Blazers/Suns Game 3 Pre-Thoughts

Phoenix Suns Channing Frye battles for a loose ball with Portland Trail Blazers Martell Webster during their NBA Western Conference playoff series game in Phoenix

"What do you mean Portland isn't weird anymore?!?!" (Source: YardBarker.com)

There is no doubt that Game 3’s carry a lot of weight in a playoff series. They can either make or break a team’s chances in a series. A Game 3 win can give a team hope that they have a chance, renewed confidence or control of a series. A Game 3 loss can make a playoff exit inevitable, or take all that hope and optimism and momentum away. After Portland’s Game 1 victory, all eyes turned to this game.

Despite a 29-point loss in Game 2, Portland still finds itself in a position of power. In essence this series now boils down to a best-of-5 battle, with three opportunities to win at the Rose Garden. And win at the Rose Garden they must if they want to advance. The good news? The Phoenix Suns have never won a playoff game in the Rose Garden. It’s all about positive vibes people.

(Sidenote: I totally wish this game was on TNT so we could bring up that curse….but it’s not. Oh well.)

The big question surrounding tonight’s Game 3 is the status of Nicholas Batum. Will he play? Will he not play? Trying to figure out of Batum is playing is like trying to watch Lost if you’ve never watched it before. All jokes aside, losing Batum would be a huge blow from an Andre the Giant sized fist. He’s been adamant that he will but the status remains questionable. Undoubtedly it would a colossal task for Portland to win this series without Batum. We lose athleticism, defense and a shooter who can spread the floor. If Batum is out, the question becomes who starts? Does Nate go with Bayless and Rudy or Martell and Rudy? Stats show that Martell is much better as a starter than coming off the bench, but Bayless has (for the most part) been effective. However, I’m not going to lie I don’t really want to even think about this because Batum has to play.

A funny storyline came out of Game 2 in that maybe Portland ruined their element of surprise in the Game 1 win. I’m not buying that one bit. This is the playoffs, and by this time you are who you are. There is no magic pixie dust to make you a better team. Perhaps if Game 1 had been a lucky fluke, or if Portland had done something earth shatteringly out of the norm I would agree. The Blazers still matchup will with Phoenix.  A tightly contested playoff series is like a chess match with each team making adjustments on a day-to-day basis. Portland threw the first punch and it landed. Andre Miller exploited Nash/Dragic an defended the pick and roll well. Phoenix counter-punched and it landed. They threw Grant Hill on Miller full court, disrupted Portland’s rhythm and ran more offense off the ball. Now Portland has to make the right adjustments to take back control of this series. The key is can Portland counter and execute?

One of the more underrated aspects of Game 2 was the Suns effort on defense. If you didn’t think they were a team knowing they were in a must-win, rewatch their effort on defense. They were more physical and active than I can ever recall a Suns team in the past few years. Phoenix has drawn a line in the sand and said “Look, we’re not going to let Andre Miller make plays, deal with it.” It’s the same line that Houston drew last year when they said “Hey, we’re not going to let Brandon Roy beat us.” How Portland handles this will be a key to their success. If they can counter it, Phoenix will have to go back to the drawing board. If not, it will become Portland’s great white buffalo.

You would imagine that Miller being a veteran will find ways to open his game. He knows what to expect and he also knows what will happen if he does not handle it well, mainly Portland will stagnate. Now unfortunately for Miller, he does not have Roy out there to lessen the pressure put on him. He does need help. The lights are on Webster, Bayless and Rudy to step up in a huge way. Just one of them has to come out of their shell and make the Suns adjust. All of a sudden they can’t focus on Dre as much or LaMarcus. That third threat needs to be out there. If it’s no then Phoenix wins those battles. They get to dictate to Portland that “Hey you’re not running your offense.”

Defensively, the Blazers have to have more readiness. In Game 1 it always seemed like they were ready. In Game 2, it always seemed like they were a step slow or behind. A mistake that people are making is assuming that Phoenix just pushed the tempo that much more. They really didn’t, they just were able to attack more. Nash was able to completely dominate and set a tone for the game. He was throwing outlet passes in transition, getting to the teeth of Portland’s defense and kicking the ball out. The Suns are dangerous when they suck you in because of their excellent ball movement, you can rarely catch back up to it. Portland just has to be more ready and not put themselves in situation where they have self-inflicted help.

Sticking with defense, Portland needs to do a better job getting through screens. Plain and simple, Phoenix did a great job of setting screens in Game 2 (something by the way Portland is not doing) and ended up getting great looks. Looking back at the tape, Jason Richardson and Grant Hill were able to get downscreens, curl off of them and either get to the basket or pull up any time they wanted. Portland has to get through or fight those screens and take that out of Phoenix’s repertoire. If they are able to run those plays with the P&R in the backpocket, their offense because that much tougher to guard.

All of that is great, and the cliché police may beat me for this one but it’s coming down to who wants it more. Phoenix needed Game 2 and it showed in their effort. We all know Portland needs Game 3 if they want to win this series. A loss would not be the end of the world, but it would complicate things and erase that Game 1 win. Also momentum would firmly be on the Suns side, I mean a 29-point win followed up by a road win is like having to shake your ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend’s hand. Portland has to come out with an energy and effort to remind Phoenix that not only did they lose Game 1, but they now have to win a game in the Rose Garden to advance.

Speaking of the RG, I’m expecting a major league effort from the fans. Hopefully you guys can spark the level of play from Portland and take them to another level. We have to keep the home court advantage and take care of business of home. Here’s an omen for you: the last time the Blazers stole home-court advantage in the first two games and then gave it right back in Game 3 was in 2000. Against the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.

Yeah…we need this one.

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Tags: Amare Stoudemire Andre Miller Blazers Suns Game 3 Channing Frye Grant Hill Jason Richardson LaMarcus Aldridge Martell Webster Phoenix Game 3 Phoenix Portland Game 3 Phoenix Suns Portland Game 3 Portland Phoenix Game 3 Portland Trail Blazers Rudy Fernandez Steve Nash Suns Blazers Game 3

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