PHOENIX– After being statistically one of the best defense teams during the preseason, the Portland Trail Blazers began the regular season by allowing the Phoenix Suns shoot 52 percent from the field, leading to a 104-91 opening-night loss at US Airways Center.
“Well, the Phoenix Suns outplayed us,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “They were ready from the get-go, they got out and ran. All the things that we’ve been working on, we had a setback today. Transition defense, we were slow reacting to that. Their guards did a good job of penetrating; we gave up too many shots at the rim. We didn’t necessarily shoot the ball well in the first half, but we battled back. We were in a position to win the game with three minutes to go, it was a five-point game. They outplayed us.”
After spending the bulk of training camp focusing on defense, the Suns jumped out to a 30-16 first quarter lead thanks in large part to second-year center Miles Plumlee, who scored 10 of his 18 points in the first quarter while helping the Suns outscore Portland 18-4 in the paint. Phoenix would eventually finish the game with a 52-24 advantage on the paint.
“I thought Bledsoe and Dragic made some tough shots in the paint,” said Stotts. “Miles Plumlee, I would imagine that might have been a career game for him. They passed the ball well then they got to the paint, the finished well when they got there. They made some tough shots but I thought we could have done a better job as well.”
Phoenix shot 60 percent from the field and scored 11 fastbreak points in the first quarter to set an unfortunate precedent.
“I think we let them come out, punch us in the mouth a little bit,” said Robin Lopez, who finished with three points and two rebounds. “They came out as the aggressors. I don’t think we really reacted until some time in the second quarter. By then it was too late. I think they had 30 in the first, something like that, and that’s too many points in a quarter, let alone to start off a game.”
The Trail Blazers would rally at the end of the second quarter thanks to three-straight three-pointers by Damian Lillard to cut Phoenix’s lead to four going into the half, but the Suns would answer with a 12-0 run early in the third to reassert control.
“They made plays. We fought back and got back into it and they had guys that made plays tonight,” said LaMarcus Aldridge. “Bledsoe played great, the big fella down low, Plumlee, played great. I thought they had guys that made plays tonight. We came out a little bit slow and they were home and it’s their opener and they have a bunch of new players, young players who are getting their first opportunity to play, to start. They just had more energy than us. We fought back but it just wasn’t enough.”
Portland would get to within five after a Lillard three-pointer and a Robin Lopez free throw with 3:15 to play, but Phoenix would score the last eight points to come away with a 13-point win.
“I got a little worried there when it got down to five, especially with a young team to see how they react,” said Suns first-year head coach Jeff Hornacek. “But they made a couple nice stops. That is the key for us. When we get stops, we are able to fast break. We had a pretty good transition. I think it was that one play that Eric ended up throwing it all the way down to Goran that really helped to separate at the end. Our guys played defense. I thought they did a great job together playing together.”
Damian Lillard lead all scorers with 32 points on 10-of-20 shooting. LaMarcus Aldridge finished with 28 points, four rebounds and two assists. No other Trail Blazer scored in double figures.
“We need more people that just Damian and LaMarcus scoring, but again, with our emphasis on defense we’re going to have nights where not everybody can score,” said Stotts. “It was deflating that the progress we had made in the preseason wasn’t there tonight.”
Nicolas Batum grabbed 13 rebounds in addition to seven points and four assists. Wesley Matthews finished with nine points, seven rebounds and four assists.
Suns guards Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe combined to score 48 points, while Plumlee and P.J. Tucker added 18 points apiece.
The Trail Blazers now travel to Denver for a Friday night game against the Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 PM.