In a season where the Portland Trail Blazers' backs have been against the wall as players dropped off the court in an epidemic of horrendous injuries, it's only fitting that the team is back in that position one final time. Trailing the Phoenix Suns 3-2 in this best-of-seven opening series, the Blazers will need to win this Thursday, April 29, in the Rose Garden to extend their season, and once more on Saturday in Phoenix to take the series. If they fail to do exactly this, lockers will be cleaned out and the players will be back to their boring offseason existences (presumably submerged in hot tubs full of women, money, and Cristal—not necessarily in that order).
Despite being quick out of the gates, the Blazers were handily dismissed once again by the Suns on Monday night, April 26, in Phoenix. The 107-88 final was the third lopsided victory for the Suns, who either win by blowout or don't win at all. In this playoff matchup, the average margin of victory for the underdog Blazers has been a slim seven points, for the Suns it's been 22 points.
The wave of momentum that came with game four's dramatic return of Brandon Roy—who went from knee surgery to the court in eight days flat, thus making all of us look like a bunch of pansies for taking sick days every time we're hungover—quickly subsided as the Blazers failed to keep the Suns off the boards. Portland was out-rebounded 41-29. While Marcus Camby struggled to keep his pinkie finger attached to his hand—it became dislocated in the second quarter—the Suns' bench shamelessly overpowered the pillowy soft Blazers interior defense. When Channing Frye, the second least threatening player in NBA history—don't worry Shawn Bradley, you're still number one—overpowers and out-muscles your team, then you have a substantial problem.
In addition to their tender ways, the Blazers will soon need to address the Rudy Fernández standoff. Vocally opposed to standing in Roy's shadow and stuck playing Nate McMillan's methodically plodding brand of offense, Fernández longs to be unleashed in a more up-tempo system, or return to his native Spain and play there. But unless he has a time machine to the 2012-2013 season (when his current contract expires), none of these things will happen. A onetime spark off the bench with a knack for hitting big shots, Fernández has been absolutely dismal in the postseason, failing to score on Monday, and his series average of five points per game has mostly occurred in the garbage minutes of games (when the Blazers are being soundly defeated). It remains to be seen if Fernández's not-so-subtle disappearing act and cancerous attitude are a deliberate attempt to liberate himself from his contract—and from the hearts of Blazer fans that made him a pop icon in this city—or if poor Rudy picked the absolute worst time to come down with an irrational fear of shooting a basketball.
The intersection between the Blazers' deliberately paced style and the Suns' freewheeling offensive efficiency has made for an uneven series, one that has been difficult to stomach for the Blazer faithful, who watch in awe as their team clinically dismantles the Suns' style of play (see: games one and four), then immediately are steamrolled by a seemingly superior Phoenix team (see: every other game). While the odds might be dooming (83.4 percent of teams that take game five in a 2-2 series end up winning the series), the Blazers have managed to defy convention—along with logic and God's will—in playing their best basketball while their fate is precariously on the ropes. And that's exactly where the team finds themselves now.