The Phoenix Suns have 40 percent of the Western Conference's All-Star starters in Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire. They also have other veteran NBA stars in Grant Hill and Jason Richardson on their roster.
A 30-point game by any of those "name" players wouldn't have surprised anyone at EnergySolutions Arena on Monday night.
Instead, it was baby-faced Slovenian guard Goran Dragic, who blistered the nets for Phoenix and had many Utah Jazz fans in the crowd asking, "Who is that guy?" In the end, the Jazz spoiled Dragic's coming out party, rallying to beat the Sun, 124-115. But Dragic's career-high 32 point game was still fun for his teammates to witness.
"It was beautiful," said Nash of Dragic's big night. "Goran played amazingly and that is huge for us. It's exciting to see him develop and get some confidence and have some big games like that. It's a lot of fun for me and, I think, all of our teammates to see him do so well."
Dragic, who averages 7.7 points per game, now has set career highs in scoring in back-to-back games. His previous career best was 20 points, set just Saturday night against Golden State.
"Goran shot the ball well tonight and it gave us a spark," said Stoudemire. "With (Leandro Barbosa) out (due to a wrist injury) we need guys like him to step up and he did a great job of that tonight."
Dragic actually set his career high in the first half alone, scoring 24 points in helping the Suns to a 69-58 lead at the break. In that half the 6-3 combo guard in his second year in the NBA went 7-for-8 from the field — including 4-for-4 from 3-point range.
"I shot the ball well — especially in the first 30 minutes I was really hot," said the 24-year-old that looks like a teen.
"But in the end we lost the game. It was a tough loss for us."
Dragic made six of his seven 3-pointers for the game, but he wasn't the only Sun to shoot well from long range. Phoenix finished with 17 treys, with Channing Frye nailing five off the bench.
Phoenix's long-range bombing had them up by 17 points late in the third quarter before Nash picked up his fourth personal foul and the Jazz started a 16-0 run. It was the Suns' sixth loss in their last eight games.
"It was a good effort by us, but it was one of those situations where we were up 17 — we've got to be able to maintain that. We've got to be able to hold on," said Suns coach Alvin Gentry. "We've got to be able to win those games."
Nash dished out 15 assists to go along with 15 points in the losing cause and he became just the eighth player in league history with 8,000 or more assists in the process.
Still, it was no night for celebrating.
"It was a tough loss for us," said Nash, echoing comments from his coach and teammates.