Foul trouble, a pinky injury, and a ton of fastbreak points and that was all in the first quarter of action between the Blazers and Suns on Thursday night.
The Blazers were able to overcome whatever was thrown their way in the desert as Portland beats Phoenix 120-106 and heads home with a 2-1 record to finish their current road trip.
Dealing with the cards you're dealt
Before the game tipped off, Blazers head coach Terry Stotts talked about how playing against this young team who is without their top two centers, he expected a fast paced game with the Suns going with small ball lineups.
And boy, was he right.
In the first quarter, 19 of the Suns’ 31 points were fast break points in comparison to the Blazers two fast break points (out of 30 in the quarter). Phoenix finished with 23 first half fast break points.
Often times young teams would much rather try and get out and run instead of waiting to setup a half court set and that’s exactly what the Suns did on Thursday night.
The Blazers were able to stay in the game in the first half with help from their bench and second chance points. Plus, Portland made adjustments in the second half to get out and run themselves. Portland finished the game with 16 fast break points of their own.
Some fans out there might think a game like this against the lowly Suns team is a waste of time, but to witness Portland making adjustment and controlling tempo is encouraging because they are showing the ability to adjust to the style of play of their opponent. You hear it all the time – postseason series are all about adjustments. No, the Suns are not even close to a playoff team, but thinking long term, it’s good to see the Blazers play the small ball and match what was thrown their way.
“We gave up too many transition points in the first quarter. We played much better in the second half, obviously… I think the fact that we missed shots, we didn’t necessarily get back quick, it was all tied together (in the first half),” Coach Stotts told reporters postgame.
“We weathered that storm in the first half… The second half we made our adjustments and took over the game," Damian Lillard said postgame in the locker room.
The Devin Booker effect on CJ McCollum
In Thursday’s win, Trail Blazers shooting guard CJ McCollum played just over eight minutes in the first half, but was still able to score 11 points.
For the opening minutes of the game, it looked like everyone was in for a treat – McCollum and Suns shooting guard Devin Booker were putting on a show. The two were exchanging buckets, but Booker got the better of McCollum early.
The Suns fourth year guard was in attack mode and that meant McCollum was vulnerable to pick up two quick fouls.
McCollum then picked up his third foul at the 3:46 mark in the first quarter and was sent to the bench for the rest of the half.
Booker made the Blazers pay to going 7-for-8 from the free throw line. He finished the game with 27. But it really is no surprise that Booker made such a big impact on McCollum and on the Blazers – that’s what he does for this Suns team.
Lillard knows how important it was to slow down Booker in the second half.
“He was getting downhill, getting fouled, getting to go one-on-one and a guy that can score that well with that much skill, he’s gonna score points if you allow him to play that free and easy and I think as the half went on… We started to do a little bit better… In the third quarter we were there. We loaded up, made him play against bodies that led to a few turnovers. We made the right adjustments,” Lillard said.
Aminu hand injury
Al-Farouq Aminu headed straight to the Trail Blazers locker room after suffering a left pinky injury at the 3:57 mark of the first quarter and that meant the Blazers rotation was all out of sorts in the first half, especially with McCollum also on the bench with three fouls.
The good news is Aminu says his hand feels fine after coming back and playing in the second half.
“I’ve dislocated my fingers before, but never where I saw the bone a little bit… Thankful for the doctors here, they did a great job… I feel good. My hand feels okay,” Aminu told our Dwight Jaynes after the game.
Aminu played 16 minutes and had seven points and five rebounds in the win.
This season we have seen many different Blazers’ lineups with Maurice Harkless dealing with his knee issues, so this was nothing new to the Blazers and the next man had to step up.
Luckily for the Blazers, two role players did just that in the second half.
The Layman and Curry factor
Portland entered the fourth quarter with an 88-76 lead over the Suns. Why is this important? Well, if you have not been keeping up with the Blazers, you should know that before this game, the Blazers were undefeated when leading after the first three quarters (29-0). On the flipside, yes, that means Portland has not had a come from behind win if they were not leading to start the fourth.
The Blazers defense showed up big in the second half as Portland was able slow down the Suns late in the third and into the fourth quarter. The Blazers also found some welcomed scoring from its bench, particularly from Jake Layman and Seth Curry. Layman scored 20 points on 9-of-15 shooting, while Curry added 17 points after going 7-for-13 from the field and 3-of-7 from three.
Layman has now scored 44 points total against the Suns in the two games played against Phoenix this season.
“It was a game made for him. It was up and down. They played a small lineup. I think it catered to his style of game,” Stotts said on Layman’s performance.
The Blazers have been searching for consistency from their bench. Could Layman be that consistent scorer? With Game No. 50 in the books, only time will tell.
But for now, Layman continues to play well against the Suns and the third quarter streak lives on and Portland will look to play another good three quarters vs. Atlanta on Saturday.