Richardson’s 29 Points Helps Even Up Opening Round for Suns

By Josh Greene, Suns.com
Posted: April 20, 2010

In a game labeled by many as “must-win,” Jason Richardson’s shot was seemingly “must-fall” in Game 2 Tuesday.

Paced by a game-high 29 points from the shooting guard, Phoenix tied up the best-of-seven Opening Round series at a game apiece with a 119-90 win over Portland at US Airways Center.

Dropping 20 points in the first half on 7-of-12 shooting, J-Rich called it a night with 11-of-16 from the field to go along with six rebounds and 4-of-5 from three-point range in 30 minutes played.

“I was just coming out and being aggressive,” Richardson said. “Game 1 was tough. I had a tough coverage guarding Andre Miller, and I just didn’t bring the energy I normally bring for this team. Tonight I just wanted to be aggressive and help as much as I could.

“(After Game 1) I couldn’t sleep until four or five in the morning, just watching the game over and over and over and seeing everything I did wrong.”

One game after seeing his defensive assignment go off for a game-high 31 points, Head Coach Alvin Gentry’s decision to have Grant Hill guard Miller and let his shooting guard focus on the offensive end paid off in a big way for Phoenix, whose 29-point win was the largest Suns playoff margin of victory in four years.

“He was huge tonight,” teammate Jared Dudley said. “Having Grant guard Miller, that opened up J-Rich’s game. When he’s in that scoring role, that’s a big plus for us.”

Finishing just one point shy of his playoff career high, set three years ago vs. Dallas, Richardson’s 29 points were his third career playoff effort of 27 or more points and his seventh career 20-point postseason tally. He also helped the Suns find their fastbreak scoring – a 4-to-17 swing in the matter of two days.

“We wanted some easy points,” J-Rich added. “We’re a fastbreak team, so we wanted some fastbreak points. We needed some transition defense, some post-ups and some early dunks to set an early tempo to the game.”

All evened up at 1-1, the Suns are off to Portland Wednesday for Games 3 and 4, Thursday and Saturday. Phoenix would like nothing better than to bring some of Tuesday’s energy on their trip and not fall into the trap that was Game 1.

“We were two totally different teams, night and day,” said Richardson about the difference between Games 1 and 2. “We were at a slow pace, and that makes us totally a different team. We’re at our best when we’re up and down the court, pushing the ball.”

SPIRIT OF COTTON AWARD

Hometown NBA heroes Channing Frye and Jerryd Bayless got to see their high school basketball coach take center court during a special first-quarter presentation.

St. Mary’s High School boy’s varsity basketball coach David Lopez was named the 2010 winner of the Spirit of Cotton Award, named in memory of Suns Ring of Honor great and former Head Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons who passed away in July 2004. The award honors a high school coach in Arizona who consistently demonstrates the best qualities of coach, leader, educator, mentor and community leader that embodied the late head coach.

“Coach Lopez definitely deserves it,” Frye told Suns.com. “Look at everything he’s done for the community and for basketball in the state of Arizona. He’s been huge. He got me to where I am. He helped me to fully respect the game and I fully appreciate everything that comes with it, win or lose. He taught us how to grow up as men and how to play the game.”

A 28-year veteran at St. Mary’s, Lopez holds a career coaching record of 562-274, including his teams making 22 State Tournament appearances, and winning two state titles. He also has contributed to the local community through an annual Salvation Army Turkey Drive and his hosting of multiple basketball clinics for Arizona youth.

“I feel good for Coach Lopez,” Bayless said. “He definitely deserves the honor. He’s done a lot for me both on and off the court. Not only is he a good coach, but he’s also a good person.”

As part of the Spirit of Cotton Award, Phoenix Suns Charities will make a grant of $10,000 to St. Mary’s High School’s athletic department – a school that the Ring of Honor coaching great was a fan of, according to Lopez.

As for Frye being a fan of Fitzsimmons, well, he is a local product.

“Growing up, I was a Suns fan, so I was a Cotton fan,” the Suns’ center said. “I saw everything Cotton was about, how hard his players played for him and what kind of impact he had on the community. How could you not like him?”

JONES MAKES SUNS PLAYOFF DEBUT

Four days after being named to the 2009-10 All-NBA D-League First Team for his time with the Austin Toros, newest Sun Dwayne Jones made his first postseason appearance in two years Tuesday, racking up an energetic five points and four rebounds in just over six minutes of work.

“I was just glad to get out there tonight,” Jones told Suns.com. “I’ve been practicing hard with the guys for two weeks now, so I was happy I could just contribute toward a win.”

Playing five postseason games for the Cavaliers in 2008, the forward appeared in two regular-season games for the Suns this year after leading the D-League in rebounds (16 rpg) and double-doubles (43), while also averaging 17.6 ppg in 48 games before his April 5 call-up to Phoenix.

“Tenacity is what got me here,” he said, “Down in the D-League, I was getting 16 rebounds a night. I attack the glass every chance I get. Coming here, Coach Cartwright has been in my ear at practice, 'Go up to the glass everytime.'

“The Toros are owned by San Antonio, so we were running a lot of San Antonio plays. We pushed it somewhat with the good guards we had down there, but coming here, it’s all fast-paced, up-tempo. It’s go, go, go. Get your running shoes on.

STILL NO TIMETABLE FOR LOPEZ RETURN

As he’s done a lot of over the last few weeks, Head Coach Alvin Gentry once again fielded the “when’s Robin Lopez coming back” media inquiry before the game.

“We’ll keep playing and keep moving forward,” Gentry said, “and if one day they walk in and say, ‘Hey, Robin’s been cleared to practice and play, then we’ll plug him back in. Until then, we won’t hold out any hope that Robin’s going to come help us this year.

“If we could dress (Lopez’s twin) Brook and give him Robin’s number, maybe we could get away with that.”

For the record, Lopez is progressing well from a bulging disc in his back but will be re-evaluated again next week. Gentry has repeatedly stated his starting center is out for the Opening Round.