Its 'Green Week' in NBA, and Gerald proves it against Blazers
The Trail Blazers seem likely to face either the Houston Rockets or the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
Good thing the first-round opponent won't be the Phoenix Suns.
"I'm glad we don't have to play Phoenix anymore," Portland coach Terry Stotts said after the Suns' 109-93 victory Friday night at the Moda Center. The Suns "just really play well against us. I don't know, maybe it's just a bad matchup for us."
Phoenix owned the season series 3-1, with all three victories by double figures. The Blazers' only win came by a 90-89 count at Portland on Nov. 13, the game in which the Suns had a layup and two tip attempts go awry during the game's final possession.
Down the stretch Friday night, the Suns (45-31) appeared as if they wanted it more than the Blazers (49-28), who could have clinched a playoff spot with a victory.
Now Portland will have to do it Sunday night at home against New Orleans.
The Suns "played with a sense of urgency," Portland's Wesley Matthews said. "They got all the hustle stuff. We got another game on Sunday."
As Portland coach Terry Stotts said pregame, the Suns are "playing for their playoff lives." A loss Friday night would have sent them into the ninth spot in the Western Conference, of which eight teams make the postseason.
"We just had a thing called determination, I guess," said Phoenix guard Eric Bledsoe, who used the occasion to score a career-high 30 points. "Everybody knew if we lost this game, it would be a little tougher on us going forward."
Phoenix stayed in a tie with Memphis in eighth place, a half-game back of Dallas (46-31). Both teams won Friday night, as did No. 4 Houston and No. 6 Golden State. The Rockets (50-25) are two games ahead of the Blazers, the Warriors (47-29) just a game and a half behind.
"We can't really think about that," said Portland's Nicolas Batum, who flirted with a triple-double with 13 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. "The West is really crazy. We can't count on other teams to lose.
"We know Houston and Golden State are going to win games. We'll try to win our last five games, and then we'll be in the top five (in the West), at least."
It's "NBA Green Week," with the league celebrating sustainability and all that good stuff. Phoenix's Gerald Green seemed to take it literally.
The 28-year-old forward, beginning to make a name for himself this season, bombed in 32 points off the bench, making 12 of 20 shots from the field, 4 of 7 from 3-point range.
"He was hot," Matthews said. "Feast or famine. It was feast tonight."
"Gerald's a wild card," Stotts said. "He can get it going. He's the type of player who can get hot for them. When he gets it going, he elevates, and it's a difficult shot to defend. I've seen him do that before."
"He kept them in the game," Batum added. "Without him, I don't think they come back. Bledsoe got hot, too."
Portland led 77-67 and seemed in control midway through the third quarter. Phoenix closed the quarter on a 12-3 run to get within 80-79 heading into the final period.
It was all Suns from there, the visitors outscoring the Blazers 30-13 over the final 12 minutes. Portland was 5 for 16 from the field in the quarter.
"We struggled to score," Stotts said. "Gerald made some big momentum plays that energized them. We got down 10 or 12 and couldn't mount a charge after that."
Phoenix ruled the battle in points in the paint 48-32 and fast-break points 24-6. The Suns owned the boards 59-48, grabbing 23 off the offensive glass.
"They scored on the boards and in transition," Batum said. "They just outworked us."
The Suns shot only .402 from the field, including 6 for 21 (.286) from 3-point range.
"Usually, I like our chances when (the opponent) shoots 40 percent," Stotts said."But give them credit. Green played a fantastic game. Bledsoe was very aggressive going to the basket. They outplayed us."
Had the Rockets lost, the Blazers could have moved into a tie with them for fourth place in the West with a victory.
"I didn't want to think too much into that," said Portland's Damian Lillard, who had a so-so game with 15 points (on 5-for-13 shooting) and seven assists. "I just wanted to come out and take care of this game and not worry about what it meant. But we weren't able to get it done."
NOTES: The loss snapped a four-game win streak for Portland. ... In the third quarter, Green made the play of the game. The 6-8 forward found himself with the ball inside the foul line and nobody in his path to the hoop. He lobbed an underhanded pass off the glass to himself and windmilled it through -- for an assist and a basket, all in the same play. ... Lillard said he was disappointed not to clinch the playoffs on the Blazers' first opportunity. "But we'll probably have another chance," Lillard said. Probably? The Blazers, of course, can do it Sunday. Stotts used the 6-8 Batum to defend Phoenix point guard Goran Dragic, who started the game 1 for 7 and finished with 19 points on 7-for-19 shooting. Phoenix had 16 more field-goal attempts (97 to 81) and made eight more free throws (25 to 17) than the Blazers. Green scored 16 points in each half, making 12 of 20 shots, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range. It was the 29th double-double of the season for Portland's Robin Lopez (18 points, 13 rebounds) and the 14th for Batum. LaMarcus Aldridge also scored 18 points, but on only 8-for-18 shooting. Phoenix C Miles Plumlee had six points but a game-high 16 rebounds, including six off the offensive glass . Phoenix outrebounded 32-19 in the second half. The Suns' 23 offensive rebounds weren't a high for a Portland opponent. Denver grabbed 27 off the offensive glass on Feb. 25.