PORTLAND, Ore. (AP)—A blast-right-by-them style has served the Suns well against the Trail Blazers.
And tempo will likely be a deciding factor on Thursday night when Phoenix visits Portland with a 3-2 advantage and a chance to advance to the next round of the playoffs.
When the Blazers have had success, they have been able to slow the Suns down and go to a half-court defense.
“We’ve got to get out and open the floor up. It’s the same thing that we’ve been talking about from day one,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said about his team’s obvious strategy. “We have to be the one that imposes our will.”
The player who seems to have found the most success imposing his will has been Amare Stoudemire, who has averaged 20.2 points over the course of the series with gritty—and what Portland fans would call nasty—play.
“It’s just the playoffs,” he said. “Both teams are being physical.”
Matchup problems with Stoudemire have befuddled the Blazers as much as his toughness. The more the team focuses on him, the more it opens up someone else. In Game 3, which the Suns won 108-89 at the Rose Garden, Jason Richardson(notes) was the beneficiary and had 42 points, including eight 3-pointers. Richardson is averaging 22.6 points in the series.
While the Blazers have home court for Thursday’s game, Portland coach Nate McMillan is counting on the intangibles to force a Game 7. Namely, the Blazers have faced their share of obstacles this season and far exceeded expectations.
“It’s a huge challenge to win the series,” McMillan said. “But not an impossible challenge.”
Case in point, the Blazers have already stretched the series much further than most expected. Portland had two major strikes against it: they were facing one of the league’s hottest second-half teams, and they were doing it without their captain.
All-star guard Brandon Roy(notes) missed the final two games of the regular season with a torn meniscus in his right knee. Although he claimed he could play on it, he had arthroscopic surgery two days before the opening game against the Suns and was ruled out of the series.
Roy unexpectedly returned eight days after the procedure, and it was generally agreed that the emotional boost he provided—and the surprise to the Suns—helped carry the Blazers to a 96-87 victory in Game 4.
It wasn’t enough to stop the Suns from getting back on pace in Monday night’s game, a 107-88 Game 5 victory in Phoenix.
In those last two games, Roy has come off the bench. He says he’ll start on Thursday.
“If he’s on the court, we’re going to try to attack him, yeah. At eight days after you have a meniscus tear and you get that repaired, I don’t think you could possibly be 100 percent,” Gentry said.
Roy, a three-time All-Star, told reporters that he’s not sure where he’s at, but there’s no pain and no swelling.
“I’m just going to try and play as hard as I can,” he said.
Even with Roy, who averaged 21.5 points per game in the regular season, the odds are still stacked against Portland.
The Blazers have never won a playoff series when they’ve been down 3-2. In the history of the NBA, when a series is tied at 2-2, the winner of Game 5 goes on to win it 83.4 percent of the time.
In the series so far, the three Suns wins came by margins of 29, 19 and 19. The Blazers’ wins were by five and nine points.
To make it worse, the oft-injured Blazers are banged up: In addition to the uncertainty over Roy’s knee, starting forward Nicolas Batum’s(notes) surgically repaired shoulder is sore and center Marcus Camby(notes) has a bum left ankle and a dislocated left pinkie.
But they were dutifully stressing that the law of averages doesn’t matter. What does matter is the outcome.
“This team has responded to so many things this season,” McMillan said. “We know we’re capable; we’ve done it all season.”