Goran Dragic becomes The Dragon in the fourth as Phoenix Suns erase 18-point deficit to take Game 3

The Dragon torched the Spurs for 23 points in the fourth quarter as the Suns cruised to victory. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

The Dragon torched the Spurs for 23 points in the fourth quarter as the Suns cruised to victory. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Last year some people wondered if he was the worst player in the NBA and others simply called him Tragic.

But in a year’s time Goran Dragic has transformed from a shaky ball handler with confidence issues into a cold-blooded Dragon who spewed fire all over the San Antonio Spurs’ playoff chances Friday night with an awe-inspiring 23-point fourth quarter. That outburst helped the Phoenix Suns topple the Spurs in Game 3, 110-96, after rallying from an 18-point deficit to take a commanding 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven series.

In this ever-so-unpredictable rivalry that has featured everything from Steve Nash bloody noses in crunch time to Tim Duncan game-tying threes in overtime, nobody could have ever expected that Goran Dragic — Goran Dragic!! – would go MJ on us and explode for 23 points in the deciding period, coming a pair of missed free throws away from outscoring San Antonio in the quarter.

Dragic had it all working, whether it was faking out defenseless big men at the rim after one of the Spurs’ many switches, pulling up for the midrange jumper, knocking down open threes or converting on that memorable four-point play when Dragic drew a foul on a leaning George Hill and then tossed up a prayer that like everything else on this night managed to drop through the net.

In all Dragic poured in 23 points on 9-for-11 shooting and perfect 4-for-4 marksmanship from behind the arc in the quarter, this from a guy who pitched in just seven points on 3-for-14 shooting from the field and 1-for-5 shooting from distance in the previous 11 quarters of the series, a player who previously made his mark against the Spurs by doing everything but score. In the final 13:05, he scored all 26 of his points in this contest, bettering all but one outing in his entire career in the process.

It was a playoff performance for the ages, the kind of quarter typically reserved for the all-time greats, not some kid from Slovenia who yesterday celebrated his 24th birthday.

“I think it’s safe to say that may have been the best fourth-quarter performance I have ever seen in a playoff game,” Suns veteran Grant Hill told reporters after the game.

We’ve been talking all series — and really all season — about the Suns’ depth and what a weapon it is. In Game 1 the Suns’ stars carried them, in Game 2 Jared Dudley and Channing Frye were the difference makers and on this night in Game 3 it was all about Goran Dragic and Leandro Barbosa (more on him later) in the fourth quarter.

The most shocking part about this victory might be the fact that when the Suns made their decisive run, Nash, Amare and J-Rich didn’t have anything more to do with it than you or I did. They were handsomely-paid cheerleaders, as Nash didn’t enter until the 3:19 mark with Phoenix up 11 and Stoudemire and Richardson didn’t make an appearance at all, although J-Rich still scored 21 through three as Phoenix improved to 31-4 when he goes for 20.

But that’s OK with this team. On some teams, stars would probably mope about the fact that it wasn’t about them — and frankly, younger Amare probably mopes — but this squad is really all about the team. Those stars weren’t merely watching, they were engaged in the action, whooping it up like you probably were at home, and then they engulfed Goran Dragic in celebration as he sauntered off the court when the final horn sounded.

This was a great night for Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire and Jason Richardson because the Phoenix Suns won. From the heart, this is about the team and not about them.

Still, you would never see most teams’ three best players resting in crunch time, especially when their reserves were matched up against the opposition’s stars. But these Suns aren’t like most teams.

I wasn’t even surprised that Gentry stuck with the bench so long because he’s done it and it’s worked all year. He has played the hot hand all season long and he’s shown the kind of faith that you must show the entire year for your bench to win a game for you like it did tonight.

The Suns’ biggest strength right now might be that its bench cannot only outplay its opposition’s bench on most nights but also outplay opposing starters in key stretches when they get hot like they did tonight, and that’s a credit to the faith Gentry has shown in them.

It’s why “Goran Dragic” is right now the second-hottest search in America behind “Times Square Evacuation” and why he was a trending topic on Twitter earlier tonight.

It wasn’t just Dragic, though. Leandro Barbosa was his partner in crime in leading the Suns on a 29-14 tear to turn a one-point deficit into a 14-point lead in the first eight minutes of the deciding quarter. Aside from a Grant Hill jumper, the Suns’ backup backcourt was responsible for all 29 of the points, with LB contributing seven of them.

As John Hollinger wrote in the Daily Dime, the Suns scored 29 points on 13 possessions during this run, which averages out to better than a bucket per possession, with the only fruitless trip being when The Dragon missed his free throws. Not bad for a bench.

Considering how things ended, it’s pretty surprising that the Suns took their first lead of the game on a nifty Dragic layup early in the fourth after they trailed by as many as 18 points in the first half. After scoring just 19 points in a timid first quarter in which the Suns looked a bit overwhelmed by the surroundings, they went for 39 in the deciding period, when they led by 16 for a swing of 34 points.

Early in the game the Suns struggled to find any semblance of an offensive rhythm, and if it weren’t for San Antonio missing seven consecutive foul shots in the first half, they may have been blown out for good early.

But Gentry kept telling his squad to fight, and that’s what they did, bearing down on defense to contain San Antonio while chipping away at the lead little by little, first cutting it in half with a 10-1 run in the second and then withstanding a Manu Ginobili explosion in the third to cut it to one after three. Losing a game like this had Manu so exasperated that he told reporters the Spurs would have to play “a perfect game” to beat Phoenix.

The Suns now lead the best-of-seven series 3-0, a deficit no team has ever come back from. Yes, if there ever were to be a first it would be in a Suns-Spurs series, a rivalry in which everything else has gone wrong for the Suns this decade.

But with the way the Suns have outplayed the Spurs in so many contrasting ways, this just feels different.

In his Wednesday column about the Suns, while referring to an English Premier League game in his lead up to writing about Phoenix, ESPN’s Bill Simmons wrote:

I tried to explain to Steiny Mo that these things can turn only in the most dramatic of ways. It will never be a typical win. It will be a life experience. It will break you down in sections. It will take you to the abyss and back. You will have to be stripped of any and all hope, and then — and only then — will you see a light. That’s the way these things work. When the Red Sox won those eight straight games in October ’04, the beautiful thing was that streak went against everything I ever believed in. It was so improbable, and so ridiculous, that it somehow made sense.

This win was so ridiculous that despite that previous passage being about the only team in professional baseball or basketball history to ever come back from an 0-3 deficit, it describes the Suns perfectly as well.

Fighting back from an early 18-point deficit in this house of horrors against the rival that has pushed them around all decade and then hip checked them into the boards for good measure and doing so with their three best players on the bench and a 24-year-old kid from Slovenia — who a year ago was better known as Tragic — doing the bulk of the damage is the most improbable, ridiculous scenario I could ever imagine.

I mean, this is the Suns playing gritty defense and getting surprise contributions from role players while the Spurs helplessly wilted down the stretch.

Sure, the Suns weren’t 0-3 desperate this game like the 2004 Red Sox were, but if the Suns were ever going to reverse the so-called Curse of San Antonio, it was going to take a life experience.

So The Dragon emerged from his lair and torched the Spurs in the fourth quarter while the Suns’ stars rested to cap a comeback that was so improbable and ridiculous that it actually makes perfect sense.

  • Daniel

    That was so impressive, I'm still not sure exactly what happened. Everything though, about this season (at least the second half) has been impressive. From Amare's new found determination to do something, anything other than score, to the injection of fresh blood and faces, and with it grit and heart like this team so often is lacking. The word 'team' is rarely displayed as it has been by our 'Team'. Things certainly don't always go our way, but it is good to be a Suns fan

  • http://www.twitter.com/arturbm Artur Mascarenhas

    OMG… OMG…

  • alex

    I am a die hard Laker fan but there is no need to disrespect the spurs I have a lot of respect for Tim they had a great run they will need to retool but before long they will be back.

  • martinez

    WOW lets see how the lakers plan to play the suns well spurs fans you got to admit PHX and SA we have some of the best games in NBA history

    GO SUNS!!!!

  • Mike Meez

    I couldn't stop smiling last night. Let's keep it going and get this done in 4! Get your brooms ready!

  • Kyle Fleeger


    (Billy Idol’s Mony Mony is playing in the background of my mind!!!)

    The Phoenix Suns have a 3-0 lead on the Spurs.

    Second Disclaimer: If the Suns are the first team in NBA history to lose after being up 3-0 I am going to ruin everything I love.

    … back to Loving MY SUNS!


    Tonight, the Phoenix Suns played in what I will easily refer to as “MY FAVORITE SUNS WIN” Ever!

    The Suns were down for at least 75% of the game. And the Star of tonight’s game was:…


    I am going to get there in some semblance of order.

    Quarters 1-3:

    1. The officiating was terrible.

    1st quarter: Suns committed Six fouls: Spurs committed ONE!

    2nd Quarter: Suns committed Six fouls: Spurs committed Six fouls

    Okay… So um… maybe I am not a complete HOMER… But a Homer none the less.

    3rd Quarter: Suns committed FIVE FOULS: Spurs committed Two Fouls

    Okay… So I am going to end the whining here. Channing Frye was called for a completely non-sensical Flagrant two while the ESPN announcers sounded dumbfounded saying, “Umm that’s a close one, maybe a flagrant one”

    Wow guys, way to call it like you see it.

    That’s all for the whining.


    In the fourth quarter, here is what happened, and trust me, I am skipping to the good part….

    The Suns start the fourth down 72-71 but that is the beginning of the end for the Spurs…….


    Goran began the fourth quarter with an offensive and defensive rebound, then he immediately scored the first two suns baskets to give the SUNS THE LEAD 75-74 over the SPURS… He wasn’t done, and he had help.

    Leandro Barbosa helped make it impossible to defend the back-court of the Suns second unit. He had 7 fourth quarter points and 13 total, he gave the Spurs guards trouble all night with his speed and ability to pop the open shot.

    But the real story was GORAN DRAGIC.

    In the 4th…

    Goran Dragic scored 18 of 22 points between the 9 and 4 minute marks. He was unstoppable. Only one basket by Grant and one basket by Leandro were scored in that time frame and the Suns went from being up 80-76 to 100-86. Goran Dragic sealed the deal for the Suns.

    He Dream-shook Duncan. He made 5 of 5 from DOWNTOWN in the game and was 4-4 in the 4th and he was in complete control. Gentry even left him in when subbing back in Nash to seal the game in the final minutes. Goran led all Suns with 26 points. Behind him was Jason Richardon with 21. The Suns bench was the difference in tonight’s game!

    I refuse to post more because my elation could jinx the Suns and that is the very last thing I need. I am a homer in tonight’s post and I will update everyone on ROLO’s status for game 4.

    Jeremy Baker said, “Suns win tonight, rest RoLo till the Western Conference Finals”. I don’t ever assume we will be there. I won’t believe it until the Suns have secured win number 4!

    Go Suns!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Let’s hear the Suns love!!!

  • Fra

    Hi! Spurs fan here. Just wanted to congratulate you guys, great win, you kicked our butts.

    Even though it’s not tecnically over and I’d love to see the Spurs take a couple your team it’s just too good for us to handle (and quite fun to watch by the way). I’d be rooting for you guys but only if and once the inevitably happens-


  • http://srdash.tumblr.com/ Soumyaranjan Dash

    Now, that was up to my satisfaction!

  • http://na.com shawn

    wow this kid is freaking amazing, I mean i have felt for some time that he could be good and come on when your learning from Nash! he has one of the best teachers to ever play the game coaching him. and Gentry has unwaivering support for him, thats just what he needs to shine brighter than even I felt he could GO SUNS. the way the bench has played has been beyond amazing they keep winning different ways. i think this is gonna give us a great series between the suns and LA….

  • oczonie

    Let the euphoria die down now, Suns have work to do. It is not over yet, but there's light at the end of this dark tunnel. Let's get Grant out of the 2nd round! Suns need to finish this off on their court (give them a taste of what it felt like) and not bring it back to US Airways. And then to get ready for the next round. Which will prove to be just as daunting if not more so. But as Rosen stated, the Suns are playing the best roundball right now. And Hollinger's predictions are spot on — he predicts whoever wins this series wins the WCF.

  • Cody Phillips

    I had the joy of being at the game and I can say is that was the best game I have ever seen. You cannot even believe the atmosphere in the building as Dragic started to turn it on. I have never seen the air get let out of any building so fast. All you could hear was Suns fan (the few there were) and Spurs fans looking around in amazement. Props to Dragic and also to Grant Hill for the defense he played on Ginobli in the fourth.

  • Majerle

    This game was all about the Dragic Show. Goran the “Dragon” Dragic. However, you’re right to point out that the stars played well and admirably cheered on their bench. What I especially liked from one star, Amar’e, was his commitment on defense. The dude only scored 7 points but he had a crucial series of defensive plays that controlled the paint in the third. He blocked a couple shots which discouraged the Spurs from attacking and caught them shooting mostly jump shots. Amazingly enough, was the team defense on Timmy D. A mere 15 points (I know he missed 7 from the line but this showed they made him really work for his points) is an off day for him. Kudos to the Suns!

  • KeZ

    I still cant believe we won this game! Simply amazing……..

  • Paul Ellefson

    I don’t want to insult anybody, but I think the name should be TEAM SUNS.


  • http://suns.com How to Train Your Dragic

    This has been in the making all year long. Gentry never lost faith in his bench, including Goran and it showed here. I love that Gentry stuck with his guys all year long. He longed for Goran to be more aggressive and this instilled confidence in the Dragon! This team is going to the finals because every night a new star emerges! Lets go suns!!

  • Jim

    Start subbing Dragic in at the 2 at around the 6 min. mark in the first quarter, and let him and Nash play together for a few minutes.

    Don’t believe me? Check out the last play of the game. That could’ve been either Nash OR Dragic driving to set up either Nash OR Dragic for the 3-pointer.

  • Mel.

    Was I the only one who began reflexively spewing out quotes from “NBA Jam” after Goran took over?

    “Fancy moves… Goran… makes the shot…. he’s heating up…. Goran… from long range… he’s on fire! Suns… up by eleven!”

  • Kenny

    Everything we’re doing to the Spurs they deserve!! They’ve broken our hearts one too many times so its good to finally see us win like this!!! Look out Lakers here we come!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! GO SUNS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • dj

    No doubt this was a great win but detrhroning Magic's Lakers in the 2nd round of the 1990 playoffs hasn't been topped. Game 4 was at Veteran's Memorial Colesium and I don't think anyone sat down the entire game as the Suns took a 3-1 series lead. They finished it off in game 5 at The Great Western Forum in LA…We'll have to win it all to top that moment. Go Suns…

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