After struggling to finish at the rim for most of the night, Damian Lillard made a surprisingly easy go-ahead layup with six seconds to play to give the Trail Blazers a 90-89 victory against the Suns Wednesday night at the Moda Center.
“It was uncontested,” said Lillard of his game-winning layup. “I mean, I got straight to the rim. I missed a couple where I was right at the rim but that was the one that counted. When it get to that part of the game I forget about everything else. I wanted to be in that situation, I’m glad we were able to execute.”
The win was Portland’s fourth-straight and their first against the Suns, a team that beat the Trail Blazers in Phoenix on opening night.
The Trail Blazers struggled for much of the game, shooting just 38 percent from the field through three quarters. Luckily the Suns, a team that looked like a well-oiled offensive machine in the first contest, weren’t much better, as both teams found it nearly impossible to get any kind of rhythm offensively.
“I give Phoenix a lot of credit,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “They play hard. I don’t think anybody could watch that game and come away with the feeling how hard Phoenix plays. They compete with you, they compete for the catches, they push out post ups, they’re physical in the paint, they go after the ball, they’re active with their hands. So give Phoenix a lot of credit on their defense.”
After playing just five minutes in Monday’s night’s victory against the the Pistons, Thomas Robinson got into the game early in place of LaMarcus Aldridge, who was forced to take a seat early in the first quarter after being called for two offensive fouls.
“As far as mentally being strong I think I’m stronger when it comes to that,” said Robinson of being called upon despite barely playing on Monday. “Went through a rough year last year so I know to keep my calm. I know I only played five minutes last game but you never know what happens. LA came out and got two quick fouls tonight and my name was called called.”
Robinson immediately made an impact, scoring six points and grabbing two rebounds in his first six minutes on the court. He would later be the catalyst for Portland’s comeback in the fourth quarter, starting the quarter off with a dunk, followed by a steal, followed by a trip to the free throw line. But it was his ferocious put-back dunk with 8:02 to play that sent a shock wave through the arena and awakened the Moda Center crowd.
“I think the game could have gone either way at that point,” said Lillard of Robinson’s dunk. “What happened could have happened. He dunked it, everybody got excited, the crowd got behind us and I think it kind of made us believe a little bit more. Not that we didn’t believe but everybody was fired up. He definitely led the comeback.”
Robinson would miss two-straight free throws, prompting the Suns to take the surprising step of intentionally fouling Robinson on the ensuing possession (he would make one of two) but still finished the quarter with eight points, six rebounds and the game with a career-high tying 15 points and eight rebounds.
“Thomas Robinson came in and gave us a lot of energy and got us back into the game,” said Terry Stotts. “That sparked the team, it sparked the crowd and got us back into it.”
The Trail Blazers called a timeout with 11 seconds to play and the Suns leading 89-88, allowing Portland to advance the ball to past midcourt. Batum in-bounded the ball to Lillard, who came around an Aldridge screen at the top of the three-point line. The screen took Suns guard Eric Bledsoe out of the play while Suns forward Channing Frye neglected to rotate over to Lillard, choosing instead to stick to Aldridge, presumably to defend against the pick and pop. From there, Lillard was left with a wide open lane to the basket.
“We ran it exactly how we drew it up,” said Lillard. “We ran a quick inbounds like we always do, I got the ball. We wanted to get right into it so maybe we could get an offensive rebound. It was a pick and roll with me and LA and I came off and as soon as I came off it was just wide open. It was an easy read.”
On the ensuing possession, Suns guard Eric Bledsoe was isolated with Nicolas Batum at the top of three-point line with six seconds to play. Bledsoe drove and put up a high-arching attempted at the rim over Batum’s outstretched arms, but the shot careened off the rim. Both PJ Tucker and Markieff Morris would have tip-in opportunities, but neither was able to get the putback to fall and the Trail Blazers escaped with a one-point victory in front of a jubilant crowd of 19,537.
“That was a long six seconds,” said Wesley Matthews. “I think we had a foul to give, too. I guess we earned it. We gought through not playing very well. They played well and we took a lot of their good punches. We just continued to play the right way, playing hard and the ball bounced our way.”
Lillard finished the game with 11 points on four of 13 shooting to go along with eight assists, three rebounds and two steals. Robin Lopez kept the Trail Blazers in the game early and logged his third-consecutive double-double with 13 points, 15 rebounds, a career-high. Aldridge shrugged off a tough shooting first have to also managed a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
Matthews hit two timely three-pointers in the fourth quarter to finish with 11 points and two rebounds. Mo Williams rounded out Portland’s double digit scorers 12 points on five of 10 shooting, which helped the Trail Blazers bench tie a season-high in points with 34. Williams also added three assists and two rebounds.
Next up, the Trail Blazers embark on a four-game Eastern Conference road trip starting in Boston against the Celtics. Tipoff is scheduled for 4:30 PM.
“Going on an east coast road trip, you want to go out with something positive, especially on our home floor,” said Lillard. “We got it done. We didn’t make shots, we had some turnovers but we was able to steal, buckle down and find a way to win the game. I’m not sure we would have been able to do it last season.”