Well, we ended up losing handily tonight. Figuring out why isn't exactly rocket science. From an overall perspective you're going to have a really hard time staying close in a game when you can't win a single quarter. We made runs and had some inspired plays but overall Phoenix just outworked, out-defended, and basically outsmarted us. Every time we made a youthful puppy-type run they calmly swatted us back into our place. I remember mentioning a critical moment late in the first half when we had fought back within shouting distance with about 3:30 to go. We needed to close it within 4 or so at the half, gaining another bucket or two. Instead, despite our best attempt at a flurry, they spread the lead, forcing us to scramble just to get back within 8. That was the harbinger of the second half. You knew we were going to make a run. You also knew that they, like most experienced and talented NBA teams, had seen it all before. At no time did you get the sense that the game was out of their control. Every time we got close there would be an unopposed breakaway or a Steve Nash killer shot...or both. All of a sudden we were comfortably behind again. Then we got Shaq angry late in the game (thank goodness we showed at least that much spirit) and that gave them enough energy to shut us out completely.
As far as specifics, we allowed them to shoot 55% from the field and 42% from the three-point line. You pretty much know you're dead in the water right there. Unless you have a 125-point game up your sleeve, that is. You know we don't. Our 44% shooting wasn't awful, but when you're 11 percentage points behind to a great offensive team it's going to be ugly. We also got killed on the boards. Part of it was missing 10 more shots than they did, but still. Even with Shaq in there the Suns shouldn't destroy you. They got 10 more assists than we did, which hardly required a glance at the boxscore. You could see it happening right before your eyes. Our defense had to scramble so hard to stop anyone with the ball (and we were a wee bit indiscriminate about who we surrounded) that there was always at least one Suns player open. They were masterful in finding that player. At times it looked like they were toying with us. They ended up with 6 players in double figures with Nash and Stoudemire leading the way, which is textbook Suns basketball. And that, my friends, is pretty much all she wrote. Even staying even in turnovers and building a nice advantage at the line couldn't save us. It wasn't so much a lack of effort as simply getting handled by a better team.
--Lamarcus Aldridge had a really nice night with 31 points and 8 boards. The Phoenix defensive plan seems to be to take away one of our two stars. Last time we met it was Lamarcus. This time he called "Not it!" They single-covered him much of the night and he made them pay. He also made it down the court for a couple of fast-break finishes. Nice to see.
--Brandon Roy, on the other hand, pretty much got smothered every time he put the ball on the floor. It was darn effective too, as he shot 3-14 for 6 points. He got his 7 assists and 7 boards but we couldn't crawl out of the hole his scoring troubles left. It's shocking how much we rely on him already.
--Joel Przybilla had a very mediocre statistical game with 7 rebounds and not much else. But everybody saw how he manned up against Shaq. I hope you also saw the energy he put into this game overall. I don't care if it did awaken the beast, I like seeing that kind of attitude and heart from Joel.
--Steve Blake had 10 points and 5 assists. He did OK.
--Martell hit a couple of shots in a short span and I thought this might be one of those games where he uncorked but a missed dunk put-back and a foiled drive seemed to take him out of it. He ended up taking only 3 shots in 19 minutes. I'm guessing that's not sufficient.
--Travis Outlaw got 13 points on 5-12 shooting. The way he started the game it seemed this would be a huge night for him. He was hitting shots mere mortals couldn't even get off. Alas, Super Trout's visit was brief. After that his shot selection just looked spastic. (Note: The difference between great and spastic with Travis is precisely whether the shot goes in or not.)
--Channing Frye scored 12 points in 16 minutes but couldn't seem to get a groove going defensively, especially since we kept trying to handle the pick-and-roll by switching him out onto Steve Nash. That's like putting up a "Get Out of Jail Free" card against somebody's Boardwalk hotel. Still he hit all his shots and 6 free throws besides.
--Jarett Jack scored 12 points on 4-9 shooting with 3 assists, 2 steals, and 2 turnovers. He made one bonehead play where he let his man shoot and then get the offensive rebound but overall he showed more noticeable anticipation and energy on defense than we often see. You can tell a bad Jarrett game because you don't notice him much except for the occasional turnover or three-point play. This was better than that. You noticed him a few times.
--James Jones hit 2 threes and 3 free throws for 9 points in 23 minutes. I would have liked to see us find him open more. With the attention Phoenix was paying to Roy and the way Aldridge was shooting I think we could have managed that.
--Sergio played 5 minutes with a couple nice passes and a couple missed shots. I liked what I saw from him tonight as he looked like he was going to make something happen out there. He played alive and pushed the ball up, which is exactly what he needs to do.
--Raef LaFrentz got 2 minutes and a steal. I wanted him to lay a really good foul upside Shaq's head but it never happened.
One-Sentence Game Summary:
Eventually this is what the Blazers will do to other teams.