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Suns Strokes: Eric Bledsoe’s big night not enough in loss to Pelicans

Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe (2) drives on New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday in the third quarter during an NBA basketball game, Monday, Feb. 13, 2017, in Phoenix. New Orleans defeated the Phoenix 110-108. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Rested, Eric Bledsoe put on quite the show.

Unfortunately, his game-high 37 points were not enough as the Phoenix Suns lost another one.

That’s now two straight, five of six and 10 of 12 after dropping a 110-108 tightly-contested matchup against the New Orleans Pelicans in front of 16,321 at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Monday.

Bledsoe scored the Suns’ final seven points, his 3-pointer giving the team a 108-107 lead with 58.1 seconds left. The Pelicans, however, answered with an Anthony Davis five-foot hook shot and Tyreke Evans hitting 1-of-2 free throws, the latter of which opened the door for the Suns (17-39) to force overtime.

But Bledsoe missed a layup and P.J. Tucker failed on two put-back attempts in traffic, amidst contact.

Bledsoe, who skipped Saturday’s trip to Houston in what was a planned day of rest, shot 11-of-22 from the field and 12-of-14 from the foul line in what was his 11th 30-point effort of the season. He also had two rebounds, five assists and three steals in 39 minutes.

Devin Booker added 21 points.

Tucker, meanwhile, recorded his third double-double of the season with 11 points and a career-high 16 rebounds.

Davis led the Pelicans (22-34) with 24 points and 10 rebounds.

The game featured 26 lead changes, a season-high for the Suns.

THE GOOD

It was nearly six minutes into the game before the Suns took their first lead of the game. It happened in the midst of a 9-0 run in which Chriss scored four, Booker three and Bledsoe two for a 20-17 advantage at the 3:47 mark. Bledsoe finished the period with a game-high 12 points while shooting 3-of-5 from the field, including one 3-pointer and five made free throws. He added two assists.

Looking refreshed, Bledsoe was back at it in the second quarter. He accounted for nine points — he scored six and assisted on a Booker 3-pointer — in a 14-0 run that put the Suns ahead 56-44 at the 2:58 mark, their largest lead of the first half. During this nearly five-minute stretch, the Pelicans missed five field goals and turned the ball over three times, two of which were committed by Davis.

No one gets after a loose ball like Tucker. In the third quarter alone, he grabbed nine rebounds, six on the defensive end. His 14 total rebounds entering the final period tied a season-high (Feb.1 vs. the Clippers). He also added four points in his 10 minutes of court time. Booker, though, was the team’s leading scorer with six, hitting 3-of-6 field goal attempts. Bledsoe added five with one assist.

Playing all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter, Bledsoe scored 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field, including a pair of 3-pointers and two free throws. He improved to 7-of-11 on field goal attempts to take the lead in the final 1:30 of the fourth quarter or overtime with a 3-pointer (108-107 with 58.1 seconds left) and then fell to 7-of-12 with a miss trailing 109-108 with 23 seconds left in the game.

THE BAD

It was a rough first five minutes for Marquese Chriss. First, he missed four of his six shot attempts. Second, tasked with guarding Davis, he allowed the Pelicans leading scorer and All-Star to score six points: a 14-foot jump shot, ally-oop layup and two free throws. Third, Chriss picked up his first and second fouls, the latter of which meant his exit for the bench in favor of Jared Dudley.

After missing their first two shot attempts of the second quarter, the culmination of a 2-of-13 stretch spanning the final seven minutes of the quarter prior, the Pelicans made seven straight field goals to take a 44-42 lead at the 7:45 mark of the period, their last advantage of the half. Tyreke Evans and E’Twaun Moore each had the hot hand, scoring six and seven points respectively.

Halftime did not slow down the Pelicans. They opened the third quarter on a 10-2 run, part of a much larger 17-2 stretch spanning the final two minutes of the second quarter. Buddy Hield’s 3-pointer capped the scoring to put New Orleans ahead 63-60 at the 9:16 mark. By the way, that was Hield’s lone field goal of the period. Davis led the way with seven points and five rebounds.

With 8:06 left in the fourth quarter and the Suns leading 89-92, the Pelicans went on a 23-12 run for a 105-101 lead with 2:14 remaining. During this stretch, New Orleans shot 9-of-10 from the field, fueled by eight points from Evans and six from both Davis and Jrue Holiday. For the period, they shot 13-of-20 (65.0 percent), never getting stopped on consecutive possessions the last 9:28.

STAT OF THE GAME

9: That’s the total point differential in the four matchups between the teams this season, a series won 3-1 by the Pelicans

HE SAID IT

“We wanted to get the right shot, not really the quick shot,” head coach Earl Watson said, referring to final 18 seconds. “The first option was Booker in the post. They played that pretty well. We had Eric at the top of the half-court line … he got to the rim, missed the little easy layup, then fought for the ball. P.J. Tucker ends up with it twice. I though the last one he got bumped, but, you know, no call. So, that’s how it goes.”

NOTED

– Bledsoe has scored in double-digits in a career-long 42 straight games, the longest Suns’ streak since Amar’e Stoudemire (51) in 2009-10.

– Tucker has recorded at least one steal in a career-long 17 straight games, the longest Suns’ streak since Shawn Marion (17) in 2006-07.

– Alex Len scored 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting, his third straight game with double-digits scoring for his longest such streak of the season.

– The Pelicans played without forwards Terrence Jones (right thumb sprain, third straight game missed) and Dante Cunningham (personal).

– The rosters between the two teams featured six ex-players from the University of Kentucky: Bledsoe, Booker, Brandon Knight, Tyler Ulis plus Davis and Jones.

UP NEXT

It’s the final game before the NBA All-Star break.

And in town to close out this brief two-game homestand are the Los Angeles Lakers, who visit on Wednesday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

These teams have split the first two of four meetings this season with both of those contests being played at Staples Center. Most recently the teams met on Dec. 9, a 119-115 Suns win in which Bledsoe scored 30 points on 10-of-18 shooting with nine assists, three steals and a highlight-reel block of Timofey Mozgov.

The Suns have won 10 straight home games against the Lakers (starting Feb. 19, 2012) for the first time since a similar 10-game run from Nov. 22, 1977-March 18, 1981.

Overall, the Suns are 15-5 in their last 20 games in the series.

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