Tonight’s home loss against the weakened Phoenix Suns gave Houston fans a few good reasons to hope for the future, and a few more reasons to doubt this years squad.
Steve Nash was listed as day-to-day prior to the tip but opted to play. Nash finished with 24 points and 9 assists and was perpetually abusing Houston off mismatches created by the high pick and roll offense that the Suns cherish. Aside from Kevin Martin’s 19 point finish, Houston’s starters were generally underwhelming. Scola sat most of the final quarter of the game and finished with 16 points. The bench, however, was a different story. After a couple of very poor performances from the Houston bench, Jordan Hill and Courtney Lee set season highs for the Rockets. Jordan Hill missed just one shot and pulled down 10 rebounds in 22 minutes finishing with 14 points. I’m glad Rick Adelman gave Jordan a shot at finishing out the game however his impact in the fourth quarter was very minor. The Suns had large leads towards the end of the 2nd and 3rd quarters and the game was never really that close until the last ten minutes.
The Rockets cut the lead to as low as 4 points on more than one occasion in the fourth quarter but when the clock got low and Houston started fouling Phoenix did not miss. Courtney Lee drained two clutch three pointers with less than thirty seconds on the clock but Houston did not have enough time left to make any kind of defensive stop. Jason Richardson, who had a great game with 26 points, and Steve Nash sunk their charity stripe points and eventually smothered any chance of a comeback.
All season long the Rockets have suffered from inopportune scoring droughts when the tempo of the game picked up, tonight the Suns took advantage of our lapses in confidence. Phoenix had a 14 to 2 run late in the third quarter that really spoiled Houston’s energy. At the end of the first half the Rockets had hit zero of their twelve attempts from behind the arc. They finished shooting 23% from deep while Phoneix managed to drain over half of their three point shots (although they only shot 13 of them).
The Suns had a great all around game from their team. All five of their starters had 15+ points and seven of their players finished with double figures. Jason Richardson was the Sun’s leading scorer with 26 points and had a great game from early in the first. He was shooting great and did not miss from either the line or the three point arc. At one point, the 38 year old Grant Hill somehow managed to make Shane Battier look old on the open court by blowing by Shane and finishing at the rack. Hill had 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists. Is it just me or does Phoenix have the best trainers in the world? Steve Nash and Grant Hill have both looked timeless for the Suns and when they had Shaq he looked slightly more rejuvenated as well. There has got to be something in that Arizona water.
Chuck Hayes started tonight and had 8 points and 8 rebounds. With Robin Lopez out, the Suns are significantly weaker inside the paint. I’m not sure why tonight was the night we decided to start Chuck instead of Brad Miller; against Phoenix Chuck was a defensive body who irritates inside the paint playing against primarily Channing Frye, a big man who likes to shoot from deep. Chuck was not needed and while his passing from the top of the key is great, Brad Miller could have easily handled more of Chuck’s minutes to stretch the defense and Jordan Hill deserved a few more as well.
Steve Nash penetrated with ease, especially in the first quarter, and found his shot all day against Houston’s alleged defense. Kyle Lowry did not shoot well, as was no surprise, but did finish with 6 great steals and 8 assists to complement his 13 points. Lowry’s inability to find his shooting stroke is costing this team points. Phoenix, as have most teams prior to this game, ran under screens set for Lowry and let him have as much space as he needed from deep. This allowed them to pack the paint and make penetration much more difficult.
In the first paragraph I alluded to some moments in tonight’s game that fans can be proud of. Tonight we saw flashes of what just might be the future of Rockets basketball. Jordan Hill came off of the bench in the first quarter ready to play ball. He had 8 points and 4 rebounds in his first 7 minute spurt off the pine and finished with a season high in points. He looked active on the boards and ready to contribute on offense. Courtney Lee looked like a competent offensive option tonight and while he did not shoot well from downtown, save for two shots late in the 4th, he was getting to the rim and finishing hard looks. His defense was a little more fine tuned tonight despite only having 2 steals. For whatever reason, Chase Budinger can’t shoot this season. He was 0 for 4 tonight from downtown and looked like he was hating his life. The one thing Chase did well was balance his poor shooting with aggressive moves at the rim. Budinger had three great looks from within 5 feet of the basket and as long as he can find ways to be productive when his shot is absolute trash, I’ll be fairly happy. Budinger’s stock is falling quickly but if he can start stroking it again I won’t be so quick to remind fans that he’s essentially the same player he’s been since college. Ish Smith had some good looks as well but until he can find some way to put points on the board he is going to be labeled strictly a passer.
Houston fought with grit late into the fourth and Rick Adelman finally made some decent late in the game subs. I was a little irritated with Kevin Martin’s world famous 4th quarter disappearing act but a player with his skillset is not the guy who should be creating his own shot late in the game anyways. That’s why we need Aaron Brooks back as soon as possible.