After giving up 51% and 54% shooting in their last two games to bad offensive teams, the Phoenix Suns found a way to hound the best offense in the league to just 35% shooting on the night.
The Suns beat the Houston Rockets 97-88 behind the best all around game from P.J. Tucker on the season - holding James Harden down while scoring 18 points of his own, along with 6 rebounds and 4 assists.
The Suns also got great contributions from Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, with a combined 39 points, 8 assists, 6 steals (against 8 turnovers) and 5 rebounds between them.
Houston was missing fringe All-Star Chandler Parsons and fan favorite Jeremy Lin in this game, hindering their offensive weaponry. But Harden and Howard alone are too of the most unguardable players in the league.
Former ASU Sun Devil James Harden made only 3 of 17 shots, including 0 for 10 on threes, to contribute to Houston's terrible shooting on the night. Dwight Howard had 15 points and 18 rebounds, but could not carry the cold-shooting Houston offense.
Former Sun Aaron Brooks - terrible for the Suns and Kings in between his Houston stints - felt really good and scored 17 points with 6 assists and 4 rebounds. Where was that Brooks in Phoenix? That was the one the Suns traded for, for chrissakes.
Former Rocket Marcus Morris had 8 points, including 2 perfectly timed threes to solidify the win, and also pulled down 5 rebounds.
The Suns played a great first half, aided partially by a discombobulated Rockets team that really seemed to be missing their glue guy - Chandler Parsons. Harden was not aggressive and Dwight Howard was fairly unengaged as well.
And somehow Houston only shot 28% for the entire first half, making only 2 of 13 threes. Meanwhile the Suns made 50% of their shots and 4 of 10 threes. The Rockets kept the game respectable, staying within 13 (better than 20+ right?) till late in the second, behind 13 offensive rebounds.
Yet, the Suns only had an 11 point lead thanks to a total BS call on Tucker fouling James Harden at the halftime buzzer on a three-point attempt. Harden kicked out a leg as he came down from the errant three, then threw himself to the ground like he was shot. Replays clearly showed the kick-out and flop, and lack of contact from Tucker on his way by.
The referees called a foul on P.J. Tucker. Par for the course right? Except that this season the refs specifically chose to target this phantom move as an OFFENSIVE foul this season, not a defensive one. They even demonstrated the play type by using a Jared Dudley clip from last season where Dudley kicked out for the foul call. Suns fans remember James Jones for being a master at this in the mid-2000s.
But apparently the refs forgot that "point of emphasis" and gave the Rockets 3 more points to close the Suns lead to 11.
Would that make a second-half difference?
Of course. What could have been a 16 point lead (without Harden, and with the Suns opening score of the third) was only a 13-point lead that the Suns proceeded to completely squander within the subsequent couple of minutes.
Houston decided to play ball, while the Suns forgot how to stop the ball. The Suns scored a bit in between turnovers, but gave up 15 points in the first seven minutes of the third quarter to let the game get down to a three-point lead. Against Houston, that's a bad sign.
P.J. Tucker tried his best to keep the Suns alive, hustling all over the court. But it didn't help that no one could make a shot consistently. The Suns put up a lot of open shots that just couldn't find the bottom of the net.
Houston stayed in it by playing aggressive, slowly chipping away at the Suns lead with their patented three-or-rim offense. They are like a volcano waiting to erupt. All you can do is hope the clock strikes 0 before it does.
Gerald Green, he of the career-high performance for a few weeks, has come back to earth. After starting 1-for-7 on threes the other night, he started 1-6 in this game (0-3 on threes). He's seriously a hot-or-cold player like no one else on the roster.
When Garcia and Casspi made back to back threes to cut the Suns lead to 63-61, the game could have turned against the Suns.
Somehow, the Suns righted their ship at the end of the third on threes by Frye and Tucker, pushing the lead back to 12 and quelling the charge of the Rockets thanks to continued lackadaisical nights by both Howard and Harden. The Rockets really missed Chandler Parsons' stretch abilities to make those threes to keep the defense honest.
Bledsoe (18), Tucker (16), Dragic (11) and Frye (10) were the Suns leading scorers after three.
Just one quarter left to get out of Houston with a surprising win.
The Rockets came out firing again in the fourth, quickly cutting the 12 point lead to 2 on a 10-0 run before the Suns realized the quarter buzzer had gone off.
Gerald Green was still killing the Suns (1-8, 0-4) almost as much as Aaron Brooks (11 points, 4 rebs, 2 asst), who might have had something to show the Suns who acquired and then dumped him.
Maybe it's time to sit Gerald Green down? Hmm?
Hornacek agreed, and the Suns found their footing again. They somehow pushed the lead back to 7 quickly on a breakaway and couple of nice shots by Tucker and Frye.
Only five minutes left to get a big win on the road...
And then the lead grew to 10 on a big shot by Dragic, then 12 on a shot by Bledsoe, then 13 on a free throw by Dragic.
Three minutes left, and a 13-point lead...
Then Morris for three!!!! Now a 16-point lead for the Suns, before the Rockets finally break the drought with a three of their own, but still a 13-point lead with 2:22 left.
Rockets making just 34% of their shots, by the way. A night after giving up 54% to Memphis and three nights after giving up 51% to Utah. Much needed, Suns. Much needed.
But then the Suns lost two points (a shot was ruled after the clock expired) while Houston made 2 free throws and suddenly the lead was only 9. Then Aaron Brooks, the Houston version, made a three and it was only 6.
Uh oh. 88-82 suddenly, with 1:49 still on the clock. Tick tock, tick tock. Weather the storm, kids! Weather the storm!
Then Marcus Morris weathered it. BAM - with a three-pointer from the corner again, and the lead was back to 9. Dragic pushed it to 11 on a pair of free throws, and the game appeared to be over.
But Houston made a steal and another three after a free throw for Howard to cut it to 7. The Suns needed to answer yet again.
A minute left. Tick-tock.
The Rockets fouled quickly, figuring to trade free throws for three pointers to the buzzer. Bledsoe made two.
DING! Suns Win!