PHOENIX — Two years ago the Portland Trail Blazers needed to impose their style of basketball to have any chance in a playoff series against the Phoenix Suns.
On Friday night the Blazers did just that — yet the quicker pace only served to ignite a 102-77 blowout victory for the Suns.
“We had a better rhythm,” said Suns guard Steve Nash. “The tempo of the game suited us more. We had a little bit more of the flow to it that was familiar to past teams. I thought that allowed us to find comfort. We made more shots probably as a result.”
The Suns jumped on the Blazers from the start by doing what the vintage Suns teams of the past decade did best: getting out and run. They raced to eight fast-break points in the first quarter to set the tone for a game Portland never challenged in.
This was only possible, according to Alvin Gentry, because the Suns were running on misses rather than makes.
“We were able to get into the open court more,” Gentry said. “We had them a little bit on their heels rather than them going back, having their defense set. To me that was a real key to us getting off to a good start.”
Gentry has gone to great lengths to explain that the Suns’ focus on defense should not affect the offense whatsoever. Tonight the defense impacted the offense in a positive way. By holding the Blazers to 32.5 percent shooting and winning the battle of the boards 47-38, Phoenix could get out in the open floor.
This effort set the tone for a game that would be played at a quicker pace than previous Suns games this season — 95 possessions, Phoenix’s second-fastest of the year and likely even faster in the first — and Nash showed he’s still an elite open court point guard.
Two Time played his best game of the season in a nearly perfect outing: 19 points on 7-for-7 shooting, nine assists and just three turnovers.
“I always think he’s going to play that way,” Gentry said. “I’ve been around him long enough to think that he’s going to play that way, and he usually does unless there’s something physically wrong with him. When he’s not then I would say nine out of 10 times that he’s going to play pretty good. I think he’s beginning to have his legs under him.”
Offensively Portland just could not get anything going all night, shooting just 32.5 percent, including 10.5 percent on three-pointers. Gentry praised the work Markieff Morris and Channing Frye did on LaMarcus Aldridge (14 points, 6-for-14) yet even on this off night he was the Blazers’ most productive player.
Gerald Wallace scored just one point on 0-for-6 shooting, Nicolas Batum was 4-for-13 and Jamal Crawford shot 3-for-14 for a Portland team that entering today averaged 102.8 ppg (third) on 45.0 percent shooting and that had only once been held below 100 points.
Clearly Portland did not play like a team that entered the game with the West’s best record; instead the Blazers played like a team that arrived in Phoenix at 4 a.m. after a hard-fought game against the Lakers, which also was the case.
“Everybody’s going to go through that,” Gentry said. “We’ve already done that, we’ve had back-to-back games, and I think that’s why you’re going to see scores like the one tonight. Do I think that we’re 25 points better than they are? No, but I think that given the opportunity to take advantage of something like that you better do it, especially at home.”
Added Crawford: “I think (the Suns) did what good teams are supposed to do when you see somebody has a back-to-back against L.A. — you jump on them early.”
And the Blazers never picked themselves off the mat after the Suns played perhaps their best offensive quarter in the first. Portland’s shots just weren’t falling and the team clearly lacked energy.
Just like the Suns on their back-to-back in Oklahoma City they never had a chance, so give some credit to the scheduling gods, but that should not take away from how well the Suns played.
Beyond Nash, Jared Dudley chipped in a season-high 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting and Marcin Gortat added 12 and eight on 6-for-8 shooting in his first game of the season played without a splint on his broken right thumb. The bench extended the lead, with Morris (13 and nine) and Hakim Warrick (12 points) contributing along with Robin Lopez, who amazingly grabbed 12 rebounds in 18 minutes but also committed four turnovers and fouled out.
“Our bench came in and played well and that was really important,” Gentry said.
Like Gentry said, the Suns certainly are not 25 points better than Portland, but they continued to play solid defense and added an up-tempo element that allowed them to run to easy scores with Nash running the show to perfection.
That’s the kind of recipe that could allow Phoenix to beat a good team even on equal rest.
“It’s pretty apparent that that’s the best we’ve played the whole year against a real quality team,” Gentry said.
- Nash returned to the locker room just before tipoff to put on his “uni-bra,” the chest protector that equipment manager Jay Gaspar was late getting to him. Based on his performance perhaps he should finish getting dressed late more often.
- Every Suns but one earned some playing time in this laugher, with Josh Childress being the lone player to earn a DNP-CD. Can you say amnesty?
- The Suns improved to 66-1 all-time when holding an opponent under 80, including 2-0 this season. … The Suns have held four of their first seven opponents under 45 percent shooting for the first time since 2005-06. … Phoenix held its fifth opponent under 100 points, the best such start since 2003-04. Last year they held five of their first 30 opponents under the century mark.
- Morris is the only NBA rookie to average at least eight points and five boards per game, as he’s now putting up 9.1 points and a rookie-best 5.9 rebounds per contest. David Thorpe ranked him third in Rookie Watch, writing this: “Now he needs to focus on not being just a shooter in order to become an effective starting-level talent in this league. Morris is such a good shooter that it would be easy — and wrong — to look only for pick-and-pop 3s. He has to find a way to bang inside for a bucket or a foul. He’s a big, strong man who is a much better low-post scorer than many people realize. So he needs to take advantage of it.”