Game Notes: Blazers at Suns
A snooze-fest in Phoenix.
by Dennis Tarwood
On a night in America where Tiger Woods gave five good minutes to the public, the federal government offered the body politic greater health care coverage, and Cornell grads staked their claim on being your boss and your Cinderella, the Phoenix Suns and Portland Trail Blazers managed to turn the Western Conference playoff race into the hoary stepsister of the news cycle with a 93-87 game that went to the Suns only because NBA bylaws require one team to win.
The Blazers started Sunday out learning about the bonus injury of the week as Rudy Fernandez failed to travel with the team due to a left quad strain. Portland coach Nate McMillan preached tactical flexibility before the game but spoke of winnowing options in the next breath: “This is where we are. We got guys available; if we have to use them, we’ll use them.”
McMillan explained how his squad stays stable despite the constant change. “Control is in our hands; it’s what we do out on the floor. It’s more about us than teams or who we go up against.” It’s a philosophy reflective of their even-keeled leader.
Suns coach Alvin Gentry noted how much the Blazers are McMillan’s team, a “hard-nosed, tough group of guys that do a good job of defense and guard and execute”.
Are the Suns like their coach, then? “I really don’t have a mentality,” replied Gentry. “When I was supposed to be a good player, I sucked. I hope they don’t!” Modest, but it’s fair to say the Suns lose their cool about as often as their quietly intense leader.
Neither team could claim 39 percent success from the floor for the night with the Suns taking the game by mustering a competent performance from long-range (7-23 3PT), one more adequate category than the Blazers (2-17 3PT). No one led by more than 8 points and there were 14 lead changes and ties, proving close does not equate with competitive.
Ethnic relations could not have been improved on Fiesta Night by delivering substandard product that would not pass NAFTA regulations on truth-in-advertising and safety for viewers. Masochists who endured the game may have noticed Steve Nash leading the Suns with 17/1/8 and Brandon Roy and Andre Miller missing a combined 30 shots before gouging their eyes out with a Buick.
Despite a distinct lack of offensive results Sunday night, Phoenix reflected their coach’s patience and didn’t deviate from their zone defensively to create more fast breaks and open up their offense. They also somehow managed to avoid earning any technical fouls despite two eight-second backcourt calls. (The Blazers picked up 3 three-second defensive technicals themselves on League Points of Emphasis night.)
The Blazers lacked the grace of their February win in Phoenix due to Steve Blake’s absence, instead using Roy’s size to brutalize any guard in his vicinity. According to Amar’e Stoudemire post-game, he was “trapped, fronted… screen and roll(ed)…” and otherwise accosted to a somewhat meek 18/14/0 line.
After the game, McMillan gathered his coaches outside the locker room for a powwow before an extended discussion behind closed doors. He then told the assembled media that his team settled for the outside shot, perhaps failing to show the toughness associated with his team. “We just didn’t attack it. We were launching our jump shots from the perimeter and they weren’t going in. As long as you are missing shots from the perimeter, they’re going to pack it in.”
The Suns didn’t fuss about style points after the game. Jason Richardson (an energetic, if not efficient 16/5/0) enjoyed his Spartans’ last-second win in the NCAA Tournament and the Suns’ win despite neither being terribly attractive: “It’s been great… we just grinded it out tonight… sometimes it’s not pretty, but as long as we get the W, that’s all that really matters.”
Tiger himself might have admitted as much if he had allotted more than five minutes to speak: ugly still counts and the Suns get to keep the win, holding them precariously perched in the fifth slot in the West. Portland still has claim to the eighth spot despite the loss as Houston and Memphis show little interest in joining the postseason fray.
The Suns put on their roller skates for a Monday night derby with the Warriors in Oakland while the Blazers marshal their forces for a visit from Dallas on Thursday. The Suns have 13 games left on the schedule while the Blazers hold 12 more chances.
– Leandro Barbosa played four minutes in his third game back from wrist surgery. At this point, the Suns might be willing to trade the Road Runner for an Acme safe to hold Sarver’s luxury tax savings.
– The least injured Trail Blazer might well be Marcus Camby. Feel free to take a moment to wrap your mind around the notion.
– Channing Frye fumbled an interview answer post-game and quoted himself again to clarify. Lou Amundson and Jason Richardson couldn’t help but roll their eyes: Lou: “Only Channing Frye.” Jason: “Only Frye can have conversations with himself.” Jason again: “Only guys from Arizona. I worry about them. Something’s not right with them.”