As halftime rolled to a close, Portland fans took their sweet time getting back to their seats. Some didn’t bother returning at all.
For all practical purposes, the game ended with the first quarter. Phoenix came roaring out of the gates while Portland simultaneously stalled. The Suns were up, 34-16. Lights out.
At the half, things had only gotten worse. The Blazers were down 29 and for the first time in months, Rose Garden fans were boo’ing the home team. What’s more, the Blazers deserved it.
Like Tuesday’s blowout loss before it, the Blazers resembled a team without energy, and worse, without hope. Thursday’s 108-89 drubbing, however, recalled something even worse: last year’s playoff opener against Houston.
And just like the Rockets did one year ago, Phoenix did the Blazers Thursday—they ate their souls. Phoenix pushed a heel down into Portland’s throat, watched the body’s life drain away, then twisted and dug in one more, just to be sure.
The home court advantage—both in number of games remaining and the psychological edge it provides—has been stolen by Phoenix.
Every adjustment that the Suns made in game two carried over unchallenged to game three. Grant Hill again contained Andre Miller, the carburetor of Portland’s offensive engine. Quick double-teams stifled LaMarcus Aldridge into another hapless night the post. Rudy Fernandez couldn’t do anything right (until the game was well out of reach).
Coach McMillan agreed that game three felt much like the one before, and in keeping with the consistency, said again the difference was energy, grit, and a quick start.
For the Suns, their barometer, Jason Richardson again scored 20 points in the first half on his way to a playoff career-high 42. Phoenix are now 28-4 this season when Richardson scores 20 or more.
Suns coach Alvin Gentry says Richardson is a key part of their game plan—that the way the Blazers choose to defend the pick and roll, Amare Stoudemire in particular, leaves Richardson open.
And lord, was he. Whatever the defensive tradeoff, there was a point after which the Blazers had no excuse to lose Richardson—say after he had 30. But again and again, Richardson found himself with no defender withing 10 ft. He called it the best game of his career.
The Blazers had nothing new to show. In fact, they had less. Nagged by a shoulder strain, Nic Batum sat out the second half.
And while the series isn’t over yet—a game four win could pull the zombie-Blazers from the proverbial grave—the crack of daylight Portland has left to wiggle through has become the size of a pin prick.
After scoring 17 points on five of 17 shooting, LaMarcus Aldridge, who has been asked over and over what he’s going to do to turn the series around, had no definitive answer. After being pushed and elbowed by Amare Stoudemire, Aldridge pushed back a bit towards the end of the third quarter. The exchange earned both technicals fouls. It was, however, too late in the game for Aldridge to decide to finally get touch. Afterwards, he was as mopey and stunned as I’ve seen him all season.
The Suns, meanwhile, are riding high. After losing home court in game one they’ve regained it convincingly. They were playful afterwards, although they don’t expect Portland to come in and give up game four without a fight.
One question remains: have the Suns, long known for their offensive prowess, finally found a tenacious defense to match? Or are the Blazers, without Brandon Roy, making Phoenix appear better than they really are?
I’ve said it before—the time for excuses with this Blazers team has long passed. And I don’t think Brandon Roy would be the difference maker in the series thus far. In other words, Phoenix are playing passable ‘D’ for the first time in the Steve Nash era.