The Portland Trail Blazers’ road woes continued on Wednesday night in the desert, as they dropped to 0-6 away from the friendly confines of Moda Center this season with a 119-109 loss to the host Phoenix Suns. For the Suns, it was third-string center Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky who led the charge, going off for a career-high 31 points and working with Chris Paul to form a dynamic pick-and-roll combo that doomed Portland defensively.
Damian Lillard hobbled through a 28-point performance to lead the Blazers, also collecting seven rebounds and seven assists. He connected on only one three-point attempt, however, as the Blazers suffered a dreadful shooting night from downtown—starting the game 0-13 from distance.
For a detailed rundown of the action, see our Instant Recap.
Here were the key takeaways from Wednesday night’s loss.
The Kaminsky Method
The Tank was on full display for a season-high 32 minutes against the Blazers. The Suns were without starting center Deandre Ayton due to a knee injury, and fill-in Javale McGee was limited to 16 minutes with foul trouble. It was no matter for Kaminsky, who rose to the occasion in a major way. 16 of the big man’s 31 points came in the second quarter, when Phoenix established control of the game by embarking on a 26-14 run over the final eight minutes of the frame.
Kaminsky teamed with the Suns’ guards—primarily Paul—to form a lethal pick-and roll threat that Portland was never able to slow down. The Blazer guards continuously fought over the screen, giving Paul enough space to turn downhill where he could either take a favorable midrange shot or dish to a cutting Kaminsky—depending on the action of the Blazer big. When not at the receiving end of the pick-and-roll, Kaminsky was taking advantage of a defensive mismatch in the post caused by Portland’s three-guard lineup. Surprisingly, only two of the big man’s 12 made field goals came on three-pointers, normally his calling card.
The Blazers typically live or die based on their own three-point proficiency, and tonight they were dead on arrival. Portland was 0-13 from distance to start the game before Norman Powell mercifully connected on a triple early in the third quarter. They finished the night 7-30 from downtown, but actually managed to shoot 48% overall from the field. Their success at the rim and in the midrange allowed them to avoid being blown out.
Portland’s offense attacked the basket early, but for the most part was stagnant. The lack of three-point success came from a lack of quality looks, which itself was largely the result of lackluster ball movement. For much of the night, the Blazers’ offensive sets featured a lot of dribbling, little passing, forced shots, and in general was agonizing to watch. Neither CJ McCollum nor Anfernee Simons ever found a rhythm, the latter finishing the night 1-9 from the field in what was easily his worst performance of the season.
Signs of Life
There were few positives to take from this game for Portland. Outside of a solid offensive night from Lillard, about the only other thing that went right was the team’s play at the start of the fourth quarter. With a lineup featuring Larry Nance Jr., Nassir Little and Tony Snell—notably giving the Blazers three players on the court taller than 6’3”—Portland was able to cut into the Phoenix lead thanks to an energetic defensive effort from the trio.
Nance registered just nine minutes in Tuesday night’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, a season-low, but was on the the floor a season-high 27 minutes on Wednesday. Replacing an ineffective Cody Zeller as a small-ball five man in the second half, Larry got the job done offensively too with a 13-point effort—the most of any Blazer reserve. Little contributed eight points and seven rebounds, playing with an infectious energy, while Snell’s length defensively worked to slow down Suns’ attack and keep Portland in the game.
Blazers coach Chauncey Billups didn’t stick with the group for long, subbing Snell out at the eight-minute mark and the others shortly after, and with it any semblance of hope for a comeback. It will be worth monitoring how often we see the unit in the future given the success in limited action.
Portland’s road trip continues to Texas, as the Blazers will face the second overall pick in this year’s draft, Jalen Green, and the rebuilding Houston Rockets on Friday night at the Toyota Center. The game is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. PT and will air locally on ROOT Sports.