The Portland Trail Blazers began their 2017-18 campaign in historic fashion, beating the Phoenix Suns 124-76 in front of a sellout crowd of 18,055 Wednesday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
“That was a great way to start the season,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts. “I was really pleased with our defense throughout the night. Offense got off to a slow start but picked up. The obvious statement is we played really well.
Portland’s 48-point margin of victory was the largest in NBA history for an opening night game, surpassing the old record of 46 points set in 1987. Portland’s best opening night victory prior to Wednesday’s game was back in 1973 when they bested the Washington Bullets by 45. The loss was also the worst in Suns franchise history.
After falling behind 9-2 in the first three minutes, the Portland Trail Blazers ended the first quarter by outscoring the Suns 27-12 to take a 29-21 lead.
With both Maurice Harkless and Evan Turner beset by early foul trouble, Portland got stellar first-quarter performances from Pat Connaughton and Shabazz Napier. Connaughton hit his first four shots, including two three-pointers, for 10 points in the first half.
“With (Harkless) getting in early foul trouble and Pat coming in — he’s been shooting the ball with confidence, he showed that tonight,” said Stotts. “He played with a lot of poise and a lot of confidence. Everybody was wondering where three’s were going to come from, Pat’s one of them.”
As for Napier, who missed most of training camp and all of preseason with a hamstring injury, went 2-of-2 from three as well for six points in six minutes.
The Trail Blazers would get more balanced score in the second quarter, though the results would be even more devastating with Portland ratcheting up their defensive effort. The Trail Blazers held the Suns to 22 percent shooting from the field in the second quarter, holding the home team scoreless for the final four minutes of the first half to take a 60-35 lead into the intermission.
“I said before the game, ‘Be ready to weather whatever storms we have to.’ And we came out there, they started off well and we stuck with it and our bench came in, Pat came in hot right away, (Napier) came in hot right way. But more important than the shot making, the defense was still there. We kept defending more consistent than I can remember.”
That lead would balloon to 43 in the third quarter thanks to Portland shooting 62 percent from the field and a perfect 4-of-4 from three in the third quarter while holding Phoenix to 26 percent shooting. The Trail Blazers took two fewer shots in the quarter, yet still managed to outscore the Suns by 18 in the quarter to take a 98-55 lead into the final 12 minutes of play.
From there, all that was left to be decided is whether the Trail Blazers could win by more than 50, which would set the franchise record for largest margin of victory. A three-pointer from Suns guard Mike James, and Grant High School product, with eight seconds to play assured that record, set versus the Cavaliers in 1982, would survive, coming away with a 48-point victory while holding their opponent to 31 percent shooting surely served as a nice consolation.
“Probably don’t read to much into (the win) because it’s a long season,” said Stotts. “Obviously we’re pleased with it, but Indiana is a new day. You can’t rest on it. It’s a great way to start the season, particularly the manner in which we did it, but the next game is the next game.”
The Trail Blazers were led by Lillard, who went 10-of-20 from the field and 4-of-6 from three for 27 points, five rebounds, five assists, three block shots and a steal in 30 minutes. Connaughton set a new career high in scoring with 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting to go with two assists and two rebounds in 32 minutes.
“For me, it was just about making sure I got into the flow of the game with a few easy baskets,” said Connaughton. “It’s not something where I ever expected to be ‘feeling it.’ My teammates found me when I had open shots and I was trying to make sure I made plays for them to get them some easy baskets.”
Jusuf Nurkić put up a quiet double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds in 23 minutes. Napier finished with 10 points as did Ed Davis, who also added seven rebounds.
Four Suns players scored in double figures led by 15 from Eric Bledsoe. His backcourt partner, Devin Booker, finished with 12 points on 6-of-17 shooting in 27 minutes.
Next up, the Trail Blazers head to Indianapolis to take on the Pacers Friday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in second game of a three-game trip. Tipoff is scheduled for 4 p.m.