The Phoenix Suns got the win in Houston over the Rockets because they are a talented team filled with quality players. They shot the ball well from range (.538 3P%) and they got to the free throw line and converted the attempts (32-38). This is a veteran team that was desperate for a win to avoid coming home from the four-game road trip with nothing and they played well and they played hard. But this was anything but an encouraging victory for the Suns.
The Rockets were 24th in the league in rebounding differential (-2.08), but came away with a 51-33 total rebounds advantage and were plus 17 in second chance points. This was in large part due to the small lineups the Suns played, which worked in the first half of the game against Chuck Hayes and Luis Scola. In the second half, Rockets Coach Rick Adelman played Brad Miller and Jordan Hill more and they simply dominated the Suns in the paint to the tune of 40 points in the fourth quarter, 59.6 percent shooting in the second half, and a 62-42 overall margin in points in the paint.
The Suns were able to get away with playing Josh Childress big minutes at the power forward position or Hakim Warrick at center because the Rockets front line without Yao Ming isn't extremely talented. Against better teams, the Suns will not be able to play so much small ball, which is going to force Coach Alvin Gentry into playing his lesser skilled bigs, Garret Siler and Earl Barron. That's something he obviously would prefer not to have to do.
The Suns, in the first half of the game, were effective defensively using switches against the Rockets' smaller lineup. Without a dominant point guard to manage the attack, Houston simply didn't have the players needed to move the ball and take advantage of the mismatches the switching created. In the second half, when the Rockets went bigger, it took away the Suns' ability to switch as much and put too much pressure on the undersized interior defenders.
Credit the Suns for playing hard and determined basketball. This team has character and they are not going to let a three-game losing streak get them too down. They will find a way to fight and there will be games they win simply on the sheer will and brilliance of their star players. Tonight was one of those games.
Grant Hill was incredible again, with 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. He is playing the role of emotional floor leader for the Suns by setting an example for the younger players and refusing to give them an excuse not to play hard.
Steve Nash, who originally was going to miss the game to give his groin injury more time to recover, declared himself fit 45 minutes for before tip and played like the MVP he is. 24 points on 8-14 shooting, along with nine assists, lifted his team and offensively created the confidence and rhythm lacking in his absence.
It was the first half defense that really fueled the Suns' transition game, however, with the Rockets missing on 21 of their 53 attempts, which gave the Suns opportunities to rebound and run. When Houston started making shots in the second half, it slowed the Suns down, as evidenced by the 15 fast break points before the half and only three after.
It was a good road win for the Suns, but one that continued to show the Suns' extreme weakness on the glass. They can't be a good defensive team if they don't secure the rebound and right now, without Robin Lopez in the lineup and playing at a high level, they don't have the quality depth of big men to do anything but try and win via the track meet, hot shooting style of the Seven Seconds or Less Suns. It's a formula that worked in its first few years when the NBA wasn't ready for it, but the league is much more talented now and much more prepared to play against a small, high-tempo-oriented team.
Though it was a win, it's not a sustainable way to be successful in the NBA. Unfortunately, with Lopez out for several more weeks and of unknown fitness when he returns, there just aren't any good options.
The Suns now return home to face the Chicago Bulls (7-4) on Wednesday and then the Los Angeles Clippers (1-13) on Friday in their first match-up against one of the the league's bottom feeders.