Jared Dudley celebrates after hitting one of his two big three-point shots in the fourth quarter to help the Suns defeat the Trail Blazers. (Photo by Max Simbron)
The Suns defense was doing a solid job against the Blazers for the first three quarters. Going into the fourth they were only shooting 40.3% but Andre Miller was 7 for 14 and had gotten to the line for 9 free throw attempts.
Nash does his best, but a guy like Miller who can either post him up or drive strong to the rim is a tough cover, "I just try and hang in there defensively, use my intelligence and keep my man out of the paint as much as possible."
What Miller can't do well is shoot the long ball (career 21% 3PM) so when the Suns sprung the zone defense it had the biggest effect on him. Miller went 0 for 6 in the fourth including 0/4 from behind the arc. He didn't have a single free throw either.
Coach McMillan was frustrated with how his team reacted, "They went zone and we didn't attack that. We stopped moving the ball and just didn't attack it. We were launching our jump shots from the perimeter and they weren't going in."
The zone, of course, is design to prevent penetration, but in return gives up open perimeter shots to teams that swing the ball well.
"It's still a hit and miss thing. They still got good shots, they just didn't go in," said Coach Gentry.
When it wasn't the zone, it was the Suns smart defensive play on Brandon Roy. Known as a Fourth Quarter Killer, Roy still went 4 for 8 and had 12 of his team's 19 points but Jared Dudley and Grant Hill worked together to keep him from taking over the game.
"I try and make him go right. He obviously loves to go left kind of like a Boozer and Bosh type. I didn't think his jump shot was on pretty well and I think the zone got them out of their rhythm," Dudley explained about his defense on Roy.
The other problem with the zone is rebounding. Without having a specific man to guard, the defensive team often gives up too many rebounds. In this game though, the Suns out-rebounded the Blazers 12-6 in the fourth and used those stops and grabs to crank up the tempo on what was otherwise a sluggish game.
Andre Miller agrees, "Their zone kind of slowed us down. Some shots led to some transition baskets for them, Dudley hit a three, Grant hit a shot."
The Suns offense, sparked mainly by the defense, was led by Jared Dudley's 10 points (4/5) and Grant Hill's 9 points (2/3 and 5 FTA's) . The Suns shot 60% in the final period in a game where they were only at 33.8% up to that point.
Defense wins championships. The Suns at least can now say they have a fighting chance, which is something that wasn't possible in years past or even a few months ago according to Coach Gentry, "It was a great win for us. The kind of win that early in the year, I'm not sure we could have won a game like this. I think our defense has gotten a lot better and I think our guys have really committed to it."