The Portland Trail Blazers lost 127-116 to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night. The Blazers responded well after a rough road trip that saw multiple blowouts. Portland played short-handed, but kept the game close. Even after the Suns pushed the lead to 17 points in the second half, the Blazers responded and got to within 4 in the fourth quarter before the Suns ultimately pulled away.
The Blazers were led by Scoot Henderson’s 33 points, a new career high. Not be left out, both Kris Murray and Rayan Rupert set career highs, scoring 13 and 11 points respectively.
The Suns were led by their dynamic shooting guard Devon Booker with 34 points. Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal each exceeded 20 points, providing a rare sighting of the Suns’ Big 3 at full power.
Portland and Phoenix are heading in opposite directions this season, but the Blazers should be proud of how they played tonight against a team that has championship aspirations.
If you missed the game, you can find our quarter-by-quarter recap here. After you’ve read that, here are the details that defined the contest.
Because of injuries to over half the team, the Blazers used lineups tonight that have seen little to no action all season. Surprisingly, these lineups performed well against a veteran Suns team. There are many areas to focus on, but I want to take a look at the assists.
The Blazers had 23 assists tonight, right at their season average. The number in itself is not impressive, but it was the type of assists the team was getting that had me excited. Henderson and Anfernee Simons combined for 14 and were able to find open shooters around the court. The corner three was the sweet spot. The Blazers were finding players there.
The quality of assists tonight outweighed the quantity. Portland shot 48% from the three-point arc. That was a direct result of the type of assist that was being dished out. Driving the ball and kicking out to the open man is a strategy used by all the best teams in the league. The Blazers need to build on their success tonight. Ball movement is the key to any unstoppable offense.
There Goes That Man
Chauncey Billups and the coaching staff had a clear message for Henderson tonight; shoot the ball, shoot the ball, and shoot the ball. Henderson’s 33 points came off 31 attempts, by far the most of his career. The overall percentages could have been better, but I was encouraged by his 4-9 rate from the three point range. He also added 9 assists and 7 rebounds with only 3 turnovers to complete one of his best all-around games of the season.
I was impressed by Scoot’s stretch of basketball in the second quarter, particularly at the 2:05 mark. He missed a three-pointer, but instead of sulking he stayed alert. He stole a pass, then drove it hard at Grayson Allen to draw a foul, earning himself free-throws. But Henderson wasn’t done. 30 seconds later, he established good defensive position and drew an offensive foul on a driving Bradley Beal. It’s this type of effort that had scouts salivating over Henderson before the draft.
Henderson made sure to leave his mark on both the offensive and defensive end of the ball. Billups handed the keys over to his young point guard tonight and it’s safe to say Scoot drove the car well.
New Lineups, New Horizons
The Blazers started a lineup of Henderson, Anfernee Simons, Toumani Camara, Jabari Walker, and Doup Reath. It was one of the youngest starting combos of the season. They did not disappoint. In fact, they held a 33-31 lead after the first quarter, surprising not only Rip City, but the Phoenix Suns, who had their entire team healthy.
Could this lineup be a glimpse into the future? Shaedon Sharpe will have something to say about that, but the backcourt of Scoot and Simons looked really good. Camara and Walker played like their lives depended on it and Reath continues to be a matchup nightmare for slower opposing starting centers. Sorry Jusuf Nurkic...
Regardless of how long this lineup stays together, I am pleased to see Billups trying new combinations in a season that should be all about experimentation. The young guys were given a chance to play meaningful minutes together, and things did not look so bad. Chemistry and cohesiveness as a team are going to be essential for the Blazers whenever trying to build a championship team. I hope this lineup is given more time to grow.
Henderson wasn’t the only Blazer to set a career high in points tonight. Fellow rookies Murray and Rupert did as well. Now I know what you’re thinking. “Of course they set career highs! The veteran Blazers were not playing and the rookies scored in garbage time.” If that was going through your mind, you thought wrong.
I was impressed with the scoring output from Murray and Rupert because it came in the natural flow of the offense. Murray went 3-6 from distance and Rupert 3-3. They stayed ready. When they caught the ball, they shot it with confidence. If Rupert and Murray can continue to develop the three point shot and stay aggressive on the defensive end of the court, they will make it tough for the coaching staff to keep them off the floor.
Keeping the Paint Clean
Portland did a much better job tonight defending the paint. The Suns scored only 44 points inside, which was a huge improvement compared to other games from this past road trip. The Blazers played a lot of zone in order to keep Phoenix from living in the lane. That strategy worked for most of the night.
Phoenix has two of the NBA’s best mid-range shooters in Durant and Booker. They had to connect on multiple tough shots in order to keep the Blazers at bay in the fourth quarter. Reath and Walker cut off open lanes to the rim and the length of Portland’s wings caused vision problems for the Suns.
At the end of the day, Durant, Booker, and Beal are All-Star level players and they connected on All-Star level shots, but the Blazers defended, rebounded, and hung with them to the very end.
The Blazers get a couple nights off before taking on the Brooklyn Nets at 7:00 PM. Pacific on Wednesday night.