Posted Apr 21 2010 2:36AM
PHOENIX -- Was there ever a day when Secretariat woke up in his stall and figured maybe it was time to trade in his racing gig for a job pulling a plow?
Would Beyonce ever stop singing and jiggling? Would Snookie quit going to the tanning parlor?
You are who you are.
That's why Alvin Gentry was so amused at the notion that his Suns might need to reinvent their own wheel after losing the first game of their playoff series to the Trail Blazers.
"We don't want to get into all of a sudden being too analytical," said the Suns coach. "You know, change this and change that."
Oh, there were a few adjustments by Phoenix that led to the 119-90 thumping of the Blazers and evened up the first-round series at a game apiece. After Andre Miller ran a continuous layup line in the opener, the Suns switched their defense matchup from Jason Richardson to Grant Hill. After LaMarcus Aldridge was able to roam freely near the basket on Sunday night, the Suns made a bit more of a dedicated effort to make the Portland power forward have to maneuver around a picket fence of different defenders..
But mostly what the Suns changed was their attitude and simply went back to being themselves.
"It was really about playing our game, having fun, playing hard," said Hill, who hit 10 of 11 shots for his 20 points when not shadowing Miller. "You know, when you lose in the playoffs it's always the worst thing in the world and when you win you're on Cloud Nine.
"So as long as you keep an even keel and understand there's gonna be ups and downs, then you can weather those storms, advance and play well. We knew we could play better. Instead of taking on the victim role and saying, 'Portland did this and Portland did that,' it was more like 'We have to do this and we have to do that.' "
They were back to being the Suns who shimmied through the NBA regular season looser than Shakira's hips, leading the league in both scoring and not looking back.
They were Steve Nash putting his mark on the opening minutes of the game by pushing the pace and pushing his teammates to keep up in order to be on the receiving end of his set-up passes. They were Richardson, freed from the burden of being cut up like a butter sculpture by the knifing Miller getting out in the transition game to sling in 4-for-5 from behind the three-point line and make the Blazers pay with an assortment of post-up jumpers for his 29 points.
These were the Suns who had looked at a brutal finishing schedule to the regular season and never blinked, closing like a boulder rolling down a hill and vaulting all the way up into the No. 3 seed.
"I don't know if things are different or it's just me," Gentry said. "It's just a game and it's still going to be a game. We can put any spin on it we want to and it sounds great. 'Win or go home.' But that's true anytime. If you don't win, you're gonna go home.
"I told the guys and I really believe it, that you should embrace this situation. Last year we were sitting at home and it was not a great feeling. To me to have an opportunity to play and to be involved and if you play well enough you get to play the next team or the next team, to me that should be fun and you should embrace it."
So the Suns wrapped their arms around this one like a prom date in a slow dance and made their familiar music. Nash kept sending to them to the basket. Amar'e Stoudemire shook himself free from the double- and triple-teaming to get to the rim and catch passes. Hill played like he was 37 going on 17.
The Suns became the first team in the NBA this season -- 84 games -- to score 30 or more points in three different quarters in a game against the solid, rugged Blazers. Their final tally smashed their own high of 102 points against Portland in four previous meetings this season.
When Nash dashed across the lane and tossed the ball up backwards and over his head for a circus shot six minutes into the third quarter, you could practically hear the calliope music playing on the midway. This was what Nash meant when he said after game that the Suns didn't have to do different things, just do their usual things different.
"I think we were just more aggressive getting the ball up the floor and moving bodies around so they weren't set and they weren't able to zone it up as well," he said. "I thought we did a good job just keeping the game in a little better tempo."
The Suns still lost on their own floor, still lost home-court advantage in the series and still have to go to find a way to steal one back in the maelstrom that is Portland's Rose Garden. Yet they backed the citizens of the desert a few steps away from the edge of the cliff not by changing their identity, but reclaiming it.
"Hey, it won us 54 games and the third seed," said Hill. "So let's just keep going back to doing all that."
You are who you are.
Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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