Damian Lillard led the Blazers with 19 as they fell to the Suns 104 to 98. LaMarcus Aldridge scored 10 in 16 minutes coming off a quad strain, Allen Crabbe had 14, and Will Barton had 13 on 5-6 shooting.
The Suns started as the more relaxed and motivated team.
Positives for the Blazers: Aldridge and Mo Williams were back after minor injuries. Wes Matthews continued to look more comfortable both driving and off the dribble. Thomas Robinson was confident and aggressive before getting tossed for throwing an elbow at Gortat. And Crabbe was showing some moxie both in the catch-and-shoot and off the dribble.
The first quarter ended with Phoenix up 28-20, and they deserved every point of that lead.
The fire under the Blazes was finally lit early in the second quarter. They started pushing back. After a minute and a half, the Blazers had an 11-0 run snapped only for Lillard to answer by almost losing the ball, diving to the floor, and powering through 3 defenders for a heave which hit dead center.
It also produced one of the nicest plays I’ve seen this year. Robinson grabbed an defensive rebound and zapped it fullcourt to an open Leonard a-la Bill Walton. It was almost that quick.
The quarter battled on, the Suns scoring 7 straight off 3 consecutive Blazer turnovers. As happened at least once last game, Robinson was again blocked weakside after a spin move which, by the way, looked great. It will be interesting if he can one day better anticipate what he’ll be facing AFTER he spins, because he’s fast enough to make it a dangerous weapon.
The energy was unexpectedly… urgent. Like there was something on the line besides bragging rights to a 1-1 preseason record. And that’s exactly what they were playing for. Robinson’s ejection for throwing an elbow at Marcin Gortat was an example of that energy run afoul.
Joel Feeland hit a one-foot stepback right out of Dirk Nowitzki’s playbook , and stayed with a rebound picked up by Phoenix long enough to run them out of bounds and give the Blazers the ball back. Hustle like that was offset by their disorganization, partly because they were so eager.
With a terrible pass by Williams as time expired, the Blazers found themselves down 56-51 at the half.
The Suns burst into the third quarter. The Suns’ lead ballooned to 16 before their 17-2 run ended. With 5 minutes left in the quarter, Lopez drew a nice foul under the boards, and Williams swooped down the lane for an and-one before doubling down on his aggression and drawing another foul, hitting 1 of 2 to cut it to 73-63. More aggression by Williams led to a Freeland dunk off a Lopez assist, but the Suns pushed back, with Goran Dragic setting the tone.
After the game’s 5 ties and 4 lead changes, the Suns led 83-67 and matched their largest lead of the game at 16 at the end of the third quarter. Unfortunately for the Blazers, the fourth gave them more of the same. The Suns pushed their lead to 19, and with 10:25 left the Blazers needed to make a push.
Barton made a three. But Channing Frye got it back for Phoenix. Then Lillard hit a three, but the Blazers gave up a free throw. Back-and-forth doesn’t cut it when you’re down 20.
Even a great dunk from Lillard off a Williams lob couldn’t move the needle, and the Blazers found themselves down double digits, out of momentum, and likely out of time.
Lillard came back aggressive. He took a bump driving down the middle and finished through 2 defenders, then drove again and finished with contact.
A nice defensive stand and some crafty ball handling by Claver led to him going to the line and hitting 1 of 2, and Barton’s no-look bounce pass to Crabbe cut it to 9 with 4:20 to go. The Blazers cut it to 8 with 3:20 left, and Allen Crabbe’s off-the-glass hanger trimmed it to 6.
Freeland faked Plumlee badly with a spin at the top of the key for an and-1. The crowd chanted “Defense!” After 2 offensive boards for the Suns, the Blazers got it back only for Barton to pull a Barton and barrel down the lane with no direction and flail it up and off. After the Suns got 2 back, the Blazers were down 6 with 1:23 left, and were able to get it to within 4 before finally slipping another game into the loss column.
This game felt much better than Monday’s. Having your best player back will have that effect. It will be interesting to see what happens once LaMarcus is up to game speed, Batum is back, and the players have a couple more games together under their belts. There are so many new players (and a relatively new coach) that some early discombobulation is to be expected.
The Blazers face the Jazz on Friday at 6pm in Boise, ID.