Miller carries Blazers past Suns

Portland Trail Blazers point guard Andre Miller would not give in.

Yes, the Blazers were playing without injured All-Star guard Brandon Roy.

Yes, Portland was opening the first round of the playoffs on the road, against the heavily favored Phoenix Suns.

But Miller never caved. And the strong-willed veteran carried the No. 6 Blazers past the No. 3 Suns, 105-100, during Game 1 of a Western Conference playoff series Sunday night at US Airways Center in Phoenix.

Game 2 of the best-of-seven matchup is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday in Phoenix.

Miller scored a game-high 31 points and dished out eight assists to lead the Blazers, who took a 1-0 lead in the series. LaMarcus Aldridge added 22 points, while Nicolas Batum contributed 18 and Marcus Camby recorded 17 rebounds and three blocks.

“My main goal was just to keep pushing toward the basket,” Miller said.

It was Portland’s first road playoff win since 2003 against Dallas. And the impressive victory avenged the Blazers’ Game 1 first-round loss to Houston last season at the Rose Garden.

Steve Nash topped the Suns with 25 points and a game-high nine assists. Phoenix forward Amare Stoudemire finished with 18 points. But he shot just 8 of 19 from the field and fouled out late in the fourth quarter.

Blazers coach Nate McMillan said before the game that his team had to win the tempo battle, slowing down a Phoenix squad that led the NBA in average points, field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage.

Portland heeded McMillan’s words. The Blazers took away the Suns’ prized pick-and-roll game, and prevented Phoenix from picking up easy fast-break points — the run-and-gun Suns scored just four.

Despite playing without Roy — who is out for the series following knee surgery — the resilient Blazers initially ran through their offensive sets with smooth confidence, and showed no sign of giving in or lying down.

Led by strong inside play from Aldridge and sharp shooting by Batum, the Blazers jumped out to a quick 17-8 lead.

A 16-8 Suns run followed, though, and Portland’s advantage was
trimmed to 25-24 at the end of the first quarter.

Leandro Barbosa and ex-Blazer Channing Frye continued to propel Phoenix, and the Suns took a 40-35 lead after Nash sank a 3-pointer with 3 minutes, 48 seconds left in the second quarter.

But a combined 23 first-half points by Aldridge and Batum kept Portland close, and the Blazers held a 44-43 advantage at halftime.

“We just wanted to mix our post game up,” Miller said.

Portland held the Suns to 39-percent shooting from the field in the first half, while Phoenix starters Stoudemire, Jason Richardson and Grant Hill shot a combined 4 of 20.

Aggressive play by Portland point guards Miller and Jerryd Bayless pushed the Blazers after the break. But as Nash continued to fire away, the Suns took a 72-70 lead into the final period.

A swished 3 by Jared Dudley then stretched Phoenix’s margin to 77-75 with 9:38 remaining.

But Miller was just getting started.

The 11-year veteran lifted up and carried Portland in the fourth quarter. Alternating sharp drives through the lane with strong post-up moves, Miller scored nine of the Blazers’ 11 points during a three-minute stretch. And when he nailed a 3 from the right wing, it was 88-87 Portland.

“I knew they were going to bluff me, so I had to take the shot,” Miller said.

A rattled-in 3 by Batum from the left baseline with 1:46 left in the contest stretched the Blazers’ lead to 97-92.

Portland struggled to execute down the stretch, though, and a quick-release 3 by Phoenix’s Jason Richardson pulled the Suns within 103-100 with 12.5 to go.

But after Bayless followed up with missed two free throws, Miller sealed it by swishing two. The final basket tied a career playoff high.

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