Suns' Bench Sends Blazers to Brink of Elimination in Game 5
His words turned into action on Monday as Phoenix's bench, led by outstanding performances from Channing Frye and Jared Dudley, outscored the starters 55-52 and ultimately led the Suns to a decisive 107-88 victory in Game 5 of the best-of-seven series.
"That's the way we played the whole year," Gentry said after the game of the boost his team received from the bench. "The entire season we've been a team where our bench has been pretty good -- I think we're in the top five in the league in scoring -- just the energy that they give us."
The Suns' starters dug themselves a decent-sized hole to start the game as they watched the Blazers come out and take a 9-0 lead as part of an 18-4 run that looked briefly like Portland was ready to take control of this game -- and likely, the series -- for good.
In case you hadn't heard, the team that wins Game 5 of a best-of-seven series tied at two games apiece has gone on to win the series 83.4 percent (126 out of 151) of the time.
But the Suns took the long view and managed to ride out the storm by continuing to push the tempo, even if it wasn't initially working in their favor.
Portland was playing at Phoenix's preferred uptempo speed and was beating the Suns at their own game by putting up 23 points in the game's first six minutes. The Blazers scored on their first 10 possessions, highlighted by a very quick 10 points from Andre Miller, who has already proven himself to be a capable scoring threat in this series by dropping 31 in the Blazers' Game 1 victory in Phoenix.
"I just felt like we had to think of this thing as long term, think of it as the stock market," Nash said of the early deficit. "We're not day-traders, we want to be very conservative in our investment in transition. You've got to stick with it from start to finish. We can't think, 'this isn't working and we've got to walk the ball up and try to get a good shot.' Let's run, keep the tempo going to our pace, and I think that's how we got it back to a point at the end of the quarter."
The Suns, however, were willing to live with Miller's early production -- especially if it came from the outside.
"For us, it's kind of fool's gold," Dudley said afterward of Miller's early outburst. "We don't mind him hitting those shots. If he can hit 'em consistently throughout the game, we tip our hat to him."
Miller had only 11 points the rest of the way, and despite his team's hot early start, the Blazers only held a one-point lead (28-27) at the end of the first quarter to show for it.
Marcus Camby, the anchor of the Blazers' interior defense, was forced to the bench with two quick fouls early on -- and as soon as he went out and Juwan Howard came in, the Suns were able to capitalize. Phoenix ended the period on a 14-5 run once Camby hit the bench.
The energy and production of the Suns' second unit was really the difference in this one. Frye had 20 points, eight rebounds and two steals in fewer than 27 minutes of action; Dudley scored 19 points in 25 minutes, playing stellar, energetic defense while guarding multiple players in the half-court set.
Frye and Dudley combined for 39 points; Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire combined for 33 points in almost nine more minutes of total playing time.
"Channing and Jared shot the ball lights-out tonight, which was a great help for us, a great lift," Stoudemire said. "They carried us."
Indeed, Frye and Dudley combined to shoot 13-of-21 from the field, and knocked down eight of their 14 attempts from beyond the arc.
On the Blazers' side, there was a certain bench player who was conspicuous by his absence, at least in terms of his overall production.
Brandon Roy made a heroic early return from arthroscopic knee surgery in Game 4 and provided an almost tangible emotional lift to his team -- even if the 10 points in 27 minutes were relatively pedestrian in terms of what we're accustomed to seeing from him. But Roy was unable to provide anything in Game 5, struggling with foul trouble early and looking a step slow most of the night while finishing with just five points on 2-of-7 shooting in 19 minutes of action.
Considering how clearly ineffective Roy was in limited minutes, it's worth wondering if the early foul trouble served as a convenient excuse for Blazers head coach Nate McMillan not to play him.
Even if Roy and the rest of the Blazers had avoided the whistles -- and there were a lot of them -- it's unlikely that Portland would have been able to survive the overall play of the Suns' second unit. We already discussed the fact that they were great offensively, but on the defensive end, they might have been even better.
After the game, Dudley discussed the way he and his teammates defended the Blazers -- and how being well-prepared for the specific challenges he would face was key to his stellar performance.
"Early on, I always double [LaMarcus Aldridge]," Dudley said. "He knows I'm doubling, but I try to give him different looks. And when I close out on Andre Miller, unlike [when Grant Hill does], I get close up, I don't mind if he drives. I feel like my length and my size can really bother him a little bit. With Jerryd Bayless, I always put a hand in his face ... you want him to shoot. It's knowing your personnel, and that's what I try to do defensively."
The Suns as a team do an excellent job of preparing their players for these situations. When the media entered the team's locker room after the game, still posted on one of the walls were orange, laminated sheets of paper with detailed scouting information on all of the Blazers' personnel.
All teams do this to a certain extent, and who knows where Phoenix ranks in terms of this type of preparation. But without giving away any secrets of these reports that were obviously not meant for the prying eyes of the media -- the laminates were taken down once someone finally noticed they had been left up -- the information that was being disseminated was, as you might imagine, extremely on-point.
Whether the Suns will be able to duplicate their bench production and defensive dominance of the Blazers in an effort to close out the series on the road in Game 6 remains to be seen. But Dudley is smart enough to recognize the importance of doing everything in the team's power to attempt to do exactly that.
"We have to go back to Portland and play the same way we did in Game 3 and try to end it up there," Dudley said. "Because no one wants to come back here for a Game 7 if we don't have to."