As I said in the GameDay chat, the Suns tried every trick in the book to lose this game, we just didn't quite have enough presence or confidence to take it. Those of you who bet on the Blazers for the jersey contest were soooo close.
Suns 106, Blazers 101
--We'll talk about the offense in a minute, but really the reason we couldn't pull this game out was defense. First of all there were a couple of inexcusable defensive plays in the course of the game...Zach had a couple, Joel had one. I'm not talking about honestly getting beat by somebody quicker or stronger or whatever...that's excusable. I mean you saw the play coming and you just gave up on it entirely. Or you weren't doing what you were supposed to in the first place (like getting down the court) and the opposition barbeques you for it. Why make such a big deal of it? Three plays, six points, five point game. Who knows, we might have lost anyway. I'm not saying they cost us the game per se. But I have this thing when I'm working out. Sometimes it gets hard and sometimes I want to quit. But whenever I want to quit I think to myself, "If you quit now you will basically have wasted all the work you did prior to this...all those gut checks, all of those obstacles overcome, they won't have mattered." That's what the Blazers are doing with these mental lapses. They put in some incredible work climbing back in this game. There was a lot of hustle on rebounds, putbacks, drives, and all that. But because you basically quit in a few little moments--completely preventable moments--it didn't end up meaning anything as far as a win. The end result would have been the same had you done nothing. Again, if you look at the point differential for even the best and worst teams in the league it's not more than 6-8 points. Those 6-8 points are the difference between a horrible team and a playoff team, or between a playoff team and an elite team.
--Also on the defense...we couldn't stop the Suns down the stretch after we had gotten back into it. It's not surprising because they are one of the best clutch shooting teams in the league. You knew every single Steve Nash shot was going down. For that you have to tip your hats to them. As we get more experienced we'll be able to put up a better fight in situations like that. At one point in the second quarter we had the Suns shooting under 40%. They finished the game at 53%
--Very good points for Portland tonight: fantastic rebounding, good ball movement, good outside shooting when they were open, and relatively few turnovers. We also managed to get pretty good shots for milking the clock down as far as we did on most possessions. I was also impressed that although we started out heaving bombs and were hitting a few, our big guns made a concerted effort to take it inside in the second half. This is what brought us back in the game.
--We'll talk some more about the fouls in a minute, but for now let us say that tonight's game again showed how badly we need some meanness and grit. We were getting whistled for touch fouls every time they drove the ball. The proper response to that is for somebody (or a couple somebodies) to really man up and take some REAL fouls...making them count and discouraging them from driving instead of giving them And-Ones all night. We play way too nice to win in this league. I'm not saying we didn't play well anyway, but if we really wanted to win there should have been a staredown or two in this game.
--Other than the aforementioned defensive lapses, a little bit of slowness in his help rotations and running the court (contrasted with Wednesday night when he was spot-on), and five turnovers, Zach had a magnificent game. He shot 17-28, very few of them jumpers, and scored 36 points. He was also the main reason we dominated on the boards, as he tallied 15. It was a very, very good game...have no doubt about that. But again the lesson has to sink in: Zach with hustle can have a very good game and we win. Zach without hustle can still have a very good game and we lose. If he's going to be the kind of player that takes a team places he must learn that.
--Brandon Roy was eating the Suns alive with his drives. I said during Summer League that he was a four-way driver, meaning he can go back, forward, left, or right with equal ease. Add to that the fact that he can play with his back to the basket or facing up and he becomes brutally dangerous. All he did tonight was score 22 points with 5 rebounds, 4 assists, a steal, and a block. Brandon is back, y'all.
--Lamarcus Aldridge and Sergio Rodriguez were kind of on the next level of play together, meaning they weren't exactly game-changers but you noticed them. Lamarcus' turn-around shot is so, so, so, SO sweet. I said in the chat that the two shots I am never upset to see Portland take are a wide-open Webster three and a Lamarcus turn-around in the post. He shot 4-5 for 10 points and added four rebounds and a block. He is also pretty rangy on defense and I liked that Nate played him 24 minutes, including some key ones late, against the Suns. It would have been more but for early foul trouble. Despite going 4-11 tonight Sergio's release is starting to look very confident and pure. Plus he did all the usual passing stuff AND he really played some credible defense tonight. He's staking his claim for more playing time and he's doing it the right way.
--Jarrett Jack and Ime Udoka both played credible games. Both had 10 points and Jarrett had 5 assists while Ime had 4. (I told you about that ball movement...) They also played some reasonable defense considering it was the Suns. They got driven past but they also tried to move their feet.
--Joel Przybilla set the tone early with some great interior defense, which promptly fell apart when he left the game. For the first five minutes he looked like the game-changing version of Joel. Then he got cut on the shin, went out, and couldn't recapture the magic in the second half...in fact looking like the sad version of Joel. He's the biggest puzzle on the team this year.
--Juan Dixon played 13 largely ineffective minutes while Raef LaFrentz and Martell Webster notched five each, same story.
--Dan Dickau didn't get in the game now that Jarrett is back. And in a game like this we really miss Travis Outlaw.
--Those who have read me all year know that I never complain too much about the refs. We're not good enough for them to make a difference so it's a waste of time. But for the second game in a row I'm going to do it. I thought it was really bad when we got doubled in free throws and fouls by a Cleveland team that we clearly beat in every facet of the game including (and especially) energy. This wasn't quite so bad as far as the disparity in play, but we got tripled up in foul attempts tonight, 23-7. In the first half we were shooting jumpers while Phoenix was driving so you expect a free throw gap. But we were also posting and rebounding and just not getting calls. We did not attempt a free throw until the closing seconds of the half. Then the refs did their typical NBA thing of calling a game tight in the first half then blowing comparatively few whistles in the second. The thing is, the second half is when WE started driving. So what it amounted to was when Phoenix was driving they got whistles. When we started driving the whistles were silent. I will fully admit that Phoenix is the more talented and somewhat more aggressive team and they were at home (even though none of that helped us Wednesday night) so I'd expect them to get more calls, but that was too much. Phoenix is not a good defensive team and did not play like a good defensive team tonight. For much of the game they were sloppy and unenergetic. It's not really upsetting to lose a game you pretty much knew you were going to lose anyway, but I think it's also fair in the course of that admission to say that this wasn't exactly right and it's hard when you feel like that contributed to the loss. A caveat for all Blazer fans, however...a good team would have overcome it and beaten the Suns anyway. Dallas would have won by 20 the way the Suns played tonight. The refs didn't cost us this game, they just made it so we had to reach a little farther to get it. The bottom line is that we didn't, so Phoenix won, and that's life. The league really should look at the last couple of games though. Somebody needs to ask how a team that outscored its opponents 195-182 managed to face a 28-68 free throw attempt disparity.
The Jersey Contest scoreboard will come later tonight.