He used to hear those chants for teammate Steve Nash. Now, he is starting to hear them for himself. Goran Dragic is playing at an All-NBA level, and Suns fans are showing their appreciation. Big Time.
Dragic was unlikely to play against the Pelicans all the way up to pre-game warmups where he tested his ankle.
"You know Goran, he's gonna want to go," Hornacek said before the game. "We'll ask the training staff to try to get an honest answer out of him how much it hurts. But again, we can't rush him back and have it continue to aggravate."
Hornacek spent the next few minutes talking about the Dragon-less Suns needing to step up more than they did in the previous game. He talked about Smith, Barbosa and Goodwin running the point in their different ways.
But Dragic really, really wanted to play. That may have had something to do with his parents in the crowd, visiting all the way from Slovenia. Goran has set three new career highs in the past week, all with family members in attendance. The first two with his son there, and now with the parents. Of course he wanted to play!
"I just tried to come out strong," Dragic said, humble as ever.
Dragic scored 15 points in the first quarter, 13 in third and 12 in the fourth. He carved up the New Orleans defense as if they were standing still, despite the bum ankle.
"I told coach, if you pull me out it will get stiff," he said of his last-minute decision to play. "I took some Advil, and Nellie (Aaron Nelson) did really good trying to get it loose. And then, when I stepped on the court I needed a couple of minutes to get loose. In the game, I didn't feel nothing probably from the pain killers."
On why Dragic played 42 minutes despite the bad ankle, Hornacek said unapologetically, "Unfortunately, we had to play him so many minutes to try to get the win, but obviously he was fantastic."
Goran Dragic came out to score 15 points in the first quarter alone, many of them on drives like this one.
*all gifs courtesy of the BSotS readers in the comments section of the victory thread. Go BSotS!
The Suns had a halftime lead, thanks in large part to Dragic and Markieff Morris (11 points, 3 assists at the half). But the lead was only two points, thanks to some porous defense allowing 17 fast break points in the first half alone, to a Pelicans team that averages only 14 per game.
The best part of the first half was Goran getting gifted as he headed for the locker room at intermission.
Aww, Goran's got the little dragon to give his kid now! How cool.
In the second half, Dragic was even better. He scored 25 second half points - 13 in the third and 12 in the fourth. Three of those 4th quarter points were from using the bank on a straightaway three that even Dragic felt bad about.
"There are times when he comes out after playing the third quarter," Hornacek recounted, "and says 'I'm good I'm good' and I turned to him and said 'you aren't coming out anyway'."
After the game, Dragic said, "It went straight, but he contested so close I shoot it a little bit too hard and as soon as I hit that bank, I said thank you God. Sometimes where you're hot, sometimes luck is on your side."
And then there were the chants of M-V-P! M-V-P!
"It was great. I could never imagine they would cheer that for me," Dragic said with a big grin. "I heard that when I was here with Steve [Nash]. They cheered that to Steve. It's a great feeling, especially in those last four free throws when the whole crowd stand up to cheer.
"You know, it's something that happened in my career that I'm going to remember my whole life. It's going to be a great memory for sure."
When Dragic was finally pulled from the game, his teammates mugged him.
"It's kind of weird," Dragic said of the mugging scene, "I came to the bench and everybody was looking down. I tried to give them the high five and nobody give them back. And I was like 'what is going on?' and then suddenly everybody jump on me. And Tuck, he poured ice water on me. It was like winning a Super Bowl."
It's that kind of chemistry and FUN from this team that makes this season special. You know someone had to ring-lead that plan to ignore him as he approached the bench. And they all joined in. Special.
"Are we surprised?" Hornacek responded on a question in the postgame conference, "We knew he was a great player. He's obviously big. You go for 40, that's pretty darn good.
"We'll let him enjoy tonight, and tomorrow he's got to get ready for the next one."
On if he is an All-Star, Dragic said: "I can't say that about me. Other people can talk about that. I'm just here to play basketball and to improve my game every day. For me, it was already a good thing that people were mentioning it to me."
Well, I can say it.
The Suns were blown out by an average Minnesota team in the fourth quarter on Tuesday night when Dragic was hobbled. And they were embarrassed by a bad Utah team the next night without Dragic all five quarters.
But with Dragic leading them, the Suns are staying in playoff position and are considered very dangerous when those playoffs start.