• Print
Tuesday March 15, 2011 1:12 AM

Rockets Survive Close Call With Suns

Chuck Hayes nets career-high to help Houston stave off Suns for 95-93 win

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

HOUSTON - It’s amazing what a difference winning can make.

When the Rockets review their heart-stopping 95-93 win over Phoenix, they’ll surely shake their heads at the images whizzing past. They’ll rue the many missed opportunities to put the Suns away. They’ll curse all the costly turnovers and they’ll bemoan the many missed layups and free throws in crunch time.

But when all is said and done, the Rockets will still be able to walk away with a smile, content with the knowledge that they did just enough to win, even if they had to hold their breath and clutch their hearts along the way.

Yes, it was that sort of game Monday night, a contest that looked for all the world as if it would be a Rockets runaway in the early going. Houston came out strong in the first quarter, seizing a 15-point lead and preying upon the fact Phoenix was forced to play without the injured Steve Nash for a second straight game. And though the Rockets were dealing with a (Luis) Scola-sized hole of their own, players like Jordan Hill (12 points, 8 rebounds in the first half alone) were stepping up to help fill the void.

Early as it was, Houston had the Suns on the ropes, ready for a potential knockout blow. Only it never came.

The second quarter brought with it a slew of turnovers and sloppy play, as the Rockets’ reserves –aside from the aforementioned Hill – struggled to build upon the momentum the team’s starters had established in the opening period. Truth be told, Phoenix didn’t perform significantly better, but some strong play off their bench at least helped them stabilize the ship somewhat, allowing the Suns to make it to halftime within striking distance.

The third quarter only brought more of the same. Careless play from both sides resulted in another wave of turnovers. And though the Rockets seemed poised on several occasions to put the Suns away, they simply couldn’t do the deed.

This being the NBA, a league in which squandered chances haunt head coaches’ dreams like a hoops version of Freddy Kreuger, that missed opportunity nearly came back to bite them in the end. Suddenly, the Suns found a lineup that worked and shots of all kinds began to fall. Zabian Dowdell, a career Euroleague and D-League player until only recently, took full advantage of his opportunity in Nash’s absence, sparking a furious Phoenix rally and draining his first career NBA 3-pointer to tie the game with 2:01 remaining. Josh Childress also knocked down his first trey of the year while recording a season-high 15 points off the bench. Vince Carter, meanwhile, was threatening to repeat his spectacular fourth quarter performance from a week ago when the Suns beat Houston in a heartbreaker.

And as the Rockets’ lead deteriorated, so, too, did their execution. The beautiful ball movement that had been such a staple of Houston’s tremendous offensive success of late evaporated amid a surprising stretch of isolations and one-on-one play. Layups were missed. Free throws rimmed out. Realistic playoff hopes hung in the balance. And through it all, memories of recent nightmare endings against the Suns and Spurs began to materialize once more.

Only this time, fortune favored the Rockets. Kyle Lowry, so clutch for Houston all year, knocked down a pair of jumpers in the final two minutes. Chuck Hayes, tremendous while setting a career-high with 21 points, shook off three straight free throw misses to hit a much-needed freebie at the 24 second mark. Chase Budinger hit 1-of-2 from the charity stripe as well.

If all of that sounds a bit underwhelming from a closing standpoint, well… it was, truth be told. But it also turned out to be enough, albeit barely. The Suns’ Jared Dudley, a career 41.4 percent shooter from beyond the arc, got a clean look at a potential game-winning 3-pointer right before the buzzer. He missed, however, and that was the ball game.A game the Rockets absolutely, positively had to have was theirs. And at the end of the night, that’s all that mattered. The standings don’t discriminate. Aesthetic appeal doesn’t exist in their world.

Following Saturday night’s heartbreaker against the Spurs, I wrote about the coin flip nature of close games. By most measures, the Rockets played better basketball while losing against San Antonio than they did while winning against the Suns Monday night. But when Dudley’s shot rimmed out, the coin revealed a Rockets red hue this time. Guess which outcome the Rockets preferred? Suddenly, an ugly game became beautiful. All those errors? Correctable on the practice court. The wins and losses, however – those are permanent. So when you acquire the former, no matter how aesthetically pleasing the process is, it's always an occasion to smile.

QUOTES

RICK ADELMAN

That was a game we had to have and we were fortunate to get it. Guys hung in there. You’ve got to get a win wherever you can get it.

[ Phoenix] had guys step up… If people make shots in this league it’s going to be tough. The two guys who made the 3s to bring them back were the two guys who hadn’t made a 3 all year long. We did what we had to do and sometimes in this league guys make shots.

I thought we turned it over way too many times, too. We didn’t make very good decisions and we missed some free throws and we missed some point-blank layups. All that opens the door and that team’s fighting for their lives just like we are, so however you can get it, I’ll take it.

(2 nd quarter issues): It was our own mental mistakes. We talked about playing for 48 minutes, we talked about there is no letdown at this point. I think guys who come in the game have to be a lot more solid than they were tonight. It’s just the way it’s going to be. The production they had off the bench, we need the same production. I just think we were trying to get the home run play and not just make the solid play.

(pleased with ball movement?): I was not pleased. Especially in the fourth quarter there were times when Kevin got it, threw it in, went back and got it, threw it in, got it back – it was like two guys were handling the ball and three guys were standing there and watching. That’s not what we talked about yesterday (at practice) and sometimes when they’re really playing Kevin (closely), he needs to make a hard cut and we need to look to the other side and attack them in another way. That’s what we’re going to talk about again tomorrow. We’ll see if it takes effect.

We’re trying to find out who we’re going to finish games with. That’s what I’m trying to find out: who I’m comfortable with and our rotation. We’re pretty comfortable with Chase and with Kevin and Courtney, but we’ve got to get Goran going. He played a little but frantic tonight; he just has to settle down and play with his teammates. I think he tried to do too much himself. Patrick had two points and five rebounds and we’re hoping for better than that, but I thought Jordan was very good. But they were playing a little smaller down the stretch so I decided to stay with Patrick because we were more active as a team.

CHUCK HAYES

(On his career-high 21 points) “I was able to get open on the baseline. My teammates found me and I was able to finish around the rim and make the shots.”

(On the free throws at the end) “To be honest with you, all four of them, the last four that I shot, they all felt good. By me hitting the first two, going to the free throw line I felt fine inside. Then, after I missed my first two I went to the free throw line again and found myself doing the same routine and one of them went down for us.”

You have to give [ Phoenix] credit. They fought back in a desperate situation kind of like we would have. They didn’t give up. They had guys who played well for them off the bench in Dowdell and Childress. The ball just bounced our way at the end.

We got a little stagnant on offense, got a little discouraged that they hit tough shots and we couldn’t make any tough shots.

(career-high points): The career-high is great but I’m just happy with the win. If I would have had seven points and we’d won I would have been fine with that.

KYLE LOWRY

I felt like I didn’t play up to par the whole game and I felt like down the stretch I needed to do my best to make sure we won that game. I’m going to do whatever it takes to win a game.

They got very active and got a lot of hands on the basketball. Dowdell came in and did awesome, he had four steals in the game and got really active. And Josh Childress played great. We just have to keep playing our game. We can’t slow down and go into isolation and one-on-one stuff that we sometimes fall into.

(why does that happen?): I think we’ve got the guys who can do it. We sometimes count on other guys to make plays and bail us out and sometimes the best offense is your team offense and the sets we run. We’ve got the guys who can do the isolations and everything but I think sometimes we get a little too comfortable with that… At the end of the game, we ran a couple good pick and rolls and got some shots and layups to go.

KEVIN MARTIN

(On the playoff atmosphere tonight) “The intensity picked up in the San Antonio game which was a very tight game and also tonight, it came down to the wire. The ball bounced our way tonight.”

(On other guys getting to play with Luis Scola injured) “Patrick (Patterson) has a chance and Jordan Hill has a chance and with Adelman and the way that the system is, all you try to do is keep on moving and flowing and you're going to produce. Jordan did a great job tonight for us coming in off the bench with 8 rebounds and scored points.”

CHASE BUDINGER

(On the Rockets allowing Phoenix to come back) “We just weren't knocking down shots toward the end of the game and we were missing free throws. We were missing layups and we just weren't making shots and we can't let that affect us on the defensive end. They (Suns) started roaring back and making their shots and the biggest key for us is to just stay composed.”

(On what was going through his mind when Jared Dudley released that last second 3-point shot) “I was just hoping it wasn't going in. That was a long, one-two seconds, that the ball was in the air. I'm just glad it didn't go in.”

COACH ALVIN GENTRY

(On his team’s play and comeback) “It really didn’t come down to that last shot. When you have a bad approach to start the game, that’s where it starts from. We dug a hole and had to dig too far and couldn’t get out. We can’t let it come down to a last second shot. We have to make shots and execute. I was disappointed with how we executed.”

(On the Rockets) “ Houston is playing desperate as they still have a chance for the playoffs.”

(On Chuck Hayes career high in points) “Tell him to join the club. That happens to us a lot. We have to do a better job of keeping him off the boards. He does the dirty stuff and Houston likes what he brings to the table.”

VINCE CARTER

(On the game) “It’s too bad we didn’t’ play the first half with a sense of urgency. We have to come out and play hard and in the second half we did a better job. It’s disappointing with how we played as a team.”

(On Chuck Hayes’ play) “He is relentless and attacks the boards all game long. He puts his body on people and he always seems to get a hand on the ball. He had a good game.”

JOSH CHILDRESS

(On his opportunity) “I fee good to get the opportunity and I know I’m out there because guys are hurt. I was excited to be able to play. My conditioning was a little off and it was tough.

(On the game) “We laid it on the line. We picked up the tempo in the second half. My three felt good. It’s all mental with shooting and hopefully this will get me started.”

AARON BROOKS

(On returning to play in Houston) “That’s out of the way after we already had the game in Phoenix. I’m glad the Houston game is over. I had a bad game and now I’ll move on. I’ll always love the fans here. I just didn’t play too great tonight.”

NOTES

The Rockets held on for a 95-93 win over the Suns tonight to snap a seven-game losing streak to Phoenix (last win 3/6/09 at Houston), which matched Houston’s longest losing streak in the history of this series (seven games: 10/16/69-3/22/70 and 4/1/09-3/8/11).

Houston held Phoenix to 93 points tonight, winning its last 14 games when holding an opponent under 100 points. The Suns had scored 110 or more points against the Rockets in eight prior meetings.

The Rockets never gave up the lead tonight despite the Suns returning from as much as 15 points back to even the game in the fourth quarter. Houston has now completed five outings this season where it has not trailed in the game.

Houston outrebounded Phoenix by a 45-40 edge tonight. The Rockets had been outrebounded in each of the prior five games (3/2/11-3/12/11).

Kevin Martin scored a game-high 23 points (8-16 FG, 3-5 3FG) tonight. Houston now owns a 27-18 mark this season when Martin scores at least 20 points.

Chuck Hayes posted a career-high 21 points (9-15 FG), a game-high nine rebounds and two blocked shots. Hayes surpassed his previous career best of 16 points, which he netted four times before: 16 points (7-9 FG) vs. L.A. Clippers (3/14/07), 16 points (8-12 FG) at Golden State (10/27/10), 16 points (4-5 FG, 8-8 FT) vs. Golden State (11/24/10) and 16 points (8-10 FG) at Dallas (1/27/11). Hayes picked up his first 20-point performance in his 410th NBA contest.

Houston stands at a perfect 8-0 in games when Chuck Hayes has at least two blocked shots this season.

Kyle Lowry recorded 18 points (7-18 FG), six rebounds and five assists tonight. Lowry has now reached double-figure scoring in a career-high nine consecutive outings (2/26/11-3/14/11).

Chase Budinger totaled 15 points (7-8 FT), five rebounds and a season-high-tying four assists tonight. Budinger has now scored in double digits in a career-high seven consecutive outings (3/1/11-3/14/11).

Jordan Hill, who had 12 points (5-7 FG), eight rebounds and three assists tonight, also posted the first double-double of his career with 14 points (7-8 FG) and a career-high 10 rebounds in the first meeting this season vs. Phoenix (11/22/10).

Patrick Patterson made the first start of his career tonight, while Terrence Williams did not dress due to a lower abdominal distress.

Vince Carter topped five Suns in double-figure scoring tonight with 21 points (8-21 FG, 2-5 3FG). Carter actually stood as the only Suns player with 10 or more points through three quarters of tonight’s game.

Josh Childress tied his season high with 15 points (7-10 FG, 1-1 3FG) tonight, adding a season-best four assists. Childress also made his first 3-pointer of the season (1-12 3FG).

Zabian Dowdell registered a career-best 11 points (5-11 FG), a career-high four steals and five assists in a career-most 27:36 of action tonight.

Got a question for Rockets.com? Send it to Jason Friedman. And for up to the second news and injury updates follow the Rockets and Jason on Twitter.