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Suns Strokes: James Harden leads Rockets to victory as time expires
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Suns Strokes: James Harden leads Rockets to victory as time expires

The stars had been misaligned — or just flat out missing — in the Phoenix Suns’ previous two games.

No Kobe Bryant. No LaMarcus Aldridge. Neither made the trip to the Valley when the Lakers and Blazers visited, respectively.

That luck ran out Friday with the Houston Rockets in town.

MVP candidate James Harden hit a step-back 20-foot jump shot that rattled through the basket as time expired, giving the Rockets (30-14) a 113-111 victory in front of 16,701 at US Airways Center.

“It’s a great feeling,” the former ASU Sun Devil said. “Tie game, on the road, you live for those moments.”

It was the third time this season the Suns (26-19) lost on a buzzer-beater.

Harden, the NBA’s leading scorer, finished with a game-high 33 points on 8-of-18 shooting. He made three 3s and was 14-of-17 from the foul line.

“Great players make great plays,” said head coach Jeff Hornacek, whose team had been the third-hottest in the league, winning 14 of 18 since Dec. 17.

Harden added a game-high 10 assists for his 11th double-double of the season and league-leading 20th 30-point game.

What preceded Harden’s second career game-winning buzzer-beater was a furious Suns rally. Down 16 with 6:11 to play, the Suns went on a 25-9 run to tie the game at 111-111 on a Markieff Morris layup and-one with 16.6 seconds left. Isaiah Thomas scored eight points during the run, while Marcus Morris had seven and Markieff Morris added six.

Thomas finished with 22 points. Markieff Morris had 21.

Eric Bledsoe was the high-point man for the Suns with 25 points to go with eight rebounds and a team-high nine assists, just nearly missing his third triple-double of the season.

The loss snapped the Suns’ four-game winning streak and season-best seven straight wins at home.

THE GOOD

Markieff Morris scored all six of his first-quarter points in less than two minutes, helping the Suns overcome an early five-point deficit. The Suns scored on five straight possessions to tie the game at 16-16 with 5:04 left in the quarter.

Thomas and Gerald Green combined for 24 first-half points. Green scored all 10 of his points in the second quarter, shooting 4-of-8, including 2-of-4 from 3. Thomas was 4-of-11 from the field but 2-of-4 from 3 in the half.

Brandon Wright blocked two shots in a span of 43 seconds in the second quarter. First, he got Patrick Beverley driving to the basket, and then Harden. Wright entered the game with just four total blocks in his first five appearances with the Suns.

Bledsoe scored 11 points in the third quarter, shooting a perfect 3-of-3 from the field and making 5-of-7 free throws. He has scored at least 25 points in back-to-back games for the first time this season and just the third time in his career.

Markieff Morris was at it again in the fourth quarter, scoring 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting, plus three free throws. He was 9-of-14 for the game and finished with his 12th 20-point effort of the season and 36th of his career.

Alex Len recorded a team-best 11 rebounds and two blocked shots to go with four points. It was the fifth time in his last seven games that he grabbed at least 10 rebounds.

THE BAD

Corey Brewer’s 10-foot floater capped a 14-2 run, giving the Rockets a 30-18 lead with 1:22 remaining in the first quarter. It was their largest advantage of the half.

After missing four of his first five shots, Harden made 4-of-6 field goals, including a pair of 3s, in the second quarter for 13 points. He added three assists, meaning he had a hand in 20 of the Rockets’ 28 points in the quarter.

P.J. Tucker picked up a technical foul — his sixth of the season — just 26 seconds into the third quarter, and he was immediately replaced by Marcus Morris as part of Hornacek’s get-a-T-and-sit rule implemented on Jan. 11. The Suns had gone a season-best five straight games without a technical foul.

Five minutes later, Goran Dragic was assessed a technical foul for arguing a non-foul call. It was his fourth of the season, and like Tucker, he was immediately benched. Green re-entered the game in his place.

Josh Smith had a dunk and two jumpers for six points during a 12-2 run that put the Rockets ahead 73-60 with 7:02 to play in the third quarter. At the time, it was Houston’s biggest lead of the game.

The Rockets made 10 3-pointers, marking their 33rd game with at least 10 3s this season, which leads the league.

STAT OF THE GAME

64-46: The number of Rockets’ points in the paint compared to the Suns, who allowed 60 or more points in the paint for the sixth time this season.

HE SAID IT

“I didn’t feel, the coaches didn’t feel, that we were ready to play tonight. They scored 32 points in the first quarter on us on our court. Just from the start, we weren’t intense. We gave up so many easy things that I would say for the first eight minutes of the game, everything that we went over on our scouting report this morning, on the board before the game, the guys did none of it. I don’t know what we were doing that first eight minutes. It’s a sign that you’re not ready to play and you’re not focused. Yeah, we made a great comeback, but it should’ve never got to that point.” -Hornacek

NOTED

The Suns have lost four straight games to the Rockets and fell to 4-1 during their franchise-record-long eight-game homestand.

The Suns shot 46.2 percent (42-of-91) from the field, snapping a season-best run of four straight games of at least 50 percent shooting from the floor.

Dwight Howard left the game late in the first quarter because of a sprained right ankle and did not return after five points and three rebounds in 8:29 of playing time.

T.J. Warren scored 34 points (16-of-26) in 37 minutes and Tyler Ennis added 17 (7-of-11) and five assists in 29 minutes to help lead D-League affiliate Bakersfield past Idaho, 109-97.

UP NEXT

The three-week homestand enters its final week with a late-afternoon game against the Los Angeles Clippers (29-14) on Sunday, Jan. 25. Tipoff is scheduled for 4 p.m., with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

The Clippers have won the first two meetings this season, both at Staples Center; and yes, that includes the Blake Griffin step-back 3-pointer that caromed in at the overtime buzzer for a 121-120 win on Dec. 8. Griffin led all scorers with 45 points, while Bledsoe recorded his first career triple-double with a then-season-high-tying 27 points, a career-high 16 assists and a career-high-tying 11 rebounds.

The Suns have won 11 of their last 14 home games against the Clippers.