PORTLAND — Nicolas Batum insists that it’s nothing special playing against the Phoenix Suns, even though his numbers tell another story.
Batum was aggressive attacking the basket and finished with 20 points, four rebounds and seven assists to lead the Blazers to a 108-87 victory over the Suns.
Batum had his best game of the season back on Jan. 21 against the Suns with a season-high 27 points. He had a near triple-double Tuesday, and he gave much of the credit to the return of his pick-and-roll partner Robin Lopez.
“He made big shots,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “You know, he mixed it up, took the ball to the basket a few times. They were going under his screens, but he was still aggressive going to the basket. He was locked in defensively. He had a good all around game.”
Batum looked for his offense early in transition and was aggressive on defense. He was leaking out to get on the break and teammates found him streaking down the court for high-percentage looks. He scored in double-figures in back-to-back games for just the second time this season.
“It’s not because Phoenix. I don’t know I have to get another good game against another team like that to be okay,” Batum said. “I just try to be more aggressive. That’s what I got to do. I got to play that way every night.”
LaMarcus Aldridge became the Blazers franchise leader in double-doubles Thursday, passing Sidney Wicks. He was aggressive, if not efficient, and finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds for his 220th career double-double.
The Blazers defense held Phoenix to season-low 35 points in the first half and they also forced them into 10 first half turnovers. And with those stops, the Blazers were able to get out in transition with great success.
As a unit, the Blazers were aggressive attacking the rim with 34 of their 90 field-goal attempts coming within the restricted area according to NBA.com. The Blazers needed everything they could get as they were an ice cold 8-of-31 from long range.
Aldridge was joined as the scoring leader in the first half by second-year guard CJ McCollum.
McCollum scored 10 points in the first half off the bench in 11 minutes and also grabbed four rebounds in the first half, a season high. He finished with 12 points off the bench.
“Coach called my number a couple of times, gave me some pick and rolls,” McCollum said. “And I was able to get to the hole and finish.”
The Blazers led by as much as 19 in the first half, a reverse scenario from the last time these two teams met when the Suns led in Phoenix by as much as 25.
But like the Blazers did in Phoenix back on Jan. 21, the Suns fought back to make it interesting.
It also helped Phoenix’s cause that the Blazers offense could not buy a 3-point basket on the day that Wesley Matthews was selected to compete in the NBA’s 3-point contest at All-Star weekend.
An Eric Bledsoe lay-up gave the Suns their first lead since the score was 5-4 with 1:20 left in the third quarter.
But the Blazers still led 66-65 after three quarters despite an ice-cold 3-point game where they made only two of their first 22 attempts.
Then Steve Blake his a 3-pointer for Portland’s first field goal of the fourth quarter and it sparked the Blazers on a 42-22 fourth quarter. Stotts credited the unit of Blake, Matthews, McCollum, Lopez and Leonard-a line-up that hadn’t been used until tonight-with sparking them on the run that sealed the game.
The Blazers were also five-of-six from deep in the fourth quarter although a pair of those game in garbage time when both teams emptied their benches.
What Batum started in the first quarter, he finished late. He continued attacking the basket and also took a pull-up 3-pointer right in the face of Phoenix’s Markieff Morris.
After the run in the middle quarters to take the lead, the Suns drifted off into a quick good night as the Blazers pushed the lead back back up to double-digits.