It was an ugly game for the Suns, who really looked sluggish from start to finish. Despite the fact that Houston was without all-star center Dwight Howard, Phoenix got absolutely crushed on the glass, losing the rebound battle 57-40, and the Suns also shot the ball poorly, hitting 36.6% of their field goals and 25.0% of their three point attempts.
The Suns really had a golden opportunity to steal a game against one of the West’s elite teams, but it seemed like every time the game got close, Patrick Beverley, Jason Terry or Trevor Ariza was right there to respond with a three. The trio accounted for 10 of Houston’s 11 made threes, while shooting a combined 10-of-17 (58.8%) from long range.
Houston was the beneficiary of a total team effort, as five players on the Rockets scored 13+ points, and three players managed to grab 10 or more rebounds, which was something no one on the Suns could do, as Tucker led the team with eight rebounds.
However, the Rockets did just about everything possible to let the Suns back into the game late, allowing the Suns to outscore them by 14 in the second half, while putting up just 40 points over that period. Regardless, the Suns were not able to take advantage, falling to the Rockets by a final score of 100-95.
Early shooting struggles
Just one night after scoring 40 points in the first quarter against the Mavericks, the Suns came out ice cold from the field. The team shot 6-of-21 from the floor in the first quarter, making just 1-of-7 three-point attempts. Markieff Morris missed all seven of his first quarter shots, and the usually electric Gerald Green missed 7 of his first 10 field goal attempts. Perhaps the worst sign of the first quarter on offense, however, was that the leading scorer on the team (Alex Len) had just five points. With the Suns struggling so mightily on offense, it was time to make a change:
T.J. Warren checked into the game and scored five quick points in just four minutes. In those four minutes, the Suns went from down 19 to down 9. Regardless, the Rockets would get going again, pushing the lead out to 19 at the end of the first half. Ultimately, the Suns were never able to recover from the deficit, despite the fact that they outscored Houston in both the third quarter and fourth quarter.
Tucker vs. Harden
Last season the Suns did a solid job against James Harden, holding him to just 20.0 points per game, which was third out of all Western Conference teams. Harden shot worse than 35% from the field and 25% from three against the Suns last season, and that trend continued today.
It took Harden more than 11 minutes to outscore the man guarding him, P.J. Tucker, who had just four points in the first half. Harden had just two points in the first seven minutes of the game, and had yet to attempt a single free throw at that point, despite leading the NBA in both free throw makes and attempts. Perhaps the best statistic to sum Harden’s offensive struggles up was his final shooting line, as the guard went just 5-of-21 from the floor and 1-of-9 from three.
While Harden wasn’t able to shoot the ball well against P.J. Tucker, he chipped in with eight rebounds and four assists in the first half alone, and he wouldn’t stop there, finishing the game with twelve and seven respectively, despite getting shaken up in the second half.
Bledsoe’s Block Party
Eric Bledsoe is known as one of the best defensive point guards in the NBA, and one of the things that he has gotten quite good at is the chase-down block. Bledsoe’s ability to time his jump and use his athleticism really does lead to some nice highlights, and it was on display against Houston:
As one might expect, with Bledsoe was doing his thing on the defensive end, Suns’ twitter was abuzz about the former-Kentucky standout.
Bledsoe had the best all around game for the Suns, finishing with 24 points, four rebounds, three assists, three steals and three blocks, playing a team-high 36 minutes.
Turning back the clock
Despite turning 37 a few months ago, Jason Terry continued to show why he is a difference maker in the NBA, starting the game with six of the first eight points for Houston. Terry hit a bit of a rough stretch, scoring just two points in the rest of the half, but he would get it going again in the second. Terry would finish with 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting, hitting all three of his three-point attempts.
Terry came in to the game on a bit of a hot streak, scoring 53 points in his last three games coming in, and he had really stepped up with Dwight Howard out due to injury. While Terry certainly was far from dominant, his performance was key, as it allowed the Rockets to build up a lead and then hold on to defeat the Suns.
It really felt like the Suns could have used Isaiah Thomas to spark them when things started to go wrong, as the team probably should have ended up with well over 95 points, considering the amount of open shots (especially threes) that were missed. However, it did seem like, when the Suns got down, they fell in love a bit too much with the three-point shot, and ultimately the team wasn’t able to dig itself out by firing away from long range, despite the fact that even Alex Len chipped in with a three.
Phoenix also didn’t fare well against some of the role players for Houston, which was a bit of a troubling sign. For example, the Suns allowed Donatas Motiejunas to score 16 points while grabbing 11 rebounds, which was Motiejunas’ third best scoring performance and second best rebounding performance of the year. The Suns did a good job of containing James Harden, who is far and away the best player on the Rockets, but as a whole, the team performance was subpar, and there were a lot of things that the Suns could have (and probably should have) done better.