Most Suns fans, especially those who have followed the team closely at any time since the mid-nineties, have a special hatred for the San Antonio Spurs. This hatred is not unwarranted. In the 15 seasons from 1996 to 2010, the Spurs eliminated the Suns from the playoffs six different times. In that span, San Antonio won 4 NBA titles. Phoenix, for all its talent and potential, never made the NBA Finals. In NBA circles, it’s generally accepted that Suns’ fandom is partly defined by an intense dislike for the Spurs. But until the 2009-10 NBA season, this vitriolic rivalry, wasn’t much of a rivalry at all. It was a one-sided affair like the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals or the New York Yankees and any pre-2004 Boston Red Sox team. But that all changed when a pasty left-handed point guard of no particular repute drove a stake into the undead monster that was the Spurs and forced NBA fans everywhere to find Slovenia on the map.
The Suns were on an unexpected roll that year. Mike D’Antoni, Shawn Marion, and Shaquille O’Neal had all left the team over the previous two seasons. But Coach Alvin Gentry and Steve Nash had comfortably steered the Suns into the playoffs. In the first round, they had bested the Portland Trail Blazers in six games for their first playoff series win in three years. Their victory celebration was stunted however with the realization that the Spurs were next on the docket.
Surprisingly, the Suns took care of business at home, winning Games 1 and 2, both of which were close contests. Trailing by a point heading into the fourth quarter of Game 3, Phoenix was in serious danger of handing series momentum over to the Spurs. Enter the Dragon. With the Suns trailing and Steve Nash getting a breather on the bench, Dragic’s job was simple: keep the game close while Two Time and his glitchy back prepared for the home stretch. Goran ensured Nash wasn’t needed. By the time Nash came into the game with just 3 minutes left, the game was basically decided as Dragic had almost single handedly put the Suns up by 11 points.
From out of nowhere, Goran had exploded for 23 points in the fourth. His speed and quirky left-handed game made him look like a love child between Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli. The Spurs had absolutely no answer for him. Nobody could stay in front of this Slovenian blur. He was too quick for Tony Parker and George Hill. When he got into the lane, his series of crafty pivots fooled Tim Duncan more than once. He hit all four of his threes in the quarter, including a bomb with five seconds left in the game which put an exclamation point on his incredible performance. Here are some highlights.
I don’t want to engage in too much hyperbole, but at the time Dragic’s 23-point fourth quarter was the most dominate final frame I’d seen since LeBron single-handedly took apart the Pistons in Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals. His performance came out of nowhere, and spurred the Suns to a four-game sweep of San Antonio, something I’d never before thought possible. That quarter is one of the many reasons the Suns believed Dragic could take the point guard reigns when Steve Nash finally departed two years later. It was an incredible flash that still resonates with Suns fans after all this. It was a supernova, and because it helped take down the mighty Spurs, it is by far my favorite Suns’ memory.