Long Story Short: The Suns come out energized and loaded for bear. Their rebounding intensity and defensive commitment to Andre Miller and LaMarcus Aldridge hold the Blazers in a bear hug and their quick-tempo offense provides an early knockout blow while Portland is so restrained.
This game wasn't about game flow. The only thing worth noting in that vein was the Blazers running fearfully down the hallway yelling "Ziggybumwaaaahhh!" and the Suns hitting them like a tidal wave. The game started out at the Suns' pace and stayed that way. Phoenix looked good at that pace, due in so small measure to Portland getting back down the court at roughly the same pace as those guys in the Dockers "We Wear No Pants" commercials. The Suns not only sprinted down the floor, they took instant advantage of any Portland gap or mismatch. They scored repeatedly before Portland looked ready to defend. Even when the Blazers got back and forced the Suns to play their halfcourt defense was substandard. Phoenix didn't have to rely on threes to get their lead because Steve Nash got any pass he wanted, mostly inside. When the Suns did miss they got offensive rebounds.
Shockingly the Blazers looked chaotic and pressured at that same pace. The Suns made a couple of adjustments early, both having to do with Andre Miller. They guarded him primarily with Grant Hill who was big enough and (mostly) mobile enough to keep 'Dre from bulling to the lane. They also sent an extra guy after Miller every time Hill failed, usually collapsing both defenders into the lane. Naturally they also went after Aldridge with two guys whenever he touched it. The result was a bunch of odd Blazers spending quality time with the ball and shots coming from odd people in uncomfortable spots. Mostly notable Marcus Camby tried to carry the early offense. He hit a couple jumpers but he missed 5 layups in the first half alone.
The only thing that kept Portland alive early was free throws. Everything else went Phoenix's way. The Suns played their game. The Suns played Portland's game. The Suns did everything right.
Portland's rebounding woes continued in the second period. To make matters worse LaMarcus Aldridge got his third foul at the 8:20 mark and Portland went into the penalty before the period was half done. That took the bite out of the free throw advantage. The offense consisted of Andre Miller going one-on-Hill for a jumper or one-on-three for a drive. And that was the good part of the offense. On the other end every Sun with even a modicum of speed blew by defenders. With Portland gathered flat-footed trying to stop penetration Phoenix's jumpers fell as well. The second quarter was just like the first, a little bit sadder and a little bit worse.
Portland went into the locker room down 14...not an insurmountable gap, provided they came out and played in the third. But...that would be a no. The Suns had scored more than 30 in each of the first two periods. The Blazers scored 26 and then 23. Instead of reversing the trend Portland hastened it. Phoenix scored 31 in the third, Portland all of 19. By the midpoint of the quarter it became apparent the Blazers were down and not getting up. Everybody checked out. Then adding injury to insult Nicolas Batum strained his shoulder and had to leave the game. At that point the white flag came out officially. It wasn't long before the benches cleared and the Suns announcers were chattering like auctioneers trying to sell their fan base on the idea that Game 1 never happened. Phoenix plows the Blazers 119 to 90 and it wasn't that close.
Every scorer in the starting lineup made hay as the Suns shone. It started with Amare Stoudemire early running the floor, rebounding, and receiving passes deep. He would end up 5-10 from the floor but 8-8 from the free throw line. Grant Hill made every shot he took, scoring 20 on 10-11 shooting. Jason Richardson shot, ran, and destroyed Rudy Fernandez & Company for 29 points on 11-16 shooting. Every Steve Nash pass found a willing target. He finished with 16 assists. As a team they made nearly every adjustment found in our preview and they made them well.
Portland shot just over 38% for the game. The Suns shot just over 52. You almost don't need another stat besides that. The Suns got 12 offensive rebounds, Portland 11. The Suns had 43 overall rebounds, Portland 34. Assists? 26-12, Phoenix. Portland had 10 turnovers, which looks good until you consider the Suns had only 5. Phoenix had 17 fast break points. Phoenix had 58 points in the paint. The only thing the Blazers got was foul shots...roughly akin to trying to dam the Columbia River with pebbles. Simply put there was nothing...NOTHING...redeeming to this game at all from Portland's point of view. Phoenix is now hoping it's enough redemption to see them through an entire series. Game 3 will tell the tale.
LaMarcus Aldridge went 3-8 tonight for 11 points. You read that right. 8 shots. Part of it was the Phoenix defense. But they were after him last game too. Part of it was his teammates not taking pressure off of him. Part of it was foul trouble. But honestly, LaMarcus was so non-aggressive tonight that Switzerland clucked and shook their heads in wonder and scorn. His 3 blocks and 6 free throws were the only really positive aspects of his night. No matter what else happens this guy has to lead us. He didn't. I'll be interested to see how he bounces back in Game 3.
Andre Miller had 12 points on 4-11 shots. Phoenix followed the plan outline in our pre-game preview to a "T". They put a bigger guy on him. They doubled him. They forced him into deeper shots. The off-ball defenders got into his sightlines and prevented the pass as well. We didn't set good screens and he didn't use them. He had 3 assists on the evening.
Nicolas Batum was one of the brighter spots of the evening offensively. He shot 4-8, 2-4 from distance, and scored 12, tying Miller for the lead among the starters. (Perspective: Miller's 31 in Game 1 was only one bucket short of the combined output of Miller, Aldridge, and Batum--the three leading starters--in Game 2. No starter played 30 minutes tonight, but still...) Batum is having an MRI to check on his shoulder. More news as it comes available.
Rudy Fernandez went 0-2 on the night for 5 points on 5-6 free throw shooting. He was forced to make plays because of the attention played to Miller but he couldn't for the most part. He also got barbequed on defense. It was just a bad game for him.
Martell Webster was one of the rare bright spots for the team, going 6-13, scoring a team-high 16 with 5 rebounds.
Juwan Howard hit a couple of shots early to try and provide offense but it hardly mattered.
Jerryd Bayless also hit a couple of shots early but the Suns saw his drives coming this time and he ended up 2-9 for the game with 2 assists, 2 turnovers, and 6 fouls.
Everybody else got garbage minutes that didn't really matter much.
And that's that. The Suns fly to Portland full of confidence. The Blazers fly home with the onus of adjustments on them. It's a new series, five games. Portland has the homecourt but it's no more of a sinecure for them than it was for Phoenix. Expectations are reset. The fight continues.