It’s been said time and time again that a playoff series does not truly start until a team loses on it’s home court. If that is true (which I believe it is) than this Phoenix/Portland series is on like Donkey Kong. Game 1 is in the books and by virtue of a 105-100 victory, Portland now boasts a 1-0 series lead and (wait for it, wait for it)…home court advantage (explosion). Last night was a joyous occasion for Blazer fans, watching their Red & Black Attack defeat the Suns on the road without their best player. That is over and unfortunately this is not like the NCAA Tournament, every win can not be celebrated like there is no tomorrow. The big question is now what? What does Game 1 mean? Where does everyone go from here?
It would be impossible to properly put this game in perspective because there is simply too much basketball left to be played. A Phoenix win in Game 2 does not render this useless, but a Phoenix win in Game 3 takes this down a notch. It’s a dangerous thing to put too much emphasis on one win (no matter how great it is) because momentum can swing in the playoffs faster than a stripper comes to you if you look like you have money. Remember when LeBron hit that big winner and everyone fawned over it and ESPN had the nerve to call it one of the ‘biggest shots in playoff history’….and then they lost. So I understand the jubilation and elation surrounding the Blazer Nation (OMG WALT FRAZIER) but just know that there is a lot of hoops to be played.
The beauty of Game 1′s is that after all of the talk, hype, build-up and questions that go into them, afterwards you are either seeing those questions answered or about 10-20 more have been created. For example, I would firmly put a series like Los Angeles/Oklahoma City in the first category. OKC may be able to steal a game at home, but we now know they do not have enough manpower to overwhelm LA unless they get bored. I’d also put a Boston/Miami series into the first category in that we wondered if D-Wade could get enough help and found out Miami simply does not have enough guys who can consistently produce for 48 minutes to beat Boston in a 7-game series. The majority of the other series, including this one, go into the latter category.
Game 1′s are always enjoyable because X-Factor’s and keys to winning become that clearer. Still, many more things need to be answered. Coming out of last night’s game there are two schools of thought that can apply. People can say Phoenix lost this game or Portland just went out and won it. Both sides have valid points. Now obviously, Portland down the stretch did more than enough to win and deserved to get their hand raised. They consistently had an answer for everything Phoenix threw at them and produced down the stretch. They essentially followed the blueprint for how to win in the playoffs. Let’s not lie to ourselves though, Phoenix can easily say ‘we missed good looks in our flow’ (which they did) ‘Amare struggled’ (which he did) and ‘we didn’t get to the free throw line easy enough’ (which they didn’t) to make themselves feel good going into Game 2. Both Jason Richardson and Amare were rendered ineffective. Richardson had 14 points on 12 shots and Amare had 18 points on 19 shots. Expect a lot more from them. Also we needed Andre Miller to play the best game he has ever played in the playoffs to win. Can we expect to get that from him every night, especially now that Phoenix’s antennas are raised? No. This is where adjustments come into play and how well Portland can make adjustments will tell you if they win this series.Losing shows what you need to do more than winning does so Phoenix has an advantage there.
There was a lot of good for Portland last night. We saw that either Portland just gives Phoenix fits or our Marcus Camby-improved defense is just legit. Phoenix has failed to score more than 102 points against us in 5 games. You also have to like Portland playing the role of the aggressor. Getting to the free throw line 31 times — inflated during the endgame — without Brandon Roy gets a thumbs up from me, especially when you consider on the season the average per game was about 24. If you remember the Houston series last year, being aggressive is key to success.
Also good for Portland was Jerryd Bayless’ 18 points. With his ability to penetrate and create offense (even if it’s mainly for himself), combined with the fact that Dragic/Nash cannot really guard him makes him a big part of what Portland needs to do. As this series progresses, a key for him is going to be that pullup jumper. As Coup stated in his re-thoughts, he fell in love with his jumper and bad things happened. At the same time, if he can prove to Phoenix that he can hit that it will make it easier for him to attack and get to the line or find an open man. Where he has to do much better is on the defensive end. There were a couple times where Portland was not switching and he just died on screens (common for him throughout the year). That can’t happen because once you let the Suns penetrate you are at their will.
One thing I think that is being overlooked is Portland not fouling. People want to complain about Phoenix not getting to the line enough…Portland had something to do with that. Not just with the solid defense but they played defense without fouling — for example look at Webster blocks and see how he is jumping backwards to avoid body contact. I mean Steve Nash only shot 2 free throws and Amare Stoudemire only shot 3. It will be interesting to see if that is able to continue.
Onto areas where Portland is going to have to make adjustments. The Blazers are going to have to try and avoid the lulls where they end up stagnated for 20 seconds and have to force up a bad shot late. When this happens, bad things usually follow. Against Phoenix, the bad things are fast breaks. Also, Portland is going to have to find a way to match the energy that Phoenix’s bench brings late in the first quarter and early in the second. In Game 1 they did a good job of sticking around and answering the surge but PHX’s bench sparked a 9-2 run with relative ease.
It’s an interesting contrast because when Phoenix’s bench comes in, particularly with Amundson, you can tell the energy ticks upwards a little bit. When Portland’s bench comes in there’s more of a ‘Hey, we’re close let’s hope this doesn’t get screwed up’ type of feel. Blazers have got to be ready for Phoenix to turn up the intensity level a little bit and not be shocked by it. Also, Nic Batum, Martell Webster and Rudy Fernandez are all going to have to be ready to make open shots. Phoenix will most definitely be keying in on LaMarcus and Andre Miller, so those guys are going to have to be ready. Last night they went 5-for-17 from beyond the arc, and while Batum and Webster had big shots (Martell’s near-3) they missed good looks as well.
Speaking of Rudy Fernandez…I think the reason why people are being harsh with his struggles is that a) we need him to produce big time and b) he kind of played super shy in last year’s playoffs too. I think he just needs to loosen up it looks as if he’s putting a bit too much pressure on himself to perform. I won’t be so hard on him because he was cheering like a mad man when the Blazers went on their run in the fourth and his ‘Rudy Shuffle’ after Batum’s big three brought him back into my good graces.
Game 1 is done and before we all know it Game 2 will be upon us. The questions are all out there and both teams know what they need to do to improve. There is only one question that cannot be answered: what would we have done if Jared Dudley had made that three after Camby’s missed dunk? Thank goodness that like the # of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, the world will never know…
Topics: Amare Stoudemire, Blazers Game 1, Blazers Suns, Blazers Suns Game 1, Blazers Suns Series, Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley, Jason Richardson, Jerryd Bayless, Marcus Camby, Martell Webster, Nate McMillan, Nba Playoffs, Nic Batum, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers, Rudy Fernandez, Suns Game 1