NBA defense can be hard to quantify and it is often difficult to tell what specific aspects of team defense affect the outcome of the game, but last night's evisceration of the Portland Trail Blazers at the hands of the Phoenix Suns came down to one thing: rebounding. Portland could not rebound the basketball to save their lives and it cost them this pivotal game five and perhaps the whole series as a result.
After jumping out to a seemingly dominant lead in the first quarter, the Blazers pretty much rolled over when Marcus Camby (who sparked the early surge with his interior defense and passing) went to the bench with his second foul. At that point, Portland was leading by 12 points and seemed to have the game moving at their tempo. In the last 4 minutes and change of the quarter, however, the Suns got three scores directly from offensive rebounds and closed the gap to 1 while also completely changing the character and tempo of the game to favor themselves and their brand of basketball.
All night long the Blazers threw away their own possessions (15 turnovers for 20 Phoenix points) while simultaneously giving Phoenix extra chances to score (the Suns had 15 offensive rebounds) and paid the price. This was especially frustrating because the Blazers actually played decent defense before the shot went up, they just couldn't rotate with the Suns and still box out underneath the basket. Because they were unable to limit the Suns' possessions, the Blazers also lost the ability to control the tempo of the game and force Phoenix out of their comfort zone. Instead, extra possessions lead to easy baskets, transition opportunities and big swings that knocked the wind right out of Portland's sails.
Marcus Camby was the only Blazer with more than 5 rebounds last night, and the only other Blazers with more than 2 rebounds were Andre Miller and Jerryd Bayless, who each had 4. Yes that's right, the two shortest rotation players for Portland out rebounded most of the Blazer front court. Despite playing 40 minutes and being almost 7 feet tall, LaMarcus Aldridge managed to grab only 2 rebounds and make Amar'e Stoudemire and Channing Frye look like the second coming of Charles Barkley and Moses Malone. Maybe if LaMarcus did something besides fade away for jumpers he'd be in better rebounding position, but hey, what do I know about basketball?
This loss was especially hard to take because it wasn't a case of Phoenix coming out scorching hot and draining everything they threw up, the Blazers clearly just didn't want the game as much as Phoenix did. Rebounds are about desire, drive and toughness. Every Blazer not named Marcus Camby was lacking in those areas last night and it showed. Defense and rebounding are the areas of the game that Portland needs to dominate in order to win, but last night they failed to match the intensity and effort of a middling defensive team and got their butts kicked. If the Blazers don't find their stones and figure out a way to keep Phoenix from beating them on the glass the Blazers will be on vacation by Thursday night despite having home court for game six. Alarm bells are ringing.