There’s a beauty to pick up basketball: get whipped and run it right back. Just check it up top and go—a chance to prove that the way things fell apart last game wasn’t the real you. The Blazers don’t have that luxury, however. The rotten taste of Tuesday’s 119-90 blowout will linger for almost 48 hours.
So let the cliches begin.
Phoenix had their back against the wall. It was must win. The Blazers were happy just to get the split. The Suns have the confidence. Portland has home court. Phoenix were hot. The Blazers were cold. They miss injured players. They have enough. It’s about adjustments. It’s about energy.
In different measures, they’re all true. Come Thursday we’ll know which mean the most. Until then, though, one question looms in boldface:
What’s the status of Nicolas Batum?
At the end of the third quarter, fighting for a steal on Steve Nash, Batum injured the same shoulder that caused him to miss the first half of the season. The team called it a “shoulder sprain” and Batum would not return. He is scheduled to undergo an MRI in Portland on Wednesday.
After experiencing the pain, Batum grimaced, bit his jersey, and stayed put near the Suns bench, writhing. He was walked to the locker room by the Blazers team doctor, who kept an arm wrapped around Batum’s waist in apparent consolation.
Batum told Oregonian reporter Joe Freeman that he could not lift his arm above his head and the pain was the worst he’d experienced since the surgery.
It was injury on top of insult.
The Blazers play Tuesday was a mix of ugly and uninspired. They fell behind by double-digits to Phoenix in the first quarter and never made a concerted effort to fight back. The 29 point defeat was Portland’s worst of the season.
“They controlled the game from start to finish,” coach Nate McMillan said.
Phoenix were dominant on both ends of the floor. Offensively, the Suns assisted on seven of their first eight baskets. Jason Richardson and Grant Hill, who were quiet in game one, couldn’t miss.
For the Suns this season, Richardson in particular has been a rather steady barometer. When he scores 20 or more, Phoenix are 26 and four. On Tuesday, Richardson had his 20 points by halftime. He finished with 29 on 11-16 from the field and made four of five three point attempts.
Grant Hill was even more efficient. He made his first 10 shots and missed just one to finish with 20 points. But perhaps more important to the game at large, Suns coach Alvin Gentry put the taller Hill on Blazers guard Andre Miller. It was akin pouring sugar in the Blazers’ gas tank—the offensive engine died.
Gentry said he made the adjustment more to take defensive pressure off Richardson so he could focus more on offense. It worked two fold—Richardson got hot, as did Hill while handling Miller.
Coach McMillan said he expected the move coming into Tuesday’s game and the Blazers should’ve dealt better with it. Miller was often denied the ball, which caused Rudy Fernandez, starting in place of Brandon Roy, to initiate the offense, which sputtered in his hands.
“That adjustment shouldn’t have been that effective,” McMillan said. “Andre can work harder to get the ball, but Rudy should be able to start the offense.” It was like this all game—the Blazers just didn’t appear to be selling out on every play. They often settled.
Orchestrating the offense wasn’t the only thing Fernandez couldn’t handle. He took only two shots from the field and missed them both. All of the Spaniard’s five points came from the line, but even then he appeared weak.
On at least two occasions, Fernandez streaked to the hoop on a fast break. Instead of trying to make the basket, he instead sought the foul, as if (emotional) scars remain from last year’s Trevor Ariza hit scared him off. Not even trying for an and-one is far from a killer’s mentality, with scoring at such a premium—especially against the Suns—every point counts.
Starting in the place of Roy, the playoff spotlight was to be Fernandez’s chance to shine—to live up to the hype of his days as a star in Spain and to justify his gripes in the media about lack of opportunity here. He may get another chance, but if Fernandez can’t pick things up at the Rose Garden, expect to see his postseason minutes whittled down even further. It could be the beginning of the end of Fernandez’s long audition as a Blazer.
LaMarcus Aldridge (who the Blazers will continue to depend on regardless) also had his second poor performance of the playoffs. Aldridge’s troubles, however, are different—he does not lack confidence or understanding, and remains a focal point of the Suns defense. Foul trouble forced Aldridge to the bench early and he never really found any rhythm (like the Blazers offense at large). Aldridge scored 11 points on three of eight shooting and grabbed four boards in 28 minutes.
The only Blazer who deserves any praise at all is Martell Webster, who, consequently, could be moved into Fernandez’s spot should the horrid, lifeless play continue. Webster was active and, contrary to his usual struggles handling the ball in traffic, made a number of driving plays to finish at the rim. He notched team highs of 34 minutes and 16 points.
But as we all know, a team-high of 16 points wont come close to hanging with the Suns, who scored 30+ in each of the game’s first three quarters. Whether Tuesday was a fluke, a series of adjustments, just being content, or whatever cliche you want to throw at it, Thursday’s return to the Rose Garden couldn’t come soon enough.