HOUSTON -- For one night at least, the Houston Rockets channeled the ire of their coach into a spirited performance, blistering the Phoenix Suns 111-81 Wednesday night at Toyota Center.
Houston coach Kevin McHale had been seething for days following last Saturday's loss in Phoenix, confronting the Rockets with his disgust. Following an uneven start the Rockets (35-30) responded to the challenge and took control, uncharacteristically, on the defensive end.
When Suns swingman Jared Dudley drilled a corner 3-pointer at the 5:54 mark of the second quarter, Phoenix (22-43) secured its largest lead of the game at 43-38. Houston followed by holding the Suns to 1-fo-7 shooting down the stretch of that quarter and forced three turnovers in the process. The Rockets defense served as the foundation of their 20-2 run, a burst that capped the second quarter and continued into the third.
The Rockets extended their 13-point halftime lead to 67-48 on two Omer Asik free throws at the 9:30 mark of the third. Phoenix offered one last rally, cutting the deficit to 11, before the Rockets closed the third period with a 23-6 run that rendered the fourth quarter moot.
Rockets rookie forward Donatas Motiejunas was one of the few engaged from the opening tip, and his energy resulted in a career-high 19 points. Houston guard James Harden added 18 points while his backcourt mate, Jeremy Lin, was instrumental in the rallies. Lin finished with 13 points and six assists while playing just 25 minutes.
Wes Johnson rode a torrid start for 12 points on 6-for-7 shooting early in the second quarter, but he fizzled like his teammates and finished with 15 points. The Suns shot 41.9 percent, and after totaling 17 offensive rebounds in their 107-105 win over the Rockets four nights ago, Phoenix grabbed only 12.5 percent of available offensive boards.
NOTES: With the Suns spiraling toward their worst finish as a franchise since their 29-53 season in 2003-04, it's easy to assume Phoenix is merely playing out the string. But with a poorly constructed roster plus an offseason of uncertainty ahead, the Suns have plenty to play for. "That's what I stress to them all the time," Suns coach Lindsey Hunter said. "That (an evaluation period) is what it is for all of us. I know a lot of people will assume we're not playing for anything. You're playing for a lot. You're playing for your career; you're playing for your reputation. You're playing to let an organization know that you care about the future." ... Rockets coach Kevin McHale spent a lengthy period of time pregame chatting with Suns guard Goran Dragic, who played for the Rockets for more than a year before signing with Phoenix last offseason. McHale also caught up with Suns and former Rockets forward Luis Scola during shoot-around earlier Wednesday. "When you coach guys and spend a lot of time around them, it's always good to see guys," McHale said.