The Phoenix Suns didn’t make it look as easy against the Portland Trail Blazers as a few teams have this month but did enough to get a 127-116 win.
This was the fourth and final meeting between these two teams, and in each of them, Phoenix has faced a Portland team missing key players. But the initial three contests included nothing like Sunday’s injury report.
The Blazers were without Deandre Ayton (right knee tendinitis), Ibou Badji (right hip contusion), Malcolm Brogdon (right adductor soreness), Moses Brown (left wrist fracture), Jerami Grant (illness), Shaedon Sharpe (adductor soreness), Matisse Thybulle (illness) and Robert Williams III (right knee ligament).
The Blazers (10-29) entered the night 1-6 in January with a +/- of -192. Their losses were by 21, 29, 36, 28, 62 and 23.
That made this a different type of game for the Suns (21-18). It’s not so much a “trap game.” This was a challenge for Phoenix to stay with the task at hand and not get comfortable despite the crowded end of the bench for the opposition that is already a bad team as it is. So in a roundabout way, it goes back to what the Suns must improve on over the next couple of weeks with consistent engagement and connectivity.
Anything else but a cozy victory would be a failure of reaching the standard they’ll need to become the team they want to be.
It was not that and this tone from Bradley Beal after the game said as much.
Bradley Beal: “I think we took a step back and I think we all know that.” pic.twitter.com/iO2V1IjYxk
— Oh no he didn’t (@ohnohedidnt24) January 15, 2024
It wasn’t the Suns’ best start to the game but they eventually got a lead into the mid-teens from the second quarter onward until the fourth, when the Blazers began with a 15-5 start to the final period to rally back within four points. The Suns’ offense played slow and sloppy, a consistent issue for them in the fourth quarter, even the starting group that has been very good this season.
They continue to have problems defending in general but especially at the 3-point line. Head coach Frank Vogel took a timeout 34 seconds into the fourth quarter when Portland’s Anfernee Simons drilled a 3-pointer, and Vogel again triggered a break in the action a few minutes later to try again to snap his team out of it. The Suns executed well for a few minutes after their lead was cut to four and that was enough for a victory.
Phoenix remains the worst fourth quarter team in the NBA by a discernible margin, and that’s in a league including five teams like the Blazers that have 10 or less wins. Like their biggest issues, this is one that doesn’t come down to anything past a group that is beyond capable starting to locate enough competency in winning time.
Portland hit five 3s in the first five minutes and change to gets some pep in its step, which put the Suns in a position where they now had to adjust and match the Blazers’ energy after not doing so to begin the game. It took a quarter to get there. The Blazers’ seven-point lead in the first quarter was cut into at the start of the second period before a 17-3 Phoenix run created the expected separation.
It was a 40-point Suns second quarter followed by 35 in the third to lead by 14. Portland to that point had knocked down 16 3-pointers to hang around while it was Devin Booker and Beal pacing the Suns offense in the opening of that second half to really find control of the game before the fourth quarter.
Booker led the way with 34 points, six rebounds and seven assists. Beal added 23 points, four rebounds, five assists and two steals. It was 14-of-22 shooting for Booker and 9-for-13 out of Beal. Durant provided 21 points (8-for-16), five rebounds and five assists. Grayson Allen chipped in 20 points.
Portland’s Scoot Henderson was 11-of-31 for 33 points, seven rebounds, nine assists and two steals. Portland ended up with 20 triples as a team.