Phoenix Suns 102, Portland Trail Blazers 98 -- The dying embers of the fire


Wesley Johnson scored 14 points to help the Suns top the Trail Blazers in Portland. (Sam Forencich/NBAE/Getty Images)

Wesley Johnson scored 14 points to help the Suns top the Trail Blazers in Portland. (Sam Forencich/NBAE/Getty Images)

Even the hottest, most glorious fires will die out if not properly tended. When the flames die, a chill sets in and glowing ash is all that remains. But sometimes, the heat from that ash, the embers of a once great fire, are enough to survive. This was the story of the Phoenix Suns’ 102-98 victory over the Portland Trailblazers.

This game was a game of yin and yang for the Suns who netted just their sixth road win of the season. The first half was all yin (order). Phoenix jumped out to a 12-0 lead and shot nearly 73 percent from the field in the first quarter. By halftime their lead had swelled to 16 points. Goran Dragic had dished out 12 assists en route to a career-high 18, and Luis Scola was a perfect 5-of-5 from the field. The Blazers looked sluggish and disheartened as the Suns hit jumper after jumper. Everything was shaping up for a runaway victory.

But the second half was all yang (chaos). Phoenix shot just 38 percent from the floor and did everything possible late in the fourth to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Dragic and Scola got into foul trouble, and the Suns got tighter and tighter as the Blazers got closer and closer in the fourth. Despite holding a 10-point lead with four and a half minutes to play, the Suns had no momentum at all. It was clear at that point the Blazers had one final run in them. Portland cut the lead to two points, but the Suns, to their credit, weathered the storm in the final minute and secured victory with a pair of Dragic free throws.

While Phoenix will be happy to start the second half of their season off with a victory, this win was far more of a struggle than it should have been. The Suns led by at least 13 points in every quarter. The Blazers cut the lead to eight or less in every quarter. Ultimately, Portland’s downfall was their ice cold shooting. As a team, the Blazers hit only 42 percent of their shots. They were just never able to string together enough buckets to take control of the game even though at times Phoenix was dying to give it to them. Each time the Blazers went on a run, the Suns were able to get a few stops and string together a few easy buckets to put them back on top.

Phoenix did not play defense particularly well in this game. Damian Lillard, the surefire Rookie of the Year, had 24 points. He was able to penetrate past Dragic seemingly at will though he had trouble finishing inside against Phoenix’s frontline. LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum had 21 and 15 points respectively, but J.J. Hickson stole the show for the Blazers. Hickson grabbed 16 boards (six offensive) and scored 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting. He outworked whoever the Suns put on him. His effort on the offensive end is what kept this game from getting completely out of hand before Portland made its final run.

Despite giving up a ton of boards to Hickson, Phoenix actually out-rebounded the Blazers 51-37. It was their rebounding, not their defense, that kept Portland at bay for much of this game. Phoenix still has a ton of work to do when it comes to defending active players like Hickson inside. The Suns also continue to struggle against crafty guards like Lillard in the pick and roll.

Offensively, the Suns had five players in double-figures, including Wesley Johnson. Playing a season high 29 minutes, Johnson had 14 points (5-of-8 shooting) and eight rebounds. He hit one three and was fouled on another, making all three free throws. Perhaps most impressive was the fact that Johnson was on the floor in crunch time. Johnson playing this many minutes right out of the gate could be an indication of coach Lindsey Hunter’s plan for him over the final 28 games of the year.

Another surprise performance worth noting was Jermaine O’Neal’s 13 rebounds. It was the second time in as many games that O’Neal had grabbed a baker’s dozen boards. He has brought toughness to this team all season, especially when playing extended minutes in place of Marcin Gortat. The change of pace that O’Neal provides allows Phoenix to be versatile on the frontline. Against his former team, O’Neal looked rejuvenated and bouncy. His minutes could very well increase down the stretch of this season.

In the end, the Suns had just enough left in the tank to secure the win. If this were a Lakers’ blog, I’d proclaim the Suns 1-0.

And 1

  1. Damian Lillard is everything he’s purported to be and more. He has all the skills and potential necessary to supplant entrenched All-Stars like Chris Paul and Tony Parker as the best point guard in the West. The only flaw I can see in his game is his reliance on the referees to bail him out after contact. Lillard was constantly barreling into Suns’ defenders like he was 2006 Dwyane Wade. He didn’t get all the calls he expected and was visibly frustrated.
  2. Kendall Marshall has to play with more confidence. When he came into the game to spell Dragic in the second quarter, the Suns’ offense completely stagnated. Phoenix turned it over five times in five minutes and Marshall was totally abused by the Blazers’ Nolan Smith. To be fair, he was slightly better in the second half, but his lack of confidence and production is a serious issue for both him and the franchise.


Tags: Kendall Marshall Phoenix Suns Phoenix Suns Recap Portland Trail Blazers Wesley Johnson

  • the real shazam

    did we really have to win this and give the lakers some crawling room?

    • bkkkkkkkk

      @the real shazam Not exactly, you only need to secure Houston spot.

  • john manhole

    The Dragon never wants to lose.  What a great game from him.  I hope he finishes the season strong like he did last year with HOU.

  • DBreezy

    Nice W, although I was wiped out from playing hoops myself last night and kinda slept walked through it on the DVR. Nice to see Wes get some time so they can at least see him before the summer. If he shows a little promise, I don’t mind the idea of not picking up the guarantee on Shannon and signing Wes cheap for another season to see if he can do more. Why not, they’ll probably be bad anyway, may draft a wing, and it follows the plan of preserving cap space.

  • DBreezy

    Foreveris,
    It could just be an agent leak put out anonymously (by you?? :) but the Thunder seem to have talked to the Suns about a trade along your guidelines. I’m all for the proposal I saw on Hoopshype as I don’t think the Suns would do much better latter. Plus grabbing Lamb would make it so that they don’t feel obligated to take a wing in a draft that isn’t really deep there.

    • 4everis2long

      @DBreezy DBreezy, I saw this morning that Coro is lending some credence to the rumor that would net the Suns a 1st round pick, Lamb and Perkins. I could be wrong but without Harden I do not think OKC can beat Miami without another scoring option, which I think Gortat gives them. Who knows if the trigger is pulled but I sure hope the Suns do the deal if OKC is a willing participant.. If the Suns could pick up another 1st round pick and get J. Lamb, I may consider dancing in my underwear and boots in Times Square.
       
      Man, I know you were coming from playing hoops last night and may not have noticed but they said early in the telecast that Dragic had been to Cabo during the allstar break. Considering how well he played, if Cabo can do that for your basketball game, I am booking a trip right now. Dragic was very good last night.
       
      I do not know if Hunter is the coaching answer yet but I do like the fact he can think outside of the box. I have seen him try O’Neal and Gortat together and last night he initially played Wesley Johnson at the 2 spot. Personally I like him there because he will probably have a size advantage over most twos and he has shown he is not afraid to pull up on them to shoot his jumper.
       
      I also saw an article/comments, maybe it was Coro but not certain, talking about how tentative Marshall was last night. They could not have been more accurate as his lack of confidence strangles the offense when he plays like that.

      • TySun

        @4everis2long  @DBreezy  I thought this might be a possible trade for the Suns a while back too although I was thinking that Johnson’s expiring contract might be more attractive than Tucker.  But Tucker has proven himself to be a hard-nosed  player guy who will dig in, play tough defense and do whatever dirty work necessary to make it in the NBA.
         
        I really don’t like taking on Perkins’ contract but if it comes along with Lamb and another 1st round pick then it could be worth it.  As I said before, at least Perkins is nasty/mean on the court and the Suns could use a dose of nastiness moving forward.
         
        Although I like Hunter’s openness to trying new things, I doubt he will return as the Suns’ head coach next year.  Of course it is possible but I’m betting that the Suns open the job up during the off-season and only bring Hunter back if they can’t find someone better willing to take on the job.

      • DBreezy

        @4everis2long Yeah I missed the comments about Goran’s vacation and most of the commentary from last nights game. I just watches with the volume low because I was tired and sadly, sore.

  • 4everis2long

    Ok I get the idiot award for the day. It was this Suns article by Weisert that talked about Marshall’s lack of confidence.

  • bkkkkkkkk

    Regarding Marshall, the team needs to pull Garrett back to the active list to compete with Marshall ASAP. It seems that he may be better than Marshall.

    • 4everis2long

      @bkkkkkkkk  I think he is better than Marshall. However I understand the Suns playing Marshall because they hope they can trade him or he gets appreciable better substantiating the pick. Since they are not going anywhere soon, Garrett is not a priority today.

      • 4everis2long

        @bkkkkkkkk I meant to say “appreciably better” but was sending a text at the same time. At least that is my story and I am sticking to it.

  • TySun

    Can someone clarify just how many draft picks the Suns have accumulated?  I was just watching ESPN and they mentioned that the Suns also have Memphis’ 1st round pick IF Memphis makes the playoffs.  I’ve also read here that the Suns only have the Laker’s 1st round pick if they do NOT make the playoffs and in that case the Suns get Miami’s 1st round pick instead?!?  Since this season is basically over for the Suns and we’re all mostly looking toward the future, I’d love it if someone could spell out all the draft picks that the Suns have accumulated in this year and in future drafts.

    • 4everis2long

      @TySun That is definitely true with regards to the Lakers. If the Lakers make the playoffs, we get Miami’s 1st round pick. We only get the Lakers 1st round pick if they do not make the playoffs. I know there is another potential 1st round pick out there but I thought it had to do if Minnesota made the playoffs because the pick is lottery protected. It could be one affiliated with Memphis but I am not familiar with it.

      • TySun

        @4everis2long Perhaps it has something to do with the trade that brought Wes Johnson to Phoenix.  I seem to remember something about a draft pick being part of that deal too.  Maybe Minnesota had one of Memphis’ picks that was sent to Phoenix in that deal.  I think it might be in next year’s draft though and lottery protected.

  • HarrySun

    Ryan,
     
    You might want to realize that Dragic has outplayed him badly this year.  If  he is to become the best in the West, don’t you think he should be better than Dragic?

    • john manhole

      @HarrySun It was funnier before it was edited.  :)