The Blazers had a good chance to put the game away in the final minute, but two costly missed free throws by Robert Covington with five seconds remaining set up a game-winning foul attempts at the other end for Devin Booker as Norman Powell brushed him on the game-deciding shot.
It was one of the more frustrating endings to a game in a season wrought with aggravating finishes.
A win would have clinched at least sixth place in the Western Conference playoff race, which avoids the dreaded do-or-die play-in games, but there is still light at the end of the tunnel. Portland can still seize either 5th or 6th place with a win against the Denver Nuggets Sunday, although, the former would require a loss by the Dallas Mavericks. That magic number can also by achieved with a Lakers loss.
The Blazers were led by their star guard duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, who combined for 68 points, but didn’t get enough help.
This one had a playoff feel from the get-go, as both sides were locked in before the ball was ever thrown into the air. Points came steadily, but they were hard-fought. Most of the opening period felt like a couple of fighters getting the feel for each other while being careful not to tip their hand. This gave way to a slow-as-paint-drying pace that would make even Clyde Drexler and Charles Barkley blush. The Blazers are about as comfortable as any team working their offense in the half-court, but Phoenix did a good job throwing a wrench in their bread-and-butter - the Lillard/Nurkic pick-and-roll - jamming lengthy defenders between Lillard and the screen, cutting off his access to the rolling giant. CJ McCollum proved an effective Plan B, finding his stroke early to help the Blazers keep even at the end of one 26-26.
McCollum’s hot hand carried over into the second quarter, but despite Phoenix looking stuck in second gear, Portland had trouble gaining separation. Even with Deandre Ayton sidelined with a sore knee, the Suns ruthlessly dominated the Blazers on the boards, particularly on offense. It was one-and-done all night for Portland, who was astonishingly held to just a lone offensive rebound. While the Blazers were getting good results scoring the basketball, they just weren’t getting enough chances to do it. What felt like a potential 5-10 point Blazers lead while Phoenix still tried to gather its rhythm only amounted to a 53-52 advantage heading into the break.
It was only a matter of time before the Suns would figure things out, and they came alive early in the third behind Mikal Bridges, who seemed to be the forgotten man in Portland’s defensive scheme. Bridges feasted as the pressure release valve for Phoenix’s offense, making the Blazers pay for focusing most of their attention on the likes of Chris Paul and Devin Booker. Although, who could blame them? 10 straight points from perpetual thorn-in-side Torrey Craig to close out the quarter were backbreaking, as they gave the Suns an 8-point lead heading into the final frame.
Credit to Portland, they could have rolled over and died on the second night of a back-to-back, but instead showed some grit and slowly clawed themselves back into the game. The Blazers closed a 9-point over the final seven minutes, and even briefly seized a three-point lead in the final minute, but weren’t able to seal the deal, falling as described in the opening.
Stay tuned for Dave Deckard’s analysis of the contest, coming soon.
The Blazers will play their regular season finale against the Denver Nuggets Sunday evening at the Moda Center. Tip is set for 6 p.m. Pacific. The Blazers can clinch the 6th spot (or better) with a win in that game or any loss by the Los Angeles Lakers.