Here’s a list of teams that have beaten the Oklahoma City Thunder twice in the 2013-14 season: the Portland Trail Blazers, the Los Angeles Clippers, the Dallas Mavericks and the Phoenix Suns. That’s it. The San Antonio Spurs – the team with the best record in the NBA – are 0-4 against the Thunder. The two-time defending champion Miami Heat are 1-1 against OKC. Yet these Cinderella Suns, or “Sanderellas,” if you will, are 2-1 against a Western juggernaut that they may meet in the first round of the playoffs should they work their way up to the seventh seed.
With a 122-115 home victory over Kevin Durant and the Thunder and a little help from the Spurs last night, the Suns moved from the ninth spot in the West to No. 8. Everyone did their part in front of a rocking US Airways Center crowd that came out to support its Sanderellas. Every single player on the Suns knew how big this game was and for the second time in a month, Phoenix banded together and came out with more points on the scoreboard in a high-scoring affair against the Thunder.
It was a complete team effort that overcame 38 points from Kevin Durant and 33 points from Russell Westbrook. The US Airways Center didn’t seem to be sad about missing the Game of Thrones season premiere with Goran Dragic going into full-on Dragon mode. Dragic led Phoenix with 26 points and five assists and exploded for 19 points in the second quarter to give the Suns a nine-point lead at the half. In the second half, Dragic got plenty of help from his teammates, including Gerald Green (24 points, 5-of-7 shooting from 3-point range off the bench), P.J. Tucker (22 points, 4-of-5 shooting from 3-point range) and Eric Bledsoe (18 points). Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris added 10 points apiece to give the Suns six players with double-digit scoring on the night.
Phoenix is now a full game ahead of Memphis for the eighth spot and trails Dallas by half a game with five games to play. The Suns’ upcoming three-game road trip against the New Orleans Pelicans, San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks could make or break their season. The final two games – at home against the Grizzlies and on the road against the Sacramento Kings – are just as important, but without at least two wins in their next three games, Phoenix could be in a rough position to make the playoffs before then.
In front of a sold-out crowd, closing out one of the best teams in the NBA felt like yet another reason no one except Memphis Grizzlies fans wants to see the Suns’ Cinderella season come to an end. If you can look me in the eye and tell me a first-round matchup between the Suns and Thunder wouldn’t entertain you, more power to you. But whether Phoenix actually makes the playoffs is irrelevant, since this rag-tag group under Jeff Hornacek has already exceeded everyone’s wildest dreams. But for the players themselves, earning a postseason berth would be the perfect payoff for such an exceptionally memorable season.
Making the playoffs and attracting future free agents is the ultimate goal for the Suns but the truth is, Phoenix has already done enough this season to put the league on notice that this up-and-coming team is a piece or two away from truly contending in the West. Dragic is one of the most entertaining players in the NBA, Bledsoe is a future superstar, the Morris twins are playing the best basketball of their careers, Miles Plumlee has been a revelation and Gerald Green is constantly one heat check away from taking over games. So even if the Suns fall short of the postseason, that’s OK. Because if games like last night’s win over the Thunder teach us anything, it’s that the Suns are finally back on the right track to contention.