By Stefan Swiat, Suns.com
Posted: April 19, 2010
Most 37 year-olds in the NBA have the title of coach or scout before their names. Not small forward.
Most 37 year-olds are asked for just a minimal contribution. But most 37 year-olds aren’t Grant Hill.
One of three oldest players left in the NBA, Hill received the dreaded assignment of defending Portland’s Andre Miller on Tuesday, a deceivingly-quick 6-2 guard that torched the Suns for 31 points in Game 1 of their first-round series.
In addition to his defensive task, he was also called on to provide a much-needed scoring punch from the small forward position after the Suns’ wings combined for just eight points in Game 1. The seven-time All-Star would deliver on both accounts.
“Grant (Hill) was phenomenal tonight on both ends of the floor,” Suns point guard Steve Nash said. “His ability and energy on the defensive end to make it difficult for people was huge for us."
After Game 1, Gentry decided he wanted to free Jason Richardson from his defensive responsibilities on Miller so he could be more of a scoring threat. Going into Game 2, Gentry theorized that Hill’s length could pose a problem for Miller.
Gentry's theory proved to be correct. Hill limited Miller to 12 points and three assists on 4-of-11 shooting.
“I think he was being smart to understand that if you get close to (Miller) he can drive around anybody in the NBA,” Gentry said. “(Miller) is a real smart player and has a real good feel for the game. I don’t think anybody realizes how quick he is and he does a real good job of lulling you to sleep.”
Hill said the key to guarding an offensive threat like Miller is to not to become defeated mentally when he catches fire.
“When you guard a great player like Miller, (he's) going to make plays and make baskets,” Hill said. “It’s kind of being like a cornerback, sometimes you’re just going to get burnt.”
In addition to his work on the defensive end, Hill was nearly perfect offensively. The veteran forward went 10-for-10 before missing his final shot of the evening.
After going just 2-of-9 in Game 1, he would go on to finish with 20 points and eight boards in just 25 minutes of work. Hill, as usual, downplayed his exploits.
“I wasn’t even thinking about offense tonight,” he said. “I was just thinking about defense and trying to be effective on that end. I'm just an old fart that's trying to play ball and keep up with these young guys."
The Suns, who led the NBA in both field goal percentage and points scored this season, has been hampered by the Blazers’ renowned defense all season.
Phoenix, which finished the season averaging 110 points a night, found itself competing against the toughest defense in the West and the third-stingiest in the league this series. Portland only allowed its opponents 94.8 points a game this season.
In the two clubs’ three meetings this season, the Suns failed to reach their season average against the Blazers all three times. In fact, they never mustered more than 102 points in a game against the Blazers during the 2009-10 season.
The Suns only averaged 99 points against Portland this season, shooting a paltry 44 percent from the floor in those contests. Game 1 on Sunday mimicked the rest of this season's matchups, with the Suns only mustering 100 points on 44.6 percent shooting.
But the Suns’ tune would change dramatically Tuesday, jumping out to a 32-20 lead in the first period after shooting 52 percent from the floor and 52 percent from downtown. For the evening, the Suns shot 52 percent from the floor and 40 percent from 3-point land.
"We were just more aggressive and weren’t as hesitant," Nash said. "We didn’t sit back and hope for the best. We were more aggressive and it worked for us tonight, so we just have to play like that and play harder and sometimes you’re going to get burned, but if you play hard you usually make money on the deal.”
Top 5 Reason for the Win
1) Richardson Erupts: Suns shooting guard Jason Richardson’s 20 first-half points on 3-of-4 shooting from downtown broke the game wide open. The team’s X-factor, the Suns went 26-4 when J-Rich scored 20 or more points this season.
He said he was motivated by a poor performance in Game 1.
"Tonight I just wanted to be aggressive and help as much as I could," Richardson said. "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."
2) Absence of Aldridge: LaMarcus Aldridge, who torched the Suns for 22 in Game 1, was 0-for-3 in the first half and only posted two first-half points. He went on to finish with just 11 points on 3-of-8 shooting.
“We were just really aggressive on the defensive end," Gentry said. "Instead of leaving Aldridge in man-coverage, we tried to double him on his first dribble.”
3) Eliminate One Blazer: After the Game 1 defeat, Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry said that the Suns couldn’t allow two Blazers role players to hurt the Suns after Nicolas Batum and Jerryd Bayless each scored 18. Neither Batum and Bayless really hurt the Suns, combining for just 21 points.
“When you take Miller out of the game it takes everyone out of the game,” Suns forward Jared Dudley said. “We put pressure on people other than their main guys.”
4) Points in the Paint: After mustering just 38 points in the paint in Game 1, the Suns outscored the Blazers 58-38 in Game 2.
5) Fast-Break Points: After registering only four fast-break points in Game 1, the Suns put 17 on the board in Game 2. Before Tuesday's contest, the Suns talked incessantly about trying to get some easy baskets and reclaim the tempo from the Blazers.
“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," Nash said. "I thought we did a good job keeping the game in a little better tempo, whether it was in transition or in the half-court. Just by moving the ball around and our bodies around we gave ourselves the opportunity to get into the seams of the defense.”
With their defense getting stops, the Suns were able to get out on the break and put Portland’s defense on its heels.
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