The Phoenix Suns were in rare territory for Tuesday’s game against the Houston Rockets.
One of the NBA’s best teams over the last three seasons, the Suns had lost four straight games for the first time since the 2019-20 season, their first under head coach Monty Williams. Starting point guard Chris Paul, who helped engineer the Suns to a 2021 NBA Finals appearance and then the franchise’s best regular season in 2021-22 (64 wins), had yet to win since he returned from heel soreness for the team’s 125-98 loss to the Boston Celtics Dec. 7.
The Suns had a big opportunity to get back on track against the Houston Rockets, which had the Western Conference’s worst record (8-18). Houston defeated Phoenix in the previous meeting between the teams but it is very young and does not have the continuity the Suns had had from the previous three seasons.
Still, with All-Star guard Devin Booker already out with a hamstring injury and in-game injuries to starting center Deandre Ayton (ankle) and Cam Payne (foot), Phoenix suffered a very rare fifth straight loss to the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center Tuesday night, 111-97, in front of 15,128 fans.
Deandre Ayton headed to the Suns locker room after rolling his ankle by stepping on the foot of Kevin Porter Jr. pic.twitter.com/2KbqyJtsTh— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) December 14, 2022
This is the Suns’ longest losing streak since they had eight straight defeats from Dec. 11, 2019 to Dec. 27, 2019.
Phoenix had a disastrous first half in which it shot 11-of-50 (22 percent) from the field and 4-of-24 from 3-point range. Each Suns starter — which included backup guard Landry Shamet in place of the injured Booker — was at least a minus-13 at halftime, and only Ayton had more than one made field goal (two).
The Rockets picked apart the Suns in the second quarter. Phoenix had just 15 points and suffered a 13-0 run from Houston over a 4:15 span in which it had nine straight missed shots.
The Suns had just 35 points at halftime, which is far below their average of 57.3 entering Tuesday’s game. They shot a very poor 8-of-26 from the field in the first quarter and an even worse 3-of-24 in the second quarter, with only Ayton, backup point guard Cameron Payne and backup guard Damion Lee making one shot each.
The Rockets were not great from the field (18-of-44) but second-year guard Jalen Green had 16 first-half points on 5-of-9 shooting. Forward Jabari Smith Jr. had 12 points on 4-of-4 shooting (3-of-3 from 3-point range) with six rebounds.
The Suns cut the Rockets’ deficit to as few as 15 points in the third quarter and then down to 11 points twice in the fourth quarter but did not get closer. They won the second half narrowly, 62-57.
Phoenix was led by starting forward Mikal Bridges, who had 18 points on 24 shots (only four makes). Paul had 16 points, seven assists, six rebounds and two steals against his former team, and Ayton did not return after he injured his ankle in the second quarter.
Green led the Rockets with 26 points, and each of their starters were in double figures. Forward Tari Eason also had 10 points off the bench.
Here are full game stats along with how it unfolded.
Phoenix cut Houston’s deficit to 11 twice but did not draw any further. The Suns’ poor first-half performance got them out of whack and it was too much for them to overcome late, even though they outscored the Rockets 30-27 in the final quarter.
Backup guard Josh Okogie and Shamet each hit 3-pointers to start the fourth quarter, and Okogie later had two free throws and Shamet hit a jumper to cut the Rockets’ lead to 91-80 with 8:09 left.
After a jumper from Bridges, Houston had five straight points to extend its lead to 98-82 with 6:40 left and that was the rest of the game, pretty much. The Suns got as close as 12 points with 52.1 seconds left with a dunk from backup center Jock Landale, but the game was already out of reach at that point.
The Suns had a mini-comeback toward the end of their last two games against the Pelicans and had a chance to do so against the Rockets. Phoenix cut Houston’s lead to 15 points, 70-55, with 4:38 left in the quarter but the Rockets eventually extended their lead back to 21 points and then led by 17, 84-67, once the period ended.
Bridges had six of the Suns’ points in the third quarter, Paul had five points and backup center Jock Landale had five points.
The second quarter was disastrous from the Suns and did them in.
Phoenix had just 15 points against Houston’s 27. Each team scored once within the first three minutes before a 3-pointer from Suns backup guard Cameron Payne with 8:17 left in the quarter cut the Rockets’ lead to 29-25.
That was the last time the Suns scored until 4:02 remained in the quarter, when Bridges made two free throws. The Rockets went on a 13-0 run to that point that proved too much for the Suns through the rest of the game. Phoenix missed nine straight shots while Green and Tari Eason each had 3-point plays, Eason had a layup, Porter had two free throws and forward Jabari Smith Jr. hit a 3-pointer.
Bridges snapped the Rockets’ run with two free throws, but the Suns did not get much better. Phoenix closed the quarter with just six more points while Houston ballooned its advantage to as large as 21 points.
Here were the stats at halftime for the Suns.
Thought this was an opportunity for the Suns to get off to a good start? It did not happen.
Phoenix fell into a 12-2 deficit with 8:20 left in the first quarter, which included 3-pointers from Green, forward Jabari Smith Jr. and three shots inside the 3-point line: from center Alperen Sengun (a dunk and a layup); and a driving shot from Porter Jr.
The Suns had a very poor offensive start and did not score their first basket until 9:13 remained in the first quarter (an 18-foot jumper from Shamet). Chris Paul then hit a jumper with 7:34 left and Deandre Ayton had an inside shot with 5:52 left in the period plus the foul.
Phoenix cut the Rockets’ lead to as little as two, 22-20, with 1:21 left in the first quarter after a dunk from backup center Bismack Biyombo. But Houston closed the quarter on a 5-0 run, which opened the floodgates for a huge second quarter.
The Rockets had five 3-pointers in the quarter, which enabled their early lead. The Suns missed their first five shots and struggled throughout the period.