The fallout from last night's game has come fast and furious locally and around the nation. It's an example of the extremes to which we take everything nowadays. Things aren't meaningful unless they're dramatic. Things aren't dramatic unless they're extreme. After the Game 1 victory the Suns were in big trouble, the holes in their armor exposed. After Game 2 the Suns have nothing to worry about. They've solved the Blazers. Following Game 1 Portland fans were confident. Following Game 2 Suns fans are strutting. National pundits are switching allegiances like underwear. The hilarious thing to me is that the emotions and "analysis" would be reversed 180 degrees had the exact same results come in these two games, just in a different order. Had the Suns blown out Portland in Game 1 everybody would have written off the series. A Game 2 Portland win would have provided hope to carry us into Game 3. Instead, with the same 1-1 record, skepticism is the order of the day. Portland can't possibly have an answer for Phoenix now.
Let's clear away the hype and look at what really happened.
The Suns came into the series confident yet having learned few lessons from their regular season experience with the Blazers...likely because that experience came before their famous "since the All-Star break" run. They thought they were a totally different team. Nobody bothered to inform the Blazers, though. Portland was happy to do the same old, same old...to bump and grind them, take the ball inside, take advantage of strength and speed to collapse the defense, thus creating fouls, layups, or open jumpers. The Suns fought back with some solid stretches of Phoenix basketball but every time they got ahead they seemed to assume the truth had come to the fore, they were proven the better team, and it was over. It was not over. Portland kept in the game, gave themselves a chance to win, and they did it. So sorry for interrupting your coronation. Your second round coronation, that is. Score one for the underdogs.
Even with the victory, though, the Blazers remained underdogs. Without a full roster, with relativelt few reliable points of attack and with those points confined to a certain style of play how else could it be? The Blazers didn't win a series in Game 1. They won a game which, psychological niceties aside, counts exactly the same as six other potential games in the offing.
Could the Blazers have taken the second game as well? Of course. But it wasn't likely. Portland is neither healthy nor experienced nor emotionally prepared enough to rise up and rip a series from a very good team. Besides, as we said in the Game 1 recap, Phoenix is capable of winning games in a couple different ways: close and scrappy or the kind of blowout we saw last night. Portland pretty much has to win close and scrappy in this series. The odds simply favor the Suns over the long haul. The specific problem last night was that close and scrappy requires emotion, focus, and commitment. The Blazers didn't have much of that in Game 2 just as the Suns lacked it in Game 1. Feet were flat. Shots were one-on-one and improbable. Rebounds and hustle were casual if present at all. Maybe it was the previous victory. Maybe it was our main scrappy guy getting handed $20 million on game day, which would tend to make me a little less scrappy for a while. Maybe it was just Phoenix doing to Portland what Portland had just done to Phoenix: coming out and punching the bully straight in the nose. The technique remained the same, only the bully had changed. Whatever it was, the manner of the loss was discouraging, of course, but not entirely unexpected.
So now we head to Game 3. Which team has shown they have what it takes to win this series? Neither of them. You can speculate about the Suns' momentum and confidence after that blowout win but then I can speculate that this was the exact position Phoenix found itself in coming into the series and that didn't produce a win. These two games have been based on gritty effort and emotion and the pendulum on that swings back to Portland's side for Game 3.
On the other hand all of the emotion in the world won't help if your talent base doesn't match up and Portland's is thin, possibly thinning further by the minute. Fatigue and physical wear-down will not be friends to the Blazers as this series winds onward. Neither will the two bona fide All-Stars plus Grant Hill plus Jason Richardson plus Leandro Barbosa on the other side. If you're trying to win on emotion alone you probably won't. The Blazers will have to bluff their way to a series victory knowing the Suns hold the better hand.
On the other hand better cards don't do you any good unless you know how to play them. The Blazers have shown they can take Phoenix out of their game.
On the other hand how hard is it to play two queens against a jack and a nine? The Suns aren't dumb.
On the other hand Portland now has homecourt advantage.
On the other hand the Suns are a good road team.
We could go 'round like this forever. There are reasons to favor either side but ultimately those reasons are as yet inconclusive until the games are actually played.
Where are we? We are exactly where we started this series. Exactly. The teams are tied. Each needs the same number of wins. Phoenix has to be favored overall but that favor is not a guarantee and the Blazers, even dinged up, are quite capable of relieving them of the burden of playing in the second round should concentrating on this first one prove too difficult for them.
As these two teams go at it again tomorrow, basically from scratch, it would behoove everybody to take the games as they come: one at a time. Worry about what the Blazers and Suns need to do on Thursday and let the final series total take care of itself. Whichever team fails to do so will not win. Some of the prognosticators who claimed they knew how this series would turn out are going to be right by default. But how much does that really matter? The game's the thing, and at least three more are before us.
Four, if Phoenix can manage to win one.