Blazers Shut Down Stoudemire, Take Game 1 From Suns
PHOENIX -- The historical statistics were slanted completely in the Suns' favor heading into their Game 1 matchup with the Blazers. Portland was 3-24 all-time in playoff series when losing Game 1, including a record of just 1-17 in the first round. And Phoenix was 15-3 all-time in series where the team has protected its home court with a Game 1 victory.
If you're the Blazers, you fix all that by simply figuring out a way to secure a road victory to open the series. Behind a stellar offensive performance from Andre Miller and a great team defensive effort in shutting down Amar'e Stoudemire, Portland was able to do exactly that, surprisingly taking Game 1 from the Suns 105-100.
Stoudemire has been the Suns' best player since the All-Star break, putting up dominant performances on an almost nightly basis. But the Blazers were successful in shutting down Stoudemire, mainly because of the different defensive schemes they were able to throw at him.
"Amar'e is as tough as they come in the post," Blazers coach Nate McMillan said afterward. "And we're mixing up our defense with him, with LaMarcus [Aldridge], [Marcus] Camby, and [Juwan] Howard guarding him. But I thought Camby made him work, and didn't really give him anything easy down in the post. We'll have to continue to mix up our defense with those three guys guarding him."
Stoudemire finished with a modest line of 18 points and eight rebounds but also had four turnovers and fouled out after playing 35 minutes. There were times when Portland literally had him covered with three defenders at the same time, forcing tough passes out of the post, or even tougher shots inside.
"We tried to front him," Aldridge said, when asked about his team's defensive effort against Stoudemire. "We were trying not to give him easy looks, to double-team. We just tried to make every look he got tough so he couldn't get a rhythm going."
Stoudemire often found himself with the ball on the block and very little room to operate. The few times he did get single coverage, he was being guarded by Marcus Camby, whose length clearly was a problem for Stoudemire while attempting to attack the basket. Alvin Gentry said as much, and mentioned that the team will have to work to get Amar'e the ball in better positions if his team is to be successful as the series moves forward.
"I just think that our spacing broke down a little bit, and we've got to get Amar'e in a position where he has touches where he can do things with them, and then he's going to have to finish plays," Gentry said. "Obviously he's playing against Marcus Camby, the guy's been a Defensive Player of the Year, so ... he's a long guy and does an excellent job blocking shots, so Amare's going to have to step it up and find a way to score for us. And then we're going to have to get the ball to him in a good location."
Amar'e was complimentary of the job the Blazers did on him defensively, while at the same time recognizing what has to change in Game 2 if he is to be able to have an impact on the rest of the series.
"I think they came out with good intentions defensively," Stoudemire said. "They really tried to double-team us and be scrappy out there, and kind of clog the lanes up, try to make us beat 'em from the outside.
"We only had four fast break points, so we've got to up the tempo a little bit there. Get out and run lanes, and set screen and rolls, and just create the tempo, a faster tempo out there. So if we get that going it'll loosen up their defense a little bit, and we'll get better looks."
Stoudemire elaborated on how, specifically, he might be able to get some easier shots the next time out.
"Catch it a little further off the block, maybe create some offense where I'm moving a little bit, catch 'em on the move," Stoudemire said. "You know any time you get those guys standing in a position where they can load up, it's tough to penetrate, it's tough to get in the lanes, they're so long and athletic. So get it off the bock, catch 'em on the move, and hopefully that'll free up our offense a little bit."
The fact that the Blazers shut down Stoudemire wasn't the only reason they were able to win this one, but it was big in terms of how they were able to control the pace of the game while not letting the Suns get into any rhythm offensively.
Steve Nash led the Suns with 25 points and nine assists, but it was the guard play of the Blazers that sealed it, especially in the fourth quarter.
Both Andre Miller and Jerryd Bayless presented serious problems for the Suns late in the game. Miller took the game over for a stretch in the fourth, while Bayless took his turn time and time again, and both players made it look easy while getting to the rim seemingly at will when the game hung in the balance. Miller had 15 and Bayless had 10 in the final period, and the pair combined to go 7-for-10 from the field for 25 of Portland's 35 fourth quarter points.
Andre Miller finished with 31 points and eight assists, and attempted to pinpoint what he and Bayless were able to do so successfully in that final frame.
"We talked about just forcing the issue a little bit and not relying on jumpshots," Miller said. "We tried to contain them as far as keeping them out of the paint and forcing them to shoot contested threes, and we didn't want to fall into that trap of shooting jumpshots and allowing them to get into their transition game. So we had to drive the ball to the basket, and get them in the penalty."
Steve Nash tried to explain what went wrong with the Suns' fourth-quarter defense.
"We weren't committing so much from the weak side on penetrations or post-ups like we need to, and they got inside," Nash said. "I think when they got inside they were able to make a high percentage of their shots."
The Blazers played hard, and played well, even in Brandon Roy's absence. Stoudemire said that his team may have looked past Portland a bit, considering the team was missing its best player.
"We've got to take those guys more seriously," Stoudemire said. "I think without Brandon Roy and a few of their guys, we might not have taken them as seriously as we should have. So I think coming into Game 2, now we understand how important these games are, how important every possession is, and really bring the effort in Game 2."
The good thing about a series, from the Suns' perspective, is that this is only one game, and that there are (at the very least) three more chances to begin turning things around. But Alvin Gentry didn't necessarily see Game 1 as an aberration.
"All the games that we play against them are going to be just like this," Gentry said.
Steve Nash knows his team is in for a fight and believes that, even with Roy out and the other injuries that the Blazers have had to endure, Portland is still extremely dangerous. And on top of that, Nash knows his own team has to get better if they are to find a way to win four of the next six games in order to make it out of the first round of the playoffs.
"We're a good team; they're a good team, too," Nash said. "You still look at their roster and they've got a lot of talent and a lot of size, regardless of how many guys they've lost. So we've got to respect them. We are definitely on notice now, and we're going to have to play better.
"We've got a lot of improving to do if we want to win the series."