P.J. Tucker showed against the Oklahoma City Thunder why he is the Suns' "man of steel."

The Suns picked up one of the biggest wins of their season against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday night, knocking off the second best team in the West 122-115.

Goran Dragic entered dragon mode in the second quarter, scoring 19 points in the period and finishing with a team best 26 points. Gerald Green got red hot in the second half and scored 17 of his 24 points.

But the player of the game for the Suns was P.J. Tucker.

"He's always like that. Even in practice he's always battling...he's great for us," Dragic said after the win. "I've always said that hopefully he will stay here for a long time. He's such a warrior and we saw that tonight. He made some big shots ... some huge defensive rebounds for us and he's such a nice guy and great player."

As Dave recently wrote, the Suns are going to need Tucker at his best if they are going to make the playoffs, and they certainly got it on Sunday night. Tucker finished with 22 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks, and he did all of that while guarding the league's most unstoppable offensive force in Kevin Durant.

In college, Tucker made two total 3-pointers in his three-year career. Last season, he bumped that up to 22 made threes at a 31.4 percent clip.

Tucker worked hard this summer to reinvent himself as a 3-point threat, and that hard work has paid off for both him and the Suns this season as he is shooting 40 percent with almost all of them coming from the corners.

Against the Thunder, Tucker hit a career-high four 3-pointers on just five attempts, and the fifth nearly went in as well.

Tucker's transformation into a shooter has been a big part of the Suns' success this season. Dragic and Eric Bledsoe's driving ability force teams to rotate over to cut off penetration out of isolation or the pick-and-roll, and Tucker is often the guy left open. This season, he has made teams pay for that, and he did it four times against Oklahoma City.

Tucker wasn't just a shooter in this game, however. He earned his way back into the league on the strength of his heart, hustle and defensive activity, and the 6-foot-5-inch forward showcased all of that against the Thunder. Tucker stuffed the box score with two buckets in the post, one on a cut, a team-best seven rebounds and four stocks in addition to the four triples.

Tucker was all over the court all night long and made a handful of crucial plays.

If you notice in the videos, roughly half of his highlights came in the fourth quarter. Tucker stepped his game up late and scored 11 of his points and pulled down four of his rebounds in the final 11-and-a-half minutes. He recorded one 3-pointer, one layup, three free-throws, three rebounds, one steal and helped force another turnover all in the last five minutes after the game was knotted at 105 apiece.

He also did all of this while guarding likely MVP Kevin Durant all night. Durant scored 38 points, but he's capable of doing that against anyone. However, while Tucker needed five tries to make his four treys, it took Durant a career-high 15 attempts to match him. A lot of that was simply Durant missing shots, but Tucker's relentless and physical style of defense can really effect an opponent's legs and it is hard to shoot while tired.

Tucker was the MVP of this game, putting up big numbers while matching up with the MVP of the entire league. While his per game averages don't stand out, games like this show he is capable of stepping up in big games when teams need him most. His impact also extends beyond the court.

In addition to all the 3-pointers, rebounds and defensive stops, Tucker is also a team leader, something head coach Jeff Hornacek has said repeatedly.

"He is our emotional leader in terms of playing hard," Hornacek said. "He is constantly on guys ... because he plays hard. This year he has come into the year and made his corner threes. I think he made four of them over there. And, we all know about his defense. Defensively, we put him on the best players that are on the other team. He has to work all game long to try and stop those guys and than we ask him to score a little bit too. He has been invaluable for us."

In his post game interview, Dragic called Tucker a "man of steel." After last night's game and everything he's done over the past two years, I can't think of a more fitting nickname.

With just 5 games remaining, the Suns take a 1 game lead on Memphis for the 8th spot in the Western Conference.

I know your Sunday wasn't completely fulfilled since you didn't get to read several hundred words of rambling from me so I apologize.

We're in the home stretch folks so I won't waste any time talking about how Game of Thrones went all Darren from Bewitched on us last night - lets get right into the action.

Sunday April 7th Key Western Conference Results:

Phoenix Suns 122 Oklahoma City Thunder 115 (Recap) - After blowing a 16 point third quarter lead in their last visit to Phoenix in March, you damn well know the Thunder wanted this one.  Well P.J. Tucker wouldn't let them have it.  The Suns blew a 14 point 3rd quarter lead - which should come as a surprise to absolutely nobody - but they held on during a wildly competitive 4th quarter to win the game and get a huge win.  Dave covered this much more eloquently in the recap which is linked above.

Goran Dragic led the Suns with 26 points (19 of which were in the 2nd quarter) while Gerald Green added 24 on his typical array of crazy-ass shots.  PJ Tucker played arguably his best game of the season, scoring 22 points (including 4/5 from three point range) and playing 40 minutes of having to guard Kevin Durant.  The aforementioned future MVP scored 38 points in his 43 minutes and something something something points streak. Russell Westbrook scored 33 points for OKC while continuing to play with all the charm and grace of a street urchin.

Dallas Mavericks 93 Sacramento Kings 91 (Recap) -  Dirk Nowtizki played his first crappy game in about 2 weeks but the Mavs still won.  The enormous German man shot just 5 of 17 for Dallas but Monta Ellis (23 points) and my mortal enemy (17 points and an eternally burning flame) picked up the slack.  The Mavericks opened the door for the Kings late due to some missed free throws and Sacramento had the ball down just two with 7 seconds remaining.  Rookie guard Ray McCallum appeared to have an open look from three but perhaps deterred by his 0/4 shooting from that range on the evening (and 23.5% from long distance in his last 5) he passed the ball to an in-transition DeMarcus Cousins who could throw up only a feeble game tying attempt.

Kings gonna king.

San Antonio Spurs 112 Memphis Grizzlies 92 (Recap) -  Resistance is futile.  Tony Parker left the game with back spasms after just 9 minutes of play and the Spurs were still able to crush the Grizzlies.  Kawhi Leonard led the way for San Antonio with 26 points on just 13 shots - he pathetically missed one of his shot attempts (what a loser).  Manu Ginobili added 26 of his own on even fewer shots (11) as the Spurs took care of some helpful Suns business.  The Memphis frontline duo of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph combined for just 14 points and 12 rebounds.  The win is the 8th straight for San Antonio over the Grizz.

Golden State Warriors 130 Utah Jazz 102 (Recap) -  Steph Curry and Klay Thompson absolutely punished the Jazz.  Considering their remaining schedule I'm pulling Golden State off this post like I did Portland.

Current Western Conference Standings:

1.San Antonio
60 17 .779 - 9-1 LOST 1
2. Oklahoma City
55 21 .724 4.5
7-3 LOST 2
3. LA Clippers
55 23 .705 5.5 7-3 WON 1
4. Houston 51 25 .671 8.5 7-3 WON 2
5. Portland
50 28 .641 10.5 6-4 WON 1
6. Golden State
48 29 .623 12 7-3 WON 2
7. Dallas
47 31 .603 13.5 6-4 WON 3
46 31 .597 14
8-2 WON 2
- Memphis
45 32 .584 15 5-5 LOST 1

Remaining Schedules:

With something called a NCAA Championship game being played tonight there are no NBA games on the schedule (cute of the NBA to let them have all the attention).  So with that I wanted to present to you the remaining schedules for the teams competing for the last two spots in the West.  Yes I know Full Squad is just two games up on the Suns but their remaining schedule has just 1 playoff team on it so until they drop a game they shouldn't, I'm done thinking about them.

Dallas Mavericks (47-31)

Tuesday April 8th -  @ Utah Jazz

Thursday April 10th - v. San Antonio Spurs

Saturday April 12th -  v. Phoenix Suns

Wednesday April 16th -  @ Memphis Grizzlies

Quick Analysis -  Utah should be a layup and the Spurs will depend entirely on who Gregg Popovich decides to play.  The game isn't a back to back for the Spurs which is a plus - and it precedes their game the next night with the Suns (which is another plus).  As for those last two games -  the only thing I know is that they are both going to be wars.

Dallas will win the tiebreaker over Memphis (3-0 with 1 game to play) and has that rubber match with Phoenix coming (currently 1-1).

Phoenix Suns (46-31)

Wednesday April 9th -  @ New Orleans Pelicans

Friday April 11th -  @ San Antonio Spurs

Saturday April 12 - @ Dallas Mavericks

Monday April 14th -  v. Memphis Grizzlies

Wednesday April 16th -  @ Sacramento Kings

Quick Analysis - New Orleans is far from a pushover so at this point the Suns better know they can't just show up and win.  The Texas Two-Step of Spurs/Mavs does not sound particularly delightful but as stated above it helps that San Antonio will be catching the Suns on the 2nd end of a back to back - getting a split out of that would be enormous.  I'm sure you know the Memphis game will be mildly large and fortunately for the Suns, the Grizz will be coming off having the chase the Lakers around the previous night.  I'd love for the Suns to have already clinched by the time they head to Sacramento but I figure it's unlikely.

I said this in the comments last night but I'd consider the Suns most likely path to the playoffs being finishing the season 3-2 with one of the wins over Memphis, while the Grizz lose Wednesday night in Miami (or to Dallas on the last day of the season).  Going 5-0 would probably work out OK too.  Basically if Memphis finishes the last 5 games better than the Suns, the Suns will probably be out in the cold.

The Suns lose a tiebreaker to Memphis (0-3 with one game to play) and have the rubber match with a Dallas tiebreaker coming (currently 1-1).

Memphis Grizzlies (45-32)

Wednesday April 9th - v. Miami Heat

Friday April 11th - v.  Philadelphia 76ers

Sunday April 13th - @ Los Angeles Lakers

Monday April 14th - @ Phoenix Suns

Wednesday April 16th - v. Dallas Mavericks

Quick Analysis - I can't see any scenario in which the Grizzlies drop a game to the moribund 76ers or the Lakers (because who would do that!).  That Miami game on Wednesday is going to be huge - so if you're not already Team LeBron, get there fast.  As with the Mavs above, those last two are going to be a war.

Memphis holds the tiebreaker over the Suns (3-0 with one game to play) but loses a tiebreaker to the Mavs (0-3 with one game to play).

Three Way Tiebreakers:

As a reminder, three way tiebreakers are sorted by who has the best record amongst the games played between the teams.  As of right now here is how it shakes out:

  • Dallas 4-1
  • Memphis 3-3
  • Phoenix 1-4

You may have discovered by this point there are still 3 fairly large games that could change that a bit but if I'm the Suns I go ahead and try to avoid that three-way tie scenario (you know....pro tip).

Clear as mud?  You're welcome.

Goran Dragic is having a career year playing with coach Jeff Hornacek, who sees a lot of himself in Dragic as a player. Now, Dragic may join Hornacek in an exclusive scoring club that contains only Hornacek and a national hero from back home, Drazen Petrovic.

When the Phoenix Suns acquired Eric Bledsoe last summer to team up with incumbent point guard Goran Dragic, the Suns said it was a perfect match made along the lines of Jeff Hornacek's run as the combo guard next to Kevin Johnson that helped an upstart Suns team to 4 seasons of 53+ wins and a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 1991.

Dragic/Hornacek parallels

Hornacek was drafted into turmoil, his rookie season marred by a team drug scandal and only 27 wins. Dragic was signed as a free agent, his first season as a starter marred by an underperforming, mismatched roster that won only 25 games.

Jeff saw the Suns acquire hot shot PG Kevin Johnson, who had backed up All-Star Mark Price in Cleveland, in one of the roster-purge trades to be the PG of the future.

Dragic saw the Suns acquire hot shot PG Eric Bledsoe, who had backed up All-Star Chris Paul in Los Angeles, in one of the roster-purge trades to be the PG of the future.

Hornacek and KJ clicked immediately because Hornacek deferred the primary point guard duties to the smaller but more athletic (and periodically hurt) Johnson while Horny became the dangerous scorer/passer who averaged 13+ points, 5+ assists, and 3.5+ rebounds for four straight years alongside the mercurial KJ as the Suns won at least 53 games in four straight seasons.

Dragic and Bledsoe clicked immediately because Dragic deferred the primary point guard duties to the smaller but more athletic (and periodically hurt) Bledsoe while Dragic upped his scoring average while keeping his assists at nearly 6 per game.


Jeff Hornacek's best scoring season was 1991-92 when joined the 20/50/40 club by scoring 20.1 points while shooting 50+% from the field (51.2%) and 40+% on three-pointers (43.9%).

In the 21 NBA seasons since, only one guard (Drazen Petrovic, 92-93) and three forwards (Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki) have matched the 20/50/40 feat in a season.

Until now (hopefully).

With five games to go, Goran Dragic's best NBA season is on schedule to join Hornacek, Petrovic and three of the best forwards of all time in the 20/50/40 club. Dragic is averaging 20.5 ppg, .508 FG%, .417 3P%.

Let me repeat. No NBA guard has matched the 20/50/40 marks since 1992-93, and Dragic's own coach was the last American guard to do it.

But that's not the only warm and fuzzy connection here. Dragic remembers Petrovic, a Croatian, fondly.

"He was one of the best European players," Dragic said of Petrovic, who was Yugoslavian along with Dragic until the country split into multiple parts. "When I grew up, he was a national hero back home. If I can do that...(shakes head). It's all hard work, and it's paying off. I cannot sleep on those numbers, I have to keep getting better."

Then I had a nice exchange with Dragic about who was the last NBA player before Petrovic to join the 20/50/40 club.

"Do you know who made it before Petrovic?"

"KJ?" he asked, thinking I was setting him up after the earlier questions, but he guessed wrong. When I shook my head, he said, "I don't know."

"Hornacek," I told him.

"Jeff?!" he yelled in surprise. A big smile opened up. "I didn't know. I'll have to talk to him."

"He told you it was going to work out for you," I said, about pairing with Bledsoe.

"Yes he did!"

As long as Dragic doesn't go off the rails in the next week, he will join his own coach Jeff Hornacek and one of his country's heroes Drazen Petrovic as the only NBA guards to score 20+ points per game while shooting 50+% from the field and 40+% on three pointers.

Not bad for a 6'3" guard from Slovenia once dubbed 'Goran Tragic'. In retrospect, the hiring of Jeff Hornacek could not have been more perfect for the Slovenian guard.

Dragic had a rough start to the Oklahoma City game, missing his three first-quarter shots before coming out. He was frustrated, given the high stakes of the game for the Suns' season.

"He told me, 'Kid, you're in Slovenia, and your fans are cheering for you'," Dragic recalled, of Hornacek trying to get Dragic to clear his head and start fresh in the second quarter. "'It's 0-0, go out and have fun.'"

Dragic came out and scored 19 second-quarter points, making 8 of 10 shots in the process as the Suns grabbed a 9-point halftime lead. That the guard gave credit to his coach for helping him clear his head is yet another sign that Hornacek and Dragic are kindred spirits on the court. Dragic has had similar stories all season long of how encouraging Hornacek is with him and all the players.

Now, with a rare 20/50/40 season under his belt, he should be named to an All-NBA team after the season as one of the top guards in the league.

What a great story to have for the rest of his life.

Welcome to the Madhouse! Bright Side of the Sun is an amazing and diverse community and it deserves a place where the tyranny of topicality does not rule. And that's what The Madhouse is. It's Bright Side of the Sun's place to talk about whatever you want, whenever you want: favorite TV shows, news from around the league or how you'll have to eat every #$@! chicken in this place if any more words come spilling out of my #$#@% mouth. It's all fair game here.

PHOENIX — It’s clear Goran Dragic and P.J. Tucker, holdovers from a failed regime, are two reasons the Phoenix Suns cling to the final Western Conference playoff spot with five games left...

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