Luis Scola can only watch as Marcin Gortat throws it down. Sweet victory!

"Relax, relax, relax, OK? Everybody just relax, OK?"

So said Alvin Gentry with under a minute left and the game getting hairy at 105-100 after the Suns led by as many as 16 in the second half. Jared Dudley responded by pulling down a big defensive rebound of a Courtney Lee miss and then nailing a game-clinching 3 with 36.2 seconds left to seal a huge win for the Suns.

I'm relaxed. How about you? The Suns brought home a critically important win over the Rockets with a 20 point, 15 rebound performance from Marcin Gortat, 18 points and 10 assists from Steve Nash, timely third quarter defense, and 19 points from Dudley, including that clutch 3 with the game on the line.

Former Sun Goran Dragic came up big again for Houston with 22 points and 7 assists, and Luis Scola scored 21 but it wasn't enough for the Rockets as they could not overcome a 30-16 third quarter from the Suns, and allowed Phoenix to climb right back into the playoff race, now down only one game for the eighth spot.

On a night when Grant Hill returned from injury and the Suns desperately needed a win, they rode a great all-around performance with six players scoring in double figures including two off the bench and worked the Rockets over in the third quarter, then held on during white knuckle time in the fourth with clutch play.

If this Suns team is going down, it won't be without a fight, and all fists were swinging tonight.

With help from the Hornets, the Suns are now back in 9th place and, uh, hoping for help from the Lakers to beat the Nuggets? OK, I can do that, I guess.

Notes:

  • There are plenty of Telfair critics here, and I'm one of them, but he's playing great basketball lately. His hard, intense effort, never in question, has met with familiarity and confidence. More of this Telfair and the Suns are a team nobody wants to play.
  • Dudley had a few rough games here recently, causing him to be spring-loaded to play well tonight and he nailed it. That game-winning 3 was cold-blooded and again his contribution was bigger than his box score indicated.
  • Grant Hill didn't look to be missing anything physically. He ran the floor well, brought in 6 rebounds and scored his 2 baskets at key points. What was once true isn't always true, and the conventional wisdom that Hill can't be a backup might not always hold. He provided a great stabilizing force on the second unit.
  • The role the Suns coveted when they signed Michael Redd was scoring, and Redd is filling that role as a pure scorer. He scored 13 in 20 minutes tonight on 10 FGAs and is a key reason the bench isn't blowing leads but often extends them, improving as he rounds into better health and conditioning.
  • That 18 rebound performance from Marcus Camby in the first half? He had zero in the second half and the Suns ended up out-rebounding the Rockets 44-39.
  • Answering the bell: The season was on the line tonight and the entire team responded with production up and down the line-up. Living to fight again tomorrow.

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Jared Dudley with 13 points, Gortat with 10 and 9, Michael Redd with 8. Marcus Camby is killing it on the boards with a ridiculous 18, 6 offensive, but he's the only Rocket doing damage in rebounding. Their edge is only 25-23. I'm feeling a big second half from the Suns bench. A four point deficit is nothing.

We got this!!!




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This is a huge one, Suns fans. Win and pull to within a game, lose and fall three out. Get your food and drinks ready, take anti-anxiety medication if needed, stick pins in your Luis Scola voodoo dolls, pray to whatever god you like, rub a lucky rabbit's foot, do whatever it takes.

WIN THIS, SUNS!!!

Suns vs Rockets Game Preview: The Thin Ice




"Patience, young grasshopper. You have not yet learned all the ways of the pick and roll."

Over the last couple of weeks, the Suns have had several "must-win" games. They've won some of them and lost a couple, yet here they are still alive and within two games of both the 7th and 8th playoff spots with eight games left to play. The Earth has continued to spin on its axis and revolve around the small "s" sun, and simple math tells us that the Phoenix Suns are very much alive and kicking. Maybe the term "must-win" is a bit overused?

Nevertheless, tonight's game versus the Houston Rockets is indeed critical to the Suns' playoff hopes. This will be the final meeting between the teams, with Rockets having won the first two and the Suns the prevailing in the most recent matchup last month. A loss would put the Suns three games behind Houston and would clinch the tiebreaker advantage for the Rockets, while a win would lift the Suns to within one game and tie the season series at two.

No game is truly a "must-win" until we start talking about elimination games and we're not there yet. But a three game plus tiebreaker (so, effectively four game) deficit with seven remaining would require a near miracle to overcome. This will be the most important game of the season so far, and a loss would probably mean the end of games of escalating importance. But tonight, the Suns don't need to win five or six of eight, or win both of a back to back in Texas. All they have to do is beat the Rockets, a completely manageable task. Then it will be on to the next one.

Let's break it down after the jump.




When the Suns last played the Rockets, Kevin Martin and Kyle Lowry were out with injury, Goran Dragic was backed up by Courtney Fortson (a player so highly regarded that he played in a nameless uniform that night), Michael Redd scored a season-high 25 and the Suns rolled to a 99-86 win. It marked the first time this season the Suns made it over .500 at 23-22 and placed them only 1/2 game behind the 8th playoff spot.

Unfortunately, the Suns have been treading water since then, while their competitors for that final spot, the Rockets included, have fared a bit better. Dragic went all Jeremy Lin on the league in Lowry's absence, helping the Rockets win all four games of a crucial road trip and earning Player of the Week honors.

I've heard Dragic used to play for the Suns and that he was traded in a move that might not have met with the complete approval of the entire fan base, but I can't recall any particularly memorable performances from him in his time as a Sun, nor any teenage girls who spoke of him as if he were one of the Fab Four in 1964, so I assume he was a nondescript sort during his time in Phoenix.

Lowry returned to the Rockets this week, giving them a potent one-two punch at point guard, although he and Dragic combined to shoot 6-21 in the team's Wednesday loss to the Jazz. Dragic remains the starter, but the Suns can expect to see plenty of both players. It will require solid performances from Steve Nash and the suddenly very valuable Sebastian Telfair in one of the game's key matchups, as the Rockets have two starting-quality PGs.

As a team, the Rockets sit around the middle of the league by virtually every measure: 14th in O-rating, 14th in D-rating, 13th in pace. They continue to miss their leading scorer Kevin Martin, out for the last month with a torn labrum in his shoulder. It's impressive that they've been able to have success this past month while missing their starting backcourt, as head coach Kevin McHale has done an excellent job molding this team in his first season in Houston.

For the Suns, again, this game has the highest stakes, so expect them to hold nothing back. They should play with fire and urgency from the opening tip. Grant Hill is expected back just two weeks after surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee, and his likely return brings questions about the Suns starting line-up. Will Hill start? If so, will Shannon Brown return to the bench? Or Jared Dudley? Stay tuned to BSotS for updates as we get closer to game-time.

As for Hill, former Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich once famously said: "Don't ever underestimate the heart of a champion." Hill might not have an NBA championship ring on his finger, but he certainly has the heart of a champion. His teammates will need to demonstrate the same tonight.

Nervous? Excited? I'm ready to have a lot of fun watching a great basketball game. And, of course, gaining a game in the playoff race.

Expected starters:

PG Steve Nash vs. Goran Dragic

SG Jared Dudley vs. Courtney Lee

SF Grant Hill vs. Chandler Parsons

PF Channing Frye vs. Luis Scola

C Marcin Gortat vs. Marcus Camby


FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
Kevin Martin 40 31.6 5.6 13.4 41.3 2.0 5.6 34.7 4.0 4.5 89.4 0.3 2.3 2.7 2.8 1.8 0.7 0.1 1.8 17.1
Luis Scola 58 31.3 6.8 13.7 49.6 0.0 0.0 0.0 2.3 2.9 76.6 1.9 4.7 6.6 2.1 2.4 0.5 0.4 3.2 15.8
Kyle Lowry 41 34.3 4.9 11.6 42.0 1.8 4.6 38.4 3.9 4.5 86.4 0.9 4.2 5.1 7.0 3.1 1.7 0.3 2.9 15.4
Courtney Lee 50 29.2 4.2 9.5 44.1 1.4 3.4 39.5 1.3 1.5 85.5 0.4 2.2 2.6 1.5 1.0 1.1 0.3 1.6 11.0
Goran Dragic 58 25.3 3.9 8.5 46.3 1.0 2.8 34.8 2.1 2.6 79.6 0.7 1.7 2.4 5.0 2.2 1.2 0.2 2.3 10.9
Chandler Parsons 56 28.3 3.8 8.4 45.6 0.9 2.6 33.6 0.6 1.2 52.2 1.4 3.4 4.8 2.2 1.3 1.1 0.5 2.3 9.2
Chase Budinger 50 21.3 3.3 7.6 43.4 1.3 3.3 40.1 0.9 1.2 79.3 0.7 3.0 3.7 1.2 0.9 0.5 0.1 1.1 8.9
Samuel Dalembert 58 23.2 3.3 6.4 51.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.3 1.6 81.5 2.5 4.7 7.1 0.6 1.3 0.6 1.7 2.6 7.8
Patrick Patterson 56 22.6 3.5 7.9 44.3 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.7 0.9 74.0 1.7 2.6 4.3 0.7 0.6 0.4 0.6 1.7 7.6
Earl Boykins 6 15.0 1.8 5.2 35.5 0.3 1.0 33.3 1.7 1.8 90.9 0.0 1.3 1.3 2.7 1.2 0.2 0.0 0.8 5.7
Marcus Camby 53 22.7 2.0 4.5 44.5 0.0 0.1 50.0 0.5 1.1 46.6 2.6 6.2 8.9 1.7 1.0 0.8 1.5 2.2 4.5
Courtney Fortson 9 9.1 1.1 3.1 35.7 0.2 1.2 18.2 1.0 1.4 69.2 0.7 0.9 1.6 1.0 1.0 0.2 0.0 0.6 3.4
Marcus Morris 13 6.5 0.6 2.5 24.2 0.1 0.7 11.1 0.5 0.6 75.0 0.4 0.2 0.6 0.1 0.3 0.1 0.1 0.6 1.8
Greg Smith 7 7.0 0.4 0.7 60.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.3 1.1 1.4 0.0 0.1 0.1 0.7 2.1 0.9


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