PHOENIX — On the night the Phoenix Suns (33-22) celebrated the 20th anniversary of Kevin Johnson’s dunk on Hakeem Olajuwon, it was only fitting that a little guy stole the show. Unfortunately for the Suns and their fans, that little guy was in a red uniform.
Patrick Beverley’s physical defense on Goran Dragic slowed down the guard in the second half, but most importantly, his go-ahead three-pointer with 34 seconds left gave Houston a 111-110 lead and propelled the Houston Rockets (38-18) to a 115-112 victory over the Suns on Sunday night at U.S. Airways Center.
“I try to do little things and shoot open shots,” Beverley said. “James (Harden) made a tremendous play at the end. We have to understand that teams lock in on James and Dwight (Howard) and I was in the weakside corner and he made a phenomenal play.
“That was a big shot, but the way we defended in the fourth quarter really was the key to this game.”
The Rockets defense held the Suns to just 19 fourth-quarter points, but it was also their defense in the first quarter that allowed them to get going. Some may credit the Rockets’ strong defense or their domination in the paint that gave them a 37-19 lead early in the second quarter, but Suns forward P.J. Tucker contributed the Rockets fast start to sloppiness.
“Real small miscues,” Tucker said on the slow start. “You saw the first half plays, wide open shot, throwing off people’s foot, simple little bunny lay-ups, just easy stuff that would have prevented that lead.”
Dragic, along with the Morris brothers, propelled the comeback by helping the Suns to a 29-8 run that put them up by three before the Rockets rebounded and closed out the half by retaking the lead. Houston dominated points in the paint by outscoring the Suns 40-14 in the first half thanks to Dwight Howard and Terrance Jones. Howard easily had his way the whole night, scoring 25 points and grabbing nine rebounds.
The Dragon led the Suns with 25 points going into the second half, but Beverley’s defensive pressure turned the game around by his continuous hounding of Dragic that eventually wore him down. Dragic did manage to score a career high 35 points thanks to his strong first half.
Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said prior to the game that Phoenix couldn’t allow the contributing Rocket players to have big nights. His team did not heed that warning, and he gave props to Beverley, who ended up scoring a career-high 20 points.
“The guy made plays,” Hornacek said. “He was active, he’s always out there being aggressive defensively and then offensively he’s a good player. That’s why he starts for them.”
Phoenix took a 93-83 lead heading to the fourth quarter after Gerald Green banked home a three-point-shot to end the third, and it seemed like the Suns were about to pull away. That would have been shocking considering they were down 18 at one point, but it just was not meant to be.
The Suns started out 1-of-5 from the field by getting complacent with their shot selection, and that allowed the Rockets to chip away. The game turned on a questionable clear path to the basket foul that Marcus Morris committed when Chandler Parsons tripped on his own foot. After an official review, the Rockets were awarded two shots plus the ball. After all was said and done, Houston had four points and all the momentum.
“That play changed the game. We were up 8, 10 then it turned into a tie ballgame in a minute, so that play definitely changed the game,” Tucker said. “Still our fault early on. We let them get confidence early so they made some plays at the end simply because they got going early.”