Suns Only Home Team to Lose First NBA Playoff Game; Portland Trail Blazers Handle Phoenix 105-100. Next Game Tuesday Night
It's not the end of the world.
Each NBA playoff series is a best-of-seven, and we've seen many teams lose the first game and go on to take the series.
The Phoenix Suns were handled from the opening jump at US Airways Center last night by Coach Nate McMillan and the Portland Trail Blazers. McMillan, a great player who's become one of the best coaches in the league, handcuffed the Suns by controlling the tempo of the game.
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It didn't help that the Suns shot only 42 percent from the field and made just 34 percent of their three-pointers. Shots that normally swish through for Phoenix clanked off the mark on this night.
Aside from McMillan's strategy to smother the Suns on defense, there was the offensive prowess of point guard Andre Miller. Suns Coach Alvin Gentry said before the game that his stragegy was to keep the smallest player in the Blazers' starting lineup out of the paint, where amazingly he does the most damage. But the Suns failed to to that, and Miller lit them up for 31 points -- almost all of it inside.
Portland's other offensive weapon was forward LaMarcus Aldridge, with 22 points; and when Miller and Aldridge's putting-it-in-the-hole firepower was combined with the rebounding and defensive dominance of center Marcus Camby -- who had 17 boards and three blocked shots -- the Suns were toast.
Not that the Western Conference's third-seed didn't have a chance to beat its sixth-seed in the last seconds. A three-pointer by Steve Nash would have tied the game, and probably sent it to overtime. But Nash shot from too far out and hit the front iron. The pity was that reserve center Channing Frye, a three-point sharpshooter all season, was wide open when Nash made his off-balance attempt.
Portland won 105-100.
Camby (acquired late in the regular season from the L.A. Clippers) and the rest of the Blazers stifled Amar'e Stoudemire, the leading offensive player in the NBA the last half of the regular season, holding him to just 18 points before he fouled out in the final minutes.
Hey, it's not like the Suns shouldn't have seen this coming (or maybe they did and were powerless to do anything about it), since the Blazers won two of three games against Phoenix during the regular season.
Sports prognosticators weren't giving Portland much of a chance against the red-hot Suns after star shooting guard Brandon Roy went down with a knee injury a few games ago, but they should've remembered Portland has been playing with injuries all season. Center Greg Oden's been out practically all season with a knee injury, and backup big-man Joel Prysbilla went down with a hurt knee in December.
Point being: Portland's learned to play well without major puzzle pieces.
As for Phoenix's missing puzzle piece, starting center Robin Lopez will be out with his bad back for all of the Portland series -- at least -- according to Gentry. The Suns could've used him against Camby and the rest of Portland's big guys.
Nash played a great game, with 25 points and nine assists, but wasn't able to work his usual magic against Portland's stingy D. Guard Leandro Barbosa provided a spark off the bench in the first half, bringing Phoenix back from a nine-point deficit. He hit five of five shots -- including three treys (unfortunately, he missed three treys in the second half) -- for 13 points.
But, overall, the team just wasn't sharp, and McMillan's beaten-up Blazers (who won 50 games to Phoenix's 54 in the regular season) took advantage of that.
Indicentally, Phoenix and Portland were the last teams to start their opening-round series over the weekend, and the Suns were the first team with home-court advantage (sigh...) to lose the first game.
Tip-off for game two of the series against Portland is 7 p.m. Tuesday here. TV: Fox Sports Net. For more information, go to www.suns.com.