So here we are: Game 4 of the Suns' first round of the playoffs. Same bat time, same bat channel. Except the game is actually being broadcast on TNT, and it's an afternoon game. So, scratch what I said about the time and channel. But it is still the playoffs!
The Phoenix Suns will attempt to extend their lead over the Portland Trail Blazers to 3-1 in the series with a win today. If the Suns can manage their second victory in as many games, the series will all but be over. With the Blazers searching for answers from their wingmen and desperately trying to steal the series from the healthy, not undermanned Suns team, you can expect a fight. No team wants to go back home in a playoff series and drop both games. Especially not if the series could be wrapped up in the opposing team's town with the next game. That's just shameful.
However, you can expect that the Suns are going to bring it again tonight. After the first game letdown, everyone was having visions of playoffs past, where the Suns let them down. I was watching game one with some friends at my place, and at the end, my friend Steve very depressingly walked out the door muttering things like "They always do this" and "I knew this was going to happen...I knew they were going to disappoint me". While that may be a little drastic, we all felt the same way.
Fortunately for everyone in Phoenix, the Suns figured it out. They studied the tape and figured out what they needed to do against the "Hey, let's just slow it down" mentality of the Trail Blazers. The Suns won't be caged in by you, Portland. You're like the annoying girlfriend who wants to try and control everything about the relationship. The Suns are that free spirit that doesn't want to be tied down. So, Portland, we've come to break up with you. We're trying to end this relationship as fast as we can. It seems like you want it to end too.
Riding the Hot Hand
Jason Richardson has been downright nasty over the past two games. In the last game, JRich erupted for a career playoff high 42 points (including 8 (!) three pointers), chipped in 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and basically put his stamp all over the game. That includes the third quarter, when the Blazers decided they wanted to wake up and start playing any semblance of competitive basketball. Rudy Fernandez would hit a few threes and cut the lead down, but Jason Richardson was the heartbreaker that would come hit a timely three to destroy the Blazers' chances at a comeback. It never failed.
Expect the Suns to continue going to JRich early and often to see if he still has the hot hand. If the past two games are any indication, I'm going to say he's going to have a big game. That being said, I don't expect for Richardson to outplay his last game. I do, however, think that Richardson has figured out how to exploit the Blazers, and it couldn't have come at a better time. Whether that's benefitting from the low post focus on Amare or JRich just waking up when the team needs him most, I don't care. I just want to see him continue doing what he's been doing.
Amar'e Stoudemire was a man possessed over the final three months of the regular season. He was averaging monster numbers, piling up rebounds and defensive stats, and had he played like that all season long, he would have been in the discussion for the league's Most Valuable Player. What's happened since then? Amar'e has had a pretty ho-hum first round playoff series. That is, a pretty ho-hum statistical series.
If you take into account the things that don't show up in box scores, Amar'e has been great. He's been in the right place defensively. His rebounds may be down, but when you have a Jason Richardson or Grant Hill flying in for the board, it doesn't matter so much how many rebounds per game you're averaging. Heck, if Jason Richardson is going off for 42 points in a game, you don't really even need to score that much. Does that mean you give up? Absolutely not. You just ride the hot hand and contribute to the best of your ability when the chance comes your way.
I've long had a philosophy about professional sports players: as long as you are positively affecting your team, you're doing something right. You don't need to have monster numbers to be one of the most important players on the court. Amar'e Stoudemire is showing us that he is an extremely integral part of this team, just because he can help dominate a game, without throwing down 30 points and 14 rebounds. That'd be nice, but in the playoffs, it's more about helping your team win than getting huge stats.
The Portland Trail Blazers: The Dog That Won't Roll Over
Portland has been many things in this series. Banged up. Beaten by an obscene amount of points. Embarrassed on their home court. However, that doesn't mean anything to the Blazers. When the buzzer sounded for halftime of game 3, the Blazers were down 66 to 37. That's a 29 point deficit, with only 24 minutes to try and dig yourself out of that hole. Most teams would give up at that point (game 2 of the Heat vs. Celtics matchup, anyone?), but the Blazers found a way to make a game of it. Maybe the Suns just got lazy. Maybe Portland finally woke up. But one thing is for sure: the Blazers aren't just happy with making the playoffs.
The boys from Rip City could be down by 40, and you could bet that they would still take the floor and battle as hard as they can. Has that translated into success so far? Aside from game 1, no. Does that mean we can write them off and coast to the second round? Once again, I will say no. While I don't think a depleted Blazers team can outlast a (mostly) healthy Suns squad who has been firing on all cylinders for the past month, they're not a team to underestimate. We've seen what can happen if we don't take the competition seriously. The Suns just need to come out focused, determined, and play their game. If they do, victory is theirs for the taking. If they don't, the Blazers could very well even up the series, making for an interesting trip back home.
Bullet Worthy/Keys to the Game
- The Blazers' bench has outscored the Suns' bench 109 to 101 in the series. I expect Frye to wake up at some point and help the Suns get the lead back in that area.
- Jason Richardson's career high is 44 points. His playoff high was 30 points. He scored 42 in the last game, shattering his playoff high by 12. Wouldn't it be awesome if he shattered his career high by as many points? I'm just sayin'...
- The Suns are reportedly close to an extension for Amar'e Stoudemire. While this doesn't mean too much for the playoff series, it might mean a whole lot to Amar'e. Even if a deal isn't worked out during the playoff run, I am expecting Amar'e to pick things up even more and dominate.
- Come out and play. To quote the hit song by the Offspring, I expect the Suns to come out and "Bash it up, bash it up, bash it up". The Suns are hot and the Blazers are losing confidence, so why not exploit that?
- Get the bench going. The Suns starters are going to do what they need to do. The bench, while still providing solid play and good rest for the starters, needs to step it up to another level. It's the playoffs. For some of the bench players, it's their first playoff series. I expect the jitters to wear off soon, and for our bench to get back to it's normal awesomeness.
- Show no mercy. When was the last time the Suns were given mercy in the postseason? Enough said.
Game Day Links!
Game 4 Preview: Suns vs. Blazers - Blazersedge
A preview of Game 4 of the Phoenix Suns-Portland Trail Blazers Western Conference Playoff series. Phoenix leads the series 2-1.
Struggling Trail Blazers in need of more from LaMarcus Aldridge | OregonLive.com
"It's whatever," Aldridge said to the last query. "I don't really read blogs or anything like that. So it doesn't really bother me. I'm just in the moment, trying to figure out how to win the next game."
Richardson has been branded before. Not a winner. Been to the playoffs as often as Shane Doan . Can't make big shots in big moments. Now it's all changing for the better. Richardson's offensive display in Games 2 and 3 have made the Suns look invincible. He had been to the playoffs once before, on a Golden State team that finished the season 42-40. This is the best team he has been on, and his exuberance is obvious. "I'm the type of person that just hates losing, especially if I feel like I let my teammates down," Richardson said. "I take that very hard."
Humor, columns, commentary, lists and analysis from Page 2 and ESPN.
It’s seems almost too serendipitous that on the night that the NBA’s most potent offensive team reversed its TNT curse, was the same night it finally decided to take a stand defensively. The Suns had finally made a decision about their destiny this season; one that was unfamiliar from seasons’ past.
But according to sources with knowledge of the situation, Phoenix is now determined to keep the five-time All-Star and has offered a contract extension as recently as last week. While the terms of the offer are not known, a source close to the 27-year-old Stoudemire said of the proposal, "they're getting closer [financially] to where they should be."
Suns Blazers Game 3 Defense | Hardwood Paroxysm
I know the script says that Phoenix doesn't play defense and they can't get a stop. And I know that the Blazers are without their number one option on offense,
Twitter / Ben Golliver: Nate: Nic Batum will be a ...
Nate: Nic Batum will be a game time decision in game 4
Twitter / Ben Golliver: "I don't think the booing ...
"I don't think the booing is going to help us." -- LaMarcus Aldridge
Forget offense, the Phoenix Suns want to talk about their defense | OregonLive.com
The run-and-gun, high-octane Phoenix offense has taken a back seat to -- gasp -- its defense.
As the Trail Blazers were about to be introduced before their game against Phoenix on Thursday, a video flashed on the scoreboard with several slogans, including this: “We DON’T leave early.” It was a reference to Blazers fans’ reputation for staying until the end of any game, no matter how lopsided the score.
JRich has a PER of 37.07 (!) in the playoffs so far which is by far the best of any player in the known universe
"No, no, no, no," responded Stoudemire when asked if he threw an elbow at Aldridge. "It's the playoffs. Both teams are physical and just playing out there. Just a competitive game. The whole game it was a competitive atmosphere. Definitely wasn't nothing intentional. We both played hard and left it on the court."
"I've had a tough career," said Richardson, who was traded from the Warriors to Charlotte in June 2007 and traded to the Suns in December, 2008. "Nine years in the league, not making it to the playoffs but once. I'm going out there and leaving everything I have, giving everything I have. Diving for loose balls. Getting every rebound, whatever it takes for this team to make a deep playoff run."
"We kind of figured out what they were doing," Nash said. "We've gotten so much joy out of Amar'e's isos the last month and a half. In Game 1, we were kind of stubborn going to that and they just zone that up. It's not a beneficial play for us right now against this team. I think we've recognized that. We've gone to him on the move more often. We've gone to more pick-and-rolls. We've tried to get into more of a flow whether it's transition or secondary breaks. We stretched them out on the pick-and-rolls when they were trapping me. I was trying to get rid of it early and allow the guys to make plays. When Jason shoots the ball like he did tonight, it makes it very difficult to be loaded up on me or to stop Amar'e."
Nash said he got acquainted with Portland's second-year guard when Bayless was one of the top prep players in the country while playing for St. Mary's High School in Phoenix. "I got a chance to get to know Jerryd when he was leaving high school and going to U of A (University of Arizona)," Nash said after the Suns' shootaround at the Rose Garden Thursday morning. "I had an opportunity to talk to him a little bit about the (point) guard position, his future (and) what it would be like going to college. Then also, becoming an NBA player."