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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Sun Burn: Phoenix Lights Up Houston, 102-91

The Phoenix Suns won their fifth straight game with a 102-91 victory over the Houston Rockets, snapping Houston's four game winning streak. NBA TV broadcast the game while ESPN, which normally telecasts Wednesday night NBA games, showed a college basketball doubleheader. Amare Stoudemire seems to be making great strides in his rehabilitation from microfracture surgery; he led Phoenix with 22 points and 15 rebounds. Raja Bell added 20 points while shooting 4-6 from three point range and Steve Nash had 17 points and eight assists. Tracy McGrady led Houston with 23 points, but shot only 9-26 from the field. He also had seven assists and five rebounds. Yao Ming only played 29 minutes due to foul trouble but produced 18 points, six rebounds and three assists.

This was the second game of a back to back for Houston, while the Suns not only enjoyed home court advantage but also had not played since Sunday. Phoenix likes to push the ball anyway, so it was not surprising that the Suns scored 19 points in a little over six minutes to open the game. Still, the Rockets only trailed 19-15 at the 5:34 mark when Yao went to the bench after committing his second foul. The Suns went on a quick 10-0 run and Houston Coach Jeff Van Gundy felt compelled to put Yao back in with Phoenix leading 31-20 with 1:58 left in the period. Phoenix led 35-22 at the end of the quarter.

Shane Battier opened the second quarter scoring with a layup off of a nice feed from Yao but then neither team scored again until Leandro Barbosa made two free throws for the Suns at the 8:39 mark. Houston shot 0-6 from the field during that stretch and Phoenix shot 0-5. If you watched the game closely, you could actually hear crickets and see tumbleweed rolling across the court. Yao committed his third foul with 8:15 left, hacking the driving Stoudemire, who made the basket and the ensuing free throw. Phoenix led 40-26, Yao trudged to the bench and Houston's hopes for victory seemed to be very slim. Without Yao on the court, Houston could neither execute its halfcourt offense nor provide any resistance in the paint on defense. The Suns built their lead to 55-33 and still led 57-40 at halftime. Stoudemire nearly had a double double in the first half (13 points, nine rebounds) and Bell had 13 points (including four three pointers). Luther Head paced Houston with 11 points, while McGrady had nine and Yao had five.

Houston began the third quarter by scoring eight straight points, six of them by Yao. He picked up his fourth foul during that run but Van Gundy left him in the game, realizing that the Rockets had no chance at all if he took Yao out at that point. The Suns made only one field goal in the first 7:21 of the third period, a Nash three pointer. After making 13 of their first 21 field goal attempts in the game they hit only 5 of their next 22. They had no answer for Yao, either, as he scored 13 points in the period; Stoudemire was unable to deny him good position on the block and Yao simply caught the ball and shot over him on several occasions. Other times, Yao and McGrady effectively ran the pick and roll, leading to dunks or free throws for Yao. Phoenix found just enough offense in the waning moments of the quarter to maintain a 70-67 lead going into the fourth quarter.

The tempo of the game was very erratic. Phoenix' 35 first quarter points are the most that the Rockets have given up in any quarter this year--but the Suns also had a season-low 13 points in the third quarter. The Rockets took a 74-72 lead on McGrady's jumper with 9:23 left in the fourth quarter. The big comeback seemed to drain all of Houston's energy, because Nash immediately countered with a three pointer and a long two point jumper to put Phoenix back on top and the Suns never trailed again. In the fourth quarter, the assignment of guarding Yao went to Kurt Thomas, who did a much better job denying Yao post position than Stoudemire had done. A lot of people talk about how many points Stoudemire scored against Tim Duncan in the playoffs a couple years ago but Duncan scored a ton against Stoudemire as well--and Duncan's team won the series. Stoudemire scores and rebounds but was not a top level defender even before he had the microfracture surgery.

McGrady missed a lot of shots that he normally makes and spent the waning seconds of the game sitting on the bench with his head buried in his hands. He had been listed as questionable for the game after injuring his hip and was clearly upset that he had not been able to punctuate Houston's comeback with some of his trademark late game heroics.

posted by David Friedman @ 12:31 AM



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