Houston Rockets 96, Phoenix Suns 89 — Dragon’s revenge

PHOENIX — Goran Dragic made a name for himself feasting on opposing bench units two years ago in US Airways Center.

The Dragon returned to the scene of the crime Thursday and pulled the trick once again, leading a Rockets bench that was the difference in Houston’s 96-89 win over the Suns as was so often the case for Phoenix’s special 2009-10 reserve unit.

“Their bench came in and did a great job as they did last night,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry, whose team’s three-game winning streak ended. “You have to match that energy level. Their second unit really is the one that controlled the game.”

Houston’s reserves outscored the Suns’ bench 57-13, with all but two of Phoenix’s bench points coming courtesy of Michael Redd.

Meanwhile, all five Rockets bench players (Dragic, former UA stars Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill, Patrick Patterson and Courtney Lee) reached double figures. Dragic was a career-high plus 27 in this one, while Budinger was a plus 25 and Patterson plus 22 as every Rockets reserve was at least plus 17 and each starter no better than minus 13.

The Houston bench wrested control of the game in the second quarter with a 13-0 spurt that helped the Rockets lead by 10 at the half. Kevin McHale went back to his bench five minutes into the second half when the Suns fought back to regain the lead, and then Dragic and Budinger joined three starters for a late 8-0 Rockets run that put Houston up seven with just over three minutes remaining.

Dragic finished with 11 points and a season-high-tying 11 assists while sparking the Houston reserve corps with the kind of energy Suns fans are so accustomed to.

“I think Goran’s been great, particularly two years ago for us he played as well as he’s playing now, so I think he’s always had it in him and he’s got a chance to be a really, really good player,” said Suns guard Steve Nash, his former mentor. “He played well tonight, I think he’s playing well consistently for them, but I think the best is still to come for him.  He’s got a lot of talent, he’s competitive and he works hard, so obviously a lot of us believe in him and are rooting for him.”

The Rockets’ bench prowess made the Suns’ off game off the pine all the more glaring. Due to their ineffectiveness, only Redd played more than 13 minutes as every starter logged at least 30 and Frye and Gortat were over 40. Robin Lopez and Markieff Morris played six and a half minutes, and Shannon Brown, Ronnie Price and Hakim Warrick once again didn’t even play.

Aside from the bench issues, Phoenix also lost this game on the backboards.

Gentry could not get over the fact that the Rockets scored 22 second-chance points (20 in the first half) off their 12 offensive boards whereas Phoenix scored just six off five offensive caroms.

“You can’t give up 22 points on second-chance points and have six,” Gentry said. “That’s just too much of a discrepancy there. The thing that’s so disheartening about it is that first possessions we played great, they shot in the 30s and second-chance points they ended up shooting 48 percent because of second-chance points. I thought we battled and did a good job, but we have to find a way to come up with the ball.”

No single Rocket destroyed the Suns on the glass, but as seems to be the case with everything about Houston they did this as a team. Five players grabbed either six or seven boards but nobody hit the glass for more than that (the two leading rebounders in the game were actually Frye with 10 and Gortat with nine). However, Luis Scola (five) and Samuel Dalembert (three) were bears on the offensive glass.

“We gave up tons of offensive rebounds,” Gortat said. “I’ve got to play better.

“Personally I don’t know what I was doing the first five minutes. I was sleeping out there, I guess. I didn’t play really hard. They had a couple offensive rebounds, we could have easily had 12-point lead, and that’s how it is.”

Added Frye, “They established they were going to get on the glass early.”

Despite all the rebounding issues and the bench disparity, the Suns actually led by a point with 6:10 left when Nash banked in one of his seven field goals (on seven attempts).

But poor execution that led to six turnovers followed to seal the Suns’ fate as they went scoreless for nearly four minutes.

“I think we just didn’t execute down the stretch,” Frye said. “We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make every play and be perfect at the end, and we can’t do that. We have to make sure we are in a good rhythm and establish how we’re going to play in the first half.”

Nash called this “a really disappointing loss” being that the Suns had seemed to find their mojo on the recent road trip whereas Houston was getting in late after a hard-fought game in Portland last night (you might remember how things ended up when the Blazers made such a trip on short rest).

Nash called it “a winnable game,” yet the Suns could not extend their winning streak to four because there were too many plays in which they were “mentally switched off,” as Nash put it.

Now the Suns must confront a reality in which their 5-7 home record is holding back a team that boasts a very respectable 6-8 road mark. Good teams go 6-8 on the road – in fact the Suns possess the West’s sixth-best road record ahead of teams like the Lakers, Spurs and Blazers — but only the lowly Hornets are worse at home.

This must be killing Gentry because every year he emphasizes how critical it is to take care of your home court yet the Suns could not follow up their stellar road trip with a key home win.

“It is terrible,” Frye said. “The fans are doing a great job, coming out here and supporting us and like I said, we just have to take advantage of the opportunities that we have here and definitely start winning at home.

“This is starting to really suck and I think the fans want to see us win; they come out, pay good money to see us play well and tonight we just didn’t do it, we didn’t execute, but we’re going to continue to work hard, go on this road trip and do the best we can.”

And 1

  • The Suns have lost three in a row to the Rockets after beating them seven consecutive times. … Frye scored a season-high 21 points to pick up his third double-double of the season and first since Jan. 2. … Nash leads the league with 12 double-doubles of points and assists.
  • Reader Neal did some digging on Basketball Reference and discovered a unique stat on Nash’s performance Thursday night. Two Time made the second-most field goals (seven) in a game in which the player dishes at least 13 assists, doesn’t miss a shot and doesn’t attempt a three or a free throw; Jeff Hornacek did the same thing while canning eight shots for the Suns in 1988. Avery Johnson, Nate McMillan and John Stockton are the only other player to put up such a stat line, just with fewer field goals.

Tags: Goran Dragic

  • Serek

    “Houston’s reserves outscored the Suns’ bench 57-13″
    Which equates to Suns’ starters/bench scoring of 76 to 13 (39 to 57 for the Rockets). I’d expect the Heat to put that kind of ratio.
    And winning more on the road than at home? And Frye getting to the rim from outside throwing it DOWN and leading the team in rebounds?!?
    Everything is backwards this season with the Suns. Only Nash and Gortat are still doing the same.

  • Serek

    And at the same time the guys who played a major role in every decent Suns game that I managed to see – Price, Warrick and Brown – get DNP-CD.

    Then who exactly was on the floor as the 2nd unit? No scoring (except Redd), no rebounds, no assists, not even turnovers! Did these guys even pass the ball?

    No chemistry whatsoever. Where is the advertised chemistry and depth of this squad?

  • V

    Gentry really needs to play Warrick with the second unit. He provides scoring and gets to the line when he gets time on the floor. Why the hell is he riding the bench!?!?!

  • Scott

    I’m liking what Frye’s been doing with his dunks and drives. The Suns need more of that. So keep it up Frye!

    As for Gortat … my impression is that over the last few games he’s been regressing a bit. Has he peaked? Quite possibly. If so, I think all of those looking at Gortat as someone to build a team around should re-evaluate, because the Gortat I see is a talented role player and not a franchise player.

    As for the Suns’ 2nd unit, what I’ve seen the last several games is a lot of loosey-goosey play that sometimes helps, sometimes hurts, and sometimes makes no real difference. There seems to be no plan for the 2nd unit other than to hustle.

    Accordingly, I don’t see what rationale Gentry has for excluding or bringing in his DNPs. Are we to believe Price, Warrick, and Brown on the bench because they don’t hustle?

    While I appreciate Telfair’s level of effort, he’s yet to convince me he’s the man for the job. The Suns keep saying he’s great for the 2nd unit, and doing an exemplary job, but I don’t see it. I’m left to believe that so long as you speak to the coach with aggression about how you’ve got responsibility for the 2nd unit and every night you’re going to take it to the other team, well, that’s what he wants to hear. He buys into it and you’re set, because the coach is just waiting for someone else to take responsibility for the 2nd unit, so he doesn’t have to.

    Price is probably on the bench because he told Gentry, “I realize you’re probably going to give the job to Telfair because he said he’d make it work no matter what players you give him, but I have to honestly say, if you want the bench unit to score we need a plan for where the scoring and defense is going to come from and the players to make it happen. If you want the 2nd unit to be successful, there needs to be a coherent plan and a reasonable level of consistency.”

    Speaking of PGs who were released because they didn’t impress the coach … with Dragic’s stellar play, there is no doubt the Rockets will re-sign him to a nice contract. The Suns have clearly had their opportunities to solidify the roster at PG the last few years, and whiffed.

  • JZ

    Anyone think it’s possible to reunite the Morris brothers in the valley of the suns? Phoenix should try to trade for Marcus and give him a chance. Warrick and Brown and 1 or 2 2nd round picks for Hasheem Thabeet and Marcus Morris.

  • Grover

    I’m glad to see Gortat is aware he played like crap. That at least shows some self-awareness and accountability that bodes well for hopeful improvement.

    The popular sentiment on this board is definitely tha Gortat is a franchise player, but I’ve always disagreed. He’s a really nice player and would be a terrific addition to an already good team. He has never shown the ability to dominate individual games, however. Teams dont game plan for him and he doesnt cause whole defenses to be aware of where he is.

    He turns 28 in a week… He’s not going to get too much better than what he’s already shown us.

  • Sean

    Grover – I agree with your assessments of Gortat.

    One, I’m glad to see his self-awareness and self-motivation. Two, I think he’s a very good player but not a franchise player.

    But I don’t agree that the popular sentiment on VOTS is that he’s a franchise player. I read most posts on here, and follow the Suns pretty closely. He’s perhaps the best center we’ve had since Alvan Adams. But even Adams wasn’t a “franchise” player.

    My perception is that Gortat’s pretty accurately rated. He’s a good keeper, or maybe someone that could fetch some quality pieces in a trade. He’s a borderline all-star, and probably will be for several years.

  • http://www.pixeleight.org jeremy

    This game is another reason why the dragic/brooks trade was so terriable.

    If we still had Dragic, at least we would have a solid backup for the future, and maybe a developing draft pick right now, instead we have telfair and price, whoa, what pile of spare junk.

  • Mel.

    “My perception is that Gortat’s pretty accurately rated. He’s a good keeper, or maybe someone that could fetch some quality pieces in a trade. He’s a borderline all-star, and probably will be for several years.”

    Agreed. The thing is, if a guy with Gortat’s ceiling and upside was playing the two or the point, then caution and/or skepticism would definitely be merited. He’s the epitome of a “thousand-hour” guy with a dedication to improvement (and an opportunity to do so), but his biggest hook is that he’s playing one of the most underrepresented positions in the NBA, right now.

    I mean, seriously. After–and even this listing is debatable–DMC, Dwight, Chandler, Bogut and Bynum, the five becomes a totally arbitrary mishmash of opinions and fundamentally sound–albeit not great–players. We’ve got Noah, Perkins, Varejao, Jordan, the Lopez boys… all of whom have lower production and potential (in my opinion, anyway) than Gortat does.

    So even if it’s just due to a soft standard, I don’t balk at projecting a possible All-Star spot and franchise player status for Marcin. He’s certainly got more of an opportunity to grab that brass ring (DEM RINGZ) on this team than any of the guys listed above do for their respective franchises.

  • Scott

    @JZ -

    If there was a way to get Morris from Houston, then sure, I’d be all for it … except of course that half the Suns play the same position, and even if you try to buy Thabeet’s contract, the Suns still can’t make a good offer.

    Now if Houston tries to make a deal to land Howard this summer, maybe the Suns could be a third party in that trade.

    You could do something like:

    Suns get: Marcus Morris, Dragic (re-signed), Thabeet
    Magic get: Dalembert, Martin, Childress, Warrick
    Rockets get: Howard, Turkoglu

    If such a trade were to go through, it may not get the Suns back into the championship hunt, but it would help them recover from their recent mistakes.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/True_Rys Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    So now Gortat isn’t a beast because of a small sample size of sub-par games. Games where he wasn’t the focal point.

    More and more, everyday, I get why sports writers and even truehoop bloggers erupt with anger over things like this.


    Why would Houston give up anything for a player who isn’t going to sign there and HEDO TURKOGLU.

    The second unit didn’t produce because Houston has a second unit that is far superior to what Phoenix has. Plain and simple.

    Nash praises Dragic at every opportunity and if you read between the lines of his comments you can see that they scream, “I still don’t understand why he isn’t a Sun.”

  • KeZ

    Dragic got traded for uuuhhhmmm……….N-O-T-H-I-N-G!

    In my opinion that´s one of the worst move the phx managment ever made.

  • Scott

    @KeZ -

    It’s worse than that. The Suns also traded away a 2nd round pick, which turned out to be MarShon Brooks, who is playing very well at the SG spot. 14 PPG as a rookie, with a PER of 18.5. That would make him like the 3rd best Suns player, behind Nash and Gortat.

  • KeZ

    @Scott -

    I know, and that makes it even more frustrating.

    It will be interesting to see if the Suns roster will remain the same after the trade deadline.

  • Grover

    Where I disagree with many posts here is Gortat’s potential. He’s 28! How much better do you think he’ll get? You just don’t see many players that age that get much better. If you’re not an all star by 28, chances are high you won’t be.

  • Scott

    @Grover -

    I agree, except for 2 things: 1) Gortat was hidden behind Howard, and 2) they say big men often take longer to develop.

    Frankly, I’m glad Gortat spent his early years in the NBA developing his defensive game. He’s got confidence and he’s pretty good at it. I don’t see him improving further in this area. As for offense, that’s new to him, and I can see him making some improvements, like maybe learning to shoot his free throws better, and maybe picking up a few new post moves.

    However, for whatever reason – whether it be the system or his talent level – his production seems to be locked in at under 20 points a game.