There is no arguing tonight was the Jason Richardson show. His 42 points and eight treys were undoubtedly the difference in the game, but oftentimes even when one of the Suns goes off offensively, Phoenix still allows its opponent to hang around.
But tonight Phoenix threw a double team at LaMarcus Aldridge that forced the Blazers to beat the Suns with their perimeter players — a formula that doesn’t bode well for Nate McMillan’s club.
Every time Aldridge touched the ball he had another defender run at him. Not only does this stop him from getting into a rhythm, but it also puts the pressure on guys like Andre Miller, Jerryd Bayless and Rudy Fernandez to get it done.
And if those are the guys the Suns have to stop to win, they should like their chances.
Gentry would have never employed the double team if he thought the Blazers’ perimeter punch could burn the Suns with deep balls and driving layups. And after watching the game tonight, he was definitely right in his thinking.
Most Western Conference playoff teams have the shooters and penetrators to read the double team and take advantage, but not the injury-depleted Blazers.
Every time the Blazers kicked it out of the double team, either a three-pointer was attempted (and missed more often than not, as they were 1-for-12 from deep aside from four late Rudy Fernandez treys) or Portland swung it around the horn and ultimately drove to the hoop only to attempt an off-balance, contested layup.
Who on this team can possibly shoot the Blazers out of a double team?
Rudy Fernandez showed it late in the game with a quartet of deep balls, but it is a lot easier to knock down shots when you are trying to chip away at 20-point lead than it is when the game’s on the line.
Martell Webster can do some damage when he gets hot, but he’s been searching for consistency since he made the jump from high school. Miller certainly isn’t going to rip the cords with his no-jump, line-drive jump shot, especially with the job’s done on him. And when you add in the fact that Nicolas Batum re-injured his shoulder tonight, Portland is scrambling for answers.
The Trail Blazers aren’t a good three-point shooting team, and when the Suns force them to become one, things get ugly for Portland. If Aldridge was an excellent passer or the Blazers had some superb slashers, the double team certainly wouldn’t be as effective. But the fact is, he isn’t and they don’t.
The Suns and Richardson took this game from the Blazers right from the opening tip, but victories like this have a lot more to do with Portland’s limited weapons rather than the Suns’ explosive offense. The Blazers simply had no one to turn to offensively when they couldn’t dial in from deep, and Miller was stifled by Hill (11 points, four turnovers tonight).
After you make the defense shift, you need someone who can attack the gaps and get to the hole, but the Blazers simply don’t have that guy.
Jerryd Bayless is the only legitimate “put your head down and attack the basket” type of player on the Blazers, but there is no way that he can shoulder the load himself. Even if he beats his man off the dribble, the Suns know there is no one with shooting prowess to kick it to, so they collapse and Bayless is left dead in the water. The only other offensive threat for Portland would be Aldridge, but the Suns never allowed him to get into a rhythm with their ferocious double teams.
If you look at Game 1, sure Marcus Camby’s job on Amare Stoudemire was a huge reason for the Suns’ loss, but Portland’s perimeter players actually showed some worth. Miller went off for 31, and Bayless and Batum both chimed in with 18. But Game 2 was a lot like tonight’s game in that Portland’s perimeter offense was nonexistent, at least until garbage time rolled around.
Bayless, Miller, Batum and Fernandez combined to shoot 10-of-30 from the field in Game 2, and that story held true again tonight until the Blazers made a late push. Credit Gentry and the Suns’ staff for pulling the trigger on the Aldridge double team, taking him out of the equation and making Portland’s weak perimeter players beat them.
Yes, the Suns’ offense exploded tonight.
Yes, J-Rich went into beast mode for the second straight game.
Yes, the Suns got after it on the defensive end, but Portland simply lacks the offensive firepower to make any type of dent in a Suns lead.
Unless Brandon Roy makes a speedy recovery or Miller goes LeBron status again, this series may not even go six games.