Remember when the Blazers couldn’t beat the Suns? When there was always a barrage of threes looming in the third quarter or easy dunk after easy dunk as Portland could do nothing but watch? Remember how helpless that felt? That, my friends, is how the Phoenix Suns feel tonight. Helpless, tired, and on the outside looking in at the playoff race.
For tonight at least, that’s a great accomplishment. Chuck, Ernie and Co. were right about one thing during pregame, and that was that the Blazers would have opportunities to run and run and run some more with the Suns playing the back-end of a back-to-back. While the rout wasn’t on until late in the third quarter when Rudy went bonkers, the game was in Portland’s pocket from the word go, with only a particularly lively night from the Big Shaqtus delaying what was seemingly inevitable. I don’t say that lightly, but the Suns hung around thanks to Shaq, some squirmy Nash moves in the lane and a handful of ridiculous triples. That was it. An inconsistent offense and an invisible defense.
Game ball has to go to LaMarcus Aldridge, who was wonderful in every sense of the word and in every aspect of the game. Blocks, how about three? Boards, give him 12. Points? Please, give that man 29. Sure, he took advantage of being guarded by Matt Barnes for extended periods of time, but that’s exactly what he should be doing. In the first quarter I actually thought Portland could have been been giving him the ball more in the post. Aldridge was ON, and it was nice to see him do it on national television (not that the TNT crew gave him enough credit, they were more interested in the doom and gloom storyline behind the Suns).
With little resistance on the offensive end, everyone had a good game. Batum ran around doing Batum things, Rudy got his downtown groove back and put on a nice show at the end of the third, Brandon actually had a quiet 29, 9 and 6 and Travis let everyone else do the scoring. It almost looks like a typo that Joel and Greg only had two rebounds, combined (not really their fault, just lots of long boards). OK, I’ve held off long enough. The Blazers shot 60% from the field. 60-freaking-%. Yes, our talent deserves a lot of credit for some gorgeous ball movement, but sheesh Phoenix, you really expect to make the playoffs allowing that?
Most importantly, we can all take a breather. The loss puts the Suns 5 games back of Portland, so barring disaster, it should be smooth sailing to the playoffs. Seeding is still very much an issue, though, unless you fancy playing the Lakers in the first round (some might, actually).
It’s been alluded to over the past week or so, but this team looks like its settled into the playoff trail. They are playing with focus and intensity, taking risks but staying under control and nearly everyone has their hand in the dirty work. They can’t let up, but the Blazers are looking like real players in the NBA After-Party.