Suns/Blazers Game 3 Recap
JRich, Suns humble Blazers in front of home crowd.
by Nick Rattner
On a night when the Blazers trailed by more than 10 for all but 7 minutes of the game, there was very little drama. To use a Steve Lavinism, the Suns came out and hit the Blazers in the mouth and Portland never recovered. The Suns were more talented and more focused than the Blazers who lost yet another player, Nicolas Batum, to injury. The usually raucous Rose Garden, disappointed with a 66-37 score at half, booed their team as they trotted hangdog into the locker room. To anyone watching the game, the fans’ treatment must have seemed unfair because it was obvious that there was nothing the Blazers could do. Though they were the home, the Blazers looked like the visitor.
The Suns established three things early, which lead to a fourth. First, the Suns played great defense, which was a surprise, it seemed, to none more than the Blazers. Amar’e Stoudemire and Steve Nash, usually criticized for their lapses of attention on the non-ball side, shut down post entry lanes. Amar’e was rotating well and even blocked a Jerryd Bayless triple. Grant Hill turned in another masterful performance against Andre Miller, limiting the Blazer point guard to 11 points and making it difficult for him to make crisp passes around the perimeter. He played soft on Miller, shutting down his knack for drive-and-kick attacks and Miller seemed a little hung-over from the previous game’s debacle. There were numerous Blazer possessions in which the ball was reversed around the key to little or no effect. Stoudemire pushed LaMarcus Aldridge out of the paint, making him into a turn-around jump shooter. It seemed part of a general plan to disrupt the Blazers offense and make them over-think.
Second, Suns players drew key early fouls from their counterparts in white. Stoudemire drew two key first quarter fouls: one, a charge from Rudy Fernandez (who picked up his second 3 minutes later and did nothing in the first 3 quarters) fifteen seconds into the game, and the other defensive, drawn against Aldridge while going hard to the lane (Aldridge was out two minutes later after picking up a charge). Miller also got in first quarter foul trouble; with Fernandez out (and playing miserably) Bayless and Martell Webster ran the point. Thus, midway through the first quarter, the Suns had forced the Blazers to run their offense through their third and fourth options with little scoring potential in the paint. The results were sloppy play and poor clock management ending in several desperation heaves.
Third, the Suns established the fast break and pick-and-role early, running their bread and butter to perfection. They just seemed relaxed; by contrast, the Blazers were flat-footed and hack-happy. On a particularly beautiful sequence, Nash flung a looping outlet pass to Jason Richardson who then dished to Hill who made a touch pass back to Richardson for the lay in, sending the score to 12-6. The ball never touched the ground. When Portland scrambled to rotate on pick-and-rolls, Nash got the ball to Amar’e who attacked or found Channing Frye, who either shot or dished to Richardson. It was an evening-long textbook dissection.
Fourth, it turned out to be Richardson’s night. Whether catching an alley-oop from Nash on a fast break to make it 27-16, or draining a three (he hit eight) to stifle a Blazers run, Richardson was a force that Portland could not reckon with as he racked up 42 (plus 8 rounds, 2 assists and 3 steals) for what he dubbed the best game of his career. In truth, it could have been anyone on the Suns; Richardson happened to be the open man and he capitalized. Bayless, the man assigned to defend number 23 (he looked a little like him), was less than effective.
The most telling moment of the game came when Alvin Gentry called a timeout with 9:00 minutes left in the second quarter and the Suns up by 20. Angered by pliable team defense, which had resulted in Miller’s first made lay-up of the game, Gentry exhorted his second team to maintain focus. Leaving several of his bench in turned out to work out brilliantly for Gentry as Goran Dragic, Leandro Barbosa, and three Suns starters were able to extend the lead to 29 by half. Not only did the move work, the timeout was symbolic of the Suns’ greater determination and focus all game. It made the Blazers’ victory from Game 1 look like a fluke as it inked the writing on the wall. The first half score said it all: Home 37, Away 66.
The Blazers did manage a mini-run in the final quarter of the game, though MacMillan’s assessment that his team won the second half is generous if not delusional. Fernandez, a dud all series, finally woke up and hit three triples in a row, closing the gap to 11. Richardson responded with two of his own, however, silencing the crowd. The game never really felt close. Game 3 showed that the Blazers, depleted by injury and overmatched in talent, will need to receive a miracle and turn in a perfect game in the next meeting to have any chance of seeing the Rose Garden again this season.
– Nicolas Batum left the game in the second quarter after re-aggravating his right shoulder. He had pre-season surgery, which kept him out of the Blazer’s first 45 games. He is also their premier perimeter defender.
– Aldridge shoved Stoudemire then got in his face after receiving a hard elbow that came dangerously near his head. If the incident results in a suspension for Stoudemire, Portland fans will be left a little room for hope.