Trail Blazers vs Suns Saturday, 12/22/12 AT 07:00PM

Trail Blazers Take Fifth Straight, Beat Suns 96-93

  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0


    Damian Lillard led the charge in the second half after the Trail Blazers were down by nine. Lillard scored 19 of his 25 points in the second half (7 assists).  Lillard's efforts helped the Trail Blazers (13-12)  defeat the Phoenix Suns (11-16) 96-93, snapping the Suns' four-game winning streak and extending Portland's current winning streak to five games. JJ Hickson also had another monster of a game with 19 points and 15 rebounds, his seventh straight double-double, becoming the first Trail Blazer to do that since Arvydas Sabonis in 1997.

    "Well, we found a way to win the game," Terry Stotts said.

    Every night it seems like it's something different.  Lillard didn't hit any buzzer beaters tonight, but he took over the second half of this game.  Eight of his 25 points came in the final quarter and his step back jumper with 41.9 seconds left to put the Trail Blazers up by five sending the Rose Garden into a frenzy. This was Lillard's eighth game of 25 points and seven assists, tied with Stephen Curry for third most in the NBA, trailing only LeBron James and Russell Westbrook.

    "I saw a few gaps in their defense, just running plays in our offense and I figured it was a stretch we needed to turn it up," Lillard said.

    Along with Lillard's brilliant second half, the Trail Blazers stepped up on the defensive end, some thing they did not do against the Suns in their previous meeting in the regular season or in their preseason match-up, which Stotts and players mentioned after the game. The Suns were shooting 50 percent at half time and were shooting 45 percent from the three-point arc, stats eerily similar to the previous meeting. Stotts got on the Trail Blazers at halftime.

    "The way the game started, it looked easy and it wasn't. We assumed it was going to be easy and we had to come out the way we started the game but realize it wasn't as easy as it looked," Stotts said. "We came out with an attitude because they had beaten us twice and we hadn't played well."

    Stotts reminded them of the preseason loss as well, as he said their starters dominated the Trail Blazers. The defense in the second half was much better. The Suns shot 40 percent (18 of 45) in the second half and went 0-for-4 the three-point line. The Trail Blazers also corrected a major turnover problem in the second half. The Trail Blazers had 13 turnovers in the first half only had three in the second.

    "I think we just flew around," Lillard said about the second half defense. "Our coverages, everything, was a lot more tight."

    Nicolas Batum had another statsheet-stuffer kind of night, as he flirted with a triple-double. He finished with 13 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and two steals. Batum also had seven turnovers, he joked he was trying to "make history" again after his five-by-five stat line against New Orleans.

    The Trail Blazers reserves stepped up again, which has been a trend in this five game winning streak. Ronnie Price (5 points, big defensive energy), Luke Babbitt (3 points, 3 rebounds, good defense), Sasha Pavlovic (A big three pointer late) and Victor Claver (7 points, 4 rebounds) all made big plays. Claver, who has had trouble getting shots to fall finally got the open looks to go tonight. Claver who worked himself out into a sweat in the weight room after the previous game was frustrated, but he felt better about his contributions tonight. Claver started the second half and was the first Trail Blazer off the bench when Wesley Matthews left the game early after being troubled again by his left hip. Matthews will not travel with the Trail Blazers to Sacramento.

    "I got the three that finally went in tonight," Claver said. "Every day, I'm working to have good vibes and make the shots that I get."

    It seems that Stotts playing Claver with starters seems to be the types of situations he will continue to use him in throughout the season. It wouldn't be a surprise if Claver starts tomorrow night against the Kings.

    Also, of course, it was great for the Trail Blazers to have their All-Star back. Aldridge (17 points, nine rebounds) was a game-time decision with a left ankle sprain but he came out and was his similar self; scoring in the post and working pick and rolls.

    "It was good to have LaMarcus back obviously. He got off to a good start and was really effective down the stretch as well," Stotts said.

    The Trail Blazers held the Suns to 34 percent shooting in the fourth quarter but no possession was bigger than the final one for Phoenix. Lillard tried to ice the game and draw a foul on the previous Portland possession but the refs let both teams play on, giving the Suns a final shot. The Trail Blazers were relentless on the final possession, denying the Suns a look at a three-pointer and giving them the win. Stotts talked about "baby steps" of improvement defensively and it seems the team keeps doing that and he was very proud of their "recognition" on the final possession.

    Here are a couple of exciting highlights from Wheels' call tonight: Hickson jams and draws the and-one and Lillard's jumper ices the win.

    The Trail Blazers will travel to Sacramento to face the Kings (8-18) tomorrow night at 6PM, the team that last beat them. The Kings will be without their center DeMarcus Cousins, who has been suspended indefinitely by the team. The Trail Blazers have now won five straight games and will look for their sixth tomorrow in Sacramento. That game will be on KGW and can be heard on 1190 AM and 102.3 FM.

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