Amare Stoudemire was his overpowering-self inside, and Steve Nash was his controlling MVP-self outside, inside, and all points in between, but the game ball for this one goes to Goran Dragic.
Not just for his career-high 18 points on 7 of 9 shooting, including 4 of 5 threes, although in the end that might well have been the difference as the Suns stretched their home record to 9-0 and extended their streak to 17 straight wins over a two-season span.
The thing that really bodes well for the Suns is how far the 23-year-old shooter in a point guard’s body has come since his rookie season in terms of confidence and court presence.
If he continues to improve at his present pace he’ll blossom into a lot more than just a backup relief at the point for Nash. In some ways Tuesday night was his coming-out party since arriving here from Slovenia last year. He didn’t get to play all that much as a rookie, and when he did, he didn’t really play all that well.
It wasn’t that he didn’t have the tools. It’s just that he seemed unsure how to use them, and was obviously frustrated by his lack of playing time.
But that was then and this is now, and now his future is starting to look as bright as some (though not all) said it was when the Suns signed him, and his present doesn’t look to shabby either. If nothing else he gives the Suns yet another game changer off the bench to go with Leandro Barbosa. Toss Jared Dudley and Louis Amundson into that mix and the Suns have their strongest bench in recent memory.
The first half last night was a testimonial to their firepower as they blew the Spurs half way back to the Alamo with a 67-point blast that included three of Dragic’s treys. And the second half was a testimonial to their toughness – they saw a 20-point lead shrink to one and then out-gutted the Spurs down the stretch.
A key factor in the fourth-period surge that built the lead back up to 12 was their ability to win some major skirmishes (more like wars actually) on the boards when the issue was very much in doubt.
As the season turns past the quarter pole, it is clear the Suns are becoming one of the biggest surprises in the NBA. They were originally slotted as MAYBE the eighth best team in the West, but as of now you’d have to say only the Lakers stand clearly above them in the West. And given the scheduling quirks that has had the Lakers playing mostly at home and the Suns playing mostly on the road, even that gap may not be quite as unbridgeable as it seems.
Granted, you don’t want to get TOO carried away by beating the Spurs in December, however satisfying it may be. Most of the notices they have gotten in December in the Popovich era tend to be obits, and at 12-10 (2-6 on the road), and this year figures to be no exception. But just as often as they’ve been declared dead in December they have been declared dynastic in April and May.
So don’t sell the Spurs short because they’re struggling now. But don’t sell the Suns short just because, either.
If they stay healthy they’re going to take us on a wild and crazy ride come Spring!