Fast Breaks: Blazers-Suns, Game 3
Jason Richardson's 42 points powered the Suns to a 108-89 win over the Blazers
The Blazers seemed immune to the packed crowd, energy in the Rose Garden
Rudy Fernandez looked like his old self in the fourth when he hit three threes
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Behind 42 points from Jason Richardson, the Suns came into the Rose Garden on Thursday and quieted a horde of red-clad hipsters, jumping on the Blazers early and holding on to win 108-89 to take a 2-1 series lead and regain home-court advantage.
Might want to cover that guy. Richardson missed his first couple of threes but proceeded to hit eight of his next 10. I'd love to see a chart of how close the nearest defender was on each one, as Richardson was often so alone he may as well have been launching during pregame warmups. "It seemed like I was open every time," he said afterward. "I was very surprised."
He shouldn't have been. To nullify Amar'e Stoudemire's attacks on the rim and take the ball out of Steve Nash's hands, the Blazers were trapping Nash early on the pick-and-roll. Since this required bringing a third defender, it meant, as Alvin Gentry said afterward, "One of the corners had to be open." Seeing this, Nash made an effort to get rid of the ball quickly and "let other guys make plays," slipping the ball to a big man up top -- often Channing Frye -- who then swung the ball to the corner shooter. Credit Phoenix for exquisite ball movement, but Portland deserves blame for poor rotations and not closing out quicker, especially on Richardson. After all, right there on the pregame scouting report in their locker room it read, under his heading, "always looking for the corner three."
Well, Richardson looked, and he found. A lot. Portland better abort its pick-and-roll strategy in Game 4 or execute it much better: You can't expect NBA shooters to miss shots that open.
Home crowd, no advantage. Portlanders did their part. The Rose Garden was packed and rumbling, but the Blazers seemed immune to the energy. They came out listless, which is an absolute killer for an undermanned team, which needs to thrive on hustle plays. By the end of the first quarter, Portland was down 34-16. Afterward, Nate McMillan talked about how the team focuses on three C's: be Calm, be Clear (about what they want to do) and be Consistent. Then he added, "That hasn't happened in these last two games."
Indeed, it wasn't until the fourth quarter that the Blazers appeared to realize they were engaged in an NBA playoff game and, you know, they might want to start playing like it. Given something to cheer about -- a fourth-quarter run to cut the lead to 11 -- the Blazers fans turned it up to full 747 roar (the guy in front of us in the press seating had ear plugs in, and he needed them). Without a doubt, this is one of the best crowds in the league. Here's to hoping they have something to cheer about on Saturday. If not, this series, once so promising, is going to be over real quick. As Martell Webster said afterward in the locker room, touching on the urgency, "It's got to be us. This is it, man."
Not enough Dre. After scoring 31 points in Game 1, Andre Miller was neutralized again Thursday, scoring only 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting. It seems a bit much to ask him to be a big-time scorer -- he's been a pass-first creator his whole career -- but the Blazers need him to get them going. "I always tell him to look for his shot more, you can score a whole lot more," said Marcus Camby. "But that's not his persona." On Thursday, Grant Hill guarded Miller again. And though Hill didn't pick him up full court like in Game 2, he again backed off the jumper and played the drive. And again, whenever Miller did get in the paint, he ran into a wall of Phoenix bodies. Miller did tie a playoff career high with nine assists, but I have a hard time seeing them win games unless he's scoring 20 points or more.
Rudy Fernandez sighting. Last season, Fernandez was one of the most entertaining players in the NBA. Alley-oops! Snap-net threes! Crazy floaters! But something happened in these playoffs (or maybe earlier in the season). During practice Wednesday, all McMillan talked about was being "aggressive." He wasn't calling out Rudy by name but he might as well have. Yet, Fernandez still began the game by over-passing, ignoring open shots and generally looking scared of the ball.
Finally, in the fourth, he hit one, then two, then three three-pointers in a row. A few minutes later he sank a fourth. "I think he figured it out," Webster said. "We're shooters, we have to have a short memory. We need him to do that." Asked if he did something to inspire Fernandez -- perhaps a Spanish epithet in the huddle? -- McMillan demurred. "A lot of that was just Rudy moving and letting it fly."
And if there's a silver lining for Portland, that's it: Rudy letting it fly. Without Brandon Roy, and now Nicolas Batum (who didn't play in the second half and is questionable for Saturday), this team is in desperate need of offense. After all, the Suns are supposed to be a team you can score against -- not shoot 44 percent from the field against, as Portland did Thursday. And barring a miraculous Roy recovery, it has to be Rudy Time. Though no one's holding his breath; when I asked LaMarcus Aldridge after the game if he had that magic potion to get Roy back before Saturday, he sighed, then said, "Yeah, we need it, right?"
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