The key to this game for the Suns was their inability to get points in the paint, get to the line and take advantage Amare's ability to efficiently ring up the score board.
Instead of his normal .560 shooting percentage and 9.2 free throws per game, Amare was held to 42% shooting and only three freebies. He wasn't helped by cold outside shooting from Grant Hill (2/9), Jason Richardson (4/12), and Jared Dudley (1/7) but overall the Suns wings still scored enough points to win the game.
With no other inside presence to speak of on this team, it is imperative that Amare gets his.
Credit to the Blazers for an effective defensive strategy that Jared Dudley explained, "They do this thing called 'Boxing Elbows' someone's always at each elbow. Two at the top, two at the bottom. So basically, they make you beat them from outside but yet containing the paint."
The Portland crew agreed:
"Just try to make it tough. Try to stay in between him and basket. He's a tremendous player, he gets a lot of touches for them. It was just one of them nights, that's all." Marcus Camby on keeping Amare under check.
"We tried to front him. We're trying to not give him easy looks, double team. We just try to make every look he got tough so he couldn't get a rhythm going. That was our goal." LaMarcus Aldridge.
"I thought Camby made him work and didn't really give him anything easy down in the post. We will have to continue mix up our defense with those three guys (Camby, Aldridge, Howard) guarding him." Nate McMillan.
Coach Gentry had his take on the matter putting the blame on the Suns lack of ball movement and creativity but he also called out Amare's individual performance, "I just think our spacing broke down a little bit. We've got to get Amare in a position where he has touches where he can do things with them and he's got to finish plays. He's playing against Marcus Camby, who has won defensive player of the year and he's a long guy and does an excellent job of blocking shots and doing some things, so Amare is going to have to step it up and find ways to score for us and we've got to get the ball to him in a good location."
But fortunately, Steve Nash is always ready with an answer, "We got to put him in better positions to use his ability instead of just throwing him the ball and then basically just playing a zone. We'll take a look at it. We'll try to free him up and give him more opportunities and more space and different looks so it's not so predictable at times."
Amare, for his part talked about the Blazers defense but also raised the possibility of another problem, "We might not have taken them as seriously as we should have."
I will have to re-watch the game, but it on first blush it also seems that Portland benefited from the way the game was called. Interior contact was being allowed while the game was being called tight outside of the paint. I don't want to fall into the "blame the refs" trap - especially without watching the game - but there are certainly impacts to the way games are called. But good teams adjust and the Suns didn't tonight.
Other Issues for the Suns:
Coach Gentry thought the Suns did a pretty good job defensively until about half way through the fourth quarter when the rotations broke down and Miller and Bayless were able to get into the lane. "We've got to do a better job of guarding him and we've got to do a better job of coming down on him like we're supposed to. We had some breakdowns in that area right thre and we've just got to get better at that."
The Suns only had four fast break points so of course much was made about the Blazers ability to control the tempo but there are two sides to that coin. The Suns had 17 offensive rebounds to only 10 for the Portland and that resulted in a 24 to 18 advantage in second chance points.
Portland obviously made the decision that they weren't going to crash the offensive glass and instead hustled back on defense. With their size, if they had gone the other way the Suns might have had more fast break points but the Blazers clearly also would have had more 2nd chance points.
Just like choosing to pack the lane and force a team to beat from over the top, these decisions always involve trade-offs and the Blazers, wisely, decided that they wanted to keep the Suns from getting into a rhythm and getting the crowd pumped by having those wide open layups. Not once in his post game presser did McMillan mention or complain about his team getting beat so bad on the offensive glass.