Suns Rally Comes Up Short Against Hornets
New Orleans/Oklahoma City 91, Phoenix 87
PHOENIX, Dec. 12 (Ticker) -- Eddie House and the Phoenix Suns snapped out of their scoring slump just a little too late.
House scored all eight of his points in the fourth quarter, including six in a furious late rally that came up a little short as the Suns dropped a 91-87 decision to the New Orleans Hornets, who got a season-high 26 points and 10 rebounds from J.R. Smith.
Phoenix, which had its NBA season-high nine-game winning streak halted Saturday, had averaged just 88 points in its last two games and continued to struggle through three quarters Monday, as the Hornets never trailed en route to a 73-62 edge after 36 minutes.
"It was a poor effort in the first quarter when they got 31 points and the rest of the time we had to play catch up," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "They had control of the tempo and we didn't hit shots. On our home court, no disrespect, against a team like that, defensively we had to step it up."
The Hornets continued to cruise in the final period and took an 84-72 lead on rookie Chris Paul's 3-pointer with 3:26 to go. However, after a pair of empty possessions for both teams, the Suns suddenly found their shooting touch in the final two minutes.
"That last couple of minutes we played defense and got some easy baskets and some good looks on some threes," said House, who missed all seven of his shots in the first three quarters. "But we were a day late and a dollar short. In this league, you have to do that from the get go. If we played like that from the start we might have blown them out."
Reigning MVP Steve Nash hit a 3-pointer with 1:55 left and assisted on consecutive shots from the arc by Raja Bell, who scored a season-high 24 points, and House that pulled the Suns within 87-84 less than a minute later.
"Down the stretch we had some shots we should have made. They were shots that were going in the whole game," Mason said. "Steve Nash hit a 3-pointer with two guys on him and House hit a three after he missed I don't know how many all game. They made the game a little more exciting."
Smith missed on the other end, but Nash missed a 3-pointer with 28 seconds remaining and House was called for a foul when the Hornets' Speedy Claxton was trapped in the backcourt.
Phoenix was forced to foul thereafter and Smith hit four free throws around another 3-pointer from House to seal the victory. Smith made all 10 of the free throws for the Hornets, who shot 83 percent (19-of-23) from the free-throw line.
"In (Sunday's loss in) Sacramento, we really didn't capitalize in the clutch," Smith said. "It came down to the last four minutes and we pretty much folded. We knew we couldn't do that tonight and hit some clutch free throws. We snapped a five-game losing streak so we could go home happy."
Hornets coach Byron Scott hoped his team used the game a learning experience.
"We had a couple of lapses at the end but it was a big win for our team," Scott said. "I told them at halftime that the reason we were leading wasn't because of our shooting but what we were doing on defense. Hopefully, the young guys will understand what we have to do every night to have a chance to win."
"We are such a young team we don't know what we are capable of," Smith said. "Now we know we can beat a team like Phoenix, a team that likes to run and get up the court." Nash finished with 14 points and 16 assists, but also was forced into six turnovers by Paul, who had 19 and seven as well as four steals and seven rebounds.
Paul came away impressed with his counterpart.
"Unbelievable, the way he controls the game and the tempo of the game," Paul said. "I talked to him the whole game and I told him he needed to slow down ... just a little bit. He just always continues to probe and that's something I try to do in my game also."