Suns/Blazers Game 1 Recap
Slow as molasses.
by Dennis Tarwood / @tuffyr
“We’ve had that opportunity throughout the year to play against Phoenix and try to control that tempo. I think we’ve done a pretty good job. You have to take care of the ball and be disciplined in your game plan…. Nash and that second group do a good job of forcing the tempo.” — Nate McMillan, before the game
That Nate McMillan, he’s a bright fella.
In a series that could be labeled “Tortoise and the Nash”, the Portland Trail Blazers limited the turnovers, evened out the boards, and forced the Phoenix Suns into settling for outside shots at the shot clock buzzer too often for their tastes in a 105-100 Blazers slog of a win that put the Blazers ahead 1-0 in the seven-game series and provided the only true upset of the opening weekend of the 2010 NBA Playoffs.
The Suns could only muster four fast break points all game and never found a way to reload their Amar’e Stoudemire howitzer enough times to make him effective. Stoudemire found himself limited to well-defended fadeaways and six-inch flips that inevitably tested the back of the rim more often than the net. His 8-19 shooting, 4 turnovers and 6 fouls more than made the difference in the game.
Stoudemire acknowledged the difficulties afterward. “They did a phenomenal job defensively. They wanted to try to clog the lane up… it was kinda tough for us to get into our offense.”
Marcus Camby managed to keep Amar’e uncomfortable all night and also gather 17 boards and three blocks in 37 minutes. LaMarcus Aldridge played defense less on Stoudemire but occasionally frustrated Amar’e, who clearly felt he should be able to muscle past the youngster.
Only Steve Nash contributed positively on the whole for the Suns’ starting unit, with Nash collecting 25 points on 18 shots and 9 assists to accompany 2 turnovers. The second unit, led by floor-stretchers Channing Frye and Leandro Barbosa, stemmed the tide with efficient if not plentiful second-quarter offense before the starters returned for their abuse.
The Suns, 41 percent three-point shooters on the season, could only manage that success rate overall from the floor and 34 percent from long range. The Blazers shot a mere 47 percent on 10 fewer shots-on-goal, but they took nearly twice as many trips to the line (31 to 16), a reflection of the ability of Andre Miller, LaMarcus Aldridge and Jerryd Bayless to take the ball to the hole.
The Brandon Roy-less Blazers mustered 35 points in the fourth quarter behind the shooting prowess of Andre Miller (15 points in the fourth, 31 total) and Jerryd Bayless (10 points in the fourth, 18 total), both of whom garnered 13 total trips to the line in the final frame.
“We talked about forcing the issue a bit and not relying on jump shots,” noted Miller postgame. “We didn’t want to fall into that trap of shooting jump shots and allowing them get into their transition game. We had to drive to the basket.”
The Blazers did all they could to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory late, including missing six free throws in the fourth quarter and a missed Camby dunk on a breakaway with 49 seconds remaining that would not have been so comical if the Suns could have sunk an extra three or so (3-13 in the fourth).
McMillan barely suppressed a smirk when reminded of the series of events that made the game closer than it needed to be. “We just try to remain calm. Our three Cs are to be calm… we gotta make sure that we’re clear about what we’re doing and that we’re consistent in what we do on both ends of the floor.”
For much of the second half but especially in the fourth quarter, it seemed no Sun not named Steve had any interest in taking a late shot. Alvin Gentry had to remind Frye after one particularly egregious game of Hot Potato that he’s paid to shoot the ball. Were the Suns’ young players able to keep their calm late in the game or did nerves get to them?
Nash, always careful with his diction, defended his teammates: “I don’t know if that’s a fair assessment. You could make that argument. At the same time, I thought that’s the type of game it is when you play Portland. They really take away a lot of space with their length. It’s not always going to look pretty…. I believe in our young guys; I believe in our group.”
Jared Dudley, one of those young guys in his first Playoff appearance, felt prepared to step up in Game 2 and beyond. “I think it was a lot of our second unit’s first (Playoff) game and now the jitters are out and we can get back to business.”
The Suns will find out if they can move Amar’e more, bolster the confidence of their youngsters late in the game, and avoid 35-point fourth quarters against mediocre offensive squads that don’t generally take a lot of shots.
Gentry agreed. “We played fine defensively up until the last 6-8 minutes of the game. If we’re going to give up 35 points in the fourth quarter to a team averaging 98 points a game, that’s not going to get it done.”
The Blazers have room to improve as well. Portland utterly failed to take advantage of the height/strength advantage of their guards against Nash. Nash could not work around a single Aldridge screen all night. Rudy Fernandez never made Nash pay for it, making some wonder if Bayless would be a better matchup against Nash.
Nate McMillan knows there’s more work to do. “We didn’t come here just to get one,” emphasized McMillan. “We came here to get the first one.”
In our series preview, we referred to the Blazers’ pace as “molasses speed.” Lest that seemed derogatory, let us all be reminded that molasses has been known to be deadly under the right circumstances.
– After Alvin Gentry told your Playoff-level-intrepid Game Notes writer before the game that he didn’t expect any gamesmanship between these two teams, Nate McMillan and Gentry played a quick round of substitution escalation just before the last play of the first half. McMillan sent in Martell Webster for LaMarcus Aldridge. After a brief pause, Gentry followed with Leandro Barbosa for Stoudemire. Then Gentry countered with Dante Cunningham for Marcus Camby in Cunningham’s only run of the night. Not to be outdone, Gentry deployed Jared Dudley for Channing Frye. For all this, Alvin got a Barbosa 3 and a possible repetitive stress injury for gesturing towards the bench so often.
– In Game 2, watch for Nate McMillan to continue to rely on the Playoff TV timeouts as well as his own to control tempo and never quite allow a Suns run to get fully underway.
– So how has Andre Miller played all 82 games yet again while his teammates disappear like Wonka’s golden ticket winners around him? “I just like being out on the court. Whether it’s practice habits or getting the right amount of sleep, I pride myself on being on the court every time. If I’m out there, I can help a team win.”
– Gentry, in a more playful mood before the game: “I don’t see (this opening game with Portland) being any different than Miami and Boston. It’ll be a nice, easygoing game with no problem oncesoever. Group hugs and it’ll all work.”