The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Phoenix Suns 121-105 on Tuesday night, avenging a blowout loss over the weekend and snapping a two-game losing streak overall. The win, coupled with a loss from the Memphis Grizzlies, pulls the teams to within 3.5 games of Memphis for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
While Devin Booker scored a game-high 29 points to lead the Suns, Portland featured a much more balanced attack, with all five starters scoring at least 16 points—and four going for over 20. Damian Lillard led the way with 25, his highest point total since returning from injury last week.
After the teams went back-and-forth over the first few minutes, the Blazers started to create a bit of distance around the mid-way point, eventually pulling ahead by double-digits. They came out of the gates with a decidedly improved defensive effort from their last meeting against the Suns, and were also able to make a number of shots from distance.
The Blazers led 36-28 at the end of the frame, sparked by the 12 points of Carmelo Anthony. They shot just below 70% from the field, and knocked down five of their seven three-point attempts—three of which came from Trevor Ariza. Phoenix went just 2-8 from downtown.
The Suns slowly whittled away at the lead, pulling with one point at the six-minute mark, and eventually taking the lead with 4:20 remaining. The game then entered a stalemate, as both offenses went ice cold. This was in part due to aggressive defense and also a result of a string of turnovers between the two teams. The Blazers were able to re-gain the lead at the two-minute mark, and took a 54-53 advantage into halftime. Portland managed just 18 points in the frame.
After the teams more or less traded baskets over the first few minutes, the Blazers embarked on a 9-0 run to go up six. However, once again Phoenix battled back and were able to tie the game at the four-minute mark, with Dario Saric coming alive offensively. Neither club was able to create separation over the remainder of the period, and Portland took an 82-78 lead into the game’s final stanza.
The Blazers started on a 14-4 run to go up 14 with 7:30 remaining. A three-pointer barrage from both teams ensued, and Portland still held a 12 point lead before the Suns called for time-out with just five minutes left. Phoenix never pulled back within single-digits, and the Blazers stayed hot from distance to cruise to the finish line.
The Blazers came out noticeably more focused on the defensive end of the floor—a stark contrast to their recent no-show performances. While the Suns still got their fair share of open looks, they weren’t able to consistently connect, and they didn’t come nearly as often. They shot a pedestrian 40% for the game, including 34% from deep.
After his out-of-body experience last Friday, followed by a solid performance against the Milwaukee Bucks, Aron Baynes went back to being Aron Baynes. He managed just seven points on 3-14 shooting, including a paltry 1-7 from three. The Blazers were much more aggressive defensively on the perimeter against him, and and it paid off. In fact, Saric was the only Suns players to hit more than two triples on the night.
Offensively, despite a poor showing from the bench (outside of Mario Hezonja), the Blazers got tremendous production out of their starters behind unselfish play. They routinely worked the ball around to earn quality looks, shooting 49% from three on the night. Ariza’s proficiency from deep was especially lethal, and took a lot of scoring pressure off of the likes of Lillard and CJ McCollum.
To top things off, Lillard had by far his best and most efficient performance since his return from a six-game absence last week, as he went 8-17 from the field and 5-10 from distance. He hit several of his patented deep shots, including a dagger that put the team up 18 late and effectively ended the game.
The Blazers’ home stand continues as they host the Grizzlies on Thursday in a game with critical playoff implications.