Media Row Report: Blazers 106, Suns 99

18 months after the 2009 NBA draft, he finally got the chance to prove all the doubters wrong.

You thought I was talking about Portland Trail Blazers point guard Patty Mills? Au contraire, I'm looking at his No. 1 fan. "Patty Mills was key at PG!," Blazers owner and Mills-Fanboy-In-Chief Paul Allen tweeted almost immediately after the Portland Trail Blazers 106-99 win over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night. "Way to go Mate."

Somewhere, Kevin Pritchard and Jerryd Bayless sit silently in opposite corners of a dark room, pondering the changes life can bring.

It's been a long time coming for Mills and Allen both, but give them their credit -- Mills for his career night, Allen for his endless faith -- after the Blazers secured a much-needed win against a conference rival by dominating the fourth quarter, where they have faltered so often recently.

The 37-24 runaway final period was made possible by the unexpectedly strong second-unit play earlier in the game. Mills went from gimmick to game-changer in less than 29 minutes on Tuesday, tossing together nine points, three rebounds and seven assists in the best performance yet in his brief NBA career. It wasn't always pretty, but it was always energetic and infectious, as he helped Portland's second unit combine for 24 points, mostly by getting fellow guard Rudy Fernandez going.

All this from a guy who was written off by many, myself included, and nearly his team: he was not initially expected by Blazers management to show up for training camp and when he did, he was not expected to make the 15-man roster, and when he did, he was not really expected to play. 

But play he did on Tuesday. Mills' individual +/- ended the night at 0, which is perfect, because his size continues to make him a defensive liability. But, tonight, he went toe to toe with two solid NBA point guards, Steve Nash and Goran Dragic, and came out even. That's all you can ask for and reasonably expect in Andre Miller's absence, and it was just what his owner, and his teammates, ordered.
  

"Patty, can I have your autograph?" Blazers center Marcus Camby joked after the game. "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!" LaMarcus Aldridge shouted as he left the locker room. Surrounded by cameras, Mills tried to soak in his career moment, only to realize his forehead was soaking. "These cameras are making me sweat," he said aloud, to much chuckling. Guard Wesley Matthews left the locker room shaking his head and smiling. "Get a towel, man," he said over his shoulder with a mischievous grin. 

There was life, and smiles, again in the Blazers locker room, always nice indicators, ones that have been missing for most of the past month. That happens when the key plays go your way, when multiple Phoenix possessions fizzle out with Portland stops, when Nicolas Batum hits a money three to put the game out of easy reach, when free throw after free throw goes down as they are supposed to in the end game.

And, seriously, let's stop and take a moment to appreciate Portland's exceptional free throw shooting. It wasn't just the pleasant surprise of LaMarcus Aldridge, a known dry heaver, nailing four straight down the stretch. The team went a fantastic 32-33 from the charity stripe. The performance, clocking in at 97%, was arguably the greatest free throwing in franchise history (at least dating back to 1986-1987, as far back as Basketball-Reference.com's database goes). Take a look at this list: it's every game Portland has made at least 32 free throws. If you scroll down the entire thing you'll realize that Portland has never really come close to matching a 97% clip with 32 or more free throws made. To put it simply, since 1986-1987, Portland has never made as many free throws in as efficient a manner as they did tonight. 

Brandon Roy still took too many shots given his efficiency (5-15 from the field for 20 points) but there were flashes of confidence and comfort, and his starting lineup pairing with both Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews worked quite well, until two quick fouls sent Batum to the bench. When the Blazers went small late in the game, things again went smoothly too, especially when Roy continued to move the ball.

What will get lost in the aftermath of this game, and buried in this write-up, was Portland's workmanlike approach to defending Phoenix in the pick-and-roll. Steve Nash put up numbers -- 24 points and 15 assists -- but Portland made him work for those numbers (with a few rare exceptions) by soft pressing him up the court, by switching often and effectively on high picks and by rotating properly to make his reads more difficult than they were during last season's playoffs. Obviously, the absence of Amar'e Stoudemire, now a New York Knick, made things easier, but Portland's ability to force the crosscourt pass and to contest Nash's own shots, helped force six Nash turnovers and made everyone else (aside from Grant Hill) a relative non-factor. In the playoffs, the points poured in from everywhere. That wasn't the case tonight.

If you left the Rose Garden feeling strange, or turned off the television with a slightly different satisfaction level, it's because you just watched good basketball for the first time in a long time. A good, solid, full, confident, fun game against a better-than-average opponent.

Nate McMillan's Post-Game Comments

Initial Thoughts

It was fun. Phoenix, it's always tough to play those guys. I thought our guys tonight, their gameplan, they executed it. The defense on Nash. Richardson has always been a guy that has hurt us. We did a good job of containing him. Second half, we made plays. We made shots, we got stops. We executed down the stretch. 37 point 4th quarter. We're 32-33 from the free throw line. Those the things you need to do to win games. It was good to see that. After everything that has happened in the last 24 hours, losing Andre and having to make this adjustment, it was a team effort. There's certainly some individuals that did some good things. 

Patty Mills

I thought he is earning the right to be out there and play more minutes. I didn't wan to start him against Nash, I wanted to try to keep him in his role. He and Nic were going to play an important part trying to pressure Nash and just make him work on both ends of the floor. He did a nice job. He came in defensively, made Nash work, and offensively, we've got a guy now who can run the pick and roll and spread the floor.

Patty's Connection With Rudy

I think he has a high basketball IQ. As far as running sets, knowing when to hold up and call sets. He's a very good passer, he sees the floor well and he's very crafty with the ball. That combination of Rudy and Patty, I've seen that some when they've been out on the floor together.

Wesley as a go-to guy?

He does a good job. We don't call a lot of plays for Wesley. He does a good job of getting to the open spot. Playing off of the defense, what the defense gives him. He does a good job of moving without the ball, getting to the open spot and attacking. When he's knocking down his three, that's always good. He's also a good guy, he does a good job of curling and playing in the paint, very aggressive attacking the basket. He does a good job of just playing off of players, LaMarcus and Brandon, if we're in pick and roll situations.

Sigh of relief?

Yeah. After that last win, we just felt like we needed a win. No question about that. Tonight, we needed another one. We're about to go back on the road again and we need to take care of home court. It was a good win, we played good basketball. I know we're capable of doing that. Tonight we did it again.

Phoenix only had two fast break points in the box score

We think that that was wrong, there was a few more, but we did a good job. I thought we did a good job in transition, as far as not allowing them to get their break going, trying to get out to their threes. If you do that, and you get to the free throw line against Phoenix, you give yourself a chance.

Difference in fourth quarter

37 points. We scored. Execution. We make shots. We get stops. That's the difference. I think I made that comment. You guys said, "Is it as simple as making shots?" Yeah. You get shots, you have to make shots. We made shots. We got to the free throw line, we knocked down our free throws. We got stops. That's what you've got to do down the stretch to win games.

Rudy

He did a good job of running around, coming off of screens, getting himself open, he was knocking down j's. I thought both he and Patty had a connection going. We want him to be aggressive looking for offense when he comes into the game. I thought he did a good job of getting to the rim. He was at the basket a few times where he should have laid it in. He created opportunities for himself.

-- Ben Golliver | benjamin.golliver@gmail.com | Twitter

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