PHOENIX — As we move toward Game 6 of this first-round series between Phoenix and Portland, there are no more surprises.
The Blazers have already played their Brandon Roy trump card, and no, Robin Lopez won’t be walking through that door for the Suns.
When asked before Game 5 what would surprise him at this point, Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said, “If Oden showed up and played. Or Przybilla. It’s out there guys. We’ve shown them everything, they’ve shown us everything. 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.”
Added Grant Hill, “We played them twice in the preseason, we played them three times in the regular season, we played them [five] times …..”
As Hill was saying, with five games played in the series and 10 battles waged between the squads throughout the year, we have a pretty good handle on what needs to happen for Phoenix to win Game 6 and clinch a spot in the second round of the playoffs, namely finding that rhythm in their offense that has allowed them to be one of the most efficient teams in NBA history relative to everybody else in the league all season.
After conducting an advanced statistical analysis of the first five games yesterday, I’ve determined that pace isn’t the end all be all statistic that we all seemed to assume it was in terms of success in the series. What really matters is how efficient the Suns’ offense is.
The Blazers have controlled the pace throughout the series in terms of possessions per game, but when the Suns have scored at their usually efficient rate they have won that basketball game, and by an average of 22.3 points per game at that.
“It doesn’t have to be a breakneck speed, but as long as we push the tempo and get into our plays quickly it will allow us to get better spacing to score the ball,” Amare Stoudemire said.
Amare’s statement speaks to what Alvin Gentry has been saying all season about the Suns being a rhythm team, not a running team. If the Suns can push for some easy opportunities and otherwise create the spacing for open shots, they will win this basketball game.
I feel the true outlier in this series was Game 4. Not only did the Blazers enjoy the emotional return of Brandon Roy, but the Suns’ efficiency numbers (98.9 points per 100 possessions on a 47.3 effective field goal percentage) were WELL below what they have done in their wins and a good deal lower than their 112.7 pp100 for the season as well. The Suns actually went for better than 130 pp100 in Game 2 and were over 120 in their other two wins.
This backs up what Steve Nash said the day after Game 4 about how he was “alarmed, pleased and shocked” about how many open shots Phoenix missed in that game (pleased in that it wasn’t likely to repeat). If the Suns connect on these routine shots, we’re talking about if we’d rather the Suns play Dallas or San Antonio right now, so I would say Phoenix just missing shots had a bigger impact on the result of Game 4 than Brandon Roy, the refs, Portland’s crowd, Jesus and everything else.
“We’ve got to attack the same way, no letups and continue to play great defensively,” Stoudemire said. “And when we got open shots we’ve got to knock them down.”
It would also be nice if the Suns would bring their bench with them to Portland. The bench has been great in Phoenix, particularly during its 55-point Game 5 effort, but it’s been largely non-existent up in Rip City.
Perhaps Channing Frye and Jared Dudley will be bringing more confidence to the home of the Blazers after their big previous games.
“We’re going to need that kind of performance from everybody when we go up to Portland on Thursday,” Grant Hill said.
It’s kind of amazing that Portland is one game away from forcing a Game 7 in a series in which the Blazers have been so thoroughly outplayed in three of the five games, with all of them being over after three. The Suns have outscored the Blazers by 53 for the series, yet Portland is hanging tough.
I’ll be looking to see if the Suns can vindicate themselves for the egg they laid in the Rose Garden in Game 4 when they had a chance to put a stranglehold on the series yet played flat, missed shots they normally make and allowed Portland’s bigs to dominate the backboards. The Blazers wanted it more that game and got the win they so desperately needed.
But now the Suns can smell blood, and I have a feeling they won’t be duplicating that effort tonight.
“We’ll just go up there and be extremely focused for Game 6 and not get ahead of ourselves,” said Hill, who doesn’t want to look ahead to being a victory away from his first playoff series win ever.
“But it’s good to be in the position that we’re in. We’ve got a tough assignment on Thursday with two opportunities to get one. It would be nice if we could get it on Thursday.”