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Monday March 19, 2012 0:44 AM

Redd Lifts Suns Past Rockets

Michael Redd pours in 25 points, sparks Suns to 99-86 victory

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com




HOUSTON - There is a tendency among a certain segment of the sports fan population that seems to believe very little matters in a basketball game besides the final five minutes of a contest. For them, the importance of everything that happens in the game’s final moments is magnified while the vast majority of what took place before is often dismissed and discarded as irrelevant. Crunch time is the end-all and be-all. It is the king-maker; the picture perfect frozen moment to coronate and bestow mythological crowns upon those we deem to be the most clutch of all.

But while such storylines typically drive the narrative, the real tale to be told is never anywhere close to that simple. What happens prior to the final five minutes does matter. In fact, a compelling case can be made that it’s just as important as what takes place in crunch time. Every possession is to be cherished and maximized. Each extended run can be monumentally significant – regardless of whether it takes place in the first quarter or the fourth.

Much to the Rockets’ chagrin, Exhibit A of that case could easily consist of the opening 12 minutes of their 99-86 loss to the Phoenix Suns Sunday night. During that stretch, Houston surrendered all control to a red-hot Suns team and never could manage to reclaim it. As a result, the Rockets lost for the second day in a row and, more importantly, dropped another full game in the standings to fast-rising Phoenix as the Suns now sit just a half-game behind Houston for the eighth and final playoff spot in the tightly packed Western Conference.

“We didn’t shoot the ball well, we didn’t move the ball, we didn’t have a good rhythm to start the game and we got ourselves in a hole and we were never able to climb out of that hole,” lamented Kevin McHale after the game. “We had some problems, Goran picked up two quick fouls and we were scrambling from that point on.”

Indeed, Houston’s woes began just two-and-a-half minutes into the game, when starting point guard Goran Dragic picked up his second foul, forcing him to the bench and exposing the club’s current lack of depth at the position. With Kyle Lowry (bacterial infection) still on the mend and newcomer Courtney Fortson yet to take part in even a single practice with the club after signing a 10-day contract with the team the day before, the Rockets responded to Dragic’s foul trouble by handing the point guard reins to Courtney Lee.

Phoenix, meanwhile, responded by taking full advantage of the Rockets’ predicament.

The Suns immediately proceeded to rattle off a 22-4 run to take a double-digit lead from which an exhausted, undermanned and out of sync Houston squad just could not seem to bounce back. The Rockets spent the rest of the half simply attempting to somehow stay in the game amid a bevy of turnovers, blown free throws and bricked shots.

Making matters worse, the Suns’ Michael Redd took the fans in Phoenix for a ride in his own personal WAYBAC Machine, putting on a shooting display that harkened back to his halcyon days with the Milwaukee Bucks. Redd lit up the Rockets for 14 points off the bench in the second quarter, hitting six of the seven shots he attempted in the frame. And when he came back to the court in the second half, he clearly hadn’t cooled off one bit, as he finished the contest with a season-high 25 points on 10-13 shooting in just 19 minutes of action.

Thanks to Redd’s heroics, the Suns’ reserves outscored their Houston counterparts 47-34 Sunday night – a stark departure from the last time these clubs faced each other when the Rockets’ second unit unleashed a 57-13 whipping of the Suns’ bench brigade.

It was, unfortunately, that kind of night for Houston; an evening that saw the club play much better in the second half, only to have every attempted rally subsequently squashed by some sort of great, bizarre, or downright shrug-inducing play from the Suns similar to the type produced by Sebastien Telfair, he of the 28 percent 3-point shooting stroke, who drained a deep triple right before the buzzer to end the third quarter, ensuring Phoenix went into the fourth with a 16-point lead and all the momentum.

“I think it was too much, that first quarter,” said Dragic, who still posted strong numbers in spite of his foul trouble, finishing with 16 points, 8 assists and 4 steals. “Yesterday we had a close game with the Clippers and we didn’t have any ammo, we were missing open shots. We didn’t have that energy. We know how the Phoenix Suns are going to play, up and down and they were playing fast. They caused us some problems, especially on defense. I would say that was the reason. In the third or fourth quarter we played well but we were just too tired to come back.”

And 1s: Marcus Camby made his Rockets debut Sunday, scoring 8 points and grabbing 8 rebounds in 20 minutes of play ... Chandler Parsons, meanwhile, returned to the starting lineup after missing Saturday's game against the Clippers due to the flu. He scored 4 points and snagged 5 rebounds in 22 minutes ... Kevin Martin missed his fourth straight game with a strained right shoulder.

QUOTES

KEVIN MCHALE

“We didn’t shoot the ball well, we didn’t move the ball, we didn’t have a good rhythm to start the game and we got ourselves in a hole and we were never able to climb out of that hole. They made a few shots. We had some good looks for us; we had some corner threes that we normally knock down but we weren’t making shots and our ball movement got stagnant. We had some problems, Goran picked up two quick fouls and we were scrambling from that point on.”

“It’s always disappointing when you lose but we’ve just got to get home and get some practice under our belt with OUR new guys and go out and play.”

I thought that we missed some opportunities to make it more of a ballgame. We had too many turnovers that gave them easy baskets. We just were not sharp tonight.

LUIS SCOLA

“They went away too quick and too far away so we tried to fight back but we couldn’t come back. We put the game in single digits, I think once, but then they just hauled it. We still have to think about each game. It’s getting closer and closer but each game is important. We aren’t going to make it if we think too far ahead.”

GORAN DRAGIC

“I think it was too much, that first quarter. Yesterday we had a close game with the Clippers and we didn’t have any ammo, we were missing open shots. We didn’t have that energy. We know how the Phoenix Suns are going to play, up and down and they were playing fast. They caused us some problems, especially on defense. I would say that was the reason. In the third or fourth quarter we played well but we were just too tired to come back.”

PHOENIX HEAD COACH ALVIN GENTRY

“I thought we got off to a good start. We started the way we needed to, from the standpoint of the importance of the game and what it would mean to win. I liked the energy that we played with at the start and we pretty much played that way through out. You have to give this team a lot of credit because one of the things they won’t do is they won’t quit. We could never really knock them completely out of the box like we want to. Obviously we got a huge boost from Michael Redd. That’s a vintage Mike Redd, he gets on a role and he gets really difficult to guard.”

(On change since All-Star break): “I think that the chemistry has just come together. I don’t know how that happens but I think our guys feel pretty good about themselves. Our bench is starting to play better. Because of that I think guys are starting to feel more comfortable in their roles and our defense has been much better. Tonight when we needed to lock in and bare down we shot 47 percent which is really the area we want to be.”

GRANT HILL

(On the game): “We’re clicking, we’re playing well. Tonight was a good effort – we got up big, we could have been better. We know Houston is the kind of team, they don’t quit. They were down 13 with two minutes left at Oklahoma City and came back and won in regulation. So, we just did what we had to do. Michael Redd got hot, got going and I thought Robin (Lopez) was big, our defense was good; a little sloppy down the stretch, but a good team win and we’re feeling good and we’ve got to continue with that momentum now going East and playing against one of the best teams, in Miami, on Tuesday night.”

(On the upcoming road trip): “I thought early on in the year we actually played a little better on the road. We started to sort of solve the problem at home. We beat some good teams – teams that are ahead of us, teams that are in the playoff hunt, so we were playing with confidence and we just sort of have a good feel, good flow, a good rhythm offensively. Our defense is pretty solid. Tonight we gave up too many rebounds, but we’re just kind of doing what we have to do to win. It seems as if every night it is something different, but we’re playing hard, competing, getting good production from our bench and we’re just taking care of business.”

MARCIN GORTAT

(On playing well from start to finish): “Today, it was Michael Redd who was really hot from the beginning. And for the first time after a while we actually played really good from the first minute. We were focused, we didn’t let Houston run their game, we played our style and thanks to a couple guys off the bench again – Robin Lopez, Shannon Brown – we actually have four wins in a row. And, chemistry is just outstanding now, everybody feels good and hopefully we’re going to get a couple of wins on the road right now.”

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