For the past three months and change, no one in the NBA has been able to slow down Amare Stoudemire — until tonight. Trail Blazers center Marcus Camby, who most everyone on ValleyoftheSuns feared would make his presence felt in this series, bothered Amare and Suns penetrators from start to finish, leading Portland to a 105-100 victory in US Airways Center.
“I think they came out with good intensity defensively,” Stoudemire said after the game. “They really tried to double team us and be scrappy out there and kind of clog the lanes up and make us beat them from the outside.”
While LaMarcus Aldridge and a few doses of Juwan Howard also tried their hand at Amare, it was ultimately Camby who limited Stoudemire to 18 points on 8-of-19 shooting, along with the game’s lowest plus-minus (minus 16).
The lengthy center forced Amare into contested running right hooks, some questionable shot selection and four turnovers.
“He’s just a vet, he knows how to defend,” fellow veteran Grant Hill said of Camby. “He does a good job, he has length. He crashes the offensive boards, he keeps the ball in play, so it was a good addition for them, and we’ve got to get him under control.”
Although Andre Miller exploded for 31 points and eight assists and Jerryd Bayless and Nicolas Batum both stepped up with 18-point contributions, it was Camby’s 17 rebounds, three blocks and masterful defense that allowed the Trail Blazers to keep things close and ultimately pull off the Game 1 upset.
Everyone who has watched the Suns during the second half of the season knows that Stoudemire is the biggest reason the Suns are 26-7 since the All-Star break. STAT has been the go-to guy and one of the NBA’s best offensive players, but Camby made him look like the Amare that Suns fans didn’t exactly mind trading before the halfway point rather than the Amare that most people are now ready to give a max extension to.
Tonight Amare was a shell of his second-half self, so to speak. He was only able to corral a pathetic two defensive rebounds (eight total), and he looked somewhat pedestrian on the defensive end — a botched box-out on Aldridge resulting in a tip-in late in the game comes to mind. Camby bothered him in every facet of the game and never allowed Stoudemire to get into a rhythm.
One of the biggest reasons STAT has been so dominant and efficient is his ability to get to the free-throw line. His free-throw attempts per game have almost a direct correlation to his scoring average. When Stoudemire averaged 27.3 points per game in March, he was earning 10.8 trips to the line per game. When he posted 25.3 points per contest in February, he went to the charity stripe 8.2 times per game.
Needless to say, when STAT is being aggressive and getting to the line, he’s nearly unstoppable. But Camby limited his aggressiveness tonight, as STAT earned just two trips to the line (2-for-3).
Portland cut down all of Amare’s lanes and limited the Nash-Amare pick and roll as well as anyone has all season long. STAT simply had no room to operate because of the length of Camby. The Blazers also forced Nash to over dribble at times, allowing Portland’s bigs time to recover after hedging out on screens.
“They did a great job of playing boxing and elbows,” Stoudemire said. “They did a phenomenal job defensively. They clogged up the lane there a little bit, so it was kind of difficult to get into our offense.”
There were no high-flying Stoudemire slams that Suns fans know and love. There was no sight of Amare pounding his chest after a feroucious And 1, and no shots of him flashing his jersey to the crowd after an Anthony Tolliver poster.
Instead, Amare was seen emotionless on the sideline after fouling out with 1:21 remaining in the game. With just over a minute and a half remaining and the Suns down five, Phoenix went to Amare, but as was the case the entire game, Camby got the best of him.
Camby stripped the ball as STAT made his move toward the hoop, and Bayless ultimately collected the ball and was fouled by Richardson, resulting in two free throws and a seven-point Blazers lead. That possession alone just about summed up Amare’s night offensively.
Although he got 19 shots up, he was somewhat of a ghost on offense. Five of his eight makes came on putbacks from offensive rebounds, meaning that he really only scored three field goals in the normal flow of the offense. But it wasn’t only Amare that Camby affected.
His length deterred Suns wings (Jason Richardson and Hill combined for 6-of-21 shooting) from slashing and getting to the hole, forcing Phoenix to jack up 32 three-point attempts (hitting just 11). Yes, the Suns are one of the best shooting teams in the league, but you simply can’t rely that heavily on the deep ball, especially in the playoffs.
The immediate impact of Stoudemire’s sub-par performance and Camby’s stellar defense and rebounding is huge. Portland takes one in Phoenix and sets the tone for the series in a big way.
But although the loss hurts in the short term, the scariest part is that this could very easily be a recurring theme. If Stoudemire and the Suns don’t find a way to penetrate and get easy buckets, it’s going to be a long series full of never-ending Camby boards and blocks.
“He’s a long guy and does an excellent job of blocking shots and doing some things,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry, “so Amare is going to have to step it up and find ways to score for us, and we’ve got to get the ball to him in a good location.”
Michael Schwartz contributed reporting.