EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns get pounced on by Blazers in blowout loss

Oct 23, 2021, 10:15 PM
Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul, right, is defended by Portland Trail Blazers forward Robert Covingto...

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul, right, is defended by Portland Trail Blazers forward Robert Covington during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)

(AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)

After Friday’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers appeared to signal the Phoenix Suns found their footing from last season, they stumbled the next night in Portland.

Phoenix got steamrolled by the Blazers on Saturday night 134-105.

Head coach Monty Williams took responsibility for the way his team performed on the second game of a road back-to-back.

“I didn’t have us ready to play,” he said. “Our communication was not to the level it needed to be. Typically when you don’t communicate, that means your mind is crowded with stuff, and so that’s on me.”

This was a team that went 6-3 in the second game of back-to-backs away from home last year, so they have certainly proven they are capable in the less than ideal situations they present.

But nothing on either end of the court came together for the Suns beyond a few brief spurts and they ran into the wrong team on the wrong night to be playing like that.

Portland was engaged defensively and lethal offensively, where Phoenix’s shortcomings boosed the effectiveness of those efforts, particularly on defense.

When C.J. McCollum hit a tough shot, there was an open 3 off a bad Suns rotation that came not much later. An open lane to the basket was punished a few possessions later by a Damian Lillard 30-footer. This cycle continued, all while Phoenix’s offense with the starters kept struggling.

Through three games, the Suns’ starting five has been outscored by 37 points. This is the same issue they ran into at the start of last season, one that eventually fixed itself about 20 games in, but it shouldn’t be happening considering the continuity they have. We’ll see after a handful more games if it is indeed like last year or just a weird three-game sample. Whatever the case is, that group of five isn’t clicking at the moment, and it’s very difficult to win like that no matter how good a team’s depth is.

The defense, as a whole, just seemed off. There was far too much of a failure to contain dribble penetration and too many shooters left open, sometimes because of that first problem.

“You get beat like that, it’s obviously more than one thing that went wrong. But saying anything from the beginning, just thinking of defense and guarding better,” Suns guard Devin Booker said. “I think we’re not on a string completely right now.”

Williams also saw a Portland team that did a great job of screening, which is where a defense can really run into trouble if it fails to defend ball screens well.

The Blazers reached 30 points in each of the first three quarters, including a combined 76 in the middle quarters to extend a 20-point halftime lead to 25. Any last-gasp effort from the Suns did not come, with a 10-2 Portland run to open the fourth quarter leading Williams to empty his bench.

McCollum shot 10-of-19 for 28 points in 30 minutes. Portland hit 21 3-pointers despite only 24 assists on 51 made field goals, a nod to the amount of isolated off-the-dribble shots the Blazers wounded Phoenix with.

The lone bright spot for the Suns was that Booker found his rhythm early, hitting four of his first six shots, ending up with 21 points after his scoring was a bit off in the team’s opening two games. Phoenix was without backup point guard Cam Payne due to a strained right hamstring.

Deandre Ayton finished with eight points and Chris Paul had just four with five shot attempts.

There is an easy narrative to lean into here, that the Suns have become the “hunted” after winning the Western Conference. Sure, that’s at play here, but they just don’t look like themselves yet. Maybe that was three games in four days to open a season when the Suns’ conditioning isn’t up to par on a short layoff, another easy one. Who knows.

Either way, the Suns now get a long and light five-game homestand to get everything right quicker than last year when they began 8-8. It’s 14 days in Phoenix hosting the Kings, Cavaliers, Pelicans, Rockets and Hawks.

Booker’s mindset isn’t going to radically shift because of suboptimal results over three games.

“Not to hit the panic button and just understand how long the season is and when we get it rolling we know how good we are,” he said of it.

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