Shorthanded Houston Rockets dominate Phoenix Suns in 17-point win

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As the Suns headed onto the floor for the second half of their game against the Houston Rockets Friday, members of the 1992-93 Suns team that reached the NBA Finals were walking in the opposite direction.

The halftime celebration over, Charles Barkley, Dan Majerle and Kevin Johnson stopped for interviews. As they spoke, the silence inside Talking Stick Resort Arena was telling.

The Suns, after four days off, were dominated by a Houston team that was missing seven players, including point guard and Arizona State product James Harden. Houston didn’t score 90 points in the first half, as it did in November, but the 112-95 loss, given the circumstances, was just as disturbing.

“Tonight, they were better,” interim coach Jay Triano said.

To be fair, Phoenix was missing three of its rotation players in Marquese Chriss (hip), Josh Jackson (hip) and Isaiah Canaan (adductor muscle). But that doesn’t add up to a 17-point loss to a Houston team that was missing so many big men 6-foot-6 P.J. Tucker served as the backup center.

And yet the Rockets outrebounded the Suns 53-38.

Houston’s 3-point heavy offense – the Rockets attempted 47 3-pointers – does spread opposing big men out and make it difficult to chase down rebounds. That helps explain Houston’s 14 offensive rebounds, which were converted into 15 second-chance points. But the Suns didn’t do anything on the other end, with only four offensive rebounds.

Or one less than Houston center Clint Capela.

“It’s definitely different,” said Dragan Bender, who had 14 points and eight rebounds. “They have four or five players on the court who can shoot a 3 and they move really well.”

The Suns actually defended the 3 well – Houston shot 31.9 percent – but when they switched defensively in order to take away the 3-point shot the Rockets guards blew by bigger defenders and got to the basket time and time again. Chris Paul, in particular, tortured Phoenix with 25 points, eight rebounds and six assists.

Houston was 24 of 47 (51 percent) inside the 3-point line.

“That’s on me,” Triano said. “We were switching trying to force a team that wants to shoot 47 3s to shoot twos and they did. That’s on me. That’s our coverage.”

Offensively, the Suns had 27 assists on 37 buckets and shot 46.2 percent from the field but that last number is a bit misleading. Devin Booker (27 points, six rebounds, nine assists but also nine turnovers) and T.J. Warren (21 points) were their usual selves but Phoenix got little offensively from the rest of its roster.

Booker and Warren were a combined 19 of 35 from the field. Their teammates, collectively: 18 of 45.

“They didn’t get a lot of help tonight,” Triano said.

Phoenix started fast and had a 21-10 lead with five minutes and 20 seconds left in the first quarter. Over the next 11:52, however, the Rockets outscored the Suns 37-8. It was a 57-44 game at halftime and Phoenix never threatened after that.

“I don’t think we were shell shocked,” Triano said.

Maybe not, but it certainly wasn’t how the Suns thought they would follow up arguably their best performance of the season in Sunday’s win over Oklahoma City.

“We were just outplayed tonight,” Booker said.

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