Pick your poison
Suns wonder which Blazer will get hot next
Posted: Sunday May 09, 1999 11:30 PM
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- The Phoenix Suns spent much of Sunday worrying about Isaiah Rider. Based upon recent history, they should now be wondering which of the Portland Trail Blazers might hurt them next.
Rider scored 17 of his playoff career-high 25 points in the second half Saturday to lead the Blazers past the Suns 95-85 in the opener of their best-of-5 series.
Rider shot extremely well, but all season he has shown a tendency to flop after strong outings: He scored 20 or more points six times this season, and in the next game averaged just 10 points and 38 percent shooting.
Fortunately for Rider, seven other Blazers have scored 21 or more in a game this season, so someone can pick up the scoring slack should he suddenly cool off in Monday's Game 2.
"If I'm not there, anybody can be the go-to guy," Rider said before Sunday's practice at the Rose Garden. "If Damon [Stoudamire] is hot, he's going to be our go-to guy. If [Arvydas Sabonis] has a better offensive game, he's going to be our go-to guy. So it just depends who's rolling."
Portland won its first Game 1 of a series since 1992 with a superior inside game and good defense from their guards -- characteristics that have helped Portland beat the Suns all four times this season.
Phoenix coach Danny Ainge said he'll use more double-teams on Rider when he posts up. But Ainge doesn't feel the need to double the 7-foot-3 Sabonis or power forward Brian Grant, even though the two players combined to make nine of their 13 shots Saturday.
Actually, the Suns don't feel they need to change much at all. They played the Blazers close in all four games this season, and Saturday it was a late 8-0 run that allowed Portland to pull away. Rider scored four points, and Brian Grant's tip-in made it 85-75 with 1:41 left.
"We just missed some shots that we normally haven't missed," said the Suns' Jason Kidd, who said he had a "terrible" game despite 17 points and seven assists.
Ainge bristled when a reporter asked whether the Suns' best hope was to keep it close and have a chance to pull out a victory in the final few minutes.
"We don't want an opportunity to win. We want to win," he said. "I've heard that a lot throughout my career. People say, 'That's all you can ask for is a chance.' No, that's a bunch of garbage. We want to win. Everybody has a chance to win. So we need to execute down the stretch offensively."
Phoenix has other problems. For once this season, the Suns held their own on the boards against the Blazers but still lost. Center Luc Longley scored just two points on 1-of-6 shooting against Sabonis, who almost gave the illusion of quickness while blocking Longley's jumper on one play.
"He crept up on me on that one. He snuck me," Longley said. "Sometimes you forget how long he is. He can cover a lot of ground very quickly."
The Suns got a lift from their bench, with George McCloud scoring 15 points on 3-of-7 from 3-point range. He also did a better job guarding Rider than did the more slender Rex Chapman. Danny Manning scoring 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
"They've got 10 or 12 guys, and they just keep bringing them on in shifts, like a hockey squad almost," Longley said. "That's why in the fourth quarter sometimes they've got their legs under them."
The Blazers like to run and shoot from the outside, but if there's no double-team on the big men, they plan to keep going to them.
"We will just keep pounding it inside until they prove they can stop us," Anthony said. "We feel it is to our advantage to post up on these guys, and we'd be fools not to take advantage of our strengths."
Jackson said his only worry is that the Suns' shooters will start hitting. Rex Chapman scored just nine points on 3-of-12 shooting, continuing a mostly season-long slump. And other Suns missed apparently wide-open looks.
Blazers coach Mike Dunleavy said there's almost more pressure on his team to win Game 2 and maintain the home court.
"Their job was to come in here and get one," Dunleavy said of the Suns. "Whether it be the first one or the second one, I don't think they're going to care. So from our standpoint, we've got to still defend our house."
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