There were some entertaining games in the first weekend of the NBA playoffs. The Celtics and Heat and Mavericks and Spurs provided some excitement, but heading into Sunday night’s matchup between the Phoenix Suns and Portland Trail Blazers, the weekend had failed to provide a single upset. I was a little disappointed and a little bored by the proceedings thus far.
But the Blazers, behind a surprising 105-100 Game 1 upset in Phoenix, salvaged the weekend.
The two main reasons the Brandon Roy-less Blazers (he tore his meniscus late in the regular season) beat the Suns were the offense of Andre Miller (31 points and 8 assists) and the Blazers’ defense, spearheaded by Marcus Camby, against Suns All-Star power forward Amare Stoudemire. Stoudemire scored 18 points, but that was the only stat that looked good by his name in the box score. He shot poorly from the field (8 for 19), didn’t get to the free-throw line (only three attempts), was outrebounded by Camby 17-8, turned the ball over four times and fouled out. He had a plus/minus of -16, the worst on the team. I attribute Stoudemire’s poor offensive showing almost entirely to Portland’s defense. Stoudemire has traditionally struggled with length, and the Blazers have it in spades. Camby gave him fits and when Camby needed a breather, LaMarcus Aldridge did a good job. But Stoudemire’s defense, specifically his rebounding, was unacceptable. Stoudemire had eight rebounds, but only two on defense. I’ve always thought this to be the weakest and most inexplicable part of Stoudemire’s game. A player as strong, athletic and aggressive as Stoudemire should never be held to eight rebounds. He should own the boards. I don’t know if it’s lack of effort, lack of technique, or a combination of both, but it’s a major weakness for Stoudemire that was exposed Sunday night.
Stoudemire’s performance in Sunday’s game illustrates the reason some Warriors fans were happy the team backed out of a trade for the Suns forward last summer. Stoudemire can be a fantastic offensive player, is spectacular in the pick-and-roll (I still think watching Curry and Stoudemire on offense would be inspiring) and is a tough, physical player — on offense. But for all of that, he can be maddening to watch. His defense is not good (Aldridge dominated Stoudemire in the post when the two were matched up last night) and his inability to be a dominant rebounder is flummoxing. Aldridge considers himself a max-type player, and he’ll likely get max money this off-season. But in my opinion, Stoudemire is not an elite talent, not as long as he only takes advantage of his considerable talent on one side of the court.