A best of seven series now turns into the best of three as the two teams are all knotted up at two games apiece after Roy's Willis Reed/Kevin Duckworth incredible return to action propelled the Trail Blazers to a 96-87 Game 4 victory. After stunning the Suns in Game 1, Phoenix threw the first wrench into the equation by putting Grant Hill on Andre Miller and having him pick up Dre a full 94 feet at every possible chance. It wasn't until Game 4 that Portland was able to make an adjustment of their own, which was to trap and double Nash as much as possible. It worked as he had just 15 points, 8 assists, and a game-high 6 turnovers. Does Phoenix have an answer for the suffocating defense on Nash or on Roy's reemergence back onto the court or does Portland have another trick up their sleeve for the Suns?
Nothing is more important to the Trail Blazers tonight than getting off to a good start. In their two losses, it was evident early it was going to take a miracle for them to pull out a win. When they won Games 1 and 4, it was a one point game either way. The addition of Bayless to the starting lineup should solve this issue as he is another ball handler out on the court who can get to the rim and create for others and actually take advantage of Steve Nash defending him, unlike Rudy who plays most of his game outside on the perimeter, allowing for the defensive strategy of the Suns to suffocate Miller with Hill. What I like about Brandon coming off of the bench for the time being is that its a win-win situation. If we get off to a sluggish start, a much more reliable Roy will be there to help bail us out instead of seeing their lead increase or if we hold a lead once he comes in, the chances of us extending the lead go up with our All-Star checking into the game. If the Blazers can keep it at least within four points after the first period, then they should feel good about themselves weathering the opening storm.
Assists and fast-break points will be the deciding factors in whomever wins tonight's Game 5. The potent suns offensive attack is based upon these two key statistical categories, essentially acting as the fuel for their high-octane offense. Although you always want to stop a team from getting easy baskets, the importance is greater against a team of Phoenix's caliber. If their shooters see the ball go in, it raises their confidence and puts them in a rhythm Portland doesn't want to see them in; games 2 and 3 were enough for everyone's liking. There's no secret the Blazers won their two games by holding the Suns to a combined eight fast-break points. They must force Phoenix into playing their slow, grind-it-out tempo and attack them at every opportunity. Getting to the foul line should be priority #1, because not only does it negate the run game but helps the 3rd leading free throw shooting team get easy points of their own. Finally, win the assist battle. Phoenix is nothing without Nash driving and dishing to his teammates for open looks. Outside of Amare, no Suns player can get his own shot off via isolation. I would continue to throw multiple defenders at Nash and make someone else beat us. On the flip side, by racking up more dimes than the opposition, it means the Blazers are playing good, team basketball and making Phoenix work on the defensive end of the floor, taking away some of their energy on offense. Win these two categories and you win the game Portland.
Trail Blazer shooters be ready, because Brandon's back and he's going to find you. We all saw how many times he found Aldridge open for his patent 18 foot jump shot simply by drawing multiple defenders to him. Although he still isn't 100%, the Roy dynamic is yet another wrinkle in this series and if Roy continues to find open men off of dribble penetration, we must knock them down, otherwise our offense is going to burn out. If such a scenario occurs, they'll simply take Roy out of the game if Bayless, Batum, Webster, and LaMarcus don't make Phoenix pay. By hitting a few from the outside, not only will it spring Roy loose a bit but the paint begins to thin out as the Suns defenders can no longer pack it in tight and sag off the shooters. If Portland can shoot around 46-48% from the floor tonight, they shouldn't be surprised if they find themselves up 3-2 heading back home to the Rose City.
If Portland is able to win this series, it must be done tonight. I don't think you want to take your chances winning a Game 7 on the road as the odds are stacked too high against you. Unfortunately, Portland isn't going to be heading home to the Rose City holding a 3-2 series lead. I believe Phoenix will make an adjustment to Roy being back in the lineup and our trapping of Nash. They just have so many weapons on offense that one is bound and determined to get hot. Also, with the series being so chippy, look for one of our key players on defense (Batum, Camby, or Aldridge) getting into foul trouble and Phoenix exploiting it. I'd love to be proven wrong, especially considering this is my birthday, but Phoenix is the 3 seed for a reason and will protect home court tonight behind a monster performance from STAT.
Round 1, Game 5 Prediction: Trail Blazers 96 Suns 101Post-Game Thoughts
Apparently getting off to a hot start wasn't as important as many thought it would be during Game 5. The Trail Blazers came out blistering, taking a 9-0 lead and eventually seeing it grow as large as 14 at 23-9 mid-way through the 1st quarter. Then the wheels fell off completely. Marcus Camby picked up his 2nd foul, Brandon Roy had three fouls in a heartbeat and Phoenix went to their bench and boy did they ever produce. Behind their 55 bench points, Phoenix was able to wipe away the 14 point deficit and trail only by 1 after the 1st and take a commanding 57-47 lead at the half. Portland found themselves down only 7 late in the 3rd, but a lack of defensive rebounding killed any hopes of a Blazer rally as Phoenix rode the wave of momentum to a 84-66 3rd quarter lead. The Trail Blazers once again fell into the Suns trap of a high-tempo game and got burnt by allowing 17 fast-break points, getting out-rebounded 41-29,and got to the foul line 8 less times (32-24). With all of that happening a result of 108-87 isn't surprising.
"We fell into their tempo," Blazers coach Nate McMillan said.
On a positive note, Jerryd Bayless continues to make a case for more playing time in the 2011 season as he had another excellent outing. He tallied 17 points (6-14 FG, 3-5 3PT), handed out 4 dimes, grabbed 4 rebounds, and committed only 1 turnover in 37 minutes of action. One play in particular which showed the maturation of Bayless into a true point guard occurred in the 1st half when he took his man off the dribble and proceeded into the lane. Normally, he would try to force contact and get to the line, but he saw a big come over to deny his access to the basket and dumped it off to Howard for an easy two. These are the types of plays that will only gain Bayless more court time which he has so desperately desired since arriving in the Rose City. We all know he can score and get to the paint but being able to create for others, not just himself, out of the penetration will take his game to a whole other level.
People will point out the refs were biased during this match as PHX had shot 20+ more free throws than Portland at one point during the course of the game, but even if some of the calls were questionable, they were the aggressors. I've said this time and time again, the officials reward teams who are more assertive and give them the benefit of the doubt more times than not. The Suns simply wanted this game more. I don't know how many times I saw multiple black jerseys underneath the hoop waiting for the rebound to fall into their laps only to see one, lone white jersey come out of nowhere and take it from them and lay it up and in. We punched them in the mouth from the get-go and its as if we didn't expect them to fight back and once they did, we folded.
If the Blazers do indeed wind up losing this series, they can go back to Games 3 and 5 and kick themselves. Its not often a road team obtains the home court advantage and we gave it up without much of a fight in Game 3, once again failing to secure rebounds and give up cheap buckets in the paint. Also, when you have the momentum heading into a road game after the emotional Game 4 win and come out with both guns blazing, you simply can't let your opponent back into the game so quickly. We all knew the 14 point lead wouldn't last the entire night, but to see it evaporate within minutes was a red flag in my book. We had the Suns by the throat but the lack of killer instinct haunts us once again. Portland now finds themselves behind the 8-ball, needing to win twice against a Suns team which hasn't lost consecutive games in nearly 3 months. Phoenix wants this series over as soon as possible, so the Blazers can't expect to win Game 6 just because its at the rowdy Rose Garden.
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