It was little more than a week ago that the lowly Phoenix Suns found themselves floundering through the worst stretch in team history, an 18-game losing streak in which they absorbed defeats of (among others) 34, 27, 37, 28 and 27 points.
The Suns snapped that skid on Feb. 25, then added their second victory in three outings with an upset of the Lakers last Saturday. So the question entering Monday’s seemingly unwinnable home game against the NBA-best Bucks was obvious:
Why stop there?
Pulling off one of the league’s most improbable upsets in decades, the Suns somehow prevailed 114-105, erasing a 16-point deficit in the first half and finishing strong with a combination of effort and execution they’ve lacked so often during yet another lost season.
In doing so, the Suns — who trailed Milwaukee by 36 games in the loss column entering Monday’s action, and 35 1/2 games overall — became the first team to beat the Bucks more than once this season, while the Bucks suffered back-to-back defeats for the first time.
Even more notably, it marked the first time since 1983-84, when the Indiana Pacers upset the eventual-champion Boston Celtics, that the NBA’s worst team has beaten the NBA’s best team more than 60 games into the season. (For reference, only one current Sun, 38-year-old Jamal Crawford, was alive at that point.)
Despite a nip-and-tuck third quarter, in which the lead changed hands six times, the Bucks finally appeared to have things under control as they built up a 10-point lead midway through the fourth.
But despite having nothing to play for but pride, the Suns slugged back with a 31-12 surge over the final 7:37. Kelly Oubre was the unlikely star, scoring 27 points, pulling down 13 rebounds and making a critical late defensive play, stripping the ball off Bucks center Brooks Lopez and out of bounds as the Suns defended a four-point lead with 31.5 seconds left.
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) March 5, 2019
“It’s kind of hard to think we lost to Phoenix twice,” said the shell-shocked Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was limited to 21 points. “But they played better than us. They came out there and set the tone.”
Making the victory even sweeter, it followed a report from ESPN posted earlier in the day detailing the franchise’s descent into dysfunction with nine straight playoff absences.
It will take an exhaustive effort to reverse that decay.
But for one game at least, things felt a little brighter in the Valley of the Sun.
Off key in Utah
The Bucks weren’t the only playoff team to blow a big lead to a team playing out the string. They were joined by the Jazz, who were powerless to prevent the visiting Pelicans from erasing a 17-point deficit en route to a 115-112 victory.
While plays like this from Anthony Davis certainly helped …
… the Pelicans largely did it without their presumably soon-to-be-departed superstar. Indeed, for the fifth time in the past six games, they were actually better without him when it mattered most.
The Pelicans' point differential in their past 6 games from the moment when AD checked out for the last time through the end of the game:
vs. LAL: +13 (DNP)
vs. PHI: +14
@ LAL: -2
@ PHX: +9
@ DEN: +8 (DNP)
@ UTA: +7
That's +49 in total over ~13 quarters of basketball.
— Mason Ginsberg (@MasonGinsberg) March 5, 2019
Maybe life in the Big Easy won’t be so bleak without Davis?
I love you, man
As has been the case throughout his final season, Heat legend Dwyane Wade exchanged jerseys with an appreciative opponent. As strange as this one might have seemed, however, it was actually one of the coolest yet. We’ll let D-Wade explain:
Kevin Huerter grew up idolizing D-Wade, so Wade pulled him aside for a jersey swap after the game 🙏 pic.twitter.com/3Wz0m6aqlr
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 5, 2019
Remember the Alamo
While the Spurs are still doing the former, the latter has suffered a precipitous drop off as they’re on pace to finish below league average in defensive efficiency for the first time since 1996-97 — Popovich’s first season at the helm, and the last time they failed to make the postseason.
A 22nd straight playoff berth is still in question, but the Spurs did themselves a huge favor with a 104-103 victory in which they managed to keep the high-octane Nuggets in check.
While it didn’t come easy — the Spurs came within one possession of squandering an 18-point, fourth-quarter lead — they still earned praise from Popovich for holding the Nuggets to nearly five points less than their usual offensive efficiency.
“To get them to score 103, I’m thrilled with it,” he said. “The defense was solid.”
It was not a banner night for the Mavericks in Brooklyn, where the Nets pounded them by 39 for their most lopsided home win since moving from New Jersey in 2012.
That didn’t stop Kia Rookie of the Year favorite Luka Doncic from adding to his highlight reel with yet another amazing play: