What a difference a day makes. The Phoenix Suns reminded us all how good a well-earned victory feels as they defeated the Dallas Mavericks 102-91 at the American Airlines Arena.
Last night, the Suns lost in gut-wrenching fashion to the Houston Rockets on a last-second goaltend. Had that defeat, their tenth in a row, caused a hangover today, no one would have been at all surprised given the way the team has played for the last month. But Phoenix showed no ill effects from the Houston loss whatsoever. They jumped on the Mavericks from the start, opening up a 28-14 lead in the first quarter. Despite a plethora of big runs by both teams, the Suns weathered the storm and got a much-needed victory.
Phoenix had lost 10 straight games in Dallas. Their last win there came on March 14th, 2007. For the Mavericks, this loss put the penultimate nail in the coffin for their playoff hopes. Another loss by the Mavs or win by the Jazz will seal Dallas’ fate.
The engine that drove the Suns to victory was undoubtedly Goran Dragic. The Dragon posted his second straight double-double with 21 points (7-14 FG) and 13 assists. He was absolutely unstoppable in transition and got to the rim at will against Darren Collison and Mike James. The only answer Rick Carlisle had for Goran was to send multiple defenders at him. The Mavs didn’t really fare better forcing the ball out of Dragic’s hands though as the recipients of Goran’s passes knocked down shots all night long.
Jared Dudley (18 points, 5-9 FG), P.J. Tucker (17 points, 6-9 FG), and Wesley Johnson (17 points, 7-13 FG) collectively as a wing unit had one of the most productive nights of the season. From beyond the arc, they were a combined 8-of-15. They each contributed in different stretches of the game. Johnson scored 15 of his points in the second quarter. There were a few minutes where he and Dragic were trading baskets back and forth and the Suns’ looked like they had one of the top backcourts in the NBA. Dudley made several clutch shots that helped put a stop to Dallas runs. And Tucker helped secure the win with back-to-back jumpers with less than two minutes left to play and Dallas within four points.
The Suns must acquire more talent at the wings this offseason, either through free agency or the draft. But nevertheless, it’s good to see Dudley, Tucker, and Johnson be this productive, especially on the road against a Dallas team with something to play for.
As I mentioned earlier, the Mavs are not yet eliminated from the playoffs, though their chances now are incredibly slim. But aside from the eighth seed, the Mavs were playing for the right to shave the unruly beards they’ve been growing for the last few months. Dallas’ players made a pact not to shave until the team reached .500. They have been within one game twice, but have failed to capitalize both times. For the sake of those who watch these games on TV, I hope the Mavs get there in their final four games. Chris Kaman looks more and more like a Squatch everyday.
The Mavs’ best performance came from unbearded, former Sun, Shawn Marion. Marion put up 22 points and nine rebounds as the Suns had no rim protection when Jermaine O’Neal wasn’t in the game. This allowed Shawn to score in the paint with relative ease. I continue to be impressed by how much leaping ability and quickness Marion still has despite his age.
The Suns actually did a solid job defending O.J. Mayo. P.J. Tucker held the Mavs’ guard to six points on 2-of-10 shooting. Tucker’s length and energy seemed to bother Mayo throughout the game.
The most impressive thing about this win for the Suns was the way the refused to fold each time the Mavs reeled off a big run. Dallas spanned the end of the first and beginning of the second quarter with a 12-0 run. In the third, they opened with a 12-2 run. Their third quarter scoring flurry was especially worrisome given the Suns recent struggles coming out of halftime. But the Suns outscored Dallas 13-1 for a stretch later in the second quarter and reeled off a 12-0 run midway through the third. During those stretches, the Suns were efficient on offense and tough on defense. For the entirety of this season, Phoenix has had either offensive efficiency or defensive toughness. Never both and sometimes neither. It was refreshing to see the Suns, with almost nothing to play for this late in the year, working so hard on both ends and rejoicing so splendidly after a win. This team may be headed for Top 5 pick, but on occasions like tonight, they show they still have pride and can still play with heart.
- The Suns actually shot better from downtown (12-27, 44%) than they did from the field (42%) thanks to Jermaine O’Neal and Luis Scola combining to go 6-of-25 from the field. Both guys made up for their poor shooting performances however. Scola grabbed a season-high 15 rebounds one night after dropping 28 points on his old team. Jermaine O’Neal redeemed himself from last night’s gaffe by blocking a season-high seven shots and anchoring the Suns interior defense.
- Wes Johnson played well in front of family and friends who made the short trip from his hometown of Corsicana, TX to Dallas.
- Michael Beasley missed the game due to the birth of his child.