The early offense for the Phoenix Suns was once again rolling, and they used a 27-6 run to close the first half to gain all the ground they needed in a 122-111 win over the Portland Trail Blazers, improving to 2-1 this pre-season.
After the Blazers got out to an 8-2 start, Booker responded with a steal that led to a Durant-to-Gordon transition assist. Durant flexed his playmaking chops again shortly after, finding Nurkic inside for an and-one.
Deandre Ayton was a part of that early run, getting the ball going downhill and instead stopped just inside the elbow and put up a floater that rimmed out. After Phoenix cut it to 12-7, Ayton saw an open lane in front of him and dunked it emphatically all before fouling coming down the other way, leading to Nurkic free throws. Ayton later tried a push shot over Nurkic, but couldn’t find the right touch.
Trailing by only four at the first break, the Suns had all but weathered the early storm. Before the quarter was even halfway done, Phoenix took their first lead, 18-17, after Gordon added a layup to a prior free throw for Scoot Henderson’s take foul.
Later in the first, Devin Booker was able to get off a few pull-up threes coming around a screen, something that could be lethal if mastered with volume. That advantage bore fruit quickly after; he was able to get into the paint without as much duress around him.
Keita Bates-Diop was the first Sun off the bench, but Jordan Goodwin was second, appearing in a Suns uniform for the first time (since Summer League, if you count that). Playing alongside — and receiving the assist from — Booker, Goodwin was able to run around off-ball into open space where he caught and cashed in an off-dribble mid-ranger.
Starters: Devin Booker, Eric Gordon, Nassir Little, Kevin Durant, Jusuf Nurkic; First half rotation:
- Keita Bates-Diop
- Jordan Goodwin
- Chimezie Metu
- Udoka Azubuike (two-way contract)
(Inactives: Bradley Beal, Josh Okogie, Grayson Allen, and Drew Eubanks)
Goodwin showed some of his upside in the following minutes as he took more of an on-ball role with Booker coming out. He has a solid feel for how to connect the offense together, especially for someone who has so little on-court time with the group, injured through much of camp.
I also like that Goodwin doesn’t mind leaning on Nurkic for a lot of the playmaking in those spots, because he’s so good at connecting in his own right, so it would be a waste to not utilize that.
Gordon tied the game at 45 after his back-to-back self-created floaters, making Matisse Thybulle touch earth on the second. His touch in the paint cannot go overlooked when it’s so easy to think about him just as a shooter.
The Suns continued to heat up down the stretch of the first half as Gordon continued taking over along with Booker and Durant, building a double-digit lead for the first time all game. We went from Henderson tying it at 49 with 6:56 left in the half to the Suns leading 76-55 at the break. A 27-6 run in just under seven minutes to make an emphatic statement.
The four of Booker, Durant, Gordon, and Nurkic had over 15 points each, but more impressively, they had 18 assists combined in the first half, which was seven more than Portland had as a team. And to top off the box score watching for the first half, the prodigal Sun, Ayton, had five points and five rebounds.
A lineup made up mostly of third-stringers was able to maintain the lead for the most part. Yuta Watanabe playing his first minutes of the night helped with that, running some of the offense, and making a few buckets of his own.
Second half starters: Saben Lee (two-way contract), Little, Yuta Watanabe, Metu, Azuibuke. Rotation:
- Keita Bates-Diop
- Bol Bol
- Keon Johnson
- Jordan Goodwin
Just as the lead was starting to diminish, Goodwin came in to hit a wide open three, bringing aggression coming back the other way, like he’s known to do. If he can bring real juice to the guard depth on this team, you’re starting to see a rotation that’s over a dozen players deep come together ahead of their regular season.
Portland, meanwhile, kept up the onslaught on both ends down the stretch of third, and Phoenix’s 15 points in the frame didn’t help any (but it was also just that Portland was still playing many of their main guys). They were able to cut the Suns’ lead to just 91-88 going into the fourth.
Suns won the fourth quarter, 31-23, as Goodwin and Watanabe were the main catalysts in sealing the deal. Watanabe, 10 points, was the only Sun outside that first-half four to reach double-figures, and he did so in just 15 minutes.
The Suns come back to Phoenix, along with the Blazers, for a rematch on Monday at 7 p.m. (3TV/NBATV) the day after Sunday’s open practice.