Lovable Loser No More: Richardson Finally Enjoying Playoff Success
He praised their fervor. He acknowledged their reputation. But, in the end, he would not give them the unofficial title of best NBA city.
"I think Golden State is the best, to be honest," Gentry said.
Everyone shrugged. The topic was interesting, to be sure, but irrelevant considering the postseason context. Jason Richardson could relate.
For the first six seasons of his career, that was him as a player.
He put up big numbers on bad Warriors teams, earning the loyalty and favor of the Bay Area crowd while being well aware that true league-wide respect would never come while being part of a losing program. That existence, it's safe to say, is no more.
Richardson scored a playoff career-high 42 points in the Suns' 108-89 win, making the Trail Blazers pay for their double-teaming of Amar'e Stoudemire with an outside touch that wilted nearly every Rose in this Garden.
His eight 3-pointers were the most ever against the Blazers in a playoff game, and one shy of Phoenix's postseason record set by Rex Chapman in 1997. And while the Blazers cut a lead that was as large as 31 points down to 11 in the fourth quarter and the boos heard early on turned to fever-pitched promise, Richardson simply wouldn't let an unthinkable comeback happen.
He hit 13 of 19 shots and 8 of 12 from beyond the arc, doing his best work in a 12-point first quarter in which his three from the left corner with 36 seconds left put Phoenix up 32-16 and was quickly followed with the rare sound of discontent from the Blazers' fanatics. Richardson -- who called it "the best game of my career" -- was even good when his teammates were bad, scoring 13 of his team's 15 points during the third quarter in which Phoenix was outscored 23-15 and their lead cut to 21.
But the more important statistic is the one related to winning, as the Suns are now 28-4 when Richardson scores 20-plus points. Richardson was the driving (and shooting) force for the second straight game, as he had scored 20 of his 29 points by halftime of the Game 2 win at Phoenix on Tuesday as well.
Production and success? It's what Richardson has always waited for.
"I've had a tough career," said Richardson, who was traded from the Warriors to Charlotte in June 2007 and traded to the Suns in December, 2008. "Nine years in the league, not making it to the playoffs but once. I'm going out there and leaving everything I have, giving everything I have. Diving for loose balls. Getting every rebound, whatever it takes for this team to make a deep playoff run."
Officially, this is a second playoff run for Richardson. He was part of the eighth-seeded Warriors team that shocked the basketball world in 2007 by upsetting top-seeded Dallas in the first round series that had far more of a lasting impact on the Mavericks than it did Golden State. The Warriors were broken up by a series of moves and departures just months later, a novelty turned into nothing once again. And a very different experience for Richardson than his current one.
"That year with the Warriors, we were playing just to get in the playoffs," Richardson said. "To be on this team, to actually play for a (high playoff) seed, was very special. That's what you want. You don't want to play just to get in and hopefully win a game or two. It's definitely special going in knowing we can make a deep run if we do the things we're capable of doing."
Which, of course, he is.
Suns forward Louis Amundson said he has seen a different Richardson recently, one who has found his place in the Suns' system and in their locker room.
"I think last month or so he has been playing the best I've seen him," Amundson said. "Last year I think he was getting adjusted a bit to the guys around the team, the style of play. This year he has been phenomenal for us. Tonight, you saw it. That's the best I've seen him play all season."
Stoudemire, who had 20 points on 8 of 14 shooting, agreed.
"He's shooting the ball from the outside, and he's zoned in defensively," Stoudemire said. "I can guarantee you he's totally into it and ready to win. Being nine years in the league and the second time in the playoffs? I know he's definitely wanting to win."
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