Goran Dragic is the Phoenix Suns’ table-setter, a guard who can score but who had also averaged 10.8 assists in nine games since the All-Star break.
Dragic recorded just one assist in a 107-105 victory over the Houston Rockets on Saturday, but that pass was an energizer midway through the fourth quarter that put Phoenix in position to win.
With 5:57 left in the fourth quarter, Dragic dived for a loose ball and got it to teammate Kendall Marshall, who banked in a long jumper as the shot clock buzzer sounded for a 93-86 lead.
Dragic also scored 13 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter against his former team, and the Suns overcame 38 points from Rockets star James Harden and Houston’s 19 3-pointers.
”They defended me well. I couldn’t find the open guy. Even if I found the open guy, they were closing and contesting the shots,” Dragic said. ”I know that I had only one assist, but that was one of the best assists ever. Kendall made a crazy shot.”
Phoenix, far out of playoff contention, has three straight wins over the postseason-hopeful Rockets and is 10-3 in the last 13 meetings.
Harden brought the Rockets back with a 3-pointer with 5:25 to play, followed by a basket and free throw to make it 93-92. But Dragic made back-to-back baskets for 97-92 lead, and the Suns gave up a last-second 3 for the final margin of victory.
”We can’t look at the Phoenix Suns and their roster,” Harden said. ”We’ve got to go out there and compete and play hard every possession. Times like this, we need wins. We just let another one slip away from us.”
Jared Dudley scored 22 points and the Suns, missing injured starting center Marcin Gortat, got an unlikely solid contribution from reserve Hamed Haddadi. He played 28 minutes, scored six points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked three shots, all either setting or tying season highs.
”Haddadi was a great neutralizer for us,” Suns coach Lindsey Hunter said.
The Rockets (34-30) got 21 points off the bench from Carlos Delfino and 14 from forward Chandler Parsons.
”No excuses. They played better than us,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. ”Goran down the stretch made some big plays.There is a lot of stuff we didn’t do. We will look at what we didn’t do.”
The teams exchanged leads late in the third quarter after Harden’s 3-pointer from the top of the key with 5:29 left gave the Rockets a 62-61 advantage. Marcus Morris dunked for a 72-69 lead at the 1:54 mark, but Harden hit another 3 with 56 seconds left for a 74-72 Houston lead.
Harden scored 25 points in the second half.
Michael Beasley’s 3-pointer with 2 seconds left in the third gave the Suns the lead going into the fourth quarter, 77-76.
The Suns (22-41) used a 16-0 second-quarter run that spanned 5 minutes, 40 seconds to take a 50-46 halftime lead. During the run, Dudley gave the Suns their first lead, 37-35, with a short jumper.
Back-to-back 3s by Dudley made it 45-35, and it wasn’t until Parsons made a free throw for Houston with 3:17 left in the quarter that the run ended.
The Rockets led by as many as eight points in the first quarter. The teams face each other three more times before the regular season ends in mid-April.
NOTES: Suns center Jermaine O’Neal remains away from the team after leaving to be with his daughter, who had heart surgery earlier in the week. He missed his third straight game. Suns coach Lindsey Hunter said he’s exchanged phone messages with O’Neal and that all indications are that the surgery went well. ”My prayers are with his family,” Hunter said. ”I think family is the most important thing. … The Suns wore their ”Los Suns” orange jerseys and warmup tops in recognition of the NBA’s ”Noche Latina,” the league’s 16-game tribute to its Latino fan base. Seven teams in large Hispanic markets are taking part. Harden got a loud applause from the crowd, as he played his college ball at nearby Arizona State University. … Rockets guard Jeremy Lin left the game briefly with a cut lip after a third-quarter collision on which he was called for an offensive foul. He was examined by a trainer and eventually returned.