Well, I'm not sure it was a Willis Reed moment, but when this half-full Rose Garden caught a glimpse of Brandon Roy in warm-up gear, it might as well have been. For those who, like me, spent last night getting drunk and arrived to the arena not long before tip-off, this was quite a surprise. I'm sure that in-the-know folks were less taken aback. Still, it's a sight for sore eyes. Now let's see if Roy can be the difference-maker for the Blazers.
Honestly, the Rose Garden should NEVER, EVER, EVER play Avery Watts' "A Cut Above" here again. It was bad enough when Watts visited the Rose Garden and played a disastrous half-time show, but to let his music soil these playoffs is nothing short of scandalous.
And the chants begin anew...
The riff rock needs to stop. Classical music, sure, but the generic distorted guitar chugga-chuggas that make Portland—a fantastic music town, may I remind you—look like a bunch of methheads, that needs to stop right now.
The introductions start. Batum is playing. Marcus Camby is playing. Jerryd Bayless took Rudy's starting spot (an excellent idea that I suggested in my last blog—I'm sure Nate reads these very carefully each night).
Let me start by saying that I saw Craig Sager in the breezeway and he looked very conservative. Rebecca Harlowe, meanwhile, is wearing a bright yellow prom dress with hanging sleeves. Something's happening here...
Grant Hill gets an easy dunk to start things out, and LaMarcus Aldridge winds up with a jumper on the other end. He sinks it, which is a good early sign for his game—even if you're of the opinion that LaMarc needs to get aggressive and get into the paint.
This crowd is ready to explode at the first sign of Blazer dominance. LaMarcus hits a long jumper, but the Blazer guards look off to start.
Batum with a three. Hallelujah, shots are falling. But as Steve Nash proves, they're falling for the Suns, as well.
Still too many wide-open jumpshots for the Suns, and they're shooting 71 percent now to Portland's 37. Were those early hits fool's gold?
Marcus Camby on Jason Richardson at the three-point line: Not going well. Luckily Richardson misses two of them, and Nate takes a timeout. 13-7 Phoenix. Not the start Blazer fans wanted, but the hope is that Brandon Roy will be the ace in the hole for the Blazers. We'll see if Nate's ready to sub him in just four and a half minutes into the game. "Let's Go Bla-Zers" breaks out again. Roy's not taking off his tracksuit just yet.
LaMarcus lays it up and he's got six of the Blazers' nine points. But Amar'e cuts backdoor for an easy alley-oop on the other end. How many of those have we seen in this series, and what is Portland going to do about it?
LaMarc at the line and he misses the first free-throw. The crowd, instead of going silent, starts cheering him on for the next.
It's so embarrassing, the way the Blazers have been wholly unable to stop the Suns offensively. Seems like every time they get into the halfcourt offense, Steve Nash sets up a simple pick-and-roll and gets the SUns a basket.
Brandon Roy enters the game and it's completely deafening in here. He gets Rocky-style intro music and Juwan Howard is beaming from the bench behind him. This is special. Remember this.
Bayless checks out for Martell Webster, and all of a sudden this looks like the Blazers again. Roy scores to put Portland up 20-19 but when Steve Nash makes up his mind on the other end, he's unstoppably fast. Martell tries to block his shot but has no luck. Guy is amazing, man. He's absolutely amazing.
Amar'e gets his second foul. Not a huge call, since he was benchward bound anyway after ten minutes on the floor, but Blazer fans know what a big deal he is and they respond loudly. "Hey Amare, I Have an ELBOW for You," a sign in the crowd reads. The lady holding it probably wouldn't hurt Amar'e even if she hit him at full force.
Jerryd Bayless checks in and forces Steve Nash into taking a three he doesn't want to take. Rims off and the rebound eventually makes its way upstream to a cutting Brandon Roy, who lays the ball in with ease. "Ah-Brandon Ah-Roy," the announcer says, as if imitating Confucius. Weird. In any case, Portland is stoked.
Blazers will start things out here down 26-27. A guy named Denver is playing the Price is Right-style price-guessing game sponsored by Home Depot. I feel like Portland should boo him just on precedent. But this game is stupid anyway. They ask which of two prices is "the new, reduced price" for various home improvement items. It's always the lower price. Of course. Why would Home Depot give you two prices and have you pick the higher one? That would be a big disappointment for everyone.
"Channing Frye for Three." Words we rarely hear these days but that sting like death now. He hits one from the corner despite decent pressure from a rushing Martell Webster. Phoenix goes up 30-28.
Andre Miller and LaMarcus check back in after abbreviated breaks while Louis Amundson splits a pair of free-throws. Juwan stays in. Rudy has yet to do anything. He misses a free-throw and Juwan gets the put-back.
So what happens to Juwan now that Portland, hypothetically, has three centers? Does he retire this summer? Can Portland keep him around to play a few minutes a game? I have lots of questions.
Rudy hits a three to put Portland up by two, and on the other end the Blazers are making the Suns bench players look really frazzled. This is the first evidence of a real Portland push we've seen in three games. And as I type this, LaMarcus throws a crazy pass over Rudy's head. Timeout. Gonna be a long...afternoon, I guess.
You've gotta love LaMarcus this afternoon. He's angry out there. This time he fights off a floppy, ponytailed Louis Amundson in the paint and puts a touch of flop into his swagger. The refs HATE Amundson, so this is always a good bet.
Like I said, they HATE Louis Amundson. He picks up his second foul on Andre Miller and heads to the bench. But the Suns are starting to hit their three-pointers at the same time that Portland is missing its free-throws. The offensive strategy—throw to LaMarc and see what happens—is getting more complicated as the double-teams get tougher. Blazers up one point with 5:30 left. I hope I can keep this Pulled Pork Philly (Po' Shines, the Rose Garden's best-kept secret) down when things get intense.
B-Roy's back in the game and taking a beating. Knocking on wood up here.
Blazers go into the penalty as LaMarc takes a shot from Jarron Collins. Just gotta hit them free-thows, boys. Aldridge is 5 for 8 after splitting these. Free-throws were no small part of Thursday's loss.
All of a sudden the Suns can't hit lightly contested layups or wide-open three-pointers. Brandon Roy takes the ball to the hole on the other end and gets knocked down by J-Rich. He recieves a standing ovation. Portland up 48-43 before Roy's trip to the free-throw line.
Brandon goes one-of-two. What is up with the free-throws?
On the other end, the Blazers are suffocating Amar'e. The Suns' big boy has a leg up on LaMarcus in the passing department, though, and he hits Grant Hill with a nice one here. Grant Hill is the boss, mang. You've gotta admire what he's done in this series.
What's the big difference here, you ask? The Blazers are taking the ball to the basket. And isn't that ALWAYS the difference? Every time a team turns a series around and the analysts say "What did you do differently?" the coach responds "well, I think we were the more aggressive team offensively."
The defense is nice, too.
Steve Nash misses a free-throw, which is kind of like witnessing a solar eclipse. But the Blazers are flattening as the game heads to halftime. A standing ovation with 12 seconds left, and Marcus Camby tips in an errant LaMarcus jumpshot to give the Blazers a four-point lead. It's not a big margin of error, but it sure feels better than being down 31.
It's those crazy bucket boys again, and though I've criticized Portland in the past for this (why bring in Chicago-based bucket-players when there are plenty right here in Portland), these guys are actually really impressive. Very precise. Okay, time for Root Beer Floats. See ya in 15.
Well, that could have gone better. Two three-pointers from Jason Richardson and a long jumper from Jarron Collins get the Suns to a 58-55 lead before Jerryd Bayless gets an and-one opportunity (makes it) after getting literally slapped on the wrist.
In the "that's realy big" department, Phoenix already has two fouls. Blazers aren't going to miss their free-throws forever, and Portland might spend some real time at the line.
LaMarcus sneaks into position and Andre Miller lobs him the same alley-oop that Nash and Amar'e have been running all series long. Do not think this fact is lost on the crowd: They let out a long, joyful cheer.
All tied up, Phoenix ball. They let Amar'e have it and he throws to Grant Hill in the corner. It's a huge break for Portland when he bonks it off the front of the rim. Dude can't miss lately, and he had time to watch his whole life flash before his eyes while he thought about taking the shot. I wonder what the highlights were? Mostly Sprite commercials, I bet.
I want you to go to your local playground hoop, and just try your best to rein act that Marcus Camby jumpshot. Now try to hit two in a row. The man is a freak of nature.
Jerryd Bayless with one of his nicest cuts to the rim all year. He sidesteps Steve Nash. He dazzled him, he demeaned him, he double-dog-dared him! (I'm trying out my chops as a broadcaster.) Steve Nash is mystified, mortified and m--m--meltified...
That third M is always the hardest.
LaMarcus Aldridge is stepping up against Amar'e. And Jerryd Bayless is faster than Steve Nash. Jerryd Bayless also just fucked Jason Richardson's shit up. And if the refs a tech on him — HOLY SHIT, THEY CALLED A FLAGRANT!!!! That's incredible, as Bayless had his hands on the ball, and Richardson went after him after the play! Amazing. Terrible, terrible call. Remember when these used to be the NBA Playoffs? Remember when guys could play basketball? I'm disgusted by that one, and it's already changing the tone of this game.
The Suns' last shot is under review. How about reviewing that ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE flagrant foul call.
Can we talk about the flagrant foul call in the NBA? What is it supposed to prevent against? What is it supposed to be about? Because when a player is going for the ball in the NBA playoffs, and when said player takes a hearty hit himself from the cutting man, I'm not sure I understand what the problem is. If a player clotheslines the offensive man or grabs him and throws him down, fine. If the defensive man grabs his guy's face, shoulder or hip and pulls him down, fine. But if they collide in mid-air as the defensive man is trying to dislodge the ball, that's called a foul. Someone has to explain this one to me.
Blazers need to stop acting like me and focusing on the past. Suns tie things up. Remember when I was excited that the Suns had committed two fouls early in the third? Now the Blazers have the Suns in the Penalty.
There's some really ugly screaming from a big dude in section 212. I'd hate to be the person absorbing all his spittle one chair down.
Blazers get it to Roy, who's up against Dudley. He kicks it to Martell upon being double-teamed, and Marty misses the three. 74-72 Blazers.
Right now Phoenix is shooting 46 percent to Portland's 45. But 30 of Phoenix's points are in the paint (and they're well below they're average right now at 72 points). So they're clunking a lot of mid-range jumpers and threes (they're 6-for-19 in that department). A quarter of shooting 50 percent, then, could easily get the Suns back on top.
We need to just watch this together for a little while and collect ourselves.
Well, two things have become pretty clear here. One, that Brandon Roy's shot is off. Two, that LaMarcus still doesn't know how to deal with the double-team. He gets trapped here and is forced to call a timeout. It's a tie game, and I would describe the mood in the arena (and probably the mood at your home) as one of hopeful breathlessness. If you're a Portland fan, your muscles are locking up and your breaths are getting shallow--it feels as if any move you make might throw the outcome. That leads to a relatively quiet arena. But Juwan Howard finishes a nice inbounds play and everyone starts breathing again. Until Amar'e drives straight to the hole.
It looks as if Brandon Roy will be on-court from here on out. And if I was a betting man I'd put five bucks on Alvin Gentry picking up a technical foul before this is over. I hope I'm right.
This is one of those games where both teams feel as though they're being molested by the refs. Almost every possession, somebody is throwing their hands up in the air and letting out a holler. And you know what? I think they both have legitimate points.
Suns are in the penalty. MAKE YOUR FREE-THROWS, PORTLAND.
Sometimes these things write themselves better than any script could. The Blazers, kicking the ball from man to man to man to try and find something—anything—resembling an open look wind up tossing it into the hands of Brandon Roy, who's just behind the three-point line. Roy hesitates at first, then pulls the trigger. Blam. The Blazers get a little groove back and this crowd gets back into it.
Amar'e on one end with the forceful jam, and LaMarc on the other with the elegant layup. These are very, very different players, but they're going blow-for-blow tonight. LaMarcus Aldridge has been the story of this series—sometimes for better and sometimes for worse—and he's right in it there again tonight.
Amar'e is very lucky to avoid a technical, throwing his arms and barking at refs. Gentry, meanwhile, looks calm and collected. Suns can't keep the ball on offense, and Brandon Roy pulls a Brandon Roy, dumping a step-back jumper over Jason Richardson. Two minutes left!
Apparently no one told the Blazers that Steve Nash is pretty good. Blazers up six with just over a minute left. Things get real scrappy with the ever-aggressive Amar'e and Brandon "The Boss" Roy.
Insanity! INSANITY! David Stern, you need to step in and do something about this. Channing Frye wrapped Nic Batum up and held him, preventing him from falling on the ground. HOW IS THAT A FLAGRANT FOUL!?!? Granted, if the Bayless foul was flagrant, so was this. BUT NEITHER OF THEM WERE REMOTELY FLAGRANT IN NATURE and these refs have gone completely nuts if they think what just happened to Nic was flagrant. This is bad for the game.
Okay, to recap, Blazers are up seven. It felt pretty good tonight, and that's with Brandon Roy looking like he's about 70 percent. If he can get some swag back before the Zers head to Phoenix, that's going to be huge. The Blazers need to steal another one there in order to give them an opportunity to shut the Suns down in six, in Portland.
That's one storyline. The other is that these refs need to go back to ref school. Or the NBA needs to remember what makes Playoff basketball special. It's chippy, sure. Sometimes it's nasty. But that's what it should be. To officiate these guys like they're a bunch of sharks who are going to murder one another if the game gets a little physical is to denigrate the players and the game. Then you reward flopping and acting instead of the strong, physical play that this league used to value. You turn it from a game into a soap opera. And I don't know about you, but I don't want professional wrestling, I want basketball.
Andre Miller heads up the court waving his arms for the crowd to get into it. I've never seen him this emotional. Everyone gets on their feet and cheers the team out. This one ran late, but it felt like it went by in a flash. The series is all tied up, meaning we'll be seeing you here again next Thursday.