Playing the tail end of a back-to-back, the Rockets looked clueless right out of the gate Wednesday in Phoenix, trailing by as many as 21 points in the second quarter.
But there was no quit in the Rockets and after a terrific showing in the third quarter, the good guys amazingly had a 2-point edge with nearly 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
From there? ALL Phoenix as the Suns cruised out to a 102-91 victory, dropping the Rockets to a 10-5 record.
Steve Nash had 17 points, 8 assists and a couple of back-breaking threes in the fourth. Amare Stoudemire added 22 and 15 boards while Raja Bell hit 4-6 threes for another 20.
The Rockets looked like a completely different team than the one we've seen recently. Jeff Van Gundy did not seem to even attempt to control the pace -- he seemed to almost be guessing in trying to find a rotation that could work against Phoenix. He opted to start Steve Novak and even gave John Lucas III decent minutes in the first half.
That really set the tone because the team was content to take three-point jumpers all day ... in fact, they heaved 38 of them (making 13) when all was said and done. By my unofficial count, the 38 threes were the most three-pointers taken by a Rocket team since April 13, 1997 when Houston put up 39 triples in a 113-73 pasting of the Sonics (a year earlier they took 41 in a 111-100 loss to the Suns).
Clyde Drexler, Matt Maloney and Eddie Johnson combined to take 26 of them in that one and coincidentally, it was Rafer Alston (3-9), Tracy McGrady (4-9) and Luther Head (4-8) who combined for the same total Wednesday.
Had McGrady been sharp, the Rockets might have completed the comeback, but for the second night in a row he just did not have the stroke at all. He was 9-26 from the floor and really wasn't even that good when it counted as he made his final three shots as time was running out with the outcome already in the bag.
When he finally came off the floor, McGrady just sat on the bench with his head in his hands, almost like he was breaking down or at a loss as to what is going on with him.
Against a team like the Suns, a performance like that is a dagger since they almost always make you play at their pace, which can take a half-court big man like Yao Ming (18 points on 6-11 shooting, foul problems, just 29 minutes) out of the game. Throw in Rafer Alston (who is shooting more and more and more) going 6-17 from the floor and now you're just twisting the blade. In a game like this, Jeff Van Gundy's offense completely relies on McGrady's greatness, as it did when they crushed Phoenix at their own game two years ago (with McGrady going 16-27 from the floor).
The loss wasn't a complete loss. The Rockets did make a valiant comeback against a tough team. Yao came alive in the third and Rafer, despite a miserable first half (1-5, 0-3 from long range), hit 3 triples in the third to help get the Rockets back in it.
Still, you came away from this game feeling concern for T-Mac's jumper and questioning whether the Rockets, with the roster "as is", can match up well with a run-and-gun team like the Suns.