Outscoring the opposition 31-11 in the fourth quarter will usually get you a victory and it not only did that Tuesday night in the Rose Garden, it helped to wash away a lot of memories of the first three quarters. Which were not pretty.
First, a look at the players individually:
- Nic Batum — A pretty solid game after a poor shooting start. Hit a couple of big threes in the fourth quarter, then sent his coach into an insanity mode when he missed another momentum three early in a shot clock. If he goes 19 points and 11 rebounds every night he’s going to be an all-star candidate. Early in the game, Steve Nash was on him and he didn’t post him up — some things with this team never change.
- LaMarcus Aldridge — Ugh. Three for nine from the floor, eight points. Phoenix spent much of the game with Hedo Turkoglu on him and the Blazers often didn’t even consider throwing the ball to him. When Aldridge did attempt to post up, the double teams came swiftly and Aldridge and his team had no avenues to deal with them. Some ugly stuff there.
- Marcus Camby — a solid game with just one blocked shot in 30 minutes but 13 points and 10 boards. You can live with that.
- Brandon Roy — Played nearly 40 minutes and somehow made 9 of 20 from the floor, even though his shot selection was shaky at times. Six assists and two turnovers and he did have the ball in his hands a lot. Went isolation at times with very little success. The Suns have seen that junk before.
- Andre Miller — Off night. And with that said, he salvaged nine assists and 10 points.
- Wesley Matthews — Not sure how well he’s going to shoot. When he misses, he can miss bad. Great hustle, though. Does a lot of little things and a few big things.
- Rudy Fernandez — Quiet night but three steals and three assists without a turnover.
- Armon Johnson — A very special night for a rookie in his first NBA game. Loved his confidence level and savvy. A better point guard on his first night here than Jerryd Bayless was on his last night here.
The Suns opened the game going right at Roy. They isolated him on a wing and drove the ball right past him, much as they did Fernandez a time or two. When they wanted to do it, it was very effective. Later, though, that strategy took a back seat to Steve Nash’s solo dashes into the lane. The guy is still big-time deceptive but it was hard to ignore he had nine turnovers — some of them pretty perplexing that perhaps you may want to chalk up to the fact that the guy is getting older and he’s taken a heck of a pounding in his career.
All in all, I didn’t really see many changes from the Trail Blazers over last season in the way they played. Maybe a little better defense, although the Suns shot 48.6 percent. You could say Portland “forced” 19 Phoenix turnovers but that would be ignoring how many of those gaffes were unforced. The Blazers did attempt to blitz some pick-and-rolls once in a while, which was effective. But by and large, the pick-and-roll defense still needs work.
Portland’s “help” defense still needs a lot of work. They get themselves isolated and then can’t get help. In some cases, it’s horrible to watch — like when Johnson picked his man, Goran Dragic, up full court and Dragic blows by him in the back court and nobody — NOBODY — steps up to turn Dragic, allowing the Phoenix guard to get all the way to the hoop for an “and-one.” That stuff stinks — you ask the point guard to pick up full court, then you’ve got to be ready to back him up by cutting his man off, if necessary, long before that man gets to the basket.
On offense, it was mostly the same old stuff. A lot of broken plays — or no plays at all — that resulted in one-on-one forays by players not very skilled at that. A lot of missed opportunities to post up smaller players — or inability to handle double teams whenever those players did post up. Ball movement and player movement is still in short supply.
More will be learned when this team hits the road tonight. Incidentally, I’ve been around the Blazers for a long time and don’t ever remember the team having to make an east-coast trip during the first week of the season. That is not a great thing, quite obviously.
I’ll reserve judgment about the team overall, though, for a few games. What we saw last night was passable — but certainly not championship caliber. But it was a start, which is what opening night is all about. It was great, though, to see both Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden out there on the bench with their team.
That’s the future, right there.