Suns pick up needed win in playoff pursuit
NEW ORLEANS — Disgusted by his turnover that sent the Pelicans off on a fast break, Eric Bledsoe chased the play vigorously, darting into a passing lane just in time to intercept Austin Rivers’ pass toward the left wing.
Beldsoe then made a quick about-face and dribbled back to mid-court, where he tossed a long lob to Gordon Dragic for a short baseline jumper that tied the game at 87 with 2:38 left.
"Those are the plays that win you the game and I came up with one," Bledsoe said. "It’s just hustle plays."
Soon after, Bledsoe capped his 16-point night with a jumper that gave the Suns the lead for good en route to their third straight victory, 94-88 over New Orleans on Wednesday night.
Gerald Green scored 21 points, while Dragic had 20 points and nine assists for the Suns, who needed the victory to stay one game ahead of Memphis — a 107-102 winner over Miami — for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
P.J. Tucker had 15 for the Suns, who handed the Pelicans their sixth straight loss.
"It was not a pretty game. That’s obvious," Dragic said. "We didn’t play our best game, but in the end we are really happy we won another game."
Rookie center Jeff Withey had a career-high 17 points for the Pelicans, who were without Anthony Davis because of the All-Star forward’s sore back.
"It’s encouraging but at the same time it’s kind of disappointing because I’d rather get a win than a career high," Withey said of his new personal scoring benchmark.
Anthony Morrow and Darius Miller each scored 14 for New Orleans, which turned a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit into a brief three-point lead before consecutive jumpers by Bledsoe and Markieff Morris with less than two minutes remaining gave Phoenix the lead for good.
"I have nothing to complain about with our group. We held that team to 94 points," Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. "We scrapped and played the way we like to play. Just couldn’t put the ball in the basket enough times."
The game was close for most of the third quarter and New Orleans led 55-54 after Withey’s three-point play on a layup as he was fouled. But Bledsoe, who’d been held scoreless in the first half, hit a pull-up jumper, driving layup and 3-pointer to fuel a 13-2 run that put the Suns up 67-57.
"My teammates did a good job of keeping me in the game," Bledsoe said. "The first half I didn’t think I was helping them out. The third (quarter), I just wanted to have that sense of urgency to come out and be all over the place."
Green’s second 3 of the game gave Phoenix a 71-64 lead to end the third quarter, and Green’s third 3 made it 74-64 early in the fourth.
The Pelicans put together a 10-0 run midway through the fourth quarter to surge into the lead. Morrow capped the spurt with a transition 3 and a technical free throw after Green argued with officials over a foul call.
The Pelicans still led by a basket inside the final three minutes and were looking for more in transition when Beldsoe made his pivotal interception and assist on Dragic’s tying basket.
"Those kinds of plays get you the game," Dragic said. "He sprinted back and got that steal. From that steal we went to transition and we scored. That was great recognition from him, great awareness."
New Orleans had one more brief lead on Tyreke Evans’ free throw before the Suns surged in front for good.
Phoenix scored the first eight points of the game and took its first double-digit lead when Tucker’s short turnaround jumper made it 19-8.
New Orleans responded by scoring the first eight points of the second quarter — four each by Withey and Rivers — to pull to 23-22. Withey and Miller each ended up with 10 first-half points for the Pelicans, and Miller briefly gave New Orleans the lead on a 14-foot step-back jumper that made it 42-40.
Soon after, Green dunked and hit a 3, helping the Suns take a 47-46 lead into halftime.
Phoenix won all four meetings with the Pelicans this season. The Suns have won eight of their past 10 against New Orleans.