Goran Dragic finds ease with help from teammates

PHOENIX — The prettiest box score in the Phoenix Suns’ 104-91 win against the Portland Trail Blazers on opening night belonged to Goran Dragic. To no fault of his own, the storylines on Wednesday made it feel as if Eric Bledsoe, Miles Plumlee and maybe even P.J. Tucker had the best three individual performances. Yet it was Dragic who led the Suns with 21 field goal attempts, 12 makes, 26 points and nine assists.

“It’s much easier,” Dragic said in various ways and on separate occasions when asked questions about Bledsoe, Plumlee and Tucker.

Four Suns scored in double figures, with Bledsoe adding 22 points on just 12 field goal attempts, Plumlee dunking and hook-shotting his way to 18 points, and Tucker scoring 16 second-half points.

Yet, the ease at which Dragic produced 26 points was the thing of beauty. Last year, he would’ve been hobbled and dead tired, but Wednesday he was simply appreciative. OK, so it was the season opener. But the Suns won’t apologize for acting like they knew how to win tight games.

Portland brought a double-digit lead to four or five points at different stages of the game, and each time Hornacek’s team responded. The Suns scored 30 and 31 points in the first and third quarter, respectively, but were erratic in the second and fourth, when they scored 20 and 23 points. But unlike 2012-13, Phoenix’s rhythm never waivered. The defense had timely stops, and the speed of the new-look Suns compacted the Trail Blazers’ mistakes.

With five minutes to play and the Suns leading by nine, Dragic was called for what appeared to be an offensive foul induced from a flop by Portland’s Damian Lillard, who torched the Suns for 32 points. Still questioning the refs as Portland pushed the ball up the court, Dragic, out of position and unattentive, then fouled Wes Matthews on a drive.

Suddenly, it looked like the momentum swing would come back to haunt the Suns. Portland cut the lead to seven points, but then something interesting happened.

A minute later with four minutes left, LaMarcus Aldridge decided to go at the undersized Marcus Morris in the post. Morris finished the game with six points and seven rebounds while missing all four three-point attempts. But on this play, he bodied Aldridge to rip him as Aldridge presented the ball, then dove on the floor before flinging the ball back into play. Bledsoe chased down the ball on the left wing and as he began to advance up the court, tripping on a Blazer, he flung the ball to a streaking Dragic, who dunked it.

“You don’t look at the stats,” Hornacek said when asked about the four double-digit scorers. “You go, ‘We won the game.’ Those guys played well but everybody stepped up out there. LaMarcus Aldridge is a great player. He made four, five, six, seven, I don’t know how many shots he made in a row, it seemed like it was 100. Marcus kept battling, kept battling, got a steal one time.

Of course, the Suns’ night of winning the fastbreak 31-19, the points in the paint 52-24 and the rebounding 47-39 — and thus the final result — might say more about Portland than it does about Phoenix. However, it’s hard to find issues when the Suns won the way good teams do — playing better than the opponent down the stretch and with defense.

“They made a couple nice stops,” the Suns coach added. “That’s the key for us. When we get stops we’re able to fastbreak. We had pretty good transition, I think it was that one play where Eric ended up throwing it all the way down to Goran that really helped separate at the end.”

It was a collective effort, and for one of the few times since returning to Phoenix, it was easy for Dragic.

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During one timeout break, the Suns played a Duck Dynasty parody with some of the Suns players. It was titled “Tuck Dynasty.” The skit involved American bandanas, camo and a lawnmower race.

“We had a fun time shooting,” Tucker said. “I learned how to drive a lawnmower, never drove a lawnmower before. Anybody needs their grass cut, I got it.”

  • Scott

    If he can keep from injury, Dragic could have a heck of a year.

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com hawki

    Goran had a great all around game & played at a high energy level from start to finish.
    Thought he was maybe trying to do too much at one point but he hit some absolutely crucial buckets down the stretch.

    Zmag is still #1 in my heart.

  • Ty-Sun

    Dragic was a key player in this win and will be a key player in future wins. I just hope that the bench players develop fast enough that Goran doesn’t have to play 41 minutes a game every night.

  • EBJM

    Around the league, Leander was wrong dissing Gortat. Wizards were used to playing w/o Okafur and Gortat missed their camp. But in a little over 16 minutes he grabbed 9 boards, 9 points on 50% FGs & 75% FTs. & blocked a shot. It was his 5 fouls that kept him on the bench and so defensively is where Plumleee really looked superior, just like I said he would be.

    Our old friend Amare is through, DNP first gave. Have to give Sarver his props on that call.

    On calling Miles the better brother, I believe Mason wil suffer the same fate as Miles did with the Pacers. Buried on the Nets bench behind Garnett, Blatche and Reggie Evans. Maybe McMiracle can pick him up for pennies on the dollar?

    Send Frye for Mason, Teletovic & Shengelia.

    Then in 2015 we can pull off the trifecta and pick up Marshall with a late 1sr rd pick.


    Why would we want those three players or three players at all for frye. I think Mac D has better skills than that.

  • john

    It’s just one game, but last night, the Suns looked like a 35 win team, not a 15 win team. Dragic and Bledsoe won’t shoot nearly this well on the season, and Plumlee isn’t likely to average a double double, so I think things will normalize as the season goes on and the competition ramps up, but it was fun to get a win on opening night. Go Suns!

  • JEFF

    Suns may not be as far away as we all thought.Still need a go to 3 or 4 that can close out games like Aldrige for example. Time will tell but last night it looked like we are 2 players away from being a decent team.

  • Luka

    This team competes. Jeff Hornacek is doing a tremendous job and has the team believing. McDonough has assembled an athletic roster. This duo is working out extremely well so far.

    The Suns need a shooter off the bench for sure. Hopefully Green can fill that role in time but last night he didn’t play well.

    Miles Plumlee was the major storyline IMO. The Bledsoe Plum lob made everyone take notice.

    Dragic made 26 points look easy.

    Tucker looks like he worked on his jumper this offseason.

    Good win.

  • EBJM

    Lighten up Swaggert, it is a tongue in cheek parody of brothers and twins playing in the NBA. Suns have gotten the less talented brother several times already and the consensus is that Mason is the more talented Plumlee. After last night the logical thought would be to go steal Mason ans let him start alongside Miles.

    Frye is gone as soon as McMiracle can dump his contract. In case you haven’t noticed the Suns are in full rebuild mode and are auditioning young cheap talent. Jason Kidd is very high on the 6′-9″ Bosnian PF Mirza Teletovic but like Mason is buried on the bench. Tornike Shengilia is a Georgian 6′-9″ 240# SF who just blew out his knee but makes under a million and his trade filler.

    Nets are trying to win now and can’t develop youngsters. Frye is still who he always was and I doubt even McMiracle could swindle a team out of too much for Frye. Two young PFs for one soft Frye don’t sound all that bad.

    As far as Marshall Plumlee it is a running joke on getting brothers all together on one team. But Marshall could turn out to be the best of the three. He already is the biggest @ 7′-0″ & 260#. Has the same athleticism and speed as Miles and will enter the NBA as a more polished player. All three will have graduated from Duke so they are very intelligent and mentally NBA ready.

  • Voqar

    That was a nice game to watch. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen the suns get command of a game early and retain it nicely thru an entire game. Shocking.

    Yeah, it’s the first game, and IMO, the Blazers are overrated (Bill and Jalen predicting them in the playoffs seems a stretch), but it was still good to see.

    I hadn’t seen Plumlee play and was surprised – he looked pretty solid and was hustling. Mason may have been the better college player but Miles looks more like an NBA player size-wise. At least it seemed like Mason was slimmer/sleighter when I was watching him at Duke last year.

    Overall, the team defense and hustle was really good.

  • Ty-Sun

    Admittedly it just one game but the Suns might not be as bad as everyone predicted. In the West the Clips, Spurs, Thunder, Grizzlies, Rockets and Warriors are at the top of the heap but pretty much every other team in the West has it’s own problems.

    With the Wolves, I’d have to say it really comes down to staying healthy though or I would include them in the above list of teams.

    Dallas has offensive weapons but injuries and a weak defense could keep them in the lottery this season too.

    We saw what Portland has to offer last night. Their bench is better than last year but still weak. If there season doesn’t go well in the first couple of months, they might decide to trade LA and join the Wiggins Sweepstakes.

    New Orleans is looking good enough to have a shot at the 7th-8th seed but I think that either Gordon is going to get hurt again or they are going to trade him before the deadline which would probably put them a step or two back… although it might actually help.

    The Jazz are hard to figure. They have a new-look team this season but are already dealing with injuries. They could be better than last season but I doubt they will be a lot better.

    The Nuggets have a new coach that wants to play a different style than the players are used to. They also have injury issues and AI is gone. They could be in the playoff race or they could fall apart as the season goes on.

    The Kings should be better than last year but I doubt they will make a giant leap this season.

    The Lakers… They start by beating the Clippers and then get destroyed by the Warriors. If Kobe comes back soon enough they’ll have a shot at the 7th-8th seed.

    And then we have our Suns. As I said, it’s just one game but they are looking better than expected already. Dragic, Bledsoe, Plumlee and Tucker all had played extremely well last night. Marcus Morris actually had a few moments to even though he was over-matched playing against LA. If they can keep that up and the bench starts to develop, the Suns could play themselves out of the Wiggins Sweepstakes.

  • EBJM

    As far as dumping Eric Gordan, it would not be a bad thing with Evans and Austin behind him. They need a center and they are hard to come by. Here is an interesting three team trade; Eric Gordon to Phoenix, Asik and Gersld Green to the Pelicans and Channing Frye to Houston.

    Interesting is Hollinger projects the Suns wiuld win 13 more gsmes while the Pelicans would lose 16 more games and Houston loses 2 more games.