PHOENIX — With the exception of a few Game 1 moments, the Purple Palace has been very, very loud the past two games. The fans that fill US Airways Center love getting behind their Suns and the Suns generally thrive off their energy.
But now with the series tied 1-1, the Suns head to Portland for two games in the Rose Garden, known for its loud, passionate crowd. In fact, the Garden has sold out for 112 consecutive games, including the playoffs, dating back to Dec. 21. 2007.
“They have a great home court,” Suns guard Steve Nash said at practice Wednesday. “Their fans are terrific and they play well at home.”
Well, they mostly play well at home. The Trail Blazers were 26-15 at home during the regular season (not quite the Suns’ 32-9). And the Suns on the road? They were 22-19 in the regular season.
However, this is the playoffs, which can make for an entirely different atmosphere, especially when a crowd is known around the league as one of the best like Portland’s is.
If anyone knows what a Portland crowd is like, it’s Suns center Channing Frye, who spent two seasons in Rip City.
“The crowd really stays in it from top to bottom or from first to fourth quarter and they’re just a great crowd,” Frye said at practice last week.
Frye talked about what kind of advantage the crowd can be for the Trail Blazers and said the crowd can have a real effect on the players.
“The biggest thing is the fourth quarter when other teams might be tired,” Frye said. “In that fourth quarter when their legs are a little low and so are [their opponent's], they get that extra pump from the crowd that gets them to go on a roll.”
With the potential for a late game boost, more than one Suns player talked about a need to start strong to try to take the crowd out of it.
“We really do need to have a solid performance start to finish, but obviously getting off to a good start would help,” Nash said Wednesday.
As for Amare Stoudemire? He’s relishing the opportunity to play in front of a wild Portland crowd and said an opposing crowd can get him fired up.
“I love it,” Stoudemire said last week. “I’ve played in San Antonio with a rowdy crowd. We played L.A. a few years ago and they had a rowdy crowd. Hopefully Portland is just as rowdy and loud. I hope so.”
But as much as the players are giving the Trail Blazers’ fans credit, head coach Alvin Gentry isn’t buying into the idea of Portland’s home-court advantage.
While expressing his admiration for the fans in Phoenix, Gentry expressed again and again over the past week that it’s not about location.
“It’s a different building, but it’s the same two teams that are playing,” Gentry said. “It doesn’t matter where you play. If you’re on the road, it’s going to be a hostile crowd and it’s going to be very loud. We have to focus on playing and getting things done on the court and forget about the crowd.”
Forget about the crowd? Easier said than done to forget about more than 20,000 screaming fans who have endured a season like Portland has. Still, Gentry won’t give these fans any credit.
“It doesn’t matter,” Gentry said last week. “I haven’t seen anybody make a jump shot yet.”
Well, he did give them some credit, and he knows they’re loud, but Gentry just prefers to make it all about the game itself instead of any outside factors.
“They’ve always had great fans there, but, you know, it’s not a decibel-meter game,” Gentry said. “It’s the players on the floor that decide it.”
Gentry does make a good point. Fans don’t score points, don’t play defense and don’t shoot free throws. Neither do arenas.
So although there may not be a consensus on what kind of effect the crowd and location will have on the Suns’ play in Games 3 and 4, there is one thing the entire team can agree on when it comes to playing in Rip City, and Gentry said it best.
“We’ve got to play with the same intensity as we did in the second game [in Phoenix],” he said.
Right again, Coach. The Suns cannot afford to play Portland’s slow game on Portland’s court. With a fast start, continued focus and a performance like Game 2’s beat down, the Suns can make the Rose Garden and their rowdy fans a moot point.