PHOENIX — Alvin Gentry said before Game 5 that there are no more surprises. The Suns and Blazers essentially are who they are and both teams have a fair understanding of what it will take to shut the other team down.
“We’ve shown them everything, they’ve shown us everything,” he said. “It’s just a matter of settling it on the floor. We can sit here and play chess games or talk about doing this or doing that, but the bottom line is that you’re just going to have to go out there on the court, you’re going to have to play good hard-nosed basketball and find a way to win the game.
The teams have played five games and the Suns’ wins have drastically differed from their losses on the surface, with Phoenix scoring three blowouts by an average of 22.3 points per game and dropping a pair of fairly close contests. So I looked at a couple of advanced statistical measures to see if that could shine some more light on why the Suns hold a 3-2 lead entering Thursday’s Game 6.
On the surface, the story of this series has been that when the Suns control the pace they win and win big and when Portland does so then they lose, but if StatSheet.com’s stats are to be believed, then we started out in Game 1 with a pace right in the middle of the teams’ season average with 94 possessions and have gotten progressively slower.
What this means is that Portland has been controlling pace all series long, with the fastest game still being slow for Phoenix’s standards, and the Blazers won that game anyway.
What this tells me is that pace for what it really is has not really been a key to the series at all. The Blazers more than won the pace battle in Game 5 by the stat sheet, but what’s really important for the Suns is creating their rhythm and running out to some easy hoops. That leads us to the real measure of Phoenix’s statistical success.
The Suns have been the most efficient offense in the NBA for six years run, and they were one of the most efficient teams in NBA history this season in comparison to the rest of the league.
That has been a better measure of success in this series.
The Suns, who averaged 112.7 points per 100 possessions during the regular season, scored just 106.4 points per 100 in Game 1 on a 47.8 true shooting percentage and a putrid 98.9 in Game 4 on 47.3 percent true shooting.
By contrast, the Suns accumulated an overwhelming 130.8 (to Portland’s 98.9) in the Game 2 blowout on 56.9 percent true shooting and 120.0 (to 98.9) in Game 3 on 62.1 percent true shooting before going for 124.4 (to 102.3) in Game 5 on 53.4 percent true shooting.
In total the Suns still lead the NBA in offensive efficiency in the playoffs, just edging out Utah at 115.5 pp100, but their points per game numbers don’t look as gaudy because only the Orlando-Charlotte series has been played at a slower pace (combined the Suns and Blazers are averaging a hair under 90 possessions per game compared to Phoenix’s regular season average of 98).
So really what we can see from this is that when the Suns are their usual efficient selves, they are going to win that basketball game, especially because Portland’s offense cannot produce at those efficiency levels. The Blazers won Game 1 by scoring 111.7 points per 100 and Game 4 by going for 109.1 pp100. That’s nice and efficient, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t compare to the Suns’ numbers in their wins.
It’s interesting to me how in a series between the same two teams, the winner of the rebounding battle can differ so much. Rebounding has not had the same kind of impact that efficiency has of course, as the team that wins the battle of the boards is just 3-2, but it just shows how much rebounding comes down to effort.
Phoenix lost Game 1 despite corralling 54 percent of the available boards and it won Game 3 easily despite Portland grabbing a similar percentage of the boards.
However, the battle of the boards played an important role in the Game 5 story. The Suns got to 42.8 percent of the available offensive rebounds and 74.2 percent of the potential defensive boards, meaning they grabbed 58.5 percent of the total rebounds (season average 49.2).
Portland got to 57.1 percent of the potential defensive rebounds, well below their season average of 74.6 percent.
I know the officiating in this game favored the Suns and that Blazers fans in the Daily Dime Live chat were up in arms about it, but this just goes to show you that the Suns really were the aggressors in this game. The Suns won Game 5 because they brought their usual efficient offense after the first handful of possessions and controlled the backboards during their best day on the boards of the series.
I was surprised to see that pace has favored Portland all series long. It has sure seemed to be faster in some of these Phoenix wins.
As simple as this sounds, the Suns just need to hit shots. Steve Nash was “alarmed” by how many shots the Suns missed that they usually make in Game 4, and the poor efficiency numbers in that contest bear that out. If the Suns play with their typical rhythm and thus rack up their usual efficiency numbers, Portland won’t be able to hang with them in Game 6.
Also, if Phoenix can find a way to duplicate its rebounding effort from Game 5 then it won’t need to be quite as efficient offensively as it was in Games 2 and 3 as we saw in the Game 5 win.