One fear entering the game on Wednesday night for the Phoenix Suns was knowing that the All-Star break was a game away. The Houston Rockets entered the game as the worst team in the Western Conference and although they carried a record with them that said this should not be a contest, they were determined to make it a game. A choppy affair in downtown Phoenix, coupled with a disengaged defensive effort from the Suns and a Chris Paul ejection, was a potential recipe for a loss.
Yet the team pulled together and locked down when it counted, lead by Devin Booker’s 24 points and Mikal Bridges’ 10 fourth quarter points, to down Houston. Phoenix enters the All Star break with a 48-10 record.
Here is how it went down.
The game started shortly after it was announced that, due to stomach illness, neither Christian Wood or Kevin Porter, Jr. would suit up for the game. That is two of the Rockets’ three top scorers.
New #Rockets from Houston Chronicle — Rockets' Christian Wood, Kevin Porter Jr. out against Suns https://t.co/4mjtaWZZW6— Greg Rajan (@GregRajan) February 17, 2022
Houston came with the youth and enthusiasm you would expect from a young team, flying around the court and throwing down epic dunks from Dunk Contest participant Jalen Green. They were looking to run and did so early.
With aggressiveness came fouls, however, and Phoenix found themselves shooting free throws with just 8:23 left in the first quarter. Chris Paul caught Green with his hand in the cookie jar, and just like that, the Suns slowed the pace of the game all while scoring points at the line.
This is gonna be a long game if every tiny of bit of contact keeps getting called. Suns are already in the bonus, Rockets are 2 fouls away. We're not even halfway through the 1Q— Gerald Bourguet (@GeraldBourguet) February 17, 2022
The Suns were cold from the field, going 1-of-9 for one stretch of the first. The whistles blew both ways though. Jae Crowder was hit with his 3rd personal foul with 5:00 minutes left in Q1. We were going to see plenty of Cameron Johnson minutes this evening.
Jalen Green, after dropping his 10th point on a three-pointer, picked up his third foul as well, sending him to the bench. All told there were a total of 14 fouls committed in the first quarter and 23 free throws. To say it was choppy would be an understatement. The Rockets carried a 5-point lead, 32-27, into the second quarter.
Aaron Holiday made his presence felt early in the second, scoring the first Suns points, instantly stealing the ball and scoring again, and then assisting JaVale McGee.
An Aaron Holiday sequence. pic.twitter.com/wgrx5fryk1— Mike Vigil (@protectedpick) February 17, 2022
The whistles continued in the second; both teams were in the bonus before the seven minute mark. Despite entering the evening as the worst free throw shooting team in the league (71.3%), the Rockets went 19-of-22 (86.3%) from the line in the first half.
The Rockets were pesky on the boards, creating second chance opportunities which ultimately kept them in the game during the first half. They outrebounded Phoenix 34 to 22, with 9 offensive rebounds to the Suns’ 3. The Rockets had 11 second chance points to the Suns’ 2.
The lack of rhythm affected the Suns as they went 3-of-12 from deep. Combined the teams shot 43 free throws in the first half. The Suns defense seemed disengaged as they allowed two 30+ point quarters.
The Rockets were up 8 at the half, 67-59.
The Suns need to wake up, finish this game and enjoy the break with a win.— Steve Holler (@SteveHoller) February 17, 2022
The second half began with the delay as the refereeing crew noticed that the rim that the Phoenix Suns had been shooting on during the first half was uneven. They took the time to level it, to make sure that everything would be okay for Houston.
The Suns entered the third-quarter much more focused on the defensive end, causing three early turnovers by the Houston Rockets, and negating their early offensive attack.
With 9:07 left in the third quarter, the Phoenix Suns lost their MVP candidate in Chris Paul for the game. Chris thought he was fouled, and complained to the officials. He received a technical foul from referee JT Orr. He appeared to walk into Paul, then instantly threw him out of the game.
You be the judge:
CP3 got ejected for this ♂️— Overtime (@overtime) February 17, 2022
The worst part of the situation — and something to monitor entering All Star Weekend — was it appeared that Chris Paul injured his right thumb on the ply in which he believed he was fouled.
The turnover bug continued to plague the Rockets throughout the third quarter. They ended the period with a total of 9 turnovers which ultimately led to only 6 Phoenix Suns points.
Houston kept attacking however, and by midway through Q3 all of their starters found themselves in double figures. Dennis Schroder was a force that kept the Suns at arms length throughout the period as he scored 12 in the quarter. Phoenix closed the gap to 3 at one point, but could not get over the hump and trailed by 6, 95-89, after three.
The Suns opened the fourth quarter on a 7-0 run to take the lead for the first time since the fourth quarter, punctuated by their 5th made three-pointer of the game, coming off of the hand of Torrey Craig.
TORREY CRAIG.— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) February 17, 2022
FOR THE LEAD.
The run continued to 12-0 and put the Suns up 101-95 with 8:13 left in the game.
The ball movement displayed by Phoenix was the type of basketball we have grown accustomed to. Everyone was contributing in the absence of Chris Paul, outscoring Houston 20-6 through the first 6 minutes of the fourth. Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson were slicing and dicing, and the Suns were finding them for easy points.
When the clock struck 5 minutes, the score was Phoenix 109, Houston 104. Yes, clutch time minutes. But without Chris Paul, how would the Suns navigate these minutes?
Turnovers on consecutive possessions by the Suns allowed the Rockets to tie the game at 111. As a part of a 13-2 Rockets run, Houston took the lead with a Jalen Green three-pointer.
Cam Johnson responded with a three of his own. Mikal Bridges added a midrange floater to take the lead and the Rockets turned the ball over on their next possession which gave the Suns a chance to work some time off the clock under one minute. Devin Booker put up a three, which airballed. But Mikal Bridges put in his 10th point of the quarter by catching the miss and laying it in.
That was very NC State over Phi Slama Jama on that last Booker miss but Bridges make.— John Voita (@DarthVoita) February 17, 2022
Another forced turnover on the following possession with 25.1 seconds left ultimately sealed the deal. It was a back-and-forth for the remainder of the game with Eric Gordon missing a three-pointer as time expired.
Deandre Ayton and Dennis Schroder led all scorers with 23 points, and Ayton added 9 rebounds. Devin Booker went for 24 points and 8 assists. Houston rookie Alperen Sengun went for 19 points and 14 boards. In total there were 64 free throws and 47 total fouls called in the game.
The Suns now move to 24-3 in clutch time games and 48-10 on the season.
The Suns now enter the All Star Break. Their next game? A w eek from Thursday against the Oklahoma City Thunder.