by Bill Watterson (

Blazers 88, Suns 107 Game 5 Re-Thoughts

I don’t want to hear it about the refs. You don’t complain about the police when you get caught with a meth lab in your apartment, you don’t complain about the officials when you get dominated on the offensive boards. OK? Moving on.

This one is on the Blazers. See the snowman up above? That was them, cruising right along in the first quarter, scoring on 10 straight possessions — most of which I didn’t see thanks to TNT — until they mangled themselves on some rocks, scarring anyone who watched the entire way through.

Was that 23-9 opening salvo particularly sustainable? Not really, as seven of those first ten buckets were jumpers, and four of those were Andre Miller jumpers. But when you’re trying to steal a crucial game on the road, you take what you can get and go from there.

Only Portland didn’t really go anywhere.

The diagnosis from the six-minute mark on is pretty simple. The Blazers got slaughtered on the offensive boards, giving up 15 in the “Stand still and let the ball come to you” manner the Boston Celtics have been infamous for this season. They over-rotated on penetration and didn’t ever fully commit to closing out on shooters, allowing 10-of-24 shooting from deep after the opening minutes. They couldn’t overcome early foul trouble to Marcus Camby and Brandon Roy, struggling defensively with the replacements of Juwan Howard and Rudy Fernandez and consistently putting Phoenix on the line when it wasn’t necessary.

And the offense, well, it lacked balance and aggression. The Blazers were love stricken with those jumpers early on and never established an inside-out game, scoring 28 points in the middle while allowing 40. Even with Roy on the court, you saw much of the same scrambling and delayed reactions from Games 2 and 3.

But here’s where we need to go off course a little. With the injuries in mind, I’ve laid off of Nate McMillan for his rotations, as games sometimes came down to throwing a mix of players on the floor and finding something to work. And other than the Steve Blake fiasco, it’s been an OK 2010 for Nate in this respect. Tonight, there were some issues:

  • Rudy Fernandez: 15 minutes.
  • Juwan Howard: 9 minutes.
  • Dante Cunningham: 12 minutes. Less than 10 with game in question.
  • Martell Webster: 14 minutes. No significant time in first half.
  • Nic Batum: 20 minutes. Total head scratcher.

Let’s quarterback for a moment here. Rudy probably doesn’t deserve minutes at this point. He hasn’t earned them, nor has he really proven to have much of an upside with extended minutes this season anyways. Should he be playing over Webster? Well, Webster looked off tonight as well — as in down in the dumps — and hasn’t been great all season either, but at least in this series he has the defense and rebounding edge. The Blazers could use that.

Then there’s Juwan Howard, who isn’t quick enough to defend against Phoenix, as evidenced when Stoudemire dribbled around him during a double team and drew a foul at the rim. Howard made up for his shortcomings in Game 4 with hustle and some timely offense, but he couldn’t keep up tonight. Playing Howard whenever Camby gets into foul trouble just seems too safe. If Cunningham is healthy enough to play — and he looked energetic enough — then this might be a matchup to use him in. Or, when Channing Frye is in the game camping out around the arc, maybe use Batum as your four to defend him, playing Aldridge at the five. It’s worth considering, at least in spurts.

Something had to be up with Batum though, didn’t it? Twenty minutes without much foul trouble when the Blazers needed length, speed, effort and shooting? Very odd. Maybe the shoulder was bothering him, or maybe he ate some bad shellfish.

Taking a step back and looking at the series as a whole, it’s at least somewhat significant that, in a series headed to Game 6, Phoenix is the only team that’s legitimately destroyed it’s opponent in its wins. That doesn’t tell you anything you don’t know — that the Suns are healthier and more talented — but it’s a solid indicator that the Blazers aren’t sniffing wins when they aren’t going full speed.

This feels like we’re headed for a Game 7, though, just a hunch. Though they’ve done so at times in this very series, the Blazers have just seemed to come through and surprise us whenever they looked ready for that final glaze of barbecue sauce. It’s certainly not something I can quantify with statistics, but my gut says Game 6 will be a real game, as opposed to this wreck.

Good old gut analysis. Just don’t ask what my gut says about a do-or-die in Phoenix.

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

Kind of self explanatory, this one. (Source:

Individual Thoughts:

We’ve been very complimentary of LaMarcus Aldridge this year — with good reason — but this was one of the worst rebounding performances I can remember seeing from him in quite some time. It’s not the rebounding total (2) that was disturbing, but his lack of physical aggression. When Aldridge is switched onto the perimeter, you can understand him not grabbing tons of boards, but when he’s in perfect position in the paint and is getting beat from behind by Channing Frye (and Amare and Amundson), that’s a problem. Offensively he still showed good patience and decision making — Phoenix was much quicker with its double-teams off the dribble — but he left a lot of unused real estate on the baseline untouched. The Suns are practically begging him to go left, and he played right into their hands.

The annihilation overshadowed what could have been a nice overall game from Jerryd Bayless, which is a little like someone trying to put on a bake sale while Godzilla ravages the city. Bayless was the most aggressive Blazer in attacking the defense, hit some very nice looking threes and was playing the point guard position as well as I’ve seen since Game 1 of 2009 Summer League until the wheels started coming off. As with everyone else, though, Bayless fell in the the jumper too much. When Steve Nash is guarding you, that’s Uwe Boll bad.

What can you say about Roy? He’s not right, he’s playing tough, he committed some dumb fouls that interrupted his rhythm — which probably kept his knee from warming up completely — and forced the issue when the offense fell flat.

That’s a lot of Andre Miller jumpers gone to waste, no? Other than one of the worst passes he thrown all season, Miller was the best Blazer on the floor.

Marcus Camby was the primary playmaker early on, netting five assists in total, but his defense was sorely missed when he picked up the fouls. If Nate isn’t going to get creative with Dante or Nic, it might be best to just let Camby play through the fouls. Marcus was also just as guilty as everyone else in not going after the boards.

We’ve discussed the rest in terms of rotation and it feels like something was wrong with at least Batum and Webster. But Rudy? He came in, got beat off the dribble, fouled to cover up for it, committed two turnovers which became fast breaks and did nothing of value on offense. By the end of his shift, it was a joke. It’s a shame that he’s got so many people who want him to do well, and the diminishing returns he’s offering in return have threatened to shatter the +/- system of evaluation.

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Tags: Amare Stoudemire Basketball Brandon Roy First Round Game 5 Game 7 Juwan Howard LaMarcus Aldridge Marcus Camby NBA General Nba Playoffs Nic Batum Phoenix Suns Portland Trail Blazers Rudy Fernandez Steve Nash

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