PHOENIX — Even before they took the court Sunday night, the Phoenix Suns knew the stakes were high.
Oklahoma City had won and New Orleans had lost earlier in the day, so the Suns needed a victory to keep pace with the Thunder and leapfrog the Pelicans in the process.
They did just that.
With all five starters in double figures, the Suns beat the Dallas Mavericks, 98-92, in front of an announced crowd of 17,435 at US Airways Center.
Eric Bledsoe led the way with 20 points, 10 of those in the fourth quarter, during which he helped spur a 12-2 run to turn a six-point deficit into a four-point lead and ultimately a fourth straight victory, one that jumped the Suns (38-33) into ninth place and two-and-half games behind Oklahoma City in what has become a three-team race for the final playoff spot in the West.
Both Markieff (19 points, 13 rebounds) and Marcus (11 points, 11 rebounds) Morris recorded double-doubles, while PJ Tucker added 15 points and Alex Len 10.
It marked the first time in their careers that the Morris twins had double-doubles in the same game.
Markieff Morris came through in the clutch once again.
His 14-foot baseline jumper with 29.9 seconds to play put the Suns up by five. The Mavericks (44-27) would never get back to within a single possession as they have now lost three of the four meeting with one more matchup scheduled in Dallas on April 8.
The Suns shot 51.3 percent and led by as many as 17, but a 30-7 Mavericks run spanning the third and fourth quarters necessitated the late-game comeback.
Perhaps playing in Houston the night before played a factor, but the Suns responded with a 22-17 fourth quarter edge to sweep a back-to-back set for the fifth time this season.
Tucker hit three 3-pointers in the game’s first three-and-a-half minutes. And he was just getting started. Tucker added a reverse layup and 17-foot pull-up jumper midway through the quarter to account for 13 of the Suns’ 22 points in just seven minutes of action.
Tucker benefited from some great passing from Marcus Morris, who assisted on four of Tucker’s five made field goals. Morris stuffed the first-half stat sheet with nine points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals in 19 minutes. His seven assists for the game tied a career-high.
The Suns scored 33 first-quarter points for the second straight game, marking the first time with 30 or more points in the opening period in back-to-back games since Jan. 13 and 16 when they hit 31 and 32 points against Cleveland and Minnesota, respectively.
The Suns opened up a 17-point lead, their largest of the first half, thanks to a 16-4 second-quarter run in which the Mavericks missed 11 of 12 shots over an eight-plus minute stretch. For the period, Dallas shot just 30 percent (6-of-30) and was held to 15 points, a Suns opponent season-low for second-quarter scoring.
The Suns held Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks top two leading scorers at 19.1 and 17.4 points per game respectively, to a combined five points on 2-of-12 shooting in the first half.
Following a timeout just 61 seconds into the second half, the Suns scored on six of seven possessions to once again up on a 17-point lead, 69-52, at 7:39 of the third quarter. Len made three field goals, Markieff Morris two and Marcus Morris one. Len was playing in just his second game back from an ankle injury.
With his late-game jumper, Markieff Morris is now 19-of-32 (59.4 percent) from the field in the final two minutes of one-possession games this season, the most field goal makes and best field goal percentage (min. 20 attempts) in the NBA in such situations this season.
Making his first Phoenix appearance with the Mavericks, Amare Stoudemire scored eight first-quarter points, hitting 4-of-6 shots. He added a fifth field goal a minute into the second quarter for 10 points, surpassing his season average of 9.6 points per game since signing with Dallas.
Perhaps inspired by playing back in the Valley, Richard Jefferson—the pride of Moon Valley High School—scored eight points in eight first-half minutes. Five of those points came in an 81-second stretch of the second quarter. He had totaled but three points in the past three games, including a DNP-Coach’s Decision the last time out against Memphis.
Down 17, the Mavericks rallied to score 14 unanswered points, part of a much larger 23-7 run to close the third quarter and outscore the Suns, 33-19. Ellis and Chandler Parsons each scored nine points with Nowitzki chipping in six.
Bledsoe committed the sixth of his game-high seven turnovers when he was called for an offensive foul, waiving the made basket at the 6:33 mark of the fourth quarter, at which point the Suns trailed by six, 86-80. Bledsoe has turned it over seven or more times in eight games this season, including four this month.
After hitting all four of their first-quarter 3-point attempts, the Suns missed 15 straight from beyond the arc, a streak that wasn’t broken until Bledsoe’s 25-footer at 4:05 of the fourth quarter. Goodwin added a second-straight made 3 two minutes later and the Suns finished 6-of-21 for the game.
Though they made their final five foul shots, the Suns shot just 14-of-23 (60.9 percent) from the free throw line.
STAT OF THE GAME
88.8: The number of points the Suns have allowed during their current four-game winning streak
HE SAID IT, part I
“What happened was they stepped it up. They got after it defensively. They were being physical. That’s when we told the guys, ‘Hey, that’s what playoff basketball is like.’ Teams are going to get physical; they’re not going to call it. You’ve got to be able to brace yourself. You’ve got to get to your spots that you need to get the ball at and don’t panic and get them to push you out of what we’re trying to do. I think after that timeout that we talked about that, I think the guys did better executing, getting to their spots and not just breaking the play because they’re getting pressure.” — head coach Jeff Hornacek, referring to the Mavericks in the third quarter.
HE SAID IT, part II
“What happened in the game was in the first half, we were a no show as a team; coaches, players, everybody. It was an embarrassment, flat out. The Basketball gods are going to get you when you don’t show up to play for 24 minutes. That’s what happened tonight.” — Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle.
During the first in-game timeout, the Suns honored Steve Nash, who announced his retirement Saturday, with a video tribute with “Thanks Steve!” displayed throughout the arena
Mavericks backup point guard Devin Harris (zero points, two assists) played nine first-half minutes before exiting the game and bench area because of illness
Marcus Morris picked up a technical foul—his ninth of the season, second-most on the team—with 6:22 remaining in the fourth quarter
Brandon Knight (left ankle sprain) missed his sixth straight game and Marcus Thornton (right great toe sprain) his third straight
The four-game homestand continues with a visit by the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday, March 25. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
This is the fourth and final meeting of the season between the Pacific Division rivals.
The season series has been split 2-2 in each of the last two years, and the Suns need a win to continue that streak.
The Suns have lost two of the three matchups, including a buzzer-beating defeat when DeMarcus Cousins hit a 19-foot jump shot that bounced in at the horn to give the Kings an 85-83 win on Feb. 8 at Sleep Train Arena. Cousins scored a game-high 28 points, while the Suns were led by ex-King and now former Sun Isaiah Thomas’ 26.