PHOENIX — Nobody on the Phoenix side was all too pleased in the hours following the team’s disappointing 96-87 loss in Game 4 to the Portland Trail Blazers.
The reason for Amare Stoudemire’s displeasure was simple.
“I don’t think we had great effort,” STAT said after Sunday morning’s practice. “They got a few rebounds off of free throws, they outhustled us. I’m a little upset.”
After a game in which the Blazers’ front line of LaMarcus Aldridge, Marcus Camby and Juwan Howard combined for 26 rebounds, including Aldridge’s 31 and 11 outing, Stoudemire watched film of Game 4 four times. One of those times came on the flight back from Portland with the coaching staff, a sign that STAT really wants to learn and improve.
On the bright side of Game 4, STAT played his best offensive game of the series in scoring 26 points on 9-for-16 shooting, finally finding a way to knife his way through Portland’s interior-focused defense. For a stretch of the fourth quarter, going to Stoudemire was the only way Phoenix was scoring.
However, Aldridge also enjoyed his best game of the series after Phoenix loaded up on him and limited him in Games 2 and 3, but Stoudemire and head coach Alvin Gentry both were happy with the kinds of shots he was getting.
“We’ll play him the same way,” Gentry said. “There’s a reason they just gave the guy $ million. He’s a pretty good player, so you try to take his strengths away and you try to make him do something that he feels a little bit uncomfortable doing. He’s shooting fall-away jumpers on the baseline. We feel comfortable with him doing that. We’ll see how it works out.”
Looking at Game 4 as a whole, it’s discouraging that Phoenix didn’t display any killer instinct following two straight overwhelming efforts. The Suns had a chance to essentially end the series, but instead they let the Blazers right back in, and Stoudemire isn’t happy about it.
“I think last night was a situation where we had a chance to really take control of the series, but we can’t dwell on that now,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure we take care of Game 5 in Phoenix. It’s going to be a big game for us. We’ll make sure we’re ready.”
Wanted: Bench production
Amare Stoudemire and Steve Nash have something to do with it as well, but one of the biggest reasons the Suns earned the fifth-best record in the NBA has to do with their bench.
But the bench just didn’t get it done up in Portland.
The Suns got only 18 points from their bench in Game 4, led by eight points from LB and seven from Channing Frye. The bench also contributed just 25 of the starter-led Game 3 blowout.
Part of it is lack of opportunity. During the regular season the Suns must have been the most rested team in the NBA, as Amare Stoudemire led the team in minutes at 34.6 a game and ranked 46th in the league. Steve Nash was second at 32.8 and 64th in the NBA. J-Rich (31.5 mpg) was 75th. That’s why Gentry never liked reporters asking him if so and so could use some rest.
But it was a different story up in Portland when Gentry inserted Nash, Amare and Grant Hill back into a 19-point game that was seemingly slipping away with 10:40 left in Game 3, and Nash returned a little earlier than usual at the nine-minute mark of Game 4.
“Right now the starters have been playing well, Grant, J-Rich, so you can’t really argue with them coming back in the game earlier,” said reserve Jared Dudley. “The only thing I can do is start hitting more shots to make it a little tougher on him putting those guys back so quick.
“If we go out there at the end of the first, beginning of the second and play real well I guarantee you coach Gentry will keep us out there longer. In the playoffs it’s all about production stays on the court and if not someone else will.”
Gentry said that he plans to lean on his bench more in Game 5 at home, where bench guys typically perform better in the playoffs. Dudley said the team needs a couple of the reserves to step up with big games after that quiet Game 4 off the bench.
“You don’t need just one, you need a couple,” Dudley said. “Either me or Goran, Barbosa, Lou. Every game there’s got to be two big guys, Channing. And yet we haven’t played real well and we’re tied 2-2, so I’m hoping these next two or three games — hopefully two — that we can play well and go get two.”
Dudley struggling with his shot
Jared Dudley’s a big reason the Phoenix Suns shot the three-pointer better than all but one team in the history of the NBA.
He just hasn’t been able to replicate that success in the playoffs.
Dudley ranked fourth in the NBA during the regular season after knocking down 45.8 percent of his long balls, but thus far in the playoffs he’s just 2-for-12 (16.7 percent) from deep. He has not scored more then four points in any game and is averaging 3.3 for the series.
“It’s all about rhythm for me, so once I hit one I’ll have my rhythm going,” Dudley said. “They’ve done a real good job closing out, making me put the ball on the floor. You’ve got to tip your hat, and hopefully I can make an adjustment and try to get it going.”
Dudley said he’s not getting the same kind of looks that he got in the regular season and might have to pump fake and then take a pull-up jumper to counteract that.
But it’s not just Dudley
Channing Frye, another top-10 three-point shooter in the regular season, is 4-for-21 (19.1 percent) from deep and is averaging 4.7 ppg since going for 12 in Game 1. Those two have dragged Phoenix’s three-point shooting percentage down to 36.9 percent despite Nash, Richardson, Dragic and LB all shooting better than 45 percent from distance.
In Game 4, though, nobody could find the range, as Phoenix shot just 26.1 from behind the arc.
With that stat in mind, here’s Steve Nash’s takeaway from the Game 4 loss:
“When I watched the tape I was in some ways alarmed, pleased and shocked at how many open shots we had that we didn’t knock down,” he said.
“If you look at those two games (Games 2 and 3) we shot the ball extremely well, and we got a cold night (in Game 4). We’ve got to make shots. They clog up the paint.”