Suns pound Blazers for 2-1 series lead
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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP)Jason Richardson kept finding himself alone behind the 3-point line, so he obliged.
Richardson made eight 3-pointers and finished with playoff career-high 42 points Thursday night in the Suns' 108-89 victory over the Trail Blazers, which gave Phoenix a 2-1 lead in the first-round playoff series.
"I was surprised they kept leaving me," Richardson said.
Richardson hit his first three late in the first half as the Suns built a lead that would extend to 31 points. He made 13-of-19 shots from the floor.
The secret to Richardson's success? Portland was occupied with Amare Stoudemire and Steve Nash.
"They've done a good job of taking Amare's game away on the rolls, but in order to do that you have to have an extra defender in and we've done a good job of swinging the ball and finding Jason," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. "Obviously he's in a good groove shooting the ball right now."
Portland mounted a rally in the fourth quarter, closing within 91-80 after Rudy Fernandez hit three consecutive 3-pointers. But the burst came too late for the Blazers, who suffered a setback when starting forward Nicolas Batum aggravated a shoulder injury in the first half and did not return.
Phoenix dropped the opening game of the series 105-100 at home but rebounded with a 119-90 victory on Tuesday night. Game 4 is Saturday at Portland.
Home-court advantage meant little for the Blazers. The red-clad Rose Garden fans even booed their team as the players left the court with a 66-37 deficit at the break.
LaMarcus Aldridge led the Blazers with 17 points. Andre Miller, who scored 31 in Portland's Game 1 win, was off for the second straight game and finished with just 11. And the home team was dismal from the free throw line, making just 16-of-28 attempts.
Stoudemire had 20 points for the Suns, while Nash finished with 13 points and 10 assists. Richardson ended up the beneficiary.
"I think that is my best game as a pro," Richardson said. "Nine years in the league, only been to the playoffs twice, so it's been seven summers at home. Right now I don't take anything for granted."
The Suns jumped on Portland early, quickly quieting the sellout crowd. Nash's left-handed layup midway through the first quarter put Phoenix in front 16-6.
The Blazers were conservative, hampered by early fouls on both Fernandez and Aldridge. It didn't help when Jerryd Bayless was hit with a technical, and coach Nate McMillan had to signal his team to calm down.
Richardson hit a 3-pointer and Leandro Barbosa made a layup to close out the first period with a 34-16 Suns lead.
"Once I hit the first 3, it felt like it opened up the basket for me," Richardson said.
Richardson, who had 29 points in the Suns' Game 2 victory, had 21 in the first half alone while the Blazers unsuccessfully used second-year guard Bayless to defend him.
Batum was questionable before the game after hurting his shoulder in the second half of Game 2 when he collided with Nash. But he started - and answered any questions about his shoulder with an early two-handed dunk.
But late in the first half, Batum was fouled under the Blazers basket and appeared to re-injure himself. He quickly retreated to the locker room.
The injury was of concern because Batum, the team's primary perimeter defender, had surgery on the shoulder just before the opener and missed the first 45 games of the season.
The Blazers are already thin because of injuries. All-Star guard Brandon Roy tore the meniscus in his right knee and had arthroscopic surgery two days before the playoffs got under way.
"We have lost Nick now. We have to keep going through it," Aldridge said. "This is our season - we take a step forward, and we take a step back."
Portland mustered some energy in the second half, closing to 82-67 on Bayless' 20-foot jumper early in the fourth quarter before Fernandez went on his 3-point flurry.
"Tonight we just seemed tight," Blazers coach Nate McMillan said. "The first half, we seemed to be a little tight, maybe put some pressure on ourselves. The second half, we won that. We started to play basketball. We started to fight and won both of those quarters. Somehow we have to get that fight, that scrappiness, in the first half."
Batum's injury was yet another in a string that have afflicted the Blazers all season. Centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla needed season-ending knee surgeries and Fernandez had midseason back troubles. Former forward Travis Outlaw, who was traded to the Clippers, sat out for a time with a foot injury.
Roy missed more that a dozen games with a sore hamstring earlier this year before the slight meniscus tear was discovered.
In all, 13 Blazers missed a combined 311 regular-season games, second only to the Warriors this season. Only Miller and forward Martell Webster played in all 82 games.
NOTES: Portland and Phoenix have met six times in the playoffs before, with each side taking three series. Phoenix has won three of the four first-round series. ... The Blazers were 2-1 against the Suns during the regular season. ... Richardson's previous playoff high was 30 points, set back in 2007 against Dallas when he was with the Golden State Warriors. ... Richardson's career high is 44 points, set back in 2006.