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.
Howdy kind listeners. Before we all take some much needed respite before the start of a brutal March schedule, Joe Freeman, he of The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, and I, Casey Holdahl of ForwardCenter.net/TrailBlazers.com, hit the studios at the Moda Center to record an All-Star break edition of the Rip City Report podcast, which you can listen to below…
On this week’s episode we marvel at the Trail Blazers being 27-27, good for seventh in the Western Conference, and how that’s going to cost Freeman some money/beer at some point, the emergence of Maurice Harkless since joining the starting lineup, Portland rising while other teams in their general range struggle, discuss how we’ll be spending our respective All-Star breaks and answer a host of questions pertaining to the upcoming trade deadline, Gerald Henderson’s tenure in Portland, Damian Lillard passing Brandon Roy and a bunch of other stuff that I’ve already since forgotten. As I noted during the show, my brain is already on vacation.
You can find the Rip City Report on Soundcloud, iTunes and Stitcher. And consider using a small portion of the time you would usually spend watching the Blazers to give us a review on iTunes! You can be as mean as you want!
Though they were never teammates, Damian Lillard and Brandon Roy manage to talk from time to time. Their relationship started not long after Lillard was selected by the Trail Blazers with the sixth overall pick of the 2012 Draft and they’ve stayed in contact ever since over the years. During those somewhat regular chats, the current and former faces of the Trail Blazers’ franchise sometimes discuss the responsibility that comes with that title, especially at a relatively young age, and what could have been if the 6-3 guard out of Weber State and the now-retired 6-6 guard out of Washington ever had the opportunity to play alongside each other in Rip City.
And the next time they talk, they’ll have something new to discuss. With his 31-point performance in Tuesday night’s victory versus the Rockets, Lillard passed Roy for 15th in franchise history in points. Lillard now has 6,119 in less than four seasons in Portland, surpassing the the 6,107 points that Roy scored in five seasons before knee injuries ended his career far too prematurely.
“I mean, that’s an honor,” said Lillard of passing Roy. “Just to be moving up on that list period, but I mean, if Brandon Roy got to play as long as he should have played and people would have liked to have seen him play, I probably would never pass him, so it’s a great accomplishment. It’s an honor you know, but the more important thing is just continuing to be myself and continuing to win games.”
Which Lillard has done an excellent job of his season. He’s the only player to rank in the top-6 in both scoring (24.3 points per game) and assists (7.3 assist per game) this season and has led the Trail Blazers to a 27-27 record this season, vastly outperforming preseason expectations, despite being the only holdover from last season’s starting five.
Though he’s had plenty of help this season from the likes of CJ McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Mason Plumlee and Ed Davis, Lillard’s performance through 54 games is the the primary reason that the Trail Blazers enter the All-Star break in seventh place in the Western Conference. Roy, a three-time All-Star, was a fantastic player in his own right, a player whose peak performances are still the stuff of legend in Portland, but even he never carried the load that Lillard has this season. And of course, Lillard has already helped the Trail Blazer win a playoff series in his first four season in Portland, something Roy never accomplished.
“He’s been pretty good in a short amount of time,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts of Lillard. “I mean, Brandon Roy, I wasn’t here for that, but I know what an imprint he made on the city and the franchise and how important he was to the Blazers. The fact that Damian has passed him this early in his career really says something because I know how good Brandon was. I know his career was cut short but everybody here holds him in high regard.”
Assuming Lillard experiences relatively good health — the seven games he missed this season due to plantar fascitiis are the only games he’s missed in his profession career thus far — there’s no reason to think that he won’t replace Roy as the best guard to play in Portland since Clyde Drexler, if he hasn’t taken that mantel already. But Roy can take some satisfaction in knowing that at least some of the success Lillard has had as a Trail Blazer was accomplished in part due to emulating the example he set on and off the court.
“When (Roy) got to Portland, a lot of the stuff he did, it brought excitement,” said Lillard. “I think the city really embraced him, they liked who he was as a person along with what he did as a player, obviously. I think because I kind of came and did the same thing, did some of the same things he did, I think he respects that… He was well respected, people appreciated the kind of person he was and he got it done on the floor. I think I can say the same for myself.”
PORTLAND — What a nice way to go into the All-Star break.
For the second time in five days, the Trail Blazers built a large third-quarter lead against the Rockets, then allowed them to make a comeback, only to make a final push to come away with the double-digit victory, this time to the tune of a 116-103 win in front of a sellout crowd of 19,393 at the Moda Center.
“I really like the way we’re playing right now,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “Defensively, we’ve been really good the last two or three weeks. Our aggressiveness has been good, our alertness has been very good and I thought we did that for most of the night tonight. It’s good to go into the break on a win streak and playing well.”
The Trail Blazers are now 27-27 overall and 16-11 at the Moda Center this season. With the win, Portland is .500 for the first time since the team was 4-4 on November 9, 2015, have won eight of their last 10 games at home and 12 of their last 15 games overall, regardless of venue. Thanks to that streak, the Trail Blazers enter the All-Star break in the seventh spot in the Western Conference standings while the Rockets, a team that started the game in seventh place, drop to ninth.
“We dug ourselves a hole to start the season, giving up some games late, but we stuck with it, we kept going, we kept working,” said Damian Lillard. “We didn’t get too high or low. We were able to close in and get to .500 going into the break. Our team has done a great job of sticking to the grind, working every day in practice and staying together. That’s gotten us to where we are now.”
After ending the first quarter tied 29-29, the Trail Blazers used a 18-3 run in the second quarter to build a 12-point lead. Portland would expand their lead to 21, only to see the Rockets cut the deficit to five with 9:31 to play in the fourth. But the Trail Blazers would close out the game by outscoring the Rockets 23-15 to come away with the 13-point victory.
Portland won Tuesday’s contest despite shooting worse percentage than the Rockets from the field and the three-point line, but making eight more free throws despite having the same number of attempts and turning 20 Rockets turnovers in to 31 points more than made up for their so-so field goal percentages.
“I like the fact that we’re doing it within the context of our defense rather than gambling and extending our defense,” said Stotts of forcing turnovers. “We’re being aggressive on the ball, we’re alert on the weak side, so I think those two things combined help create those turnovers.”
The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who went 9-of-22 from the field, 4-of-11 from three and 9-of-11 from the free throw line for 31 points to go along with nine assists, three rebounds and three steals in 35 minutes.
Maurice Harkless remained in the starting lineup, despite Noah Vonleh being on the active list for the first time in the last two games, and responded with his best game as a Trail Blazers with 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting, 13 rebounds and two steals in 28 minutes.
“I liked his defense on Harden, he finished around the basket, he got rebounds, he ran the floor well,” said Stotts of Harkless. “He did a little bit of everything in a kind of understated way.”
Meyers Leonard went 6-of-9 from the field for 14 points while grabbing eight rebounds off the bench. Al-Farouq Aminu shot just under 50 percent to finish with 11 points and five rebounds and Ed Davis grabbed 13 rebounds in 21 minutes. Gerald Henderson went just 3-of-10 from the field but made up for it by going 7-of-10 from the line to finish with 13 points.
The Rockets were led by James Harden, who finished with 34 points, and Dwight Howard, who added 28 points and 13 rebounds in 35 minutes.
Next up, the Trail Blazers have more than a week off before hosting the Golden State Warriors on February 19.
“We’re playing well and hopefully when we get back we pick up where we left off,” said Stotts, “but everybody could use a break.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 pm.