"That was a must-win game," shooting guard Gerald Green said, after scoring a career high 41 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder. "Doesn't matter who we were playing, that was a 'must win'."
The Phoenix Suns have lost 4 of their last 6 games, barely clinging to a playoff spot, as they suffer through injuries that threaten to derail a Cinderella season. They had just lost an important game to the Los Angeles Clippers, and are about to embark on a season-ending stretch of 14 road games vs. only seven home games.
Starters Eric Bledsoe (knee) and Miles Plumlee (knee) are both out, but expect to return to the lineup very soon. But in the interim, the Suns face a murders row of tough opponents - home against the Clippers (41-20) and Thunder (league-best 46-15), then on the road against Golden State (38-24) and against the Clippers. If they'd lost all four games, the Suns would likely have dropped into 9th place in the West.
A must-win game indeed.
"It's good for us to get a win against a playoff team that you know is going to be there," Green said. "This is a good win for us, but we gotta keep it up. We gotta play like this against the first and the last place team. It's the NBA. Anybody can beat you."
The Thunder came out strong, taking an early 10-point lead that stretched to 16 by the middle of the third quarter. But the Suns were undaunted.
"We always feel like we're in the game," P.J. Tucker said. "You've seen it all year from us. We get down and feels like it's never over. Some fans left tonight thinking it was over. They're crazy, cause we are always in the game. We always fight."
Sure enough, the resilient Suns went on a thrilling 28-5 run to take the lead and the momentum. The whole run happened in a span of just five game minutes (3:47 left in the third, to 9:33 left in the 4th). Gerald Green scored 25 points in the third quarter alone (nearly a Suns record) and the Morris twins and Ish Smith helped lift the Suns to a new gear as the crowd rocked and rolled.
"We get down, they keep playing," coach Hornacek said. "Sometimes somebody gets hot like Gerald, like he did."
Goran Dragic says that, even after 61 games, he is still surprised by his team's tough mindedness.
"Sometimes, yep," he said with a laugh. "It's always nice to be surprised, even so far into the season. We played unbelievable (in that 28-5 run). The defense was tough. It's hard, they switch a lot. Sometimes when they switch we kind of stop, play one-on-one. But we didn't do that. We passed around and made everybody involved and it was much easier."
But don't think the Suns will bask in this win, or that Green will think he's reached any goals.
"I haven't done anything in this league," Green said after scoring a career high 41 and has scored in double digits a career-best 16 straight games. "Every day I come into practice, into a game, I'm just trying to prove myself.
"I haven't made my goal yet, which is to make the playoffs. If we don't make the playoffs, I don't feel like this season was a success. When I wake up in the morning, it's on to the next game."
But for now, we Suns fans can enjoy the win. The Suns don't play again until Sunday night, so we can relive those memories for a solid couple of days.
Consensus on media row was that this was the loudest US Airways has been in three years, pumped up by the Suns making shot after shot in that third quarter comeback.
"The fans were unbelievable," Green said. "That really got us going tonight."
As the season has gone on, the fans have been more and more a factor.
"They've been great all year," Green said. "They've been consistent with us, supporting us all year. Even games we play like crap, they're still with us, cheering us on. They're just getting better and better and better. You see the crowds, and getting loud. When I go to the grocery store, the fans acknowledge me and say how excited they are to see us.
"They're a big part of reason we are having the season we're having. We play great at home because of them. They give us energy. They're heckling the opposing team all game. We need that. We're gonna need them for us to be successful, to go deep in the playoffs."
Playoffs. From a team that wasn't supposed to be here. With all their players healthy, the Suns were supposed to win fewer than 25 games. Take Bledsoe out, take Plumlee out, give Dragic a bum ankle, and still the Suns win.
"We're just kind of stupid," P.J. Tucker said earlier in the season. "We just want to win."
The Suns don't care about any of that stuff around them. They only care about getting to the next practice, to the next game. They want to finish this season right.
Last word goes to Gerald Green, on when he twisted his ankle at the end of the game on a big-time rebound: "I got four fingers, man, I ain't worried about that."