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Recap: Josh Jackson nearly beats the Rockets, ex-Sun Gerald Green answers to secure Rockets victory, 104-103

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The game shouldn’t have come down to the wire, but we’re all thankful it did. The Suns maintained their place in the tank race and played their first competitive game in weeks.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Houston Rockets Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

The Suns lost to the Rockets Friday, 104-103, in an exciting game and a perfect offering to the tanking gods.

Josh Jackson and Tyler Ulis kept up their solid play, many of the other youngsters set an energetic tone Houston could not match most of the night, and the Suns nearly eked out a victory on the road against the league’s best team.

The Rockets decided to rest Chris Paul after resting James Harden on Tuesday against Chicago, which is an insane thing to be able to do for a NBA team. It feels like even if it works under the salary cap and they acquired him legally under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NBA should just step in and prevent a team from having perhaps the two best point guards in the NBA on one team at the same time.

That meant Tyler Ulis drew the matchup defensively early on, which is another unfair thing that happened. The guy who was exposed most on defense was actually Dragan Bender to begin the game, with Rockets big man Clint Capela roaming free to the rim when Bender’s rotations were too slow. This led coach Jay Triano to send Bender to the bench after three minutes.

Without any traditional rim protectors to turn to and Bender on the bench, the Rockets’ offense realized what it could do around the middle of the first quarter and went on a 11-2 run to tie the game at 17.

Following that 17-17 tie, the Suns would go on to close the first half by outscoring Houston 40-23, an incredible feat considering the Suns’ lackadaisical and unenthused performance the last couple weeks.

The standouts were Alan Williams, who in seven minutes scored six points with two assists and no misses, and Danuel House Jr., who matched Williams’ usual energy and hustled into six rebounds in 12 minutes. On the other side, amid an unusually cold shooting night for the Rockets, P.J. Tucker shot 3-5 from distance and kept Houston reasonably close until the Suns scored the final five points of the half.

In the third quarter, Troy Daniels’ rejuvenation, after a scary first quarter injury, pushed the Suns out to an even bigger lead. Overall, he was THIS OF THIS from 3, spacing the floor for Ulis and Jackson, who continued their strong months and legitimately challenged the Rockets’ defense. Jackson had a number of nifty drives tonight, including a soft little pirouette through traffic early in the game to jolt the Suns’ first big run.

There was also this:

Taking a first-half benching from Triano seriously, Bender came out more aggressive in the second half and earned 15 minutes in the period. He notched two assists and seven points.

After a disengaged first 30 minutes, Harden stared directly into the Suns’ hearts around the halfway point of the third and, probably slightly peeved by this young team leading his No. 1 seed, took off toward the moon. Harden’s down-and-back-up performance symbolizes the Rockets’ overall nonchalance regarding this matchup.

By crunch time, somehow the Ulis-Harden matchup had become an entertaining battle. Ulis was the one launching confident pull-up jumpers in semi-transition, and Harden was out there missing big free throws like he was the 21-year-old.

The final minute or so was SO MUCH FUN. Harden remembered that this was a basketball game, and that he was better than the entire opposing team, and nailed a step-back 3 to tie it with about 15 seconds left.

Then Jackson came down on the other end and did the same, a little step-back inside the arc that he’s gotten so much better at this season.

Finally, ex-Sun Gerald Green took a pass in the corner and knocked down the 3 to take back the lead and win the game for the Rockets.

Phoenix next plays Golden State on Sunday evening after losing every game in March.