Phoenix Suns 97, Houston Rockets 88 – No fear of the Beard

The following statement can no longer be disputed: when the Phoenix Suns bring the effort, they can beat anyone in the Western Conference. A night after a second half blowout at the hands of the Grizzlies, the Suns went into Houston and dominated the Rockets with their defense en route to 97-88 victory. This was a night of firsts. This was Phoenix’s first road win against a team over .500. It was Phoenix’s first win on the second night of a back-to-back this season. It was Eric Bledsoe’s first great game after returning from injury. This was also the first time the Rockets, the No. 1 offense in the NBA, have been held under 90 points this season. It was Houston’s least efficient game of the season as they shot a paltry 35 percent from the field.

The Suns defense was light years better than their last two games against Memphis on the road and Utah at home. Phoenix forced the Rockets into 22 turnovers, 10 of which were committed by Houston’s stars James Harden and Dwight Howard. P.J. Tucker had his best game of the season. He completely locked down the Beard from start to finish. Harden ended the night 3-of-17 from the field and 0-of-10 from downtown. Harden only made it to double figures because of his eight made free throws. Tucker was in Harden’s head, and by the end of the night, the former ASU star couldn’t even hit the rim on a wide-open look from downtown.

But Tucker’s contributions didn’t end there. He also grabbed four offensive boards, handed out four assists, and grabbed four steals in his 40 minutes of play. Despite playing last night, Tucker, Dragic, and Bledsoe each played 40 minutes and were instrumental to the Suns’ winning effort.

If not for Houston’s bench, this game would have been a blowout early. The Suns once again failed to contain a scrappy score-first guard, allowing Aaron Brooks to score 17 points off the bench. Guys like Brooks and Sacramento’s Isaiah Thomas seem to give Phoenix trouble at both ends of the floor. It’s something Phoenix will need to address as the season moves on.

The Suns led for most of the game, but tried to give it away more than once in the third and fourth quarters. It was a 12-0 Suns’ run late in the fourth that finally put the game out of reach for the charging Rockets. Marcus Morris hit two back breaking triples during that run which quashed Houston’s comeback hopes. Marcus was one of five Suns to hit at least two three in the game (Dragic, Bledsoe, Tucker, and Frye.) Between their 33 points from downtown and 26 points off the fastbreak, the Suns were an easy team to watch and a hard team to defend.

For more on this game, let’s answer our three preview questions.

Do the Suns win the third quarter?

Yes, no, and yes. Yes, the Suns outscored the Rockets in third quarter, something they have failed to do frequently this season, especially on the road. But Phoenix needed a 10-0 run late in the quarter to do it. The Suns allowed Houston to cut their 11-point halftime lead to just two before that final run pulled them out of their tail spin. The Suns were ice cold and turnover prone in coming out of halftime. If not for Howard and Harden having very off nights, this game could have ended up like the Memphis game, with the Suns getting trampled in the second half. But ultimately Phoenix removed the lid from the basket, took better care of the ball, and buckled down on D. The third quarter wasn’t pretty, but Phoenix gutted it out, took the Rockets’ best shot, and earned themselves a win.

How does Bledsoe bounce back from Tuesday’s abysmal performance?

It’s too early to say that Bledsoe is all the way back. But 20 points and seven assists on 50 percent shooting is certainly a big step in the right direction. Bledsoe was incredibly tentative in the first half. He was hesitant to shoot and hesitant to penetrate into the Howard-occupied lane. He looked more than a step slow with the ball in his hands. But for all that hesitation, his jumper was spot on and he led the Suns in scoring with eight points in the first quarter. In the second half, Bledsoe found his speed. He pushed the ball up the court, found open men and really looked more like himself. He was still a bit shaky driving to the hoop, but when the game got tight down the stretch, he was the steady hand on the wheel that guided the Suns to victory. This was a bounce back game for Eric, but he’ll need more performances like this one before we can pronounce him fully recovered.

Over/under 20 points and 15 rebounds for Dwight Howard?

Howard ended the night with 18 boards, but just tallied just 15 points on 4-11 shooting. Surprisingly, he was great from the free throw line hitting 7-of-9. Howard and the Rockets dominated the glass 54-40, which is par for the course for Phoenix. But Houston also had 21-8 edge on the offensive glass. That line in the box score, more so than anything else in this game, is the reason the Rockets hung around. The Suns simply gave them way too many second chance opportunities. Half of Howard’s made buckets came from his 10 offensive rebounds. But aside from doing a very poor job blocking out, Miles Plumlee and Channing Frye actually defended D12 very well. Before tip off, the announcers noted that Plumlee is actually leading Howard in blocks per game so far this year. Miles added to that lead as he blocked Howard twice, while Dwight recorded no blocks as all. Plumlee was all effort. He banged with Howard every minute he was on the floor, fighting for position and making Howard work incredibly hard for his shots. Frye was equally effective, but more cagey and veteran-like than Plumlee. Together they forced Howard into five turnovers and made him an offensive liability for the Rockets. Though the Suns’ frontline is undersized, the effort Phoenix’s big men expend on nights like tonight more than makes up for their deficiencies.

Tags: Eric Bledsoe Houston Rockets Phoenix Suns Phoenix Suns Recap Pj Tucker


    great the headline ryan


    what am i missing here? brooks made less points than shots taken and ish smith part is confusing..your quote ryan “Guys like Brooks and Sacramento’s Ish Smith seem to give Phoenix trouble at both ends of the floor. It’s something Phoenix will need to address as the season moves on.” ..maybe you will edit the article and make me look like a fool or I’m looking like a fool naturally because i don’t get it

  • Luka

    The Suns did what they had to, but it was from a perfect game. To me it was just two teams jacking up shots, and turning the ball over. Tucker really did a good job neutralizing Harden, and Bledsoe shook off the rust. It’s a win, and we needed it.

  • Melon Man

    Thinking he meant Isiah Thomas

  • Oliver Miller

    I had a grilled BBQ pork sandwich, and a bud light as I watched from the skybox. Good game Suns! I’m available for minutes at the 5 but McDonough ain’t returning my calls.

  • Melon Man

    I thought you were selling cars Oliver?

  • Oliver Miller

    Nah bro, I’m not selling cars no more. Lon Babby said he wanted to bring me in for a workout but then I never heard back from him or McDonough. This kinda sucks because I need money to host a picnic.

  • Scott

    Glad the Suns won, but more glad they played with good effort.


    ryan i make a good editor..thanks for changing…melon man was spot on

  • EBJM

    Speaking of Ish Smith, I thought the best reason to keep him was to specifically be a “designated” defender of the short scoring PGs like Aaron Brooks.

    Tucker’s job on Harden earns him All-Defensive 1st team honors. It was incredible.

    I do not understand why Horny put in Slava for a few useless seconds at the end of two periods. Let the guy put his body on Howard for a few minutes to help out poor Plumlee and Frye who were taking a physical beating from him. Both hung tough but Howard was cleaning the boards with both of them.

    Markieff really sucks and if Marcus didn’t hit those two late three-pointers I’d say he also sucks.

    To Oliver Miller: Come-on now, you ate the whole hog not just one sandwich. Secondly, as part of your probation you aren’t allowed to host any picnics. Thirdly your probation officer will not allow you to leave Maryland to come play for Phoenix. Fourthly, Sarver said he wouldn’t pay for two seats for your plane flights.

    Let this be a lesson to all of you walking up on Oliver while he is eating, do not try and take his pork or he will pistol-whip you upside your head too.

    While Omri Casspi was born in Israel, Suns did have a Jewish player who finished his career playing in Israel, Joel Kramer. He was a popular Sun who lasted five seasons with Phoenix and the NBA.

    Plumlee is #7 in the league in blocked shots.

    My Robin Lopez watch: Blazers are for real as they are now 16-3 after beating the Thunder last night. The Thunder have seen their window to a championship close after losing James Harden and the regression of center Kendall Perkins.

    Robin posted yet another double-double with 12/10 and FOUR blocked shots! Bigger yet is that Robin’s play has elevated LaMarcus Aldridge’s play to MVP level.

    Blazer fans were over-sold on Lopez and after his dismal performance and the Blazer’s loss to Phoenix on opening night, Blazer fans were wondering out-loud how long before coach Terry Stotts would be fired.

    I think Stotts has to be the front-runner for Coach of the Year thus far with Brian Shaw in 2nd place and then our own Hornecek in 3rd. Shaw is doing an incredible job with the mess he inherited in Denver.

    Forever I’m sorry but it is just incredible what your boy is doing for the team with the 2nd best record in the league!

    There are only two centers who can clearly dominate Robin, Howard who will most likely face Robin in the WCFs if the pairings fall that way and Roy Hibbert in the Finals if Oden doesn’t pan out for the Heat and the Pacers get there as many believe they will.

    Rockets are deep and they will be tough for the Blazers if they are healthy. Suns caught them without Parsons who really helps facilitate their offense and defense; Howard’s back-up Asik and Lin who had been playing well for them before the injury.

    At this rate the Suns are going to tease us out of the lottery and into a #10 to #14 draft pick.

  • EBJM

    To Scott and Dave:32. Malcolm Thomas played for San Antonio during the 2nd half of the ’11-’12 season. So like Scott, they have kept an eye on him as he has played around the world. Lakers and Bulls both gave him a shot in between his two tours with the Spurs.

    He is a former teammate of Spurs Kawhi Leonard when they played at San Diego State. His draft profiles make him sound like a taller and longer Gerald Green.

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  • Voqar

    It was a win and the suns played with energy but all the stupid turnovers and missed GOOD shots were tough to witness.

    One game they’ll have few turnovers. One game they’ll play great defense. One game they’ll hit tons of shots. If they could put it all together consistently they’d be dangerous. Hopefully that refinement comes over time.

    I’d like to see Goodwin get a bit more PT. He’s shown some sparks here and there but he usually gets so little time and plays with the morris no-pass cannons that he can’t do much of anything unless he gets a steal and goes coast to coast.

  • Foreveris2long

    Vogar you are money about Goodwin. I too would love to see him get more playing time as well but that is virtually impossible with Dragic and Bledsoe sharing the backcourt and Green playing well. Then when Goodwin gets a look, he is in the game with the twins who seem to primarily pass to each other. I talked about this about two weeks ago. This is my primary reason for hoping the Suns trade one of their guards. It is not personal but I hope they trade Dragic due to his age.

    EBJM, I watch Portland just about every game, so once again you are bringing the groceries when discussing Lopez. In fact the Thunder announcer said last night in his opinion Robin was as good as Brook but that he is a different type of center. I agree with that because Robin defends and rebounds better than his brother. Even if he does not block a shot he makes shots difficult in the paint. I also agree he is a factor in the fact Aldridge is having his best season of his career as Lopez is carrying a lot of weight defensively.

    Although Plumlee’s numbers are similar to Robin’s numbers, at 7′ 1″, I think Robin affects more shots and is a better defender just because he is longer and still agile. If Robin was still on the Suns we would only be a real power forward forward and a dominant 3 away from being a really good team. As it stands now, we are a center, until proven otherwise, a really good small forward and a power forward from being good. Was it 95% of the message board who hated Lopez when he was on the Suns? When I would yell trade Gortat,keep Lopez, they wanted to ship me to the crazy farm.

    Anyway I love watching Portland and OKC. OKC IMO will continue to struggle against really good teams until they get quality play from the center spot. Westbrook and Durant are not enough. I will say though that Lamb and Reggie Jackson are improving and getting quality minutes so they may be a lot better as the season progresses. Although they can win on any given night, I think to have sustained success in a 7 game series against an Indiana, Portland and Heat team, Lamb and Jackson will have to be a factor. Adams could help too but that is a lot of pressure for a rookie.

    Denver has surpassed all of my expectations so props to Shaw and the job he is doing. I played golf with his first cousin yesterday so it was funny hearing some Brian Shaw stories.

    Great road win but I sure wish Goodwin could get some quality minutes.

  • Foreveris2long

    Anyone notice the Wizards are 9-9 and have won 7 of their last 10 games? I think they are #5 in the Eastern Conference standings. Great trade McD.

  • john

    @Melon Man

    Isiah didn’t play for Sacto, as far as I remember. He was known pretty well for his contributions to a different team, and also for a scandal and ruining the hopes of one of the sports most famous franchises by being the worst front-office member we’ve seen in quite some time.

    Side note: I’m actually moderately convinced that Jordan would be a FANTASTIC GM if he wanted to be, but he’s so dead set on one-upping Isiah in every way that he took it as a personal challenge to be WORSE than Isiah in that role. Being better was too easy.

  • EBJM

    John, there is another Isaiah Thomas, a 5′-9″ PG taken with the last pick in the 2011 draft by the Kings. He was named after Isaih Thomas because his father lost a bet between the Pistons and Lakers in the ’89 Finals when Isaiah was only months old. His mother added the extra “a” because she desired a biblical name.


    ebjm i have 4 trips to houston for biz this season and have access to great free me and we can go to some games..your bb acumen is would be an honor to see some games with you.. email me

  • john

    Isaiah =/= Isiah, that’s all I’m saying.

  • EBJM

    Sorry John, I keep missing your subtle witticism. I didn’t think anybody noticed the extra “a”. Nice catch.

  • john

    No worries. :)

    Btw, I really think I might be onto something in that Jordan vs. Isiah battle for worst executive of all time.

  • Scott

    @forever -

    I’m not so worried about Goodwin getting or not getting minutes. He’s still building up strength and shooting form, and I wouldn’t expect him to accomplish much this year without that even with extra minutes.

    As for the Lopez hate, I’d say it was more like 75-80% against, but they were fairly vocal and spoke with certitude. I think the Gortat trade happened at the right time and for decent assets, so I won’t complain that he should have been traded earlier, but I didn’t see much sense in trading Lopez away, except that Gentry didn’t like him at all.

    As for Adams, it looks like OKC is going to get what they wanted from him: a real center.