EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns unable to put away Blazers in OT loss on road

Oct 21, 2022, 10:42 PM

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns dribbles against Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazer...

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns dribbles against Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers during the second quarter at Moda Center on October 21, 2022 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The first five minutes sorely misrepresented the game we were going to see on Friday night in Portland for the Phoenix Suns against the Blazers.

Phoenix got out to a 19-9 advantage, flying around the court on both sides of the ball before a back-and-forth slog for the remaining 48 minutes ended in a 113-111 Suns loss in overtime.

That was the most separation that either side would create, as both offenses struggled to put together scoring runs or sustained offense. Both teams failed to record a 30-point quarter and the Suns in particular scored just 32 points in the game’s final 17 minutes.

Phoenix will feel like they let this one slip away after a first half it should have led by plenty more during and a five-point lead with under two minutes to go in the extra period.

The Suns led by six at halftime despite a great defensive effort that helped produce 23 points off 14 Blazers turnovers (and the Suns didn’t get any of those points the rest of the way). Deandre Ayton and Devin Booker each had 15 points but the next highest scorer on Phoenix had five. Meanwhile, Damian Lillard had 28 of his 41 points in those two quarters, and that plus 14 points for the Blazers as a whole from the foul line helped them stay within striking distance.

From there, Phoenix was just unable to really hone in and focus enough to put together a quality six to eight minutes of play to take control of the game. That’s something, especially on the road, we’ve seen the Suns do time after time the last two regular seasons.

In the fourth quarter, Portland scored 12 of its 27 points at the foul line. The Suns committed some poor fouls early in the quarter to allow the Blazers to get into the bonus halfway through it and an aggressive mentality from Portland kept generating success.

The Suns couldn’t outscore the Blazers enough on the other end to counter it. They nearly came away with the win at 30 seconds left when Ayton picked up a huge steal on Lillard but Booker settled for a side-step 3-pointer on the right wing that didn’t go down and Lillard’s miss running back the other way brought us to overtime.

In overtime, Chris Paul assisted two straight Booker buckets before Paul was finally able to knock down a midrange jumper for a 6-0 run and the aforementioned five-point lead at 1:40 remaining.

Again, though, the Blazers got inside and to the foul line. Lillard’s 11th and 12th makes at the stripe with 34 seconds remaining tied the game and brought on a Suns timeout.

The decision from there was if the Suns would try to get the 2-for-1 thanks to the shot clock math they often capitalize on. Booker did just that, and got a semi-decent look on the baseline from eight feet that he didn’t convert on. Portland dribbled it down, and after Lillard was doubled off the ball, he trusted fifth-year guard Anfernee Simons to go make a play and Simons obliged with a pretty scooping runner.

Down two with seven seconds left, the Suns took another timeout and Booker made a gorgeous dump-off pass to Ayton at the rim, where the big man was fouled with a second left.

Ayton missed the first free throw, and when attempting to miss the second, he did an excellent job to put teammate Jock Landale in a position to make it two overtimes by having the ball fall right to him on the right side of the basket.

Landale, though, appeared to rush himself and missed the putback to seal a Suns loss.

Ayton ended up at 26 points, six rebounds, three assists, a steal, a block and four turnovers in 38 minutes on 12-of-22 shooting. He appears to be the secondary option in the offense, and it’s going to come with a learning curve. He was really, really good in this game on both ends but also made a few rare mistakes in the short roll area where he is normally excellent during key possessions.

Booker had a team-high 33 points and was 11-of-23 from the field to go with five rebounds, three assists and one turnover. in 44 minutes.

Paul, meanwhile, got going a bit once clutch minutes kicked in but still doesn’t look like himself just yet. He remains rather passive with the ball, not getting into the teeth of the defense as often and passing out of possessions early in the clock. There’s a difference between differing to the young guys and that, and that’s also a huge problem given the lack of dribble penetration on this roster as it is. He finished with 10 points (5-for-11) plus four rebounds, 12 assists, five steals and one turnover.

Cam Johnson took a charge in the first half and didn’t start the second half due to being evaluated for a bump he took after drawing an offensive foul. He returned in the game a few minutes later before only playing one more shift and sitting on the bench for clutch time. Head coach Monty Williams said it was a tailbone issue for Johnson, per azcentral’s Duane Rankin.

Damion Lee got that spot again after also receiving it in the season opener when Johnson cramped up. For the second straight game, Lee showed a knack for making a winning play, knocking down a big 3 here and grabbing a key rebound there in the ways the Suns really need someone to step up without Jae Crowder.

Portland got the win despite having just 14 assists. A 31-for-36 (86.1%) mark at the foul line helped matters.

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