The Phoenix Suns beat the Rockets 129-112 to move to 56-14 behind 36 points from Devin Booker and 20-plus from each of Mikal Bridges, Deandre Ayton, and Torrey Craig.
With Memphis out of action tonight, the gap between the Suns and Grizzlies expands to 8 games, and the Warriors gap is already 8.5 entering their game against Boston (Warriors were down in the third quarter).
Ayton was the feature star early for the Suns in this one, including 8 points, 2 rebounds, and one block in the first three minutes. Threes from Bridges and Craig totaled what ended as a 14-2 run to start the game, forcing a timeout from Rockets head coach Stephen Silas at the 8:47 mark.
Rockets tightened the screws up a bit on both end following the timeout, but the Suns were still finding and making shots, like Booker and Bridges slashing to the basket and Ayton getting his patented jump hook involved. Houston’s pace and shooting kept them in the game over this stretch, thanks in part to threes from Kevin Porter Jr., Jalen Green, and Garrison Matthews.
Ish Wainright made a rare first quarter appearance in this one. The Suns needed a big night out of Wainright in the absence of Jae Crowder (groin soreness). He made an impact as early as his first possession with a drop-off to Ayton in the paint for a dunk.
⚠️ Let this be a warning to basketball rims everywhere ⚠️ pic.twitter.com/fLGjhKBUNC— x - Phoenix Suns (@Suns) March 17, 2022
As the quarter wound down, Houston would rip off a 13-point run thanks to a three-guard lineup that included Porter Jr., Green, and Dennis Schroder, but a Booker layup gave the Suns a little breathing room at the end of the first frame and a 35-31 lead. With 14 points in 9 minutes, Ayton was the game’s lone double-digit scorer so far.
As the case with most games since the All-Star break, Phoenix’s second unit struggled to maintain the same lead that the starters built. At the next break in the action at the 1:59 mark in the second, the Suns bench was being outscored 4-17. Each member of the bench had a negative plus/minus, while four of the starters were +16 or better.
The second quarter ended similarly to the first; Booker getting a bucket to dampen the weight of a Rockets run. 59-58 was the narrow lead Phoenix had at the end of the first half. Three Suns – Booker (13), Bridges (13), and Craig (10) – joined Ayton in double figures, but Ayton himself added just one point in his seven second quarter minutes.
Both the Suns’ (122.0) and Rockets’ (120.0) offenses were operating at high efficiencies in the first half. Suns outrebounded the Rockets 28-13 and outscored them in the paint 38-18. Big Rockets advantage in three-point shooting though, as they outshot the Suns 50% to 20%.
Rockets got their first lead of the game at the 9:40 mark thanks to a bucket from Christian Wood following some consecutive Phoenix turnovers. Craig’s excellent night continued when he got the Suns the lead back at 67-65 when he got an and-one to reach 16 points. Wood followed that up with a dunk to tie the game at 67 and reach a timeout with 8:45 left.
Suns rattled off a 17-4 run helped by 11 points from Booker to give the Suns some breathing room in time for the second unit who came in and immediately got a bucket from an Aaron Holiday to JaVale McGee lob.
Holiday and his three assists helped close out the third strong for the Suns, up 95-82. Booker had 15 in the third up to 28 total through 30 minutes, scoring more points in as many minutes as the night prior. Ayton had just 2 in the frame.
The bench had a great start to the fourth led by McGee’s dunks and Shamet’s shooting, and Craig reached 21 points on 8 shots for a Suns career-high, as well as the second-most of his whole career. He was the third Sun to surpass 20, following Bridges’s 22 and Booker’s 28.
Once winning time came around, the Suns’ starters locked in; Booker, Bridges, and Ayton were all getting bucket after bucket and the defense wasn’t giving up any easy ones to cap off a 13-6 run to reach a 15-point lead with under 4 remaining.
Even when the Rockets were making one last run, Booker shut the door on that with back-to-back threes to reach 36 points in as many minutes. 129-112 was the final, and the Suns move to 56-14.
- After 14 points in his first 9 minutes, Ayton only scored 9 points over his next 22 minutes.
- In quite a rarity, the Suns won the rebounding battle 49-33; Craig had 14 rebounds in his first start with Phoenix.
- Four starters finished +23 or better; Elfrid Payton (+2) in one garbage time minute was the only bench player with a positive mark.
- Athletic, crafty guards continue to be an issue for the Phoenix defense; Porter Jr. and Green combined for 43 points on 30 shots.
- After teams were essentially tied at halftime, the Suns offense outplayed the Rockets offense significantly, and they finished at 134.5 and 116.8 respectively in offensive rating.
Suns, now 56-14, host the Chicago Bulls on Friday night at 7 p.m. local time. Chicago entered the night 41-27 and fourth in the East.