Dragan Bender had the game of his young career.
And the Phoenix Suns blasted the Oklahoma City Thunder in their best game of the season.
Bender, who just turned 20 years old less than two months ago, set career highs in many categories, including minutes (39), points (20), threes (6), assists (4) and bad ass gestures after punking Thunder players with blocks and threes (approximately 6).
And then there’s Josh Jackson, who had HIS best game of his career too. 17 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists. Looking under control the whole game.
And of course there’s T.J. Warren (21 points) and Devin Booker (26) who set the stage and put the Suns in the drivers seat.
By the way, the Thunder’s Carmelo Anthony has lost 15 of his last 16 games in Phoenix.
Think on that for a minute.
The game opened with Carmelo Anthony making a three, followed by a Tyson Chandler putback dunk before it got a little sloppy for both sides.
Steven Adams has become a good low-post scorer in his fifth season, scoring both times given a chance with good position.
The Suns took advantage of chaos to score, especially with Tyson Chandler getting a pair of cleanup finishes around a nice cut by Warren (and find by Marquese Chriss).
Basically, the Suns kept it close in the first quarter while the Thunder came into the game with the mindset it would be too easy to win the game.
Even when the Thunder threatened to run away with it - as they took a 6-point lead and Devin Booker sat with more fouls (2) than field goals (1) - the Suns pulled back into it again with their second unit.
Josh Jackson was active and in control of himself - a good sign, for sure - scoring 7 points and grabbing 4 rebounds and Dragan Bender had some great help defense (3 blocks, 2 rebounds).
The Suns ended the first quarter with a 28-23 lead, closing on a 12-1 run.
The second unit continued the big run, extending the lead to 35-28 at one point before the Thunder went on a 6-0 run to pull within one.
The Suns broke ahead again by playing scrappy, while Westbrook kept the Thunder scoring with three straight gymnastical drives to the hoop that made the crowd ooh and ahh.
Dragan Bender collected his fourth block of the first half on Westbrook’s fourth straight bulldog drive, sending the ball into the stands while the crowd cheered and Westbrook shook his head in disbelief. No Russ, that was not a foul.
For the last several minutes of the second quarter, Devin Booker played point guard with Josh Jackson and T.J. Warren on the wings with him, and Tyson Chandler and Dragan Bender the bigs.
Bender and JJ had their best halves of basketball in a long time, if ever. Bender had 4 blocks, 4 rebounds, a three, an assist and a steal. JJ had 9 points, 7 rebounds and a nice assist.
Devin Booker had 13 points and 4 nice assists, and the Suns ended the half with a 9-point lead.
A 9-point lead on a healthy Thunder squad that has been on a roll.
Playing three guys 21-and-under major minutes.
Let’s do this.
Welp. Marquese Chriss has a strained hip and won’t be back. Let’s see if Dragan Bender can continue to produce in this half.
But the Suns did play well, got Devin Booker cooking and built a 14-point lead before the Thunder went on a run to pull within one as Tyson and Devin clearly got momentarily tired.
Luckily, Josh Jackson came back in to bring a spark, and Dragan Bender and T.J. Warren picked up a bit of slack. And then the Suns lead was back to 10. That lineup, with Alex Len rebounding like a demon, played very well.
Russell Westbrook and Paul George are both threatening to get triple doubles, but before the end of the third quarter, Dragan Bender had a 4x4 in his back pocket: 11 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 blocks.
Devin Booker was up to 26 points, while T.J. Warren had 21 and Josh Jackson was close to a double-double: 12 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists.