PORTLAND (NBA.com exclusive) -- Jason Richardson was left unguarded so often Thursday night, he felt like a celebrity who had given security the day off.
"I was very surprised," Richardson said after scoring a career playoff-high 42 points in the Phoenix Suns' 108-89 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers Thursday night at the Rose Garden. "Seemed like I was open every time. I was surprised they kept leaving me."
The win gives Phoenix a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series that continues Saturday night at the Garden.
The Suns' margin of victory, as large as it was, doesn't tell the story of their dominance.
The visitors led 66-37 at halftime and by 31 points in the third quarter when Portland finally began to whittle into the XXX-sized deficit.
The Blazers closed the margin to 91-80 with five minutes to play before Phoenix went on an 11-0 run to put the verdict on ice.
"We just seemed tight to start the game," Portland coach Nate McMillan said. "The first half, we seemed to be putting a little pressure on ourselves. Looked like the last game."
Portland had trailed 63-49 at the half of Game 2, but that was at US Airways Center -- and after the Blazers had stolen away with victory in the opener.
The Blazers made only 3 of their first 14 shots Thursday night, and the Suns were on fire, with Richardson leading the way. Their lead was 39-16 early in the second quarter, and not many teams come from that kind of deficit to win -- especially in the playoffs.
Richardson -- who had scored 29 points in Game 2 -- was the catalyst. With Portland focusing its defense on stopping Amar'e Stoudemire inside and Steve Nash on dribble penetration, somebody was going to be open. Richardson took advantage of his opportunities. After missing three of his first four 3-point attempts, the 6-6 shooting guard buried seven of his next eight tries from beyond the arc to finish 8-for-12 on treys.
"The last two games, Jason has been the guy who spaced the floor for us," Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said. The Blazers "have done a great job taking Amare's game away, but you have to have an extra defender on hand. We've done a good job of swinging the ball, and Jason has done a good job shooting the ball."
Richardson was 13-for-19 overall, and scored 21 points in each half to far surpass his previous career playoff high of 30 points.
"My best game as a pro," he said. "Nine years in the league, and I've spent seven summers at home. I don't take anything for granted. I'm trying to leave everything on the floor."
The Rose Garden was a house of noise at the start of the game and in the fourth quarter when Portland made its charge. In between, the sellout throng of 20,271 sat in mostly stunned silence as the Suns dictated tempo and seemed to score at will.
"You saw how loud this arena gets and how they're into the team here," Gentry said. "We thought if we could get a good start -- where we could keep the crowd out of the game -- and then continue that, it would be great."
Without injured star Brandon Roy, Portland is struggling to get offensive production from its regulars. Starting small forward Nicolas Batum, who re-injured his shoulder in Game 2 and then aggravated it again Thursday, missed the second half and is questionable for Game 4.
With 6-8 Grant Hill defending 6-2 Andre Miller, the Blazers' veteran point guard had 11 points and nine assists but made only 4-of-11 from the field. With the Suns double-teaming LaMarcus Aldridge on every catch, the 6-11 power forward missed his first six shots Thursday. But the time he finally made one late in the second quarter, the Blazers trailed by 26 points.
"They're trying to take me out any way they can," Aldridge said. "I just have to figure out ways to get going."
Game 4 becomes a must-win situation for the Blazers.
"The second half tonight, we won that," McMillan said. "We played basketball. We started to fight and we won both of the last two quarters. Somehow we have to get that scrappiness at the start of the game."
The Suns don't expect Saturday night's game to be easy.
"We know Game 4 is going to be very tough," Richardson said. "This team is not going to bow down to us. They have their backs to the wall, and they're a pretty good team.
"Those guys are not going to quit," Gentry said. "If you think they'll quit, you don't know Nate. When we line up to play them Saturday, they'll play extremely hard. Every game we play against these guys is a tough, hard-nosed game. That's who Nate is, and that's who his team is."