Everything about this game screamed a repeat of game one. The tempo slowed back down. Amar'e got going, but the Blazers' defense was the story of the game. If we knew one thing from the tip, we knew that Portland came out to play. The Suns came to play as well, but not like the Blazers. The Blazers were hungry. Angry. And when you add anger to the mix of a team that's been beaten up and had to fight back from so much adversity, you get one thing: an insanely tough matchup.
As I said in the preview, the Suns needed to do three things to pull off a win tonight: come out to play, get the bench going, and show no mercy. Unfortunately, the Blazers one upped everything the Suns did. The Suns came out fired up, but it wasn't even close to the level the Blazers were at. The bench hit a few shots, but the Blazers' bench played better. How about showing no mercy? The Blazers were in control of this game from the tip. The Suns made some runs, kept it interesting, but this was the Blazers' game.
This was a classic case where the more aggressive, more passionate team was rewarded. Unfortunately for the Suns, this is the playoffs. Every game counts.
Before I say anything else, I will say this: if you thought the Blazers' confidence was gone after the embarrassments doled out during the past two games, you were pretty shortsighted. If you have followed anything about this Portland team, you know that the word "adversity" means nothing to them. I've never seen a team suffer so many injuries, so many disheartening tough breaks, and still manage to win 50 games and get the 6th seed in the playoffs.
Portland is full of fighters, and we've witnessed that. Unfortunately, the Suns are experiencing the grit and determination of this Blazers squad in the time where it means the most. Much can be said of the matchups, that the Blazers are potentially the toughest matchup in the Western Conference for the Suns, etc. But the thing is, the Suns had every opportunity to put this game away and chalk up another mark for the win column. Those pesky Blazers just wouldn't go away.
Riding the Hot Hand?
Jason Richardson was a man possessed in the two games leading up to today's game, and JRich looked like he was picking up right where he left off. He started off aggressive, but he went cold. I saw a headline the other day that read "Live by the Kobe, Die by the Kobe". Jason Richardson isn't Kobe Bryant, but when you rely on one player to do everything, it can backfire. And while Jason Richardson came alive in the 3rd quarter, it wasn't enough.
The Suns tried many options, but the Blazers had an answer for everything we threw at them. When JRich went cold, we went to Amar'e. That worked for awhile, but it ultimately ran out. We tried to go to Nash when the game was on the line, but the Blazers swarmed him and forced turnovers. The game turned into a free throw shooting battle for a bit, but with the Blazers sinking their shots and the Suns misfiring, the game was all but wrapped up.
The Brandon Roy Effect
In a surprise move by the Blazers, Brandon Roy was on the active roster, but was said he wouldn't play. Then, about twenty minutes before gametime, we caught word that the star Blazer would indeed be playing, with the possibility open for even starting. He came off the bench, but it was no sooner than when he stepped on the floor that his presence was felt. The fans were into it. The team got an injection of emotion. While he wasn't his explosive self, he still hit shots and demanded the attention of defenses.
However, perhaps more than just hitting shots, the Blazers had their closer back. Having a player of Brandon Roy's caliber and reputation on the floor not only gives you a tried and tested option for the game going down to the wire, but it opens up options for other players as well. Roy hit a dagger three with about a minute and a half left to push Portland's lead to 7 or 8, but it was none other than LaMarcus Aldridge that was Mr. Clutch for the Trail Blazers.
LMA had a career playoff high 31 points, 11 rebounds, and put his fingerprint all over the game. The Suns didn't have an answer for what Aldridge brought to the game today, and not calling him the player of the game would be a solemn lie. Credit to the Blazers for finding what worked, sticking with it, and exploiting seemingly every mental mistake the Suns made.
Bringing it Back
Some of you will blame the refs, to which I will say: shame on you. There were a few questionable calls, sure. I don't think Frye's foul should have been a flagrant. Does that call change the entire outcome of the game? No. Does ruling Channing Frye's three as a two mean anything when it comes down to it? Absolutely not. The only thing the Suns can blame for this loss is themselves.
The Suns shot 23 three pointers. Not exactly an outrageous number for this team. However, what is surprising is that they only hit 6 of them. 26.1%. What I would have liked to see is a switch in gameplan from Gentry. If the outside shots aren't falling, bang it into the paint. Now, I know the shots that were taken were open (or mostly open) shots. I know Blazers want you to beat them in the paint, confident in the abilities of shot blocking/rebounding master Marcus Camby. But really, at some point, you have to bail on a sinking ship. The Suns didn't do that, and it only hurt them.
To quote Charles Barkley, "You live by the three, you die by the three." True that, Chuck.
The Suns play at home for game 5, and you had better be sure that the Suns will be bringing back their uptempo, getting-out-on-the-break style of games 2 and 3. I'm confident that Gentry will not be happy with the team after today's game. Though, to come in and split the Blazers' two game "homestand", I'll take that. I wish they had taken both games, and they probably should have taken both games, but the Blazers are a tough team and Blazers fans are some of the most passionate in the league. But after all is said and done, the reality of it is that this is a seven game series for a reason.
Anything can happen in the playoffs, and the Suns have more than enough time to make up for the losses and earn a ticket to the second round.
Post Game Audio provided by Ben from Blazers Edge