PORTLAND, ORE., MAY 24 -- As they walked off the floor Wednesday night, as fast as their trembling legs could carry them, the Phoenix Suns had to wonder how they could have junked a 22-point, first-half lead against the Portland Trail Blazers -- and how they trashed Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, losing by 108-107.
Once the Suns reached their locker room, they could wonder no more. Cotton Fitzsimmons, their coach, told them the Trail Blazers' offensive rebounds and defensive steals had put them in a 2-0 hole in this best-of-seven series, and that things will have to change markedly in those two departments Friday night, when the teams meet in Game 3 at Phoenix.
"You can say anything you want, but two things beat us again: turnovers that let them break out to dunks, and second shots," Fitzsimmons said as he dressed hurriedly. "Those second shots are a killer. You play defense and make them take the shot you want, and then it's all for naught. One of their guys gets a tap-in or something. A killer."
Moments into the fourth quarter Wednesday night, the Suns led, 93-82, but were outscored by 26-14 from that point. Of the Trail Blazers' final 26 points, four followed Phoenix turnovers, and 11 came after offensive rebounds. Not many teams can consistently limit the Trail Blazers to one shot -- they were the NBA's best offensive rebounding team this season -- but 11 second-shot points in one quarter is too much for any coach's taste, especially Fitzsimmons's.
Clyde Drexler had six of Portland's 18 offensive rebounds, and six of its 13 steals. All six steals came in the second half, tying a club playoff record set by Lionel Hollins in Portland's championship season, 1976-77.
In Game 1, a 100-98 loss for the Suns, Portland had 26 fast-break points to 10 for the Suns. The advantage was only 18-16 Wednesday night, but that was somewhat misleading. During the fourth-quarter rally, the Trail Blazers missed three layups off the fast break -- one by Drexler, one by Terry Porter and one by Drazen Petrovic -- preventing them from capturing the lead earlier.
They caught the Suns at 106 on Porter's three-pointer from the right side with 28 seconds to play, and passed them 16 seconds later on Porter's leaning 10-footer.
"I can't think of another win I've experienced as satisfying as this one," Portland Coach Rick Adelman said. "To play a team the caliber of the Phoenix Suns, to have them lead by 18 at the half -- I don't know many teams that could come back from that to win."
Fitzsimmons said his team would not lose faith in itself, pointing out that the Suns never lost three in a row this season. "And I know this team won't Friday," he said.
Suns forward Kurt Rambis, who has been in his share of playoff dramas with the Lakers, didn't think so either. "What happened here tonight is insignificant debris," he said, dusting off an old Pat Riley line. "If you sit here and think about being down 2-0, yes, it's going to be difficult. But we can't be thinking what should have happened."