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Portland grabs road win in series opener

By Mike Tulumello, for
Posted Monday April 19, 2010 2:48AM

PHOENIX ( exclusive) -- The Trail Blazers have found somebody who apparently can guard Amar'e Stoudemire.

The Suns need to discover somebody who can cover Andre Miller.

If nothing changes in these areas, the Blazers might be able to pull off a stunning playoff upset.

They got off to a rousing start in their best-of-seven first-round series Sunday night by shutting down Stoudemire and the Suns en route to a 105-100 surprise.

The Blazers became the only one of the eight lower-seeded teams in the NBA playoffs to win their first playoff game.

In the longer view, the Blazers now can be called the series favorites.

That's because Game 1 winners have gone one to win best-of-7 series 79 percent of the time since 1946-47.

They won Sunday thanks to Marcus Camby's defense on Stoudemire and the Suns' inability to cover Miller (Jason Richardson, among others, couldn't stay with him).

"We might not have taken them as seriously as we should have," admitted Stoudemire, speaking of a Blazers' team that is going without their biggest star, the injured Brandon Roy.

"We're definitely on notice now," agreed Steve Nash. "We have to play better."

Miller shot 10-for-17 for 31 points, including 10-for-10 on free throws.

"For the most part, he controlled the game," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. "We have to do a better job of guarding him."

"We had to drive the ball to the basket to get them in the penalty," said Miller, who called the win "big, especially considering....they were probably the hottest team in the league."

The Suns had gone 23-6 since the All-Star break.

In addition to his superb defense, Camby had 17 rebounds and three blocks.

"Amar'e is as tough as they come," Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. "Camby made him work and didn't give him anything easy."

Camby has been named the league's best defensive player in the past, Gentry noted.

Still, "Amar'e is going to have to find a way to score. And we have to get him the ball in a good location."

Also playing key roles were Nicolas Batum (18 points) and reserve Jerryd Bayless (18 points, zero turnovers).

For the Suns, Nash had 25 points and nine assists. Stoudemire shot a modest 8-for-19 for 18 points.

"They did a phenomenal job defensively," Stoudemire said.

The Suns have had trouble scoring against the Blazers this season.

They'd only averaged 98 points against them (compared to their league-leading 110 points per game overall).

Noting the Suns got only four fast-break points Sunday, "We have to create a faster tempo," Stoudemire said.

"If we do that, we'll get better looks."

The teams engaged in a tense thriller until the Blazers pulled away in the final minutes.

They led 90-89 when Miller drove the lane, drew a foul and hit both free throws.

At the other end, the Suns had three chances on the same possession, but Nash and Richardson missed 3-pointers and Grant Hill had his hook in the lane blocked by Camby.

Stoudemire then was called for an offensive foul, and the Blazers took advantage on a spectacular tip-in by LaMarcus Aldridge over Stoudemire for a 94-89 lead.

Nash and the Blazers Batum traded 3-pointers then Stoudemire fumbled the ball away for his second turnover in the final 2:40.

Bayless hit two free throws for a 99-92 lead with 1:29 left.

The Blazers gave the Suns two chances in the closing moments:

The first: Camby missed an uncontested break-away dunk in the final minute.

Then Jared Dudley had a 3-pointer from the left corner that would have cut the Blazers' lead to one point. But he missed.

The second: After Richardson hit a 3-pointer cut it to 103-100 with 12.5 seconds left, Bayless missed two free throws.

That gave Nash one last 3-pointer from 28 feet up top to tie the game. He was well short, and the Blazers finally closed it out.

The Blazers had gone only 8-9 in games without Roy, who is out of the post-season with a knee injury.

But they were sharply prepared.

Their strategy: Don't be lured into the fast-paced game that seems fun to play but at which the Suns' excel.

At the same time, said McMillan, "Our guys will have to penetrate" while hitting the shots that are given them.

The Suns beat the Blazers in a late regular season-game with a dare-you-to-shoot, packed-in-defense (a zone at times).

"We have to knock down some shots or they'll pack it in."

On the defensive end, they stayed with the Suns' perimeter shooters, while keeping Stoudemire at bay inside. Camby drew the primary assignment, though he got help from teammates who rotated quickly.

From the opening moments, they managed to slow the pace and get repeated second-chance shots (on one possession, they got four shots).

They plodded to a 17-8 lead, then the Suns' Channing Frye nailed a pair of 3-pointers.

Frye and the Suns' second unit, led by Leandro Barbosa (who had 13 points in eight minutes) pulled them ahead 40-35.

The Blazers then went on a 9-0 run to re-take the lead, 44-40, before Barbosa hit a 3-pointers to cut the Blazers' lead to 44-43 at halftime.

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