Long Story Short: The Blazers check out of this game quicker than a televangelist from a roadside motel. The Blazers show a little fight in the second half but the Suns romp to another laugher.
The Blazers were actually in this game for the first two minutes or so. Phoenix was firing jumpers that weren't connecting. The Blazers were patrolling the boards. Unfortunately Portland couldn't muster any offense of their own. With the Suns packing it in on Miller and Aldridge Portland was forced into a bevy of late jumpers themselves, almost all of which missed. Still, when Nicolas Batum rammed home a baseline dunk off of a cut past a posting LaMarcus Aldridge you thought maybe the Blazers had a chance. Then a giant bell started ringing througout the arena.
BONNNNNG. Rudy Fernandez, once again not looking for any kind of shot, drives and gets free but instead of looking at the hoop fires a long, cross-court pass for another bad outside jumper.
BONNNNNG. With three minutes gone Fernandez commits his second foul, going to the bench and leaving Portland without one of its few viable players, not to mention one of its few multi-threat offensive players (if he'd ever take the safety off).
BONNNNNG. LaMarcus Aldridge collects his second foul with four minutes gone. There goes the heart of Portland's offense.
BONNNNNG. Nicolas Batum, gamely trying to make a go of it, all but waves the white flag by missing his second jumper of the game badly. He might as well have hung up a sign saying, "Sag off because I can't hit." Batum would leave the game later in the half.
Ask not for whom the bell tolls, Portland. It tolls for thee.
At that point Phoenix had their way on defense, zoning up or switching, thwarting any Portland penetration with multiple defenders. As the Blazers' offense exploded on the launching pad Portland's energy went down. Now the Suns began to run, offensive rebound, force turnovers, penetrate and draw fouls...they got everything they wanted, everything that brought them an easy victory in the last game. The only bright spots for the Blazers in the first half were a couple of nice finishes at the rim by Jerryd Bayless and some good energy play by Dante Cunningham. LaMarcus Aldridge did manage to score down low but it was way too late. ( In the second period, mind you!) Portland was down 66-37(!) at the half and the Suns were openly laughing their way off of the court.
Let's dismiss the game right now, banishing all talk of winning it so we can talk about what the Blazers did well in the second half without pretending they actually had a chance to come back, as they didn't. But Portland did establish a couple of things for Game 4.
First and foremost Portland amped up the physicality in the second half which was both necessary and good. Amare Stoudemire started it by jawing at his opponent and getting into it with LaMarcus Aldridge. After that guys like Juwan Howard, Dante Cunningham, Jerryd Bayless, and Martell Webster started bumping and fouling hard. That put the spine back in Portland's game and took Stoudemire off of his pedestal. This is critical for the next game. If Phoenix is really that good, if they're going to win it, there's no way they should do so unscathed. If they're giggling into their hands after any period in that game Portland is doing something wrong. They need to come out of it knowing they have played the Blazers and knowing they don't like it. The fact that the Suns started tightening up when jostled should be all the incentive Portland needs to press the physical advantage.
Second, the Blazers finally got some production from their supporting players. Webster started it by hitting some shots and driving. His jumper hit quickly off of a screen which should be a template for Portland's distance shots. Rudy Fernandez also hit 3 threes in a lightning stretch in the second half...the first spark we've seen from him all series. Jerryd Bayless attacked the rim with gusto all night and deserves credit for an intense, effective offensive game. This is also critical. The three main players--Aldridge, Miller, Camby--are playing the game but not changing the game right now. Part of that is on them but part of it is Phoenix being able to commit two and sometimes three men to make sure they don't get off. The Websters and Fernandezes of the world are supposed to prevent that. Portland is having major trouble on offense in part because these guys are just not used to playing together. When a couple of them self-select out of the offense by abandoning their aggressiveness that trouble becomes insurmountable. A pass that would be good to a normal player in a normal situation becomes a disaster.
A couple of questions are being asked vocally right now:
1. Should Brandon Roy be rushed back? The answer is NO. As we saw with Nicolas Batum an injured player doesn't help. A guy who's hurt and unable to perform fully can be distracting and demoralizing. That's especially true when it's your superstar. You don't bring Brandon back until you're sure he's ready. If that's not this series, then so be it. What are you going to win anyway? You don't risk the health of Roy for anything less than a run at a championship.
2. Is this series over? Again...no. Right now Portland's focus becomes forcing a Game 7 (perhaps with a Roy return) and seeing what happens. If you're thinking of taking the series easily and outright tonight's loss was a huge blow. But in terms of getting to Game 7 and giving yourself a chance a split of these two home games serves almost as well. You look to split these, split the next two, and head to Phoenix for the rubber match. Now...if Portland loses on Saturday then the series is all but over. But not yet, so don't panic.
3. Blazer broadcasters Mike Barrett and Mike Rice made much of an elbow Amare Stoudemire mostly threw at LaMarcus Aldridge...the cause of the biggest stare-down of the game. They claimed repeatedly that the league should look at it in light of the Kevin Garnett suspension. While I like both Mikes, I disagree. The two situations aren't comparable as one happened in the heat of the game and the other during a stoppage. Also I don't think the Blazers benefit much or learn much from having Amare out. Rather they want to pummel, punish, run over, around, and through Stoudemire and his flapping gums on their way to a legit win. Bouncing back from these last two games to seize another victory over that exact same team will be the real achievement.
And yes...it'll happen. Batum or no Batum, Roy or no Roy, limited offensive options or not, the Blazers are not going out in 5. Martell Webster and Jerryd Bayless and Andre Miller and Dante Cunningham are not going out in 5. Book it.
We'll talk more about Saturday's must-win contest tomorrow. For now, go grab a cold one and relax.
P.S. Click through for the results from the Jersey Contest playoffs and the announcement of the first cut down to 16.
Here are the results from the first games of the Jersey Contest. The Top 16 will continue to the next game. All scores will be reset. Every one of those 16 starts from 0 now and survives or falls to the next cut down to 8 by virtue of their scores in that game.
- 1. 165 52ripcity7
2. 143 chuky
3. 139 jbcooper80
4. 138 Runman47
5. 135 living
6. 125 buffduck
7. 113 jlw19799
8. 110 Darkwebs
9. 109 Norsktroll
10. 104 Xurikk
11. 102 blazingjim
13. 101 MavetheGreat
15. 99 cbryan
16. 98 baster