As excited as we were about the way the Trail Blazers started game five on Monday night, there were also some sobering realities. During an early time out, as I was scanning the box score, I looked over to see what Rice was noticing, and asked him cautiously, "is this fool's gold?" That's one of his favorite lines, and it described this situation very well.
The Trail Blazers, who deserve a ton of credit for scoring on their first 10 possessions of the game, and built a 14-point lead, were doing it a bit unconventionally (at least for them). They jumped on top thanks to outside jumpers from Jerryd Bayless (8 in the 1st q) and Andre Miller (10 in the 1st q).
Phoenix, meanwhile, hit just 2 of their first 10 three-point shots, but were getting wide-open looks. Often times things shake out after a start like this, or, at least even up a bit. But, that usually happens gradually, as a game progresses. This thing turned 180 degrees on a dime.
After leading 23-9, Marcus Camby, who was off to a very active start, picked up his second foul and headed to the bench. It was like a switch was flipped on for the Suns at that point. With Camby out, they'd be free to crash the offensive boards and scrap their way through the rest of the quarter. They outscored Portland 18-5 to close the quarter, and erased all that Portland had done to seize the early momentum. It probably shouldn't completely come down to things like this, but Camby leaving the game, looking back, was the key moment in this game.
With no Camby in the game, the Suns dominated the backboards. They won that battle 41-29 for the game, and that shouldn't happen. That's honestly something I didn't think they were capable of going into this series. They were the scrappy and physical team. When they struggled on offense, they got to the foul line. And, they won the game at a tempo that would normally favor the Blazers.
To listen to Nate McMillan's post-game comments, click here.
What an odd series. The point differential in this series isn't even close. The Suns have won by 29, 19, and 19, in their wins. All the way we've shown you stats to try and describe the series. Sometimes they've been dead on, and other times they've been meaningless.
After the Trail Blazers won game one, we told you that 71 percent of the time the team that wins game one wins the series. Then, we told you the Trail Blazers have never won a series when losing game 3, after being tied 1-1 in a series. Now, I can tell you that in NBA history, when a series has been tied 2-2, the team that wins game five has won the series 83.4 percent of the time.
That's an ugly number for Portland right now. But, as we've said many times this season, the Blazers have overcome the odds all year. This will certainly put that to the test now that we're down to an elimination game.
By winning game four at home, the Trail Blazers knew it was down to a best-of-three series. Even if they lost game five, which now has happened, they'd still have another shot in Phoenix in game seven, if they could win game six at home. But, keep in mind the Suns haven't lost back-to-back games since January. The Blazers will have to end that trend to survive through the first round.
I'll be curious to see how the Suns approach game six. They'll say all the right things, about wanting to close out the series in Portland, and how they won't want this thing to come down to a game seven, because anything can happen. But, knowing they have the safety net of a final game, at home, to end the series, could be in the back of their minds.
For the Trail Blazers, it's come down to a very simple reality now. Win, or you're done. We've talked about backs-to-the-wall scenarios this season, but clearly, nothing has rivaled this situation. All season they've defied conventional wisdom in so many situations. Do they have what it takes to do it one more time, when it truly matters most?
One last note. I usually don't mention TV ratings much, but it's something we always watch. Our ratings for game five in the Portland market were off the charts. They stayed huge right until the end. Our numbers for the final quarter-hour of the game were bigger than for the first quarter-hour. Just like the Rose Garden crowd apparently, no one leaves early. And, continuing a trend we've seen in the last few years, even when the game is offered on a national network at the same time, our numbers aren't effected. We beat TNT last night by nearly a 6-to-1 margin. It isn't like this in other markets, especially that last number. Thanks to all of you.