I think we will learn a lot about the Phoenix Suns and their chances of advancing deep into the playoffs this afternoon.
The Suns have already accomplished what they needed to accomplish in Rip City by winning a game (and in dominant fashion at that) to regain home-court advantage in the series.
Phoenix can now take the series without winning another game away from downtown Phoenix, and with the way the last two games have gone the Suns appear to be firmly in command of things.
Basically, the Blazers now find themselves in the exact same situation that the Suns found themselves in before Game 2, desperately needing a win at home to get themselves back in the series.
Game 2 is when this series turned. The Suns played with that requisite hunger while the Blazers seemed content to take a split back home to Portland.
In a nutshell, the Blazers need this game to have any chance of making this even a competitive series, whereas the Suns will head home in good shape regardless of what happens today.
So what we will find out this afternoon is if the Suns are a team that’s satisfied with a split, satisfied with taking back control of the series, or whether they’re a ruthless killer that will step on Portland’s throat and effectively end the series in the Rose Garden. Although the knockout punch would officially come on Monday in Game 5, the Suns can end the series for all intents and purposes with a victory this afternoon.
But to do so they will have to match the Blazers’ intensity level and continue to dictate tempo as they have the last two games. Three games into the series it’s obvious that Portland can’t match the Suns when Phoenix is at its best, but now is not the time to get complacent.
The Blazers must be embarrassed after getting shellacked two games in a row, but the question is if they will have the horses to do anything about it.
Nicolas Batum is a game-time decision, and my gut says he won’t be able to go and if he does he will be limited like he was in scoring three points in 10 minutes while recording a minus 16 in Game 3. He means so much to their perimeter defense and is a shooter they badly lack, so this is a big blow because at this point even with Batum in the lineup the Suns seem to have the Blazers figured out.
Grant Hill and Jared Dudley can limit Andre Miller, and then they have been doubling LaMarcus Aldridge hard to prevent him from getting to his sweet spots, taking away his right hand and middle jump hook in particular.
Now it’s the Blazers’ turn to adjust after Gentry made the defensive adjustments that have sparked this turnaround by leading to the stops that allow the Suns to get out in transition and control the tempo. If I were Nate McMillan, I would focus on shutting down Jason Richardson, who has played out of his mind the last two games.
Amazingly J-Rich leads the NBA in playoff PER with a 37.20 mark through three games that even beats out LeBron’s 31.19 during the regular season when he produced a year for the ages. I know, small sample size, but it just goes to show you how insanely productive and efficient Richardson has been.
J-Rich is the Suns’ leading scorer in the series by about 10 points while averaging 28.3 per game and scorching the nets for a 76.8 true shooting percentage. He’s also led the Suns in boards in two of the three games, pulling down a team-best 8.0 per contest for the series.
The Blazers have hedged Nash on the screen and brought help when Amare rolls. They have also collapsed on Amare in the paint often enough for him to say after Game 2 that this feels like the series against Memphis in 2005 when the Grizz made the rest of the Suns beat them while making STAT their center of attention.
J-Rich and the rest of the supporting cast have done just that, so I would expect McMillan to try something else. Of course, the Suns’ offense is so historically good that it’s a pick your poison situation, but with the Suns averaging 118.6 points per 100 possessions this series, the Blazers would be wise to try anything else. If that means less attention for Stoudemire, expect him to have a monster game.
At the end of the day, though, McMillan just doesn’t have the horses to go blow for blow with the Suns. Unlike the past two games Phoenix will be getting Portland’s best effort, but if the Suns just play their game there’s nothing the Blazers can do about it.
The most encouraging sign to me heading into Game 4 is something Grant Hill told Paul Coro after Game 3 on Phoenix’s sluggish second half.
“I’m mad about how we played in the second half,” Hill said. “We lost our edge at halftime and got complacent. We need to learn from that, be mad about that and come back to battle Saturday.”
If the Suns do as Hill says, they’ll be coming home to Phoenix with a commanding series lead.