zDec 13, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) and Houston Rockets forward Jabari Smith Jr. (1) reach for a rebound in the first quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Winning with defense: Three takeaways from Rockets 111-97 win over Phoenix

The Rockets take the season series from the Phoenix Suns with Tuesday’s 111-97 win at Toyota Center. The Rockets led wire-to-wire and have won five straight games at home. Here are three takeaways from tonight’s win:

Suns could really use Eric Gordon

With Devin Booker out for a second consecutive game, the Suns started Landry Shamet in the backcourt alongside Chris Paul. Shamet finished with 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting, and it showed how much the Suns need another guard. Shamet is more than adequate, but the Suns are chasing a championship, and Gordon is a clear upgrade at both ends of the floor; plus they could easily play him with Booker and Paul or in place of one of the two.

Gordon played with Paul for two seasons in Houston, and he played for Suns head coach Monty Williams for four seasons in New Orleans. The Rockets and Suns have discussed a three-way trade with Milwaukee that, according to a source, would send Gordon and George Hill to Phoenix, Jae Crowder to the Bucks, and Shamet and Grayson Allen to the Rockets, but Houston is holding out for a first-round pick in any trade involving Gordon.

Defensive clinic

The Rockets played their best defensive game of the season against the Bucks on Sunday, and they followed it up with an even better effort on Tuesday. After praising the Rockets’ improved defense before the game, Suns head coach Monty Williams watched his team miss its first five shots and shoot just 32 percent in a 20-point first quarter, but the Rockets really put the clamps down in the second quarter as Phoenix made just 3-of-25 field goal attempts for what would turn into a 35-point first half.

“This is probably the best defensive game we’ve played this year,” Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr said. “Last game was a very good defensive game, so we put together two good defensive games, and we just want to let our defense still be our lead and instead of our offense.”

A big key for the Rockets has been their ability to avoid breakdowns that lead to wide-open looks, both from behind the three-point line and at the rim. The Rockets have forced the Bucks and Suns to take the shots they want them to take. The only negative on the defensive end of the floor was the Rockets’ inability to avoid fouling. The Suns attempted eight free throws in the second quarter and nine in the third.

Jalen Green on the attack

Green led all scorers with 26 points, and as has been the case for the last couple of weeks, he did almost all his damage from inside the three-point line. The Rockets guard made just one of his seven attempts from long distance, but he was 6-of-9 from inside the arc and attempted 12 free throws.

A big area of growth for Green this season is his willingness to attack the rim both in transition and in the half-court, regardless of whether a defender is around or not, and the credit for that goes to his work in the weight room over the summer.

“He spent all summer working on his body,” Rockets head coach Stephen Silas said. “I think last year we saw him going in there and bouncing off people and kind of flying because he wasn’t as strong as he is now, but he’s stronger, and that helps you when you are going downhill.”

Next up

The Rockets will play the third game of their season-long seven-game homestand on Thursday night when Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat visit Toyota Center.

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