LaMarcus Aldridge: The Game 4 difference maker

Although Brandon Roy will get most of the publicity, LaMarcus Aldridge carried the Blazers this afternoon. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Although Brandon Roy will get most of the publicity, LaMarcus Aldridge carried the Blazers this afternoon. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

While the main story line of today’s Game 4 matchup between the Suns and Blazers was undoubtedly the surprise return of Brandon Roy, it was LaMarcus Aldridge who caught fire and carried Portland past the Suns.

After mustering only 11 points in Game 2 and facing double team after double team en route to 5-of-14 shooting in Game 3, Aldridge put the Blazers on his back by exploding for 31 points and corralling 11 boards this afternoon.

Every time the Suns made a push, Aldridge answered with a baseline fadeaway or a mid-range jumper. When Amare Stoudemire scored nine points in a six-minute span to tie the game up at 78, Aldridge answered with eight points in the next three and a half minutes to give the Blazers a six-point lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.

His jumper was untouchable and STAT, Channing Frye and Jarron Collins had no answers for his length and high release. After the Suns double teamed him successfully in Game 3, they opted to play him straight up for most of this game, which clearly didn’t bode well for Phoenix.

The Suns left Aldridge around the perimeter for wide-open set shots far too many times in the fourth quarter. His stroke is one of the best in the league amongst big men, but for some reason Phoenix continued to allow him to wander freely around the perimeter.

Grant Hill and Stoudemire got confused defensively a few times on pick-and-rolls by Andre Miller and Aldridge, and the 6-foot-11, 240-pounder made them pay. But even when the Suns would close out and take away the jump shot, he would operate from the post and knock down his patented turnaround jumper from the left baseline.

The former Longhorn even mixed it up inside a few times and got to the line 12 times in 42 minutes. Aldridge also crashed the glass early and often, grabbing 11 rebounds, and he even made a nice wrap-around pass to Juwan Howard after snatching an offensive board in the second quarter.

Needless to say, Aldridge did it all today, which is exactly what the Blazers needed. The Suns were able to coast in Games 2 and 3 because Portland simply didn’t show the offensive firepower and shooting ability to counter a double team. But once he saw the Suns weren’t going to double tonight, Aldridge took the reins and went to work, shooting 11-of-19 from the field while posting the game’s best plus-minus (plus 13).

Aldridge was criticized for his lack of aggression in the last two games — during which he shot a combined 8-of-22. He was also seen laughing on the bench in the fourth quarter of the Suns’ Game 2 beat down, which didn’t sit well with a lot of fans in Portland.

But Aldridge came out with aggression today, and considering the rest of the Blazers shot 24-of-60 (40 percent), his knock-down shooting — especially down the stretch — was huge. He gives the Blazers the bonafide scorer that they have been missing, with Roy working his way back after missing the previous three games and Andre Miller still struggling with the length of Grant Hill.

Until Game 3 the Suns lived with Aldridge shooting from the outside, as he simply couldn’t connect. They slowed him with the double team in Game 3, but he was still able to get up 14 shots. The Suns once again gave him the outside jumper, but this time he was locked in.

Aldridge’s performance today was undoubtedly huge for Portland, as he kept the Blazers afloat in this series. But if he carries this confidence and momentum into Game 5, the Suns will have their hands full.

Roy is only getting healthier and more comfortable, and if the Suns couldn’t come away with a win when no Blazer except for Aldridge made more than four field goals, how are they going to respond if Roy gets into a groove also?

It will be hard to double team as much now that Portland is healthier, but the Suns need to find a way to keep Aldridge from establishing his fadeaway jumper, while making sure he doesn’t wander around the perimeter for open looks. Only two of his 11 made field goals were scored in the paint, so the Suns obviously have to respect his jump shot a little more or another big-time performance like today’s might be right around the corner.

LaMarcus Aldridge's Game 4 shot chart

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