PHOENIX — And into enemy territory they go. After splitting with the Trail Blazers at home, the Suns head to the Rose Garden, where a hostile welcome awaits.
Few would have thought before the playoffs began that the series would be knotted at a game apiece heading to Portland, but it may have been the wakeup call the Suns needed.
Hitting the road, where they were 22-19 this season, the Suns know they have to carry over the effort and focus of Game 2 to make the most of their trip to Rip City.
“We know the game is going to be huge,” Suns guard Jason Richardson said. “We want to go up 2-1, so we have to go in with the same passion we had [in Game 2].”
Keys to the game
Pace. No surprise here, as pace of the game has been the biggest factor in both games so far. At the risk of sounding repetitive, the Suns cannot play Portland’s game.
“We’ve just got to do everything we can to make sure we’re playing the style of basketball that we’re accustomed to,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said at practice Wednesday.
The fast-paced style the Suns were able to implement in Game 2 neutralized the Trail Blazers’ ability to take the kind of shots they prefer. Portland couldn’t keep up and played sloppy, unfocused basketball. The Trail Blazers are certain to make adjustments for Game 3 in an effort to once again take control of the game’s pace.
“It’s a chess game,” Richardson said. “Everybody’s trying to adjust to what the other guys did the last game.”
It’s on the Suns to make their own adjustments to be ready for what Portland brings early in the game.
“It’s going to be a battle of wills — who’s going to impose their will on the other team,” Gentry said. “The first game … they did it. The second game we did it. Now we come to a game where one of the wills is going to win out.”
Approach. At practice Wednesday, nearly every player and coach talked about the need to remain aggressive in Game 3.
“I thought we were a little passive in Game 1,” Suns point guard Steve Nash said.
The Suns let the Trail Blazers come to them in Game 1 instead of going after them, something they should have done instinctively on their own court.
Game 2 saw a relentless and focused Suns team play aggressive basketball like they did during the final stretch of the season.
“We basically played the way we’ve been playing the last two months,” Gentry said. “We forced the issue a little bit offensively and were able to get some easy baskets.”
Forcing the issue will again be crucial, especially with the confidence Portland is sure to possess, having won a game in Phoenix and now playing in its own arena.
“Obviously they feel like they accomplished what they needed to here,” Gentry said. “They came and got a split, and now somewhere along the line, we’re going to have to win a game in Portland.”
Defense. All obvious keys in this game, but it’s not like this series was a mystery in terms of what the Suns needed to do to win it.
Grant Hill’s defense on Trail Blazers point guard Andre Miller probably stood out the most, as Miller went from 31 points, eight assists in Game 1 to 12 points, three assists in Game 2.
“I know there’s not another 37-year-old guy in the league that can guard Andre Miller that way,” Gentry said.
Hill’s defense will obviously be key again, especially if it can free up Richardson in the same way.
After getting abused on the boards by Marcus Camby in Game 1 (17 rebounds), the Suns were able to effectively limit him in Game 2 (10 rebounds). Credit that to the efforts of Lou Amundson, Channing Frye and Amare Stoudemire.
“I think the way we defended in the second game was more about who we are,” Gentry said.
In order to go up 2-1, the Suns will need to be that team again.
Batum questionable tonight?
The Trail Blazers announced yesterday that Nicolas Batum suffered a strain in his right shoulder during Game 2 and is questionable for Game 3. However, Batum has said all along that he’ll be playing. In this video from The Oregonian, Batum says he’ll play, but doesn’t seem totally convinced. It will be interesting to see if Portland coach Nate McMillan decides to hold him out.
|Blazers-Suns: Nic Batum says he will play in Game 3|