The Suns controlled the game and led by as many as 16 as the Blazers fell to Phoenix 104 to 91.
The Takeaway: Lillard and Aldridge combined for 60 points. Everyone else on the Blazers had 31. That’s almost all you need to know about the offense.
Recap: The Blazers opened with one of the worst first quarters they’ve had in years, especially considering the competition. I guess they decided to celebrate Halloween early, because they looked positively frightened– of the PHOENIX SUNS, whose best player is Goran Dragic, and whose second-best player wasn’t starting last year. Those Phoenix Suns.
But maybe the Suns looked at how the 76ers beat the Heat earlier in the day and said, “we can do that.”
As the Blazers were bobbling passes and jacking up weird, angling fadeaways that didn’t even come close to going in, the Suns were fast breaking, hitting open jumpers, fast breaking some more, and making Miles Plumlee look like an All-Star. To Plumlee’s credit, he played the part with ease. He was stable, coordinated, and fast. The Miles Plumlee that had a career-high 4 points last year did not look a thing like the Plumlee that had 16, 10, and 2 blocks… in the first half. And at no point was enjoyment had by Blazer fans in that first quarter. It was awful.
The tide turned in the second. The energy picked up. The confidence rolled in. And the Blazers’ two stars took over when it mattered (more on that later). The Blazers finished the half on a 9-2 run to close to within 4. Suns led 46-50 at the break.
The Blazers closed to within 2 in the third, and the game had every feeling that it was just starting to break the Blazers’ way. Then, the Blazers wilted and the Suns kept their energy up, and while I was away for a second to cover the ribs in the oven and turn the heat down, the Blazers were down 13. It’s puzzling to see the better team just refuse to play even to the level of their inferior opponent. The Blazers ended the third down 13, and were lucky not to be down by more.
The fourth saw little change in the narrative: the Suns had energy, the Blazers didn’t. Aldridge and Lillard realized they could do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, and when Aldridge hit the shot and was fouled with 8:32 to go, they were down 10 and you just wanted everyone else on the Blazers to keep feeding them. But basketball is a 5-person game, and it’s very tough to stay hot when your teammates present no credible threat on offense.
The game ended when the Blazers’ over-reliance on Lillard and Aldridge finally (and predictably) shuttered and fell apart. Without anyone else contributing it was curtains for Portland.
The Good: Lillard and Aldridge took over whenever they realized they had to. They both change the game in a way that made you think Aldridge has finally found his inner leader, and Damian will unquestionably become a star. You might be tempted to trade a win early in the season for that kind of assurance.
Aldridge in particular needs to be called out again: he looked like a leader. When he had position late in the fourth, he spun toward the basket, and instead of flipping it or taking one dribble before coming back out, he went RIGHT into the teeth of the defense, put it up, hit the desk, and made it without getting the call. Plays like those are exactly what you always wished he’d make, and on this night, he was making them. Bravo.
The Shoulda-been momentum-changer of the game: The Blazers were down 13 when Thomas Robinson flushed a nice oop and jolted some life into Portland. Then Aldridge checked in for Robinson with 7:14 to go in the second quarter, and said, “I think I’ll take over for a second.” So he hits a jumper. Then another. Then misses, but Lopez follows. Then hits another jumper. The Suns score a few, but with 1:04 left in the quarter, Damian Lillard says, “Well if L.A. gets to do it, then I’ll just go ahead and take this over for a second.” He nails a three. Blazers get a stop, come back the other way, and he nails another three. Bledsoe gets a layup on the other end, but with time running out the ball goes to Lillard, and he… nails yet another three. 9 points for Lillard in 64 seconds, and the Blazers knew what it felt like to have both stars take over at the opportune time. Lillard finished the half with 0 asissts, but 18 points, and Aldridge had 14 to combine for 32 of Portland’s 46 halftime points.
The Bad: Blazers could not find it within themselves to match the Suns’ energy for more than spurts, and found little offense during those lulls. If the Blazers can’t set the tone, or worse, are unable to disrupt the tone set by others, it will be a very long season.
The Weird: We all know Leonard was demoted, but he didn’t see the court. Neither did Will Barton. Considering how much the energy was flagging, it was a surprise they didn’t get thrown in at some point.
The Pathetic: Robin Lopez with 3 points and 2 boards in 34 minutes. Even with the 2 blocks, that just won’t get it done.
The Blazers take on the Nuggets in Denver on Friday.