Stars Bring out Best in Richardson
Though Allen won the individual scoring battle, 27-22, the Warriors' aggressive defense — mostly Richardson and Mickael Pietrus — required the smooth-shooting Sonic to fire up 10 more shots than Richardson.
"With somebody like that, you gotta think defense first," Richardson said. "The offense will come, especially when you're playing against a guy of his caliber. But it has to be a team effort to shut him down."
Defense was not a Richardson strength. For all his athleticism, he tended to get lost on D. He also was prone to lapses in focus.
He is better now, and his improvement has not gone unnoticed.
"I thought JR worked hard on Ray Allen," coach Mike Montgomery said. "Yeah, he had 27 — but he took 27 shots to get'em."
Richardson, by contrast, took only 17 shots. He was the more efficient player. He was 7-for-9 in the first half on a variety of jumpers, drives and dunks before cooling off down the stretch.
That's when the Warriors come in. For most of the past 11/2 years, a J-Rich fade spelled doom for this team. If he didn't do it, it didn't get done. On this day, Baron Davis (14 second-half points) and a red-hot Mike Dunleavy (13) finished what Richardson had started.
See, the vast majority of All-Stars are selected from winning teams. The Sonics, one win away from clinching the Northwest Division championship, sent Allen for the second consecutive season.
It also helps when the NBA knows you exist. Phoenix, the league's most improved team, sent five players to All-Star Weekend in Denver, three of whom made the team. Several had won league awards.
Warriors don't win league awards. They haven't had a Player of the Month since Chris Mullin in 1990. Tim Hardaway in 1994 was the last Warrior to win the Player of the Week award — until last month.
That's when Richardson won it, confirming recognition of his talent beyond the highlight-reel dunks.
"It says a lot," he said of winning the award. "It was a personal goal of mine, to get those type of awards. It's an honor to get it because it lets everybody know that we're a franchise moving up. We're rebuilding, and we're recognized as a team that plays hard."
Which puts the All-Star Game within realistic reach. The Warriors, the NBA's worst team over the past decade, have not had a game representative since Latrell Sprewell in 1997.
Not that they have deserved any, for only twice — Antawn Jamison in 2003 and Richardson this year — has a Warrior had even a remote chance.
Richardson is using his snub as fuel.
"It inspired me, but it didn't," he said. "I want to be an All-Star, of course, but you know that to be an All-Star you not only have to have a good individual season but your team has to be winning games. That's the next level of my career, to do everything I can to make this team better."
There was a time, not long ago, when a Warrior could only fantasize about being an All-Star, when no Warrior had a legitimate gripe about being ignored.
When the selections were made two months ago, Richardson had not earned the honor. Others, like Allen, were more deserving.
But if players were to be chosen off their work since then, Richardson would belong.