Blazers search for answers after another blowout

PORTLAND — The Trail Blazers suddenly appear to be in serious trouble.

For more than three quarters Thursday night, Portland looked absolutely nothing like the team that stole Game 1 on the road against the Phoenix Suns. Moreover, the Blazers lacked all the key components that made the team so resilient during the regular season.

Confidence, fight and a strong will? The attributes were often hard to find. As were simpler assets such as offensive execution and defensive intensity.

As a result, the run-and-gun Suns throttled Portland for the second consecutive game.

The No. 6 seed Blazers fell to No. 3 Phoenix, 108-89, during Game 3 of a Western Conference first-round playoff series at the Rose Garden before a sellout crowd of 20,271.

Portland trailed by as many as 31 late in the second quarter and never led in the game.

Blazers coach Nate McMillan said poor starts and early foul trouble in two consecutive contests have hammered his team, putting the Blazers in a tremendous hole. And while McMillan has spent the whole season preaching three Cs — calm, clear and consistent — Portland has displayed nothing resembling tranquility in the early going.

“We are not controlling our emotions, and being able to play at this level without being calm out there,” McMillan said.

With the victory, Phoenix took a 2-1 series lead and regained home-court advantage.

Down by 21 at the end of the third quarter, Portland closed within 91-80 with 5 minutes, 24 seconds to go after Rudy Fernandez sank a 3-pointer.

McMillan said the late-game charge — which saw Fernandez finally get on track — offered hope for Game 4, which is set for 1:30 p.m. Saturday at the Rose Garden.

“We started to play basketball,” McMillan said. “We started to fight, and won both of those quarters. And, somehow, we’ve got to get that fight, that scrappiness at the start of the game.”

LaMarcus Aldridge scored a team-high 17 points on 5-of-14 shooting to lead Portland, while reserves Jerryd Bayless and Martell Webster added 14 points apiece.

But Aldridge was visibly frustrated and shaken after the game, offering more questions than answers when asked how Portland will respond to its second consecutive blowout.

“We’ve just got to keep fighting,” Aldridge said. “This is what we’ve been through all year.”

As if two consecutive playoff losses by a combined 48 points was not enough, Portland also lost starting forward Nicolas Batum midway through the second quarter due to a right shoulder strain.
Batum’s status for Game 4 is uncertain. He will be re-evaluated

Phoenix shooting guard Jason Richardson again torched Portland. Richardson scored a game-high 42 points and sank eight 3-pointers to top the Suns. In the past two contests, Richardson has recorded 71 points on 24-of-35 shooting.

“I think … that is my best game as a pro,” said Richardson, who acknowledged he was surprised to find himself wide open several times. “Nine years in the league; I’ve only been to the playoffs twice. … Right now, I don’t take anything for granted. It’s like my first playoff, pretty much.”

The Blazers hit just 16 of their 28 free-throw attempts, while
shooting 31.3 percent (5 of 16) behind the 3-point line.

A rabid home crowd attempted to inspire Portland, but the Blazers initially did little to reciprocate the fervor.

Phoenix slashed away with ease from the opening tip, and the Suns opened up a 19-6 first-quarter lead.

In contrast, Portland’s early efforts had more in common with desperation than confidence.

Fernandez — who came into the contest having hit just 2 of his 9 field-goal attempts — was pulled off the floor after just three minutes of action.

Meanwhile, Bayless was assessed with an uncharacteristic technical foul midway through the first period.

Factor in that Aldridge began the game 0 of 6 from the field — again hounded by fierce double teams that forced him to pass the ball away as soon as he touched it — and a bad night only got worse for the Blazers.

By halftime, the rout was on. It was 66-37 Suns. And as the Blazers retreated to the locker room, the team was followed by a chorus of boos.

Through six consecutive quarters bridging Game 2 with the first two periods of Game 3, Portland was outscored 185-127 by Phoenix.

Nevertheless, McMillan said his team can bounce back if it plays the game the right way, and regains the fight that carried it throughout a season plagued by injuries and setbacks.

“We did win the second half,” McMillan said. “We’ve beaten this team before. We can do it. But we can’t start the way we have in the last two games.”

The Blazers honored Ray Hickey midway through the first quarter with a video tribute. Hickey passed away last week at the age of 82. The former Clark County resident was a longtime Blazers season-ticket holder, and made numerous significant charitable contributions throughout his life. … Batum reinjured his right shoulder with 2:06 left in the second quarter. He fell hard during a layup attempt, and was in obvious pain while attempting to shoot a free throw. He then immediately walked to the locker room after the foul-shot attempt. Batum originally strained his shoulder during Game 2, and was a game-time decision for Thursday’s contest. Preseason surgery on the same shoulder forced Batum to miss 45 games this season. … Aldridge and Stoudemire were involved in a small scuffle late in the third quarter. Both players were assessed with technical fouls. Aldridge said Stoudemire tried to hit him, but refused to call Stoudemire a dirty player.

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