PHOENIX — Grant Hill was a co-Rookie of the Year of the 1994-95 season. It took him until Thursday night to finally win a playoff series.
In between those 16 years, Hill has made seven All-Star teams, an Olympic team, an All-NBA first team and four All-NBA second teams while having the better part of four years and the entirety of another season wiped out due to injuries.
But as Hill prepares for his first career second-round series, he’s just embarrassed that there’s so much talk of him getting this monkey off his back.
“Honestly if I had retired last summer the feeling I had would be no different,” Hill said. “I mean, it’s great, it’s fun, don’t get me wrong, but embarrassing just from talking about me and not about the team, what this team has accomplished and the fact that the young guys, the bench, everybody has really contributed and all of a sudden it’s about getting out of the first round. That’s what’s kind of embarrassing or uncomfortable, but look, I’m cool with what’s happened in the past and what hasn’t happened. I’m just focusing on moving forward. We have a great opportunity against a great team.”
Hill has been asked about this numerous times and always goes back to saying this isn’t about him anymore, it’s about the team and growing Amare’s legacy and allowing the young guys to get a taste of postseason play.
But it’s not just about them, it’s about Hill, a guy who at 37 re-signed with a team that many thought would be no more than first-round fodder in the playoffs in large part to be a veteran mentor and all of a sudden he’s on the best team of his illustrious NBA career.
You can see that by being around him during media sessions that Hill is having as much fun as he’s ever had in the NBA, truly enjoying the experience and often talking about how the Suns don’t want to lose because that would mean they don’t get to hang out anymore.
The Suns’ young players are blessed to have a pair of veterans leaders like Nash and Grant Hill, and you know his teammates must feel oh so good for Grant finally getting out of the first round.
So as much as Hill feels “embarrassed” by all the attention he is receiving for getting out of the first round, every ounce of it is deserved for a guy who has transformed from a star to a star role player and has now finally tasted postseason success.
The importance of J-Rich
There are lies, damn lies and statistics, but some stats are so eye-popping that they must not fall in the latter category: The Suns are 29-4 this season when Jason Richardson scores at least 20 points.
That includes a perfect 3-0 mark in the playoffs when J-Rich scores big as he often did against Portland when he led the Suns with a 23.5 ppg scoring average in the series, including a monster 42-point outing in Game 3.
“Because everybody’s open, it’s free,” Richardson explained. “If I’m scoring 20 then Amare’s got 20 and Steve has 20, so it’s like the third weapon pretty much. That’s why I think we’re so good when I score 20.”
In their previous battles with San Antonio, the Suns have always lacked that third scorer in his prime. In 2005, Joe Johnson wasn’t quite at that level yet, and he missed the first two games with a fractured face. Shaq, of course, was past his prime in 2008. And although Shawn Marion scored in the neighborhood of 20 a few times in his career, he’s never been the kind of pure scoring third option that J-Rich is.
“Obviously he’s a talented player, and a lot of times when teams try to take away the pick and rolls or take away Amare’s isolations they’ve got to make a decision,” Nash said. “If they’re loading up on pick and rolls and isolations somebody’s got to be open, and obviously he’s got more than enough talent to make people pay for that, and I think we saw that in the Portland series.
“It’s certainly a great luxury to have somebody who can go for 42 points who’s not really a No. 1 or 2 option, so he’s done it before, we’ve seen him score the ball in this league. He’s a proven scorer. Now that we’ve got a team that has a lot of efficiency and depth he might not take as many shots, but when he gets it going, he gets in the flow of the game, we’re a special team.”
Hill on the team’s turning point after it’s Jan. 26 loss to Charlotte: “I think we were at a point where we were desperate. I remember we watched film and certain things just kind of make sense. Certain things trigger something. I remember Dan Majerle was talking in film, he doesn’t talk a whole lot, but he was just saying just playing desperate. … Maybe that triggered something for us collectively, but we just started to figure out, we started to get these leads and hold onto them and realize, ‘OK, we’ve got to get stops.’ Everything just kind of came together, and it’s hard to figure out why that’s the case or how it happened, but it just did. We’re a different team than we were in January. We’re a different team than we were in February, March.”
Nash on the current state of the Suns-Spurs rivalry: “Of course we have a lot of respect for them and what they’ve accomplished. We haven’t been able to beat them. There’s obviously a history there, but at the same time there’s very few players left from either team from series gone by, so it really is a new series, new teams and it can add to the rivalry, but most guys don’t remember it. All the incidents that happened some of my teammates are like, ‘Really, that happened?’”
Nash on getting another crack at the Spurs: “It’s great. Even though it’s been lopsided I feel like it’s been a pleasure to play against a franchise that’s been as strong as they have and the battles we’ve had in the past, so another chance to play against them is great. These are the things that you’ll remember more than most things when your career’s over. To have another crack at it finally would be a lot of fun.”
Amare on his rivalry with the Spurs: “This goes back to my rookie year. It’s classic battles. It’s been a classic battle for myself and Tim. My rookie year it was Tim and David Robinson, both of them. The Admiral’s gone so now it’s just Tim and McDyess. It’s been a classic battle since my rookie year. I’m looking forward to another one of those great series.”
Amare on what he’s learned from these battles through the years: “Every possession is important. That might be the most important thing of all that every, every possession is important, so we’ve got to make sure we take care of the ball, make sure we defend and we feel like we can win.”
Jason Richardson on the different between this playoff run and 2007 with Golden State: “It definitely was different. With this team we were more focused on going there, going deep for a playoff run. With Golden State I think we were kind of just happy to be in the playoffs. This team, I definitely think we can go on a long run here. If we focus and play defense like we have been I think we can have a long playoff run.”
Hill on Gentry: “Alvin’s unbelievable. He didn’t really get talk about Coach of the Year, but he’s been unbelievable. He’s made the adjustments, he’s challenged people, he’s done a magical job throughout the entire season. He’s really one of the main reasons we turned things around there in February and got hot. With him nothing’s personal and we’re all excited for each other, but we’re excited for Alvin and the coaching staff to be in the position we’re in.”