INDIANAPOLIS — Goran Dragic and the Phoenix Suns don’t mind skeptics who wait for the clock to strike midnight on a Cinderella season.
After their latest win, it’s getting more and more difficult to cast the Suns’ stunning success as a mirage.
Left off the All-Star team, Dragic, a dynamic point guard playing the best ball of his career, had 28 points and seven assists to lead the high-flying Suns to a 102-94 win over the Indiana Pacers on Thursday night.
Having beaten league-leading Indiana twice in eight days, Phoenix’s fairy tale is only gaining steam, perhaps finally convincing the NBA world that the Suns are for real.
“If I’m honest, I don’t care,” Dragic said. “I know what we can do. We are a family. Sooner or later people will recognize.”
Guard Gerald Green, who scored 16 points in front of jeering fans who rooted him on last season, said Phoenix wasn’t looking for a statement road victory to change the conversation.
“We’re not out here looking for respect or demanding respect,” Green said.
Still, after sweeping a four-game road trip against the Eastern Conference and handing Indiana its second home loss, the Suns just might get it.
“Feels good,” said Dragic, whose swollen left elbow — red and inflamed after the game — did not.
His dominance orchestrating an up-tempo attack provided Phoenix a 19-point lead early in the second quarter, and his teammates made clutch plays to hold off the Pacers’ second-half charge.
Indiana (35-10) missed 14 of 15 3-pointers and committed 15 turnovers as its 10-game home winning streak was snapped in surprising fashion.
“They outplayed us,” said center Roy Hibbert, who had 26 points and six rebounds.
Guard Lance Stephenson led the Pacers with 14 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds, giving him an NBA-best four triple-doubles. Forward David West scored 18 points and point guard George Hill added 17 as Indiana placed all five starters in double figures.
The Pacers made a 27-11 run that began on West’s layup with 10 1/2 minutes left in the third and ended when guard C.J. Watson scored on the first possession of the fourth quarter.
The rally never drew them even, leaving Indiana with its third loss in five games.
“Those guys battled,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “That’s when you have to have some guys with guts to make plays. That’s what I’m proud of.”
While the Pacers’ bench floundered, Phoenix received second-unit boosts from forwards and twin brothers Marcus (16 points) and Markieff Morris (15). The Suns shot 42.9 percent from the field but made 8-of-17 3s.
Markieff Morris stroked a trey that gave Phoenix a 98-92 lead with just under 3 minutes left.
Phoenix blew out the Pacers at the US Airways Center 124-100 last week, scoring 62 points in each half. On Thursday, in a building where the home team had been nearly unbeatable, the Suns had 66 points by halftime, the most Indiana has allowed in any half all season.
Guard Leandro Barbosa canned a buzzer-beating 3 to give Phoenix a 36-19 lead after the first quarter. The Suns took a 19-point lead on five separate possessions in the second quarter, the last when Marcus Morris’ jumper made it 64-45 with 1:20 left. Phoenix settled for a 66-49 halftime edge.
“Too much to overcome,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said.
The Pacers sliced their deficit to 77-74 entering the final frame, with the big difference coming when forward Paul George asked to cross-match onto Dragic after halftime. His defense limited Dragic to seven points and two assists in the second half.
But Phoenix found other methods of production to hold on, closing the game on an 11-4 run after two free throws from Hill had made it 91-90 with 4:20 remaining.
“Suns basketball is team-oriented,” Green said. “We’re not about stats. We’re about making each other better. That’s why we’re successful.”
Few expected that. Rookie general manager Ryan McDonough turned over the roster, and Phoenix was viewed as a team destined for the lottery. In sixth-place in the Western Conference standings, the Suns are playing like a legitimate contender, even with star guard Eric Bledsoe sidelined since Jan. 2.
“For a team that’s trying to prove themselves, to come in and beat a great team on their court is big for us,” Hornacek said.
NOTES: The NBA announced during the game that Pacers C Roy Hibbert was selected as a reserve on the Eastern Conference All-Star team. Fans voted in Pacers F Paul George as a starter, giving Indiana two All-Stars for the sixth time. “This is more about the team and what we’ve accomplished,” Hibbert said in a release distributed by the team. The Suns did not have a player selected to the Feb. 16 exhibition in New Orleans. … Phoenix owns the three highest-scoring halves of the season against the Pacers’ defense. … The Suns were playing their fourth game in five nights, while Indiana returned home on Wednesday from a five-game West Coast road trip.
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