With Eric Bledsoe returning to Staples Center to take on his former team for the first time Monday night, it was assumed Chris Paul vs. the Phoenix Suns‘ point guard would be the marquee matchup of the night. No one was really expecting that point guard to be Goran Dragic, though.
In a thoroughly dominant performance, Dragic and the Suns dismantled CP3 and the Clippers in a 107-88 rout on the road. The win moved Phoenix to 19-11 on the season, which is just a few wins shy of where most experts thought they’d finish by the end of the year. The Suns have now won 10 of their last 12 games and are hot on the heels of the Houston Rockets for the fifth seed in the loaded West.
Just like the Suns have surprised teams all season, Goran Dragic sucker punched an unsuspecting Clippers team from the get-go. At the end of the first quarter, Dragic had 13 points. At halftime, Phoenix had amassed a 61-40 advantage behind Dragic’s 20 points, four assists and five steals. Gerald Green‘s 14 points off the bench on 4-of-7 shooting from 3-point range was a huge part of Phoenix’s big second quarter that turned a six-point lead into 21.
But rather than take their foot off the gas, the Suns kept the pedal to the metal in the third quarter, outscoring the Clippers once again (this time by eight). By that time, the Suns were up 88-59 and Dragic had 26 points on 10-of-15 shooting to go with eight assists and five steals. After that, Dragic was done for the night with the result all but secured. In other words, the Dragon completely decimated Lob City in just three quarters.
With both teams emptying their benches, the Clippers cut the deficit in garbage time (no offense, Viacheslav Kravtsov. Your dunk was wonderful). Fortunately, after tweaking his knee in the third quarter, Phoenix’s other star point guard wasn’t done for the night. It was a scary moment as Bledsoe gingerly walked toward the bench after landing awkwardly on a layup attempt in the third quarter, but he returned in the fourth with the game already out of reach. Though Bledsoe has been very up and down in the past few weeks, Suns fans were relieved to see him back on the court and looking okay to play.
It’d be easy to chalk this win up as a fluke, but how many fluke wins can a team have this far into the season before they’re for real? The Suns have stayed consistent with the theme of beating teams that, on paper, they have no business competing with. The Dragon was spectacular in a game where all eyes were on CP3 and Bledsoe, burying the Clippers early with a barrage of buckets at the rim. Seeing a player that small and seemingly frail dismantle defenses with clever Eurosteps and scoop shots will never get old, but when the rest of the team came to life in the second quarter, it was yet another example of the indisputable fact that this team is for real.
This with Dragic/Bledsoe missing about 10 of 30 games between them. Won 10 of 12 since both got healthy.
— Dave King (@DaveKing_BSotS) December 31, 2013
As of Monday morning, the Suns were on pace to receive four picks in the loaded 2014 NBA Draft. The original plan for the season was tanking and long-term rebuilding. But this team is too good to tank with the appalling East and long-term has turned into short-term rebuilding. Suns general manager Ryan McDonough has already gone on record saying Phoenix will be willing to trade draft picks to bring a star in now, which is something to keep in mind as February’s trade deadline creeps closer.
No one ever expected this from a ragtag Suns team that no one took seriously at the start of the season. But at the sixth spot in the Western Conference standings, the Suns are serious contenders for the playoffs, even if no one’s expecting them to contend for a title against the rest of the NBA’s heavyweights. Still, Suns supporters are all in now and with another star on the roster, this young and hardworking Phoenix team could continue to surprise people in a big way. Wins on the road like last night, against a team many are predicting to win the West, are instrumental in changing the perception that Goran Dragic and the Suns are a joke. In fact, they’re having the best season no one saw coming.