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Western Conference Playoffs First Round - Game 5

(3) Phoenix 107, (6) Portland 88 - Suns lead series, 3-2

The Portland Trail Blazers scored 14 of the first 16 points in Game 5 of their opening-round Western Conference playoff series against the Phoenix Suns.

Everything went downhill from there.

Phoenix outscored Portland by a whopping 99-60 margin over a span of roughly three quarters, as the Suns shrugged off their pancake-flat start and coasted home for a supremely comfortable win. The result gives the third seed a crucial edge as the best-of-seven slugfest heads back to Oregon for Game 6 on Thursday night.

Portland - fresh off a Game 4 conquest in the Northwest - traveled to the Desert Southwest in search of one more road win against the favorites from the Pacific Division. Coach Nate McMillan's Blazers won Game 1 in the Valley of the Suns, but because they lost Game 3 at home, they had to find a way to defeat Coach Alvin Gentry's roster once again at the U.S. Airways Center. A 14-2 start against a shellshocked opponent certainly helped matters for the Blazers, but they couldn't sustain their winning edge for very long.


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The Suns - who gave up 21 points in 5 minutes and 15 seconds, basically before anyone could blink - steadily regrouped and erased a double-digit deficit by the time the first quarter ended. With sparkplug Jason Richardson getting to the basket and finishing plays near the rim, a Phoenix team that once trailed 18-4 was able to pull within a single point (28-27) after 12 minutes of competition. Whenever a team owns a big lead in a game, it might surrender that lead, but it must force the opponent to at least work hard in the process. If a team easily concedes a sizable advantage without exerting furiously to retain it, any hope of a winning edge - psychologically more than anything else - immediately evaporates.

Such was the case with Portland on Monday.

As soon as the Trail Blazers got caught by the Suns, they never again found the energy which defined the opening five minutes of this contest. While Richardson and the rest of his Phoenix colleagues consistently lifted their game, Portland dragged. This was partly due to the fact that Brandon Roy looked far from his former self; even though the product of the University of Washington once again took the floor for his team, Roy just didn't seem to have the conditioning or movement needed to excel at a high level.


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Unfortunately for the sixth seed, no one else stepped in to fill the gap against Phoenix. The Suns hit 24 of 46 2-point shots and went 29 of 32 from the foul line. So efficient were the Suns that they built a 57-47 halftime lead and extended that bulge to 18 points after three periods. The Blazers simply didn't have the firepower needed to deal with Phoenix's up-tempo attack, and that's how this game spun out of control so quickly.

Five Suns players scored in double figures in this game, while Phoenix secured a plus-12 margin at the foul line. A team briefly on the receiving end of a blowout turned into a lopsided conqueror. Now, the Suns stand just one win away from the second round; one more performance like this one, and they'll be able to book their ticket for a spot in the Western Conference semifinals.



By: Matt Zemek
Pro Basketball Fans Senior Staff Writer

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