This one was never close as Houston continued their quest for the two-seed with a victory over the Suns, 149-113.
Houston made five of its first 11 threes to take a 27-13 lead. Actually, they doubled up the Suns initially when it was 18-9 and coach Igor Kokoskov called his first timeout. But look, when Chris Paul is making pull-up threes (he made two early), it’s nearly impossible to defend this team. If the Warriors couldn’t do it last spring, these battered Suns surely aren’t.
It was good to see Dragan Bender get involved early once again. He took five shots in the first quarter and got involved down low rebounding and defending the rim as well. The mobility he and Ray Spalding have is an advantage the Suns didn’t have when they were starting, say, Deandre Ayton and TJ Warren in the frontcourt.
With the Rockets up double digits, Eddie Johnson and Kevin Ray started talking about Michael Jordan’s first four seasons in the NBA and Jamal Crawford’s career. It was that kind of night — little moments stood out but mostly it was hard not to think about one day when April games might matter again.
Alternately, this one really mattered to Houston. They just wouldn’t miss — especially Eric Gordon. His 11 points in the first 16 or so minutes of the game were hard to combat.
It’s not often we see games in which Bender is so prominently. I can’t even quite explain how this one was different than others, I can only say Bender’s energy was more fully exerted than I had seen before this week. Even against great big men like Clint Capela, PJ Tucker and Nene, Bender was aggressive. He led the Suns in shot attempts at the half and was the only player besides Crawford to attempt a free throw.
Houston led at the half, 77-47. Maybe the two are related.
The Gordon show continued. It’s perfect timing for Houston heading into the playoffs that their third-most important offensive player has arrived.
He and James Harden dissected the Suns’ porous defense. Just like against Utah last week, the young guys on this team look like clueless puppies running around guarding good teams without talent to prop them up.
At the end of the third quarter, Harden and Gordon had combined for 56 points, 15 rebounds, 8 assists and 3 steals on 19/28 shooting, including 13/19 on threes. Can the season be over now?
It would be crazy to ignore the impact of Mikal Bridges in this one. He nearly set his career high in points while maintaining his trademark efficiency, scoring 19 points on 13 shots. It’s been great to see Bridges spread his wings, taking the ball up the court in transition after he grabs rebounds and getting plays called for him in the halfcourt, all without losing his defensive impact.
This game descended into a pickup game late, as Crawford started jacking up shots to match Houston’s quest to match their team-high in three-pointers.
At the 6:50 mark in the final period, Gary Clark hit a three to match the Rockets’ record of 26. About five minutes later, Austin Rivers finished the deed, hitting No. 27.