Phoenix are tossing and turning after last night’s haunting Game 1 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. Usually, playoff series are decided by match-ups, as in, who’s got the one player that the other team just cannot stop.
In last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, Lebron and Howard largely canceled each other out, and it was Hedo who made the difference. You just can’t guard someone who is 6’10 with Delonte West, and ultimately this awful matchup undid the Mr. James and the Cavettes.
In the Phoenix-Portland series, Andre Miller appears to be that bad matchup.
Perhaps Dre has never gotten the credit he deserves because his jumpshot is horrifying to look at, or because his hair looks like it has eight ounces of Soul Glo in it, or because he is one of those thickish players who, no matter how well he plays, always looks a little bit out of shape. Whatever the reason he hasn’t been invited to All-Star games in the past, he looks determined to make this playoff series his party.
Dre brutalized every Suns defender that tried to check him, from Nash to Dragic to Barbosa to Richardson. Is Grant Hill the next candidate? Showing off his blacktop bully game, Miller went off for 31 and 8 by employing a torture chamber of post moves and calmly knocking down midrange jumpers. He got whatever he wanted all night, especially during his 14 point “this is my paint, MINE!” fourth quarter.
Expect to see Jared Dudley on him as the series progresses, using his length and strength to keep Miller out of the paint.
On the Phoenix side, Amar’e was pedestrian and often ineffective. If he can’t score consistently in one on one confrontations with veteran defender Marcus Camby, the Phoenix Gorilla is going to be done back-flip dunking through rings of flaming piranhas all too soon. Portland doesn’t want to double and expose itself to Phoenix’s deadly three point shooters, and last night Amar’e validated this strategy.
Steve Nash, on the other hand, played a great game, though he was at times limited by the length and active hands of the Portland Defense. Portland held Nash to under 10 assists by rotating hard on Amar’e’s pick and roll cuts, and forced Wonder to become a scorer.
Phoenix is at their hottest when Nash is probing the defense and finding his teammates, but he would have to do some serious searching to find out where Grant Hill (2-9 fg) and Richardson (4-12 fg) were hiding on Sunday night.
Now, it’s not all gloom and doom for Phoenix. Portland executed its game plan to a near perfection, and won by five. Phoenix got more rebounds and shot poorly from deep, and one would expect the effort that led to the rebounds to be more consistent than unlucky shooting. If the bench (cue the “How to Train Your Dragic” jokes) can continue to force the pace on Portland, and Phoenix heats up from three, they could be just fine.
But if Phoenix doesn’t figure out a better matchup for Watts born Dre Miller, they can forget about the next episode.