Redemption for Jason Richardson as Suns Rout Blazers in Game 2
PHOENIX -- Before the Suns faced the Blazers in Game 2 of their first round series on Tuesday, their head coach Alvin Gentry was lamenting the analysis (or lack thereof) that he heard from one of the national television networks. What bothered him was the suggestion that Phoenix needed to switch Steve Nash off of guarding Andre Miller after Miller's huge 31-point performance in Portland's Game 1 victory.
There was just one problem with that analysis: Nash wasn't the one who was guarding Miller.
"Contrary to what anybody thinks, in the room right here or in any of the national media, Steve Nash did not guard Andre Miller," Gentry said. "I wish people would at least take a look at the game, at least for five minutes, to realize that at no time did Steve Nash [guard Miller]. ... He switched on him twice, and he never scored either time. But to say that he was matched up with him and we have to think about switching ... Just look at the game for five minutes."
What went unsaid by Gentry was that the person who was responsible for allowing the bulk of Miller's points that night was Jason Richardson.
But if J-Rich was one of the goats in Game 1, he put it behind him in a hurry to become one of the heroes of Game 2. Richardson had 20 points by halftime, and finished with a game-high 29 as the Suns evened the series with a 119-90 victory over the Blazers.
"I was [upset]," Richardson said of his Game 1 performance. "I couldn't sleep until four or five in the morning, just watching the game over and over and over and seeing everything I did wrong."
There was very little to be upset about in Game 2. Richardson shot 11-for-16 from the field -- and connected on four of his five three-point attempts -- while falling just a single point short of his career playoff high that he set back in 2007 when he was with the Warriors.
"Just coming out and being aggressive," Richardson said, when asked what the difference was for him in Game 2. "Game 1 was tough. I had a tough coverage guarding Andre Miller and I just didn't bring the energy I normally bring for this team. Tonight I just wanted to be aggressive and help out as much as I could."
Something that obviously helped Richardson was the fact that he didn't get the same defensive assignment in Game 2. The task of guarding Miller in this one went to Grant Hill.
"J-Rich guarded him the other night, and the one thing that I thought was that we needed to free up J-Rich for his offense," Gentry said of switching things up. "And it's really tough guarding Andre, so we decided that we'd put Grant Hill on him, we thought the length would bother him a little bit, we thought he could keep him in front of him."
Hill not only held Miller to just 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting but also had a big game on the offensive end, hitting his first 10 field goal attempts and finishing with 20 points and eight rebounds in just 25 minutes of action.
"I just tried to make him work," Hill said of the defensive job he did on Miller. "He's a great player and I have a lot of respect for him. We're close in age. He just had an off night tonight and I expect him to play better in Game 3."
In addition to the key change in the Suns' defensive plan, Phoenix was able to impose its will in a way they hadn't been able to in Game 1. The Suns controlled the tempo from the outset, and matched their fastbreak scoring from Game 1 -- four points -- just two minutes and 54 seconds into tonight's game, before surpassing it with 4:40 remaining in the first quarter. Phoenix finished the third quarter with a 15-4 advantage in that category, while pushing the lead to 26 points and turning the fourth quarter into nothing more than extended garbage time.
As if things didn't go badly enough for the Blazers in Game 2, they may have lost yet another player to injury. Nicolas Batum played the entire third quarter but didn't return in the fourth due to a strained right shoulder. He is scheduled to have an MRI on Wednesday.
Nate McMillan hadn't talked to Batum before his post-game press conference but was clearly concerned about the possibility of losing him.
"Of course losing another guy with the already short rotation, we'll have to make an adjustment," McMillan said. "I haven't gotten any information on what happened, or what he's feeling like right now. ... I just heard that we're going to get an MRI [Wednesday], so if that's the case, then something happened that may be pretty serious."
The Suns did what they needed to in Game 2, and that was get themselves back in the series with a convincing win to make sure that they didn't go to Portland facing a 2-0 deficit. Steve Nash is famous for trying keep things positive no matter the situation, so perhaps it wasn't a surprise that he talked up the Blazers' chances in the series despite the fact that they dropped Tuesday night's game by 29 points.
"They've got to be pretty happy," Nash said. "They came in here and got a split, and they've got home court now. They can make some slight adjustments, but overall it worked one of two nights. They should feel good about themselves."