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Suns open up big lead late to take 3-0 series lead on Spurs

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Associated Press
5/8/2010 1:37:14 AM
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SAN ANTONIO -- The Phoenix Suns would be thrilled to finally beat the Spurs in the playoffs by any margin.

But a sweep? That would be especially sweet.

Phoenix is one win away from ending years of playoff misery against San Antonio, taking a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinals with a 110-96 victory Friday night, putting the Spurs in a historically irreparable hole.

"I think it's safe to say that may have been the best fourth-quarter performance I have ever seen in a playoff game," Suns forward Grant Hill said.

He wasn't talking about the team.

He was just talking about Goran Dragic.

The backup point guard scored 23 of his 26 points in a brilliant fourth quarter, rendering Steve Nash unneeded until the final three minutes. Amare Stoudemire? He never even took off his warmups in the fourth quarter.

Dragic hit nine of 11 shots in the fourth, including all four three-point attempts.

After his last one with 5.7 seconds left, the Suns impatiently waited for the final seconds to tick away before swarming Dragic. The Spurs shuffled away in a 3-0 deficit -- which no team in NBA history has ever come back from.

Stunned Spurs fans could still be overheard muttering "Goran Dragic? Goran Dragic?" long after most of the AT&T Center emptied. It was about that time that Suns coach Alvin Gentry, having finished his post-game news conference, walked back across the court.

Goran Dragic?

"He's my secret weapon," Gentry said while breezing past the scorer's table, smiling wide. "I don't know where he came from, either."

Dragic said he's been there all along. He was apparently disguised under the 7.9 points he averaged during the regular season, and his 5.6 scoring average in the playoffs entering Game 3.

"During halftime I was talking with Coach Gentry and he told me I have to be more aggressive and drive the lane," said Dragic, playing in his first career post-season. "When I came back on the court I just did what he told me."

The Spurs have put Phoenix through a decade of post-season misery, ousting the Suns from the playoffs four consecutive times since 2003. Another win finally ends all that.

Game 4 is Sunday night in San Antonio.

"Everything we tried, it was a bucket and it was demoralizing," Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. "We're going to have to have a perfect game."

Ginobili led the Spurs with 27 points while welcoming Tony Parker back to the starting lineup, but it was a move that didn't work out as the Spurs planned.

Parker had come off the bench since returning from a broken right hand last month, and finally reclaimed his starting role from George Hill with the hopes of rescuing this series.

Hill had started 46 consecutive games since January but has struggled against Phoenix. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said it was just a matter of time until Parker -- who had started every playoff game since 2002 for the Spurs before this post-season -- would get his job back.

But it wasn't exactly a triumphant return. Parker averaged 23 as a reserve in Games 1 and 2 but didn't provide the same jolt while reclaiming his starting job. He scored 10 points on 5-of-17 shooting.

Parker got an X-ray on his shoulder after the game, but the results weren't immediately known.

The Spurs blew a big lead for the second straight game. The Suns trailed 39-21 early in the second quarter while missing 13 of their first 21 shots, putting Phoenix in the biggest hole it faced thus far in the playoffs.

But like the other deficits, this one didn't last.

"Definitely an opportunity wasted," said Spurs forward Tim Duncan, who had 15 points and 13 rebounds.

Dragic's layup on the second Phoenix possession of the fourth quarter put the Suns ahead 73-72, their first lead of the game. Phoenix outscored San Antonio 39-24 in the fourth quarter and shot 71 per cent from the field.

Jason Richardson had 21 points and Hill added 18 for the Suns.

NOTES: Duncan's dreadful free throw shooting continues. He was 5 of 12. ... The Suns have trailed by double figures three times in the playoffs and have come back to win every time.

Tim Duncan and Steve Nash (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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