This video analysis was meant to go up yesterday morning but I got sidetracked with Marcus Camby's signing and the reaction so had to push it back. The delay works out fine, though, because this post winds up doubling as a thorough justification for the 36 year old center's new $20 million+ deal Let's get to it.
One of the biggest concerns for the Portland Trail Blazers entering their first round series with the Phoenix Suns was how to deal with Amar'e Stoudemire, Phoenix's elite power forward. Stoudemire is a max contract type player and athlete: quick, strong and endlessly aggressive, Stoudemire presents match-up problems for almost any team that he faces.
In Sunday night's Game 1 in Phoenix, Portland held Stoudemire to 18 points on 8-19 shooting, a full five points below his regular season clip of 23.1 points per game, which was good for 10th in the league. So what happened? As Stoudemire figures to be a centerpiece of this series and the adjustments both teams will make heading into Game 2, let's break down his night in full detail.
Here's how Stoudemire's 18 points break down by situation and half. His shooting numbers are included.
These numbers tell a pretty clear tale that likely coincides nicely with your memory of the game. In the first half, Stoudemire was a little jumper happy, not all that accurate and really not all that involved in the offense. In the second half, the Suns attempted to compensate for that by using Stoudemire much more heavily in isolation but he mostly failed to deliver.
During both halves he used his activity on the offensive glass and a nasty facial over Nicolas Batum to get 8 points via dunks at the rim. Throughout, he was not able to get to the foul line with any consistency, a major factor as he averages more than 7 free throw attempts this season.
Now that we have a general idea of how Stoudemire's night went let's take a look at the video clips for more information. Click through the jump to see how Marcus Camby (and his teammates) succeeded against Stoudemire, how Phoenix's late-game offense failed and what adjustments we should be looking for from both teams in Game Two and beyond.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter
That was Stoudemire's most successful one-on-one play against Camby all night. It doesn't come from true isolation but rather a quick cut from the weakside to catch Camby napping just enough to free some space. Steve Nash had broken down the Portland defense well enough to keep help defenders honest and open room in the key for Stoudemire. Stoudemire goes to the hoop hard and quickly, getting the and-one basket and foul.
Instead of going back to this or something like it, Phoenix switches to a series of true Stoudemire isolations in an attempt to take advantage of Portland's second unit defenders. For some reason, they never switched back.
The true isolations really start with this play from early in the fourth quarter...
To his credit, Stoudemire continues to play hard. On this play, which comes shortly after the previous one, the Suns try to free Stoudemire on the left side in the exact same manner. This time, aggressive Juwan Howard defense prevents the catch...
Stoudemire shows why he is an All Star caliber player by sticking with the play, chasing down the rebound and drawing the foul. He got a point out of this possession but he certainly had to work for it.
Fast-forward a few minutes to the final 6 minutes of the game. Camby is back in the game and guarding Stoudemire. Despite the personnel change for the Blazers, Stoudemire again finds himself in isolation on his favorite spot on the left side of the court.
This one is very, very similar to Play Two above. Stoudemire looks to come across the middle of the key while Camby guards his every move. Unlike on play two, though, the help defender pinching down is Jerryd Bayless rather than Rudy Fernandez. Earlier Rudy had done a nice job of swiping at Stoudemire to make his dribble more difficult without fouling. Here Bayless attempts the same thing but gets way too much arm. Obvious foul.
The good news is that it occurred on the ground so all of Phoenix's effort to isolate Stoudemire and his effort to bang with Camby winds up being for naught. Not a huge deal -- drawing fouls is never a bad play for Stoudemire -- but still frustrating as there are now just 7 minutes left in the game and he still hasn't found a rhythm on offense or paraded to the free throw line to fill in the gaps.
This next play, coming less than a minute later, is where everything that's happened up to this point defensively starts to pay dividends for the Blazers.
Phoenix runs the exact same play as last time with Stoudemire getting the ball in the exact same location and the exact same defender, Marcus Camby, on his back once again.
This time the help defender is Andre Miller, who initially shows like he is going to collapse on the dribble but then retreats to cover his man. The help actually comes from Nicolas Batum who has a good suspicion that Stoudemire is looking for his shot all the way so he flashes into the key and gets his arms up as a distraction. Feeling the defense close in on him, Stoudemire picks up his dribble and opts for the jump hook. He misses again.
This one is a mirror image of Play 2 above: Camby absorbs contact, keeps up laterally, challenges the shot, boxes out, secures the defensive rebound and flips it to Andre Miller. Picture perfect.
At this point in the game I think things have shifted enough so that this is no longer a look Phoenix should be happy with. Stoudemire has enjoyed so little success in isolation -- especially relative to other situations shown above -- that it's time to put this tool back in the tool box. For the Blazers, who have yet to play anything but solid defense on one of these plays, you've got to be satisfied, if not delighted, every time this same situation comes down the pike.
Well, wouldn't you know it? With less than three minutes to go in the game, down three points now, Phoenix stubbornly tries to go back to Stoudemire in isolation against Camby yet again.
This time, Stoudemire adjusts to his previous failings coming across the key (and the presence of LaMarcus Aldridge cheating hard down into the paint off of Channing Frye) by trying to go baseline.
The correct read here was to find Frye at the top of the key but Phoenix's floor is spaced in such a way that it's not totally clear that Frye is open. Stoudemire isn't much of a passer by nature anyway. (To put it mildly.)
His plan to go baseline doesn't look like it's heading anywhere as Camby again stays with him laterally and avoids fouling while contesting the shot. Stoudemire, so consumed by his never-ending battle with Camby's 19 foot long arms, never gave Andre Miller, who slides in quickly from the weakside, a second thought. Here Miller draws the charge against Stoudemire on a bang bang play that could have been whistled either way given how quickly and unexpectedly Miller's movement was. The fantastic help defense by Miller is made possible by Camby's unrelenting defensive focus and the mental attention it draws from Stoudemire. Great execution by two vets.
At this point, finally, even Phoenix's coaching staff decided that the Stoudemire isolation play simply wasn't going to work. At long last, they go back to setting up Stoudemire with some creativity from Nash off of the dribble.
Stoudemire gets great position in the post, makes a clean catch and a quick move but still doesn't have Camby beat. Somehow -- whether Camby slapped his arm or poked the ball away -- a Stoudemire shot attempt never fully materializes. With less than two minutes to play, Stoudemire is as frustrated as can be with the no-call.
Should we chalk this up to another veteran trick? A blown call? The inevitable by-product of three quarters of frustration from Stoudemire directed towards the officials? Who knows. Stoudemire would foul out of the game soon after, having produced just one point in his final six possessions in isolation.
Those numbers, which arguably decided the game in Portland's favor, are the result of Marcus Camby treating defense as a process: committing mentally and physically early in the game and seeing it all the way through a series of one-on-one battles. Camby's play, and the results, were made possible by solid help defense throughout and a smart defensive game plan that limited Phoenix's overall offensive options.
Conclusions and Adjustments
If you're Phoenix, you watch the game tape from Sunday and realize immediately that it is absolutely critical to get Stoudemire the ball on the move, against lesser defenders (more off-ball picks to force a switch from Camby!) and in space. They need look no further than a few of Stoudemire's dunks -- generated by his aggressive offensive rebounding -- to realize that he is able to enjoy success against Camby if he generates sufficient space. Like this one...
Of course the ideal adjustment is for Phoenix to drastically increase the game's tempo, getting out in transition more regularly and more purposefully. These two Stoudemire dunks came in secondary transition.
What Phoenix absolutely can't do, however, is hope that plays like Stoudemire's premier highlight of the night -- this huge flush in traffic over Nicolas Batum -- will carry them through to four wins in a playoff series.
The Blazers would gladly exchange that highlight film dunk for the cumulative results of the slowed down, isolation-heavy, stagnant sets laid out above.
In that sense, Portland's defensive adjustments against Stoudemire, at least initially, shouldn't be major. Let him shoot the jumper until he proves he can hit it, actively harass and load up on the pick and roll when he's the screen setter, account for him on the glass and in transition, and allow Camby to do what Camby does when the two are isolated against each other, sending help from different locations to confuse and annoy Stoudemire as much as possible.
Certainly the Suns and Stoudemire are capable of playing far better offensively than they showed Sunday night. Hopefully this breakdown gave you a better sense of what caused some of their struggles.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter