In a Nutshell
On the night of Epiphany--when the Three Wise Men reportedly showed up at the manger with gifts for a newborn king--Steve Nash, Jared Dudley, Marcin Gortat and the Suns bring the Blazers a box of Picked Your Dribble, a jar of Stopped Your Drive and a whole camel load of Kicked Your Butt en route to a 25-point win.
Thank you to ESPN for actually managing to show the entirety of the West Coast game in their Friday double-header, something TNT seems congenitally unable to accomplish on Thursday nights.
In a related note, darn you to ESPN for actually showing the entirety of this game.
Game Flow/Take-Away Points
We're going to combine the first two sections of the recap tonight because the game flow was essentially the same throughout and dovetails exactly with the take-away points.
For those looking for any kind of positive for the Blazers, watch the first two minutes of this game and then shut it off. Very early on LaMarcus Aldridge caught the ball with his feet in the paint once and scored on a quick hook shot. A little later he caught a pass during a baseline cut and dunked. Those were the ONLY two times his feet touched paint in scoring position during the entire quarter.
A few times early on the Blazers got fouled on drive attempts.
Other than that, here was the story: Every time the Blazers tried to drive it seemed like they turned over the ball. That's an exaggeration, of course, but when they didn't turn it over they missed the shot on those drives. That includes the following names: Felton, Wallace, Crawford, Matthews. No matter who took it off the dribble all night long, it was bad. Every time the Blazers attempted a pass to the interior in the first quarter they turned it over just like they had been dribbling it. Every time LaMarcus Aldridge made any move towards the paint and shot he missed, leaving his only viable offense in that customary 12-18 foot range that Blazer fans know so well. That wasn't near enough. The Phoenix Suns are not great at defending the paint. The Blazers made them look like world-beaters tonight. Portland couldn't generate anything inside if it wasn't off of a clear fast-break and those were rare.
After a few minutes of futility the Blazers bailed on getting the ball inside at all, settling for the mid-to-long-range jumpers that are their security blanket. Tonight they missed plenty of them. The only real respite from the Jumperville Express came during the first part of the third quarter when Raymond Felton tried to provide a spark by driving inside. It was short-lived, middling in effectiveness, and not near enough as the Blazers were flirting with a 20-point deficit by then.
Another major cause of futility for Portland was their inability to defend. Even when they were making shots early and looking good Phoenix streaked out to a lead because the Blazers couldn't get a hand in everyone's faces. Forced to collapse inside they left jump-shooters open. Closing out on the jump-shooters they couldn't prevent the drive or interior buckets. Neither could the scramble force turnovers. Instead, as we said just above, the Blazers committed them instead. The only thing going right for the Blazers was their board work but they even ceded that after awhile, letting the Suns off easy.
Portland tried to solidify the defense in the second period by playing zone but it didn't help. Shooting under 30% for the first half led to a 34-point total at the halftime buzzer. The third period was a mess of turnovers and sloppy shots for both sides but Phoenix still won it. The fourth period featured the second units of both teams. Phoenix won that too.
In short, everything that typifies Portland's weaknesses--lack of interior offense in the post or the drive, turning over the ball, inability to effectively defend the whole floor or stop high-percentage attempts, dependence on forcing turnovers that sometimes just don't come, need to rebound every second of the game or get killed, slipping easily into jump shots, desperately needing to hit threes but being streaky in that department--showed up tonight all in one game. That made the team that just beat the Lakers look awful against the much lesser Suns.
Now, here's the take-away point: Say all you want about the second night of a back-to-back, emotional letdown, or being on the road. (And good luck getting away from any of those issues in this compacted season.) Like it or not, this is the same team that played last night. The fluctuation in results is inherent in Portland's style and personnel. This is going to be part of the story of Portland's season. The same team you love beating OKC and LA you're also going to groan at losing to Phoenix and the Clippers because it really is that clear how to rob this team of its effectiveness. Only superhuman efforts will overcome that. The reality of this league, especially in a shortened season, is that superhuman efforts don't come every night. So you're going to see games go this way even when you also see the Blazers beat quality teams.
Right now the Blazers can't help a lot of this, other than making a commitment to not drift to the perimeter quite so easily. The one thing they can do--that I believe needs to be done--is that someone needs to go poke a finger in LaMarcus Aldridge's chest and say, "You will set up with your feet in the paint. We will get you the ball. You will then score with a single, quick move like you are capable of doing." No more long dribbles into the paint. No more ineffective, uncomfortable, pressured shots after those dribbles. No more, "Gosh that almost went in and it seems like he should be making more of those." This team desperately needs someone to set up inside. LaMarcus is the only guy capable of both getting there and scoring. Feet in the paint, period. Feed that position until it's stopped. Otherwise you have to admit the reality that if the Phoenix Suns can shut down your interior play so effectively anybody can do so. You then throw yourself on the mercy of the other team's heart and will. If the Blazers do not solve this they will not ultimately succeed even if they do manage to win some regular season games in the meantime.
With games like this I don't generally list individual accomplishments. Any positive ones didn't matter much. The negative ones just seem too much like piling on. Just a few examples to flavor the misery soup (realizing that these performances did not kill the Blazers more than any others, it was the whole team):
- Gerald Wallace 0-6, 1 point, 2 rebounds, 4 TO's
- Jamal Crawford 3-14 in 21 minutes for 10 points with 4 TO's as well
- Nicolas Batum 4-13, 0-5 from the arc
- Kurt Thomas was the only regular who had anything close to a nice game
We did get a chance to see the deeper reserves play extended minutes in the blowout. That included Craig Smith, Nolan Smith, Chris Johnson, and Eliot Williams. Johnson had a couple small moments but the only guy who really opened eyes at all was Williams. He had a couple of sweet moves at the rim...a total hop-fest. If he has any handles and any ability to play he might be able to change the backcourt look a little. But we're a long way from that at the moment. The others didn't look remarkable even against the Suns bench.
Not-So-Fun Stats of the Night
- Blazers 25-77, 32.5% overall
- Blazers 2-19, 10.5% from the three-point arc
- Portland did draw 35 foul shots, 10 more than the Suns. That's pretty close to the only clear positive from the night.
- Blazers and Suns tied with 15 fast break points apiece. That wasn't in the plan.
- Suns 40 points in the paint, Portland 32. That really wasn't in the plan.
- Blazers commit 3 more turnovers than the Suns and Phoenix outscores Portland 21-8 in points after turnovers. That really, really, really wasn't in the plan.
- Zero offensive rebounding advantage for Portland. Blazers lose the battle of the boards overall by 9.
The Blazers draw Cleveland at home on Sunday and then a revenge game in the Rose Garden versus the Clippers, so everybody should feel better by Tuesday night and the record will look just as shiny.
Bright Side Of The Sun has the Phoenix angle on their best game of the season.
Your Trail Blazers vs Suns boxscore.
Your monthly Jersey Contest scoreboard. Scroll to the bottom and select tonight's game if you want to see your score for this particular game. (Most of you shouldn't.)
Your form for Sunday's game.