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.