The Portland Trail Blazers never gave up.
All season long, despite a ridiculous amount of adversity ranking from on-court injuries to front office drama, the Blazers never gave up. And that fact right there is the only thing that’s keep the sting of Game 6’s elimination away. This was a team to be proud of and it is only fitting that they went out in such a prideful way.
For all purposes, there were about 4 or 5 times in the 3rd quarter when the Blazers could have packed it in. They did not. They gave it everything they had, Phoenix just put together a better 48 minutes. It’s no fun saying that but it’s true.
The Suns pretty much put on a clinic on how to win in the playoffs. The story of the first half was them getting out to a great start and never really looking back. For the first 24 minutes, it seemed as if every time Portland was about to turn the tide, the Suns had an answer. Anytime Portland hit a shot which got the Rose Garden exciting, the kind of shot that could spark a run, Phoenix answered. Anytime the lead was cut to 3 or 5 or 6, Goran Dragic or Jared ‘I just guaranteed no one in Portland will like me for the rest of my career’ Dudley would hit a three. In the third quarter, Phoenix extended the lead like playoff teams are supposed to. In the fourth, they kept their poise, answered Portland’s run and shut the door. Credit to them.
All series long, Phoenix felt like if they made their shots they would be fine. Tonight actually proved them right…they made shots. Jason Richardson led the way (28 points, 10-for-16), Amar’e was Amar’e but the big keys were Jared Dudley and Goran Dragic. Both scored in double figures and both hit timely buckets to stunt the Blazer effort at one point or another. Dudley just about took my heart out with his 3-pointer with 14 seconds left in the third quarter.
A ton of credit needs to go Phoenix’s way for their effort tonight. They won Game 6, which means Portland got outright beat, rather than beating themselves. The key to the game was their defense. The Suns were effective all night in their double-teams of LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy. Those double-teams not only rendered both of them ineffective (shot a combined 9-for-33) but for the first 36 minutes the Blazers could not make Phoenix pay for these double teams. A lot of that was because of Phoenix’s excellent defense rotation, I mean they were running around like a college team in a shell drill on some possessions. Some of it was because of Portland’s poor spacing. It’s truly a shame Andre Miller struggled in Game 6, more on that later.
In an Alanis Morrissette twist of irony, it was two of the most criticized players this year who nearly saved the season. Martell Webster and Rudy Fernandez shot the Blazers right back into it. After all the frustration and anger sent their way, ultimately they were responsible for giving Blazer fans one last moment and one last hope. Their ability to space the floor AND knock down shots helped Portland turn a 65-74 deficit to a 76-76 tie game. Portland just couldn’t capitalize from there and a 2:30 minute drought would end up being the difference between Game 7 and going fishing.
Brandon Roy….4-for-16, 14 points, 4 assists, 5 rebounds. I remember texting Coup when Portland tied the game that “I’m kind of OK with Roy staying out until around the 3 minute mark” and he agreed. Of course he went back in immediately. It’s a tightrope here with Roy. He gave it his all to come back and play in a Portland uniform and as a fan, what more can you ask for? Clearly the Suns were determined not to let him even think about being Brandon Roy because they double teamed him constantly. That right there says a lot about his ability and what he means to the team. It worked for two reasons, one Roy was a touch to slow to really make them pay, his only recourse to bounce back and look for open teammates. Two, the spacing was out of wack. The one thing I will say is my biggest fear did come true in that there was a little too much deference to Roy on the offensive side of things.
It’s unfortunate people are going to question whether or not Roy should have been on the floor or not. Say what you want but he’s earned that free pass from me. He struggled in Game’s 5 and 6 when the Suns made an adjustment and he couldn’t make them pay. But he gave us all an incredible moment in Game 4, and without him out there taking pressure and attention away from LaMarcus Aldridge and Andre Miller, do we pull it off? I’m not sure.
LaMarcus did his best against the constant double teams but was rendered ineffective. The positive? He’s gotten his first ‘big boy’ reps, aka gone through his first playoffs where teams were effectively treating him like a superstar. If anything he will come back even hungrier.
Speaking of Andre Miller, 4 points, 3 assists on 2-of-10 shooting in 18 minutes. It is a shame he struggled in Game 6 because the Blazers needed him. The double teams were effective on LaMarcus and Brandon because Andre Miller couldn’t make them pay. They were at times daring him to shoot midrange jumpers (which I found odd) and then he started standing closer to the hoop when the double teams came. It’s not the missed shots that were unfortunate, he just seemed a bit tentative for the first time all series. When Roy would kick it out of a double team to him, it seemed as if he took too much time to make a decision.
Already talked about Martell and Rudy and their shot-making abilities and except for Rudy’s really weird, step back, air ball with Portland down 75-76 that almost took the air out of the RG, they were unreal. Jerryd Bayless joined them and even though his shot was off (4-for-12) his energy was there and so was his ability to create (7 assists). It’s just a shame that Grant Hill did that to him.