PORTLAND — After the Trail Blazers lost to the Suns for the second time this season way back on Nov. 27, Portland head coach Terry Stotts quipped that he was happy he wouldn’t have to play Phoenix again for four months.
Stotts reiterated that sentiment after Friday night’s game, and for anyone who watched, it’s easy to understand why.
Despite having a one-point lead at the end of the third, the Trail Blazers scored just 13 points in the fourth and were defeated 109-93 by the Suns in front of 20,089 at the Moda Center. The loss breaks a four-game winning streak for the Trail Blazers, who are now 49-28 on the regular season and 27-10 at the Moda Center. Phoenix also takes the season series 3-1.
“They just really play well against us,” said Stotts. “They average about 40 second chance points and fast break points against us. They push the tempo. Obviously they’re active on the offensive glass and extra possessions hurt us.”
Friday night’s game was the first opportunity the Trail Blazers had to clinch a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Portland now trails Houston by two games for the fourth seed and lead the Warriors by one and a half games for the fifth seed.
“We’ll probably have another chance to (clinch),” said Lillard. “We would have liked to do it tonight, but I think we’ve got four more home games and hopefully we’ll have another opportunity.”
It looked as though the Trail Blazers might cash in that opportunity, at least through the first three quarters. Both teams made runs at various times in the game, with the Suns taking a seven-point lead in the first quarter and the Blazers going up 10 in the third quarter, but neither team was ever able to pull away for very long.
That is, at least until the fourth quarter. Phoenix started the fourth on a 20-5 run which culminated with a Goran Dragic layup with 5:07 to play that put the Suns up 99-85. Phoenix reserve guard Gerald Green would lead the charge, as he had done for much of the night, scoring 12 of his game-high 32 points during that run.
“I saw him play a game similar to that where he had 40,” said Lillard. “We knew that he was an explosive scorer. He’s shooting the ball really well this year. He got on tonight. He started to make everything and was feeling it. He played a great game.”
Meanwhile, Portland would go almost six minutes without a field goal during that same stretch in the fourth, which doomed whatever chance they had to come away with their fifth-consecutive victory.
“We struggled scoring,” said Stotts. “Gerald made some big momentum plays that energized them. We got down 10 or 12 and really couldn’t mount a charge after that.”
But if giving up points was the symptom of Portland’s fourth quarter woes, it was allowing the Suns to crash the offensive glass that was the illness. Phoenix beat Portland on the boards all night, out-rebounding the Blazers 59-48, but
it was timely offensive rebounds by the Suns that lead to Portland’s undoing. Phoenix grabbed five offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter to just one for Portland.
“They were just running to (offensive rebounds), they were quick,” said LaMarcus Aldridge. “We were kind of trying to scramble and trying to help and find shooters and they were just running in and getting them.”
The Suns also managed to make something of those extra possessions, turning those five offensive rebounds into 11 second chance points.
“There’s some boxing out, some they went and got some of it, some of it we had the ball in our hands and didn’t secure it, sometimes it was a 50-50 ball and they came up with it,” said Stotts of Phoenix’s offensive rebounding. “Some of that is them, some of it is us. When you give up 23 offensive rebounds, there’s probably a host of reasons.”
What was harder to assess is why the Trail Blazers have had such a difficult time with the Suns this season. All three games Portland has lost to Phoenix this season have been by double-digits. Their lone victory came by one point and would have been a loss had the Suns been able to convert a tip in at the buzzer back on November 13.
“I think it’s their ability to go small and spread the floor out and we haven’t been able to stop them in transition,” said Lillard. “We allowed them to get out and get threes and get into the paint and make plays. We haven’t been able to take that away from them.”
The Trail Blazers were led by Robin Lopez, who finished the game with 18 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks in 36 minutes. Aldridge also scored 18 while pulling down seven rebounds.
Nicolas Batum flirted with a triple-double before finishing with 13 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. Lillard rounded out the double-digit scoring starters with 15 points and seven assists.
Along with Green, Suns guard Eric Bledsoe also broke the 30-point mark while grabbing seven rebounds and handing out three assists.
Next up, the Trail Blazers host the Pelicans at the Moda Center on Sunday. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 PM.
Greetings podcast enthusiasts. Between CJ McCollum getting an extension and Moe Harkless signing a new deal, Portland’s roster for the start of the 2016-17 regular season is all but finalized. So it seemed like a good time to hit the studio with Joe Freeman of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com to record yet another edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this edition, we discuss the near-max extension for McCollum and the four-year, roughly $40 million contract for Harkless, which directions Terry Stotts might go in terms of starting lineups and minutes allocations, the news that both Al-Farouq Aminu and Festus Ezeli will forego playing for Nigeria at the 2016 Summer Olympics, give a quick rundown of the preseason schedule and answer your Twitter-submitted questions.
Last weekend, Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum and his older brother, Errick, were guests on ESPN’s SportsCenter to discuss, amongst other things, The Basketball Tournament, which is billed as a “open application, 5-on-5, single-elimination, winner-take-all basketball tournament” in which the winning team takes home $2 million in prize money. Errick’s team, Overseas Elite, won the tournament last year and are in the finals, which airs Tuesday at 4 PM Pacific on ESPN, again this year.
But the tournament wasn’t the only topic of conversation, as any time you get two brothers together, you’re contractually obligated to ask them which is mom’s favorite. One one had, CJ still lives with his mom, so you might assume he’s the got the No. 1 son ranking sewn up, but it sounds like Errick was the much better behaved child and mom’s tend to have long memories, so it sounds like it’s a bit of a tossup.
“CJ, he was a good kid,” said Errick, “he just liked to get into things. He was really physical. She couldn’t take him around any other kids or he would, like, get into little altercations with them because he just played too rough.”
Sounds about right.
On Thursday, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts was a guest on The Doug Gottlieb Show on CBS Sports Radio. Over the 15 minute conversation, Stotts discusses LeBron James saying he would have been his pick for 2016 NBA Coach of the Year, Kevin Durant signing as a free agent with the Golden State Warriors, the notion of “super teams” in the NBA, having confidence in your players and his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive.
You can listen to the entire interview here, though I’m transcribed a portion which you can read below…
On LeBron James saying Stotts should have been Coach of the Year:
“To be honest, it felt pretty good. I have a lot of respect obviously for LeBron, what he does and what he’s done in his career, but for him to come out and say that, it made me feel good.”
On Cleveland winning the NBA Finals after being down 3-1 to Golden State:
“Obviously it was historical. A lot of things went into it, but when a team can do that and to win two games on the road being down 3-1, it’s really remarkable. It just put an end to a historical season as it was with Golden State and what they did during the regular season, the way they came back against Oklahoma City and then for Cleveland to do that, it was just remarkable. I thought it was a remarkable season to begin with and it finished that way.”
On Kevin Durant signing with the Warriors:
“My first reaction was he earned the right to be a free agent. I know a lot of thought went into it and it wasn’t a decision that he took lightly. I know he took a lot of criticism for making that decision but I think he earned that right to make whatever decision he felt was best for him. I think it’s going to be interesting with Golden State. Obviously defending them is going to be a challenge because — we talked about versatility — they were already an extremely talented offensive team and he’s going to make them better. They’re going to be a different team than they were last year, they’re not going to have the big guys. When you lose Festus Ezeli, who is on our team now, and Andre Bogut and Maurice Speights, the look of their frontline is going to be different. But I think they could be just as good just because of what they’ll be able to do at the offensive end.”
His thoughts on “super teams” in the NBA:
“You know, I don’t know if it’s good or bad for the league. I’ve just kind of accepted that that’s the way things are. I know people have made comparisons when LeBron went to Miami and that was supposedly the first super team and they won two championships, but it’s not like there was a five year, seven year run dynasty. When you get out on the court, you still have to play the games. Obviously Golden State is going to be very good, but you’ve got to play an 82-game season, you’ve got to go through four series to win a championship. I think the league does thrive on star power, whether it’s star power within a team or having a team be a star. I don’t know, I think the league is doing extremely well, I think it’s extremely popular. I think this is just another story that people are going to be interested in.”
On having confidence in shooters like Allen Crabbe and CJ McCollum:
“I’m a big believer in confidence when shooting. It probably goes back to my freshman year in college when I didn’t know whether to shoot or (laughs) you know the phrase. But anyway, I’m a big believer in confidence and Allen and CJ are two different categories. CJ struggled with injuries his first two years and was trying to get incorporated into a roster that was winning 50 games and never really got into a rhythm. I think shooting is about rhythm and confidence. Same thing for AC, really, is that he did have opportunities to play in his first two years but he was playing behind Wes Matthews and Nic Batum and his opportunities on the court were limited. When you’re looking over your shoulder and trying not to make mistakes and putting pressure on (yourself) to make a shot, it’s difficult. I really give it to CJ and Allen, they were ready for this year and they were prepared for it, the opportunity was going to be there. But I think that a lot of players — and you know, you played — is that if the coach trusts me, I’m going to play better. Whether I trusted them or not their first two years, certainly their opportunity was there and I trusted them with the role that they were going to have.”
On his participation in the Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive:
“Every year what I do is I go through the closet and knowing that I’m going to get some suits in the fall, I go through and weed out the older ones. There’s certain ones that I do kind of have a special place in my heart for them, but other than that, I just take some of the older suits and the Men’s Wearhouse has a great program with the suit drive to give away suits to people who can use them. I’m kind of a bigger guy so hopefully there’s some big guys out there who are able to take advantage of them.”