I'll be providing quarter-by-quarter updates throughout the playoff road games. Newest updates appear on top.
Fourth Quarter / Final
For three quarters, the Blazers played cool as cucumbers. At the beginning of the fourth, cracks finally started to show: a series of rushed possessions, missed shots and an ugly turnover on an errant pass from LaMarcus Aldridge made the Blazers look truly beatable for the first time all night.
In stepped Andre Miller to calm things down: he casually scored 6 straight points by attacking the basket and then knocked down a "no, no, no, no.... yes" three pointer to regain total control of the game's momentum. To top it off, Miller completed the game's critical sequence by stealing a pass intended for Jason Richardson on the next possession, then leading a run-out that ended with Aldridge stepping to the free throw line. Aldridge's free throws gave the Blazers a 90-87 lead with 4 minutes remaining, a lead they would not relinquish.
With time running out, the game-changing plays simply went Portland's way and they dodged bullet after bullet. Miller drew an offensive foul on Stoudemire. Aldridge finished a gorgeous tip-in. Nicolas Batum answered a calm three by Steve Nash (25 points and 9 assists on the night) with a three of his own. Jerryd Bayless, who caught fire in the fourth (finishing with 18 points), came out of another defensive possession with the ball and hit two free throws. Channing Frye missed an open three and Marcus Camby secured the rebound, fouling out Stoudemire in the process. Camby missed an uncontested breakaway dunk but the Suns, down 4, were unable to capitalize on the next possession.
Then, after Bayless nearly choked away the game by missing 2 foul shots in the game's final 15 seconds, Nash, arguably the best shooter in the NBA, misfired on a potential game-tying three pointer. Of course it would be Miller who coolly iced the game, his 2 free throws providing the final difference.
The Blazers win 105-100.
Balanced scoring from Miller (31 points and 8 assists), Aldridge (22 points), Batum (18 points, including 3 huge threes) and the unexpected late-game burst from Bayless (19 points), along with some solid team defense down the stretch (aided by a bunch of breaks) brought this win home for Portland.
- Here's the boxscore.
- Here's the instant reaction from Bright Side of the Sun.
- Here's an epic slideshow of game images courtesy of Bright Side of the Sun's Max Simbron.
- Nate McMillan's Post Game Audio courtesy of Bright Side of the Sun's Seth Pollack.
- Andre Miller's Post Game Audio courtesy of Bright Side of the Sun's Seth Pollack.
- Marcus Camby's Post Game Audio courtesy of Bright Side of the Sun's Seth Pollack.
Things got serious in the third quarter as the Blazers and Suns treated viewers to an entertaining stretch of high-tension, back-and-forth basketball. Nicolas Batum and Amar'e Stoudemire exchanged both shoves and dunks. Andre Miller dug in on defense against Grant Hill and drove the lane amidst triple-teaming Suns defenders. Rudy Fernandez finally hit a three pointer over a short-lived Phoenix zone and then gave 2 points back by fouling the ice-cold Jason Richardson on a three point attempt later in the quarter.
As expected, Stoudemire saw more touches and upped his offensive production, getting 6 points in the quarter to match the 6 he had in the first half. Steve Nash (18 points and 8 assists through 3 quarters) called his own number more often, not hesitating to stroke the pull-up jumper with Grant Hill and Richardson struggling from the field.
The quarter closed with the Portland bench hanging tough for the last three minutes. Martell Webster had another spectacular one-man defensive possession, blocking two shots in a row at the rim and then closing out on a three point attempt in a matter of five seconds. Jerryd Bayless made a jumper, which upped his confidence enough to miss two others, before realizing he should probably drive to the basket and get to the foul line. His 2 free throws tied the game at 70.
Despite the uptick in energy, the game mostly remained at Portland's pace; the Blazers have shown no sign of wilting under the pressure or being unable to keep up with Phoenix's offense.
A turnaround jump hook from Channing Frye gave the Suns a 72-70 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Early in the second quarter, Phoenix took its first lead -- 31-28 -- on a Leandro Barbosa three pointer. Barbosa, probably the least-heralded of the superb Suns subs coming into the series, scored 13 points and didn't miss a shot, making up for o-fer first half performances from Goran Dragic and Jared Dudley.
The Blazers subs did not fare quite as well: all four wound up with negative plus/minus's. (By comparison, all five Blazers starters had positive plus/minus's.) Jerryd Bayless was the bench's bright spot as he attacked the rim, getting two baskets, and avoided turning the ball over, which has been his nemesis of late. Martell Webster chipped in by hitting a three pointer, although he also made a few questionable decisions. First, he settled for a fadeaway jumper when isolated against Steve Nash on defense. Then, he pulled up and missed a rushed three pointer in a misguided attempt to match a Nash 3 on the other end.
Although Phoenix led for most of the second quarter, they were unable to extend a lead or increase the game's tempo to their liking. LaMarcus Aldridge continued to look aggressive on offense, especially when one of Phoenix's lesser defenders was on his back. His post-ups and Phoenix's ensuing double-teams led to 13 points and 2 assists, although he got dinged twice for 3 in the key. Marcus Camby did what Marcus Camby does, hauling in 12 first half rebounds and blocking an Amar'e attempt at the rim from behind.
As the half closed, Portland carelessly lost sight of Barbosa for a quarter-closing three that gave the Suns some momentum heading into the second half.
The Suns will certainly look for ways to get Stoudemire (6 points, 4 rebounds) more involved on offense while the Blazers should be delighted with how the first 24 minutes played out. They responded well to the challenge of playing on the road, the increased intensity of the playoffs and the hot-shooting from Barbosa.
The Blazers hold a 44-43 lead at the half.
After a week spent lowering expectations, the Blazers got off to an absolutely ideal start in the first quarter, aided in part by quick whistles that slowed play on both ends of the court.
As expected, Andre Miller and LaMarcus Aldridge provided the offensive firepower for the Blazers (combining for 14 first quarter points) but they did so against some cross match-ups that saw the bigger Jason Richardson guard Miller (daring him to shoot mid-range jumpers) while Phoenix's center, Jarron Collins, started on Aldridge. On the other end, the Blazers threw multiple defenders at Steve Nash and had Marcus Camby defend Amar'e Stoudemire. Both sides looked a little out-of-sync as they felt each other out although Portland got some easy baskets at the rim and did a nice job clearing the defensive glass to take a 13-6 lead at the six minute mark.
Phoenix gained momentum when Channing Frye subbed in for Collins and immediately hit back-to-back three pointers, which is Portland's nightmare scenario. Frye's floor-stretching also opened things up for Nash, who finally got into the paint, to the rim and to the line as the quarter wound down, finishing the first 12 minutes with 7 points.
Purported X-factor Rudy Fernandez was a non-factor on offense, despite being guarded by Nash, and looked lost on defense multiple times. Nicolas Batum stepped into the role of "Third Scorer" for the Blazers, nailing a three to start the game and adding two more buckets to finish with 7 first quarter points.
The first quarter ended with the Blazers on top 25-24.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter