Finally, after 4 long months, Goran Dragic played a game. For reasons I can't quite get behind he was not a starter, instead coming off the bench with 2 minutes left in the 1st.
You could see the intensity and tempo pick up the second the Dragić brothers stepped on the floor. Although Goran started playing confidently enough, he ended up missing his first step back jumper completely. Made up for it with a typical Dragon drive to the basket on the next and final possession of the first quarter. He went on to miss about 3 or 4 more shots, including an open 3. I think he realized he was forcing it too much and started handing out assists instead. Could have had more than 8; a few led to free throws for teammates and some were just badly handled by teammates. Either way you could see he was getting more comfortable. He really came back breathing fire in the 4th, scoring 14 points in his last 8 minutes and bringing back that feeling of "there's no way Goran Dragić is letting us lose".
He finished with 18pt (7/16), 8as, 3re, 1st, 2/2 ft (14 pt in the 4th) in roughly 25 minutes of playing time.
Brother Zoran Dragic was very active too, throwing himself all over the floor while going after the ball. He finished with 13 points and 4 steals. He could have had 15, had he not missed that last layup so badly, even Goran was in disbelief. His response in the form of raising his hands in a gesture clearly saying "How did you manage to miss that?" to his brother made me laugh so hard I got over the miss quickly.
Statements after the game:
Goran Dragić: "New Zealand is aways an unfavourable opponent. As history shows - all our matches have been very close. We started badly, in a cramp, nevertheless in the end we focused and with good defense got the win. For me it was the first game since April 14th. Have to admit, I was kind of nervous. I told my brother Zoran I'm feeling "butterflies" in my stomach. But the main thing is we won. Surely we can play much better, in the upcoming games I will be getting in better form, so I can't wait for the new challenges. Sunday's game against Greece will definitely be a real test. Greeks are a strong team, that will want to pay us back for that last big loss in Stožice (Ljubljana)."
Coach Zdovc: "The team was tired, since we had an intense practice yesterday and at the same time the opponent was unfavourable. They have good shooters in all positions, which we could see particularly in the first half. For this part of the preparation period this was the type of game we needed. It will be like this at the World Cup: competition you have to overcome and not underestimate. In the first half we were too anaemic. There was no real communication between players, no firmness on defense and our offense was in a cramp. In the second half, we partially fixed these things, but I still can't be happy with the whole picture, since some player weren't playing at their levels. Goran Dragić, who was playing his first game in a long time, was great. I wasn't expecting him to play as he did. In key moments he took it upon himself and decided the game. However he will not be able to beat all the opponents alone. He needs his teammates, today sadly he did not have enough of them."
BONUS INFO: In case anyone is interested in how coach Zdovc feels about the Suns limitations, here's a translated quote from delo.si: "I'm bothered by the Americans demands, they undermine the authority of the coach, which to me is unacceptable. But slowly we got to our original proposal of Goran playing more games with less minutes (per game). At first Phoenix insisted he play in only three. After Goran called them, they agreed to 5, if he plays a little less minutes. Looks like they had to have the last word" - apparently smiling while explaining.