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RECAP: Suns fight back, take late lead but fall to Pelicans, 128-117, in third straight loss

Phoenix lost three straight games for the first time since the 2021 NBA Finals

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

The Phoenix Suns did not have time to rest after their 125-98 loss to the Boston Celtics Wednesday night.

Fresh off a defeat to the team with the NBA’s best record, Phoenix was up against the first of a two-game stretch against the New Orleans Pelicans, who had the best mark in the Western Conference. The two teams played in the first round of the 2022 Western Conference playoffs, which was a scrappy, competitive series before the Suns pulled away in six games.

Still, Phoenix was up against a heavy challenge that series and Friday night due to New Orleans coach Willie Green, who was previously a Suns assistant who manned the team’s defensive efforts. The Pelicans ranked first in opponent 3-point percentage and were among the top-10 teams in scoring and assists per game, something catapulted by the efforts of forward Zion Williamson, forward Brandon Ingram – who was out for Friday’s game – and guard CJ McCollum.

After they trailed by 13 points at the end of the third quarter, the Suns had a valiant effort in the fourth quarter in which they went on a 13-2 run to cut the Pelicans’ lead to four with 9:50 left and then took a 108-107 lead with 4:28 left after a 3-pointer from backup guard Cameron Payne. But New Orleans finished with a 22-9 push, which lifted it to a 128-117 win over Phoenix Friday night at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana, in front of 16,381 fans.

The Suns and Pelicans were even for most of the game until New Orleans went on an 8-3 run to begin the third quarter, which gave it a 65-57 lead with 9:42 left. The Pelicans later went on an 11-2 run to give them an 82-66 advantage with 5:35 to go in the period, which tied their largest lead of the night.

However, Phoenix – which lost three straight games for the first time since facing the Bucks in the 2021 NBA Finals – did not go away easily. Backup guard Damion Lee hit back-to-back 3-pointers to start the third quarter, which cut the Pelicans’ lead to 95-88 with 11:12 left.

New Orleans starting forward Zion Williamson, who finished with a game-high 35 points on 13-of-17 shooting with seven rebounds and four assists, made a shot in the paint before Suns backup center Jock Landale hit a mid-range shot and starting point guard Chris Paul made a 3-pointer. At that point, the Suns were within four and had a great chance to come back.

The Pelicans hit three straight free throws but Paul hit back-to-back 3-pointers, and the Suns were within one. Starting forward Torrey Craig soon hit consecutive triples on either side of a layup from Alvarado, and Phoenix then took the lead with an isolation 3-pointer from backup guard Cameron Payne with 4:28 left.

At that point, the Suns were 8-of-8 from 3-point range. They finished 22-of-44 from that range against a New Orleans team that entered Friday’s game with the best 3-point defense in the NBA (32.7 percent).

Unfortunately for Phoenix, it was the end of its push. Pelicans starting guard CJ McCollum hit a stepback 3-pointer and Williamson followed it with a dunk on a drive after a screen near the right elbow, and New Orleans quickly regained momentum with a 112-108 lead with 3:59 left.

The Suns responded with an alley-oop from Payne to starting center Deandre Ayton, who also had a layup after another Williamson dunk. But the Pelicans scored five straight points with two free throws from backup forward Larry Nance Jr. and a 3-pointer from backup forward Naji Marshall, which effectively put the game out of reach.

At the end of the game, there was a scuffle after Williamson threw down a ‘360’ dunk, which involved Pelicans backup guard Jose Alvarado, who quickly became an enemy for Suns fans, who perceived his defensive efforts to be excessive in the playoff meeting between the team last season, and Paul. That can be viewed below.

Along with Williamson, Alvarado (20 points), Nance Jr. (17 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and 1 block) and Marshall (14 points) scored in double figures for New Orleans off the bench. McCollum (18 points) and Valanciunas (12 points) were also in double figures for the Pelicans’ starters.

The Suns were led by Ayton, who had 25 points and 14 rebounds on 11-of-15 shooting. In his second game back from a heel injury, Paul had 24 points on 7-of-14 shooting (6-of-9 from 3-point range) while dishing 7 assists and grabbing 8 rebounds (second on the team).

Phoenix guard Devin Booker pulled up lame chasing down a turnover in the fourth quarter — could be the ankle still bothering him, could be something new like a hammy — and had only 14 points on 5-of-17 shooting with seven assists. Craig also had 14 points, Suns starting forward Mikal Bridges had 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting and Lee had 12 points off the bench.

Here are final statistics from Friday’s game along with how it unfolded.

Third Quarter

New Orleans began to create separation in the third quarter, which it won 40-30 and fueled it to its eventual victory.

The Pelicans went on an 8-3 run to start the quarter, which gave them a 65-57 lead with 9:42 left in the period. The Suns kept close and cut the lead to 71-64 with 7:50 left in the quarter, but that’s when New Orleans exploded.

The Pelicans went on an 11-2 run to take an 82-66 advantage with 5:35 left in the quarter. Valanciunas had four points, Williamson had three points, McCollum had two points and starting guard Dyson Daniels hit a shot near the paint to cap off the spurt.

However, the Suns did not collapse. They cut the Pelicans’ lead to 90-82 with 1:03 left in the third quarter after a dunk from starting center Deandre Ayton. However, New Orleans backup guard Devonte’ Graham hit a 3-pointer and two free throws to give his team a 95-82 edge at the end of three quarters.

Williamson had 12 points in the quarter for New Orleans. McCollum also had 11 points.

Phoenix backup guard Damion Lee had two key 3-pointers to help his team fend off a bigger run from the Pelicans late in the quarter.

Second Quarter

The second quarter was very competitive early, but New Orleans outscored Phoenix 29-25 to take a 55-52 lead at halftime.

Suns backup center Jock Landale made back-to-back 3-pointers to start the period before backup guard Jose Alvarado answered with two straight threes for the Pelicans. He had eight of New Orleans’ first 10 points of the second quarter and was later fouled on a 3-point attempt and made all three free throws.

The Suns and Pelicans stayed even for most of the period. Neither team led by more than four points, and New Orleans scored six of the final eight points of the half to take a three-point lead.

First Quarter

Phoenix led 27-26 in the first quarter after it went on an 8-0 run to take an 18-10 lead with 4:04 left in the quarter, which was followed by a 12-4 spurt from New Orleans over the last 2:12 of the period.

The Suns centered their defense around Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, who had seven points in the quarter. It forced New Orleans center Jonas Valanciunas to take five shots early and miss all of them and built Phoenix an early lead.

Phoenix starting point guard Chris Paul had six of his team’s eight points during its run midway through the quarter and also had two rebounds before backup point guard Cameron Payne checked in for him with 4:02 left in the period.

Suns shooting guard Devin Booker missed his first five shots but finished the period with a 3-pointer and a dunk. He also had a foul and a turnover.

Pelicans forward Larry Nance Jr. had six points for his team in the first quarter.

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