PHOENIX – The Phoenix Suns won’t make the playoffs like this.
They shouldn’t, at least.
But in the regular season when Goran Dragic puts in a career night on a bum ankle, maybe this is what happens regularly.
Phoenix got away with a much-needed win, rallying to end a brutal third quarter and then riding Dragic’s 40 points to a 116-104 victory against the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday. Dragic, who earned a well-heard MVP chant at the end of the game, won’t pull out games like this every night. But he’s done enough to keep the Suns pumping along, even as the rest of their machinery begins to wear out.
Phoenix created some separation in the Western Conference playoff race as the Grizzlies put a scare into the Oklahoma City Thunder before falling 113-107, and that’s settling news for the present — it’s a long season to finish out.
On Friday, the Pelicans were injected with a sense of purpose with Anthony Davis playing after suffering a shoulder injury, Tyreke Evans’ first start in 50 games and Evans’ escape from an elevator. They kept it a game through the first half and came out of the halftime break on edge.
Dragic and Brian Roberts were assessed technicals after getting tangled to start the third quarter, and after the dust-up, New Orleans took a few more shots at the Dragon. It was a message, one not well-received by Phoenix at first. The Suns only grew softer as the Pelicans bodied into their opponents off the ball, no matter if they were two feet from the hoop or 32.
The good news: the Suns charged back and brought a lifeless crowd back from the morgue, erasing a 79-69 deficit with a 12-2 run – all by Dragic and Marcus Morris – in the final 2:21 of the third quarter. The tough-guy lineup of Dragic, Ish Smith, P.J. Tucker and the Morris twins rallied Phoenix to beat the confidence out of the briefly-swaggy Pelicans.
And with the breath of the Dragon, the beaks of the Pelicans cooked.
Dragic set another career high, scoring in his eight 30-point game of the year on an ankle that kept him out of morning shootaround and made him slow to announce he was good to go Friday. He hit 14-of-21 shots and finished the game out at the foul stripe before exiting to a cheerier crowd than would have otherwise been witnessing a struggle.
Can the Suns get hot from three-point range?
Although the Suns themselves couldn’t stay in front of their men or stop Davis from living in the mid-range, Phoenix had a fair share of success from three-point range, hitting 5-of-11 at half and going 10-of-43 by the end of the night.
Dragic set his new career-high by breaking his old record of 35 points with a jumper just after hitting a three-point bank shot from atop the key. The shot made him smile, then put his hands on his head in amazement. It was one of those nights.
Will Markieff keep it up against The Brow?
Markieff Morris was a bright spot and, like he had in the teams’ first two meetings, looked set on playing a physical offensive brand of basketball against Davis and otherwise. Eleven first-half points came mostly in the post, but that was just the beginning.
After the starting unit began to get manhandled with a physical defense that made you wonder how this New Orleans squad was so bad, the Pelicans showed just why they were so bad. On the third offensive rebound of a single play, Ish Smith finally capped the possession with a score at the rim and half-retreated Pelicans watched from around halfcourt.
Markieff finished with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting to go with four assists.
Is Eric Gordon’s heart in Phoenix still?
A lackluster defensive effort allowed New Orleans to connect on 57.9 percent of its shots in the first half, and Gerald Green especially struggled to contain Gordon, who blew by him or found himself able to get off mildly-contested jumpers to score 12 first-half points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field.
Gordon finished with 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
Bonus: How many times do the Suns defend a Tyreke Evans jumper?
The good news was that Evans made it to the arena at all. The guard made his first start of the year but was late to pregame activities because he was stuck in an elevator at the team hotel. Like, literally. Stuck. In. An. Elevator.
Evans put in an efficient night but aside from a surprising contested three-point make at the end of a shotclock — he shoots 15 percent on the season — scored a good chunk of his 14 points in transition.