Maybe all the talk of the Suns needing more Amare Stoudemire motivated Grant Hill or maybe the veteran is just tired of his season ending after the first round of the playoffs.
Or maybe it was neither. Whatever it was, Grant Hill proved invaluable Tuesday night as the Suns took Game 2 from the Portland Trail Blazers.
Right from the start, Hill made his 37-year-old presence felt on both ends of the floor in 24 minutes of play. Hill finished 10-of-11 for 20 points, and he also grabbed eight rebounds while turning in one of the best defensive efforts of any player in the game.
“When we’re aggressive and playing actively on the defensive end, it carries over on the offensive end and vice versa,” Hill said. “And when we’re passive on one end, we tend to be passive on the other end.”
If Hill can be this effective in Game 3, it would probably behoove the Trail Blazers to devote a little bit of the focus they’ve put on Stoudemire to him.
While such a significant offensive contribution was an unexpected surprise, it was Hill’s defensive tenacity that changed this game. Switching up defensive assignments (and thus freeing up Jason Richardson to go off for 29 points and six rebounds), Hill took on the daunting task of guarding Portland’s Andre Miller, who went for 31 points and eight assists in Game 1.
“J-Rich guarded him (Miler) the other night and the one thing that I thought was we needed to free J-Rich up for offense, and it’s really tough guarding Andre,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said after the game. “We decided we’d put Grant on him and thought the length would bother him a little bit, and we thought he’d be able to keep him in front of him.”
Hill made it look easy, holding Miller to just 12 points and three assists. Whether it was getting in Miller’s face, forcing him to settle for bad shots or getting physical with the 6-foot 2 point guard, Hill made life quite difficult.
“The defense I’ve kind of come to expect,” Suns point guard Steve Nash said of Hill’s night. “I take it for granted, but he’s phenomenal defensively, and tonight he was incredible offensively as well, a pretty nice all-around night.”
It would have made sense for Hill to dedicate most of his efforts to stopping Miller by necessity, but instead he made his first 10 shots. It wasn’t until the 4:22 mark in the third quarter that Hill missed a shot. And at that point, it was time to call it a night as Hill got some rest before heading to Portland.
“I thought it was a pretty special offensive night,” Nash said. “He made 10 shots in a row before he missed his last shot. That’s incredible.”
In 14 previous NBA seasons, Hill never won a playoff series. For a seven-time NBA All-Star, that is kind of one of those “Wait, really??” statistics. With this team, he’s probably got his best shot to make it beyond the first round.
Considering all that has happened to Hill in his storied career, it is astonishing that he can still come out on a given night and make such an impact in a playoff game. A lot of people are amazed that Nash is playing the way he is at 36 years old, but Hill is going on 38!
Obviously the defensive switch worked. Richardson’s ability to focus on his offensive game was crucial in Game 2, as it has been all season. I can’t see any reason the Suns won’t stick with it in Game 3.
“It was more so to free up J-Rich for his offense and get him going, and we thought that Grant would do a good job on him,” Gentry said.
One last thing to keep in mind: Hill did it in 24 minutes. That’s half the game, meaning he got to rest for half the game, which should leave him in pretty good shape for Thursday’s game in the Rose Garden.
Michael Schwartz contributed reporting.