Nothing in the playoffs comes easy. We can talk about the Suns' failure to make shots in the fourth quarter, failure to push the ball after getting countless stops, failure to execute and hold on to the ball, failure to compete on the defensive glass in the first half.
There were a lot of failures but the biggest was the inability to match the desperation that Portland felt, their pride at getting blown out twice and their need find a way to even the series to avoid the dreaded 3-1 deficit.
Brandon Roy coming back early was a surprise boost and his two fourth quarter buckets were huge, but all the Suns cared to talk about today was their inexplicable failure to execute their game plan.
"I didn't think we had the same energy level last night that we had in the previous two games. I don't know the reason for that. It was an important game," Coach Gentry explained and went on to comment about his team walking the ball up the court in the second half. "I don't understand it. I really don't. That's the one thing we have to get away from."
Gentry laid the blame on the entire unit, saying the wings needed to run more to give Steve opportunities to advance the ball, Nash needed to push harder and the bigs needed to run the court to set early screens to initiate the quick drag plays that are so effective before the defense can get set.
There's no excuse for not showing up in a playoff game, but so far in this series the Blazers have rolled over twice while the Suns were at least competitive in both losses. The energy level might not have been quite as high in Game 4, but it was always going to be hard to match the boost from Roy's return and the Blazers' desperation.
Returning to Phoenix tied, Gentry welcomed the pressure that is now on the Suns in Game 5 to maintain their home court advantage.
There wasn't much talked about in the way of specific adjustments. The team was happy with the shots they got and felt like they just need to knock them down.
"We'll take all of those shots. If they want to give us those shots, we'll take those shots tomorrow night also. Those are shots that we made over the last two games and we just didn't get them on the basket. And we got to do a better job on the offensive rebounding. The 17 second chance points is too many." - Coach Gentry
Nash agreed that more than other match-ups it really is as simple as the Suns making or not making their threes based on the way the Portland defense is collapsing in the paint or trapping him on the pick and roll.
In the Suns two wins, they shot 21-48 (43.8%) and in the two losses, 17-55 (30.9%).
Obviously, you can't just live and die behind the line but the way for this team to get open looks in the paint is to push the tempo and, as Coach Gentry explained, that means defending, rebounding, and creating turnovers.
Nash wasn't unhappy with his own performance in the game overall but he did offer this, "What I am not fine with, I've got to find ways if we're not making shots to not go two quarters and get up one shot and only a couple of assists. I've got to find a way to be more aggressive."
And while Steve was fine with coming back early in the fourth quarter in the last two games, Gentry admitted that he needs to be more patient with his bench and he wants to bring Steve back around the 5 or 6 minute mark in the fourth to avoid him wearing down.
Dragic hasn't had a stellar series but he's been adequate. In his two worst games (Games 3 and 4), he was even on the +/- scale meaning the Suns didn't gain or lose ground while Nash rested. In his two best games, he was +8 combined.
Gentry had said before the series that he wouldn't tighten up his rotations and yet he's been unable to resist the urge to put Nash back in the game. We'll see how he plays it in the fourth quarter of Game 5 if it's close again.
Nash, playing through some pain
"I guess I can talk about it now but I tweaked a muscle in my butt so to speak and actually had a hip-socket impingement, that's what it's call. It happened in shoot around before Game 3 so I did struggle in Game 3 physically. I had some pain in Game 4 but I didn't feel like my mobility was limited like it was in Game 3 so I feel like that's behind me."
Amare, Dirty Player?
I guess it's understandable for Blazers fans who are listening to their announcers go on and on about a few physical plays, and frankly if Batum is getting frustrated enough to shove Amare over a slight bump then the Suns are already winning the mental battle, and the Blazers, inexperience and weaknesses are showing through.
Amare's been on the other side of this game. He called out the Spurs in 2007 for playing dirty and he knows just how far that kind of whining will get you in the playoffs.
This time, he's got a more mature and serious approach to the matter.
Asked about Batum's comments that he (Amare) targeted his (Batum's) shoulder with an elbow bump, Amare would only say, "No comment. It's physical play out there and both teams are being physical. I really have nothing to say about that."
Asked about being called dirty, "I'm not getting into it with the verbal with them."
Good for you, Amare. You keep them worrying about you and keep them whining and we'll see how far that flies.
Amare's split lip today certainly was visible evidence of the physicality. His not complaining about it is a sign of his maturity.
Amare was all business today. No smiles. No goofing around. Amare wants to win.
"It's the playoffs, man. It's just that simple. It's win or go home, so there's no time for fun and games. It's strictly business. It's strictly about winning. That's what we've got to understand. I've been to the postseason a lot now, I know how important these games really are. I hope that we all do and we're able to take care of the game tomorrow."
Jared Dudley put it best and echoed what I was thinking I would write about Roy's return. JD noted that Brandon doesn't have his legs under him and likely will be sore after his first game back. The Blazers are certainly a better team with him on the floor (mainly because of Rudy's struggles), but there's no way he's 100% and the Suns need to exploit that.
There wasn't time before Game 4 but on Monday, look for the Suns to run at Roy even more and post him up if he's guarding Jason Richardson. Defensively, they should back off him and make him prove that he can hit shots and when he does drive, don't get overly aggressive going for the block because he's not likely to be as explosive.
It is common for players to have a great first game back after an injury, but for that to tail off for the next few games while they fully recover.
Other notes from practice interviews
- I got to turn the ball over sometimes or I am not creating opportunities for my teammates
- I felt like I shot the ball well, we made some plays that didn't go in for us, honestly I'm not overly critical of my game
- In Games 2 and 3 they doubled me on the pick and rolls and we made them pay. We didn't make them pay last game which makes it difficult for Amare in particular
- Obviously, I am not going to say anything about the officiating but there were obstacles to overcome with offensive rebounding and we missed a lot of shots.
- The offensive rebounding and we missed a lot of shots. That fuels that passive, reactive conservative game
- We've had two good shooting games and two bad shooting games
- There's hesitancy when you miss shots you normally make and we got slow. We just have to stay fast, and move the ball and be decisive over 48 minutes. We have to be steady with our tempo and, make or miss, keep pushing
- Roy game them a boost, got the energy in the building. Still a lot of opportunities to win the game. I don't think he was the thing we're thinking about after the game
- Tempo, but also we just need to make shots. No difference if you run up the court or if you run a set and miss that shot. We want more opportunities but we got to make shots
- In this series it is more like live or die with threes because of how they are packing it in. Playing at a higher tempo will get more opportunities to score in the paint but this team (Blazers) have made a decision to give up the threes and it's killed them in two games and it's worked in their favor two games
- Still have some soreness but it's behind me. I felt fine out there (in Game 4)
- Smart to get veterans back in if the second unit's not doing it
- We don't like to give up on our shooters. Very similar two quarters to Game 3 (to start game) but we didn't make them pay as much. You clear up the offensive rebounds and we're up 5 or 7
- I would say where it showed up was the offensive rebounds. They out-hustled and out-fought us for offensive rebounds
- Irrespective of when it is, when you give up that kind of discrepancy instead of being up 12 at the half you are down 4 and it compounds the overall outcome of the game in more ways than just that. It's slowing us down. It's getting us on our heals. It's giving their crowd and their team a lift so it's not just 17 to 5 or whatever it is, it's the impact it has on the overall look of the game
- We didn't work on anything (today). We watched some tape and did some shooting but there's not a whole lot to work on right now
- They did a good job once again controlling the tempo but in the 3rd quarter we got a lot of shots. Our defense was still good. They shot 44% and we held them without a field goal for almost 8 minutes and usually that's where you got to get separation so our offensive wasn't really up to par and that's why the game remained where it was
- Not like Game 1. They totally controlled Game 1 but I thought we were right there in this game
- We can't give up second shots after we play a good defensive possession
- Against that team you are not going to get many fast break points unless they are turning the ball over
- You have to give him (LaMarcus) credit. He's hitting fall away jump shots from 15 feet, those are shots we'll give him. If he starts making them again we'll make an adjustment. There's a reason they just gave the guy $70m. Shooting fall away jumpers on the baseline, we'll live with that
- Roy was good for the crowd and he made a big three but Aldridge was the difference in the game
- If you walk it up in the half court situation their defense is as good as anyone in the NBA
- Wings have to run, Steve has to push it, bigs have to get up the court to set screens. We have to fix that
- I don't know why we got away from it. We didn't keep the pace in Game 2 and 3 but we were also better because we came up with steals and turnovers
- The pressure is now on us but that's OK. We have the home court advantage
- If you have to motivate anyone to play in a playoff game you're in trouble. Everyone knows the significance of every game. In the West it does not matter. Look at 1 and 9, 2 an 7, 3 and 6 and 4 and 5
- It's pretty standard in the East. It doesn't happen that way out here
- Rotations tight. I said to that second unit, I got to try and give them more time. I've got to give them time to find themselves a little bit. I don't like playing Steve that many minutes in the fourth quarter. I like him coming back with 6 minutes to go or five minutes to go because I think in the past that's worn him out so we will have to do better with that
- They can get back and we can still be in the open court, we just didn't do a good job in the open court
- This might be the game of the year for us so we've got to be ready to go
- We've got to get our tempo up, we've got to push the ball. We've got to keep playing tenacious defense. We got to knock down open shots. We got to guard guys one on one, man on man and square guys up and make sure they don't get easy drives to the basket. We've got a few things to work on, we got to make sure we bring it tomorrow night
- I haven't been shooting the ball as well as I like to
- I think in the playoffs I'm not getting as good looks but shots I can make. Probably going to be a lot more aggressive in Game 5 than I have been
- Only thing I can do is make shots and make it difficult to bring those guys back in
- We haven't played real well and we're tied 2-2
- With Brandon back their spacing is better
- You can tell his legs weren't under him. We have to use that to our advantage. We've got to run him and if he's guarding JRich, post him up
- All about rhythm with me when I make one I'll get going
- The stars have carried us. They've played more minutes but if we play better we'll stay on the court
- We have to get easy buckets in transition. At home their back was against their wall they dictated tempo
- If Richardson or Hill has 20 we have a pretty good chance to win the game. If I have 20, it's a guarantee we're going to win :)