PHOENIX – The Suns aren’t dead yet.
Arguably and in the moment of a 122-115 win on Sunday, they’ve never been so alive.
Phoenix has a mighty hill to climb — the Grizzlies lost to fall to ninth and the Mavericks won to separate in their seventh-place spot on Sunday — but it was the Oklahoma City Thunder who might have the most to worry about. A top-tier Western Conference squad like the Thunder wouldn’t survive playing the defense it did in their loss at U.S. Airways Center, while the confident and loose Suns have a solid shot at the postseason if that type of performance recurs in the remaining five games of the season.
Scott Brooks’ team allowed the Suns to gun their way to a win on 58 percent shooting from the floor and 68 combined points from Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Gerald Green.
Phoenix took just 23 threes but drilled 11, a result of confidence but also pickiness in chasing the right opportunities.
In the second quarter after going scoreless through the first 12 minutes and missing his first three shot attempts, Dragic went to what made the Suns so successful in their Friday win against Portland. He went 8-for-10 in the second quarter to score 19 points, first dipping his way past Reggie Jackson or Westbrook, then taking his game to beyond the three-point arc.
It also helped the Suns were the bigger team, for one chunk finding Green with Derek Fisher on his back and Markieff Morris being defended by Caron Butler.
Phoenix held a 38-29 lead minutes into the second quarter and again hit the nine-point advantage with less than four minutes to play at 52-43. The Suns led 62-53 at half and build a lead as big as 14 points in the third.
Just as the Clippers did last Wednesday, Oklahoma City wasn’t going to fold.
Hornacek worried about sounding like a broken record against Los Angeles, but the Suns must have learned something from the last time their lead wilted. All night long, they bullied the Thunder with their bench unit, and it quickly got Oklahoma City in the penalty during the fourth quarter.
As usual, the man leading the physical Phoenix effort was P.J. Tucker, who scored a career-high 22 points, grabbed seven rebounds and added two blocks and two steals while holding — excuse the word choice — Kevin Durant to 38 points on 13-of-28 shooting.
It was a steal by Bledsoe on Durant that led to Tucker running down a ball with 43 seconds left. Tucker’s dive on the floor forced Fisher to foul to stop the game clock, and the two free throws giving the Suns a 117-112 lead secured their second-to-last home game of the year.
Dave Dulberg asked a few questions before the game, and here’s they were answered.
Is home really where the heart is?
It would seem so. The offense was crisp and decisive, and there wasn’t any lolly-gagging around when it came to getting into the offense. Even when the play-calls didn’t get through or plays broke down, the Suns’ heads weren’t spinning. It helped again, of course, when Bledsoe and Dragic were there to drive it to the hoop when things weren’t going the Suns’ way.
The crowd also made sure to arrive early, a nice thing to do after making last home game, a Wednesday loss against the Clippers, seem as if nobody believes Phoenix can reach the postseason.
How Green do the Suns go?
Jeff Hornacek and the coaching staff must have made a similar tweak to Gerald Green’s game as the Kentucky Wildcats staff did a young college team that’s found a confident groove en route to the national championship game. Once again, Green found himself hunting for shots but only taking the good ones.
Even when his defensive slips and mental lapses hurt, he looked set on making up for any of his mistakes with big shots.
Green finished going 7-for-11, scoring 24 and knocking down five threes.
Will the Suns allow Kevin Durant to pass Michael Jordan?
After scoring seven of the first nine points for the Thunder, Durant cooled off a bit, sitting right on pace for 26 points with 13 at halftime. But a 12-point third quarter ended with Durant driving down the lane for a two-handed dunk that gave him 25 points to break Michael Jordan’s record of consecutive games with 25 or more points. He scored 13 more in the fourth and his streak now sits at 41 games.