Houston Rockets 95, Phoenix Suns 93 -- Not quite

Josh Childress gave the Suns a huge lift, but it wasn't enough to take down the Rockets.

With Steve Nash and Channing Frye down for the count, Phoenix Suns head coach Alvin Gentry made it clear that for them to remain in the playoff race without 40 percent of their starting lineup, somebody needed to step up.

After three underwhelming quarters against the Rockets, Gentry finally got that elevated play from Vince Carter and a pair of unlikely culprits — Zabian Dowdell and Josh Childress.

Dowdell and Childress combined for 26 points, nine assists, six rebounds and five steals in 49 minutes off the bench, while Carter scored 19 second-half points to bring the Suns within striking distance after trailing by 15 in the third quarter.

Along with Carter’s scoring, the duo of Dowdell and Childress re-energized a lifeless Suns team, each drilling their first three-pointer of the season and having far and away their best games in purple and orange.

Dowdell and Childress provided a huge, unexpected lift, but without Frye or Nash to turn to with the game on the line, the Suns fell short 95-93 in Houston.

Although the Suns had no business being in the game after two and a half quarters, Dowdell (11 points, five assists, four steals and plus-20), Childress (15 points, six rebounds, four assists and plus-13) and Carter (21 points) gave them a chance down the stretch.

The trio combined for 35 of the Suns’ 49 second-half points as they did it offensively, defensively and on the boards. The Suns were chipping away at the lead early in the fourth and eventually tied things up at 91 when Childress came flying in from the weak side to follow a Carter missed three-pointer with a two-handed tip-slam.

Kyle Lowry came right back to hit a deep two to recapture the lead. After Chuck Hayes — who had a monster night with a career-high 21 points to go along with nine rebounds — made one of two free throws, Marcin Gortat cut the lead to one with 15 seconds left as he dropped in a two-handed slam.

On the Suns’ next defensive possession, Carter and Jared Dudley trapped Kevin Martin and Dudley was awarded the jump ball with the Suns down one and 13.6 seconds on the clock. Martin won the tip, but Chase Budinger ultimately made only one of two free throws, giving the Suns a chance to tie or take the lead.

Dudley, who was 3-of-8 on the night, ended up with a wide-open three-pointer on the left wing that he left an inch short as the buzzer sounded and Phoenix’s valiant effort behind a pair of unlikely heroes came up just short.

Hayes, Kevin Martin (23 points) and the Rockets’ 16 offensive rebounds were too much for the Suns, and Phoenix’s ugly first half left them too much work with not enough time. The Suns once again looked lost without Nash, and Brooks appeared clueless running the pick and roll offense.

Brooks went 1-for-9 in 20 minutes while committing three turnovers and getting abused by Lowry on the defensive end. Phoenix put up only 16 first-quarter points — their lowest first-quarter total since Nov. 18 against the Magic when Nash was out.

The Suns outscored Houston 26-23 in the second quarter to cut the deficit to a manageable eight points, but the Rockets started pulling away as they opened up the third on a 10-4 run to take a 14-point lead. The offense remained stagnant and Phoenix turned the ball over three times in the first 3:09 of the quarter.

But when Dowdell entered the game for Brooks with 7:16 left in the quarter, the Suns finally regained life. Dowdell and Carter combined for 15 of Phoenix’s final 16 points in the quarter and gave the team confidence heading into the fourth.

Behind Carter’s scoring, Dowdell’s defense (he limited Lowry to 3-for-8 shooting and two turnovers after he entered the game in the third) and Childress’ activity the Suns made a ball game out of it. But the Suns were never able to break through and take the lead (which they never had all game) and they fell 2.5 games behind Memphis for the eighth seed in the West.

Aside from Brooks’ continuously awful play, there were a lot of positives to take away from tonight’s game. Childress played as well as he has all year with his first double-digit scoring game since Dec. 20 and Dowdell proved he’s a more than capable NBA backup point guard.

But unfortunatlely for the Suns, only 17 games remain and player development and moral victories mean nothing in terms of the playoff race. They know they may be able to compete at times without Nash and Frye, but it may be too little too late.

Tags: Josh Childress Zabian Dowdell

  • Phil

    Not quite is right, but this was a good effort considering Nash and Frye are out and its a back to back on the road. I’ve always thought J-Chill was a decent signing – he could replace Carter’s production at a fraction of the cost, whilst also being another excellent perimeter defender.

    Only question is, are we going to be too far back by the time Nash and Frye return?

  • Sean

    Childress is a good player. He’s efficient offensively, he’s a good long defender, and he rebounds well for his position. I’m tired of hearing that he was a bad signing; he just hasn’t gotten much opportunity here. I’m thinking the Suns don’t need to replace Carter after this season. They already have Dudley, Pietrus, and Childress to play the 2/3 spot.

  • PJ

    take that 14 mil cap releif that we’ll get from buying out vince and attract a decent power forward.

    That said vince has played much better as of late and i will stop my hating

  • Kyle

    I agree Sean & PJ- Childress is a good player. I don’t understand why Gentry isn’t so big on the guy, but between him, Pietrus, and Dudley there’s no need to sign Carter. Carter’s been playing well lately, for sure, and has proven he’s got stuff left in the tank. But PJ is right that we need the cap space for a PF.

    Here’s my question: at what point do we start to hope for a better chance at a good lottery pick? I’m a huge Suns fan and not a skeptic, but when do we realize that loosing may be in the team’s best interests? If we want to get out of the revolving middle of the pack team cycle that was posted a week ago, don’t we need to hope for a lottery pick? Or at least a better pick that we can package with another player (Lopez?) to move up and grab …. JIMMER!

  • Evan

    We should resign Carter (if its for <4mil a year) Trade Nash (he deserves better) and Lopez for young talented players, and/ or draft picks/move up in the draft, get a new coach, Gentry is not cutting it. Its time for a full rebuilding mode, what is depressing is Brooks is obviously not going to work out, Dowdell is good, but he is playing for a contract, what will happen when he gets it?

  • Mel.

    … why would you trade Lopez for a “young, talented player?” Like we don’t have enough of those sitting on the bench as-is, and Robin’s some washed-up veteran who needs to be used as fool’s gold to attract more rookies?

    And as for the Brooks bashing, I’ll call the usual BS. The kid has been here for less than FIVE GAMES. You over-reactionary goofs need to adjust your armchair GM La-Z-Boys and accept the fact that NOBODY playing in Nash’s shadow is going to become an All-Star contributor while MVSteve is still holding the point.

    Also, it’s nice to see Dowdell getting the same stupid comments that are usually reserved for Brooks and Carter. “He’s playing for a contract! As soon as he gets it, he’ll somehow stop producing and become Raja Bell!”

    Cripes. Watch a game or two before hopping onto the doom train, and sounding off like we were in the same chalupa as Cleveland.

  • sun also rises

    @ Mel: I blame Sarver! (j/k)

  • Freddy

    Agrees with Mel.

  • MKM

    Childress was the BEST Suns player last night. Hill & Carter’s minutes should be reduced (to keep them charged) and give Childress 15 to 20 regular minutes.

  • Steve

    I really like Dowdell’s effort, but I really hate his stroke. In the Denver game and especially the Orlando game, he was WAY off the mark on his j. If he could find a shooter’s touch, I honestly believe he can be a good player in this league, someone who would provide significant value to a team.

    But, as his shot currently stands, he is really nothing more than a Jason Braxton (for all you ASU fans). Very athletic and talented, but ultimately not that useful because he can’t hit the long ball while playing at a position that NEEDS to be able to hit that shot.

  • Mel.

    ^His left-wide jumpers in the Magic game did prompt one of the more hilarious JVG moments of night: “What was th… how many airballs have there even been, in this game? Is anybody keeping track?”

    Agreed, though. He seems to hurry every shot opportunity that comes his way, open or not.

  • Dougie

    Lopez seems start slowly every time out. Why don’t we start Gortat?

  • Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    @ Dougie, (great dance): Lopez continues to start because, for whatever reason, Gentry loves his six or seven minutes at the beginning of the game with the starters. And because “Gortat plays starter’s minutes anyway, it’s not a big deal.”

    Well, it is a big deal.

    Gortat should be starting; getting proper “starter” minutes, IE: getting his time in proper line with the other starters on the team.

    It’d also give the teams we go up against something else to think about.

    Honestly, at this stage in his career I think RoLo is better suited coming off of the bench where he can be more of a bully until his game develops a bit more.

    While I’m not going to jump directly onto the Brooks-Bashing-Brigade, it’s clear that while he is trying with all he has, it’s not at all what he is. He’s an undersized scoring weapon. He is somebody that should be on the end of the play and not the guy setting everything up.

    Water under the bridge now. Where is my Dragon…

    ZD’s broke jump shot is not an immediate problem simply because he does have the eye as a play maker and his defensive awareness is quite good.

    Plus having limited ranged will keep him going towards the basket, which keeps defenses in collapse mode which opens up people for shots.

    Is Vince Carter still on this team? I haven’t seen him in awhile.

  • Zak

    I love Dowdell’s effort. Yeah his lack of an outside shot hurts but at least he doesn’t throw it up every chance he gets.

    Childress actually did NOT surprise me in this game. I’ve lways thought he’s one of those guys who just does everything really well although he’s not really outstanding at anything. A solid scorer, defender, rebounder and team player. The injured finger early in the season really hampered his game and he’s obviously over that now.

    And I kind of understand having Gortat come off the bench. Sure he deserves to start but if he did who could Gentry rely on to be some sort of force with the 2nd unit on the court? I think without him out there the 2nd unit might get badly blown out in some games.

    I certainly don’t think that the Suns should consider loosing as in the best interests of the team to try and get a higher lottery pick but I really think that even making the 8th seed this year is out of reach right now. With that in mind, “experimenting” with line-ups, rotation and game time for certain players with an eye toward the future wouldn’t be a bad idea. Giving Childress more minutes would be a good start. And cutting back on Steve’s minutes for the rest of the season – whether they go to Brooks or Dowdell – will help keep him healthy. If he actually wants to be traded to a contender for next season, management should do their best for him… but everything I know about Steve just suggests that he’s more about “the team” than about himself. I doubt he would ask for a trade and if he doesn’t, I don’t think that the Suns should do him a “favor” by trading him.