Suns/Blazers Game 4 Recap
Roy’s return lifts Blazers over Suns.
by Nick Rattner
The naysayers knew the Suns’ strong, intelligent defense in Game 3 would morph into a weak, lackadaisical farce at some point. Game 4 was that time. The surprising lack of focus on Phoenix’s part left fans and recent converts scratching their heads.
Things weren’t great on offense either. On a particularly terrible play near the five-minute mark in the first quarter, Nash coughed up the ball attempting to slip a Blazers double-team; Batum leaked out and caught the outlet inside the far arc for an easy jam. But the pass could easily have gone to either of the two other Blazers open at that end of the court, way out in front of any Suns player. Nash, the player with the best chance of stalling a fast break, chose instead to whine to the referee, keeping his back to the entire play.
The Suns’ sodden attempts proved matchless against the emotional adrenaline lift provided by Brendon Roy’s swift return from surgery. Roy’s return also seemed to help the Blazers relax on offense. Not only did Roy hit a crucial three in the fourth quarter (he finished with 10 on 4-10 shooting) to extend the lead to six with just under five-minutes to go, his presence created better spacing on offense by stretching the defense.
Sharp cuts through the lane and post-entry passes over the top of Suns defenders enlivened the game and established a more dynamic Blazers attack. The double teams the Suns had been throwing at LeMarcus Aldridge and the traps on the pick-and-roll plays were less effective because of the additional scoring threat provided by Roy.
As Aldridge noted in the postgame press conference, his first open shot came just seconds after Roy checked in. Setting down the burden of being the go-to guy, Aldridge moved with greater determination and proved himself as a presence in the post. In addition, with the responsibility of stewarding the team lifted from Andre Miller’s (15, 8, 6) shoulders, the point guard responded with steady, consistent play (though poor shooting) that led to patient, effective team offense. Though Roy only played 27 minutes his presence could be felt on offense all game.
On the defensive end, the play of Portland’s big men made the difference. Marcus Camby, always a guy to be measured by intangibles, didn’t have a huge night on the glass (8) but he seemed to make Amare Stoudemire (26, 6, 3) less comfortable than he had been throughout the series. That is, despite Stoudemire’s strong stat line, he didn’t dominate like he had in the previous two games. The Blazers didn’t play spectacular D, but after a dunk by Grant Hill 8 seconds in to the game, they focused and kept their assignments minimizing the potential for a signature Suns run.
The real key to Phoenix’s demise was the poor play of Steve Nash. For the Suns, Nash’s importance was never more obvious. The veteran point guard coughed up the ball up 6 times. That could happen to anyone but these just looked bad and, judging by poor body language, Nash seemed to get down on himself. He never really got into the flow of the game.
Despite all this, the Suns didn’t play a bad game. They were in it almost all the way. Down by six with a little over a minute to play, Channing Frye picked up a boneheaded flagrant foul; the ensuing free-throws sunk by Nicolas Batum (who returned to form) iced the game. If not for that moment of careless play, the Suns would have had a shot.
Watching the game and comparing very similar box scores, it’s apparent that emotional energy made the difference. The teams played a pretty equal game but the Blazers seemed to want it more. Amazingly, through two hideous defeats the Blazers look like a dependable, capable team. After all they’ve been through, these late-season jolts must seem like nothing more than another hurdle. So, just as the series seemed all but over, anything now seems possible. The final two or three games could be as exciting as any we’ll get to see in the rest of Playoffs.