“Houston, we have a problem.”
The phrase made famous by Tom Hanks in the 1995 docudrama, although not the actual words said in reality, is a pun the Houston sports probably hear weekly. But hey, we’re from Phoenix, so if there is a pun outs there, you know I’m using it!
That problem was Deandre Ayton. He had another monster game and is quickly gelling with the team that took him #1 overall in 2018. The Suns move to 8-5 on the season as they defeat the Rockets behind Ayton’s 26 and 17.
And here is how it happened...
The Suns looked like they had some extra pep in their step to start the game, running on defensive rebounds and pushing the pace against a team that likes to play fast (Houston is 7th in the league in pace). Booker chase down blocks, quick inbounds passes, urgent ball movement; it was clear that Monty wanted to push the pace in an effort to create mismatches.
There is something special about the national TV version of Deandre Ayton. The tentative finesse center we debate about constantly has a different gear, and he displayed it early for the second consecutive game. His focus on offensive positioning paid dividends as the Suns went though him often to establish their sets.
Heck, he even hit a three. Almost.
But I mean....he made it. pic.twitter.com/c2oAOha5Kg— FOX Sports Arizona (@FOXSPORTSAZ) January 21, 2021
The Rocket’s strategy was to attack the paint and their early buckets mirrored a layup line. The Suns weren’t baited into fouling players driving to the hoop, but they did score at will when taking it to the cylinder. 16 of Houston’s 23 first quarter points came in the paint.
Devin Booker heard us, y’all. Following a disappointing 12 point performance on Monday, Booker was poised to rebound. You can’t keep the good ones down. He matched his 5 made FG’s against the Grizzlies in the first quarter, shooting 5-7 for 12 points.
Booker and Ayton combined for 20 of the Suns first 30 points.
We even had an Abdel Nader sighting! The 4th-year player from Egypt played valuable minutes generally reserved for Dario Saric (although he did not play at the five). Prior to tonight he had played 3:17 minutes in a Suns uniform.
We have an Abdel Nader appearance in the rotation— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) January 21, 2021
Chris Paul displayed his ability to score from the mid-range, choosing the mid-second to begin carving the Rockets defense apart. 3 consecutive possessions he used screens to create space and popped the jumper.
Oh, it REALLY is that easy. pic.twitter.com/W21wBv2iC6— FOX Sports Arizona (@FOXSPORTSAZ) January 21, 2021
With 6:41 left in the second, in typical Chris Paul late-clock fashion, he step back and smoothly hit a 3-pointer. While the field goal was his 4th make of the night and put him at 9 points, it carried more significance.
The shot put him at exactly 19,000 career points. 1,987 of those points came as a member of the Houston Rockets for 2 seasons.
It was a rough start to the 2nd game in a Rockets jersey for Victor Oladipo. The guard who came from the Indiana Pacers via the James Harden trade has seen the Suns recently. He has 16 points on 7-21 shooting in a January 9 loss to Phoenix.
Oladipo shot the ball plenty. He was 5-17 in the first half with 11 points.
Cameron Payne had an extremely effective first half. Extremely. In his 12 first half minutes he scored 8 points and dished out 5 assists. And he had a block. The impact that Payne has on the Suns second team unit continues to amaze.
The Suns had 11 first half turnovers which led to 18 Houston points, keeping the team around. Christian Wood had 5 points and 3 rebounds when he tweaked his ankle late in the second quarter. He would return, although hobbled. Eric Gordon lead all scorers with 14 points.
A late 13-0 run by Phoenix pushed the lead to 17 points. Chris Paul lead Phoenix with 13 points (all in the 2nd), Ayton had 10 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks, and Booker has 12 points. And 6 turnovers.
Suns up 12, 63-51 at the half.
— FOX Sports Arizona (@FOXSPORTSAZ) January 21, 2021
Comment with something you want to block like DA blocks shots. pic.twitter.com/pO8qq1w0YF
The Suns are fifth in the NBA in 3rd quarter scoring thus far this year. The halftime adjustments Monty Williams and crew employ has been effective. Tonight was no different as Phoenix opened the 3rd on an 11-3 run. A dunk by Ayton, a couple of Booker jumpers, a Bridges three, and a fast break dunk by Cam Johnson. This is the Phoenix Suns starting unit playing in sync.
Houston didn't go away, however. Why would they? It’s the modern NBA...you’re never out of it! Facing a large deficit, the Rockets began shooting the deep ball. And connecting. They responded with an 8-0 run of their own. Eric Gordon, former 6th Man of the Year recipient, reminded everyone of his scoring ability. 6 quick points.
The Suns have blown leads before this season and the formula is the same: the other team hits a couple of three’s then attacks the basket. The Suns begin simple shooting three’s and having one-and-done possessions.
Suns have got to learn how to sustain leads, especially against lesser teams. Rockets could trim what was once a 20-point deficit to 5 here— Gerald Bourguet (@GeraldBourguet) January 21, 2021
After starting the 3rd quarter 11-3, the Suns were outscored 15-28. A 20-point lead was trimmed to 7 entering the fourth, 89-82.
Deandre Ayton was a beast early in the 4th. His ability continues to be debated, but his potential? No one doubts that. Blocked shots, dunks, rebounds, three-point range...ish shots? Deandre was too much to handle for the Rockets in every facet of the game.
In a game of runs, Phoenix put together a 12-2 spurt that put them up 15 midway through the 4th. But watching, you still felt uneasy. You know that he Suns will let the opposition back in. The team began shooting 3-balls rather than penetrating and forcing Houston into foul trouble.
The Rockets? That’s what they did. With 4:04 left, they were down 9 and in the bonus the remainder of the game.
The game felt eerily similar to the Memphis game on Monday. Under 3 minutes, the Suns had empty possessions. Houston cut the lead to 2 with less than 2 to play.
Who came to save the day? That young 22 year-old kid who in the subject of much debate. A key offensive board led to two free throws. A big defensive board negated a second chance possession for the Rockets under a minute.
A cutting layup by Booker sealed the deal.
Suns win by 6, 109-103.
Star of the Game
Ayton had his second consecutive aggressive performance. It is fantastic to see him begin to mesh with CP3 and the other distributors.
Valley oop anyone?
His final line: 26 points, 17 boards, 5 blocks.
His efforts were vital as the Suns let Houston within 5 points after leading by 20. He exerted his dominance and took advantage of a small Houston frontline. As well he should. Have yourself a game big fella.
The Suns come home to Phoenix Suns Arena and play the Denver Nuggets. Twice. It’s one of those “back-to-back-against-the-same-team” situations on Friday and Saturday this weekend. The Nuggets are currently .500, having posted a 7-7 record.
Phoenix defeated Denver on New Year’s Day, 106-103.
“Houston, this is Voita, it’s good to see you again”. Signing out. Have a great night Bright Siders.