The Portland Trail Blazers defeated the Phoenix Suns 109-104 at the Moda Center after a massive third-quarter comeback. Portland fell behind by as much as 16 points in the first half before completely flipping the script on the Suns.
Anfernee Simons came alive in the second half after a quiet first half. He had 17 points in the final two quarters to help drive the Portland comeback.
This win broke a seven game losing streak for the Blazers and puts them at 7-19 on the season.
The Suns could not come out on top of the Blazers despite getting a 40-point performance from Kevin Durant. Phoenix falls to 14-13 on the year with the loss.
You can catch up on the game with an instant recap here. Here are some key factors in the Blazers win.
Taking Care of the Ball
The first quarter set a very poor tone for a young Blazer squad. Giving up 10 turnovers, which led to seven fastbreak points for the Suns, was not a recipe for success. No surprise that Portland found themselves in a 36-20 hole after one quarter of play.
After that rough display of ball security, the Blazers suddenly turned the trend in the complete opposite direction. Committing just five turnovers in the next three quarters meant that Portland finished the game with 15 total, a number that seems a lot worse than it looked in the game.
The Blazers taking care of the ball in the last three quarters of the game was a major factor in their ability to recover from the horrendous start. Young teams are always more prone to turnovers than veteran-laden squads, but the Blazers did not let the bad start rattle them. Instead Portland turned a weakness at the beginning of the contest into a strength.
That Third Quarter
Despite winning the second quarter, the Blazers still found themselves down by 12 points at halftime. That deficit was almost immediately erased as play resumed. Portland allowed just six Phoenix points in the first six minutes of the quarter while scoring 22 of their own over that span to take the lead. From there they never looked back.
Portland forced six Suns turnovers in the quarter and made six of their nine attempts from three-point range in the quarter to take back the lead heading into the fourth.
Impressive defensive performances from a number of Blazers, especially Matisse Thybulle and Toumani Camara, helped Portland overcome the threat of Durant. Portland was able to hold Durant at bay in the third, allowing just eight points while taking control of the game.
The Other Guys
Phoenix committed to an experiment in this past summer, with three stars taking up the majority of the salary cap and a bunch of budget players to fill out the roster.
The trio of Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal has played just one full game together so far this season, due to injuries to all three at different points. The supporting cast has been tested frequently as a result.
Tonight, that roster-building approach came back to bite the Suns. Booker and Durant combined for 66 points on 50.9% shooting, but everyone else combined for just 38 points on 36.6% from the field. The Phoenix bench contributed only 14 of those points.
Compare that to the 43 points added by the Blazers bench, and the big +/- numbers from key bench contributors. Portland’s plucky rotation players made the difference against the massive star power of the Suns.
Bend, but not Break
Despite holding a 14-point lead with just over four minutes to go, the Blazers almost allowed an incredible rally from Phoenix. A 13-2 Suns run that spanned from 4:14 remaining in the game, until a Simons dagger with just over 10 seconds left allowed Phoenix to claw back into the action.
The Portland defense, which had been stellar in the second half prior to this run, allowed the Suns to score on four straight possessions before Simons made his floater. After that Portland was able to hold on for the final seconds to claim a five point win.
The Blazers should have been able to slam the door on Phoenix without needing late-game heroics. [ed. Then again, they should have been buried after getting housed in the first quarter. It works both ways with young teams.]
Either way, the ability to get Simons an open shot and not allow the Suns an easy basket on the other end were impressive notes to end the game on, despite what came just before.
Jusuf Nurkic played his first game in the Moda Center since being traded as a part of the franchise-reshaping moves this offseason. He received cheers from the home crowd during his introduction. Fellow former Blazers Nassir Little and Drew Eubanks, joined Nurkic in being featured in a tribute video during the game’s first timeout.
Thank you Drew, Nas & Nurk! pic.twitter.com/kZaAq0kZhH— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) December 20, 2023
Nurkic played a large part for the Suns. He finished just one point shy of a double-double, grabbing 13 rebounds with 2 steals and 2 blocks. He played solid defense on Deandre Ayton, holding him to an inefficient 6-18 from the field. 4 Nurkic turnovers may have looked slightly familiar to Blazers fans, but he had a solid game throughout.
The Blazers get a day off before they are back in action against the Washington Wizards on Thursday at 7:00 p.m.