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Harden dominates, Booker’s hamstring tightens up, Suns drop 11th straight

Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) scores around Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson (20) during the first half of an NBA basketball game,, Monday, Feb. 4, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — There is no way to stop James Harden.

You can try every defensive coverage in the book, but Harden has seen them all, and he’s still going to do major damage to your defense no matter what you pull out.

The Phoenix Suns on Monday night attempted hard doubles and executed them fairly well, forcing Harden to pass almost every time and the defensive rotations out of that were better than usual.

But as the all-time greats do, Harden still got his and dominated the game in the second half. He finished with 44 points, eight rebounds and six assists in a 118-110 Suns loss.

Harden scored 22 in each half but the manner at which he scored in the second half was unstoppable. He posted only two of his 22 second half points from the foul line and was adding bits to his season highlight video in the fourth.

Devin Booker exited the game with 6:27 left despite the game still being within reach. He would not return in the game and had an ice pack wrapped around his right leg.

Tightness in his right hamstring was the culprit. It appeared to happen on the play below in which a second replay of Jackson shows Booker grabbing at his right leg.

“He was cramping,” head coach Igor Kokoskov said after the game. “He was cramping, got a cramp. We had to pull him out. It was by circumstance — not really by my choice.”

Booker also described it as tightness in his right hamstring and thinks he will be fine for Wednesday’s game in Utah against the Jazz.

“Just being cautious about it more than anything,” Booker said.

Booker’s left hamstring was the one that forced him to miss nine games and play several more at less than 100 percent.

With the Rockets attempting to limit his attempts like Harden, Booker scored 19 points on 12 shots with an additional seven rebounds and five assists.

The game got out of hand at two different points in the second half but it was only a five-point game at halftime. Thanks to 14 points from Josh Jackson, 11 out of Deandre Ayton and a team shooting percentage of 55.8, the Suns were very much in the game.

Problem was, the Suns were only 2-of-11 from three-point range and finished 7-of-25 in the game. The opportunity to match Houston in a shootout was there if they hit their shots.

They did not, and on the other end, continued the disturbing trend of allowing far too many open 3-pointers off basic ball movement.

There was a brief shining light in the fourth quarter. The Suns went on a 10-0 run and got the game down to a 94-84 score with 10:38 left.

After a few minutes of that deficit standing pat, a tremendous steal and save by Mikal Bridges led to a Jackson dunk that got the Houston lead down to eight points. That was the same play Booker appeared to get injured on.

The next time down for the Suns, though, involved a questionable foul call on Bridges covering Harden that should have been a jump ball. Then in under a minute, Houston went on an 8-0 run that included two Harden 3-pointers and the game was back out of hand at a 16-point Rockets advantage.

Any sort of momentum the Suns attempted to get back was killed quickly by Harden, who began hitting ridiculous shot after ridiculous shot, challenging the difficult scale of basketball shots along the way and turning the crowd in his favor.

Booker received extra treatment from the Houston defense as always and that’s where Jackson stepped in.

Jackson scored 25 points, making it two games in a row with at least 20.

His tremendous quickness on rim attacks was a problem for Houston’s perimeter defense.

Ayton finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds, showing some good touch scoring out of the post and having a nice bounce-back performance after a rough night against Atlanta on Saturday.

Kelly Oubre Jr. had 23 points off the bench for Phoenix and was a team-high plus-eight. Both Oubre (36 minutes) and Jamal Crawford (30 minutes) were played in favor of starting point guard Elie Okobo (18 minutes), who turned the ball over three times in the opening four minutes of the game and finished with two points.

All four members of the trade between the two teams on Aug. 31 were not featured in the game.

De’Anthony Melton is out injured for the Suns while Ryan Anderson did not play. For Houston, both Marquese Chriss and Brandon Knight also did not get in the game.

The Suns have now lost 11 in a row and 18 of their last 20 games.

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