Blazers attack first as they attempt to steal series
The Portland Trail Blazers made it happen.
Portland point guard Andre Miller outplayed Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash, a two-time NBA most valuable player. Miller controlled the paint and the tempo, pouring in a game-high 31 points and knocking down all 10 of his free-throw attempts in the Blazers’ 105-100 victory over the Suns in Game 1 of a first round Western Conference playoff series Sunday in Phoenix.
A strong performance by Portland reserve point guard Jerryd Bayless helped cover up for injured All-Star guard Brandon Roy. Bayless scored 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting, including nine consecutive points for the Blazers during a three-minute stretch that bridged the third quarter with the fourth.
Meanwhile, energetic efforts by Portland center Marcus Camby (17 rebounds, three blocks) and forward Nicolas Batum (18 points, five rebounds) offset a lackluster performance by guard Rudy Fernandez (five points on 2-of-7 shooting), who started in place of Roy.
All together, it was yet another team-first effort by the never-say-die Blazers, who took a 1-0 series lead with the victory.
Portland will attempt to improve its chances at stealing the series tonight, during a Game 2 matchup scheduled for 7 p.m. at the US Airways Center in Phoenix. The contest will be broadcast nationally on NBA TV and locally on KGW (8).
“We got that (first) game, and now we want to focus on getting the game (tonight),” Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. “We know this is a tough team. They can shoot that basketball, and we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
But after a tenacious Portland defense slowed down a Suns offensive attack that finished the regular season leading the league in average points (110.2), Nash said Phoenix also has serious work to do.
“I thought we were a shade of ourselves,” Nash said. “We’ve got a lot of improving to do if we want to win the series.”
The Blazers limited the run-and-gun Suns to just four fast-break points. In addition, Phoenix was held to 41.8 percent shooting from the field and 34.4 percent behind the 3-point line. All three numbers fell far below Phoenix’s season averages.
Portland slowed the game down by controlling the paint. The Blazers scored 44 points in the box. And while Miller attacked, LaMarcus Aldridge (22 points) pounded.
“That was important — they got on a little run there,” Nash said. “We weren’t committing so much from the weakside on penetration or post-ups like we need to, and they got inside. I think when they got inside, they were able to make a high percentage of tough shots.”
Meanwhile, Portland’s shapeshifting defense plagued Phoenix. As Camby locked down on Suns star forward Amare Stoudemire, everyone from Miller and Batum to Martell Webster placed as much emphasis on slowing down Phoenix as putting the ball in the basket.
Troubled by Camby’s long arms and shot-blocking prowess, Stoudemire never found a groove. He finished with 18 points. But the All-Star forward also committed four turnovers, got to the free-throw line just three times, and fouled out late in the fourth quarter.
“Amare is going to have to step it up and find ways to score for us. And we’ve got to get the ball to him in a good location,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “It’s one game, and now we’ve got to find a way somewhere in this series. We’ve got to take care of business (tonight), and go to Portland and win one of those games.”
The Blazers have other ideas.
McMillan, Aldridge and Miller said their team entered Game 1 brimming with confidence. Despite playing without Roy, Portland knew that if it stole the first game on the road, its chances would drastically improve to upset the Suns and steal the series.
Now, the first move has been made. And while Phoenix will likely answer with a variety of adjustments and improved execution, a proud Blazers team that overcame 311 missed games due to injury during the regular season has already set the tone in the playoffs.
“It’s big. Especially how (Phoenix has) played the second half of the season, going into the playoffs,” Miller said. “They have probably been the hottest team in the league. That right there says a lot about our effort.”
Blazers vs. Suns, 7 p.m. at US Airways Center
First round Western Conference playoff series
Blazers lead, 1-0
TV: KGW (8), NBATV
Radio: 95.5 FM
Position/player Ht. Pts.
G Andre Miller 6-2 31.0
G Rudy Fernandez 6-6 5.0
F Nicolas Batum 6-8 18.0
F LaMarcus Aldridge 6-11 22.0
C Marcus Camby 6-11 4.0
G Steve Nash 6-3 25.0
G Jason Richardson 6-6 14.0
F Grant Hill 6-8 4.0
F Amare Stoudemire 6-10 18.0
C Jarron Collins 6-11 0.0