On Thursday, during the halftime portion of the Trail Blazers verses Thunder broadcast on TNT, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley claimed they saw the Blazers in the finals this season. Not the Western Conference Finals, the Finals. While much of the content of said halftime broadcast is just a pack of goofballs pontificating and making fun of each other, hearing two stout NBA minds see enough potential in the Blazers to take it to the limit this season was quite refreshing.
Learned folks like Kenny and Charles don’t speak such hyperbole unless there is reason to, and since the All-Star break the Blazers have given them nothing but evidence to support their theory. For the first time in a while, the Blazers made some solid moves before the trade deadline. Rodney Hood and Enes Kanter have proven themselves great gets for the home team and have deepened the arsenal of contributors on the bench. The Blazers rolled through a lengthy seven game road trip against some serious teams and came out 5-2 on the other end. For a team that typically gets a little wobbly on the road, it was quite a showing. And of course there’s the deadly triangle that is Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic. Dame and CJ have been one of the top back courts in the NBA for several seasons now, but despite what any one says, the Bosnian Beast is a legit big man now. Ever since Nurk logged his first triple-double, he’s been a different kind of animal.
So, the Blazers seemingly have the muscles to climb the mountain, but they need to have the stamina to flex them for the next 17 games of the regular season first. All of them. Even against a team who has the second worst record in the NBA, like the Phoenix Suns. After dropping an important game that could've determine playoff position against the Thunder on Thursday, the Blazers needed to reignite their fire with a victory.
Thankfully, the game went as expected. The Blazers started out looking wonky, but were able to dominate the second and third quarters, effectively shutting down the Suns with ease, 127-120.
Both the Blazers and the Suns were all thumbs on the offensive side to start the game. With just under three minutes in the quarter the Blazers were shooting 33% and the Suns were shooting 30%. The slop continued throughout the rest of the quarter. The Blazers and Suns bench scoring was two and zero, respectively. Neither team could find the handle. Somehow the Blazers came out on top 24-23.
The Suns continued to clang away on offense to start the second, but the Blazers started to tighten up a bit. The bench cranked their point total up to 21 with the help of Seth Curry and a pair of good looking threes. The Blazers had a ten point lead with six minutes left in the half.
Right about that time Coach Terry Stotts put the starting five back in the game, and they started going to work. Nurk and Maurice Harkless had back to back, rim-rattling dunks, and CJ got back to his smooth, buttery self and finished the half the high scorer with 13. The Blazers 15 point lead went up to 19 in the final 0.5 seconds of the half thanks to three free throws from Curry after a foul from Devin Booker, and a technical foul for Suns’ coach Igor Kokoškov. Igor was so heated he had to be physically restrained by another member of the coaching staff. The Suns were frustrated, and they still had a whole half to get through.
The Blazers pulled all the strings in the third quarter. Their lead got as high as 24 and the Suns really had no answer for the Blazers except fouls and more technical fouls.
Stotts gave young buck Anfernee Simons some time in the last few minutes of the third. It’s always great seeing Anfernee step onto the court. He looks like some skinny middle schooler who’s dying wish is to log a few minutes in a real NBA game, but he always mounts the court with such swagger and confidence. Plus, it’s clear everyone on the Blazer team is excited for him and wants him to succeed. During his three minutes he drained his first three point shot in a regular season game, and Stotts beamed like he was a proud dad watching his own son. It was freakin’ adorable.
The Blazer bench played the bulk of the final quarter. They did just enough to keep the Suns at bay. All in all, it was a relatively boring, uneventful game. Why do the Blazers need to waste their time with non-contenders like the Suns anyway? They need to cut their teeth on real teams so they can hone their skills for the Finals…