But this time it wasn’t the usual suspects that did it. True, the Suns’ trademark fast break and three-ball eventually kicked in, but it was two usually suspect phases of their game, rebounding and defense, that that laid the foundation for what was basically a rare 48-minute rout — a Portland rout the first 12 minutes, when the Blazers opened an 18-4 lead (mostly because the Suns’ defense forgot to put its teeth in), and a Phoenix rout the last 36.
An increasingly feisty defense that is gaining respect by the game all but shut down the Portland offense after that opening blast; and domination on the boards, especially the offensive ones, sealed the deal.
The Suns weren’t really shooting all that well, hitting only 28 percent of their threes in the first half, but they converted a lot of those misses into twos by crashing the offensive boards, where they turned 10 rebounds into 16 of their 57 first half points. And they finished with a 41-29 edge on the boards, and 22 second chance points. Not bad for a “soft” team.
Channing Frye led the tone-setting first half with 13 points and 6 rebounds en route to a career playoff high 20, and Jared Dudley also hit his career high with 17.
And the Suns, who had been having trouble getting to the line in the series, set up light housekeeping there with 32 attempts (and hitting 29) — a by-product of aggressively attacking the basket.
However, while defense and rebounding were the keys, the significant stat running through all five games in the series is fast break points. In the three wins the Suns have averaged 17 (which they hit last night), and in the two losses, only four. So I guess if you’re looking for a one-word differenced between romping and losing in this series it would have to be that old standby, tempo.
But in any case, the Suns not only are firmly in control of this series now, but, with Dallas floundering and the Lakers imploding, they can happily contemplate the tantalizing possibility of having the home court advantage all the way to Cleveland. I’m not saying there’s no way the Suns lose Game Six in Portland, mind you. What I am saying is there is no way they lose a Game Seven here.
And if that’s counting the chickens before they’re hatched all I can say is cluck, cluck, cluck.