In the words of the Moonwalker, this is it.
Alright, I’m sure you’re all familiar with the concept of the elimination game, so I won’t inundate you with an end of the season shpeel. Either the Blazers win or we’re all writing “What’s Next” features. That’s the format, and it’s the reason why this should be the most watched, and most heavily scrutinized Blazer game since, well, the Dallas series in 2003.
This deep into a series, there aren’t a ton of new adjustments either coach can make. Each guy has a marble bag full of moves and countermoves that they know have the chance to work to varying degrees of effectiveness, and it’s on them to use them at the appropriate times. Do the Suns send doubles at LaMarcus Aldridge on the catch or on the dribble, from the top or from the baseline, do they double Brandon Roy at all and when do they shift into a zone or put Grant Hill on Andre Miller? Likewise, how long does Nate keep the starting lineup out there, when does he put Nic Batum on Steve Nash with the sore shoulder, how long can he stay away from calling isolations for Roy, how much of a leash does Jerryd Bayless get and is he going to sacrifice some running opportunities to cultivate possessions?
Think of it like a collector card game. Everyone has a balanced deck and more often than not, the winner will be determined by a combination of luck and their use of timing. Use your fireball too early, it’s nothing more than a chink in the armor, but use it at the right time and something is probably getting thrown at you.
Luck will of course have something to do with it. Aldridge and Marcus Camby could get whistled for fouls they haven’t been so far in this series, and it’s up to McMillan to leave them in or find a suitable replacement. Andre Miller could hit a wide-open three, or he couldn’t. Aldridge could shoot over 50 percent on 17-foot jumpers when Roy or Miller draws the defense, or he couldn’t. Batum could play 35 minutes with nary a problem, or Amar’e Stoudemire could give him a dirty look and the shoulder detonates.
But listen to Doc Brown, there’s no fate, or luck, but what the Blazers make for themselves. If the Blazers don’t box out and don’t rotate to the weakside corner like they did in Game 5, no amount of luck and bounces is going to matter. They’ll be crushed, again. Wins in games like this don’t just come to you because you’re shooting well or because your opponent isn’t. They come because you’re working for the absolute best shots for yourself and the absolute worst shots for your opponent. They come because you win possession by possession and don’t fall in love with jumpers just because you made a bunch in a row.
Mostly, this win, just like this entire series, will be on LaMarcus Aldridge. The scoring won’t matter so much as his decision making — not to mention his position earning — in the post, moving his feet on Amar’e, being fluid between the paint and the arc with Frye, managing switch situations again onto Nash and, above all, getting plum mad dog mean on the boards. He doesn’t have to do anything we know he isn’t capable of, but he’s got to use his body and set the tone for the Martell’s and Rudy’s and Dante’s who will, at some point, need to make some sort of non-scoring impact in lessened minutes.
Enjoy this, but don’t use the house-money card. There’s no reason this game shouldn’t be competitive, and if you’ve watched the Blazers enough since December, there’s no reason to expect the Blazers not to make a serious push at this.
And yes, I know that was Sarah Connor earlier, just seeing if you were paying attention or working diligently on a Steve Nash voodoo doll.