Blazers Snap Streak Against the Suns

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The Portland Trail Blazers snapped their seven-game losing slide against the Phoenix Suns as Anfernee Simons, Deandre Ayton and Jerami Grant combined for 61 points to lead a furious third-quarter comeback for the win.

Kevin Durant poured in 40 points and Devin Booker contributed his own 26 and seven assists to jump out to a 16-point lead in the first quarter, but it was not enough, as the Blazers kept the Suns at arms length for much of the second-half.

Star Players and Special Mentions

Blazers star guard Anfernee Simons showed off the full package, driving to the rim, drawing fouls and making timely three-point shots. Despite a less-than-efficient shooting night (9/23, 39.1 FG%), Simons put together another solid line of 23 points and seven assists to lead the Blazers by scoring and playmaking, as well playing effective defense on Devin Booker.

Jerami Grant shot well, adding 22 points and four assists on 8/15 from the floor, 3/4 from three-point range and perfection from the free throw line. Grant also achieved a two blocks, including a rare block on Durant’s fadeaway jumpshot late in the third quarter.

Deandre Ayton struggled to find his shot, making only six on 18 attempts, but still managed to find his way to 16 points while pulling down 15 rebounds for his 11th double of the season. Ayton controlled the paint against his former team, playing the entire second and third quarters and found his rhythm out of the the short roll, finding open teammates in the corner throughout the game.

“I thought he played a phenomenal game the whole way through,” Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups said postgame. “Some of those shots that he missed, I’m just happy he took them.”

Suns forward Kevin Durant poured in 40 points and five assists to lead all scorers, but committed just as many turnovers. Devin Booker contributed his own 26 and seven assists, but struggled to find his rhythm after halftime.

The Suns missed contributions from guard Bradley Beal, their prized summer acquisition, who is out for another two weeks with an ankle sprain suffered against the New York Knicks in Phoenix. The Suns played without key reserves, as guards Damion Lee (knee), Josh Okogie (hip) and forward Keita Bates-Diop (non-COVID illness) sat out. Blazers guard Shaedon Sharpe exited the game midway through the second quarter with a strained thigh.

The Blazers also welcomed back centers Jusuf Nurkić, Drew Eubanks and guard-forward Nassir Little. Portland traded Nurkić and Little to Phoenix for the mercurial Deandre Ayton while Troutdale native Eubanks left the Blazers in free agency last summer to sign with the Suns. This was Ayton’s first home game against his former team.

Game Recap

As is tradition at this point, the Blazers started slow, letting the Suns jump out to a 13 point lead halfway through the first quarter on a 21-8 run. The Blazers fumbled with the ball, committing three turnovers in their first four possessions and a total of eight in the quarter. As the starters struggled to put together effective offense, Phoenix scored from everywhere like a game of horse—inside, outside, the free throw line, the 300-level, name it and the Suns scored it.

The Blazers finally found some stability in Scoot Henderson. Once again, the Blazers’ first round draft pick took charge off the bench, attacking Nurkić in the middle, darting to the rim in transition and rebounding on offense and defense. The rookie struggled slightly, committing three turnovers, but kept his squad within reaching distance, 28-18.

From there, Durant closed the quarter by scoring six points and assisting on an easy layup for Eubanks to expand the Suns’ lead to 36-20. The Suns shot a scorching 70% from the floor and made three of their six attempts from beyond the arc.

“We’ve got a lot of cool dudes that like to cool their way into the game and that right there hurts us,” Billups stated plainly after the game, adding “I try to talk to them about it all the time that we got to have a mindset where we want to hit first.”

The team received the message and the second quarter started on a three pointer for Matisse Thybulle as Henderson continued to orchestrate the offense, finding Jabari Walker for five points and scoring a layup of this own. The Suns continued to maintain their distanceat, 43-30, via Booker’s efforts, who made jumpshots off the ball from Eric Gordon and a layup after curling into a downhill drive with.

Simons took over for Henderson, finding Thybulle for another three pointer while Walker and Ayton made consecutive trips to the freethrow line. Booker made a cutting dunk off a pass from Nurkić, but their hosts came right back with a two-point jumpshot by Simons off a pass from Ayton, a second-chance layup from Walker on an Ayton miss and an 18-foot jumpshot made by Ayton. Suddenly the game momentum shifted as the Blazers trailed 45-43.

The Suns responded by letting Kevin Durant play out of isolation as he scored 10 points and powered Phoenix to a 16-4 run to close out half on top 61-49. “He’s one of the best iso players in the league,” Suns head coach Frank Vogel said postgame, “and you get him in the low post and the elbow or the top floor and space.”

Going into the locker rooms at halftime, Billups named one point of emphasis for his team: “our defense will be so much better if we take care of the ball.”

The Blazers responded to Billups’ challenge out of the first half, limiting the Suns to tough jumpshots before finally connecting on their own. Simons struck from the midrange, Ayton flicked in a hook shot inside the paint and forwards Grant and Toumani Camara made splashes from three-point range to whittle Phoenix’s lead down to 64-63.

The Suns protested with more offense from talisman guard Booker, but the momentum had shifted and the Blazers continued turning stout defense and rebounding into an avalanche of points on downhill drives from Grant. A three-point make from Brogdon would give the Blazers the lead as the team completed a 22-6 run and a total role reversal.

The home team would force two shot clock violations and Grant made an improbable block on Durant all while playing offense by committee.

“We lost the third quarter 38-20,” Vogel stated plainly, “that’s where the game was lost.”

The Blazers opened the fourth quarter with an 87-81 lead, sporting a four-guard lineup with Thybulle at the power forward and Walker at the center spots while the Suns played a lineup including Chimezi Metu and Eubanks. Both teams matched shot-for-shot, before Simons forced a timeout by the Suns on a three-point shot.Vogel decided to end this game of chicken and subbed in the starters and Billups countered by subbing in Ayton.

Ayton filled out the middle for four points after the timeout, working with Simons to build a double-figure advantage, 100-89. Simons was sensational finding his spots and weaving his way into the offense as Brogdon and Grant made timely shots to push the lead to 14 with four-and-a-half minutes to go.

Once again, the Suns turned to Durant for offense and he commenced the Suns’ last run of the game by driving to the rim, making short jumpers for a nine-point effort but missed from long-range. Some untimely turnovers on errant Ayton passes fed the run, while Booker and wing Grayson Allen contributed four points and the Suns closed within three, 104-107, on a pair of free throws by Durant.

The Suns would go no closer, as the Blazers came out of the timeout and Simons finished them off with a 14 foot floating dagger with nine-seconds left. The Suns would find a good final shot for Kevin Durant and a second chance but his miss and a desperation three from Allen was rebounded by Brogdon to seal the win, 109-104.

Key Team Stats

Despite the Suns coming out with a scoring 70% in the first quarter, the Blazers played the Suns to an effective draw on field goals, shooting 44.8% and 44.7% from the floor respectively. The Blazers made up the difference by making 53.8% in their brilliant third quarter. They also continued a season long trend of frustrating teams off the three-point line, and limiting the Suns to five makes on 21.7% in contrast to the Blazers’ 14 on 50% shooting.

The Suns dominated the Blazers in points in the paint, 62-36 and out-rebounded the home team 47-42 but left critical points at the free throw line, only making 15 of 21. The Blazers continued their near-perfect free throw shooting by making 17 of 19. Both teams were ultimately sloppy with the ball, only achieving 23 assists apiece as the Suns committed 15 turnovers and the Blazers committed 17 as both squads played pickpocket for a combined 18 steals.

Where to Next?

The Blazers will finish their homestand against Washington Wizards on Thursday before heading to Golden State for an away match on Saturday and then celebrating Christmas at home.

The Suns will face the Kings on Friday and then host the Dallas Mavericks for Christmas before traveling to Houston.

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