The Houston Rockets woke up not once, but twice Thursday night against the Suns, and Trevor Ariza and Corey Brewer both stepped up to fill the void of off nights offensively for both James Harden and Dwight Howard, as the Rockets won an ugly one in Phoenix, 111-105.
Houston came out sluggish and low on emotion, and this game had the feel initially of another classic Rockets no-show in the same vain as the Brooklyn and Denver losses earlier in the year. In fact, the squad came out so listless, coach J.B. Bickerstaff actually pulled all five of his starters with 8 minutes still to go in the first quarter for lack of effort and intensity after falling down 15-5.
Even though the reserves were able to chip away at the lead, the Rockets still mostly looked like hot garbage, and only the ineptitude of the 14-36 Phoenix Suns kept them in the game. The Suns shot just 37.5 percent in the opening frame, and held a 28-19 lead over the Rockets, who shot just 29.6 percent to start.
Be thankful this was just the Suns. Any even decent group would have completely run the Rockets out of the building in the first period. They were that bad.
The first wake up occurred in the second period. As has been the case all season, when the Rockets play defense with intensity and offense with activity, they tend to do well. They stepped up both, securing 4 steals on defense after getting none in the first period, and dropping 37 points on offense after scoring just 19 in the first frame, mostly by increasing their activity level.
Harden's shot wasn't falling, so the Rockets pushed it to the rim and made good things happen.
Houston went into the half down 59-56, but continued to push the pace in the third quarter, scoring 12 fast break points in the period, mostly by playing aggressive defense and securing 7 steals in the frame. It almost all unraveled shortly after that, however.
A ridiculous Archie Goodwin buzzer-beater to end the third resurrected the evil version of the Rockets, and just as quickly as it started up, the energy and effort dissipated into a 15-3 Suns run that featured the same issues that put the Rockets in their first hole.
Houston scored just 3 points in the first 6 minutes of the period and fell behind 98-95, and visions of another bad loss to one of the NBA's worst teams slowly crept back into conscious reality.
Thankfully, the Rockets had just enough to juice to turn things around a second time, with Harden hitting one of his only jumpers of the night from deep, and Corey Brewer draining two down the stretch, including one off of a fantastic hustle play by Patrick Beverley.
Trevor Ariza then snagged the last of his 4 steals and scored the Rockets' only 2 fast break points of the fourth period to finish off the Suns and secure the 9th Rockets win of the season when trailing by double digits.
Ariza finished with 22 points to compliment Brewer's 24 points on 9-12 shooting, including 3-5 from deep. Brew also snagged 4 steals for himself.
The duo helped overcome a 4-19 shooting night from the Beard, who finished with just 17 points, and an uninvolved night from Howard, who had only 5 points on 4 total shots for the game. Dwight did manage to snag 16 boards.
The Rockets also got 12 points and 4 assists from Ty Lawson off of the bench, and Clint Capela pitched in 10 points and 4 rebounds.
Archie Goodwin led the Suns with 22, and Alex Len grabbed a career-high 18 boards.
The Rockets move to 27-25 on the season, and while you'll always take a win, especially on the road, this was hardly an encouraging performance. A better opponent, and it easily ends up a loss. The Rockets are just a game back of Dallas for the 6th seed and 3.5 back of Memphis for the 5th, but they remain maddeningly inconsistent. The story of the season thus far.