Friday, April 23, 2010

Trail Blazers v Suns: Round 1, Game 4

Do or die, now or never, win or go home, or whatever other cliche is out there, it doesn't matter, because they are all applicable to tomorrow's Game 4 matinee. There is simply no way the Trail Blazers, without Roy, will be able to dig themselves out of a 3-1 hole on the road, meaning they need to prepare for Game 4 as if it were an elimination game. It's not shocking Phoenix has stormed back to take two in a row, but what is surprising is the level of ease the Suns are doing it at as well as the point differentials. Combined, the prior two matchups have seen the Suns win by an astounding 50 points, crushing the spirits of Blazer fans all over Rip City. The big question looms over the Trail Blazers reaction tomorrow after being humbled and humiliated over the course of these past two games. Will they thrive with their backs against the wall, aided by the best fans in the NBA or will they sulk in their sorrows and fold, setting up an inevitable 5 game series win for Phoenix? At this point in the series after being drubbed twice in a row, wins and losses are not what I'm going to measure this team by, because of the key injuries making Phoenix the superior team; the Trail Blazers were expected to lose this series. All I want to see out of the boys are a sense of urgency without second guessing every movement. The Suns have came out of the gates the past two games and set the tone and we simply haven't responded. Either Portland needs to be the ones being proactive instead of reactive out of the shoot or they need to learn how to respond after taking the first blow. I just want to see bodies on the floor, diving for each and every loose ball, multiple tips to keep offensive possessions alive, and charges taken. Being the injury riddled team that we are, we'll have to win this one smashmouth style and gut out an important win to ensure the fans at the Rose Garden there will be a Game 6. Three players I really think could give the Trail Blazers a boost tomorrow are Bayless, Cunningham, and Pendergraph. Jerryd has been the one constant all series and I hope Coach Nate gives him the green light, much like he did before Christmas in San Antonio with Roy sidelined. Our only players able to get into the paint are Miller and Bayless. Right now they are taking away Dre with the longer Grant Hill smothering him. Giving JB the go ahead to score at will forces either Dragic or Nash to defend him, daring Phoenix to pick their poison, Miller or Bayless? Howard has been a surprise and inspiration all season long, but I think its time to unleash Dante's fountain of youth and jump shot on Phoenix. His mid-range jumper will make the Suns think twice about sending doubles to Aldridge or from packing the paint. Finally, Amare is a very vulnerable target right now and is not the most mentally stable person in the NBA when it comes to controlling his temper. It wouldn't be the worst idea in the world to send JP in there, one on one, and just get under his skin. I don't care if he commits fouls, but jab STAT here and there with an elbow, bump up on him, get physical, and be an all around pest towards him. Maybe it pushes Stoudemire over the edge and he either loses his cool or gets taken out of the game mentally? Its time to pull out all the stops! Defensively, the Trail Blazers need to take a page out of the Suns playbook and pick them up for a full 94 feet every time down the court even if it means picking up a few extra fouls in the process. To keep Phoenix from crashing the offensive glass, the Trail Blazers need to emulate the Suns and push the tempo once the rebound is secured, making them fear our fast break and rethink their strategy about sending everyone inside to fight for the second chance points. Also, Portland needs to find a way to fluster the crafty Nash. Like many teams do to Roy, they immediately run two defenders at him with a quick trap, begging someone else to beat them. I realize Richardson is the hottest player on the planet right now, but the reason he is getting all of those open looks is due to Nash. Its time for our coaching staff to be the ones throwing wrench in their well oil offensive machine and put them on their heels for once. If it works, Portland probably wins. If it doesn't, then at least they tried something. I fully expect the effort to be there Saturday as I can only imagine how embarrassed the players were after that performance Thursday night. Hearing one of the most loyal fan bases in all of sports rain down scattered boos most likely opened their eyes. The play on the floor has to be extraordinarily terrible for the fans of Rip City to bust out the boo birds. Unfortunately, this is the playoffs and you can't win on effort alone. The Suns are one of the most deadly teams out West and if that wasn't going to be hard enough for the Blazers to stop, now Phoenix is loose and relaxed. I'm just not sure we have an answer for them in regards to putting Hill onto Miller without Roy to exploit Nash. They'll keep it close, but in the end, Phoenix just has too many weapons, someone is bound and determined to catch fire and carry them to victory, but that's fine with me. I just want to see our boys leave it all the floor if this is truly the last time we'll see this 2009-2010 Trail Blazer team play live in the Rose Garden. Round 1, Game 4 Prediction: Trail Blazers 95 Suns 105 Post-Game Thoughts With their backs against the wall and the thought of this being the last game played in the Rose Garden for the 2010 season, the Trail blazers, aided from the emotional boost of their leader, Brandon Roy, returning to action, left everything on the floor and took it to the Suns in every facet of the game, resulting in a 96-87 win to tie the series at 2 apiece. Phoenix looked like they were about to repeat the start of Game 3, hitting numerous long-range shots all the while stifling the Blazers offense, then it happened. Brandon Roy stood up from the bench and proceeded to the scorer's table to check in. In the span of time while Roy was ready to sub in for Batum, the Trail Blazers went on a 9-2 run, including two three-pointers and a Batum dunk to let the Suns know they will be no pushover in this series. Even though Portland missed 13 straight shots to begin the 4th quarter, they never relinquished the lead over the final 12 minutes and were always able to force Phoenix into critical turnovers, keeping them in check to only 15 4th quarter points. Finally, shots that weren't dropping started to see bottom of the net, including two Roy jumpers, bringing back memories of vintage Brandon. "We finally got to playing basketball, scrapping," McMillan said. "We matched their intensity and challenged them. We were the aggressors. Seeing Brandon Roy on the big screen in the locker room tunnel before the team took the floor and the reaction the crowd gave was worth the price of admission alone. It gave me chills and I'm man enough to admit a tear was close to falling. I was only five when Duckworth came back during Game 7 against the Spurs in 1990 so I only have video to bring back those memories, but being there live and seeing him run out onto the court will be unforgettable. That moment is going to be a staple of any Brandon Roy tribute video when he is one day inducted into the Hall of Fame or inevitably having his jersey retired by the team. Not only did he contribute with 10 points (4-10 fg), but he gave his team a mental boost of confidence as well as the fans. I wasn't too hopeful we could win Game 4, then I saw Roy suiting up and in a instant, knew we had a series on our hands. No longer can PHX throw the kitchen sink at LMA and Dre as well as hide Nash on defense, exposing them at that end of the court. "I got chills when he got up and the crowd saw he was going to the scorer's table," McMillan said. "I know our players fed off of that, the emotions and the energy in the building and having him back." "As soon as he checked into the game, I got my first shot with nobody guarding me," Aldridge said. "It was like, 'thank God he's back.' " You know that missing person's report Portland filed for Aldridge after Game 3? Well, he was found! Stepping up when his team needed him most, Aldridge went toe-to-toe with Amare Stoudemire and had the best playoff game of his young career, scoring a post-season career-high 31 points (11-19 FG, 9-12 FT), grabbing a team-high 11 rebounds, and handing out 3 assists. Whether it was on the block or off of dribble penetration shooting the jumper, he was dialed in, especially late in the 4th when Portland was matching Phoenix bucket for bucket to ensure the lead stayed in our hands. It's no coincidence Portland won the two games this series in which Aldridge played to his talent level and it's also no coincidence LaMarcus got open looks due to the return or Roy. If Portland has any thoughts of upsetting the Suns, they'll need to ride the L-Train. Roy isn't ready physically to carry this team, but Aldridge is. He just needs to continue knocking down the open looks Dre and Brandon will create for him. Three categories won this game for the Trail Blazers yesterday afternoon and will continue to be the deciding factors for the eventual winner: fast-break points, assists, second chance points. Just like they did in Game 1, Portland held the Suns to a mere four fast-break points, doing so by getting their butts back in transition defense as well as slowing the game down by attempting 28 free throws, minimizing the opportunities for Phoenix to leak out and push tempo. Phoenix lives and dies by Steve Nash creating shots for the entire team. Portland made an adjustment in Game 4, trapping Nash nearly every time down when he had the ball and forced him to give up the ball or commit one of his 6 turnovers. In the end, the Trail Blazers won the assist battle, 26-17, meaning they forced a lot of isolation play from the Suns as well as using superior teamwork to exploit the weak PHX defense. You can't win a playoff game is you don't show heart and desire and the Blazers showed they didn't want this to be their last home game of the season and destroyed the Suns on second chance points, 15-4. Winning those three statistical categories helped Portland contain the potent Phoenix offensive attack to a season-low 87 points and they'll need to continue to play with that type of defensive effort if they want to advance past the First Round for the first time since 2000.
Official Game Photos
Box Score

2 comments:

  1. Bayless is a much better fit than Rudy against the Suns. Hopefully Nate keeps giving him those minutes.

    And how about the two HUGE buckets by Brandon in the 4th? Whoa.

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