Game Notes: Blazers at Suns
Blazers strike a second-half comeback.
by Dennis Tarwood
Blame it on Getaway Day before the All-Star break. Blame it on the five-day layoff since their last game on the 5th. Blame it on the (very slight) rain, yeah yeah. However you pass the buck, the Suns had no problem watching you do so submissively for three quarters Wednesday night in Phoenix as the Trail Blazers took an 83-67 lead into the final frame.
However, the Blazers chose to pull “Cold Potato” off the “lousiest indoor games ever” shelf in the rainy day closet on a vaguely moist night in the Valley and allowed the Suns to front their ballhandlers into lousy shots and nifty fast breaks of their own on their way to a 9-0 run to start the fourth quarter.
Portland recovered upon Steve Blake’s return to the game, though, and fought off the Suns on their way to a 108-101 win despite being short a roster or two’s worth of starters on their way to the break via a back-to-back through Oklahoma and Arizona.
Before the game, Suns coach Alvin Gentry exhibited surprise when the starting lineups arrived and Steve Blake showed up alongside Andre Miller. In the end, that surprise must have turned to alarm as the crisp passing turned into a 20/2/12 night for Blake and 20/7/5 for Miller, easily making the difference early and often.
Portland succeeded by using the Suns’ playbook against them, taking advantage of impressive ball movement enhanced by the presence of two point guards paired on the floor (Andre Miller and Steve Blake) through most of the contest. They managed to work the ball into the lane more than Stillwater’s lead singer, requiring only one three-pointer attempt in the first three quarters total on their way to a 65 percent shooting entering the fourth quarter.
Steve Blake confirmed the playbook theft after the game. “We were making jump shots so they had to rotate to people. If you can get teams to force them(selves) into rotation, someone’s usually going to be open… they do the same thing to other people. They force people into rotations and they knock down threes.” Except this night, of course.
When the Trail Blazers finally came up merely average in the fourth, the Suns had too far to hike despite Portland inexplicably falling in love with the three (2-8 in the fourth) and allowing long rebounds for the fast break for the first time all game.
“We were sharp from the start,” noted Blazers coach Nate McMillan. “It’s nice to see the ball go in the hoop… (Miller and Blake) normally do a good job of taking care of the ball. Blake does a good job of playing off of guys…. I wanted to get to that combination and it did good for us tonight.” No word from McMillan if this pairing will stick when big guards are on the docket or even beyond the All-Star break.
Since the Suns couldn’t muster a fast break off the limited defensive rebounds, they spent the game looking lost on offensive and defensive rotations, finding success mostly through post-ups from Amar’e Stoudemire (24/9, 9-14) and Channing Frye (12/3, 4-8).
However, Amar’e gave back his offensive success on the other end, letting LaMarcus Aldridge abuse him for 11-17 shooting and 22 points. After the game, Amar’e chose not to talk about his possible destinations, focusing instead on anything else presented: rustiness for the team after the layoff, Team USA, the All-Star Game… any damned notion you had to bounce back, leading some observers to wonder if Stoudemire might have one foot out the door emotionally.
Not Alvin Gentry, though. “We got our ass kicked, plain and simple.” It’s hard to enjoy a vacation while sitting on an inflatable donut to relieve the pain. On the other hand, it’s also difficult to get in the vacation spirit if you’re snowed in and have to break the Blame Game out of its closet home. As Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus asked, “Do Suns players normally yap at each other this much?”
Grant Hill put a positive spin on the chatter: “I just try to talk (when the team gets out of rhythm); I think talking on the court, letting my teammates know where to be on defense, gets me more engaged and I think it hopefully gets others more engaged and talking as well… Coach K(rzyzewski) stressed (that) if we’re struggling and not playing well, we should talk. (It) gets you in the present moment instead of thinking about how you’re struggling.”
Suns players may be talking to themselves a lot for the next week; their next game is Tuesday (2/16) in Memphis. The Blazers break their basketball fast at home against the Clippers the same night.
– Asked if he felt any budget pressure this season after hearing that season ticket prices would hold or drop for the second year in a row, Alvin Gentry paused and then asked, “You mean my wife?” Luxury tax indeed, Alvin.
– Alvin also practically begged someone to ask him about the Rex Ryan Flyers jersey story. No one took the bait.
– How did Nate McMillan feel about the sinkhole that Rudy Fernandez became in the fourth quarter and how he disappeared after the first 90 seconds of obsessive dribbling? “We’re gonna have different nights for different guys… our guys gotta understand that when other guys are playing well, we’re gonna let ‘em roll.” Another sharp pass from the Blazers.
– Steve Nash’s directorial effort in a homegrown “Avatar” sequel led another reporter to ask if Nash had been tapped for the real sequel. After suggesting that “Jimmy Cameron’s pretty precious about his project”, your continually-intrepid Game Notes writer recommended the inside track could be to marry the “Avatar” and “Titanic” director like “Hurt Locker” director Kathryn Bigelow did. Nash’s response: “He’s not my type.” Probably too controlling.