February 24, 2010 | 7:35am
It has to be one of the biggest wins of the season for the Phoenix Suns, because so many things pointed to a loss as they headed into Oklahoma City on Tuesday night for their game against the Thunder:
The Suns were only 14-16 on the road, the Thunder was on a nine-game winning streak, and the Suns were without an ailing Steve Nash, who didn't even make the trip to OKC.
But Amar'e Stoudemire came up big again with 30 points, and Jason Richardson also picked up the slack in Nash's absence with 20 and 13 rebounds. Not only that, but Richardson sank a floater with 0.7 seconds left in the game to seal the 104-102 victory against the streaking Thunder.
After Richardson sank two free throws with 40 seconds left to tie the game at 102, he a forced a big turnover by former ASU star James Harden. Then he won a jump ball. Finally, Coach Alvin Gentry put the ball in Richardson's hands for the Suns' final play of the game. Richardson whizzed past the Thunder's Thabo Sefolosha and maneuvered around Russell Westbrook near the free-throw line as he floated the ball toward the goal. In it went, and the Suns had a 104-102 lead. The Thunder quickly called timeout and set up for a last-ditch attempt to win it. Westbrook heaved up a baseline shot as time expired that just missed going in. Suns win!
It looked as if the Suns were going to let this one get away, because the teams were tied at the end of the third quarter and the Thunder appeared to be pulling away during the fourth. With about 3:30 left in the game, the Thunder had a 10-point lead, thanks mostly to superstar-in-the-making Kevin Durant, who had 36 points, his 29th straight game with at least 25 points. He is now just 0.2 points per game behind LeBron James as league leader in scoring.
But even without Nash, the Suns looked inspired down the stretch. Part of the credit has to go to Nash's replacement, Goran Dragic, who made only his third start of the season. The second-year point guard played 40 minutes, scored 16 points, and handed-out a career-high 10 assists. With Nash's suffering from issues with abdominal muscles, plus his chronically bad back, it's good to know that his backup can get the job done. Grant Hill also had a huge game, scoring 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting and pulling down nine rebounds.
The win gives the 35-23 Suns the fifth seed in the Western Conference playoff race with 23 games left. The loss bumped the Thunder back into the sixth seed. Tonight, the Suns fly back home to continue their charge toward a third or fourth seed with a game against the Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers are 22-34 and out of the playoff hunt in the Eastern Conference. Led by Andre Iguodala (17.2 points, 6.9 rebounds per game), the Sixers are without the services of Allen Iverson, who has played in only 28 games this season.
Tip-off: 7 p.m. TV: My45 (channel 9). Radio: KTAR 620 AM. More info: www.nba.com/suns