Game 1: Blazers 105, Suns 100
Game 2: 7:00 p.m. Pacific KGW and NBA TV
A playoff series is all about adjustments. Phoenix and Portland remain the same teams they were coming into this series. Their overall game plan won't revolutionize because of a 5-point victory by the road team on Sunday. But each game brings new tweaks and emphases that change the color of the contest...the result of teams learning as they go.
What did Phoenix learn on Sunday night? That they're in for a fight, for one. Any overconfidence will have evaporated with home court advantage. This had better be a renewed, refreshed, re-dedicated Suns team or this series could go bad in a hurry. Phoenix played in spurts on Sunday night. The Blazers certainly had something to do with that but the Suns also failed to sustain their focus. That shouldn't be a problem tonight.
The Suns have got to get more out of Amare Stoudemire. Part of that comes with utilizing the pick and roll better. Part of that might be just dumping it down low. But a huge part of it is taking care of Marcus Camby. In order to do that, Phoenix needs to penetrate more. Camby is the last-ditch defense when Portland gets beat on the drive. If you make him focus on helping out instead of guarding Stoudemire you've already affected his defense. Chances are he'll pick up fouls if he has to swing over. That's the best way to nullify him. Camby is a good defender but you can beat him by taking advantage of the Blazers who aren't.
The Suns need to take more immediate advantage of mismatches on switches. They did so intermittently in Game1 to great success. They need to be more conscious of their opportunities and attack immediately when they benefit from a switch. Don't wait, don't dribble 10 times...make your move and take your defender. Pretty much every guy they field can score. Nash and Stoudemire will be two of the more often-switched-upon players and both of them can really score. Decisiveness and early moves will be the key.
The Suns need to run out more. The Blazers did a superior job of getting back on defense in the first game. Phoenix needs to test their resolve again. At a certain point Phoenix stopped pushing the ball on Sunday, just as they stopped going aggressively at their defenders in the halfcourt. Those huge mistakes allow Portland to escape its worst enemy: fatigue that saps what little depth remains on the squad. Make Portland tired and they stop driving, stop running, stop defending, and stop hitting threes. At that point Phoenix wins. This is kind of like a body blow in boxing. Any individual punch may not yield great results but if you get in enough of them the opponent will tire. That's when your head shots start landing. The Blazers may not fall short in Game 2 but running them ragged in this game sets up Game 4, 5, and 6.
The Suns did a good job bothering LaMarcus Aldridge on Sunday. They need to expand their focus to Andre Miller too. More particularly they need to crowd in the lane so neither Miller nor Aldridge can get inside. You KNOW Miller is going to get his shots up, particularly now. That's going to be true no matter what those shots are. If you keep him out of the lane he'll start shooting jumpers. When he starts shooting jumpers he becomes far less effective. Maybe you double him. Maybe you put a bigger guy on him. Maybe you just pack it in and keep everybody out of the paint. Whatever the specific strategy the Suns should be willing to live with anybody besides Miller and Aldridge beating them. If Nicolas Batum scores 20 on jump shots, so be it. If Marcus Camby scores 14, so be it. Without Aldridge and Miller combining for 50-55 points besides those numbers won't win the game.
The Suns also need to shock the Blazers by pressing in the backcourt when Miller isn't handling the ball. Portland was walking a tightrope bringing the ball up the court on multiple possessions in the first game and Phoenix didn't do anything to make them uncomfortable. When Miller isn't playing you can even go with non-traditional defenders at the point. A big guy who wouldn't let Jerryd loose until he crossed halfcourt and who backed off of him thereafter, daring him to shoot, wouldn't be the worst idea in the world.
As the victors the Blazers don't feel the same kind of pressure to upgrade. They mostly need to play the same kind of game they just did. They'd like better free throw shooting, particularly down the stretch. They need to recover faster when they collapse into the lane. Even better they need to stay in front of Phoenix dribblers so they don't have to collapse in the first place. They'd like to tidy up their defensive glass, a task made more difficult by the way Phoenix spreads the floor. The trick here is not to get caught in no-man's land. Phoenix's three-point shooting was devastating on Sunday not just for the number of shots they hit but for the number of times they got extra shots after attempting a three in a possession. This was caused partly by Blazer defenders running out late with no chance to affect the shot, taking themselves right out of the play. If you can get out and a guy is going to shoot, at least turn and try to grab the miss. Even open with time to shoot the Suns won't make all of them and those rebounds do carom long.
Most of all the Blazers need to get something out of LaMarcus Aldridge outside of the halfcourt offense. He either has to get more rebounds or he has to leak out and get more fast break opportunities, putting pressure on his defender to get back and get in front of him. Pick one. Also LaMarcus needs to play stronger against Channing Frye when he does get the ball in the halfcourt offense. Not pulling the string on his jumper would help too.
Doug Collins gave some great insight on Sunday when it became clear that the Blazers were going to win the game. He said you never let a playoff game go. Winning Game 1 is no reason to lose Game 2 without a fight. The first win was great, but realistically Portland's job is only 1/4 done. They don't make slimmer leads than a single game. The Blazers need to be ready for the Suns to try and bowl them over. Just as they did on Sunday they need to weather the storm and come back with strong, confident, aggressive play. If the game is close going down the stretch again Phoenix is going to doubt. Even if the Suns do pull off a win under those conditions they're more relieved than confident headed back to Portland. Settling for a 1-1 trip banking you'll win all your home games is a recipe for disappointment. The Blazers just proved that home teams don't always win. Portland needs to play this like it was Game 1 all over again. Look to the rebounding totals again plus who gets to the loose balls first. It should be the Blazers every time. If it's not, Portland probably isn't into this game.
See how Phoenix is preparing at BrightSideoftheSun.
P.S. Quick Camby Take: 2 years at $21 million is a good deal for both sides. 3 years at $30 million would not have been good for Portland. But the Blazers don't mind the double-digit salary because it doesn't last long, they have another expiring contract to dangle in the second season, and even if Camby ages like he's seen a ghost by that second year Portland is banking on having another center operating in his stead. Camby, on the other hand, doesn't mind the shorter contract because he gets about the same money as if he had signed a 3-year, $7-8 million deal for one less year of work. If his game goes south he just retires with all that money. If he can still play he can sign another contract. Win-win.