Blazers’ resilient season finally comes to an end

PORTLAND — They almost did it. They almost survived.

But after rallying from a 16-point third-quarter deficit in a playoff elimination game, the Trail Blazers finally ran out of life.

Portland fell to the Phoenix Suns 99-90 Thursday night during Game 6 of a Western Conference first-round playoff series at the Rose Garden before a sellout crowd of 20,313.

With the victory, Phoenix won the best-of-seven series, 4-2.

The Suns advance to face San Antonio in the second round.

Meanwhile, Portland’s unpredictable — at times remarkable — season is over.

“There’s nothing to do tomorrow,” Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. “We’re put together, and we’re putting this team together to win a championship. And I hope it hurts right now for all of us. Even though we were without some guys … we still had a chance. But this needs to hurt. We need to get a grasp on how this feels.”

The Blazers have not advanced to the Western Conference semifinals since 2000.

Portland was knocked out of the first round by Houston, 4-2, last season, after making the playoffs for the first time since 2003.

Martell Webster scored a team-high 19 points to lead the Blazers, while Rudy Fernandez and LaMarcus Aldridge contributed 16 points apiece.

Jason Richardson topped the Suns with a game-high 28 points and made five 3-pointers, while Amare Stoudemire added 22 points.

“It’s a tough team to guard,” McMillan said. “They were on top of their game, and just posed a huge challenge for us.”

Pinpoint perimeter shooting by Webster resurrected the Blazers on Thursday.

Webster sank all three of his 3-pointers during the second half, and recorded 13 of his points after the break.

Down 53-41 at halftime, Portland’s season appeared to be over late in the third quarter, when the team trailed by 16 with 3:43 left in the period.

But the resilient Blazers dug in and stood strong. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Webster then pulled Portland within 69-65 with 34 seconds remaining in the quarter.

Five consecutive points by reserve Jared Dudley helped Phoenix close the quarter, though, and the Suns took a 74-65 advantage into the final period.

Yet Webster just kept firing away.

He recorded seven points during the final period, and cut Phoenix’s lead to 75-73 after being fouled and hitting three consecutive free throws.

A made free throw by Aldridge then allowed Portland to tie the game at 76 with 8:06 to go.

But just as fast as the Blazers were in it and Portland’s season still had life, the hope was gone.

Phoenix responded with an 8-0 run. And the Suns scored four consecutive points on perfectly executed screen-and-roll sets that saw Richardson glide past Fernandez and softly drop the ball in the basket.

Richardson then buried a 3 from the left baseline, making it 87-78 Phoenix with 4:27 to go.

“His shooting was pivotal,” Suns guard Steve Nash said. “He really made them pay to guard us that way.”

A Blazers team that was favored by some during the preseason to compete for the Western Conference title watched its 2009-10 campaign fall prey to an uncanny series of setbacks. Portland missed 311 games during the regular season to injury, while centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla suffered season-ending knee injuries.

“(We) did an unbelievable job of battling adversity,” said Brandon Roy, who missed Games 1-3 while recovering from knee surgery, and sat out 17 games during the regular season.

Roy’s return sparked the Blazers to victory in Game 4 at the Rose Garden. But he struggled when he was on the court during the series, lacking his normal rhythm and smoothness. Roy finished with 14 points on just 4-of-16 shooting Thursday.

Like Roy, the Blazers fought through trouble all season, though, eventually recording the franchise’s second consecutive 50-win season.

The trade-deadline acquisition of veteran center Marcus Camby gave Portland new life. And the Blazers won 13 of their final 17 games during the regular season to qualify for the playoffs for the second consecutive year.

“I’m proud of the guys. I thought they fought all year long,” McMillan said. “With everything they had to go through, all the injuries — we’re not making excuses — but we fought through a lot. And we had guys that stepped up to play and be productive.”

But after stealing Game 1 on the road during the playoff series against Phoenix, Portland was often unable to contain a Suns offense that excels in the fast break and thrives on transition-based 3s.

During victories in Games 1 and 4, the Blazers held Phoenix below 100 points in each contest.

But the Suns averaged 111 points during wins in Games 2, 3 and 5, blowing out the Blazers by an average of 22 points.

And while Phoenix was held to 99 points Thursday, the Suns compensated by outscrapping and outhustling Portland. Despite possessing a smaller frontcourt, Phoenix outrebounded the Blazers 40-35, while Phoenix recorded 32 points in the paint.

In contrast, Portland shot just 38 percent (30 of 79) from the field, and the Suns scored 12 points off 10
Blazer turnovers.

A passionate Rose Garden crowd kicked off a “Let’s go Blazers!” chant about five minutes before tipoff.

But Phoenix hit 5 of its first 6 shots, opening up a quick 13-4 advantage, and temporarily quieting the noise.

Richardson carried Phoenix early, scoring 14 points within a little over seven minutes, and it was 21-11 Suns with 3 minutes, 58 seconds left in the first quarter.

Seven first-period points by Jerryd Bayless kept Portland close, though. And the Blazers pulled within 34-31 after Fernandez sank his second 3-pointer of the second quarter.

But a porous Portland defense struggled to keep up with Phoenix’s high-speed transition offense.

The Suns shot 53.3 percent (8 of 15) behind the 3-point line in the first half, and Phoenix took a 53-41 lead into halftime.

“If you double team or leave them, they’ll make you pay,” McMillan said.

Portland’s inability to contain the Suns throughout the up-and-down series was perfectly captured during a 23-second stretch late in the second quarter.

Bayless pushed too hard during a one-on-two fast-break, and failed to convert an out-of-control layup.

As soon as Bayless’ ball rimmed out, Richardson glided down the court. Then he spotted up on the right wing, knocking down a 3.

A missed jump shot by Webster followed.

Just four seconds later, Grant Hill drove hard to the basket, dropped in a layup despite being fouled by Webster, and then hit a free throw to complete a three-point play.

It was five quick transition points for the Suns, and two missed opportunities for the Blazers.

And Portland’s resilient season was about to come to an end.

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