Four Years Later: Dragic Slays the Spurs

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There’s a photo of Goran Dragic, back when his face looked a little more boyish and his jersey sported the number two.

In this split-second scene captured on glossy paper, Dragic is in mid-air, left arm extended, hand underneath the ball as he rises for a text-book layup.

Four players surround him, including three former All-Stars, two NBA Finals MVPs and arguably one of the 10 greatest players of all time.

All four are on the other team. All four are watching Dragic with seemingly helpless expressions.

When Dragic sees the photo, he smiles.

“This is an old one.”

He is asked if he remembers the game from which it was taken.

“Of course I remember.”

So does nearly every Suns and Spurs fan.

Four years ago today, Dragic dominated San Antonio. Scorched them. Befuddled them. Buried them. He put their renowned team defense to shame and made the always-taciturn Gregg Popovich grab his head in despair on the bench.

This would have been gift enough for the fans and franchise back in Phoenix. The stakes raised the significance. This was Game 3 of the 2010 Western Conference semifinals. Yes, the Suns were up 2-0, but it never felt like 2-0 against the Spurs. They were (and still are) the black-and-silver cockroaches that would/will not die. They had shrugged off Amare Stoudemire’s I-have-arrived series, split Steve Nash’s nose, benefitted from league-mandated suspensions made necessary by a Spurs-caused fracas, and broken Phoenix with -- of all things -- a Tim Duncan three-pointer.

So when the Suns found themselves trailing San Antonio through three quarters, it seemed the Curse of the Spurs was simply rearing its head again.

Until the Dragon reared his own head.

Dragic’s first three points were big, but hardly indicative of the night he would go on to have. With 1:05 left in the third quarter, he found the defense giving him so much space that he felt obligated to shoot. Swish. His three-pointer cut a six-point deficit in half.

When he remained on the floor for the start of the fourth quarter, the pervading question was how long Phoenix could afford to keep All-Star guard Steve Nash on the bench. No one had considered his backup making it a moot point.

Even before his fourth-quarter scoring spree, there were at least a few onlookers who could sense the momentum of the game shifting. Dragic ripped down a rebound after a missed Spurs shot, zipped a perfect cross-court pass to Leandro Barbosa on the break, then wrestled away the offensive rebound after the miss before getting fouled.

The extra possession provided the official eye-opening sequence. After getting DeJuan Blair to switch on a pick-and-roll, Dragic drove right, spun left, up-faked, stepped under the jumping Blair and laid it off the glass. It was an elite move, one normally performed only by elite players, which is why ESPN analyst Jon Barry felt prompted to ask a then-absurd question.

“Is that Rajon Rondo?”

It couldn’t be, because after a go-and-stop push shot in the key and a sweeping hook over Tim Duncan, Dragic hit a very un-Rondo-like three-pointer from the wing.

All of that gave Phoenix a five-point lead.

Dragic nearly doubled that with his next shot – a lunging three-pointer that drew 1) a foul on George Hill 2) an eruption of unbelief from the Suns bench 3) the same reaction from the Spurs crowd and 4) a yell and fist-pump from Dragic after seeing the shot go down for the four-point play.

At this point, nearly every Suns fan is incredulously allowing him/herself to think: “Is this really happening? Are we really watching this happen and not being on the losing end of it? Are we about to go up 3-0 on the Spurs because Goran Dragic is pulling an 80s Vinnie Johnson/90s Reggie Miller?”

Dragic answered all those questions over the final six-plus minutes. He put Tim Duncan on skates, drove past him and swerved around a lunging Manu Ginobili for another layup. He hit a step-back, straightaway three-pointer over Tim Duncan, an eight-time All-Defensive First Team honoree. Then it was a driving layup with Hill all over him and a leaping Duncan.

So dominant was the performance that Nash, Stoudemire and Jason Richardson -- the Suns’ top three scorers that season and in the playoffs -- had yet to leave the bench in the fourth quarter. Only Nash eventually returned, and it was essentially mop-up duty at that point.

On the final offensive possession of the game, five seconds separated the shot clock from the game clock. Dragic ended up with the ball, just a shade left of straightaway beyond the three-point line. He let fly one last time.

Swish. 26 second-half points, 23 of which came in the fourth quarter.

Given the numbers, the opponent, the setting and the history, it’s not a surprise May 7, 2010, is already argued among the best playoff moments in Suns’ franchise history.

Not bad for a baby-faced kid from Slovenia who was originally drafted – then traded – by the Spurs.