Even without its leading scorer and rebounder, the Portland Trail Blazers are a pretty formidable opponent.
Just ask the Phoenix Suns, who despite a big first half lead were forced to scratch and claw their way to a 118-113 victory in front of 16,703 at US Airways Center.
It was the Suns (25-18) fourth straight win and seventh straight at home.
Eric Bledsoe iced the victory with four free throws in the final 10.9 seconds. He scored a game-high 33 points, setting a career-high. Isaiah Thomas added 27, establishing a season-high for the second straight game.
Bledsoe also had 10 rebounds, six assists and three steals.
The Suns led by as many as 25 points and 15 points entering the fourth quarter, but the Trail Blazers — playing without LaMarcus Aldridge because of a left hand injury — went on a 34-14 run to take a five-point lead at 110-105 with 2:21 remaining in the game. From that point on, the Suns scored 13 of the game’s final 16 points in which Bledsoe had seven in addition to an assist on a jumper by Markieff Morris that gave the Suns the lead for good, 113-112, with 1:03 left.
The Suns took their largest lead of the game by outscoring the Trail Blazers 32-4 over a 10-minute stretch spanning the first and second quarters to go up 58-33, thanks to Portland missing 16 of 18 shots, including 11 in a row at one point.
The win improved the Suns to 4-0 on their eight-game homestand.
Thomas scored all nine of his first-quarter points during a 14-0 run to close the quarter. Twice he scored on the fast break and he also hit a 3-pointer as the Suns turned a three-point deficit into an 11-point advantage, 40-29. The 40 points matched a first-quarter season-high and set a Blazers opponent high for any quarter.
After a season-high 16 steals Monday, the Suns had four in the first quarter, two by Bledsoe, who filled the stat sheet with 11 points, three rebounds and four assists in his opening 11 minutes on the court.
Gerald Green made four-of-six second-quarter shots, including a pair of three-pointers, to put him in double figures (10 points) for the third straight game. He helped the Suns to a 34-4 bench advantage in the first half. By game’s end that advantage was 58-13.
Bledsoe scored his team’s first eight points of the third quarter and at one point was outscoring the Blazers, 10-8. He finished with 10 on five-of-eight shooting, pushing him over 20 points (23) for the first time in eight games and 14th time this season.
Thomas scored eight straight points during one stretch in the fourth quarter, a run that was capped by a 19-foot step back jumper to put the Suns ahead 101-95 with six minutes to play. Thomas shot 11-of-16, including three-of-six from 3.
P.J. Tucker had a season-high 13 rebounds, 12 of which came on the defensive end, four coming in the last 1:43 of the game. The 12 defensive rebounds are a Suns season-high. He also had four steals, tying a season-high.
With Aldridge out, Chris Kaman earned his sixth start of the season and wasted no time going to work. He made all five of his field goals in the first quarter and was six-of-seven in the first half for 12 points, almost three points better than his season average (9.4).
Just 39 seconds into the second half, head coach Jeff Hornacek called timeout. Portland had extended its run to 13-0, scoring the last nine points of the second quarter and the first four points of the third, pulling them to within 10, 66-56 at 11:21.
Despite outscoring the Blazers 25-24 in the third quarter, the Suns got sloppy, turning the ball over five times, matching their first half total. Bledsoe had two of the turnovers as the Blazers scored seven points off the Suns’ mistakes.
Green perpetuated the troubles, starting the fourth quarter in poor fashion. He missed three field goals, turned the ball over twice and committed a foul in the first 3:32.
The Blazers scored eight points in 33 seconds, thanks to back-to-back four-point posessions early in the fourth quarter. First, Nicolas Batum hit a 3 after Dorell Wright made one-of-two free throws, missing the second. Then, it was Wright with a 3 and the free throw after he was fouled by Bledsoe.
STAT OF THE GAME
76: The number of combined points by the Suns’ backcourt trio, which accounted for 64 percent of the team’s total offense
HE SAID IT
“I’m going to go home and sleep like a baby, I’ll tell you that much,” Bledsoe said afteer his team-high eighth double-double of the season, surpassing his career total entering the season.
Bledsoe is just the second player this season to have at least 33 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and three steals in a game, joining Russell Westbrook who also did so against Portland on Dec. 23.
The Suns shot 51.1 percent and have now shot at least 50 percent in four straight games, their longest streak since doing so in four straight from Feb. 23-28, 2010.
The Suns Gorilla celebrated his birthday with a number of his mascot friends including Jazz Bear from the Utah Jazz, The Raptor from the Toronto Raptors, Stuff the Magic Dragon from the Orlando Magic, Baxter from the Diamondbacks, Big Red from the Cardinals, Howler from the Coyotes, Scorch from the Mercury, Stryker from the Rattlers and Louie the Lumberjack from NAU.
The Suns’ longest homestand in franchise history continues with a visit by the Houston Rockets on Friday, Jan. 23. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
It’s the second of four meetings this season.
The Rockets won the first matchup in Houston, 100-95, with Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverly each scoring 19 points. Former ASU Sun Devil James Harden added 15 to go along with 12 rebounds and seven assists. Bledsoe’s 23 led the Suns, who trailed by as many as 22 points.
The Suns have won 11 of the last 15 home meetings in the series.