Give credit to the Phoenix scouts—they did their job.
After Friday’s game, I mentioned that the Wizards made their fourth quarter comeback once Flips Saunders went to the zone. And judging by what happened Sunday, Saunders appears to have found a hole. McMillan even said Friday that Saunders “hid” the zone from them until the fourth quarter.
On Sunday, Phoenix did much the same thing.
The Suns went strictly to the zone down the stretch in the fourth quarter and a four point Blazer lead quickly turned into an eight point deficit. In the final period, Portland put up just 19 points against one of the weaker defenses of the NBA. Possession after possession, the Blazers were unable to find daylight for good shots—many were forced just to beat the clock. On a night where Andre Miller takes—and misses—a whopping six three point attempts it’s safe to say the wheels fell off.
Portland hit just two of 17 three point attempts, which allowed the Suns to confidently sag even further into their zone.
The horrid shooting performances of Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge were also eerily similar to the Wizards game. In Phoenix Roy made just eight of a mind-boggling 25 attempts while Aldridge netted six of fifteen. In the last two games the two Blazer stars are have made a combined 24 of 75 attempts (32%).
On the defensive end, Aldridge had an equally fitful time defending Amare Stoudamire. And although Stoudamire was held to just 18—four below his average—on shooting that rivaled Aldridge’s, the Blazer forward was forced into fouls time after time—they just happened to be on the floor. Jerryd Bayless’ held defense was equally ineffective.
The lone bright spot in Blazer colors was Marcus Camby. The veteran piled up game-highs with 16 rebounds and five blocks.
Through three quarters, Andre Miller was in the savior category as well. As Roy and Aldridge couldn’t hit the backside of a barn, Miller kept things close with constant pressure. That was until the fourth quarter when he missed all six attempts to finish with 22 points on seven of 20 (in all fairness, Miller was forced into a number of these shots by way of flaming bag passes). Roy led all scorers with 23.
As a team, the Blazers shot just 36.4% from the field. They kept it close for as long as they did for two reasons: 1.) they had only four turnovers—a season low, all of which came in the third quarter; and 2.) as a team Phoenix shot 38.8%—not much better. It was the first time in 13 games that the Blazers scored less than 100 on the road.
Despite all the horrible shooting statistics, it’s gets worse. The Blazers could’ve stayed in this game had they made their free throws. In the final six minutes the Blazers missed four free freebies (Camby clanked one, Batum one, and Aldridge two). As a team Portland missed eight (21 of 29).
More than ending a five game winning-streak for Portland, this loss is notable because of the razor thing margins separating the five through eight spots in the western conference playoff race. Coming into tonight’s game both San Antonio and Oklahoma City lost. Phoenix and OKC were only a game and a half ahead of Portland. Sunday’s lost kept the Blazers in eighth. With a win they would’ve jumped the Spurs.
Overall, an odd game. A tough barometer, as the scoring Phoenix usually foments was so out of character. Rest assured, with Dallas and OKC on the horizon, we’re going to know soon.