PHOENIX — Halfway through the first quarter of Game 5, the Portland Trail Blazers led by 14 and Andre Miller was spraying jumpers all over the floor.
Then the Suns flicked a switch and like that they resumed the regularly scheduled Phoenix blowouts we saw in Games 2 and 3, outscoring Portland 73-45 over the course of the next two and a half quarters on their way to a 107-88 blowout win that puts the Suns up 3-2 in the series.
“They got up 14-2, we hadn’t really found a rhythm quite yet offensively,” Grant Hill said. “We weren’t panicked, we had a timeout there and we just said, ‘Hey, stick to our game plan, continue to go hard.’ We kind of found our rhythm and from then on it was pretty good. We just stayed positive and did what we had to do.”
John Hollinger pinpointed Phoenix running off a Portland make at 18-4 that resulted in the turning point of the game when the ball found a wide-open Jason Richardson for a momentum-turning three.
After Portland scored on its first 10 possessions when Phoenix essentially dared Miller to shoot and he beat them, all of a sudden the Suns mixed in some stops and found their offensive rhythm.
We talk so much about pace — and that obviously is huge — but for the Suns it’s more about rhythm. They are a rhythm team, and on this night they found their rhythm six minutes in and cruised from there.
“I think the pace was better,” Steve Nash said. “I don’t know how many fast-break points we had, but that’s not really paramount to really just having a nice rhythm and tempo to our game.
“I also mentioned after the last game we didn’t make shots — we had wide-open shots in Game 4 we didn’t make and tonight we made those shots.”
Nash went on to make the first stock market analogy I’ve ever heard after an NBA playoff game, saying the Suns need to think long term with their tempo as if they are making long-term investments rather than being day traders. In other words, keep pushing it even if it doesn’t work for a few possessions because it will work over the long haul.
In the first few minutes the Suns missed shots they should make just like they did in Game 4, but Phoenix knew that if it kept pushing that pace eventually Portland and Miller would fall back to Earth and their offense would soar.
That largely ended up being the case thanks to the first dominant effort of the series by the Suns’ bench. Phoenix’s reserves outscored their Portland counterparts 55-23, and that’s with Brandon Roy coming off the pine for the Blazers.
At practice on Sunday Jared Dudley spoke about how the Suns needed two of their reserves to step up big every game, and he may as well have been foreshadowing Game 5 when he spoke because Frye and Dudley both exploded for the first time all series.
Frye (a plus 32) went for 20 points and eight boards while tossing in three triples, and Dudley (a plus 36) scored 19 and hit 5-of-9 long balls. Both of those players had struggled entering Game 5, hitting a combined 6-for-33 (18.2 percent) from distance, but they were Phoenix’s leading scorers tonight.
“I just let it ride, Frye said. “I saw my space was kind of bad in the first games and my feet weren’t set like they usually are and in this game I just tried to make sure my feet were set and I was ready to go.”
Added Dudley, “It’s good to get my rhythm going, but early on in the series we didn’t have that many good looks. It started in transition with Steve finding me. I thought that was key for me to get going early.”
Dudley also said on Sunday morning that he would need just one three to get himself going. That’s exactly what happened when he hit a huge triple to get Portland’s early lead to six a minute after he came in before adding four more triples, all within the flow of the offense.
Goran Dragic also chipped in with a nice all-around game off the bench with seven points, five assists and four boards, and LB contributed seven points.
“It’s only a matter of time for that,” Dudley said of the entire bench playing well. “We’re getting more confidence. If we play that well it’s really hard to beat us.”
Added Gentry, “That’s the way we played all year. The entire season we’ve been a team where our bench has been pretty good and just the energy that they gave us.”
The Suns also “pounded” Portland on the boards, as Blazers head coach Nate McMillan said of the 41-29 Phoenix advantage on the glass, and they also were the aggressors in holding a 29-12 advantage in getting to the line through three.
I know, I know, the Suns got some favorable whistles from the Joey Crawford-led crew, no doubt about it, but at the same time the more aggressive team often does get more whistles and these things tend to even out over the course of a seven-game series. How Blazers fans feel about the officiating after this one is likely similar to how Suns fans felt at the end of Game 4, and this one was so lopsided it would have taken more than a few whistles to change the outcome.
The most amazing stat of the series to me thus far is the fact that Phoenix has not trailed during the second half of any of the three games it has won, taking each of the contests by an average of 22.3 points. In other words, when the Suns play their game and exert control of the tempo battle, Portland has no counter, especially when Phoenix hits shots.
When the game slows down and those threes don’t drop, now that’s when the Blazers have a chance.
With the win the Suns improved to 10-0 in their last 10 games following a loss dating back to January after a victory that puts them up 3-2 in this best-of-seven series.
Historically, the winner of Game 5 has won 83.4 percent of series tied 2-2.
“It’s good to be in the position that we’re in,” Hill said.
Yes it is, and after their third blowout of the series the Suns know that if they force the tempo and hit shots, the Blazers are at their mercy.
- Dudley on his big game: “You want to be a part of this team. I know I’m here to play defense, but I’m also here to make shots and I did that today.”
- Teams that lose Game 1 have just a 21.4 percent chance of winning the series judging by history, so the Suns’ odd from a historical perspective have improved by better than 60 percentage points since then. Since Utah, San Antonio and Oklahoma City all lost Game 1, it’s possible that every West Game 1 loser will advance.
- The Suns came back from their 12th double-digit deficit of the season. … The halftime leader is 5-0 in the series. Phoenix is averaging 62.0 points in the first half of wins and 47.5 in losses. … The bench is averaging 43.7 points at home but just 21.5 on the road in the playoffs. … Steve Nash made nine free throws without a miss for the fourth time in his playoff career.