Let’s begin with an update: Deandre Ayton, along with TJ Warren and Devin Booker, was not starting in Portland. That certainly changed things for the Suns, who could now definitively say they were starting without their three best players. Even facing a Trail Blazers squad without CJ McCollum, that’s tough to overcome.
But as we look closer, is there any chance the Suns used this as a mental check for Ayton? Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic reported Ayton was under the weather, but he checked in three minutes into the game. You don’t get just sick enough to sit for three minutes. Something is up.
Regardless, Damian Lillard started 4-4 for 10 points, cooking on an assortment of jumpers from the opening tip. From there, it got ugly quick.
Jake Layman took the reigns from Lillard and blew the game out of the water with 15 points in the first quarter of his own, including a couple ridiculous 3s and an unfair transition dunk.
On the Suns’ end, Ayton made a concerted effort to be more aggressive, focusing on scoring rather than playmaking or fighting on the boards. The frustrating part about that effort was Ayton’s continued reliance on the midrange jumper as his go-to move. When Ayton tries to get a quick bucket, it’s almost always a jumper. That’s too tough a shot to count on it possession after possession.
Suns' first-quarter scoreline, last two games:— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) December 7, 2018
The Suns are the first team in the shot clock era to be held under 10 points in the first quarter of back-to-back games (since 1954-55).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 7, 2018
Trailing 34-9 heading into the frame, the game already out of hand once again, the Suns got into the bonus quickly in the second. With just over seven minutes left, Portland picked up its fifth team foul.
There was also a Dragan Bender dunk. The third-year big man got into the game earlier than at any point all season, taking Ryan Anderson’s usual place in the rotation with Warren out. The Ayton-Bender look we all pondered in June is here, 25 games into the year.
Phoenix’s offense just doesn’t have the talent to execute simple plays without Booker, a testament to their shallow guard rotation and the youth of the roster. Midway through the quarter, two straight possessions passed with Troy Daniels initiating pick-and-rolls. Both De’Anthony Melton and Jamal Crawford were on the floor, yet the flow of the offense was so poor Daniels tried to take things into this own hands.
We’ve seen the Daniels show on both ends before, and it ended predictably. He lost track of Nik Stauskas, who should be a matchup he can handle, several times.
"Come on, man."— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) December 7, 2018
Chuck's not impressed by Phoenix's first quarter. pic.twitter.com/tnk8KbIk65
Though he’s playing more lately, there is a real question as to whether Josh Jackson regressed since last season. Not only has he not improved, but much of the playmaking and defensive growth we saw late last year is gone. Jackson coughed up the ball on consecutive possessions early in the third, blowing up any chance the Suns had of turning the game around.
Bridges, looking confident after finally seeing a couple shots fall, took the Lillard matchup in the third. It was uneven, as you would expect for a rookie against a All-NBA First Teamer. Bridges fouled Lillard on a three midway through the period and became frustrated. Lillard is just a tough matchup for a team without the guards to match him.
Late in the period, you could tell the two teams started to wind down the clock. It looked as if Jamal Crawford was running batting practice for a JV softball team, just throwing it around the diamond for different guys to take shots. Very few went in.
A few stray thoughts to close this one out:
- Bender’s jumper looked different, with his guide hand cocked out more than in the past.
- Bridges got into it a little with Igor Kokoskov after he fouled Lillard on a three. Everyone is frustrated right now.
- Somehow, with seven minutes to play, Daniels was a plus-1 in 21 minutes. He finished a plus-1 in 22 minutes, the Suns’ best offensive player.