PHOENIX –There were reasons for the Phoenix Suns to be pleased on Monday night.
They beat the Houston Rockets 126-120 to make it a 30-7 record in their last 37 games. The win moves them within 1.5 games of the Utah Jazz for first place in the Western Conference, all while hitting a franchise-record 25 three-pointers.
But during the victory in which Phoenix led by as many as 21 in the second half, it allowed a now 14-40 Rockets squad to get that deficit down to five points midway through the fourth quarter.
It followed a trend for the Suns in the last two months of showing an inability to finish off teams — particularly not good ones — from the late third quarter to the mid-fourth, needing an extra (and unnecessary) effort to close out the game.
Head coach Monty Williams has been mindful of the issue after these wins but hasn’t been afraid to speak on the meaning of each win, not choosing to focus as much on those stretches when he definitely had the right to.
That was not the case for him on Monday.
“We love getting wins, we’ll never ever lose sight of how important it is to win a game, but that was not the standard of consistency and level of play that we expect around here … The approach to today was not at the level that it’s gotta be for the team that we need to be,” he said. “So, yeah, we hit some 3s, but we gave a team confidence when we could have put them away.
“As happy as I am about the win, I understand this league a lot and we just have to be better in those moments when you have a chance to put a team away. We just didn’t do that well tonight.”
At halftime, the Suns led by 23, largely off a remarkable 18-of-24 (75.0%) number from three-point range. They had 20 assists on 28 field goals and more 3s (18) than points in the paint (16).
Jae Crowder set his new career high of seven three-pointers with 1:14 left in the second quarter, hitting an eighth a minute later to put him at 26 first-half points and four off his career high.
But in the second half, the Rockets tightened things up a bit defensively and some shots by their players started going in that made you look around and say, “Wait, is this going to be one of those nights?”
Houston got the deficit to as low as five with 5:45 left. It was getting a bit ridiculous, as a basketball player you probably didn’t know existed until now by the name of Armoni Brooks was 4-of-5 from 3 for Houston, including a 32-footer. Big man D.J. Wilson, a first-round pick in 2017 but still kudos to you if you know him, was nailing step-back 3s and finishing after spin moves.
It was not the established talent of Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards doing it like the bad home loss to Minnesota earlier this season, but still, there’s a reason you need to put away anyone in this league. And this was a heck of an example for quite literally anyone.
“We’re getting everybody’s best, so you have to be at your best,” Williams said. “That’s the approach you have to have. We’re the hunted now.”
The Suns locked in for a handful of solid possessions to go back up 11 before the Rockets called timeout. After that, Houston at least hung around, getting it back down to seven with 2:18 left. That’s where the game stalled out and the Suns’ cushion was too much, but it would be no early rest for the Suns’ key players before hosting the stingy Miami Heat the next night.
Booker finished with 24 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Twelve of those 3s by the Suns were from the bench. Jevon Carter, Cam Johnson and Cam Payne each hit three a piece. Crowder did not score in the second half to land on that 26 points for the game.
The Suns had 33 assists and the final percentage number from deep was 55.6% (25-of-45).
Williams asked his team after the game how they felt and they co-signed his assessment.
“Our approach tomorrow has to be at a higher level in every facet of the game,” he said.
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