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Game 3 Recap: Blazers 96, Suns 107

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This wasn’t a bad game.  This wasn’t a great game.  There were plenty of signs of things to love plus a small flotilla of annoying fundamental and continuity problems to balance those out.  Basically the Suns ended up having enough horses and enough experience playing winning basketball to pull it out.  Not a surprise and nothing to get too down about.

 

The Blazers’ performance went back and forth all night.  At first we were showing a lot of energy on offense…on the offensive glass particularly.  We did do a fair amount of running and cutting in the halfcourt sets and that kept the Suns out of position enough to allow our rebounding energy to tell.  Lamarcus Aldridge came out focused and firing early and all but took over the game.  Brandon Roy also had his fair share of telling blows.  On the other hand we didn’t cope that well with the basic Phoenix offense early on.  We had trouble containing Nash off of screens.  When we did contain him we had to commit extra men to the job which let Matt Barnes and company fire freely from the arc.  We were doing well to finish the first quarter down by six.  This showed the difference between old Phoenix and new Phoenix.  In years past it would have been eighteen.

 

The second unit dominated as the middle quarters wore on.  The guys at the morning show on The Game are going to have to abandon their “Spanish Fly Offense” nickname in favor of the European Union, as Nic Batum worked the floor along with Sergio Rodriguez and Rudy Fernandez.  If you want to know what makes that style work besides Rudy’s ability to hit from anywhere and Sergio’s passing (well, and the fact that they’re employing it mostly against reserves) watch how they move without the ball.  That’s a lost art in American basketball and it’s great to see NBA players employing it more than once a game on an alley-oop.

 

Nevertheless, as soon as the game got back to the first units the Suns cut right back into Portland’s lead and then pulled away for good.  Their switching around zone defenses befuddled us.  They cut out the second chance opportunities too.  Their big men started getting physical with Lamarcus and keeping him away from the rim.  Lamarcus fought back but they pretty much never let up.  We ended up tossing around tons of passes in order to get distance shots…a hallmark from last season and not a successful tactic long term.  Our defense also continued to scramble and eventually we broke down enough to let Amare Stoudemire have his way.  At that point it was game over.

 

The biggest issue we had was letting the Suns shoot 55%.  All of their top six players shot over 50%.  Yes they’re a smart and talented offensive team but clearly we don’t have the ability or cohesiveness to watch five players at a time yet.  This is one of the areas that’s still a work in progress for Portland.  We also gave up 30 foul shots and only took 14.  Part of that was due to garbage time catch-up but our perimeter tendencies also had something to do with it.  On the plus side we took good care of the ball and shot well ourselves in every category.  The effort was there all night too.

 

Individual Notes

 

--I loved how Lamarcus Aldridge came out in this game.  He took shots from inside and out and established himself as a legitimate threat without being out of control or forcing too many shots.  He faded later in the game as we went away from him.  There’s no telling whether that was the chicken or the egg though.  I did like how he stood up to Stoudemire and even threw a couple shoulders but he’s still got a ways to go before he can go toe-to-toe with the veterans in this league.  He showed he’s getting closer though.

 

--Brandon had a good scoring game with 20.  4 assists and 2 blocks weren’t bad but I still don’t feel like he’s entirely in the groove as far as the complementary parts of his game.  Perhaps personnel has something to do with it or a slightly different role bringing the ball up sometimes.  Either way, he’s still settling in but still looking darn good while doing it.

 

--Rudy Fernandez also scored 20 on his best offensive game so far.  Love his shot.  Love his movement.  Love how he makes every Blazer a little more dangerous by making himself available as an option.  He did fairly well defensively too.  A couple times he got shifted onto Steve Nash and he didn’t do worse than anybody else guarding him.

 

--Joel Przybilla gave about what you’d expect:  9 rebounds in 28 minutes plus the obligatory fracas with Shaq.  Joel is like that annoying cousin who won’t stop needling you at the family picnic you even after you’ve made it big time in life…the one that almost makes you not come to the party.

 

--Travis Outlaw actually played a pretty cohesive game and added 4 rebounds and 4 assists to his 11 points.  He got switched over to power forward for parts of the game, which explains some of it.  He really does look more natural when he’s able to defend farther in instead of out on the perimeter.  His relative quickness counts for more too.  He actually got in the lane a couple times tonight.  Eventually the Blazers are going to have to decide exactly what Travis is and make some decisions accordingly.

 

--Steve Blake did a great job hitting the outside jumper when he received the ball and was open.  He was adequate setting the offense though frankly some of that responsibility was taken away from him by Roy tonight.  He didn’t do that great of a job staying with Nash, but I guess who does?  In general I haven’t been that impressed with Steve’s defense so far this year.

 

--Nicolas Batum had a nice dunk and did a good job of roaming the passing lanes to the tune of 3 steals.  It could be exciting to watch him once Aldridge and Oden form a contiguous back line for the Blazer defense and the wing guys can gamble with impunity.  Giving him the freedom to go for steals is going to be like giving a redneck six boxes of ammo and a quarter mile of empty Bud cans.

 

--Sergio Rodriguez had 4 assists and hit both of his shots in 14 minutes.  I believe he can find an immediate niche with that second unit now that he has guys who know how to take advantage of his passing ability.  (Trout didn’t really qualify last year.)  This was a strong showing for him.

 

--Channing Frye had 6 points and 4 rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench.  He also had 3 fouls and a little trouble defensively.

 

--Jerryd Bayless got 6 minutes.  He didn’t do too much.  He looks tentative out there, like he’s looking purposely to do other things besides scoring.  A word to the wise:  you do have to do other things besides scoring but you can’t abandon your game either.  My guess is he’s just not confident knowing the difference between a good opportunity and a poor one yet (i.e. he was almost surprised this fall to find out that any of his opportunities were anything besides good).  Hopefully that’ll come.  For my tastes he can go ahead and loosen up and look to score.  He might get benched for it but he’ll get benched for not doing it for sure.  Take your shots and learn from them.  Sergio went through similar things the last couple of years and his brightest games were when he took risks, even when they didn’t turn out.  His worst games came when he looked paralyzed by indecision.  He got in trouble in about 1 in 2 of the former games.  He got in trouble in every one of the latter.

 

One-Sentence Game Summary

 

It’s a loss, but better than opening night.

 

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)