The Trail Blazers have won collectively and now they are losing collectively. Just as it took a unified group effort for Portland to get a remarkable 50 wins during the regular season and capture the sixth seed despite umpteen injuries, the lack thereof has cost them the last two games.
Batum, Aldridge and Miller played superbly in Game 1 to get the Blazers a hard-earned victory over the higher-seeded Suns. But after Portland took a beating in the subsequent two games, folks looking for someone to blame have unfairly pointed fingers at individuals like Aldridge. The fact is that the Blazers have struggled collectively in these last two games. Aldridge is facing double teams every time he gets his hands on the ball. So when Aldridge passes out of the double team, his teammates have to help out and hit their outside shots. But the perimeter guys have been shooting poorly during this series. Just as different guys came to the fore throughout the season, every player has to accept accountability, make the necessary adjustments, make good decisions and make something happen in this series.
The Suns played with much more energy and focus in Games 2 and 3. They learned from losing Game 1 at home that playoff basketball requires total effort and concentration at all times. Credit the Suns coaching staff for making a key adjustment after Game 1 by switching Grant Hill onto Andre Miller, which took the pressure off of Jason Richardson who was originally guarding him. Not only has Phoenix done a great job of shutting down Miller with strong defense, but now that Richardson doesn’t have to worry about him, he’s been able to focus his energies on offense and wound up being a major contributor – leading his team to victory with 29 and 42 points in the last two games.
The fire was missing from the Blazers’ game a couple nights ago, but I expect them to be amped up and prepared to play much better ball in today’s Game 4 matchup. Portland has to come out with intensity and play with a sense of desperation; they definitely do not want to go back to Phoenix down 3-1. This game is going to be much more physical than the first three games were. Pace and tempo are so important for these two teams, which like to play at opposite ends of the spectrum. The number-one-in-scoring Suns want to get down, get good shots up, spread the floor and hit lots of threes. Once Phoenix gets out and running they’re impossible to catch, so the Blazers need to control the pace and slow them down. With all the emotion flooding the capacity-crowd filled Rose Garden, it will be tough to pull the reigns in what will undoubtedly be a spirited matchup.
Dick Stockton and I have the call along with Marc Fein on the sidelines at 4:30 PM ET on TNT.