnovers. The Suns once again took advantage, gaining momentum heading into the pivotal fourth.
On top of this, while Phoenix made their push in the fourth quarter, the Blazers settled for a variety of contested shots down the stretch. After moving the ball to find the open shot in the first half, they resorted to iso-ball for much of the second. While McCollum was able to find success creating for himself, Anthony was not—finishing 4-16 from the field, including the two costly misses late, the second of which occurred immediately following a timeout. After a torrid start to his Blazer career, Carmelo is starting to look more and more like the player many feared the team was getting when he initially signed.
The Blazers hope to turn the page as they head east to kick-off a five-game road trip against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on New Year’s Day.