Game two in a playoff series is always "the adjustment game," as we talked about over and over again. Now, game three is going to have to be the "re-adjustment game" for the Trail Blazers. After getting slapped around by Phoenix on Tuesday night, the ball is now in Portland's court to tweak the game plan.
First things first. The goal of a road team in the first two games of a playoff series is to gain a split. Portland accomplished that, with the win in game one. Therefore, the thought of dropping game two wasn't seen as devastating.
However, the fact that the Suns won game two so decisively, and looked to fully regain their confidence and scoring ways, has to be concerning. Add in the injury to Nicolas Batum, and game two quickly became something close to a worse-case scenario for Portland.
We fully expected to see a different Phoenix team early in game two, and in their eyes, surpassed all expectations. They had tremendous energy, scored at will, and their defensive adjustments all appeared to work perfectly. The comfort Blazer fans had in knowing that the previous four meetings with Phoenix (including game one) had all followed pretty much the same pattern, was blown out of the water. Many people nationally, and especially around Phoenix, are now implying that game one was simply a fluke.
Steve Nash carved up the Trail Blazers, Grant Hill and Jason Richardson did the heavy lifting offensively, and Phoenix shot 52 percent as a team- a number that dropped considerably once the game was out of reach. Portland meanwhile, shot only 38 percent, and many of the things that were working so well on Sunday, were neutralized right out of the gate.
The two points of emphasis for the Suns, defensively speaking, were to eliminate the effectiveness of Andre Miller and LaMarcus Aldridge. They figured, take them away, and Portland would stall. After repeatedly penetrating Phoenix's defensive, and going for 31 points in game one, Miller was held to 12 points and 3 assists in game two. Aldridge, who was off the mark in game one, was even less of a factor in game two. He ended with just 11 points, on 3 of 8 shooting on Tuesday night.
The strategy on Miller was, clearly, to keep the ball out of his hands. The Suns used Hill to deny Miller when he was away from the ball, and doubled him immediately every time he touched it. Portland had trouble getting the offense started, and as a result, fought the shot clock on early possessions in this game.
The Suns, who were content to sit back and guard the paint in game one, extended the defense, pressured full court, and essentially took the Blazers out of everything they tried to do. They used energy, length, and pressure to bother the Blazers. That sounds like something out of Portland's defensive playbook.
Easily, the biggest concern to come out of game two is the status of Batum. He injured his surgically-repaired right shoulder when he ran into Nash, and was in considerable pain as he left for the locker room, and didn't return. Batum is vital to everything Portland tries to do. We don't know what his status is for game two, but should know very soon. If he's forced to miss considerable time, it changes everything.
As many NBA coaches have stated over the years, things in the playoffs can change so quickly. Win a game, and you feel invincible. Lose one, it feels like you'll never win another game. The team that can keep the emotions steady usually comes out on top.
Where Alvin Gentry was feeling all of the pressure following game one, that has now shifted to Nate McMillan and his staff. It's totally on them to prepare a strategy for game two. They do have the luxury of knowing they simply have to win their home games to advance past this series, but after Tuesday's game, this team's confidence has to be rattled significantly.
Not only was Phoenix very successful at home during the second half of the season, but they were an outstanding road team. They will not fear the Rose Garden, or the noise level that comes with it.
It's a new series, and the pressure is now on Portland.