When it came to casting for the playoffs in the West the injury-crippled Blazers got the role as overmatched but spunky underdogs, and so far they are delivering an Oscar-worthy performance.
Their well-respected defense controlled the tempo of the game almost all night, and their lightly regarded offense laid a 35-point lick on the Suns in the fourth period to give them an unlikely 1-0 lead in this best-of-seven first-round series. (Well, I though it was unlikely, and it’s my blog).
When you are facing Steve Nash and the variety of weapons he has at his disposal, it takes some kind of “D” to stem the flow of the NBA’s most prolific offense, and that’s just what the Blazers played.
They not only controlled the tempo by creating traffic jams in the lanes through which the Suns normally run Nash’s receivers, but even more impressively controlled Amar’e Stoudemire with a tag-team led by one-time Defensive Player of The Year Marcus Camby, aided and occasionally abetted by fellow “long” citizens LaMarcus Aldridge and Juwan Howard.
Stoudemire, who has been an irresistible force the last month, basically ran into some immovable objects, so to speak, missing 11 of his 19 shots, and getting to the line only three times (he’s been averaging more than 9 since the All-Star break). In fact, the Suns as a team attempted only 16 free throws, as opposed to the 29.2 they’ve averaged since the break.
But I attribute this more to how well the Blazers moved their feet defensively than any conspiracy and/or officiating malfeasance.
An alternative “alibi” for the loss is that the Suns simply missed too many of the shots they usually make, and indeed they did. But it’s amazing how often that happens when the opposition imposes its defensive will on you and slows you down to a speed it is more comfortable with.
That this game was as close as it was can be attributed to two factors: 1. The Suns played some pretty stout “D” themselves for the better part of three periods, and 2. They hit just enough of the 32 threes they launched (11) to make things interesting. So interesting, in fact, that when the Blazers missed two free throws and an uncontested slam dunk in the final minute the Suns had a chance to tie with 5 seconds left.
And frankly, given Nash’s eerily deadly marksmanship in such situations, I was actually surprised his 28-footer DIDN’T tie it.
Giving up the home court advantage you spent 82 games sweating and toiling for is disheartening, to be sure. But it’s hardly cause to start looking for the panic button, or the exit door on the Suns’ bandwagon.
And while I give the Blazers high marks for the win, it really doesn’t change things all that much. Or at least it doesn’t if the Suns are who I think they are and the Blazers are who I think they are.
The thinking here is Coach Alvin and his staff will find ways to shake Amare loose from Camby et al., and while both teams will certainly make adjustments in Game Two, the Suns have far more options (and healthy stars) than do the Blazers.
I admit I didn’t see this one coming, but I still like the Suns a lot, not only in this series, but beyond.