March 18, 2008 -- Suns 111 Blazers 98
What can you say? Nate found himself asking this rhetorically after the game and I can't help but parrot him. What can you say when you play well but get beat by a superior opponent? What can you say when they've done it twice in two weeks? What can you say when their 3 superstars have big nights and their role players shut down your superstar? Truth is, there's not much to say at all, except: this one hurts.
It was sad when the streak snapped and there have been some other tough-to-swallow losses along the way, but this one left me in a Winehouse-like hopeless stupor. What can you say when there are no answers to a man like Amare Stoudemire? What can you say when Steve Nash runs circles around your entire team? What can you say when your opponent outscores you each of the 4 quarters, shoots a higher percentage, secures more rebounds, dishes out more assists, blocks more shots, has more points in the paint, has more second chance points and has more fast break points? There's nothing to say. Except: it hurts. The pain might also go by another name: envy.
Our guys want to win. Our coach really wants to win. Our guys have won, but they are learning that they just aren't there yet. Not quite ready for the Western Conference Elite's springtime best, not quite ready to match wits and execute in critical situations. Not quite ready with sufficient contingency plans when plan A1 (B-Roy) isn't working. Plan A2 tonight (LaMarcus) was extremely sweet, going for 31 points on 15 of 27 with 8 boards, but it was barely enough to win his position against Amare's 25 points and 7 boards. The rest of our options were blowing in the wind.
When there's nothing to say, sometimes it's best to just... put down the keyboard, walk away, breathe deep....
Dang, that was a tough one.
Postgame Reaction: (Download Audio here -- UPDATED)
Note: I jacked the volume up quite a bit. In this one you'll have to settle for hearing Nate's answers rather than the questions. I'll work on the settings of my recorder to capture both. As they do not have microphones, it can be difficult to hear the reporters.
Programming note: By request, in addition to transcribing the post-game audio, I will post the mp3s files as well. If you have a better way than Media Fire to host MP3 files, please let me know. If you have any issues downloading this clip, also please let me know. Thanks in advance.
Nate on the result: "That is a really good team. I really like our attitude, our approach to the game. That's a good team, Shaquille is starting to get a feel, they are adjusting to him more so than Shaquille adjusting to their style. I think Mike [D'Antoni] has done a real nice job of blending in some sets for Shaq. You know, Steve Nash is just an unbelievable point guard. You're talking about a guy who directs a team and runs a team and controls the tempo and just gets his guys in the right place. Just a great job by him.
Nate on Raja Bell: "He's done a good job pretty much every time on Brandon. He really makes him work. He denies Brandon as much as possible and then he rides him. He's always in a denying position. With Shaquille being there now, [Bell] can really overplay, similar to the way some of these other teams, San Antonio, some of these other teams, play a big [so that] you can funnel Brandon to that big and make him shoot over the top. Bell is the type of defender you need on a championship team."
Nate on what happened out there: "I think you gotta give credit when it's due. I thought we came out early and did a good job. About 5 minutes into that second quarter, Nash got a read on our defense and he picked us apart. He ran some sets, he recognized what we were doing and he got his guys in position and they scored 3 or 4 times, maybe 3 of them were 3s which kind of broke the game open. Late in the game, just a masterful job by him."
Nate on LaMarcus Aldridge's big game tonight: "I thought he did some good things. We missed some shots that you've got to make against a team like this. We missed some shots in the paint that you gotta make against this type of team. He did some good things but I thought at times he rushed a little bit and needed to slow down against them he gave us a low post presence against them. They forced him off the block, forced him up a little higher throughout the game, he missed some shots at point blank range that against a team like this you've got to make."
Nate on not backing down from Shaq: "That's where we are in this type of game [during] this time of the year. We've got to learn to play that way, or we've got to be able to play that way and then get back to concentrating on the game. You play physical, a physical type game and then all of a sudden it takes you out of your game or your lose your concentration. We were talking about playing that style of ball but we've got to be able to continue to play the rest of the game. I thought Joel, he can't back down, none of our guys can, they're learning [and] they are starting to pick that up."
Nate on what to do when Brandon is held in check: "You've got to have other guys make shots. You've got to have LaMarcus make shots. You don't go away from it. Bell did a nice job, even sometimes when you are running plays for Brandon, it was almost like a box and one, some other guys have got to create some opportunities, you go to Travis, you go to LaMarcus and then you try to sneak Brandon back in there. You can't go away from it, if a guy is doing a good job you can't force it either."
Nate on whether running Brandon off of more screens would have freed him from Bell's defense: "But when he's in the box and one it doesn't make a difference how many screens you set. Again, if a guy is in a box and one, it doesn't make a difference how many screens you set, he's chasing him, he's running through screens and weakside is helping on that. You can run through all the screens you want, that's when you start to force. We ran him off some screens, we ran him some pick and rolls, we ran him off some pin downs, but when a guy is face guarding you and not even allowing you to use a screen, then you have to counter. When two guys are committed to defending, then you go to someone else."
Nate on what we can learn from the Suns: "They executed. Look at what they did, they shoot 55% from the floor, 41% from the 3 point line, they had 30 assists. What you take from that is that you execute down the stretch and they did."
Nate on whether he was concerned by the number of shots Aldridge took (27): "No. If we are getting deep post position you gotta make those shots. If we are getting him in the paint, yea, we'll live with that."
Nate defending LaMarcus's shot attempts and assessing the other options available to him: "We're not posting up Joel. LaMarcus had an advantage. We got deep post position, sometimes that happens, sometimes it just plays out. You're going to go Joel against Shaquille? You run your offense and it's easy to say that now, but when you're out there and running sets, you are going to go to your guys who can score. I don't think you're going to Joel against Shaquille. You're going to go to Travis and LaMarcus and you're going to run your pick and roll sets."
Ed. Note: if that last quote reads like there was some frustration in his voice, that's because there was.
Random Game Notes
-- I forgot that there a late-start tonight, so I was able to catch quite a bit of warm-ups...
-- James Jones was practicing bank 3 pointers from the left elbow. He was pretty good at it. Good luck trying this at home with any success.
-- On his way to his seat, Brian Wheeler walked by Jones, who had moved to the left baseline, and said, "Alright, James, I want three from that spot tonight." James kept shooting like a machine.
-- Sergio was practicing for an extended period of time, letting Coach Bayno hit him with the pads to work on finishing strong. He also spent some time on his pull-up jumpers. At one point, a Blazers staff member talked to Sergio about jumping more vertically rather than carrying his body forward during his follow through. The idea was to protect Sergio's ankles from defenders sliding underneath him. Bruce Bowen's name was mentioned.
-- For the record, Jack has a similar tendency to drift forward when pulling the trigger from distance.
-- Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe this is a pretty natural overcompensation when you believe you are going to leave a shot short, or if you are just outside your comfort range. Maybe there are some shooting coaches out there?
-- Mike Rice was giving Rebecca Haarlow a hard time about Cornell winning the Ivy League over her alma mater, Princeton, and earning an NCAA tourney bid. Allow me to pile on, rhyme time style: Princeton Lacrosse is weak sauce.
-- Channing Frye straight robbed Jarrett Jack's pregame song: The hypnotizing "Dey know" by Shawtylow.
-- Shaq made a point to go over to Paul Allen before the game and offer a handshake. He repeated the gesture later in the game as James Jones was hanging all over him on the baseline. This drew some laughter from the crowd.
-- One man probably not laughing was Przybilla, who certainly would have earned a ban on Blazers Edge had he entered a thread speaking in the same tone and manner as he was during tonight's numerous confrotations with Shaq. Whenever Shaq comes to town, Joel goes straight into CAPS LOCK mode, keeping his left pinky on the shift key while jamming the number buttons. The result, something like... OH SHAQ #%@#%$#% YOU %$@#%@$@#$#@@ Yes, it's a fun rivalry.
-- You probably saw James Jones draw that ridiculous foul at the end of the first half, earning and sinking 3 lucky free throws to pull the score closer at the break. But do you know who gets some of the credit for that? Sergio. It was Sergio who realized the shot clock situation on the Suns' previous possession. Sergio audibled the team out of their 2-3 zone to a man-to-man and picked up Barbosa at the top of the key. Barbosa was quickly double-teamed, resulting in a forced pass to Brian Skinner, which resulted in an even more forced shot. Skinner's shot missed, of course, and the possession came to Jones, who worked his crafty magic to get the free throws. Chalk up an extra assist for Sergio.
-- Speaking of Jones, he was jawing with Raja Bell down the stretch. No love lost between those former teammates.
-- Best sign of the night: TROUTLAW. It's a fantastic nickname and it was pretty awesome to see that shown on the big screen.
-- When Steve Nash hit a 3 to put the Suns up 77 to 69 (and effectively putting the game on ice), Brian Wheeler pounded his table in anger, causing a soda to fall off the table. I thought there was an earthquake. The lesson here: disaster preparedness is important... it's better to think there's an earthquake and find out it's just a spilled soda than the other way around. Remember that.
-- Two sick alleyoops from Blake to Aldridge tonight, one of which Aldridge made a near impossible catch and finish. More, please!
-- It's been said before: Amare is a freak. Tonight, we learned LaMarcus can be one too.
-- Here's to a bounce back against the Clippers on Friday.