For the second time in les than three weeks, the Phoenix Suns squared off against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday night, this time with bragging rights for the Western Conference’s top spot on the line.
Sure, it’s early November. Yeah, the Blazers were without Damian Lillard. Last time I checked, games in November count towards your season total record. And this one ended up in the L column for Phoenix.
It was like a Civil War battlefield at the Footprint Center, as both teams were down numerous players — and lost some along the way — in this contest. It was back-and-forth throughout, and led by Jerami Grant’s 30 points, the Blazers have now beat Phoenix twice this season.
We knew that Ish Wainright was out, but just prior to tip off, we learned that another member of the Suns would not be in uniform for the game. Alas, Phoenix would be without the services of Duane Washington, Jr.
On a more serious note, Cameron Payne would miss time as well, dealing with a sore left foot. The point guard depth would be tested on Friday night. Conversely, Anfernee Simons would join Damian Lillard on the sidelines as he would not suit up either.
The Suns did see the return of Deandre Ayton, who missed the last two games after tweaking his ankle against the New Orleans Pelicans. He looked and agile and engaged, doing his best to body up his nemesis Jusuf Nurkic. Much akin to his start in Portland earlier this season, he hit line-drive three-pointer.
He jab stepped, he defended, he looked great early. Ayton scored 9 first quarter points on 4-of-7 shooting from the field, including that 1-of-1 from deep.
Devin Booker started with a quick 7 points, hitting a couple of three-pointers, including one from the Jefferson Street parking garage.
Cameron Johnson made his way to locker room after suffering a right knee issue and ultimately would not return. Yep. Another Cam Johnson injury.
Cam Johnson will not return tonight due to a right knee injury
— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) November 5, 2022
Monty Williams would have to reach deep into his bench given all of the injuries, just like Portland would. We witnessed Josh Okogie entering the game in the first quarter. This is not a normal sight.
A depth game, indeed.
Portland’s young players, both Keon Johnson and 19 year-old Shaedon Sharpe, combined for 13 Q1 points for the Blazers, keeping them in the game. That and the Suns’ 5 turnovers, which lead to 6 Blazer points.
Sharpe drew his 3rd foul as the time ticked away in the first, and the Suns held tight to a 28-25 lead after one.
In the second, Williams rolled out a lineup that included Jock Landale and Dario Saric. Yep. This was going to be a weird one! The team continued to have a hard time maintaining possession, turning the ball over as lineups that could not generate their own shot were present on the court.
They Suns missed Cam Payne.
Jerami Grant began to flex his offensive muscles in the second, hitting numerous shots from the mid-range and attacking Torrey Craig on defense. he had 16 in the quarter. They began to build their lead as the Suns could not make anything. Three’s. Layups. Jumpers. One-and-done possessions.
Portland shot 60% from the field — 50% from three — and outscored the Suns by 13 in the second. The Suns were 6-of-21 from the field (28.6%) and 1-of-8 (12.5%) from beyond the arc. Portland led by as many as 15 in the half.
Ayton led all scorers with 18 as they headed to the locker room, Blazers up 10, 59-49.
Mikal Bridges, who scored only 2 first-half points, came out much more aggressive on both ends of the floor for the Suns. With Cam Johnson out, the opportunity was there. And he would need to.
Booker too came out aggressive, and began attacking rather than settling for the jumpers. But whenever the Suns would close in on the Blazers, Portland — and Jerami Grant — answered.
#Suns back down 13 midway through 3rd as Keon Johnson hits 3.
Booker called for travel. Had spirited conversation with referee Matt Kallio.
Sure it was over late night dinner suggestions in downtown Phoenix. #Blazers
— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) November 5, 2022
Phoenix put together a nice 7-0 run, using their defense to dictate the pace, and cut the Blazers lead to 8. Landry Shamet completed a 4-point play with 5.8 seconds left in the third, which cut the Portland lead to 4, closing the quarter on a 19-10 run. The Blazers got a tip in as time expired, however, an entered the fourth with a 86-60 lead.
The fourth began as a competitive bout for the Suns as they finally broke through the 4-point deficit barrier with 7:45 left on a Shamet fast break layup.
Shamet transition dunk off Paul steal and assist. #Suns down just three, 92-89.
Timeout #Blazers. 7:46 left in game.
— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) November 5, 2022
The game continued to be close, hanging at 3 points, but Phoenix just could not get over the hump through the midway canyon that was the fourth. An offensive foul here, a travel there. The Suns couldn’t break on through to the other side.
With 4:15 left, a Damian Lee three-pointer tied the game at 97 all. Lee, who saw plenty of playing time with the depleted guard depth in the game, provided quality play throughout the game on both ends. He ended with 13 points on 4-of-8 shooting, with 3 made three-pointers.
Deandre Ayton was called for his fifth foul the next play as a struggling Nurkic backed him down. Nurk has 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting and 8 rebounds on the night. Not a dominate Nurkic game by any means.
The Suns took the lead, 101-99, on an extremely difficult fall away jumper by Devin Booker.
Ayton had great position on Nurkic for a tip in with less than a minute to take the lead, but Jusuf Nurkic responded with a three-pointer to put the Blazers up one.
Enter Booker. He stroked a three over Nurkic to put Phoenix back up 106-104 with 25.9 left. But again Nurkic responded with an offensive rebound that tied the game.
Mikal Bridges turned the ball over with 1.0 second left.
Jerami Grant received the ball, traveled, and hit a game winner. You be the judge.
Are you ready for a second helping of the Blazers, playing them for the third time in 16 days? Then you go it, my friends! Suns vs. Blazers III is tomorrow night, right back at the Footprint Center.
Good night, and have a pleasant tomorrow.