The Suns have played a lot of close games recently.
This wasn't one of them.
The Trail Blazers (34-16) blitzed the Suns 108-87 even though they didn't play very well for a good portion of the game. Sporadic play was still more than enough for a Suns team that had one of its worst games of the season. The Suns tied a season low with 87 points, which was sadly set just five days ago. The 21 point blowout was also Phoenix's fourth biggest margin of defeat.
The Suns (28-23) finish a parlous eight game stretch with a 3-5 record and have surrendered most of their lead over the New Orleans Pelicans (26-23) and Oklahoma City Thunder (25-24).
To add injury to insult, Alex Len left the game in the third quarter with an injury to his right ankle.
It was one of those nights.
The Suns got off to a shaky start, but Goran Dragic finally broke the lid off the basket with a three pointer a little over two minutes into the game. The two teams combined to make just 4-21 from the field in the early going. It was part defense and part putrescence.
Alex Len, who's second in the league in total personal fouls, picked up two in less than six minutes and sauntered off to the bench. Alex had been giving LaMarcus Aldridge fits with his size in the early going, so it was deliciously Len-like to pick up a couple silly fouls. Aldridge hit two free throws on the shooting foul he baited Len into and then proceeded to score on the next possession after Len sat.
Nine minutes into the quarter the Suns had nine points, six turnovers and were 4-14 from the field. Phoenix was blessed to only be down nine points (18-9). Damian Lillard had a couple uncontested layups and Meyers Leonard ran free through the lane for a dunk as Portland gained a 16-6 edge in points in the paint in the quarter.
Gerald Green made a surprising return from banishment and threw down a savage breakaway dunk shortly after subbing in. He scored another bucket late in the quarter to help the Suns get all the way up to 15 for the period.
The Suns played 12 minutes of bad basketball.
Score: Blazers 27, Suns 15
The TNT broadcast chimed in on the Alex Len foul situation, panning to him on the bench during a dead ball where the officials were looking at a potential clear path foul against the Suns (it wasn't one). They seemed to agree with my stance that he should foul less.
Portland scored the first seven points of the second quarter to stretch their lead to 19 (34-15) before Brandan Wright caught an alley-oop dunk. The Suns started to make a push against the Blazers' bench and Green cut the lead to 12 with a transition three. Phoenix was trying to creep even closer, but Markieff Morris whiffed on a wide open dunk.
Rachel Nichols also came on to fill in the nation on the Suns' embarrassing technical foul situation. At least it's not just a sectarian story. Shortly after listening to an expatiation on why the Suns weren't getting any calls because they complain too much I looked over and saw that Portland only committed three fouls in the first half. Three.
Lots of feel good topics of discussion.
Unfortunately, those were quite a bit more interesting than the vapid brand of basketball being played. Portland was nearly as bad as the Suns, with neither team north of 36% from the field in the first half. The Suns closed the first half down by 11, which would normally be within striking range... but might be around the team's total points in the third quarter.
Score: Blazers 46, Suns 35
Eric Bledsoe hit a couple free throws to start the period that gave him more points (7) than turnovers (5). That's something.
As poorly as the Sun had played, a corner three from P.J. Tucker and a couple fast break layups cut the deficit to six points.
Len caught a pass from Bledsoe in transition and threw down a fierce dunk, but was fouled by Robin Lopez and went to the ground clutching his right ankle in obvious pain. Len was able to shoot his free throws, but the Suns fouled immediately and Alex limped off the court back to the locker room.
The Suns continued to chip away, extending to a 15-4 run and cutting the Blazers lead to just two points (54-52). Damian Lillard (0-5) and his teammates were obscenely amiss from long distance, letting the Suns hang around by making just 2-22 three pointers.
Phoenix finally climbed all the way back up the hill to take its first lead (63-62) since it was 5-4 in the first quarter. It was short lived, though, as Nicolas Batum hit just the third triple for the Blazers to put them back on top. Still, a fiery effort from Phoenix had them right back in the mix.
Score: Blazers 66, Suns 65
Of course Portland reeled off six straight points to start the quarter. Phoenix regained their equanimity, however, and kept Portland from pulling away early in the period.
The size of Lopez was giving the Suns fits. Rolo scored two buckets right at the rim that gave him a double double (11 points, 12 rebounds) and put the Blazers back up eight. Moments later it was back up to 13 (88-75). It looked like there wouldn't be a close finish after all.
The Suns couldn't make a push the rest of the way and went down without so much as a whimper. After trailing by 19 in the first half the Suns came all the way back to take the lead, just to go back down by 19 at the end of the game. Phoenix somehow managed to give up 42 points in the period before the humiliation finally ended.
It was kind of like they got their ass kicked twice.
Final Score: Blazers 108, Suns 87
Player of the Game:
Nicolas Batum was solid with 20 points and seven assists, but I'm going to go with Rolo for old time's sake. Lopez had 11 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks while providing a much needed presence on both ends of the court. He's a key piece of the Trail Blazer puzzle.
I'm still working on this part.
The first quarter. The Suns shot 7-21 from the field and compounded the punitive effects of their abysmal shooting by committing eight turnovers. It was a small miracle they weren't down by 20 by the end of the period.
The fourth quarter. Really? 42 points?
Alex Len picked up two cheap fouls in less than six minutes and sat the rest of the half. Yes, he's still very young... but he's also second in the league in total personal fouls... many of the silly/stupid variety.
The timeout after Len's injury was much needed, because it afforded me the opportunity to clean up after I soiled myself. It was encouraging that Len limped back to the locker room without assistance, but the words Len and ankle injury should never be written or spoken in the same sentence. Hopefully the x-rays are clean.
The Suns are now 2-5 in their last seven games and haven't looked like a team that is prepared to make a push for the playoffs. This cruel eight game stretch had already been mentioned as a litmus test in advance, one that the Suns failed.
Unfortunately, in a tight race like this there is a huge difference between 4-4 and 3-5.
This doesn't adumbrate auspiciously for the Suns, since they close out the season with six of its last eight games on the road against the Blazers, Warriors, Hawks, Mavericks, Pelicans and Spurs. Good luck with that.
The Suns need to shake this one off, because tomorrow they take on the Utah Jazz in Phoenix on a back to back. The Suns have just three games before the All-Star break, which will give them a chance to regroup.