Long Story Short: The Blazers come out with energy, matching Phoenix possession for possession behind the resurrection of LaMarcus Aldridge. With the offenses a wash Portland's hustle and rebounding prevail. Brandon Roy returns to provide an emotional lift including a critical three in the fourth to give the Blazers confidence to win.
LaMarcus Aldridge served notice early in this game that neither he nor the team were going down like that. After he hit his first jumper on the first possession of the game you could see the team visibly relax. When he added a second plus a steal the Blazers were in the groove. Portland set good screens, shepherded the glass, and made sure they were ahead of the Suns going both directions: the classic recipe for frustrating Phoenix. The Suns also told their story early. Their offense was productive to the extent that they could get inside, which was often. The Blazers tried to defend straight up more than in previous games, devoting serious pressure early only to Steve Nash and that only off of picks. Nash feasted on Portland's defense directly and also managed a couple of piercing passes. In the paint the Suns were dominant. But when they settled for the perimeter shot the offense wilted. Unlike in previous games the Blazers retrieved Phoenix misses, even the long ones. The Blazers also went inside, probing the pastry-soft Phoenix interior. Amare Stoudemire picked up two fouls in the first period and had to sit. Brandon Roy rose like an (actual) phoenix from the Blazer bench with 4:00 left in the first, got a deafening ovation, and pitched in a couple of layups. Two scores by the Suns in the final minute put them ahead 27-26 after one but the game was rolling Portland's way.
Unfortunately the Blazers couldn't take full advantage of Stoudemire's absence in the late first and early second periods. Other than a Juwan Howard layup and a couple of Aldridge free throws Portland stayed on the perimeter. They hit a few jumpers, the Suns hit a couple threes. When Stoudemire returned with 6:30 left the score was knotted at 39. At that point both teams started attacking the interior. The Blazers continued to find mostly easy pickings inside as long as they worked the ball around a little first. They continued to draw fouls on the Phoenix bigs (except Stoudemire now). The Suns found the road rougher, as Portland sent multiple defenders towards the rim every time Phoenix took the ball inside. They were aided by the Suns working halfcourt iso plays trying to exploit mismatches. Portland was more than content with that turn of events. The only hitches in Portland's giddy-up were the missed free throws which limited their halftime lead to 54-50. After a raft of 30-point periods in the last two games Phoenix had managed only 27 and 23. The Blazers' chances still looked strong.
The start of the third period saw Phoenix attack full force through Jason Richardson and Amare Stoudemire, their two solid offensive advantage positions. Portland's move to start Jerryd Bayless had paid dividends so far as Jerryd's aggressiveness kept the Suns working and distracted, forcing them to guard every player on the floor, leaving more obvious scorers in single coverage. At halftime the Suns figured out that a Bayless-Miller backcourt left Richardson with a big height advantage. He hit 2 threes in the first 2 minutes of the second half. As Portland started watching him Stoudemire, and to a lesser extent Grant Hill, started attacking, trying to break the defense entirely. Portland fouled and gave up points but didn't break. Meanwhile the Blazer bigs started exploiting the stretched Phoenix defense on the other end. Aldridge hit another couple of jumpers, serving notice that his scoring would be a game-long trend. Marcus Camby also found himself open at the top of the key and made two shots. Portland's guards went cold during this same stretch so the big guys saved the day....at least temporarily. Portland would end up missing every shot in the last 4 minutes of the third. Phoenix continued to attack through Richardson. The Blazers' temporary flurry melted under the heat of the Suns' offense. Portland clung to a 2-point lead after three.
The fourth quarter didn't start with a bang as much as a fizzle for Portland. The Blazers worked the offense well and got a host of makeable jumpers. They missed them all. Phoenix, meanwhile, figured they'd screwed around enough. They force-fed the ball to Stoudemire who brutalized the Blazers with a series of drives and post moves. He either scored or Portland hacked him. But when Amare wasn't scoring at the rim the Suns had no offense at all, turning the ball over copiously, standing and searching otherwise. Unless Amare broke them down the Blazers did an amazing job covering and recovering, helping and staying home in turn. Portland also continued their strong performance on the boards. Alternating amazing and impotent kept the Suns from running away with the quarter as they wished. Meanwhile, after adding another 4:20 to the field goal drought (making over 8 minutes total, which shows you how well the Blazers defended during this stretch), fighting the shot clock for most of that run, Portland finally woke up with an improbable last-second, cross-court inbounds to Juwan Howard who seized the ball high and floated it into the rim to the cheers of the crowd. At that point Aldridge and Roy figured, "If Juwan can score, we can too." The next three minutes of the game were a symphony of jumpers from Portland's biggest stars. Aldridge did most of the work, netting dagger after dagger. But the symbolic, telling blow came on a Roy three on a possession set up by a drive in which the ball touched every player's hands. Aldridge and Roy edged Stoudemire in the scoring department and Portland led by 6 with 3:34 remaining. Much as in Game 1 the Blazers salted the game away at the free throw line while the Suns missed three-pointers. Portland walked away with a rejuvenating 9 point victory and a guarantee of another home game.
Both teams shot comparably from the field in this game. Phoenix shot a gruesome 6-23 from distance while Portland measured 5-14. Unlike Game 1 the free throw disparity wasn't huge with Portland going 21-28 and Phoenix 15-21. Rebounds, turnovers, and hustle turned the game in Portland's favor handily though. Portland led in offensive rebounds 12-7 and overall 45-39. Portland turned the ball over 7 times for but 3 Phoenix points, Phoenix 11 (6 by Steve Nash alone) for 14 Portland points. In the stat of the night Phoenix scored but 4 fast break points to Portland's 16.
LaMarcus Aldridge was the offensive player of the game, going 11-19, 9-12 from the line, for 31 points. Literally everyone in the building except the Suns breathed a sigh of relief when his shot started falling. At that point the Blazers stopped worrying and started playing. He also contributed 11 rebounds, 9 defensive. He did a decent job inside and out on defense while collecting those boards. It was an inspirational outing for him.
Brandon Roy played 27 minutes, going 4-10 from the field. He looked a little gimpy on the leg yet and certainly didn't explode on his lift. He did manage to sneak in for a couple layups and hit the aforementioned Big Three in the fourth. The Suns will probably attack him more directly as he defends in the next game. For now he provided the exact emotional lift that the team needed.
Andre Miller started the game a little slow offensively but built as the game progressed, eventually becoming one of the only smalls who could hit a jumper with confidence. He ended up 4-13 but netted 15 by virtue of his 7-10 free throw shooting clip. His big second quarter kept the Blazers' momentum going. More to the point the guy did the dirty work today, trapping and moving, poking away 2 steals, grabbing 6 defensive rebounds. Oh...and he had 8 assists. Basically 'Dre did whatever needed to be done tonight. Good game.
Jerryd Bayless started the game and had a nice energy-filled outing. The sole critique would be getting burned off the dribble by Nash, but that's going to happen. He did make Nash work on the other end. He also played a decent point game when Miller wasn't handling it. His 4-10 shooting for 11 points was nice but his 6 assists were nicer. He also had one of the defining moments of the game as Jason Richardson streaked all alone for a layup late in the third. Bayless chased him down and took him out...not hard or with intent to hurt but with enough force to stop the shot and enough oomph to earn a Flagrant 1. The immediate effect was to wake the Suns up a little but the long-term effect was to show them, and everybody else, that Portland meant business. The iffy nature of the Flagrant designation also led to a reciprocal call against Channing Frye on a Nicolas Batum break-away in the fourth...a call which helped seal the game. Bayless was an asset today. He did Portland proud.
Nicolas Batum did his best work on the boards, grabbing 7 for the game, but also spread around on defense. he hit 2 threes and ended up with 10 points.
Marcus Camby did an amazing job defensively. The minutes when Stoudemire went berserk are also, by and large, the minutes when Camby was out. More to the point, Camby got switched onto Steve Nash time and again and actually managed to make Nash work without smaller players coming to his rescue. One thing you can say about Aldridge and Camby is that they are mobile on the perimeter. That proved a huge boon today. Kudos for the hard work and foot movement. Camby had 8 points and 8 rebounds as well. He kept the offense limber by setting good screens. He also had 5 assists!
Juwan Howard played 18 minutes and got baked and broiled by Stoudemire. BUT he also contributed some key buckets, scored 8 points, spent a couple of wise fouls, and got 7 rebounds, 5 offensive.
Martell Webster didn't hit any of his 3 shots but he was quite active early in the fourth during Portland's drought.
Rudy Fernandez hit a three and played but 9 minutes.
We'll talk about this more soon (and in the comments now, I'm sure). For now...this game was exactly what the Blazers needed. Their formula is pretty clear now: split the next two and take it to Game 7, hopefully with a fully armed and operational Brandon Roy at that point. They are certainly capable of winning or losing the home game they just forced but they have given themselves that chance in addition to the one they already had in Phoenix Monday night. This was a good, good game. Nicely done.
See the reaction at BrightSideoftheSun.
Jersey Contest results after the jump.
Here are your Jersey Contest results from this game. We're down to single-game elimination now so only the Top 8 scorers from today's game survive to go on to Monday's game. In good news, since Portland won that means the homers/faithful advanced! Here's your scoreboard:
1 52ripcity7 92
2 living 90
3 jbcooper80 88
4 cbryan 80
5 baster 79
6 blazingjim 76
7 Sir-1 72
8 Xurikk 72
9 darkwebs 71
10 jlw19799 67
11 walkie 66
12 drpstp 65
13 chuky 49
14 buffduck 45
15 Runman47 45
16 MavetheGreat 44
17 Norsktroll 38
All scores reset to zero now and the Top Eight will fight Monday to become the Final Four.