The Portland Trail Blazers couldn’t make headway against the Phoenix Suns in the second night of a baseball-series back-to-back on Saturday. The Suns dominated the action and the floor from the opening tip, summarily disposing of Portland 102-82.
Devin Booker led the Suns with 24 points on 9-20 shooting. Jerami Grant once again led the Blazers, but his 4-10, 14-point performance was a far cry from the 30 he pasted on the Suns Friday evening. Phoenix watched him like a hawk, giving him zero daylight and his team zero chance, absent starters Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons as well.
If you missed the action and want a quarter-by-quarter recap, you can find ours here. After that, here are a few observations from the evening.
Suns Return the Favor Inside
The Suns seemed determined to take a page out of Portland’s book tonight. They forced the ball into the paint, through Deandre Ayton at first, then off the drive when Ayton got in foul trouble. They tried to make Portland’s bigger defenders move, asking them to make decisions and communicate. As is typical of this young Blazers team that’s fairly inexperienced with each other, Portland did fine on the initial, textbook move, but as soon as they broke down, they couldn’t recover. Ayton’s advantage over Nurkic was a pain, but no more so than aggressive drives from Suns wings, requiring Portland to double, which then mandated rotations that the Blazers just weren’t adept at making,
Phoenix was ready for a repeat of Portland’s attack from Friday as well. They knew the Blazers wanted to go inside, so they collapsed immediately, almost preemptively, on any penetration or pass to the interior. They didn’t believe Portland’s jump shots would beat them. They also tallied plenty of blocks and annoying steals. Portland’s shots came far more contested than last night. That slowed them down, which made generating points harder.
The Suns finished the game with 44 points in the paint against 32 for Portland. Phoenix also tallied 14 blocks, and forced 18 turnovers. Those three numbers tell almost all the story you need. It’s not that Portland’s offense was bad. It pretty much never happened.
Threes for Suns
One side-effect of Phoenix’s commitment to the interior was a number of easy dishes to perimeter shooters for standing threes. They shot 11-30 from distance tonight, but that number was marred by a bad third period. When they were establishing their lead, it seemed like the Suns couldn’t miss: the head shots after the interior body blows delivered by their inside offense.
The connection between interior and exterior for Phoenix proved fatal for Portland. If the Blazers could have focused on one area on the floor, their length and athleticism may have paid dividends. But most of the night, Phoenix was able to make whatever passes they wanted. When cross-court passes are making it unmolested, you know your defense is too localized and not paying quite enough attention.
Not So Iso
As we mentioned last night, this version of the Blazers fields almost no players capable of initiating and finishing isolation moves. The Suns picked up on that too. They sent double teams against Jerami Grant, a somewhat predictable choice given his 30 last game. He passed out of those predicaments fairly well, but that took away his scoring.
Phoenix did equally well when they dropped back a little, contesting the initial playmaker, then daring anybody else to catch and finish with a man on them. If the Suns were playing straight up and Portland’s first option didn’t work, none of them were going to.
The Blazers pounded the Suns last night, both on defense and on the glass. Phoenix evaded the former with their ball movement. They didn’t let Portland get away with the latter either. The rebounds read 44-40, Phoenix for the game. The Suns also carried an 11-8 edge in offensive boards. Without offensive rebounds for second scores, plus authoritative defensive rebounding fueling the break, Portland’s scoring attack got stuck in the halfcourt. See above for how well that worked.
The Blazers travel to Miami to face the Heat on Monday with a 5:30, Pacific start time.