PHOENIX — It was a night of firsts for Phoenix guard Goran Dragic: His first 40-point night in the NBA and the first time Suns fans at US Airways Center serenaded him at the free-throw line with a special chant:
It’s a little early for such chatter, but over the last 13 games, Dragic certainly reached a new level.
Friday he set a career high for points for fourth time in his last 13 games with 40, rallied the Suns from a 10-point deficit in the third quarter and keyed a 17-1 run in the fourth to outlast the New Orleans Pelicans 116-104.
“It was great to hear that, I would never have imagined they would cheer that for me,” said Dragic, who scored a career-best 35 points against Houston on Sunday before suffering a sprained right ankle Tuesday and sitting out Wednesday’s loss at Utah. “I heard that then I was here when (two-time MVP) Steve (Nash) was here. It’s a great feeling when the whole crowd stood up … it’s something special that I’m probably going to remember my whole life.”
Dragic’s ankle was still sore Friday morning and he was a game-time decision, but hit 14 of 21 shots from the floor and added five assists as the Suns snapped a three-game losing streak and moved 1 1/2 games ahead of Memphis for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“Goran was special tonight,” said guard Ish Smith, who added 10 points and six assists while teaming with Dragic during the big second-half runs. “I told him after the Utah game, I played 36 minutes when he was out and was so tired. I don’t know how he does it. I was happy to be a part of it.
“Sometimes you can create something for him and sometimes you just give him the ball and get the heck out of the way.”
Forwards Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris combined for 33 points off the bench. Marcus Morris keyed a 12-2 run to end the third period to get the Suns back in the game. The Suns tied a season-low with 86 points against the Jazz, but points were not a problem with Dragic back.
He was the first Sun to score 40 points in a game since Amar’e Stoudemire had 44 almost four years ago (March 19, 2010 against Utah).
“We needed that game,” Dragic said after the Suns had dropped back-to-back games to sub. 500 teams in Minnesota and Utah. “If we want to be a playoff team we have to beat those guys and team like Atlanta (on Sunday).”
Forward Anthony Davis scored 30 points and guard Eric Gordon added 21 for the Pelicans, who lost their sixth straight game coming out of the All-Star break. They have now lost seven of their last eight on the road.
“I felt like we had control of the game, we just couldn’t keep the ball under control,” New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. “Dragic was in our paint all night long. He’s a really good player, but we could have done a better job.”
The Pelicans had a 10-point third-quarter lead wiped out by a 12-2 Phoenix run in the final 2:39. New Orleans still led 91-89 when guard Brian Roberts hit a 5-foot running bank shot with 9:47 left in the game, but Dragic started the winning run with a layup and banked in a 3-pointer from 25 feet before capping the 17-1 rally to make it 105-94 Suns with 4:13 left.
“It all started with Dragic,” Davis said. “He was in our paint scoring and we started worrying about him and laving guys open.”
NOTES: G Tyreke Evans made his first start as a Pelican, but he almost did not get to the game. Evans was trapped in a broken elevator at the team hotel and was left behind as the team headed to arena. He arrived less than an hour before tipoff. … G Goran Dragic returned to the Phoenix lineup after missing one game with a sprained right ankle. … The Pelicans announced Friday that G Jrue Holiday underwent successful surgery to correct a stress fracture in his right tibia. He is done for the season. … The Suns lost by double digits for the only the fifth time this season on Wednesday night at Utah. After the previous four blowout losses, the Suns rebounded to win the next game. … Pelicans F Anthony Davis is on pace to be the first player to average at least 20 points (20.2), 10 rebounds (10.2) and three blocks (3.0) in the same season since C Shaquille O’Neal for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1999-2000.
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