It was a nice touch that the Houston Rockets acknowledged the return of Luis Scola, and a fun storyline that Goran Dragic and Marcus Morris also returned to their old stomping grounds. But there are new faces in Houston. The home court for the Rockets added to the obvious revenge factor after Saturday’s 107-105 Suns win, and the result was a 111-81 rout on Wednesday.
Rookie big man Donatas Montiejunas led Houston with 19 points, and the Rockets’ frontcourt obliterated Phoenix as the Suns struggled to do the fundamental things that made the three-point shooting of the Rockets the only thing going for them two games prior. The Rockets outrebounded the Suns 46-29 as the starting frontcourt outscored Phoenix’s 34-13 – that doesn’t count Thomas Robinson’s 12 off the bench. In fact, the frontline production of the Morris twins and Scola was so poor that unknown bench forward Greg Smith grabbed 12 rebounds to nine total by the three Suns starters.
So Houston’s 10-of-21 shooting from three-point range didn’t matter. Neither did James Harden’s relatively quiet night of 18 points and four assists.
And allowing the opponent to close the first half on a 20-2 run is a recipe for a big loss as well. For a team that shoots so well from the outside, the Rockets penetration and slick passing broke down the Suns’ interior defense to spell “blowout,” and that was a pleasant surprise from their perspective.
To start the game, Phoenix tacked point guard Goran Dragic onto Harden, firstly, to keep the Rockets’ All-Star in front of the defense, and secondly, to put pressure on his three-point shot that had torched the Suns for seven three-pointers on Saturday.
In one way, it worked.
Dragic actually played well against Harden, a sign that any future involving Dragic playing alongside Kendall Marshall in the backcourt wouldn’t be a defensive liability. Yet in another way, the plan backfired. Dragic picked up three quick fouls by the second quarter, and the point guard’s final departure in the first half yielded that 20-2 spurt.
During that span, Montiejunas, Smith, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik scored, but it was Harden who had the final say, hitting a layup and then a three for the final five points to put Houston ahead 58-45 at the break.
Montiejunas, a 22-year-old rookie, filed in a career-high 19 points to lead the Rockets attack, which had five other players score in double-figures on Wednesday.
Wes Johnson continued his hot shooting that began in the second half on Monday against Denver, and he led Phoenix with 15 points. Dragic was the only other starter in double-figures with 11 to go with his four assists and five rebounds, but foul trouble and the ensuing blowout saw him play just 20 minutes.
Michael Beasley and Marshall added 10 each off the bench, but again, it came back to the ineffective frontline.
Hamed Haddadi was rendered not useful in the fastpaced game that was filled with 45 combined turnovers, and the return of Jermaine O’Neal didn’t have the results the Suns could have hoped for. O’Neal looked rusty and turned the ball over four times. By the end of it, Houston won the paint battle – as Denver did a game prior – 50-32 and had 19 second-chance points to four for the Suns.
And just as Denver did a game prior, the Rockets shot nearly 10 percent better as the Suns were again stuck to doing something they’re not great at — scoring from the perimeter.
Young point guards shine
Kendall Marshall’s one issue when he struggled in the scoring department on the Bakersfield Jam several months ago was an over-aggression of sorts. First, he was shooting at the requests of his advisors – one was Hunter – but he soon returned to the pass-first point guard that had earned him the status of a No. 13 draft selection.
So far in the NBA, he’s been more of a game manager than anything as both his scoring and assists number have been subpar. If there was anything to take from the blowout against the Rockets on Wednesday, then it was Marshall’s meshing of both his own scoring and his passing.
The rookie finished with six assists and 10 points. His shooting looked both smart in selection, reactionary rather than hesitant, and then effective. He hit 4-of-6 shots, including going 2-of-4 from beyond the arc. Marshall even hit a pull-up 14-footer in transition.
Marshall has hit 5-of-11 three-pointers in his last three games.
In the blowout, Diante Garrett got some burn alongside Marshall. He scored nine points by way of impressive attacks of the rim in transition and even hit a three-pointer.
Former Suns point guard Aaron Brooks made his debut for the Rockets after being acquired off waivers earlier this month. An apparent fan favorite, Brooks began his second stint with Houston with a bang, hitting a three-point during garbage time that gave his team a 36-point lead, its largest of the game.