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Lillard's clutch play lifts Blazers past Suns

The SportsXchange

PORTLAND -- Rookie Damian Lillard certainly isn't playing like a rookie, especially in the clutch moments of games.

Lillard scored a game-high 25 points -- including a critical jump shot in the final minute -- and dished out seven assists as Portland pulled out a 96-93 victory Saturday night at the Rose Garden.

It was the fifth straight victory for the Trail Blazers (13-12), who closed out a six-game homestand with a 5-1 mark to move achieve a winning record since they were 2-1.

"This is our third chance to get over .500," Lillard said. "To finally get it done felt good. To go four games below .500 and get on a winning streak and get it done -- it says a lot about where we're going."

Lillard scored 18 of his points after intermission.

"I just had to keep being aggressive," said the point guard out of Weber State. "In the second half, I made a few more plays for other guys. (The Suns) loosened up on me and I was able to find some gaps and get some shots to fall."

J.J. Hickson collected 19 points and 15 rebounds, LaMarcus Aldridge had 17 points and nine rebounds and Nicolas Batum contributed 13 points, nine rebounds and eight assists for the Blazers.

"We found a way to win," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "Our rebounding in the second half -- the fourth quarter, particularly -- was very good, and we held (the Suns) to 40 percent shooting the second half. We were able to play in a flow. Damian made some big shots down the stretch, but our defense gave our offense some momentum."

Marcin Gortat had 18 points and nine rebounds for Phoenix (11-16), which saw the end to a four-game win streak.

"We were right there," Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said. "We just had to come up with a couple of plays, which has been our (mode of operation) for most of the year."

Gortat scored on consecutive layups to trim a seven-point deficit to 94-91 with 1:25 remaining and, after a basket-interference call, the Suns got the ball back. Shannon Brown's driving layup missed, though, the Blazers rebounded and Lillard drilled a step-back 17-footer with 41.9 seconds to go for a 96-91 advantage.

The Suns' Jared Dudley scored quickly on a layup, though, and when Lillard driving layup in heavy traffic missed, the Suns had a chance to tie with 17 seconds to go on their final possession. Eschewing the opportunity to call a timeout, they passed the ball around until Goran Dragic was forced to heave up a desperation 3-pointer from the top that banked off the glass just before the buzzer sounded.

"I thought we could get a quick two," Gentry said. "Then we peeled off and started looking for a three, and just never got the timeout called."

Down by nine points at the half, the Blazers drew within 63-62 midway through the third quarter before the Suns regrouped, going on top 73-63 late in the quarter. The Blazers closed with a 12-2 run -- the Suns went the final 3:45 without a basket -- to go into the final period tied at 75-75.

Back-to-back 3-pointers by Sasha Pavlovic and Lillard gave Portland a 92-85 edge with 4:02 left. Brown's jumper closed the margin to 92-87, but Lillard drove for a layup and a 94-87 advantage with 3:20 to play.

Phoenix led 47-35 late in the second quarter and took a 53-44 advantage into halftime, drawing 13 points from 13 Portland turnovers.

NOTES: Portland's Wesley Matthews (hip) started but left after going scoreless in 10 minutes and did not return. ... Point guard Ronnie Price played at shooting guard alongside Lillard for a large portion of the fourth quarter. ... Hickson already had his seventh straight double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds) by halftime. Hickson, with 15 double-doubles this season, was at 13 points and eight boards by the end of the first quarter. ... Phoenix veteran Jermaine O'Neal, a one-time Blazer, came off the bench for 13 points and five rebounds in 18 minutes. ... Phoenix scored 22 points off 22 Portland turnovers -- 13 of the takeaways coming in the first half. In Portland's 114-87 loss at Phoenix on Nov. 23, the Blazers also had 13 of their 22 turnovers in the first half. ... Portland is a half-game out of sixth place in the Western Conference standings and a half-game out of second place in the Northwest Division race. Stotts admitted he pays attention: "It's tight in the middle of the conference right now. But I check the standings. I like to know where we are, who's ahead, who's behind and in what direction they are going."
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