Our goal is to only get a split. There's no way we can take two from the Suns in Phoenix. All we have to do is protect home court and its on to the next round. Phoenix is going to come out extra energized and motivated, it'll be a miracle to come out alive. We're satisfied going back to Portland tied 1-1.
If any player is having those thoughts, they need to be smacked. Of course getting a split on the road is enormous in terms of the entire series, but that doesn't mean it's time to relax or that taking a second game is out of the question. The Trail Blazers have a huge opportunity, not task, to put a stranglehold on this series by going up two-love in the best of seven, with two home games at the raucous Rose Garden looming on the horizon. If the team allows Phoenix to put them away easily, it fuels the fire for the argument that Game 1 was a aberration and Phoenix simply overlooked the depleted Trail Blazers. Portland already shot a loud message across to Phoenix in Game 1, now they must do so again.
After the Game 1 win, I scoured the internet for post-game reactions about the lone upset of the first round. From a lot of Phoenix fans, I kept hearing the same rhetoric over and over about how the Suns will not continue to shoot that poorly throughout the series. Research disagrees with this opinion. Over the span of the four prior games played this year, the Trail Blazers have thwarted all of the gaudy offensive numbers that the high-octane Suns usually put up. The 110 points per game Phoenix usually tallies has been restricted to 99. The league-leading 49.2% shooting, plummeted down to 43.8% when the red, black, and white are on defense. All those three point shooters, bombing away towards a league best 41.2% has been stymied to a lukewarm 36.7% against Portland. Four games against one team is a large enough sample size to revoke the fluke references. A lot of people say Phoenix didn't shoot well, but I've got news for those naysayers, Portland didn't play that great either. You think the 3rd leading free throw shooting team is going to miss six of eight down the stretch again? Is Camby going to miss a breakaway dunk once more? Or LaMarcus and Rudy shooting a combined 10-27 repeatedly throughout the remainder of the series? In the words of Kevin McCallister, "I don't think so!"
The first quarter is crucial towards success tonight. After being the only home team to lose Game 1, especially when all the experts thought they had the easiest series out West, Phoenix is going to come out guns blazin'. The Trail Blazers must weather the storm and keep the game within striking distance (5-8 points) after the first 12 minutes of action. Phoenix was embarrassed and beaten, making them all the more likely to overexert themselves, which could take them out of their offensive flow. To counter this onslaught which is about to be bestowed upon them, Portland must control pace now more than ever. Put the rock in Dre's hands and let him go to work, creating nightmare matchups for the Suns all game long. I suspect they will have something up their sleeves in regards to containing Miller, therefore, look for Aldridge to see the ball down low early and often to start the game, because there is no way Collins or Frye should be able to uproot him from gaining excellent low-post position.
The longer the Blazers can make this a close, tight-knit ballgame, the more pressure builds upon the Suns shoulders and doubt clouds their mind. Outside of Nash, not many of the Phoenix players seem to react to pressure well, as seen in Game 1. One way this game can get out of hand for the Trail Blazers is if the Suns bench goes bananas on our reserves much like they did on Sunday. Luckily, we had a steady lead built before it happened last time around. Portland needs to do their damnedest to fight through the screens, keeping Nash in front of us, and disallowing him to dissect the defense which results in wide open three-point attempts. If Portland can limit Phoenix's open looks and lock down the defensive rebounds, it could be hard for the Suns to eclipse their 110 point average.
Obviously Portland needs to continue their defensive prowess over the Suns, but they also must make the same shots they took in Game 1. If Bayless doesn't hit from the outside once or twice, the lane gets a little tighter. If Batum doesn't make those open looks from downtown, the doubles comes quicker and longer towards Andre and LaMarcus. We don't have our go-to-guy who can simply take over games anymore. To win, it must be a total team effort. For the love of all things holy, Fernandez needs to heat up from the outside. Just catch, shoot, and don't think about it Rudy. I expect a lot more of the offense to run through Aldridge, as PHX will most likely dial in to minimize Dre's impact. If Aldridge can stick his 20 ft jumper, things will only get easier inside. On defense, let Nash get his, because I don't think he can be stopped unless he is flat out missing, but quiet the others. When Nash is doing the bulk of the shooting its because nothing else is open, which helps keep them out of rhythm. Finally, continue to bother Amare. Frustrate the living daylights out of him and if he wants to ball further away, so be it. Force him to take jump shots.
A lot of folks probably don't expect Portland to take two from the Suns, even I must admit that I came into this preview feeling a Phoenix win, but after writing and being reminded how this group of guys always rises to the challenge when everything seems stacked against them, I can't go against my team now.
April 19th PracticeRound 1, Game 2 Prediction: Portland 103 Phoenix 101Post-Game Thoughts
Phoenix did what many expected (not I) and took Game 2 as they simply played with more urgency and desperation. Portland knew they had to weather the first onslaught and did so admirably, finding themselves only down 32-26 after the 1st quarter after being down 10 the majority of the period. But it was only the first of many storms and the Trail Blazers just weren't equipped to take it all on. Grant Hill took the ball out of Miller's hand, forcing Rudy to step up, which he failed to do so. Aldridge picked up three first half fouls, putting the offense in a world of hurt. For the first time in five meetings this season, the Suns caught fire by shooting 52.3% from the field, combined with the fact Portland was simply struggling for any buckets, it continued to rain down upon the Trail Blazers. A six point deficit after 1 turned into a 14 point hole at half and any hope of making a comeback with a fresh Aldridge was negated by a 31-19 quarter in the favor of the Suns, pushing the lead into laughter territory. Not only was Portland getting manhandled 94-68 after 3 periods, but Batum re-injured his right shoulder after colliding with Nash at the buzzer. When it rains, it pours.
"We were the aggressors...and we did a good job on Andre Miller," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. "We ran and got easy shots. We didn't give them a chance to get their defense established. I think they're as good as any team in the league if you let them get set in a halfcourt defense."
McMillan lamented, "We needed to match their sense of urgency. We never did. They imposed their will from the start."
It wasn't the Phoenix bench, nor STAT which was the storyline of the night, rather the scorching shooting of Jason Richardson and Grant Hill. Held in check to 6-21 shooting and only 18 points on Sunday, they were able to get off to the tune of 21-27 from the floor, tallying 49 points. There just wasn't enough resistance on the Nash pick and rolls, leaving Richardson just enough space to get off his shot. Batum was hampered by two early foul troubles, freeing Hill up to work the middle of the floor for multiple foul line jumpers. Even though the Suns were taking and making nearly every tough shot, they had a lot of open looks which got their confidence flowing, making those tough, contested shots easier to make. Overall, the entire defensive intensity of the Trail Blazers just wasn't at the necessary level needed to win on the road in the playoffs. While Phoenix was pestering us the entire 94 feet, Nash and Co. had open lanes to the paint continuously throughout the night, enabling them to rack up an unstoppable 58 points in the paint.
Personally, I'm not worried about the Suns dropping 119 or J-Rich and Hill shooting 21-27 or even getting nearly 60 in the paint. Let's not kid ourselves here, Phoenix is a really good team, borderline great, and it was only a matter of time before they exploded offensively. What Portland needs to do is tighten up the defensive intensity and make life rough again, much as they did in the other four matches with the Suns. But, the main adjustment Coach Nate must make is how to get Dre Miller off. Hill took him away and Andre was relegated to being trapped 30 feet from the home most of the night. I'd like to see Bayless get a lot of time in there with Miller to get another ball handler in there to help him out, because Rudy flat out isn't cutting it. Possibly run Andre off a couple of screens to free him loose, then make a quick move to the hoop before Hill can keep up or run a better pick and roll with the screener actually putting forth a solid pick, allowing Dre to carve up the Suns defense.
Wednesday, June 3rd, 1992 and Saturday, May 20th, 2000. What do these dates have in common with the Trail Blazers and last night's performance? Portland experienced a huge embarrassment at the hands of a favored opponent in the playoffs. Chicago blasted Portland, 122-89, in Game 1 of the '92 NBA Finals and the Lakers dominated the Blazers, 109-94, in Game 1 of the '00 WCF. If you're a Trail Blazers fan, and more importantly a player, simply shrug this one off as walking into the perfect storm and remove it from the memory banks. Blowouts happen, and they happen frequently in the playoffs. When you're facing a team 4-7 times within a two week period, teams make adjustments and sometimes they catch the opposition off guard. The best thing about those aforementioned games? Portland came out more focused the next night out, thrived upon the underdog role the media placed upon them after getting throttled, and came back to win the very next night out. The next two games are going to be in the frenetic Rose Garden, giving the Blazers a huge confidence boost and they'll be able to play off the energy buzzing throughout the arena.
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