Game 11 Recap: Fourth quarter defense propels Suns to 111-105 victory over Rockets

You knew Jarron Collins was going to blow up at some point.  Er, perhaps not.

He didn't exactly "blow up" either.  Six points in twelve minutes is hardly a combustible stat line.  But on three of three shooting, with six rebounds, two blocks, and the dagger in the final minute, Collins' contribution might have made the sliver of a difference down the stretch for the Phoenix Suns.  Alvin Gentry knew he wasn't substituting dead air for Channing Frye to end the game.  At least not on this night.

Shoving particulars aside, the Rockets couldn't have started any hotter, nor could they have finished any colder.  Trevor Ariza and Aaron Brooks hit four out of the five three pointers that Houston knocked down to start the game.  The Rockets controlled the first quarter and much of the second quarter before losing their mojo to finish the first half with a three-point lead.  That, and Amare Stoudemire realized that beating 6'6 Chuck Hayes one-on-one wasn't as hard as everyone said it was.  For a while I thought that Stoudemire might drop another President Grant on us.

You know what else I was thinking?  That this game eerily mirrored the first half of the Dallas game... which ended in us getting blown out.  Not exactly the script you want to keep following.

The Suns were quite hot themselves (psych!) to start the second half, but Houston managed to counter Phoenix's offensive onslaught by continuing to move the ball to find easier shots.  Compared to only seventeen assists against Dallas, the Rockets piled up twenty-six dimes, thirteen coming from Aaron Brooks.  For ninety percent of the game, ball movement was a strength rather than a weakness.

As the third quarter progressed, the Suns shifted focus from Amare to Jason Richardson, who lost all sense of hesitation and began chucking up (and making) shots any time he caught a pass.  But he eventually cooled off, and the Rockets had the lead going into the fourth quarter.  I wasn't ready for the hair-pulling ending about to ensue.

Steve Nash became relevant again in the fourth, locking down Brooks defensively while facilitating the offense to perfection.  He finished with sixteen assists, and while he only shot 2-10 from the field, he was able to make an impact one way or another.

Chase Budinger, as awkward and out of control as he was for much of the game, made two clutch three pointers in the fourth to give the Rockets a chance as the game came down to the final two minutes.  It was at this point that the Rockets fell victim to dribble-as-much-as-you-can-through-traffic-eosis and threw away any hope for a miniature comeback.  As talented and bubbling with potential as Trevor Ariza is, he clearly can't take anyone off the dribble, not even Stoudemire.  Seriously, he couldn't beat 6'10 Amare Stoudemire off the dribble.

Brooks couldn't find any dribbling room either, and nor could Shane Battier.  As the Suns locked down defensively, the Rockets couldn't answer.  You'd like to think that the "system" could overcome this, but at the end of the day, you create either your own shot or someone else's shot; someone has to create.  If passing alone could produce points at all times, you'd never see anyone dribbling.  It's still a weakness for Houston, the ability to create offense late in close games.

On a final note, I'd like to nominate Joe Crawford as a candidate to replace Steve Javie as the NBA's worst official.  He managed to screw both teams over multiple times with blatantly idiotic foul calls.  At least, for tonight, his famous ego didn't show in the process.

Really, though, you would have liked to see the Rockets pull this one out.  Kudos to the Suns for playing such determined defense at the end.

Three Up

Carl Landry -- 27 pts, 9 reb.  This was clearly Carl's best game of the season, as he single-handedly kept the Rockets close throughout the second half.  His jump shot looked much improved from the first ten games, and his dirty work under the rim was impressing the heck out of the Suns broadcasters, who happened to really, really suck.

Aaron Brooks -- 16 points, 13 ast.  It wasn't Aaron's best shooting night, but he managed to contribute in the assist category and moved the ball well in the second half to set up good shots for teammates, namely Landry and Scola.

Trevor Ariza -- 19 points, 9 reb, 4 ast, 3 stl.  As a whole, Trevor's game was on the mark tonight, as he rebounded well and made several big defensive plays.  But his shot selection was much poorer than usual, and it didn't help that he led the team in shots.

Three Down

Luis Scola -- I thought he had a chance to make a bigger impact.  Each time he caught the ball on the block, he couldn't do a thing with it.  He looked lost at times.  The Luis we saw tonight was not the Luis we are accustomed to seeing.

David Andersen -- Started off well offensively, but lost his touch late and kept fouling like he was still in Europe.  He really needs to work on playing defense with his body and not with his hands.

Scott Williams, Suns announcer -- I just can't get over how tough it was to watch this game with Scott Williams in my ear.  If it wasn't because of the fact that he repeated the same phrase about a billion times, it was his goofy voice in general.  Really, just horrible commentating.

Next Game: Tomorrow @ Minnesota.  Twin cities, yah.  Twin cities.

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