J-Rich torches Blazers, leads Suns to Game 3 win


When many Suns fans think of Jason Richardson, they think of his salary cap number.

They think about how $13.3 million this year and $14.4 million next season is too much for a shooting guard with a knack for disappearing at the wrong times and not playing as good of defense as he should.

But in Phoenix’s 108-89 Game 3 throttling of the Portland Trail Blazers, Richardson earned every cent of his salary, for this game at least.

With the Blazers paying extra attention to Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire, they frequently left J-Rich open, and he did what a player of his ilk is supposed to do by burning Portland for a career-playoff-high 42 points on 13-for-19 shooting, two points shy of an overall career high. Richardson knocked down 8-of-12 threes (one shy of Rex Chapman’s Suns playoff record) and seemed to answer every time Portland tried to go on a run.

“I was surprised they kept leaving me,” Richardson told reporters after the game.

For good measure Richardson added a team-high eight boards and three steals, and he scored at least 20 points in the first half for the second straight game after exploding for 29 in three quarters of the Game 2 victory. He’s now gone 24-of-35 (68.6 percent) from the field and 12-of-17 (70.6 percent) from three the past two games. That’s getting it done.

We have seen all season long that this Suns team is more or less unstoppable when Richardson plays like a third star to complement Amare and Nash, as Phoenix went 26-4 in the regular season when he scored at least 20 points.

When Richardson is going like this, it’s really a case of pick your poison. You can hedge Nash on the pick and roll and have an extra defender come at Amare at all times, but if you do that the Suns have options like J-Rich waiting in the corner for another three, an efficient Grant HIll lurking with a 4-for-5 performance and Channing Frye spotting up from distance as well.

This Suns offense was one of the most efficient in NBA history this season, and we’ve seen why the past two games, when the Suns scored at least 30 points in five of six quarters (Game 2 and the first half of Game 3) after the Blazers had never allowed a team to go for 30 in more than two quarters all season. You just can’t shut down all of Phoenix’s options, and on this night the Blazers chose to make J-Rich beat them, and he did.

It’s interesting that Richardson is a player whom most Suns fans would not have minded showing the door to at midseason if it meant jettisoning his $14.4 million salary for next year along with him, but those who wanted to give him away for nothing forget why the Suns wanted to acquire him in the first place. No, they did not make that deal for Jared Dudley, as great as he has been.

The Suns wanted that third elite scorer (which Richardson is most nights) to take pressure off Nash and Amare, and in this contest we got to see what happens when J-Rich is left open all night.

Phoenix blitzkrieged Portland on its way to a commanding 66-37 halftime lead, going up by as many as 31 points in the first half. That would be an insane lead for any NBA team to grab on the road against even a team like New Jersey, so to do it in a pivotal playoff game just shows how locked in the Suns are now.

They have won 14 of 18 on the road after that putrid 1-12 away stretch and are 30-8 overall in their last 38 games.

I kind of feel like losing Game 1 is the best thing that could have ever happened to the Phoenix Suns. As much as head coach Alvin Gentry spoke of respecting the Blazers, I’m not sure if the Suns really did in their heart of hearts. Then they saw what could happen whey don’t play their game and allow Portland to dictate tempo, and since then we’ve seen two performances that the Blazers just couldn’t match.

After Game 2, Rob Mahoney of Hardwood Paroxysm wrote that if the Suns show up four times in this series, the Blazers don’t have a chance.

Game 3 reinforced that thought. I didn’t even recognize the team in Suns jerseys in Game 1, but Game 3 was more of the same that we’ve seen from this team in Game 2 and really over the course of the last few months. Like Mahoney wrote, if this Suns team shows up there’s nothing that the Blazers can do about it.

The Suns’ defense came to play tonight as well, holding the Blazers to 44.2 percent shooting and of course just the 37 points in the first half. Aside from four fourth-quarter triples from Rudy Fernandez when the game was essentially over, the Blazers otherwise hit just 1-of-12 from distance. Grant Hill limited Miller to 11 points on 4-for-11 shooting, almost his exact stats from Game 2, and the Blazers couldn’t come close to matching Phoenix’s offense.

The Suns struggled to just 15 points in a turnover-marred third quarter, but that happens in the NBA. When you build up a 30-point lead naturally your guard drops a bit, and when Fernandez caught fire the 31-point lead dwindled to 11. But an 11-0 Suns run highlighted by another Richardson three ended all hope of a Portland comeback.

With the win the Suns stole back home-court advantage and must have made the Blazers wonder if they can win another game in this series. The Game 1 victory is starting to look like the aberration, and the Suns know that if they play their game they won’t lose another game this series.

And 1

  • The Portland announcers on NBA TV thought Amare Stoudemire could be up for a suspension after STAT elbowed LaMarcus Aldridge in the shoulder while the power forwards fought for a rebound late in the third quarter. Both players received a technical for the ensuing entanglement, but from where I’m sitting Amare is in no danger of a suspension. Even on a 42-point night, perhaps Richardson’s biggest move of the game came when he immediately got Stoudemire out of the area to prevent an escalation.
  • Nicolas Batum missed the second half of Game 3 after taking “two or three bumps” to his strained right shoulder that “hurt a lot,” according to The Oregonian. He clutched it in pain after a second-quarter drive after which he was clearly affected at the free-throw line and was subsequently removed for the game. When asked if some of the bumps the Suns gave him were dirty, he told reporters, “Yeah, but that’s playoff basketball.” How about that, now the Suns are the team being called dirty.
  • Amazing from where they were a couple games ago, but ESPN’s fun Playoff Predictor now gives Phoenix an 87 percent chance to finish off this series. That’s about the same range as the Lakers in their series against the Thunder (89 percent).
  • The Suns were the only favorite to lose a Game 1 home game, but now they’re also the only series favorite to take one on the road on a day in which a pair of No. 1 seeds dropped one in enemy territory.