The Portland Trail Blazers had heard for days how they didn’t have a chance against the Phoenix Suns without Brandon Roy. They were going to be blown off the court, outclassed, outmatched. They didn’t have an answer for Steve Nash or Amare Stoudemire. And everyone seemed to believe it, too – except for the Blazers, who slowed the game down and came out with a 105-100 victory in Game 1.
And all of a sudden, the pressure was on the Suns. Dozens of articles appeared proclaiming the Suns to be finished. Their run-and-gun style just wasn’t suited to the playoffs. We always knew they couldn’t win. And they certainly didn’t have an answer for Andre Miller or Jerryd Bayless. And everyone seemed to believe it, too – except for the Suns, who cranked up the pace and cruised to a 119-90 win in Game 2.
The playoffs are all about adjustments. As you keep playing the same team over and over, you learn how they work, which way each player prefers to drive, and who you need to watch at the three-point line. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Phoenix was able to make the necessary adjustments and impose their style of play on Portland in Game 2. You can expect Portland to make further adjustments for Game 3, and so on.
But what happened to turn a five point loss into a 29 point blowout? Certainly there were double teams, more efficient closeouts, and so on, but they make so much more sense when you can see the actual effects. Let’s turn to spider graphs to see exactly what happened.
First, we’ll start with Phoenix. Their defense stepped up last night, but the major story of the night was their offense taking off. The most impressive example of that was Jason Richardson, who had 20 points at the half and finished with 29, a far cry from his Game 1 performance. His graph reflects just how large a leap he made:
Not only did he put up a lot of points, but he was pretty efficient doing so. That certainly wasn’t the case on Sunday, when he saw most of his shots clank off the rim. He didn’t produce quite as much on the defensive end (rebounds and blocks, mostly), but when the jump in offense is that big, you don’t really need to.
Grant Hill didn’t do too badly, himself. Let’s look at his graph:
Um…yeah. Hill was absolutely unstoppable for Phoenix in Game 2. As you can see, his shooting is literally off the chart (Hill was 10/11, good for 90.9%). Considering the Suns got virtually nothing from him in Game 1, this was pretty major for them. His 16 extra points made up over half of the margin of victory.
But while the Suns’s offense was spectacular, their defense wasn’t too bad, either. The Blazers’s major contributors, who seemed like they couldn’t miss in Game 1, seemed like they couldn’t buy a basket in Game 2. The graphs show this better than I can describe. Let’s start with Andre Miller, who was a one-man wrecking crew in the first game.
Game 1’s graph is gigantic. Game 2’s is tiny. There’s really not much else to say. Miller absolutely dominated the first game, but Phoenix adjusted and threw a near-constant double team on him. He wasn’t able to get his shot off, and he had trouble passing out of it.
Speaking of double teams, LaMarcus Aldridge saw his fair share of those for the second straight game. How did he fare?
His blocks went up, but not much else. He hardly saw the ball in the post, so it’s no surprise his points and assists took a dive. This is exactly the sort of graph Phoenix wants to see from Aldridge. And if he can’t impose his will inside, it’s the sort of graph Portland is going to continue to see out of him.
So where did all of Aldridge’s shots go? Marcus Camby ended up taking most of them, actually. How did that go?
Pretty badly, actually. Camby isn’t usually an offensive contributor, so his drop in defensive production is the alarming thing here. Since the Suns were making virtually all of their shots, it’s understandable that opportunities for rebounds and blocks were comparatively slim. But Phoenix’s effort to turn him into a shooter rather than a shot blocker was very effective. Look for Portland to try to reverse that in Game 3.
I expect both teams to make adjustments for the next game. I’d be surprised if we saw another blowout on the level of this game again. The Suns probably won’t shoot that well again, and the Blazers probably won’t perform that poorly, either. But there’s one graph that I think sums up all of Portland’s fears and worries for this series:
That’s Brandon Roy’s replacement. Not only are they not getting Roy’s production, or even anything close to it, but they aren’t getting anything. Fernandez’s already microscopic graph from Game 1 all but disappeared in Game 2. A title contender might be able to survive while getting zero production from one of their starters (I’m looking at you here, Los Angeles). But there’s no way a second-tier team limping into the playoffs can. Either Rudy has to produce, or the Blazers will be bounced in a hurry.
We’ll see how he and everyone else adjusts on Thursday.