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Scrappy Blazers Hit Threes, Fight Hard vs. Suns

Portland showed well at home versus a more talented team.

Phoenix Suns v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers faced the star-studded Phoenix Suns on Sunday evening with a depleted roster. Portland suited up eight players, only half of whom anybody would recognize. Despite that, they gave Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal all they could handle. After a huge offensive first quarter for both teams, Phoenix took control of the game to lead by as many as 17. But the Blazers employed hard work and 20-42 three-point shooting to whittle the margin back to 4 in the fourth period. The Suns veterans would prevail, giving their team a 127-116 victory, but it was certainly more of a contest than the Blazers produced on their recent extended road trip.

Scoot Henderson led the Blazers with a career-high 33, adding 9 assists and 7 rebounds, Kris Murray and Rayan Rupert also registered career marks with 13 and 11, respectively. Booker scored for the Suns, who put four players over 20 points.

First Quarter

Scoot Henderson hit an unguarded three-pointer from the right sideline to start the game. After that, everything the Blazers put up inside the arc was tortured and labored. They shared the ball, but they also found Suns defenders everywhere it landed. Every shot inside was heavily contested; the scores there coming off of offensive rebounds or other broken plays. The only real daylight the Blazers found was at the arc. Anfernee Simons hit one deep. So did Duop Reath. Then Scoot canned a second. Those strikes gave Portland life in an otherwise tumultuous start.

Portland’s defense just wasn’t working, though. They started in a zone. Phoenix picked that apart with straight away shots and midrange opportunities in the diagonal seams. The man-to-man went only slightly better, but at the least the Blazers rebounded decently in it.

Scoring like hotcakes was the only prayer for Portland. At least at the start, they IHopped it, shooting 5-7 from deep. At a Phoenix timeout with 6:36 remaining, the Blazers led 20-15. Had it held up, that would have yielded something close to a 41-31 quarter.

Portland couldn’t quite keep that up, but the accurate distance shooting opened up the inside of the court for Portland. Reath and Kris Murray converted inside 15 feet, followed by even more threes. It was the best offensive showing for the Blazers in quite some time. Portland. Devin Booker treated Simons to a lesson in one-on-one scoring as the quarter closed, but the Blazers still led 33-31 after one. Better than being down 20. Reath had 11 points in the frame.

Second Quarter

Phoenix recommitted to guarding the lane as the second period commenced. This allowed a couple more Murray threes, but also provoked turnovers. The Suns converted those into quick opportunities at the other end, including a couple of dunks. Kevin Durant made sure he got on the scoreboard in the second, He kept Phoenix on pace no matter how well the Blazers scored. But again, spreading the floor yielded good results for Portland guards driving to the rim. A couple of hard-driving layups kept the Blazers within 1, 48-47, at the first timeout with 6:31 remaining. Once again, it was all about the offense.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, scoring led by Durant proved more durable than scoring led by a fractured, injury-plagued Blazers squad. Finally, for the first time all game, Portland went cold in the second half of the second period. The Suns had no such issue, adding mid-range shots and threes to their rim shots. Grayson Allen added his hot hand to Durant’s. Phoenix streaked ahead 57-49 with 5:00 remaining.

But hey, the Blazers kept up their passing and praying when shots went up. They ended up 11-20 from distance for the half. That kind of shooting will cover up plenty of defensive sins. The Suns led 71-61 at the half. Again...better than down 20.

Third Quarter

As the third quarter got underway, Phoenix doubled down on their strategy. They left the corners wide open, filling up the middle with five defenders to stop any kind of penetration for the Blazers. Portland hit a couple threes, but they couldn’t produce enough from the perimeter to make up for Phoenix hitting 2 out of every 3 shots. The Suns maintained their lead and a little bit more.

As the period unfolded, Scoot Henderson started taking this whole, “Stay out of the lane” policy personally. He bulled his way inside, either converting or passing. It was a nice showing for him, compared to some of his more problematic outings.

That, and a little more help from Murray and Reath, kept the Blazers even with the Suns. The good news: that was a nice accomplishment. The bad news: they were down by 11-13 already, meaning staying even was just a slow way to lose.

Booker underlined that reality in the final minutes of the period. He either drained near-impossible shots himself or drew so much defensive attention that he freed up Bradley Beal or Eric Gordon for easier ones. Henderson hit a three and a buzzer-beating twister to keep his team afloat at the final horn, but that was still just enough to keep the margin steady. They couldn’t close it. Phoenix led 106-92 after three. Note that Portland’s point total was impressive. The amount they gave up was less so.

Fourth Quarter

Anfernee Simons hit a three at the outset of the fourth to provide a ray of hope, but Portland’s comeback attempt got swamped in a slowly rising tide of turnovers. Phoenix was already keeping ahead of Portland fairly easily matching shot for shot. Getting extra ones made their job easier.

The Blazers tried to rig a backdoor comeback using offensive rebounds and free throws. Their blue collar work in driving and boarding was impressive. But those kinds of points come slow and hard.

Fortunately, they had more. A Rayan Rupert three (off of Simons penetration) took the score to 109-102 with 8:29 remaining, one of the first easy scores Portland got. A minute later, Henderson would poke away a steal for a layup to keep the rally alive. When Rupert hit yet another corner three with 6:45 left, Portland was back within 4, 111-107.

Throughout, the Blazers went hard at any Suns superstar who touched the ball. Booker saw double-teams routinely, Durant three defenders when he got inside. Phoenix, apparently assuming the weight of their names guaranteed victory, was slow to compensate. Their shots didn’t just come contested, but very late in the shot clock. That was fine when the lead was 15+, not so much when it closed within two possessions.

Four was as close as it got, though. Durant and Beal calmed down their squad with a stroked three and a conventional version. Those two simple plays put Phoenix up 10, 119-109, with 3:10 left. Having almost fumbled the lead, they’d not relinquish it again. The Suns threw on a little extra defensive pressure. Portland missed a couple shots. Given the clock and the margin, that was enough to decide it.

Up Next

Stay tuned for extended analysis, coming soon!

Boxscore

The Blazers get a couple nights off before taking on the Brooklyn Nets at 7:00 PM. Pacific on Wednesday night.