Yes, Martell’s t-shirt depicts Barack Obama serving up a facial on John McCain
After a meeting with coach McMillan, his staff and Kevin Pritchard the Blazers came out and shared a few words with the media before they all take off on their respective summer vacations. As you can expect, the team shared the usual platitudes about being sad the season ended the way it did and looking forward to next year.
Highlights included: Rudy Fernandez’s being somewhat honest about not wanting to spend next season in the same situation; Brandon Roy, open and engaging as usual, and Martell Webster’s general sharing more emotionally than most (unfortunately I missed taping a segment where Webster shared news about his wedding—to take place this summer on a ranch in Bend—and talking about how lucky NBA players are. “We don’t deserve it,” he said, of the luxury, private jets and so on.); Nic Batum’s decree that the team can win the title next season; and Juwan Howard’s feeling about coming back next year.
Your daily (Mon-Fri) roundup of links from around the blogosphere, typically Trail Blazers related.
• The season is over. First off, congratulations to the Suns. Now please wash off that red and black facepaint and go back to your normal life. Hey, it’s sunny outside! Summer is almost here! People actually like you! Go take your wife out to a nice dinner and apologize for that time you missed her birthday because you wanted to watch the Blazers play the Timberwolves.
The Suns had lost Game 1 on their home floor. Jason Richardson seemed to have no idea how to stop Blazer guard Andre Miller.
After the game, there was a lot of thinking to do, and a fair amount of that was happening in veteran forward Grant Hill’s head.
So much that he got up and walked over to coach Alvin Gentry’s office, and told the assembled coaching staff that he wanted to guard Miller.
Hill is in his 15th NBA season. Miller just completed his 11th. Despite playing forward, Hill has guarded plenty of point guards. But he had never guarded Miller.
His idea was met with a warm reception. “Alvin said,” remembers Hill, “‘we were just talking about that.’”
Hill went on to terrorize Miller, who was so ineffective down the stretch of a close and deciding Game 6 that he was benched. Although Miller showed flickers of life in Game 5, from the moment of that coaching switch, the series was lopsided in favor of the Suns.
But his subpar play in Games 5 and 6 raised doubt about how much he truly helped his team. Roy’s combined statistics in the final two games (19 points, six rebounds, five assists) read like an average Roy performance when he’s healthy. His shooting numbers in those games (6 of 23, 1 of 10 from three-point range) were not pretty.
“He struggled to get his rhythm,” Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. “He wasn’t able to move like he normally does.”
• Meanwhile—get ready to slam your head into your desk when you realize that this man gets a large paycheck in exchange for the words he writes—the O’s John Canzano makes a wacky pun:
You were with them. You battled. You struggled. And in the end, it felt a little less “season” and a little more “siege.”
Taking both the good and bad surprises together, we are left with a Blazers team that was, understandably, undergoing an identity crisis at the worst possible moment. Without its star healthy, without enough time playing together to develop true trust and chemistry, without much of the depth that entered training camp, Portland was forced to over-achieve and gimmick victories over the past two months or so. That worked swimmingly against weaker competition during March.
• Wendell “Max Power” Maxey asks “What’s Next for Rudy?” in his new Beyond the Beat column. How long before someone makes a “Rudy is the new Sergio” T-shirt?
Sources close to Pritchard say the chances that this was his last game with the organization are more than 50-50, that owner Paul Allen will likely fire the executive at some point after the June draft and surely cite the same “philosophical differences” that led to the dismissal of Pritchard’s running mate/former assistant general manager Tom Penn last month.
And if that indeed winds up being the case, it will fly in the face of a season’s worth of reasons that it shouldn’t have happened.
In a sense, the last eight minutes defined the series (or at least the last five games, after the Blazers stole Game One). Gentry, with a relatively full, deep roster (despite the absence of starting center Robin Lopez) was able to make timely adjustments, while McMillan was always trying to catch up and figure out which of his players he could depend on each night.
• I yelled some pretty horrible things at Jared Dudley—via my television screen—during this series, but after his faux news conference with Steve Nash, and his Twitter post from last night, I am now a (reluctant) fan:
Got to shout out the Portland fans. It was so loud in there. They was cheering there team on literally to the end. I respect that and them
In the Blazers’ locker room reporters were piled around Marcus Camby. One asked why he decided to re-sign with the team before testing the waters of free agency this summer. A myriad of factors contributed to his decision, Camby said. He gave love to the fans, the atmosphere at the Rose Garden and the team’s future potential. But the first thing out Camby’s mouth was perhaps the most telling:
“This team has a lot of character,” he said.
That character is what allowed the Blazers to get this far in a season rife with injury. But what Portland had couldn’t quite compare with the chemistry brewing in Phoenix.
Suns players spoke of it regularly. Steve Nash went as far as to say it’s the best he’s ever been around. And it showed—even after losing game one on their home floor the Suns remained cool. The Blazers, on the other hand, seemed to be teetering on the precipice of disaster almost since the series began. Finding out your leader needs surgery on the eve of the playoffs will do that to you.
To their credit, the Blazers made few excuses. They fought to the bitter end. Brandon Roy was heroic in game four’s Willis Reed-like comeback.
But after all the goodwill, hope and adrenaline of Roy’s return burned off, the Suns remained what they had always been: the best team in the NBA since the All-Star break and the better team in this series. Of the Blazers’ four worst losses this season, three came in the playoffs.
“They were a really connected team, and that doesn’t start when the playoffs start,” Roy said of Phoenix. “They played really well together. And you could tell that we were a team that was a little off balance.”
“We just never really had our team and our rhythm,” Roy continued. “That team, they play well and they were clicking at a high level.”
Thursday’s game six marked Roy’s third game of the series and first start. Beginning in his familiar position did little to bolster Roy’s production Thursday. In 37:00 minutes he made just four of 16 attempts from the field to finish with 14 points. Afterwards Roy alluded to the injury’s lingering effect on his game:
The Suns got off to an early lead Thursday that they built to double-digits by halftime. After a three point barrage from Martell Webster and Rudy Fernandez the Blazers tied things at 76. The Rose Garden believed. But calmly, Phoenix dug in. They rattled of the next eight points. The Blazers would not challenge again.
Afterwards, Suns coach Alvin Gentry pointed to the team’s defense as being the difference in the series. It wasn’t stellar, he said, noting Phoenix is still primarily an offensive team. But it was the difference in the Suns’ four wins.
One play during Phoenix’s critical 8-0 run summed up the matchup in so many ways: Jason Richardson Darted around a pick and started streaking right towards the rim, where Amare Stoudemire flipped him the ball for an easy, absolutely uncontested layup. It looked like an easier shot than the Blazers, who had clawed their way back with deep, difficult jumpers, had gotten all game—maybe all series.
“They disrespected us,” Roy said, explaining that aside from double-teams on key players, Phoenix defenders left a number of Blazers wide open.
In the four Portland losses, most all baskets came at a premium. In those games the Blazes averaged 89 points per game, eight less than their season average (it’s fair to say that the pace of playoff basketball declines, but take into account most regular season games aren’t played at the Suns). On Thursday the Blazers shot 38% from the field.
While the Portland’s poor offensive execution is undeniable, Martell Webster put the focus more on his own team’s failings than Phoenix’s modicum of defense.
Hitting six of ten shots and three of four from deep for a team-high 19 points, Webster played his best game of the series.
So did Rudy Fernandez. The heretofore forgotten Spaniard hit five of his six three-point attempts on his way to 16 points. But it was too little, too late. Or maybe just not enough.
The Blazers starters, for the most part, couldn’t make a shot. They were outscored by the bench, 49-41. As a unit, the starters shot a combined 14 of 48 (29%). The coldest of all was Andre Miller (2-10), who played just 18 minutes. Nicolas Batum, who made his only shot, played even less. He was on the floor for just 14 scant minutes. Marcus Camby, who played 21, was curt when asked why he didn’t see much time, especially late. It was not, he said, due to any lingering injury.
Coach McMillan’s lack of faith in his starters—the anchors and sometime saviors of this team—was somewhat startling in contrast to that of Suns’ coach Alvin Gentry. He said there was never a doubt in his mind about keeping Nash, who also played poorly early, out of the game late.
Afterwards, the Suns took a moment to savor the victory. In Steve Nash’s press conference Jared Dudley showed up in the media’s front row to ask questions and film for his series of web videos, “JTV.”
For Blazer fans, the loss wasn’t easy to stomach. With the result assured in the game’s final minutes, many poured towards the exits. When the final buzzer rang, maybe half of the Rose Garden remained.
They were the truly faithful. The ones who knew that, despite being once again jettisoned from the playoffs in the first round, this season was something special, maybe not one that will be remembered 20-years from now, but one that deserved respect now. The Blazers beat the brutal odds that a rash of injuries had placed before them. The fans knew it. They stood up and cheered.
“Phoenix Suns, dirty players,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said, chuckling. “Wow, we’ve come a long ways. Amar’e’s not a dirty player. He’s not even close to being a dirty player and neither do I think that anybody on their team is a dirty player. It’s the same thing that happens in any playoff series. When you play somebody five times, there’s going to be a little snippiness.”
• Rip City Project ditches the tuxedo T-shirt and classes up the joint with their new layout.
• I wish the league would use a better source than the NBA Store in New York and NBAStore.com in determining the most popular player jerseys, but Brandon Roy does make the list at #13. Not bad for a guy who hasn’t even started a playoff game this season. (I know nothing about the sport of basketball.)
While the offseason lives of the Blazers unavoidably looms on the horizon, it seem abundantly clear that no one on this team wants this season to end a few hours from now. Brandon Roy doesn’t want to go back to Seattle, Andre Miller doesn’t want to go back to his supermodel diet of starvation, Juwan Howard doesn’t want to go back to the golf course, and Marcus Camby doesn’t want to return to his home in Los Angeles (running into former teammate Chris Kamen at Safeway—awkward). Well, okay maybe Rudy Fernandez does. Perhaps he thought the season ended against Golden State and this is some sort of Summer League event. That would explain so much…
Instead of trotting out the “back against the wall” sports cliches, we all know that this Blazers team thrives on situations like this, and it’s only fitting that (obscure bench player) Brandon Roy will get the start tonight. Roy has a personal highlight reel of last second heroic plays that is growing so vast that it might have to be released in two volumes (sort of like Kill Bill, but less violent—unless you are a member of one of the opposing teams). Even if the Blazers lose and the next time we see the team is in training camp with Greg Oden back on the court alongside John Wall (Rudy to New Jersey for the number one pick, make it happen KP!), Roy should be on the court. This is his team.
Instead of talking about the Suns’ bench, or the game’s pace, or what happens when Steve Nash hits the double digit amount of assists (Phoenix wins, that is what happens), the Blazers just need to stay close. The Suns are their best when leading by around 10 points or so, because this team can turn a small point differential like that into a blowout in a matter of minutes. When the score is tight and the leads toggle between the two teams, Phoenix struggles to maintain a consistent level of intensity. The Rose Garden will be loud (redundant statement), Roy will be on the court for serious minutes (redundant statement), and I boldly predict that the Blazers bench—even Rudy—will have their best game of the series (absolutely insane statement). While no one in their right mind wants to go back to Phoenix (especially now), this is a Blazers team that isn’t ready to call it a season yet.
Tip-off: 7:30 pm TV: TNT/KGW Las Vegas Line: Portland -1 TrueHoop Network Blog: Valley of the Suns
“I have no regimen,” Miller says. After the season ends, so does Miller’s working out — no weights, no cardio, no nothing. “I really don’t pick up a basketball.”
Eating right also falls by the wayside. “(My diet) isn’t healthy at all,” Miller says. “Hamburgers, hot links on the Fourth of July, all that.”
To control his weight, however, Miller uses old-fashioned discipline. “I starve myself,” he says.
Also, I like how David Thorpe compares Miller not to other NBA players, but instead to a horse. Correction, a dead horse:
David Thorpe, executive director of the Pro Training Center in Clearwater, Florida, suspects Miller may have a genetic advantage.
“When they cut open Secretariat — the most amazing horse of all time — his heart was one and a half times bigger than that of the average thoroughbred,” says Thorpe. The same sort of thing may be true of Miller, says Thorpe. Perhaps his skeletal system and soft tissues are optimal for the rigors of the NBA.
Does he get paid by the paragraph? If so, his column just bankrupted that paper.
• Ben Golliver from BlazersEdge transcribed Greg Oden’s comments from his appearance on 95.5’s aptly-named “Greg Oden Show.” Did anyone else find it a little troubling when Oden admits that he has not contacted anyone on the team during the playoffs and doesn’t even talk to Joel Przybilla? Okay, maybe it’s just me.
And if you still want to believe in ghosts, witches, conspiracy theories and the effectiveness of blame, make sure to be just as honest when the Portland crowd intimidates the officials tomorrow. Just like they did in Game 4.
• May the Suns’ Grant Hill always be remembered via temporary tattoo. Wait, there was a Dream Team II? Was Christian Laettner on that team as well?
• Did you know that there is a one-armed juggler also named Jason Quick? Inspiring! (These are the kinds of links you get on an off night and when Nathan is not around. Sorry.)
• Coup from Rip City Project doesn’t want to hear anything about the officials. They’re right, the referees didn’t box Aldridge out and hold him to two (!) boards total. However, this did happen (via BlazersEdge poster brandonmitchell). Perhaps Marcus Camby has been spending time with Greg Oden and no longer has to actually be within 12 feet of someone to foul them?
• Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus agrees with Sophia regarding the rebounding, but also points out that the Blazers were unable to deploy the pick and roll defense that had worked so well in the previous game. I think Nicolas Batum may be in more pain than previously expected.
• Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the Hawks may have a draft pick for sale. Let’s hope Portland doesn’t use it on another overseas player since apparently Victor Claver doesn’t want to come over. Of course, how can you blame Claver? The last Spanish player to play for Portland seemingly disappeared and hasn’t been heard from in months. I have a feeling that in the next few years you’ll be able to pick up a slightly-used “Rudy” shirt at the Goodwill for a very low price.
The Blazers are bipolar and so is this series. There is just no in-between.
When the Blazers are manic—full of an scrap and energy—they win. But that energy level, it seems, is either peaked or nowhere to be found. When depression sinks in the Blazers become lifeless as the Suns run roughshod to a land where everything comes easy.
Unfortunately for Portland, depression has so far become the more dominant trait.
Monday’s pivotal game five opened with the Blazers’ mania. But the rush lasted just six minutes. After making their fist seven shots and racing to a 23-9 lead, Phoenix rattled off a 16-2 run, to tie the game at 25.
Instead of knocking out their opponent, the Blazers’ opening punch seemed instead to wake them up. Unable to maintain their early brilliance, the Blazers sunk back into depression. They were outscored 98-65 the rest of the way and the Suns won easily, 107-88.
In a way, Monday’s matchup in Phoenix became a game we’ve seen before: the Blazers had trouble scoring while the Suns poured baskets in with gusto and grace. There were, of course, a few new—and disappointing—rubs.
Brandon Roy was in uniform. As in game four he came off the bench. Roy entered with 4:22 remaining in the first quarter, and by the 9:52 mark of the second he picked up a third personal foul. It was back to the bench for Roy. He would never find his rhythm or a way into the game. Roy’s impact was negligible. Far from the heroic inspiration of game four, he might as well have been out with injury. In 19 minutes Roy scored five points on two of seven shooting from the field. He wasn’t the only Blazer plagued by foul trouble.
Marcus Camby was whistled for his second midway through the first quarter, which opened the paint and the Blazers’ defense for Phoenix to launch their comeback. In 29 minutes, Camby was effective, but the Blazers needed more. Whenever the lanky center went out, the Blazers fell apart. While playing through a dislocated pinky finger, Camby scored seven points, handed out four assists, and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds. The team battle for boards, however, was won by the Suns.
Phoenix grabbed 15 offensive rebounds and scored continually on their second chances. The Suns also dominated the Blazers in foul shots. Phoenix made 29 free throws to Portland’s 17. Both the rebounds and trips to the line are indicators of Portland’s depression in effort, reminiscent of both games three and four.
Suns reserves Channing Frye and Jared Dudely provided a heretofore unseen offensive firepower for the Suns. The two combined for 39 points off the Phoenix bench, matching their combined total of the previous four games.
Portland, on the other hand, got next to nothing from their second unit, besides 11 points in 12 minutes from Dante Cunningham. The Blazers’ bench were outscored by Phoenix’s, 55-23.
After a career night in game four and a hot early start, LaMarcus Aldridge again faded into obscurity. He wasn’t tough, and the will displayed previously seemed a thousand miles away. Aldridge scored only five points in the second half after the game was well out of reach. He finished with 17 points and a measly two rebounds.
For reasons I cannot explain, Nicolas Batum was limited to just 20 minutes by coach McMillan. Rudy Fernandez saw 15, but did not score.
Aside from the gravy points kicked in by Dante Cunningham, the lone Blazers to show up were Andre Miller and Jerryd Bayless. Miller led all scorers with 21. He got to the line regularly (although he would argue it should’ve been more) and even hit two threes, a rarity for the veteran guard.
Bayless was again tenacious and helped the Blazers strike first. His stroke from deep, undependable at best, found its mark Monday. Bayless hit three of five from downtown to finish with with 17 points, although he wasn’t particularly efficient making just six of 14 attempts overall.
As the Blazers return home for Thursday’s game six, they must find a way to again to engage and maintain their manic high. Another depressed outing like game five’s and that’s all she wrote.
– Channing Frye’s 20 points set a new playoff career-high.
– The Suns have not lost consecutive games since January 26th.
I must admit that I rarely ever get chills anymore, as it relates to this job. You numb a bit to that stuff over the years. But, looking up at the big screen, hearing the crowd, watching Brandon bounce around like a caged animal in the hallway, was something I won’t forget. Head-to-toe chills, and the thought that momentum was about to shift in this series. This is why we emotionally invest so much in sports. Moments like this. I was going back and forth between watching the big screen, and watching fans in the arena point to the screen to tell the people around them, “he’s going. He’s going to play.”
• Kevin Pelton over at Basketball Prospectus says it wasn’t just Roy’s huge return or Aldridge blowing up that won game four, it was the pick and roll defense. I’d like to take a second to point out a couple things here: First, LaMarcus Aldridge’s ability to defend the perimeter and force opposing point guards into low-percentage mid-range jumpshots without fouling is critically underrated. Secondly, Nate McMillan has come under fire for his “switch in emergency” pick and roll defense, but apparently, there is at least some merit to it.
• Bust a Bucket wants to know if Amare Stoudemire elbowed Batum on purpose (with video). Allow me to clear this one up. I think it was intentional, and that elbow wasn’t the only one Stoudemire threw at Batum that game. Earlier in the game after Jason Richardson shot a technical free throw, Amare slammed Batum’s shoulder with his elbow while running back down the court. It’s easy to see how intentional, and pathetic, it was. Meanwhile, PRS’ Ezra Caraeff thinks it was accidental. This debate will tear us apart.
Just when we thought we had witnessed every plot line (Jason Richardson good/Rudy bad. Blazers good/Suns better.) and had this series figured out, Brandon Roy emerges from the operating table and changes everything. The clean slate offered by Roy’s return means that this truly is a a best-of three series now. The Blazers will once again have to pull off an upset (winning in Phoenix), while defending the Rose Garden as well. It’s a tall order, even for a team that is once again being carried on the shoulders of its lone superstar.
Phoenix will not score 87 points again. Ever. At least not this postseason, so while game four offered a thrilling peek at a lockdown Blazers defense, and how truly powerful momentum can be in a series like this, the Blazers will need to rely on more than just the boost of seeing Roy on the court. Instead they’ll need to focus on containing the Suns’ wings, namely Jason Richardson. As J.Rich goes, so goes this series: when he scores 14 or 15, the Suns lose; when he scores 29 or 42, the Suns win in a blowout. In a similar role for Portland is LaMarcus Aldridge. While Roy captured the spotlight on Saturday, Aldridge did the real work. His game was fantastic, and thanks to Roy drawing the attention of the Suns, he was finally given enough breathing room to get off a shot without a hand (or elbow) in his face. Aldridge has proved that he is one great banana.
This is the year of the upset, right? Nine of the first 15 Western Conference playoff games have been won by the lower ranked, underdog teams. Let’s see if one more victory can be added to that list.
Tip-off: 7:30 pm TV: TNT/KGW Las Vegas Line: Suns -6 TrueHoop Network Blog: Valley of the Suns