With LaMarcus Aldridge out for the Portland Trail Blazers, the Phoenix Suns had a prime opportunity to bolster their record and keep the momentum going during their franchise-record eight-game home stand.
After a dominant first half that saw the Suns lead by as many as 25, Phoenix narrowly escaped with a 118-113 to move to 26-18 on the season.
The Suns came out guns blazing in the first quarter, building a 40-29 lead on 66.7 percent shooting. The defense didn’t particularly impose its will, as Portland shot 52 percent from the floor behind 10 early points from Chris Kaman, but Eric Bledsoe‘s fast start ignited Phoenix’s offense.
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In the second quarter, Phoenix’s red-hot offense reached even more scorching temperatures, despite a lengthy appearance from the fans’ dreaded Brandan Wright–Miles Plumlee tandem. Phoenix ripped off a 32-4 run to extend the lead to 58-33 and when Plumlee’s hook shots started falling, everyone in the building knew it wasn’t Portland’s night.
However, Nicolas Batum finally played well, trying to keep Portland within striking distance with 15 first half points. Even with Phoenix’s bench outscoring Portland’s reserves 34-4, the Blazers closed the half on a 9-0 run to pull within 14 at the break.
Bledsoe and the Suns backcourt continue to assert themselves in the third quarter, with all three point guards (plus Gerald Green) in double figures heading into the final period. The Suns had a 15-point advantage heading into the fourth, but the Blazers quickly cut that lead down to single digits.
It felt like another game the Suns would let slip through their fingers late in the fourth, even when Isaiah Thomas tried to take over.
An I.T. three-point play gave Phoenix a 99-92 lead with 6:28 to play. The Suns gave up a three on the next play, but Thomas responded with a jumper of his own to give the Suns a six-point advantage.
It was at that point that Damian Lillard, Portland’s “Mr. Fourth Quarter,” decided to wake up, scoring seven straight points to tie the game at 102 with just over four minutes to play. Rip City went on a 30-13 run to give the Blazers a 107-104 advantage with just over three minutes to play.
“It’s tough when you get up by that many and all of a sudden, they’re without one of their stars and then they just start coming down and say, ‘What do we have to lose? We don’t have our guy, we’re down 25,'” head coach Jeff Hornacek said. “They basically just started jacking up threes, penetrating and then they just started making all kinds of them.”
Goran Dragic was happy with the win, but noted the Suns can’t keep surrendering double-digit leads, much like they did in Monday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers.
“We need to stop doing that,” he said. “Come up 20 and then they come back and take the lead, but we were focused enough in the fourth quarter to make big plays and it’s a huge win for us.”
It didn’t look like the Suns were going to make those plays at first, however. Missed free throws (13-for-22) and a few backbreaking threes from Batum kept the Suns at bay. However, Dragic hit a corner three and Bledsoe followed it up with a three-point play to reclaim a 111-110 advantage with 1:38 to play.
The teams traded buckets, with Phoenix holding on to a 113-112 advantage in the game’s final minutes. After a defensive stop, the Suns held on to their one-point lead with 37.8 seconds to play. Bledsoe turned the ball over attacking the basket when the defense collapsed, but Lillard missed a corner three and P.J. Tucker secured the rebound, giving him 13 for the game.
Tucker made one of two free throws to extend Phoenix’s lead to 114-112 with 16.9 seconds left. Dragic held Batum on the following possession, sending him to the foul line since the Blazers were in the bonus. But he only made one of two free throws, and Bledsoe was fouled after Phoenix secured the ball.
Bledsoe made both free throws to give the Suns a 116-113 lead with 10.9 seconds to play, but that gave the Blazers another shot at “Lillard Time.”
However, Lillard was out of bounds upon receiving the inbounds pass and the Suns were able to make their free throws to close out the win.
Eric Bledsoe dominated his one-on-one matchup with Damian Lillard for the first three quarters, finishing with a career-high 33 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and three steals on 11-of-22 shooting for the night. Lillard finished with 22 points and six assists on 6-of-22 shooting.
“I’m going to go home and sleep like a baby, I’ll tell you that much,” Bledsoe said.
Isaiah Thomas added a season-high for the second straight game with 27 points off the bench and Dragic — who fell to the floor hard a couple of times and said his elbow would be a little sore the next day — added 16. The Suns finished the game on a 13-3 run with Bledsoe scoring seven of those 13 points.
Batum finished with 27 points and 10 rebounds to lead Rip City.
The point guard hydra combined for 76 of Phoenix’s 115 points, shooting 29-for-53 from the floor (59.3 percent). Phoenix is 16-3 this year when all three guards score at least 10 points and 8-0 when they score at least 15.
The victory extended Phoenix’s win streak at home to seven games, including a 4-0 start to their franchise-record eight-game home stand. With a starting lineup of Dragic, Bledsoe, P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris and Alex Len, the Suns are 14-4 this season.
Phoenix has gone 17-2 against Portland at US Airways Center dating back to 2005, including six consecutive victories. The Suns are now 8-2 against Western Conference teams at home this season, a good sign for a young team fighting to keep its playoff hopes alive.
“I’m just glad we got the win, that’s the most important thing,” Thomas said. “We settled down, we locked in and we got the win.”