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Suns Strokes: Suns come up short despite big second-half rally against Cavaliers

Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe reacts to a foul called against him during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Cleveland Cavaliers Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017, in Phoenix. The Cavaliers defeated the Suns 120-116. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Twice the Phoenix Suns have won back-to-back games this season, but never three in a row.

And they still haven’t, after failing in their most recent attempt at a season-first three-game winning streak.

To be fair, though, the odds were not in their favor, not with the defending NBA World Champions in town; and yes, the entire roster made the trip.

LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love all played, and they all had 20-point performances in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 120-116 victory in front of a sold-out Talking Stick Resort Arena on Sunday night, snapping the Suns’ three-game home winning streak.

James led the way with 28 points, while Irving chipped in 27 and Love 25.

The Cavaliers improved to 28-8, the best mark in the Eastern Conference, holding off a furious comeback by the Suns.

Down by as many as 22 points, the Suns (12-26) tied the game on two separate occasions in the third quarter—outscoring the Cavaliers 37-24 thanks to 16-of-22 shooting from the field—and twice had the chance to take the lead in the fourth quarter only to commit offensive fouls on back-to-back possessions.

Six Suns players scored in double figures, including all five starters.

Eric Bledsoe had a game-high 31 points and team-best eight assists. Devin Booker added 28 with five rebounds and four assists.

The Cavaliers, who listed newcomer Kyle Korver inactive, won their second straight and five of six overall.

They’ve won four in a row over the Suns.

THE GOOD

It was a fast start for Bledsoe as he accounted for nearly half of the Suns’ 28 first-quarter points. He scored 10 and assisted on T.J. Warren’s first made 3-pointer. During one stretch, Bledsoe had a hand in eight straight points. He shot 4-of-6, including a pair of 3s, and added a steal in his nearly eight minutes of court time in the first quarter.

Because every team makes a run, and for the Suns their run came in the third quarter. Twice they scored 10 straight, part of a larger 31-11 spurt in which they rallied from down 20, 77-57, to tie the game at 88 with 50 seconds remaining in the period. Warren had 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting, and it was his 11-foot jumper that evened the score.

Only one Suns player had more than five rebounds and it was Tyson Chandler, who had a game-high 15. This was his ninth game, and third in a row, of the season securing at least 15 rebounds, which is the most a Suns player has had in a season since Shawn Marion had 21 such games in 2005-06. Chandler also had 10 points and one block.

After an 11-turnover first-half, the Suns lost the ball only three times in the second half, each one in the fourth quarter. On the flip side, the Suns forced the Cavaliers into 20 turnovers, including seven by James. The Suns scored 27 points off the Cavaliers’ mistakes. James’ turnovers, by the way, were the most he’s had in the past five games.

THE BAD

The Cavaliers’ Big Three combined to score 28 of Cleveland’s 41 first-quarter points. Love (11 points), James (nine) and Irving (eight) shot a collective 60 percent (9-of-15) from the field while making 8-of-10 free throws. The 41 points, by the way, were the second-most scored on the Suns in the first quarter and third-most of any quarter all season.

Over a three-and-a-half minute stretch in the second quarter Channing Frye, the former St. Mary’s product and Suns fan favorite, scored 10 points, including a pair of 3-pointers; the second of which triggered a 9-0 run for a 62-40 lead, the Cavaliers largest of the half, at the 4:35 mark. Frye entered the game averaging 9.7 points per game.

With the game tied and time running out in the third quarter, Irving hit a step-back 25-foot 3-pointer to beat the buzzer and put the Cavaliers ahead 93-90 entering the fourth quarter. For Irving, the play capped a 10-point period in which he shot 4-of-7 with a pair of 3s. He also added two assists to account for 14 of the Cavaliers’ 24-third quarter points.

Held to 16 points through three quarters, James exploded for 12 fourth-quarter points. He hit back-to-back 3-pointers, his first two of the game, and then added a lay-up over a four-possession stretch late in the period, putting the game out of reach for the Suns, 120-114 with 55.8 seconds remaining. James finished the quarter making 5-of-7 shots.

STAT OF THE GAME

80: The Cavaliers’ Big Three combined to score 80 points on 53.7 percent shooting (29-of-54) with 20 rebounds and 12 assists

HE SAID IT

“There was no big speech you had to give at halftime. It was just simple. Get deflections, get on the ball, be aggressive, get in someone’s face, and just leave it out on the court,” head coach Earl Watson said, referring to the Suns’ 63-51 second-half advantage after allowing season-high-tying 69 first-half points.

NOTED

Bledsoe and James are two of the six players averaging at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists.

Korver, acquired from Atlanta on Saturday, was in the arena and watched the game from the locker room.

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps sat courtside.

UP NEXT

For the second time in a week, the Suns will play the Dallas Mavericks, though this time the game will be in Mexico City on Thursday, Jan. 12. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

The Suns will be looking for back-to-back wins over the Mavericks.

They won the first meeting, 102-95, at the American Airlines Center on Jan. 5, when Bledsoe scored 12 of his game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter to help the Suns rally for the victory and end a six-game road losing streak.

It was also the Suns’ first win over Dallas in their previous five matchups.

The Suns will remain south of the border for a game against San Antonio on Saturday, and thus become the first team to play two regular-season games in Mexico in the same season.

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