Rejoice, rejoice believers, your Blazers pulled one out against the Phoenix Suns tonight. It was not only an entertaining game, it was an entertaining "W". Gotta love it.
The Blazers leapt out the gate like a ballet dancer on Red Bull, looking for all the world like they were going to beat the Suns at their own game. LaMarcus Aldridge ran like a gazelle, beating Phoenix down the court and converting chip shots. Andre Miller was also zippy. The Suns, meanwhile, seemed content to loft from distance. Even they can't get away with trading layups for 20-footers and they found themselves down 6-0 before Steve Nash caught Grant Hill for a layup of their own. Apparently that kindled something in Hill because he went on a tear and almost singlehandedly wrested control of the game away from Portland. It was like that time your grandpa caught you smoking and took you out behind the woodshed. You knew he was capable, you knew you probably deserved it, but it's still pretty bad getting beaten by an 80-year-old man. Aldridge continued scoring and Jerryd Bayless came in for some late-quarter offense and Portland found themselves down 3 when the buzzer sounded.
The early part of the second quarter went well enough. Aldridge had a dunk. Blake hit his second three-pointer of the evening. Bayless scored again. But then Amare Stoudemire started hitting mid-range jumpers. He spread the floor which opened up opportunities for the Suns' ancillary players, including Channing Frye who hit 3 threes in the period. Brandon Roy responded with a 6-point mini-run and Martell Webster hit a couple of shots, but the Suns bigs had done their damage and Portland walked into the locker room down 7. On the up side they had balanced offense, few turnovers, and plenty of energy. On the down side the Suns had all of these things as well plus marksmanship. The Blazers weren't getting regular offensive rebounds either. You started to wonder if this was going to be one of those games where we played well but just got outclassed.
The third period confirmed that impression. It started well enough with Martell Webster showing some aggression on the drive and the Blazers drawing a ton of free throws but for every point Portland scored Phoenix had an answer. Amare continued to hit, Hill made back-to-back layups, Frye hit more threes. Other than a couple bad turnovers you couldn't pinpoint anything obviously wrong with the Blazers' offense. They just didn't have quite enough of it compared to the Suns. Phoenix won their third straight quarter, this time by 4, and took an 11-point lead into the fourth.
The Blazers didn't give up, however. The guards started penetrating and passing, leading to 3 made threes within the first 3:15 of the quarter, 1 each by Webster, Roy, and Blake. This wasn't entirely surprising as those three were playing with Bayless in an ultra-small lineup with Joel at that point. The Blazers climbed instantly within 5 but then Amare reared his ugly head again, pushing the lead back to 7.
Then the entire arena froze as a primal, bloodthirsty shriek echoed through the seats and rafters. Beer vendors dropped their glasses, fans cowered, whistles fell out of refs' mouths, Coach Nate fell backwards into his seat, Monty Williams grew hair, watched it turn grey, and then sobbed as it fell out again all in an instant, and the Suns' blue and orange road uniforms suddenly included a conspicuous amount of yellow. B-Rex had arrived. And he was angry.
Well, maybe it wasn't exactly like that, but it should have been.
Jerryd had been handling the ball in a considerable number of sets up until the fourth quarter, getting a shot at playing the true point guard role even when Blake was on the court with him. He had acquitted himself quite well. But now the Blazers put the ball in Roy's hands more and had Jerryd play as the off-guard more. They'd switch up as opportunity presented itself. Any way the play developed--whether Roy drew attention and flipped the ball to Bayless for a jumper, Roy found Jerryd on the wing for a dribble penetration opportunity, or Jerryd initiated from the top--Mr. Bayless delivered. He turned in a career night, setting the Suns back on their heels with his array of offense. They couldn't stop him driving without fouling him. They wanted to concede the jumper to him but he hit those too. He also showed energy on the defensive end, crossing the lane to make plays from the weak side several times and grabbing rebounds as well. Bayless scored 15 points in the final 7 minutes of the quarter. As the Phoenix defense got divided by the barrage Roy took advantage and poured the ball in as well.
On the other end Amare started missing which put extra pressure on the Phoenix supporting cast. They couldn't deliver. Steve Nash tried to take over late but Bayless hit enough free throws to put the Suns down by 3 on the last possession and LaMarcus Aldridge forced Nash into an awkward shot that clanged off iron. Confetti drops. Everyone on the team, including some players in suits, pats and rubs Bayless' head like it was Buddha's belly, huge grins on their faces. Jerryd and Roy do the post-game interview together, looking for all the world like they're locked at the hip. And there you have it...another memorable Rose Garden victory over the Suns.
Besides the heroic scoring, Portland did a couple of things to cement this win. The disparity in field goal percentage was huge in the first half but the Blazers narrowed it to roughly 3% by the end of the game, Phoenix shooting 48% and Portland 45%. Portland matched Phoenix shot-for-shot at the three-point arc, which probably isn't a repeatable experiment but it worked tonight. The Blazers were 10-20 from distance. Most of all, the Blazers dominated at the foul line. They attempted 35 shots to the Suns' 22, hitting 25 compared to their 16. Combine that with not giving away too many easy shots via turnover and you have the margin. The Suns also helped out a little by not taking advantage of Steve Nash until too late. He obliterated both Miller and Blake at will and the best Bayless could do was try and channel him somewhere. Under no circumstances were the Blazers stopping him until that final shot. Yes, Nash had 13 assists but this looked like one of those classic "I think we're going to win this so I'm going to lay in the weeds until needed, which may be never" games from him. He shot 7-11 from the field. It probably could have been 14-22 without affecting the rest of Phoenix's game too much. It's not like he would have been taking away Frye's threes. Those came from Amare. Nevertheless, I'm perfectly happy with the way things worked out.
Click through for Individual Observations, Links, Jersey Contest Scores, Final Thoughts, and such...
Brandon Roy had a nice game tonight. He didn't force too much, he drew 11 foul shots, he was 2-5 from the three-point arc, and even though 9-22 overall doesn't look that impressive whenever you can turn 9 made shots into 27 points you're doing something aggressive. Add 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals.
LaMarcus had a stellar opening three minutes then faded offensively. Frankly the guards were playing with each other tonight and given the results that's the way it should have been. Aldridge also spent the whole night guarding scorers which may have distracted his attention. The only disappointing thing was that he didn't take full (or really any) advantage of Channing Frye's poor post defense. Had Portland not drained all of those threes we might have a different tone when discussing his contributions. He did go 5-6 from the foul line to ameliorate his 5-15 from the field. 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 turnovers, 15 points.
Jerryd Bayless: 9-15 from the floor, 2-3 from distance, 9-12 from the foul line, 29 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, and a 2:1 assist/turnover ratio. It was his best night as a Blazer. I saw three things that gave me hope that he can continue pressing for minutes and a bigger role. The 29 points and the drives weren't among them. Those were great but you also have to figure Phoenix played into that a little as did Sacramento the other night. It's not going to happen like that against every team. However...
1. He functioned well with the ball in his hands, finding people and setting the offense without looking confused or having to take over in order to have an impact. This may be the best he's looked ever in that vein.
2. He hit the catch-and-shoot outlet jumper just as well as he drove. That shot is his key to staying on the floor and he looks like he knows it. He's giving Brandon a look like, "You know I'm going to hit it if you give it to me." Brandon is starting to give him a look back saying he knows that he knows. It's not just the points, it's the opportunity for synergy between those two guards that the made shot creates.
3. Bayless looked good on defense tonight. He was aware of his position and what was going on around him. He helped appropriately and found something to do even when the ball wasn't with his assigned man or in his area. He was active. He moved his feet. Combined with being quicker and bigger than the other two guards that gives him an edge.
Martell Webster mixed up his game tonight and is one of the quiet heroes. Have you noticed how much better the offense functions for everyone, including the players we have just mentioned, when Martell can score a little? He's the straw that breaks the camel's back, making the defense focus in so many directions that they can't contain anymore. He went 6-10 from the floor, scoring on jumpers and at the rim both, for 15 points. Add 7 rebounds, 3 offensive, and 2 steals.
Steve Blake shot only threes tonight, which is normally something I'm not in favor of. But he hit 4-7 of them for 12 points off the bench and provided yet another guy the Suns had to watch. Again, much of the fourth-quarter heroics were enabled by these guys draining those shots and making Phoenix worry about them.
Andre Miller played only 18 minutes tonight but he had 5 assists in that limited time. He didn't get many shots up, scored 4 points, and had 2 turnovers. His defense wasn't up to the task though he did look like he could have scored on Nash more given the opportunity.
Joel Przybilla had 10 rebounds and 2 blocks after his usual fashion.
It's not often you lose 3 of 4 quarters and win the game. I wouldn't want to try it again but it sure was exciting tonight. But this is like the point of the movie when the hero has just escaped from peril by the skin of his teeth and stops to celebrate. He's smiling, laughing, maybe bragging a little, then he falls silent as he looks into the distance and sees even a bigger baddie on the horizon. Cue the scary music because the Blazers now go out on the road for 4 games: Orlando, Miami, Dallas, San Antonio. Under normal circumstances you'd hope to come away with 2 of those and call it good. Right now I'm thinking any win would make a good trip and somehow taking two would be fantastic.
See what the Phoenix guys think of Jerryd Bayless at BrightSideofttheSun.
Oh, and enjoy the whoopin' and hollerin'!