Two teams who find themselves fighting for a playoff spot in a packed Western Conference faced off at the Moda Center just two days before the turn of the decade, and the game shaped up to be a blowout. Portland led 38-19 after a hot-shooting first quarter which included 5 straight triples from Damian Lillard, seemingly condemning the Suns to a 14th loss in 18 games.
It was not to be, as the finally fully-healthy Suns slowly chipped away at the deficit before making a 9-0 run late in the game to give themselves a lead they would not give up. This was just the fourth time in Suns history that the team came back and won from down 19 points or more at quarter time, an impressive feat to say the least.
Devin Booker (PHX)- 33 pts, 6 reb, 7 ast, 9-19 fg, 0-0 3p, 15-15 ft
Mid-range maestro and hopefully soon-to-be first time All-Star Devin Booker had another incredible performance to lead his team to a confidence-boosting win. Even without making a single three (something that has become more and more common with him), Booker found multiple other ways to dominate. He schooled the Portland defense on the value of the mid-range shot, forced his way to the free throw line and effortlessly finished at and around the rim.
If only he was a bit more consistent defensively...
Kelly Oubre (PHX)- 29 pts, 5 reb, 2 ast, 3 stl, 11-21 fg, 7-10 3p
Who said Kelly Oubre couldn’t shoot? 7 threes, mid-range jumpers aplenty and a reckless attitude on both ends created one of his best games so far this season, especially late in the game with some big plays defensively and the dagger corner three in the final minute to kiss the Blazers goodnight.
Booker's sidekick continues to pile on the pressure offensively as an off-ball threat, but the defensive end is where he really complements the young star, continuing his good play on that end with some spirited individual stops.
Damian Lillard (POR)- 33 pts, 6 reb, 7 ast, 10-20 fg, 5-12 3p
A complete offensive superstar, Lillard was cooking early in the first quarter. He had 16 points on 5-5 shooting from deep, making tough shots look easy early on. That ridiculous play did not continue, and after many forced threes late in the game the box score makes his night seem better than it was.
If he had have stayed more composed throughout the comeback attempt and chose to take better shots than he did then the home team easily could have held off the visitors, snapping their losing run at 3. In saying that, it was certainly still a very good game for him and his team would have lost by a lot more had he not been out there.
CJ McCollum (POR)- 25 pts, 6 ast, 0 tov, 11-21 fg, 1-4 3p, 2-2 ft
The CJ show was well and truly on display once again, showing off his ability to shoot, penetrate and manipulate. You name it, CJ McCollum can probably do it, displaying his full arsenal from inside the arc against Phoenix. He didn’t get the ball enough down the stretch of the game, but his impact throughout the first three quarters kept their lead intact, often going bucket for bucket with Devin Booker.
Him and Damian Lillard continue to be driving forces for Portland, now it’s time for the rest of the team to keep up.
The team in purple were very good after the first term, playmaking stepping up a notch and defensive effort clearly more concerted. They had trouble with Hassan Whiteside on the offensive glass as usual and even with Deandre Ayton returning the rebounding problem will not disappear. Mikal Bridges has progressively made more of an effort to cut, which has added another dimension to the offense and earned him more playing time.
There is still a clear issue, though, with the amount of threes they are giving up, whilst some of them were well contested there were a fair few open ones, especially for Carmelo Anthony. As well as this, Whiteside was given far too many floaters, which allowed the Trail Blazers to bail out multiple possessions and keep the Suns at bay.
After a first quarter in which they seemed to do no wrong, Portland could not withstand the Suns slowly breaking down their lead. They did not do enough on the defensive end, especially in regards to Devin Booker but on mid-range shots as a whole. The playmaking was much better than in other games, as well as a good rebounding performance.
They stayed steady by getting to the free throw line often and making a lot of early threes, generated by a well-worked offense that created open shooters in Gary Trent, Anfernee Simons and of course Damian Lillard. Some of their defense on the three-point line was too disrespectful and resulted in some very decent shooters getting good looks.
Phoenix- 13-20, 10th in West, take on the Lakers on New Year's Day
Portland- 14-20, 9th in West, face New York on New Year's Day