Going into this series, the Suns were concerned about rebounding. The Blazers were ranked 8th in defensive rebounding percentage and the Suns were ranked 29th. Without Robin Lopez, it was always going to be a tall task to win in the paint for the undersized Suns, especially against a dominant rebounder like Marcus Camby.
In the Game 5 win, the Suns put up an impressive 17 fast break points, but the real dominance came on the glass. The Suns out-rebounded Portland 41 to 29 overall and 15 to 9 on the offensive glass (22-14 second chance points).
How were the undersized Suns able to get to so many loose balls? Coach Gentry explains, "When the game is open court, then we can use our quickness and our athleticism to get to the ball. They're so long and so big and Camby and those guys just suck everything up on the boards when you're in a stagnant-type offense. We just tried to open up the floor and get them moving and now when the ball goes up there we can use our quickness to try and beat them to the ball."
Through five games in this series, the Suns are out-rebounding the Blazers 147 to 133 on the defensive boards and 58 to 56 on the offensive. That, and the aggressive Suns defense, have been the real story so far in three blowout Phoenix victories, and even in the Game 1 loss. Only in Game 4 did the Suns get beat on the boards.
"Tonight they pounded us on the boards; they out-worked us on the boards," explained Portland Coach Nate McMillan. "The traps, we expect that tonight -- the double teaming of LaMarcus and Brandon. At times we were late getting to our spots and getting the ball to the weak side. They forced misses which again in turn led to fast break points."
Channing Frye had a big night off the bench for the Suns, grabbing 8 rebounds and 2 steals. He was far more pleased with those results than his career playoff high 20 points.
He also gave credit to the Suns tempo, "Nothing technical. It was just us being aggressive and with the pace of the game, they're a very physical team...When we're playing faster, now you have switches, now you have smalls on bigs, now you have guys turning their head like, 'OK, now we have to stop the dribble penetration.' We have like three to five guys, at times, going to the offensive glass knowing we can get back. For us, it's about the tempo. It's a battle between tempos."
Think about what Channing is saying here. The Suns are using the Blazers defense against them by taking advantage of their switching the pick and roll, and they also know that at the pace Portland plays, they can afford to crash the offensive glass, confident that if they don't get the rebound they will still have time to recover.
On the other end, this series all along as has been about the Blazers decision to either attack their offensive glass or get back in transition to stop the Suns. They can't effectively do both.
Just as the Blazers' strategy has been to take away the Suns strongest weapons (pick and roll and Amare in the paint), the Suns have used the Blazers inherent identity as a team against them and taken advantage of their defensive decisions.
So far, the Suns are winning the chess match.
Other Game Points
- After going down 0 - 9 to start the game, the Suns weren't worried. They were giving Miller long jump shots which they were willing to live with and assumed that they would eventually start missing
- They also tightened up the defense after the first timeout, but mostly focused on the open lay-ups they conceded early
- Both the Suns and Blazers talked about the how those early makes for Portland almost tricked them into playing at the Suns pace. Even though the shots were falling, there was regret in the Blazers locker room that they were running into jump shots instead either attacking the rim early in the clock or working for a shot late in the clock, which is their game plan
- The Suns are holding the Blazers to 44% shooting on the series which is 2.1% below their season average of 46.1%. The Suns are also shooting 2% less than their season average of 49.2%
- Going into this series, we thought turnover differential would be big. The Blazers were a top team in that stat while the Suns were towards the bottom. So far, the Suns only have have 3 more turnovers than the Blazers (59-56)
- Going into Game 5, the Suns were 8th among all playoff teams in defensive efficiency (107.9) while the Portland Trail Blazers were last at 117.6. And that was before tonight's game.
Steve Nash on the slow start:
"They were making everything so it made it feel like we were running up hill, but I just felt like we had to think of this thing as long-term and think of it as the stock market.
We're not day traders.We want to be very conservative and long term in our investment in transition."