Portland Trail Blazers 106, Phoenix Suns 99 -- Deja Vu

Steve Nash went off, but he and the Suns ran out of gas down the stretch. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)

The Portland Trail Blazers have a way of putting the clamps on the Phoenix Suns late in games.

The last time the Suns squared off against the Blazers in their season opener, they took a 81-75 lead into the fourth quarter.

But the Suns crumbled down the stretch scoring only 11 points in the final 12 minutes as Portland closed the game in style with an 18-1 run en route to a 106-102 victory.

Tuesday night was deja vu for Phoenix, as the Suns once again built a six-point lead (85-79) heading into the fourth and final period, but couldn’t find the basket late in the game on their way to a 106-99 loss to a Portland team that lost six of its last games heading into the contest.

The Suns turned the ball over nine times (19 team turnovers in total) in the fourth quarter as the offense stalled in the half court, allowing the Blazers to rattle off 37 fourth-quarter points on the other end.

Steve Nash continued his torrid pace after a perfect game against the Wizards, scoring 20 points and dishing out 10 dimes through three quarters while facing full-court pressure from the likes of Wesley Mathews, Patty Mills and Armon Johnson.

Due to the continual ineffectiveness of Goran Dragic (0-of-2 with two turnovers and a minus-12 in nine minutes), Nash re-entered the game with 9:15 left in the fourth and the game tied at 79 after a Blazers 10-4 run to start the quarter.

Despite finishing the game with 24 points and 15 assists (13 in the second half) on a ridiculous 10-of-16 shooting (18-of-24 shooting in his last two games), Nash ran out of gas down the stretch, turning the ball over three times in the final period and struggling to get into the paint and create for himself and his teammates like he did through the first three quarters.

With the Suns down 91-89 and 3:26 left, Nash had the ball stolen and fouled Mathews out of frustration, sending him to the line to push Portland’s lead to four. A few possessions later Nash put up a nine-footer that he drilled all game long, but he left it short, failing to cut the lead to two.

Nicolas Batum drilled a three on Portland’s next possession, but the Suns and Nash had another chance to get within striking distance, down 96-90 with the ball and about a minute to go. But Nash, who turned it over nine times in the season opener, threw it away again with 47 seconds left, putting the exclamation point on Phoenix’s fourth-quarter meltdown.

“We struggled to score at times, and that was it,” Nash told reporters after the game. “They did a better job than us defensively.”

Although he couldn’t shake free of defenders down the stretch, the loss shouldn’t be placed on the shoulders of Nash, who was the only Suns player to rack up a positive +/- (plus 5). He was far and away the best player on the court and is performing at an MVP level as of late.

But he played a game-high 39 minutes, thanks to absolutely no relief from Dragic and the Suns bench — aside from Jared Dudley’s 13 points in 32 minutes.

“I hate putting Steve back in the game,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “It’s not good when Steve has to play the last nine-and-a-half minutes of the game. I need (the starters) playing six minutes to finish the game.”

Phoenix’s other elder statesman, Grant Hill, also had a big night as he exploded for 23 points and eight boards in 39 minutes. But the Suns had little help outside of Nash, Hill and Dudley.

Jason Richardson was limited to only 24 minutes (six points) due to foul trouble and Channing Frye (13 points, seven boards, 29 minutes) fouled out after pushing off on a dunk with 3:10 left in the game.

The bench continues to struggle, prompting Gentry to say that he may have to cut down the rotation because the Suns have “too many perimeter guys” to work into the lineup and the “numbers don’t work.”

Although the Suns’ bench and entire offense imploded in crunch time, their defense didn’t do them any favors either. The Suns let up four three-pointers and 11 points to Wesley Mathews in the fourth (24 in the game), in addition to 18 Blazers free-throws after they shot 15 through the first three quarters.

Phoenix was late on its rotations and Portland took advantage from distance, while staying aggressive and ultimately drilling 32-of-33 free tosses.  But while Phoenix’s defense let up, that was more of a result of the Suns’ dysfunctional fourth-quarter offense.

They made six of their first 10 shots in the quarter, but lost all rhythm halfway through the quarter and it cost them a chance at their longest win streak of the season. The Suns did some good things over the course of the game, both offensively and defensively.

Phoenix shot 50.7 percent from the field and knocked down 8-of-16 triples. The Suns also tied a much bigger and more physical Portland team on the boards, as each team grabbed 32 boards and no Blazer grabbed more than six rebounds. The Blazers ranked second in offensive rebounds per game (13.8) heading into the game, but the Suns admirably held them to only five offensive rips.

The Suns also limited them to 44.6 percent shooting and 33.3 percent from the land of plenty. But the 32 points on free throws killed the Suns, as did their fourth-quarter meltdown.

Nash wore down as the Blazers kept the pressure on, and Phoenix’s offensive miscues opened the door for Portland to take advantage of a quickly deflating Suns team. Aside from the turnovers and late-game struggles, the Suns didn’t play all that badly Tuesday night.

But in a game they shoot above 50 percent from the field and three, limit their opposition to under 45 percent from the field and tie them on the glass, they should come away victorious. The Blazers, however, know how to stop the Suns in crunch time, and they did exactly that for the second time in as many games.

And 1

Goran Dragic looked lost Tuesday night and has struggled a bit as of late. It was his first game without scoring all season long, and Dragic hasn’t reached double figures since Nov. 20 against Charlotte, making that eight straight games without at least 10 points. “I don’t know if we’re not putting him in the right situations or what,” said Gentry, “but we’ve got to get him back where he’s being really effective. We have to take a good hard look at who we have out there with him and is it the right combination.” … The Suns did a nice job on LaMarcus Aldridge, with constant double teams in addition to good one-on-one defense from Earl Barron and Channing Frye. He did score 20 points, but 10 of them came from free-throws and that ability to defend the paint is a good sign moving forward. The Blazers finished with only 30 points in the paint. … Brandon Roy looked like a shell of his former self, dragging his bum knee and finishing 5-of-15 from the field. … Josh Childress is playing less and less by the game, and racked up only six minutes Tuesday. He’s played only 11.25 minutes over the last four games. … Scott R won tickets to the #Sunstweetup by coming closest to Jared Dudley’s +/- rating. Scott guessed -6, while Dudley finished with a -7 in 32 minutes.

  • Bostonian Suns Fan

    What is wrong with Goran Dragic? Is there an injury we do not know about? The dropoff from the end of last season seems too noticeable to ignore. Maybe still just poor chemistry with new teammates? Or wear-and-tear from participating in worlds over the summer?

  • Lori Ann

    While the Suns DID have a few spurts of control and fast-breaks, they never really found their rhythm in a single quarter. The Suns made some great plays however too few to put the Blazers on edge. Portland breezed through the game while the Suns struggled from start to finish. It’s tough to see the Suns playing erratically, but it happens.
    I’m not going to sweat it. The Suns know what they’re capable of; they just need to find the drive to put their capabilities into action, and on a regular and routine basis.
    In hope –
    GO SUNS!!!!!

  • Mel.

    Hey, Bostonian! Two quick answers to your Q’s:

    -Goran was dealing with a leg injury earlier in the season, but supposedly worked through it. I don’t know if it’s still nagging or not, but something has to explain that absolutely horrific turnover ratio.

    -Goran’s also commented on the floor spacing of the second unit, which changed with Frye’s entry into the starting lineup. His main gripe is that he’s being denied angles to drive–and dish–though I’m not sure how much water that holds. It might just come down to the whole ongoing confidence concern that’s been part of Dragon’s career since he touched down in PHX.

  • dario

    I think this is the full potential of Goran Dragic. Some might believe Goran could be a PG like Steve Nash, saying that Nash’s first two or three years were not as good as his MVP years or after. But it is completely wrong. Goran has never been consistently good. He can score 20 or more in a quarter sometimes, but he will never play consistently.

  • Lori Ann

    @Dario -

    Your statement in saying, “But it is completely wrong” is your belief. And, “he [Dragic] will never play consistently” again, is your belief, which puts you in the very same group of what “Some people might believe.”
    Are you familiar with the expression: “Call a spade a spade?”

  • Steve

    I don’t think Goran is at his full potential yet, but I think he’s pretty close. If Goran were getting 30+ min, he would be a 15-8-5 type of player, and I think that is pretty much his ceiling. He’s not a 20-pt guy, and he’s not a 10-assist guy. I just don’t see that ability in him. As far as “what’s wrong with him…” I think it’s just that he’s not that good. He’s not a superstar who is going to go out there and close out games, nail threes in your eye, and make you look foolish as you watch him dominate you. He’s a good NBA player, but he’s not going to be the Suns’ hired assassin.

    The second unit lost that game. Awful awful awful fourth quarter. But what I do pull from that game is that we fought back again and put ourselves in a position to win on a good opponent’s court on a night when everything seemed to go their way (especially the whistles in the last five minutes). We still had a shot. We just needed one of our guys to step up and nail some daggers. J-Rich didn’t have it, and although Nash played a good game, he couldn’t hit the shots he needed down the stretch. When J-Rich and Nash can’t finish the game off, we’re probably going to lose.

  • http://www.twitter.com/arturbm Artur Mascarenhas

    Maybe Dragic and the Suns organization are making way too much effort to turn Dragic into a Nash.

    They are completely different players and this should be used in the team’s benefit, to change defense, game pace, ball distribution, etc.

    I agree Dragic is not a superstar, but, nevertheless, he can and should produce more. Gentry gotta find a way to make it happen.

  • Al

    I didn’t watch the game but I did see the score board of the first half. I don’t know how Phoenix defended Rudy or if they left him open to guard Roy, but, How does that guy get 11 points in 7 minutes in perfect shooting? Where was the defense for that guy? Rudy could have gone for more if he hadn’t been pulled out of the game.

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