Despite double-digit leads after each of the first two quarters, the Phoenix Suns (14-13) lost to the Portland Trail Blazers (7-19). Kevin Durant scored 40 on 28 shots, but the Portland bench outscored Phoenix’s 43-14.
A few things caught my eye early, from the Suns working to detach Toumani Camara from Devin Booker to Jusuf Nurkic taking it to Deandre Ayton.
Booker missed his first two good looks, but found his shot afterward, tallying five points and one assist as Phoenix got out to a 15-7 lead. Nurkic was able to get his body into Ayton to neutralize the defense for his first bucket, and he poked the ball away from Ayton coming back down the other end.
Kevin Durant hit Booker on the fast break for a dunk, prompting a Chauncey Billups timeout — the game’s first stoppage — with the Suns up 18-8 about five minutes in. Suns kept the pressure on as Booker got to the free throw line and dished out a couple more assists.
Duop Reath, a member of the 2023 Summer Suns, made an impact for Portland in no time, hitting a three in his first seconds on the floor. Drew Eubanks, facing an old team himself, found a nice bucket on a slash with the assist from Durant in his first few seconds.
Durant cashed in two floaters to end the quarter, giving the Suns a 36-20 lead after one.
1.400 points per possession from p&r ball handlers and 1.667 ppp from p&r roll men in the first quarter for phoenix https://t.co/Qy2G7VsmzZ— Damon Allred (@iamdamonallred) December 20, 2023
Booker was the first player on either side to reach double-figures with a bucket over former All-Defenseman Mattise Thybulle to reach 11 points on six shots; no misses since the first two to start.
He also added points 13 and 15 with a drive at Ayton the next time down followed by a mid-range pull-up following that. He finally missed on a stepback three heat check immediately after.
The Suns’ defense, however, was not as hot as Booker’s shot in the second, allowing the Blazers to start 5-of-10 from deep, and doubling up the Suns in the offensive rebounding category.
Portland was within two shortly after midway through the second as Billups called for a challenge on a Toumani Camara foul, overturned to a block due to contact that was deemed “marginal.”
Nurkic stabilized things for the Suns with a second chance make off the glass, and Jordan Goodwin did the same thing on the next possession, cleaning up his own miss. Durant used the glass himself the next time down, capping off a 6-0 run.
The Suns won a challenge of their own after Durant was initially called for a charge into Camara, but the officials deemed that Camara was still sliding his foot, meaning Durant would be able to cash in on his three-point play the old fashioned way.
Thanks, in part, to that play and the Durant three that followed, Phoenix went into the break up 61-49. Durant with 21 and Booker with 17 were the game’s only double-digit scorers to that point.
Suns came out cold to start the third; their only bucket in the first three minutes was a Nassir Little catch-and-shoot three, playing in his former home arena. Portland pulled within five, prompting a Frank Vogel timeout.
Blazers took their first lead with a three by Malcolm Brogdon halfway through the third, and Jerami Grant added onto it with a drive the next time down.
Grant and the Blazers continued their other-worldly shooting from deep with an 11-of-19 start from a team that came into the game 27th in the league in 3P% as they reached their biggest lead to that point, seven points. Portland was winning the quarter 33-14 to start the third.
Durant took over late in the frame to keep the Suns in it, trailing 81-87 going into the fourth. The Blazers nearly doubled up the Suns in the frame, 38-20.
More of the same in the fourth with terrible shooting variance going both ways coupled with silly Suns turnovers and defensive lapses. Facing a nine-point deficit with 5:38 remaining, the Blazers were shooting 54.2% from deep while the Suns were at a measly 26.3%.
Another Brogdon three extended Portland’s lead to 14 with 4:25 left as Booker got a breather on the bench, with the Suns staring an early dagger right in the eyes.
Suns pulled within five with 52 seconds remaining and within three with 35 seconds remaining, and Nurkic blocked Grant the next time down prompting a Billups timeout with 19 seconds left, eight seconds on the Portland shot clock.
Anfernee Simons showed up to the plate with a clutch bucket to get his 23rd point on his 23rd shot despite Grayson Allen defending it about as well as he could’ve, giving the Blazers a five-point lead with just under 11 seconds.
What a big shot from Anfernee Simons pic.twitter.com/aIk9ww3YN2— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) December 20, 2023
Durant and Allen each missed threes in the final seconds, sealing the loss which might prompt some looks in the mirror by this Suns squad. 109-104 the final.