Phoenix Suns 97, Houston Rockets 88: Tucker’s defense on Harden is the difference

PJ Tucker flat outplayed James Harden on both ends of the court tonight. Tucker played defense on Harden for 40 minutes, held James without a three pointer for the first time in a year and scored 18 points.  Harden shot 3 for 17 on the game (17%) and missed all 10 of his three point shots.  He looked absent and out of it the whole game and it was difficult to watch.  His defense was super lackadaisical, presence was completely minimized, and was a plus minus of -20 this game!

The worst play of the game was by Harden.  The Rockets had cut the lead to two, 73 to 71 with 7 minutes left in the game and Harden was inbounding the ball.  He looked so lazy as he threw a terrible pass that was stolen and the Suns scored on a fast break (watch the ESPN highlights to see it for yourself). That killed the run. Again, turnovers killed the Rockets as they gave up 22 of them.  Harden, Casspi and Howard had five turnovers each.

McHale made some interesting and partially successful lineup changes in the second half that kept the Rockets in contention.  In the third quarter he started Casspi and Brooks instead of Garcia and Jones.  In the fourth quarter he started Garcia, Brooks, Casspi, Beverley and Jones.  At the beginning of the third and fourth quarters, the Rockets made runs to get close but then closed out both quarters getting beat bad.  The Suns answered each time with runs of their own, finally outscoring the Rockets 24 to 17, to close out the game.

Closing games is a learning curve this team has to improve upon.  How can McHale direct the offense to better facilitate the ball being in the hot hand?  So often the team defers to Harden regardless if his shot is off.  

The Rockets shot a miserable 35% from the field in this game and the announcers kept commenting on the awesome defense, but the Rockets were missing tons of open shots.  Not one player hit 50% from the field for the Rockets, and they shot only 29% from behind the arc.  With that many misses, Howard got 8 offensive boards and ended up with 18 for the game.  He also went 7 of 9 from the line and the discussion about his free throws and Hack a Howard has dissipated of late.

If you’re wondering about the value of Chandler Parsons, look no deeper than the last two games the Rockets have lost.  His creativity and hustle on both ends of the court are what make the Rockets tick.  They are 0 and 2 with Parsons out and with Harden out, the team is 3 and 1.  Rockets fans better hope that those back spasms lighten up or that Parsons digs deep and plays anyways.  His value has been discussed a lot lately on the forum and these two games clarify some of the discussion as to what he’s worth.  

Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik were also out due to injury and their presence was deeply missed.  Asik will be out about a week and Lin will be out even longer. With three of the Rockets nine man rotation injured, it is imperative that other players step up the scoring and make the most of their minutes.  Motiejunas got into the game for six minutes while the other seven Rockets spent a lot of time on the floor trying to get something/anything going.

The Rockets were so lucky to even be in this game at all.  But, with 7 minutes left in the game it was still possible to get a victory.  All the swagger the Rockets built up in their previous win streak is out the door and it’s time to look deep and try to figure out who this team is.  Who are the Rockets when the game is on the line?  If all we have to look at is Harden, it’ll be a lot like last year.  Of course when we have our full complement of players, things will look up, and boy did we sure miss them tonight.

About the author: Eric Nielsen is the owner of Lotushouse Records, an English major from SDSU, a basketball player and life-long passionate Rockets fan. He’s been following the team since the days of Moses Malone, Rudy T. and Calvin Murphy.

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