Rockets Get Sunburned Again
Suns catch fire, scorch Houston en route to 119-112 victory
PHOENIX, AZ - The Rockets returned to the desert Monday night, the site of one of their worst losses of the season. They came not in search of revenge, however, but rather to further cement their hold on the highest playoff seed within their reach. Turns out they earned neither. The Suns, languishing in the twilight of a lost season, caught fire in the first quarter and never looked back. One Houston rally after another was thwarted amid a cluster of poor judgment, bad defense and inexcusable lapses of insufficient effort. A dispiriting sense of déjà vu began to take hold. The Rockets were left high and dry once again.
That, in essence, was the story of Houston’s 119-112 defeat at the hands of the Suns. Phoenix, ranked 29th in offensive efficiency entering the evening, set the tone early by scoring 39 points in the first quarter while the Rockets’ defense seemed stuck in quicksand. Luis Scola looked unstoppable. Goran Dragic went wherever he pleased. The efforts of those former Rockets elevated Phoenix to a 12-point lead toward the tail end of the period, forcing Houston to play catch-up all night long.
“It started off with Scola making shots, Goran was getting free on us and making plays, and it just kind of snowballed from there,” lamented Houston head coach Kevin McHale. “We never had any kind of control in this game at all.”
Indeed, every time the Rockets threatened to rally, Phoenix had an answer that typically involved taking full advantage of Houston’s porous defense. The Suns routinely beat Houston’s players to loose balls, outraced them in transition, and far too often came up with second chance opportunities that further sabotaged the Rockets’ comeback efforts. Phoenix outpaced Houston in fast break points, points in the paint and second chance scoring. P.J. Tucker produced a career-high with 21 points. Markieff Morris delivered a similarly striking, career-best kind of night. The Suns deserved credit for their performance to be sure. Houston’s players knew the same could not be said of them.
“This is a bad loss,” said Chandler Parsons, who led the club with 24 points and 7 assists. “We did this to ourselves and the frustration is all on us. At the end of the day they’re still an NBA team and this is their last home game – they’re not going to go out easy. But we didn’t come ready to play. We didn’t play like something was on the line. This is one of those games you look back on and just get really frustrated about how we let it slip away.”
The ‘why?’ part of the equation is perhaps the hardest to resolve. The Rockets knew the various scenarios in play; they understood the importance of the stakes involved. But for whatever reason – be it human nature or the high variance that tends to come with youth – they simply did not deliver the requisite effort necessary to take advantage of the opportunity standing before them.
“I think one of our problems this season is just focus,” said Jeremy Lin. “That usually comes with a younger team. But at this point in the season that’s really not an excuse for us. Every game means so much. We’re talking about playoff seeding, we’re talking about matchups and things that are more important than anything we’ve played for all season, so this one hurts.”
Monday’s loss means the Rockets now find themselves further mired in a mess of a playoff picture that won’t be resolved until the season’s final night. They can still obtain the Western Conference’s 6th seed, but only if they beat the Lakers Wednesday night and Golden State loses that same evening at Portland. A Warriors win and Rockets victory would give Houston the 7th seed and a first round matchup with San Antonio. A Rockets loss in the season finale would send them to Oklahoma City for a first round showdown with the Thunder.
The latter scenario is best avoided for obvious reasons. So too, however, is any sort of effort resembling the one that doomed Houston to yet another demoralizing defeat in the Arizona desert.
(Harden favoring knee?) I asked him if he was OK and he said he was good to go.
(what happened?) It started off with Scola making shots, Goran was getting free on us and making plays, and it just kind of snowballed from there. We never had any kind of control in this game at all. They had control of it the whole night and we had a couple runs where I thought we had a chance to get back in the game, but we played very poorly tonight. We had bad shot selection and we missed some shots. They posted us up and they got pretty much whatever they wanted. They went smaller and smaller, and we tried going big for a little while, we went smaller, and whatever we did we couldn’t get it going.
We didn’t really find a rhythm. I thought Terrence as a big did the best job – he had six blocked shots but, again, we couldn’t get any stops.
(why was defense such an issue?) I’m not really sure. We just came out flat. They were just too comfortable shooting open jumpers and getting to the rim and into the paint. Loose balls, offensive rebounds, yeah. No excuse. Desire, maybe?
(human nature to let up against a team struggling?) I think that’s been one of our problems this season is just focus. That usually comes with a younger team. But at this point in the season that’s really not an excuse for us. Every game means so much. We’re talking about playoff seeding, we’re talking about matchups and things that are more important than anything we’ve played for all season, so this one hurts.
We still have a chance to get the sixth (seed) if Golden State loses and we win. We just don’t know right now. It could literally be anything.
This is a bad loss. We did this to ourselves and the frustration is all on us. At the end of the day they’re still an NBA team and this is their last home game – they’re not going to go out easy. But we didn’t come ready to play. We didn’t play like something was on the line. This is one of those games you look back on and just get really frustrated about how we let it slip away.
(surprised you came out this way?) Yeah, there’s no rhyme or reason for that, there’s no excuse for that. It’s not good on any of us 1-through-12. We’ve got to take ownership on that and now we just made Wednesday night a lot more exciting that’s for sure.
Our transition defense was poor. We allowed them so many second-chance opportunities and didn’t rebound the ball well. We turned the ball over. They got every single loose ball. So we really didn’t do anything to deserve to win the game and we really put ourselves in a situation that we have to fight ourselves out of and get prepared for the next opponent.
PHOENIX HEAD COACH LINDSEY HUNTER
“It felt really good for us to win our last home game. Guys really played hard. I thought the first half we were just exchanging baskets but in the second half we started to really try and defend their guys and they are tough to defend. They have a lot of shooters, a lot of guys that can score, they can go small and they do a lot of things that can make it tough. I thought that we adjusted and our guys defended well. PJ Tucker did an unbelievable job guarding Harden and we finished the game the right way at home.”
(On Scola’s game)
“With him playing at the 5 it gave us a great advantage of running pick and roll and Scola popping and we dove Markieff and Asik had a hard time getting back out and we used that to our advantage.”
(On Goran Dragic’s game)
“He was something special in the first half. When he is playing like that we are a really, really good team. Hopefully this last couple of games is an indication of some things that we got better at. We didn’t get to where we wanted to but I think that we got better in a lot of different ways.”
(On playing his former team)
“For me and Luis and probably Marcus too, it means a lot. Every time you play against your former team you want to win and you want to do your best. Even when I was in Houston and we played against Phoenix I tried to play hard – I tried to have a good game; same thing right now.”
(On if tonight was the team’s most complete game)
“Yeah, I would say that, definitely. Everybody was involved, everybody was making shots. [Markieff] He was amazing – he was blocking every shot almost. On defense we were talking and we played well. If we would play like this earlier, for sure we would be close to the playoffs. But now we still got one more game left – we’ll try to win that one too. It’s going to be tough in Denver but why not?
(On if there’s extra satisfaction in beating his old team)
“No, you know, it’s fun to see all those guys and its fun to be around the team. I been there for a long time and I know everybody, but I just want to play well. We have one more game, I’ll try to play the same type of game in two days in Denver and just try to finish the season strong. I know no one really cares about what we do and that’s okay we deserve that but I still want to finish strong. I want to play well and see if we can get one more win.”
(On if there’s relief in tonight being the last home game of a rough season)
“I wouldn’t call it relief, no. It was a rough year – we all know it was a rough year, but I wish the year would have 100 games left so we could turn this around. The year is over and I’m looking forward to finishing the year to start working next year. The day we finish the year we can start thinking about the next season and I’m looking forward to that.”