The Phoenix Suns won't be lacking in confidence if they face the Portland Trail Blazers in the playoffs.
Phoenix completed its season sweep of Portland with a dramatic 118-117 victory in Thursday's Western Conference showdown at Phoenix Suns Arena. Devin Booker drained two free throws with 0.9 seconds left to put the Suns ahead, and CJ McCollum's ensuing heave did not fall.
Chris Paul, Cameron Payne and Mikal Bridges led the way for the home team, which improved to 49-21 by snapping a two-game losing streak.
Impressive showings from Damian Lillard and McCollum weren't enough for the Trail Blazers, who failed to clinch a postseason spot as they fell to 41-30 and saw their five-game winning streak come to an end.
Notable Player Stats
- Chris Paul, PG, PHO: 26 PTS, 7 AST
- Mikal Bridges, F, PHO: 21 PTS, 11 REB
- Cameron Payne, G, PHO: 21 PTS, 6 REB, 5 AST
- Damian Lillard, PG, POR: 41 PTS, 5 REB, 5 AST
- CJ McCollum, G, POR: 27 PTS, 6 AST
Poor Execution in Final Seconds Spoils Dame Time
Portland has looked downright scary of late with a healthy McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic back in the lineup that now features Norman Powell, Lillard spearheading the attack, and nine wins in the previous 10 games, but it still hasn't clinched the playoffs due to the relative strength of the Western Conference.
Thursday was a chance to do just that, and the backcourt was ready for the challenge out of the gates.
McCollum caught fire from deep in the first half, while Lillard got into the lane and looked to facilitate when defenders collapsed. The result was 35 combined points for the guards to give the visitors a halftime lead even though nobody else on the team had more than five points at intermission.
Robert Covington and Powell provided some scoring in the second half, which kept the visitors within striking distance even when the Suns started doubling Lillard.
Staying within striking distance until the fourth quarter looked to be all that was needed once Dame Time arrived. The six-time All-Star went into takeover mode and poured in 24 points in the fourth quarter as Portland turned a double-digit deficit into a lead heading into the waning moments.
Lillard's layup with 34 seconds left pushed the advantage to three, but Nurkic fouled Bridges to give up two points, Covington missed two free throws that could have gotten them back and Powell fouled Booker on a midrange jumper to give him the game-winning free throws.
The poor execution around Lillard spoiled his incredible quarter and prevented the Trail Blazers from clinching their playoff spot.
Booker Puts Finishing Touches on Balanced Phoenix Attack
Portland was trying to clinch the playoffs Thursday, but it wasn't the only team with something at stake.
Phoenix had an opportunity to move within a single game of the Utah Jazz for the No. 1 seed with a win, and it also holds the tiebreaker if it can make up that ground. Throw in the chance to end a two-game losing streak, and it was no wonder that the marquee players were dialed in during a back-and-forth first half.
Paul darted in and out of Portland's defense while looking to set up the supporting cast, Booker was in double figures by halftime and Bridges helped make up for the absence of Deandre Ayton by contributing on the glass while finding his stroke from deep.
Paul started asserting himself as a scorer in the third quarter when the Suns seized control for stretches and pushed the lead to double digits.
His pull-up jumpers started the momentum swing, and Torrey Craig kept it rolling by scoring 10 points in the final three minutes of the quarter. Payne also provided a lift off the bench by doing a little bit of everything as a scorer and facilitator who also rebounded from the backcourt.
Payne was so effective that the Suns were able to buy additional rest for Booker well into the fourth quarter while playing the reserve alongside Paul.
Even though Lillard was unstoppable for large stretches of the fourth quarter as the Suns lost their lead, they continued to come back with timely answers with so many contributing. In all, seven Suns finished in double figures and underscored their balance as championship contenders come playoff time.
Portland finishes its regular season by hosting the Denver Nuggets on Sunday, while the Suns visit the San Antonio Spurs for back-to-back games on Saturday and Sunday.