Suns fans, remember how you felt when Jamal Crawford hit the three to crush the Suns at the buzzer last month in Atlanta?
That’s how Oklahoma City fans feel tonight after the Suns stole a 104-102 win over the Thunder when a Jason Richardson floater with seven-tenths of a second on the clock dropped through to cap a late 10-point Phoenix comeback.
“It’s our best win of the year, by far,” Suns head coach Alvin Gentry told The Arizona Republic.
Before getting to the nitty gritty of this game, that’s just life in the NBA. You are guaranteed to blow some games you have no business blowing and win some games you have no business pulling out. Theoretically over the course of an NBA season those bounces even out.
But that doesn’t change how surprising this victory was. The Suns had characteristically blown a 15-point second-half lead and trailed by 10 before calling a 20-second timeout with about 3:30 left after James Harden missed a wide-open three that may have iced it.
Jared Dudley promptly hit a contested triple, and from there the momentum swung. Down five with just over a minute left, Amare Stoudemire corralled a deflected pass and went to the rack for a three-point play. After Dudley forced Kevin Durant into a contested jumper, J-Rich was fouled grabbing the offensive board and tied the game at the line.
With 40 seconds left, the Suns played one of their better defensive possessions of the season, a possession that won the game for them. You knew KD was taking this shot, but Dudley bottled him up and forced a cross-court pass (Dudley gets unsung star of the day honors for his late D on Durantula). Jeff Green couldn’t make anything happen, so he passed to Russell Westbrook, who missed a long jumper. Green did get his hands on the board, but he couldn’t make the tough putback, which the Suns rebounded.
Phoenix then won it when J-Rich drove past defensive stopper Thabo Sefolosha and hit a pretty floater in the lane and Green missed a desperation heave with the seven-tenths of a second left on the clock.
Now the result was perfect and so was the time management on the final possession, but if J-Rich would run down the clock and go one-on-one for a floater on any other possession in the game, you would chide him for it. I still don’t get how the most important possession of the game could call for worse offense than what you get at any other point of the game, but I suppose you can’t argue with this result.
“It was really one of those games that we really did gut out,” Gentry told Suns.com. “I thought we did a good job of when we had to come up with big stops, we did. I thought when we had to come up with big rebounds, we did that, too.”
Gut it out they did. I really thought this one was over with 3:30 left, as it appeared that the Suns had just run out of gas playing without their engine for the first time all season with Steve Nash back at home resting his sore back and gimpy abs. After running up that big third-quarter lead, the Suns’ ‘D’ wilted a bit and the offense struggled to get quality shots.
The Suns had scored just six points and had made just a single field goal when they started their improbable charge against an Oklahoma City team that had reeled off nine in a row since last losing back on Jan. 27 to the Bulls.
Phoenix had seemed to give the Thunder its best shot, but the realities of playing without Steve Nash were starting to set in when the Suns just weren’t getting good shots out of their offense.
It turned out to be the opposite of a comeback last year in Oklahoma City when Nash went for 12 points on 5-for-5 shooting with five assists in the fourth to lead the Suns to victory almost single-handedly. Nash was the offense in that game as he often is for the Suns 33 minutes a night.
This night there was no Nash to rely on, so guys like Amare and J-Rich stepped up their games when it counted. J-Rich scored 20 including the final bucket, improving the Suns to 17-2 when he reaches that 20-point plateau. He was a go-to player in crunch time, the kind of guy who deserves $14.4 mil next year.
Amare was Amare with 30 and 9, Grant Hill stepped up with 21 points and nine boards while playing some backup point guard, and Dragic had a nice game with 16 points, 10 assists and four boards (but six turnovers) in a career-high 40 minutes (his previous high was 32). Combine that with 7-of-11 shooting and that’s a real nice night for the Dragon, aside from a bit of shakiness with the TOs early.
On the Suns’ postgame show, Dragic said Nash texted him before the game with this message: “Goran, play your game, and I wish you luck.”
That’s exactly what he did, playing his style without trying to be Nash. Although he did not necessarily give a maestro-like performance a la Nash, you can’t complain about 16-10-4. Goran even had the cliches of a veteran working on the postgame show, spouting one of my favorites.
“Before the game nobody believed we would win that game, but the players in that locker room, we believed in ourselves,” Dragic said.
The Suns also won the battle of the boards, 45-35, to help them win despite committing 17 turnovers against the red-hot Thunder.
The Suns are now pretty hot themselves, having won six of seven on the road — with all but one coming against good West teams — and nine of 11 overall. With the victory the Suns vaulted past Oklahoma City for fifth in the West, now four games behind second as well as four games ahead of ninth in a formerly bunched conference that’s starting to drift apart.
That’s not a bad place to be considering how the schedule eases up considerably in the coming weeks, with the Suns essentially done with playing good teams on the road after Sunday’s tilt in San Antonio thanks to a March schedule that features a slew of home games.
That must be nice for a Suns team that has experienced so many downers on the road, especially after they finally left the other team wondering how it just lost that game.