Maybe not a must win, but an important win — a key win.
The Phoenix Suns (46-31) move back into the playoff picture, leapfrogging the Memphis Grizzlies (45-32) — which had lost earlier in the day — and into 8th place in the Western Conference with a 122-115 victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder in front of a soldout US Airways Center on Sunday night.
Goran Dragic scored 26, Gerald Green 24 and P.J. Tucker 22, setting a new career-high.
“It’s all or nothing right now. We only got a few more games so it’s win or go home for us,” Green said.
The Suns took a 14-point third quarter lead only to see the Thunder — who got a combined 71 points from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook — go on a 24-9 run to take a 95-94 advantage a minute into the fourth quarter.
Down one, 112-111 with 2:39 to play, the Suns scored 10 unanswered points to secure their second straight win and second in a row over the Thunder.
“It was a good test for us and one that these guys passed,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said of the effort.
The Suns made nine of 10 free throws down the stretch while the Thunder missed eight of their final nine shots.
Dragic scored all 19 of his first half points in the second quarter. He hit eight straight field goals and had 13 points in a row during one stretch.
Green scored 11 third quarter points, hitting a trio of three-point attempts. He finished with four three-pointers for his 22nd game with four or more beyond-the-arc shots, the third-most in the NBA.
Tucker hit four three-pointers, setting a new career-high, and had two blocks, tying a career-high. He played tough defense on Durant, who took a career-high 15 three-point attempts with only four makes.
Eric Bledsoe had 18 points and tied a season-high with three steals. The Suns improved to 15-0 this season when he and Dragic score 16 or more points in the same game and the duo has done so in each of the Suns’ last seven victories.
The Suns allowed the Thunder to score 38 third quarter points, two points shy of an opponent third quarter season-high. Durant had 12, giving him 25 points. It was his 41st straight game of scoring 25 or more, passing Michael Jordan for the third-longest single-season streak in NBA history.
Westbrook enjoys playing against the Suns. His 33-point performance was his third-highest scoring total of the season with two of those three coming against Phoenix (season-high 36 points at Phoenix on March 6).
Channing Frye is on the wrong end of a shooting streak. He’s missed 10 straight 3-point attempts and is 4-of-24 from beyond the arc in the past five games.
STAT OF THE GAME
The Suns shot a season-high 58.4 percent from the field and improved to 20-0 this season when shooting 50 percent or better.
HE SAID IT
“(Tucker) is our emotional leader in terms of playing hard,” Hornacek said. “This year he has come into the year and made his corner threes. 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 then we ask him to score a little bit, too. He’ has been invaluable for us.”
The Suns, 8-2 over their past 10 games, won the season series (2-1), beating the Thunder twice in the same season for the first time since sweeping them in the 2008-09 season.
Bledsoe left the game and headed to the locker room early in the third quarter. He emerged a short time later with his right wrist, which he hurt against the Knicks and has aggravated a couple of times since, re-tapped and returned to action.
The Suns and Thunder combined for 15 first half turnovers, but had only a combined six points off of the other team’s mistakes. The Suns scored two points off of seven turnovers, while the Thunder scored four points off of eight turnovers.
It’s the final extended road trip of the regular season.
The Suns will play three games in four nights, beginning at New Orleans on Wednesday, April 9. Tip-off is scheduled for 5 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
The Suns are 3-0 against the Pelicans, winning the most recent matchup 116-104 at US Airways Center on Feb. 28. Dragic, who was a gametime decision with a sprained right ankle, set a career-high in scoring for the third time in the month with a career-best 40 points.
The Suns last swept New Orleans in 2006-07.