PHOENIX – With 5:34 left in a suddenly nip-and-tuck game, and the Trail Blazers reliving the nightmare of losing a big lead, Meyers Leonard confidently made a prediction.
“We are going to win by seven,’’ Leonard said as the Blazers emerged from a timeout up 94-93.
Leonard was only partially right: The Blazers won by nine.
Led by Damian Lillard’s 39 points and a 12-point fourth quarter from CJ McCollum, the Blazers -- for a night at least – exorcised some ghosts by losing a big lead, then coming back to defeat the Suns 110-101 at Talking Stick Arena.
The win came one night after Portland squandered a 21-point halftime lead and eventually lost in overtime to Washington. On Sunday, the Blazers led by 18 in the third quarter on before Phoenix twice took a one-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Around that time, Leonard made his prediction coming out of a timeout.
"It was understanding time, and our positive energy in the huddle,'' Leonard said of his prediction. "I felt like some of the plays weren't going our way, but we were making the right ones, and also, Dame has the hot hand. Whenever he has it going, I feel pretty confident the way the game is going.''
While Lillard scored 28 of his 39 in the first half, McCollum did his damage late, hitting all five of his shots in the fourth quarter. There were also some momentum plays from Al-Farouq Aminu -- a block thwarting a Suns fast break and a tie-breaking three pointer among them -- and a big three-pointer from Allen Crabbe that helped the Blazers close on a 16-8 run and begin a crucial five-game trip with a win.
“We have to do a better job putting teams away,’’ McCollum said after finishing with 26 points.
It was the fifth win in six games for the Blazers (29-36) and it moved them to within 1.5 games of Denver for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West with 17 games remaining.
"I mean, we fighting, that's what it comes down to,'' Lillard said. "It's not always perfect game, not always a pretty game, but down the stretch we've had a chance in every game ... I just like that we are competing. We are playing with a lot of pride. Playing like we care about where our season goes.''
Lillard iced the game with a three-pointer with 1:01 left, pushing the Blazers’ lead to 108-99, finishing the game three points shy of his season high. He went 13-of-26 from the field and added six rebounds and two assists.
"I thought he pretty much willed us to the win,'' coach Terry Stotts said. "You could just tell how he played, his demeanor, the way he fought through some of the adversity. I thought he really shouldered a lot of the responsibilty.''
McCollum hit all five of his shots in the fourth quarter and finished with 26 points, four rebounds and four assists on 11-of-20 shooting.
Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic had 12 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks and Aminu pitched in nine points and 12 rebounds.
The Suns (22-45) had won four of their past six. They were led by Devin Booker (28 points) and Eric Bledsoe (19 points).
The Blazers led 82-79 heading into the fourth, but they held leads as large as 18 in the third, with Phoenix at one point forging a tie at 77.
Lillard had one of his most dominant halves of the season, leading the Blazers to a 66-50 halftime lead behind 28 points, which included 9-of-14 shooting. He closed the first quarter scoring 11 of the Blazers’ final 13 points and he closed the second quarter scoring 13 of the team’s final 22 points.
The Blazers closed the first quarter on a 21-2 run, turning a 16-12 deficit into a 33-18 lead heading into the second quarter. The spurt was fueled by Lillard, who scored 11 of his 15 points during the run, and Nurkic, who had three blocks and six points, including a coast-to-coast fast break dunk.
Phoenix, which started the game hitting seven of its first 11 shots, finished the first quarter missing 10 of its next 11.
Next up: Blazers at New Orleans, 5 p.m. Tuesday (CSN)