Suns Find A Way To Finish Strong At Home
Just prior to the night’s rendition of the national anthem, radio broadcaster Al McCoy donned his headset for the last time at home this season in this, his 41st, season calling Suns games on the radio.
About 10 minutes later and 10 feet to McCoy’s right, Suns interim Head Coach Lindsey Hunter strode up to stake his usual position along the sideline, near center court. From here, he regularly implores his team for defensive intensity, directs the offense and politely disagrees with officials.
In front of Hunter, point guard Goran Dragic played his heart out to finish the game with 21 points, 14 assists, five rebounds, three steals, one charge taken against Rockets’ star James Harden and three stiches inserted above his left eye from taking that charge.
By the end of the game, after the momentum of the contest had swung from side-to-side numerous times, it was the Suns who grasped control and secured a 119-112 victory for the final time in front of their home fans.
Dragic called the 81st game of the season the team’s most well-rounded effort.
“Everybody was involved and everybody was making shots,” Dragic said. “On defense we were talking and we played well.
“If we would play like this earlier, for sure we would be close to the playoffs. But now we still got one more game left, and we’ll try to win that one, too.”
As one of the players Hunter has learned to lean on not only for execution but for heart and tenacity, Dragic rose to the occasion one last time at home. His all-around play helped give the Suns an offensive punch when they needed it and his control of the tempo helped distribute the ball to others, which ensured that four starters gained at least 20 points.
Still, Dragic found the energy to also consistently set the tone with his effort.
A perfect example came with 2:19 remaining in the fourth quarter and Phoenix grasping to a 114-108 lead. At that moment, a loose ball came out and it was Dragic that raced across the key to slide on the court and add a massive floor burn to his list of ailments for the evening.
He came up with a jump ball, though, and the Suns were able to milk another 24 seconds off the clock. Three Suns possessions later, fellow hustler, P.J. Tucker, followed suit and out-worked every Rocket on the court for an offensive rebound and put back.
Those two plays limited Houston’s possessions and widened the deficit down the stretch of a game the Rockets were desperately attempting to come back in.
“Hopefully these last couple of games is an indication of some things that we got better at,” Hunter said. “We didn’t get to where we wanted to, but I think that we got better in a lot of different ways.”
For all the finality that this game brought to US Airways Center on this evening, it also brought a few firsts.
Tucker collected 20 points for the first time in his NBA career when he tallied 21. It was also the first time since Jan. 6, 2010 that four Suns reached the 20-point plateau in the same game.
And it turned into a career night for Markieff Morris, who scored 20 points in back-to-back games for the first time in his two seasons with Phoenix. He also became the first player since fellow Sun Antonio McDyess, back in 1998, to record at least 18 points, seven rebounds, five steals and six blocks in a game.
Morris equaled all of those numbers exactly by the end of this game, except he outscored MyDyess by two points.
“This was just one of those games where I was going after everything and getting it,” Morris said.
The same could be said for the entire Suns team.
Other than Morris, Tucker and Dragic, Luis Scola was the other starter to reach 20 points. He had a team-high 26, to go along with 15 rebounds and four assists.
Tucker also found a way to disturb Harden, as the Rockets’ best offensive player missed all nine of his field-goal attempts and five three-point attempts in the second half.
Following this win, Phoenix will finish its season at Denver on Wednesday.