Posted May 8 2010 2:24AM - Updated May 8 2010 6:12PM
SAN ANTONIO -- Steve Kerr can admit shortchanging Goran Dragic now. Projecting the career path of the second-year backup point guard right up to Friday night, the Suns general manager came up short.
"We were expecting 21 in the fourth when we drafted him," Kerr quipped between sips of an after-game beverage. "My goodness."
Dragic actually scored 23 in the final period of the Suns' 110-96 shocker. The out-of-Slovenia performance turned a close Game 3 into a closeout chance Sunday, adding another in the growing line of Phoenix playoff highlights. For the Spurs, it could be the lasting memory of the season.
San Antonio once owned the rights to Dragic, but this isn't about the one that got away. The Suns were the only NBA team to work out 6-foot-3 lefty leading up to 2008 Draft, and Kerr began working the phone lines furiously when the second round started.
Starting with Minnesota at No. 31, the Suns started making offers. The Spurs finally bit at No. 45, drafting Dragic and sending the sleeping 22-year-old playmaker to Phoenix. With a game for the Slovenian national team the next day, Dragic didn't stay up to watch the draft on TV. His agent told him of the trade the morning after.
"He's made Steve Kerr look real smart," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said earlier in the series. "I'm happy for Steve, unhappy for us."
The Suns overseas scouts were sold on Dragic's athleticism, scoring ability and makeup. After meeting him, Kerr was sold, too.
"We fell in love with him because he's such a humble, great kid, but he's a competitor," Kerr said. "He's kind of a quiet competitor."
The Spurs picked up a second-rounder in the deal, which turned into steal DeJuan Blair last summer. On balance, it seems to be win-win for both Western Conference semifinalists. The Spurs aren't feeling so victorious today.
"It was a good trade for them, too," Kerr said. "But the situation we were in with Nash, we knew we needed a backup point guard."
Steve Nash and Dragic had a case of role reversal in the fourth. Phoenix starters, including Nash, normally begin the final period on the bench, and Alvin Gentry prefers to ride his reserves to the 6-minute mark if possible.
Nash probably didn't have to go back into Game 3, as Dragic single-handedly knocked San Antonio out. Nash played cheerleader as Dragic dropped-stepped, scooped, slipped by and stung the Spurs.
"It was beautiful," Nash beamed. "I didn't think I would have to go back in."
The Spurs would have taken an early sub. Dragic and Leandro Barbosa, another original San Antonio draftee dealt to Phoenix in a prearranged deal, began the fourth in the backcourt. Together, they began the onslaught before Dragic etched his name in playoff lore.
The second of his four fourth-quarter 3-pointers opened it all up. Set in the corner, he brought the ball up through George Hill's outstretched arms and heaved a two-handed push at the basket. Count it.
"I didn't expect the shot to fall, I was just going for the foul," Dragic said. "After that shot, the rim was huge."
The shots kept falling and the Spurs' deficit kept growing. Down as much 18 in the first half, the Suns were up as many as 16 in garbage time. Dragic played the entire fourth quarter, scoring 23 of his 26 two nights after offering up a goose egg in Game 2.
Gentry told Dragic to stay aggressive and not worry about making mistakes. Nash's apprentice felt his confidence grow with each basket.
"I don't know how many guys in the history of the game that have had a fourth quarter like that," Nash said. "It was pretty remarkable. I am incredibly proud of him."
Those 23 rung familiar with Kerr, who also made sure to take photos with his BlackBerry of Dragic engrossed in the locker room media scrum.
"Other than MJ, I don't remember anybody doing something like that in a huge game under pressure, especially a young kid," Michael Jordan's former teammate said. "It's ridiculous."
"Ridiculous" and "remarkable" weren't exactly the adjectives San Antonio fans were uttering about Dragic on the way out of the AT&T Center. Well, those who actually knew his name. As for the Spurs, they were stunned.
"Yes, I still am," Tim Duncan said. "They made every shot as we tried to stay in front of them and contest every shot. We wanted to make everything as tough as possible for them and yet they made everything."
"They" could be swapped for "Dragic." The swap nearly two years ago won't eat at Popovich and the Spurs as much as overall tenor of the series. San Antonio couldn't have predicted Friday's fourth quarter or much of anything else.
"It's really hard, not only because of the fact that we are down 3-0, it's the way that they are beating us," Manu Ginobili said.
And with who.
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