Western Conference Playoffs First Round - Game 6
(3) Phoenix 99, (6) Portland 90 - Suns win series, 4-2
The Phoenix Suns won their first-round playoff series and advanced to play the San Antonio Spurs.
The Suns' gallant opponent won an enormous amount of respect at the end of an impressive NBA campaign.
Yes, Phoenix march on to the Western Conference semifinals for a date against its old Alamo City nemesis, but as the No. 3 seed looks ahead, it's also worth looking back at the season authored in Oregon.
Greg Oden. Joel Przybilla. Travis Outlaw. Nic Batum. Brandon Roy. These were just some of the players who missed games this past season for the Portland Trail Blazers, all because of injury problems that never stopped hounding the Pacific Northwest's remaining NBA franchise. Coach Nate McMillan - who got injured himself during the 2009-2010 campaign - constantly had to plug gaps and reshape combinations for owner Paul Allen's team. The Blazers were unceasingly ravaged by one accident after another, as one crisis emerged as soon as another one subsided. It's tempting to think of what might have been if Portland had been able to stay healthy, but it's enough of a miracle that this team found its way to the playoffs.
Unfortunately, all those limitations and constraints finally caught up with the Trail Blazers on Thursday night at the Rose Garden. The sour fruit of persistent health problems finally ushered Portland out of the playoffs at the hands of the Phoenix Suns.
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It wasn't for a lack of trying.
Portland found itself trailing by a 66-50 margin with 3:43 left in the third period. The end of this best-of-seven series seemed to be a done deal, a fully decided and thoroughly determined issue. Many teams - especially with the litany of injuries the Blazers had suffered - would have faded gently into the good Oregon night.
Not Portland. Not in 2010.
In the span of little more than half a quarter, the MASH unit with a number six seed mounted a shocking and breathtaking rally. In just under eight minutes of game time, the Blazers - who briefly caught fire from three-point range - erased a 16-point deficit and caught the Suns at 76-all with 8:07 left in regulation. With snipers such as Rudy Fernandez and Martell Webster catching fire from long distance, the Blazers appeared poised to once again prevail when logic - and their infirmary status - suggested that they shouldn't have been even remotely competitive. That 26-10 charge was enough to remind a revved-up home crowd just how gutsy the Portland crew had been all season long... and how formidable it continued to be under less-than-ideal circumstances. Despite having a substantially diminished superstar - Mr. Roy - on the floor ( Roy scored only 14 points on 4-of-16 shooting), Portland stayed in the thick of the fight and gave its fan base hope that a Game 7 for this series was still in the works.
Then, but only then, did the Suns finally close the door on an opponent that wouldn't go away.
Amare Stoudemire scored a bucket and assisted on two more, while Jason Richardson - always an X-factor for Phoenix - became the beneficiary of Stoudemire's generosity. An 8-0 flurry quickly turned a 76-all tie into an 84-76 Suns lead, and with Portland failing to hit a bucket in nearly six minutes (from 9:22 of the fourth quarter until the 3:25 mark), the Blazers simply couldn't keep up with their deeper and healthier foe.
Phoenix is now one step closer to an elusive Western Conference title. The Portland Trail Blazers - if they get healthy - just might be able to snag a conference crown in the 2011 season.
Pro Basketball Fans Senior Staff Writer
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