If Jason Richardson would have boxed out Metta World Peace in the 2010 Western Conference Finals, the Suns may have played the Celtics for the championship that year. He did not, however, and instead they watched the Lakers advance; this was the same time they began to recede.
The downfall in Phoenix is owing mainly to their once potent offense faltering. Mainly, the Suns used to torch the nets. They led the league in true shooting percentage four years in a row from 2006-2010 and were in the top 10 last year. Now they rank 17th. Couple this with their paltry rebounding numbers and you have a team in turmoil. The Suns sat 12th in the Western Conference at 11-14 going into their game against the Rockets last night.
Houston, on the other hand, has perhaps provided the biggest surprise in the Western Conference. Their 15-11 record had them at 4th in the West with a +2 point differential. The Rockets are doing this all while playing in a division that includes the veteran Spurs, defending champion Mavericks, and up-and-coming Grizzlies. Despite lacking true star power and being the unfortunate victim of the machinations of the NBA's cabal, Houston seems to be sticking around.
Now, if someone would just explain to these two teams the purpose for that line 15 feet from the basket. Phoenix ranks 28th in free throw rate while Houston is dead last. Neither of these teams are taking advantage of what is the most valuable shot in the game. Houston is making things especially rough on themselves. They hit 42 percent from 16-23 feet, good for 2nd in the league, and take over 19 attempts from that distance per game. Unfortunately, long 2's are not a greatly efficient shot and the Rockets would be wise to create some contact.
Of course, it has worked for them so far and despite only attempting 6 free throws last night (all of which came in the 4th quarter), they still managed to pull out a victory.
The Suns jumped out to a quick 14-6 lead behind Channing Frye's 8 points including an and-1 dunk. Grant Hill would also pour in 9 points to lift Phoenix to a 3-point lead at the end of one. However, offensive boards would keep Houston around as they extended possessions and managed to have a 20-2 edge in second chance points in the first half. This comes as no surprise as Houston ranks 6th in offensive rebound rate. An 11-0 run in the 2nd quarter gave Houston a 10 point lead going into the half.
The second half would be a showdown between the veteran Steve Nash and his former pupil Goran Dragic. Dragic ran the pick-and-roll effectively and helped move the ball to find open Rockets. He managed to steal the ball from Nash and later hit a 3 over a close-out by his former teammate. Dragic finished with 11 points and 11 assists. Nash, not to be outdone, scored 14 points on a perfect 7-7 and added 13 assists.
In the end, the Houston bench proved too much for the Suns. All five reserves for the Rockets scored in double figures and the second unit closed out the game due to their effectiveness. The Suns were only able to muster 13 bench points, 11 of which came from Michael Redd whose shot looked flat early in the game. Josh Childress and Sebastian Telfair were particularly awful combining for 0 points on 0-7 shooting.
Towards the end of the game, leading by five with 25 seconds left, Kyle Lowry hit 2 free throws to seal the contest. I'm just glad he knew where to go when he got fouled.