EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns revert to same issues, lose to Blazers

Dec 19, 2023, 10:39 PM | Updated: Dec 20, 2023, 7:40 am

Jerami Grant #9 of the Portland Trail Blazers, Kevin Durant #35 and Nassir Little #25 of the Phoeni...

Jerami Grant #9 of the Portland Trail Blazers, Kevin Durant #35 and Nassir Little #25 of the Phoenix Suns eye the ball during the first quarter of the game at Moda Center on December 19, 2023 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

(Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Suns started Tuesday’s 109-104 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers looking the part of a group responding to a rough couple of weeks of basketball that deemed worthy of a call for a reality check.

And then that same team came out.

The worst part of this effort was the Suns were doing what works and saw the benefits of playing connected defense and pushing the pace on offense off that. A 36-20 first quarter indicated Phoenix (14-13) was responding to its poor form as of late, and if the same mindset continued over the course of the game, it was about to put forth its best full-game effort in nearly a month.

The second quarter got a little wonky but still left the Suns in a good position before a complete malaise was seemingly splashed all over them at halftime. They were drenched, completely absent of not only a high tempo offensively but movement and actions to begin the quarter. The defense regressed back to what was persistent over the last week and Portland (7-19) outscored the Suns 38-20.

Where did the urgency go that was all over the court in the opening 12 minutes? The Blazers even had that same sort of lackadaisical energy in the first two minutes, a window for Phoenix to blow the game open to go up 25 after a 12-point halftime lead, but Portland saw the opportunity and snatched it.

A few minutes into the fourth quarter, it was some slight improvement but more of the same. And once the Suns found a little bit of something down just four with over nine minutes left, the jump shots started not falling and their poor half allowed players like Blazers guard Anfernee Simons to get comfortable, a great scorer who put up nine of his 23 points in the fourth on mostly good defense. The Suns wound up down 14 with 4:25 left and that was too much for them to overcome while frantically trying to stabilize. It was too late.

Phoenix got within five via an 11-2 run at 55 seconds remaining, and after a wide-open 3 by Malcolm Brogdon in the corner didn’t go down, Kevin Durant earned free throws in transition and knocked down both to make it a one-possession game at 35 seconds to go. Simons then hit a tough floater perfectly guarded to seal it.

Devin Booker and Durant had strong performances in the first half but both played a part in the problems we saw in the second half, just like nearly everyone else, with the flow of the offense in a brutal position for the third quarter particularly. Phoenix attempted just 23 3s, making five (21.7%), a spotlight on the lack of ball movement considering the shooting and scoring threats the Suns have.

Durant scored 40 points on 16-of-28 shooting to go with four rebounds, five assists, two steals and five turnovers. Booker added 25 points (11-for-25), three rebounds, seven assists and a turnover.

Grayson Allen felt like the one guy in a Suns uniform who was fully engaged and playing his tail off all night, ending up with 11 points, nine rebounds and two steals. Those were the three Suns players in double figures.

Portland shot 14-of-28 (50%) from 3.

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