Bar fights are metaphors for basketball games.
Kevin Garnett made it so with his remarks following the Celtics’ 27-point, comeback victory against the Magic on Thursday. One well-documented, NBA-related bar fight fits this one perfectly.
In the Phoenix Suns’ 109-71 loss to Portland in the Rose Garden on Friday, the Blazers were indeed Charles Barkley. The Suns? They were that guy Barkley threw through a bar window on Oct. 26, 1997.
There was a clear winner. The loser showed no sign of fighting back and the Suns must slump off to lick their wounds. They are now outside the bar — cut, bruised and confused — wondering what in the world just happened to them.
This one wasn’t about the Portland Trail Blazers’ 8-1 home record coming into it, nor their motivation to exact revenge upon the Phoenix Suns, who bludgeoned them by 25 points earlier in January.
That game might as well have been a dream.
The Blazers pinpointed, exposed and exploited every one of the Suns’ flaws. Portland found itself down 24-21 after the first quarter. From then onward, their youthful and athletic energy punished Phoenix by outscoring the Suns 26-9 in the second quarter and 31-12 in the third. LaMarcus Aldridge scored 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting, and all but one of his baskets — an 11-foot jumper — were three feet or closer. The Suns couldn’t even muster the frustration to foul the power forward and put him on the free throw line. He hit 3-of-5 free throws, and Gerald Wallace backed him up with 17 points, all but five of which came in the paint or at the free throw line. Portland went on to score 52 points in the paint.
The Suns’ own free throw woes told another story in the game. A team almost exclusively exposed of jump shooters couldn’t hit their freebies, hitting only 9-of-18 foul shots. That translated into game play, where they shot 37.2 percent from the field and 30.8 percent from three-point range.
Grant Hill’s 10 first quarter points would have led the team in scoring if he had stopped there, and he pretty much did. Hill finished with only 12 after his hot shooting petered out, and he didn’t receive much help. Marcin Gortat’s double-double streak of nine games came to an end with his eight-point, 10-rebound performance, and two-time MVP Steve Nash only put in five points and seven assists in 24 minutes before being relegated to the bench thanks to the blowout.
With Hill’s final points of the game coming off a jumper with 5:33 in the second quarter, the Suns wouldn’t hit another field goal for 7:30, on a Gortat layup in the third. It was part of a 14-3 Blazer run to put them ahead 56-35 three minutes into the third. Portland gave Phoenix a kill-shot midway through the third quarter with four consecutive three-pointers, the last of which put them ahead by 33 points.
It was all but over by that point.
The Suns looked ill-prepared and their timing was off throughout the evening. They had 22 turnovers and that combined with their putrid shooting performance gave Portland the opportunity to pick apart the Phoenix defense as the game progressed. In the second and third quarters, the Suns missed eight shots within five feet of the cup, and their urgent pushes on offense didn’t help them find a rhythm. Rather, it made their efficiency more erratic and forced.
Friday was almost a sign from the basketball gods that Phoenix’s roster, no matter how well they execute, can’t compete with a talented and athletic team like the Blazers. Not that they executed well, either.
Length hurt Phoenix: Marcus Camby’s 20 rebounds and three players with three steals each were too much. Talent was on Portland’s side: Jamal Crawford had 10 assists and Wesley Matthews was a dead-eye shooter at 4-for-7 from three-point land. Will was on the Blazers’ side too: They out-rebounded the Suns by 17 and Chris Johnson shoving Hakim Warrick while hanging on the rim after a dunk late in the game showed that they were more willing to pick a fight than even the Phoenix players in the midst of their most embarrassing moment of the year.
And like Charles Barkely was feeling about Jorge Lugo, the man Sir Charles chucked (pun intended) through a plate-glass window in ’97, the Blazers probably don’t feel sorry about it.