Posted Apr 19 2010 7:50AM
PHOENIX -- If there ever comes a time to tell the story of these Portland Trail Blazers in the form of a movie, a remake of Monty Python and the Holy Grail would be the most apt.
They are the collective version of the Black Knight, a brave and gallant -- and maybe quite naïve -- fellow who never gives up, even when he has literally been separated from all of his limbs.
"Tis but a scratch," said the Black Knight. "Just a flesh wound."
So here are the Blazers, supposedly long ago without a leg to stand on, somehow crawling away from US Airways Center with a 105-100 win in the opening game of their playoff series with the Phoenix Suns.
"It's what we do," said Andre Miller, "just keep moving on."
It's one thing to say that when starting center Greg Oden is lost for the season in December and then his back-up Joel Przybilla goes down nine games later. It's one thing to repeat it like the mantra at a yoga class as a way of getting through the long and grueling regular season without wallowing in self pity when your entire roster has lost nearly 400 player games to injury from November through April.
But it's entirely different to have your best player, your only All-Star, Brandon Roy, tear the meniscus in his right knee two weeks before the start of the playoffs and still believe it.
But the Blazers do believe and they likely made 18,422 orange-clad converts on Sunday night with a performance that was virtually bloodless and clinical.
Portland sat down on the Suns' high-octane running game throughout the entire game and choked off their deadeye long-range shooting game in the second half. The Blazers controlled the tempo and the style of the game and they raced down the lane and all the way to the basket as if they were merely subway commuters going through the turnstile.
"We talked to the guys about getting the first game," said Blazers coach Nate McMillan.
And not just for the obvious reasons. For while the Portland franchise had lost the openers in its five previous playoff series and, not coincidentally, lost all five series, and the Suns had not lost a series in which they'd won the opener at home since 1995, this was about more than numbers and historical landmarks.
It was about faith, for one thing, and it was about getting tangible proof that they could hold in their hands.
"Oh yeah, it was big, because I don't think anybody really believed that we could do it," said power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. "For us to come in here and get this win is big for our confidence right now. Home court shifts to us and we just feel like we just got to play solid every game and we should have a chance to win.
"We needed this win to show everybody out there that we're the real thing and we don't sit around feeling sorry for ourselves. But we also needed it to show ourselves that it could be done."
It was done because Aldridge scored 22 points and teamed up with center Marcus Camby to stifle and frustrate and befuddle Amar'e Stoudemire from the opening tip until he finally fouled out with 81 seconds to play. For all the talk of his second-half-of-the-season surge, Stoudemire looked like anything but a player deserving of a max contract with his 8-for-19 night and his turn-back-the-clock foolish fouls.
It was done because the 34-year-old Miller strolled right out onto the home court of the 36-year-old miracle worker Steve Nash and was clearly the best aging point guard in the building. That's not to say Nash was sub-par. He was, in fact, anything but with 25 points, nine assists and only two turnovers on the night. It's just that Miller was relentlessly sublime finishing with a career-playoff-high 31 points to go with eight assists and five rebounds on a night when he did whatever he wanted with impunity.
With Roy, their leading scorer and clutch player, in the lineup, Miller and Jerryd Bayless drove right through the teeth of what was supposed to be a much-improved Phoenix defense. Together, Miller and Bayless did so much slicing that you might have thought they were a pair of late-night TV pitchmen selling Ginsu knives.
"You do what you have to do," Miller said with a shrug.
The Blazers did what they have done to Phoenix all season -- smothered them. The Suns averaged a league-leading 110.2 points against the entire NBA during the regular season, but have scored just 99 points a game now in four meetings (and three losses) to the Blazers.
What's more, Portland keeps right on doing it when every logical sign says they should be running out of options and healthy limbs.
"We've had guys been stepping in all year," Miller said. "It just goes with the game. There's gonna be some injuries. It's tough, but if there are bad times, there are gonna be good times, so you just try to look at the positives of it."
Tis but a scratch, just a flesh wound. So sayeth the Black Knight.
And the Blazers.
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