NBA: Dragic, Suns put Spurs on brink of elimination
PAUL J. WEBER
Associated Press Writer
SAN ANTONIO — The Phoenix Suns are one win away from revenge.
Goran Dragic scored 23 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter and the Suns took a stunning 3-0 lead over San Antonio in the Western Conference semifinals with a 110-96 on Friday night, putting the Spurs in a historically irreparable hole.
The Spurs have put Phoenix through a decade of postseason misery, ousting the Suns from the playoffs four consecutive times since 2003.
Another win finally ends all that.
They can thank Dragic, whose brilliant fourth quarter made it unnecessary for Steve Nash to get off the bench until the final 3 minutes. Amare Stoudemire? He didn't even take off his warmups in the fourth quarter.
Dragic hit nine of 11 shots in the fourth, including all four of his 3-point attempts.
After his last one with 5.7 seconds left, the Suns impatiently waited for the final seconds to tick away before swarming Dragic as the Spurs shuffled away.
"Coach said 'Don't be shy, just be aggressive, attack the basket,'" Dragic said. "Third and fourth quarter, I just did it."
No team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series, and the way the Suns have played in this series, San Antonio might be running out of ways to figure out how to beat them.
Game 4 is Sunday night in San Antonio.
"I work hard for this moment so I'm really happy for this," said Dragic, who is playing in the first postseason of his career. He averaged 7.9 points this season and was averaging 5.6 in the postseason entering the game.
Jason Richardson had 21 points and Grant Hill added 18 for the Suns.
Manu Ginobili led the Spurs with 27 points while welcoming Tony Parker back to the starting lineup.
Parker, who had come off the bench since returning from a broken right hand last month, reclaimed his starting role from George Hill with the hopes that he could help save this series.
Hill had started 46 consecutive games since January. But the second-year guard, who coach Gregg Popovich believes will grow into his next star, opened the Phoenix series with a disappointing dud after a breakout first round against Dallas.
That fueled speculation since Game 1 that Parker — who had started every playoff game since 2002 for the Spurs before this postseason — would get his starting job back.
Down 2-0, Popovich finally made the switch.
"It's just time," Popovich said before the game. "He's our starter. At some point he was going to return that situation."
It wasn't exactly a triumphant return.
Parker averaged 23 as a reserve in Games 1 and 2 but didn't provide the same jolt while reclaiming his starting job. He scored 10 points on just 5-of-17 shooting.
The Spurs blew a big lead for the second straight game.
The Suns trailed 39-21 early in the second quarter while missing 13 of their first 21 shots, putting Phoenix in the biggest hole it faced thus far in the playoffs.
But like the other deficits, this one didn't last.
Dragic's layup on the second Phoenix possession of the fourth quarter put the Suns ahead 73-72 and gave them their first lead of the game. Leandro Barbosa knocked down a 3-pointer two possessions later to push the Suns lead to four, and Popovich quickly called a timeout.
It did little good. Phoenix outscored San Antonio 39-24 in the fourth quarter and shot 71 percent from the field.
Notes: Spurs C Tim Duncan's dreadful free throw shooting continues. He was 5 of 12. ... The Suns have trailed by double figures three times in the playoffs and have come back to win every time.