Portland Trail Blazers 96, Phoenix Suns 93 -- Lillard the big shot

Opportunities for the Phoenix Suns were there. A missed three here by Jared Dudley, Shannon Brown’s misread of a fastbreak opportunity with the team down three points there and another missed three by Goran Dragic in the waning seconds were only a few of them.

The Suns’ four-game winning streak ended in Portland Saturday night as the Trail Blazers hit big shots and held off Phoenix to win 96-93 at the Rose Garden.

Damian Lillard drove left on a hard cut to the hoop and effortlessly stepped back to create more than enough space against the long and athletic Brown to give Portland a 96-91 lead with less than a minute to play. It was a summation of the night for Phoenix, which couldn’t stop Lillard nor come up with the big play when needed.

The rookie point guard’s big – yet timely – shots gave him 25 points and seven assists on the night to lead his Trail Blazers to a win in a game between two growing but young teams.

To Marcin Gortat, Portland again acted as his dose of confidence. The center scored 18 points on 9-of-12 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds after his 22-point outing against the Blazers earlier in the year.

Although Portland center J.J. Hickson scored 13 points in the opening quarter as the Trail Blazers moved the ball well, taking advantage of the Suns’ starting front line and its plodding nature on help defense, Phoenix led 25-23 going into the second.

The Suns’ bench built the lead to double digits, going ahead 47-35 two-thirds of the way through the second quarter and leading 53-44 at the half. The second-string bigs, Markieff Morris and Jermaine O’Neal, combined for 18 points and 7-of-10 shooting in the second quarter for the Suns. In what was another strong defensive game as far as Suns’ deflections were concerned, the Trail Blazers had 13 turnovers in the first half, seven of which came by way of Suns steals.

They would finish with 20 turnovers to 13 for Phoenix. But the Suns’ 20 more shot opportunities were deceiving; they got to the free throw line 11 times while the Trail Blazers went 23-of-28. Phoenix launched 19 threes yet only made five.

So much for the opportunities given to them.

Aldridge came out gunning for the Suns’ necks out of the halftime break. He scored nine of the first 19 Portland points in the second half as the Trail Blazers suddenly found a sense of urgency. Phoenix showed mettle by responding with a Gortat dunk off an offensive rebound followed up by a savvy post and fadeaway as his confidence blossomed within the game. The Suns’ starting center scored 10 of his points and grabbed four of his rebounds in the third period.

Gortat’s ability on Saturday night showed how different of a player he is when funneling the confidence of one play in his favor. And while it’d be better to have consistency from the 7-footer, the Suns at least saw that he hasn’t permanently checked out this season.

After at one point finding their lead at just 61-60, the Suns used the play of Gortat and a steal then dunk by Brown to build the lead back to double figures with four minutes to play in the third quarter.

And just as quickly as they had regained control, the Trail Blazers took it right back. They went on a 12-2 run to tie the game at 75 apiece heading to the fourth.

There, no team led by more than three points until Portland bumped its lead up to 89-85 with four minutes to play in the game. But with the veteran awareness that he had displayed in scoring 24 points against Phoenix in the two teams’ first meeting, Lillard — who had just seven first-half points — drilled a pull-up three to give his team a 92-85 advantage.

Lillard had 18 points in the second half, and easily outplayed Dragic, who had a quiet 10 points and five assists on Saturday night.

The Suns cut the lead down to three points with just more than a minute to play. At 94-91, Lillard drilled his step-back jumper over Brown, scoring the final two points of the game for Portland. The rookie out of Weber State scored the final nine points for the Trail Blazers as Brown ran toward the rim on a fastbreak opportunity instead of drifting out to the three-point line while Phoenix trailed 96-93. Dragic missed a heave, and Brown’s offense rebound saw him attempting a put-back two that would have led to a Phoenix loss just the same.

The fight was there on Saturday. The Suns just didn’t capitalize.

And 1

  • Jared Dudley’s hot scoring streak came to an end along with the Suns’ winning streak, but he did have 10 assists on the night.
  • With the return of rookie point guard Kendall Marshall after serving nine games in the D-League, the Suns listed fellow point guard Diante Garrett as inactive.
  • Michael Beasley appears to be falling out of favor even moreso these days. He played only 10 minutes in the game, going 1-for-4 from the field, but he was a team-best plus 15 in that time for a change.

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