Phoenix Suns stick with it to put away pesky, young Rockets
PHOENIX — Winning in the NBA is really hard to learn how to do. The Phoenix Suns proved that to the Houston Rockets on Sunday in a 124-109 win.
At halftime, Houston was 8-of-16 (50%) from 3-point range and had 19 second-chance points. Even better, the Suns were 4-for-15 (26.7%) from deep.
But the Rockets’ defense has a ways to go, and without that solid backbone, the Suns were able to shoot a staggering 22-of-28 (78.6%) on two-pointers with the freedom to get to their spots as they please.
Beyond that, Houston (1-6) just couldn’t locate a level of consistency to put together a few great minutes and take the lead in a half that was mostly within a possession or two. Phoenix (5-1), who won over three times as many games as the Rockets last year, can do that in its sleep at this point.
“I’ve been on the other side of it so I understand just young players trying to find their way in this league,” Suns guard Devin Booker said of the Rockets. “It’s kind of more individual than a collective unit in your first few years in the NBA until you figure it out. I think there’s a lot of that going on and we have a lot of experience together, we have playoff experience together. I don’t want to say we know when to turn it on but we know how to win games.”
To the Rockets’ credit, they are a young group that is playing really hard through it. That’s why the Suns only led by nine at the half and couldn’t muster a double-digit lead in the third quarter when many of us watching assumed that was when we’d see that type of run to put the game away.
“They’re a young team but a team that you can see their potential,” head coach Monty Williams said of Houston. “You can see how they can win some games this year because they just keep coming at you.”
In reality, the clock was the Rockets’ biggest enemy. The lack of that good stretch allowed Phoenix to remain in the driver’s seat and a 7-0 run with just over two minutes remaining put the Suns up 15 in a game that had no lead changes and two ties.
This is one of those games where we’d see Chris Paul turn on his scoring a bit through his midrange jumper, finding that pocket of time to turn the tide just enough across a couple of minutes for the Suns to be in a dominant position the rest of the way. Paul, of course, does this in clutch minutes too when the game is indeed on the line, unleashing his full midrange assassin.
We have yet to see that version of Paul this season, so until that guy shows up, the Suns are going to have to do some learning of their own to close out games that should never be still under consideration once there are five minutes remaining.
With that in mind, don’t let that tone undermine how this was still a good win. It is easy for great teams to sleepwalk through matchups like this and allow the young, hungry squad to get one.
“Just staying the course against a team that just keeps attacking,” Williams said. “Whether it’s off the dribble or the slashing or their ability to just come up with a 50/50 ball or an offensive rebound, that can be deflating but I thought our guys emotionally handled it tonight.”
Devin Booker scored 30 points on his 26th birthday and was one of seven Suns players in double figures.
That included Jock Landale, who starred in a center rotation without Deandre Ayton (left ankle sprain).
Williams elected to start Bismack Biyombo, a smart move given the success the second unit has to begin the year. Landale’s flow was unbothered with 16 points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes.
His constant energy and sprinting up and down the floor have been a huge positive.
“It’s so valuable,” Paul said of Landale opening up the floor. “The energy, the pace that he plays with. He gives himself up so much. There’s so many plays that Jock, DA, Biz — a lot of the open 3s we get is because of their selflessness in the way that they roll and the way that they run the floor.”
Cam Johnson hit five 3s for 15 of his 19 points, Mikal Bridges added 15 and it was 12 off the bench for Cam Payne and another 10 via Damion Lee. Payne also had four assists and four steals, as his great start to the year has really helped the bench stay solid.
Paul was 3-of-7 from the field for 10 points with 15 assists and zero turnovers. It is the ninth time in his career he’s had 15-plus assists with zero turnovers, per Stathead. That’s the second most in league history behind John Stockton’s 14.
That absurd number on 2s stuck. The Suns were 33-of-44 (75%) on ’em.
Kevin Porter Jr. was the Rockets’ only consistent source of offense on a team full of scoring talent. He dropped 26 points, plus eight rebounds and six assists. Second-year guard Jalen Green, who is going to be a star soon enough, was 5-of-18 shooting.