PHOENIX SUNS

Suns Strokes: Familiar faces from Rockets shoot past Devin Booker, Phoenix

Dec 21, 2016, 10:55 PM | Updated: 10:59 pm
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) drives against Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during t...

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) drives against Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(AP Photo/Matt York)

The parade of former Phoenix Suns head coaches into Talking Stick Resort Arena continued on Wednesday.

Following the footsteps of Alvin Gentry and Jeff Hornacek, Mike D’Antoni led the Houston Rockets, the Western Conference’s third-best team (tied with the L.A. Clippers), into the building where he twice guided the Suns to the conference finals.

D’Antoni may have another conference finals team on his hands, or at the very least among the contenders.

Seven Rockets players, including all five starters, scored in double figures as Houston handed the Suns a 125-111 defeat in what was billed as Fan Appreciation Night.

The sold out crowd, the second sellout of the season, watched former Arizona State Sun Devil James Harden drop 27 on the Suns, 18 of which came in the second half. He added 14 assists.

Eric Gordon chipped in 24, hitting seven threes, off the bench.

The Rockets (22-8) made 18-of-38 three-pointers and shot 53.5 percent from the field overall on the second night of a back-to-back.

They lost to San Antonio, ending a season-best 10-game winning streak.

Meanwhile, the Suns (8-21) have now lost four in a row.

Devin Booker led the way with 28 points.

T.J. Warren (19), Brandon Knight (17), Eric Bledsoe (16) and P.J. Tucker (10) also reached double-digits.

THE GOOD

Not known for his aerial work, Booker recorded three dunks in the game’s first six minutes. He added a 16-foot jumper for a team-high eight first-quarter points to go along with a team-best marks in rebounds (three, tied with Tyson Chandler) and assists (two, tied with Bledsoe). By the way, Booker entered the day with just one dunk in the season’s first 28 games.

Trailing by nine 4:30 into the second quarter, the Suns went on an 18-7 run to take their first lead of the game, 49-47, on a pair of Booker free throws at the 3:15 mark. The story, though, was Knight, who had 11 points on 3-of-6 shooting with one three-pointer and four free throws. He added four rebounds and a steal playing all 12 minutes of the period.

Playing just his third game after a four-week absence (missing 13 games) because of a minor head injury, Warren scored a team-best nine third-quarter points, shooting 4-of-6 from the field with one 3-pointer. Four of his points — a lay-up and 15-foot jumper — came during a 9-0 run in which the Suns pulled to within a possession, 86-84, at the 1:19 mark of the period.

Add one more dunk to Booker’s total. His fourth was his most emphatic, slamming the ball over Kyle Wiltjer for the and-one opportunity with 29.1 seconds remaining in the game. Booker missed the free throw but still finished the fourth quarter with a team-high nine points, giving him 28, his 11th 20-plus point game of the season and second with at least 28 in his last three.

THE BAD

Twice the Suns found themselves down by as many as eight points in the first quarter. Both times Harden was responsible, setting up Harrell and Nene with lay-ups, respectively. Harden accounted for 20 of the Rockets’ 30 first-quarter points with three points and seven assists; the latter of which matched his total in 37 minutes the night before against San Antonio.

After missing a trio of three-pointers in the first quarter, Gordon went 4-of-6 from beyond the arc in the second quarter. His 12 second-quarter points led all scorers and was one fewer than he scored the night before against San Antonio, when he missed seven of his eight three-point attempts. Gordon’s last triple made it 55-51 Houston with a 1:24 remaining in the first half.

After a nine-point first-half, Harden exploded for 12 third-quarter points. He made just 2-of-6 shots, including a three-pointer, but went 6-of-8 from the foul line in what were his first attempts of the game. Twice Harden was fouled shooting a three — Warren and Tucker were the guilty parties — and he hit five of those six attempts. He had two assists in the period, as well.

Six of the Rockets’ 18 three-pointers came in the fourth quarter with five made during a 19-7 run that put the game out of reach. Both Harden and Gordon had two with Patrick Beverley adding one from beyond the arc. Harden made back-to-back threes, his fourth and fifth of the game, and the latter of which handed Houston its largest lead of the game, 120-100, at the 4:44 mark.

STAT OF THE GAME

47.4: The Rockets made 47.4 percent of their 3-pointers compared to the Suns’ 36-percent mark (9-of-25). It was the Rockets’ fifth game of the season making at least 18 threes, already the second-most in NBA history trailing only last season’s Golden State Warriors team which had 14 such games

HE SAID IT

“Two of the best years of my life obviously at ASU: all the beautiful fans that support me still means a lot to me. It felt like home and we wanted to come out with a win and give the fans a good game,” Harden said.

NOTED

– The Suns committed nine turnovers, their second game with single-digit turnovers this season (8, Dec. 9 at Lakers).

– Booker tied his season-high in both assists (7, Nov. 6 at Lakers) and rebounds (6, two times previous) in 36 minutes.

– Bledsoe is averaging 25.0 points, 5.5 assists and 4.8 rebounds in six games against the Rockets while with the Suns.

– Bledsoe and Harden are two of three conference players averaging 20 points, five rebounds and five assists a game.

– As part of Fan Appreciation Night, the first 5,000 fans in attendance received an exclusive Devin Booker bobblehead.

UP NEXT

The Suns wrap up the season series and a two-game homestand when they take on Joel Embid, Jahlil Okafor and the rest of the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. MST with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

In the first meeting, Bledsoe led the Suns with 27 points (12-of-24 FG) to go along with five rebounds and six assists in a 120-105 defeat.

The Sixers have won three straight in the series, and should they win another they would match a four-game winning streak from 2010-11 into 2012-13 for Philadelphia’s longest winning streak in the series since winning five straight from 1984-86.

Overall, the Suns own a 32-16 record in the 48 regular season meetings since 1991-92.

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