PORTLAND, ORE., MAY 30 -- In the interview room Tuesday night, Cotton Fitzsimmons, who normally would talk past Larry King's bedtime, answered a few questions from the media and then curtly asked to leave. Meanwhile, in the Phoenix Suns' locker room, Fitzsimmons's players tried to remain upbeat, without much luck.
No surprise there. Lady Luck apparently is dressing in the Portland Trail Blazers' locker room these days, right next to Terry Porter's cubicle. Three times the Trail Blazers have tempted fate against the Suns in these Western Conference finals, and three times they've mastered it, always in Memorial Coliseum. One sensed Tuesday night, after the Suns' 120-114 loss in Game 5, that the Trail Blazers' tightrope act -- their death-defying walk to the NBA finals -- is beginning to wear on the Suns.
Further clues will be made available Thursday (9 p.m., WUSA-TV-9), when the teams meet in Game 6. But even if the Suns tie the series, they'd be forced to make one more trip to Portland for a decisive Game 7 -- forced, finally, to prevail in Memorial Coliseum in order to reach the championship series.
How they've managed to bungle each try in Portland is the story of this series. The Suns led in the fourth quarter of Game 1 and lost, 100-98. They led by 22 points in the first half of Game 2, and by 11 points in the fourth quarter, and lost, 108-107. Tuesday night, they led by five midway through the fourth quarter, still led in the final minute, and lost.
The Trail Blazers Tuesday made seven of eight free throws in the final 35 seconds, while the Suns' offense went south. In a vital possession, after Clyde Drexler had made two free throws to put Portland up, 115-114, Porter denied the Suns' inbounds pass to Kevin Johnson. Johnson had to watch helplessly as Dan Majerle came up short on a drive to the basket and Jeff Hornacek controlled, then lost, the rebound.
This series tells only half the story of the Suns' frustration in Portland. In the regular season, Phoenix twice had fourth-quarter leads here, only to lose, 110-109 and 123-121.
"It's so frustrating. We've come into this building five times this year," Tom Chambers said, "and we've been robbed all five times, in my opinion. We should have won every game. . . . This was no different. This time they were the ones in control early, they were the ones out front. Everything was kind of reversed from what it was in Game 2. And, all of a sudden, we were right back in it. It was our opportunity."
The Suns seemed to look and feel sicker about losing this one than they did after wasting that 22-point lead in Game 2. Fitzsimmons was testy, at one point saying of the Trail Blazers, "I think it's about time they quit hiding behind the umbrella of their home court."
To which Rick Adelman, the Portland coach, responded: "Cotton should have won 60 games and then he would have had the advantage of his home court."
To take that one step further: Fitzsimmons should have beaten Portland at least once in Memorial Coliseum this season, and then kept the Trail Blazers from a final-week, 128-120 overtime victory in Phoenix. If Fitzsimmons had done just that, the Suns, not the Trail Blazers, would have gained the home-court advantage against all Western Conference opponents except the Los Angeles Lakers.
Portland's overtime win at Phoenix now feels like something out of "The Flintstones" -- almost as far back in history as the Suns' last win at Portland, April 26, 1984. Lately, the Trail Blazers have shown no capability to win on the road, having lost their last five by an average of 19 points. Meantime they've won their last five at home -- two against the San Antonio Spurs and three against Phoenix -- in either overtime, double overtime, or the final seconds of regulation.
Said Adelman: "That's what basketball is all about. It doesn't matter if you win the game by 30 points or by two. The object is to win."