Tonight's 111-105 loss was a big learning experience for the Phoenix Suns. Despite them having way more energy than the Houston Rockets, a ridiculous amount of mistakes on both ends of the court cost them and they lost to a far more polished team.
The Rockets were able to run their "MoreyBall" style of basketball with minimal effort and even with a ton of open misses in the fourth quarter, a big surge of energy in the third quarter was all they needed to win the game. Suns fans should be proud of their team, though, as they worked hard and kept fighting to make up for all the bad possessions, turnovers and rotation mistakes on defense. This is the type of team the fans can get behind for the rest of the season, even if they lose most of their games.
Live blog notes below.
My goodness does the body language on the Rockets look grim. I saw maybe 65 percent of their team participate in the "1-2-3 team!" break thing that teams do after lineup introductions. James Harden jogged away after he was introduced and started stretching. They didn't even look at him and wonder what was up so maybe that's a regular thing?
That translated to the product on the court. Corey Brewer threw an inbounds pass to Harden as he was walking away with his back turned and the Rockets in general have an overwhelmingly negative vibe when it comes to team stuff like rotations and movement.
Watson's sets seem to feature a lot of very simple off-ball things to get Markeiff Morris and Devin Booker in their preferred spots. I really enjoy it and assume that they will become more complex over time. The Suns ran this same set multiple times that featured Morris running from the right wing to the left block and Booker from the left block to the top of the key, with Tucker and Chandler setting at least one screen per look. With a size mismatch for Morris and no prominent defender on Booker this seemed like it could work all game.
J.B. Bickerstaff was not very thrilled with his team's effort four minutes in and decided to bring in five players at once off the bench. I think Harden took at least 25 seconds to step off the court. This allowed for matchups like Marcus Thornton or Jason Terry on Booker and Josh Smith on Morris, something Jeff Hornacek was forced to deal with because of the same exact problems.
As you would guess, this led to positive results for the Suns. They picked the perfect matchup to start playing with energy. They had a 20-7 lead midway through the first quarter.
As you would also guess, the Suns weren't able to capitalize on it and a team with three big negatives on defense on the floor at the same time. After almost four scoreless minutes, the Suns finally scored. That didn't really matter to the Rockets, though, who are ridiculously more lazy than the Suns on both ends and it's not even close. Suns still led after one.
A sigh of relief as Jordan McRae started the quarter with Booker and Goodwin. It was only two games, but McRae looks like an NBA player to me and one that should get a contract for the rest of the year from someone. The Suns aren't the right fit for him because they need to find out now what they are getting out of Goodwin and Weems, but it would be nice to see him on another team when Ronnie Price and Brandon Knight are back.
The Rockets starters came back in and looked about 3.4 percent more interested than before. I'm shocked that this hasn't been covered more nationally. They are an absolute mess. With that said, they still have some pieces that fit well together and two mega talented players.
Goodwin had a wonderful two possession run where he took an extra dribble in the pick-and-roll to give Alex Len enough time to get to his spot and for the passing lane to be there. With that, he was risking the defender recovering on Len and for another defender to strip him in the lane. He both dribbled into the key and made the pass perfectly. The next possession he dribbled into Trevor Ariza and hit a beautiful step-back from the elbow. Are we sure he's not a good No. 2 guard option off the bench for the Suns next year?
The Rockets are so fundamental when it comes to the motions and getting to the spots of MoreyBall (threes and shots at the rim) that the Suns defense is still having big time struggles. This kept allowing for the Rockets to get back in the game despite the lack of any effort on defense.
Turnovers and the usual mistakes on defense led to the Rockets taking the lead with just over two minutes to go in the half. Like I said, the way the Rockets can go on automatic is enough for them against a team like the Suns.
Ty Lawson had a possession defending Goodwin when he went waaaaay under the screen sent by Chandler on the right wing and forced Goodwin right, then didn't let him get farther than the elbow when Goodwin did go right. Goodwin didn't really look like he knew how to approach it. That's the next step for that question I asked above.
Welp. The Rockets decided it was time to start doing things like getting in defensive stances and cutting and they took over the game in a hurry. They went from just about no purpose moving with the ball to a whole lot more and the Suns were blown away by it. They had the somewhat difficult task of adjusting to all these new active hands and such that there were bad shots and turnovers everywhere on offense.
That set I mentioned earlier for the Suns wasn't really working anymore because Rockets defenders were not just letting the Suns players get to their spots. They had some good spells of effort in the third quarter and that's the reason they were able to take control of the game.
Goodwin hit a crazy going to his left one-footed leaner from about five feet out to end the quarter and get the crowd pumped up.
It's worth noting that Jon Leuer has not played yet and he is not on the injury report.
Unexpectedly, the Suns roared back into the game. The Rockets started missing the WIDE open looks they were getting from three earlier and it allowed the Suns to get out and run. At this point the Suns were shooting 39 percent and only down one with 90 points. A very weird game.
Len got a very quiet career-high in rebounds battling with Dwight and Capela. He had great energy and that was enough in a game like this.
Rockets keep missing open looks. Terry was wide open in the corner in transition and didn't come close.
Holy smokes. Orange Mamba just stripped Harden and took it all the way for the and-1. That was the loudest I've heard the crowd since Steph went off in November.
McRae learns his lesson on the next possession when he reaches in on Harden from his man in the corner and Harden acts like he got hit by three trucks at the same time.
The Suns really miss having a point guard or even a combo guard. They repeatedly got bad looks on offense to close out the game and the great looks the Rockets kept easily getting eventually prevailed.
Only time in the game I saw a Rockets player clearly work harder than a Suns player was Beverley at the end. A couple of offensive rebounds sealed the win.
It's important to remember that Goodwin (38) and Booker (41) are playing their first stretch of minutes like this ever. They both looked really tired at the end of the game