Hey wait, if we're all here, who's guarding Nash?
The Short Version
Despite good offensive games from LaMarcus Aldridge and Wesley Matthews, Phoenix takes advantage of Portland's uninspired defense and flat play in the second half to beat the Blazers, 115-111. The trio of Suns vets, Grant Hill, Steve Nash, and Vince Carter, combined for 61 points to hold off Portland.
The Long Version
The first quarter was all about Aldridge, and a lack of defense. Phoenix saw open jumper after open jumper. Both teams have no problem hitting three pointers tonight, which is appropriate, since nobody else was within 10 feet when they shot. Portland's defense struggled mightily; at one point, Grant Hill, returning from a knee injury, burned the whole Blazer team by marching down the lane and dunking while the Blazers watched. The good news? The starters kept a small lead (including 10 points for LMA), and the bench came to play early. Patty, Rudy and Dante all scored, and Mills fed a pass to Wesley Matthews, who hits a corner three at the buzzer. Portland led by 8.
The bench continued the strong play in the second quarter, quickly bumping the lead to 13. That was the peak, as Phoenix slowly began their comeback. Even when things went Portland's way, such as Wesley's lucky bounce on a three, Phoenix held serve, immediately hitting a three in return. A key moment: Jared Dudley hits a three, and kicked his foot out, hooking Andre for a foul and a 4 point play. in the process, it also knocked Andre out of the game with his third foul. With Andre out, Patty Mills entered, and Steve Nash's eyes lit up. Nash quickly led the team back but a few timely plays by Marcus Camby kept Portland in the lead. Just before halftime, Phoenix cleanly picked the ball from Patty in the backcourt with a few seconds left, preventing Portland from finishing on a high note. The Blazers held a 3 point lead.
Halftime stats: Portland and Phoenix shot, and hit, the same number of FG's (22 for 43). Both teams hit 60% or more of their (open) three point shots. Most other stats were also similar. Portland's 4 extra offensive rebounds made the difference in the halftime score.
The teams trade buckets to start the second half, but Portland slowly builds the lead. After a Matthews three, the Blazers lead by 8. But Phoenix crawled back, thanks to their veterans. Nash, Carter and Hill all hit some relatively easy points, and Gortat eventually tied the game. Portland seemed to hit a lull, but offensive rebounds keep them alive. The problem was, Phoenix kept answering. Camby saved a poor possession with an offense board, which Andre then converted. But 4 seconds later, Carter hits a layup. Andre then worked a possession for two more points, but 8 seconds later, Grant Hill hit a three to take the lead. Portland's minimal defensive intensity is just what Phoenix lives for, and they find easy shots. At the timeout, Nate reminds the Blazers, "we don't have to be creative," and in return, Portland manufactures enough points to just barely lead, by 1 after three.
Phoenix takes the lead quickly in the fourth. After some back and forth, Phoenix scored 5 quick points to lead by 4. The run is stopped by a pretty Aldridge three point play inside. Portland can't get the lead though. Camby has a chance, but misses two free throws, followed by a Lopez hook to cement the lead. Portland can't hit shots, and made unusual mistakes, including an Andre Miller double-dribble. After a Steve Nash wide-open running floater, Portland called timeout, down by 5. Portland fights Phoenix (and more of their own mistakes) to get within 1 point with two minutes left. But just like that, Vince Carter is fouled and scores, to bump the lead to 4. In return, despite missing 19 straight threes, Andre takes one anyway, and hits! Lopez followed that with a missed free throw, and Portland finally ties the game... only for Nash to hit an open three, 6 seconds later. Portland just couldn't recover from that, and fall to .500 when the final buzzer sounds.
This is a tough, but not surprising loss. Portland led for much of the game, but made a number of uncharacteristic mistakes late. They fouled Steve Nash unnecessarily. They dropped the ball out of bounds. They left hot shooters open. Portland needs to win these games if they want to move up the standings, and they didn't. This game, like the Dallas loss, will probably stick with them all the way home tonight.
At the same time, it's very, very hard to sweep a season series against any team with a similar record. Portland had beaten Phoenix three times already this season, and even if by pure chance, Phoenix was due for a good night. It wasn't just chance, though: Phoenix played well, and earned this win as much as Portland earned the loss. Right now, the Blazers are exactly what their record states: A .500 team. That means they'll have nights like this, especially on the road.
LaMarcus Aldridge finished with 25 points, but only 4 rebounds, and missed a big FT late in the fourth. He also missed a one-on-one hook with 25 seconds left to help seal the Phoenix victory. He did play well, but needed more help tonight.
Wesley Matthews ended with 26 points, and played a better first half than second half. He scored 6 points to start the fourth, but struggled late, including a few missed threes.
Nicolas Batum played a quietly efficient game in the first half, ending up with 18 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists. He probably had the best defensive night overall.
Marcus Camby and Andre Miller had strange games. Miller had no halftime points, and Camby only had 6 rebounds. They picked up their game in the second half, Andre had 17/8, Camby had 8/15.
Mills scored 8 points, and 2 assists, but struggled mightily in defending Steve Nash, and made errors such as the pickpocket at the end of the first half.
Fernandez and Cunningham had quiet nights, with 3 and 4 points respectively. Neither brought much after their initial stint.
On the Phoenix side, the vets led the way, and former Blazer Channing Frye scored 12, with 8 rebounds. This was a game the Phoenix vets clearly wanted more.
Beyond individuals, the truth is, most of the team stats were similar tonight; the box score reflects a close game. Same number of rebounds, Portland with slightly more assists and steals, one less block. Turnovers and fouls? Nearly identical. The difference was FG shooting. Phoenix took three less shots, but yet made three more, including two 3's, for a 53.8% in comparison to Portland's 48.1%.
You can crunch the stats all you want, but the reason for the FG% difference was in front of us all night: Phoenix was wide open. Portland's D was a step behind. Repeatedly. And with vets like Hill, Carter and Nash, they know how to take advantage of the defense in that situation. When the score was tied late, Phoenix ran a perimeter pick with Steve Nash. Batum was screened for less than a second, but that was all it took for Nash to have a wide open three. That was the game.
Portland heads home tomorrow night to get a second chance against the New Jersey Nets at 7pm. New Jersey will also be playing the second night of a back-to-back.
The Jersey Contest results are here, and tomorrow night's game form will be posted later.