PHOENIX — P.J. Tucker went head-to-head — literally — with Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant on Sunday night.
As expected, the Thunder’s star forward won the battle on the score sheet. However, Phoenix’s overachieving forward got his as well, and the upstart Suns emerged with the win.
With his nostrils stuffed with cotton to stop the bleeding from a head-to-head collision with Durant in the final minute of the third quarter, Tucker scored 11 of his career-high 22 points in the fourth quarter, and the Suns improved their playoff hopes with a 122-115 win Sunday.
Tucker hit four of five 3-point attempts, shot 7-for-9 from the floor overall and added seven rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks in 40 minutes. He played 23 minutes in the second half, exiting only long enough to get his bloody nose stuffed and his blood-stained jersey changed.
“I wasn’t coming out the game. Not this one. We had to win,” said Tucker, who did all his repairs in the tunnel under the stands between the third and fourth quarter. “I told them to check my nose to see if it was broken. When it wasn’t, I said they could check it more after the game. I had to go play.”
The Suns (46-31) moved past the Memphis Grizzlies and into sole possession of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Grizzlies (45-32) lost to the Spurs in San Antonio on Sunday. Phoenix trails seventh-place Dallas (47-31) by a half-game. The Mavericks beat the Kings in Sacramento on Sunday.
Durant scored 38 points, reaching at least 25 for the 41st consecutive game. His streak is now one game longer than the one Michael Jordan produced during the 1991-92 season. The two longest streaks of players scoring 25 or more points belong to Oscar Robertson (46 straight during the 1963-64 season for the Cincinnati Royals) and Wilt Chamberlain, who did it in all 80 games of the 1961-62 season with the Philadelphia Warriors
“I really don’t care about (the streak). I wish it was over,” said Durant, who missed 11 of 15 3-pointers. “I shot 15 (3s), and I felt like every one of them was good. They just bounced out, but that’s how the dice rolled. They made plays, we didn’t.”
Guard Russell Westbrook added 33 points for the Thunder, but he missed seven of nine 3-pointers.
Phoenix guard Goran Dragic scored 19 of his 26 points in the second quarter, and guard Gerald Green added 24 points, going 5-for-7 from 3-point range.
“We knew the urgency of winning this game tonight, and we left it all on the floor,” Green said. “We know time is running down. It’s all or nothing. We don’t have a month left. It’s win or go home, and the last two games have shown a lot.”
“P.J. was the MVP today for me. The ability to keep knocking down that corner 3, to get rebounds and to make it hard for Durant on the other end was big. I know (Durant) got his 25-plus, but P.J. make him work. He’s a big reason why we won today.”
The Thunder are 23-14 on the road this season, the second-best road mark in the NBA behind the Spurs, but they dropped both games in Phoenix.
“They give you trouble because they are small, they attack, they get to the free-throw line, they can make 3s … and they are desperate right now,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said. “They are fighting for their playoff lives. When (they) have good shooters, you can’t have mistakes, and we had too many mistakes on the defensive end.”
Durant put the Thunder up for the last time, 113-112, on two free throws with 2:39 left. The Suns scored the next 10 points, with forward Markieff Morris’ driving layup with 2:20 left putting them up for good.
Bledsoe had a key blocked shot and steal from Durant in the final minute, and he sealed the game with four free throws to give him 18 points for the night.
“I turned the ball over, and that cost us the game,” Durant said. “They put us in some bad positions, and they hit some 3s, too. They’re a tough team to stop.”
Westbrook had 19 in the first half, keeping the Thunder close. Dragic drained another 3-pointer and forward Marcus Morris added a 17-footer to give the Suns a 62-53 lead at intermission.
Green had 11 points in the third quarter, and he expanded Phoenix’s lead to 85-71 on a turnaround jumper with 6:10 left. The Thunder outscored the Suns 20-9 the rest of the period, and Durant reached the 25-point mark on a driving dunk with 13.9 seconds left to pull the Thunder to within 94-91.
NOTES: Suns F Gerald Green scored 32 points in 29 minutes in Friday’s win over the Portland Trail Blazers, the fourth time this season he scored 30 or more points in 30 minutes or fewer. It is the first time a player accomplished the feat since Michael Jordan had five such games for the Chicago Bulls during the 1990-91 season. The previous time the Suns played the Thunder, March 6, Green had a career-high 41 points in 40 minutes. … Suns G Goran Dragic is averaging 20.4 points a game and shooting 50.7 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from 3-point range. The last guard to average 20 points while shooting 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range over an entire season was Drazen Petrovic for the New Jersey Nets in 1992-93.
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