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by: Kris Gardner, United States Basketball Writers Association member. Credentialed media member since 1997. USBWA approved online journalist. Voter of Katrina McClain, Naismith, USBWA, and Wooden awards.

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Rockets hold off Suns, 114-110

POSTED: February 23, 2024 -- 11:25 p.m. CT

HOUSTON, TX (Toyota Center) -- The Houston Rockets made clutch free throws down the stretch to defeat the Phoenix Suns 114-110 Friday night. With the win, the Rockets improve to 25-31 while the Suns' record falls to 33-24.

The Rockets improve to 8-9 in games decided by five or fewer points this season while Phoenix falls to 11-9.

The Rockets scored their final 9 points of the game at the foul line: Rockets' rookie Amen Thompson made 1 of 2; Jabari Smith Jr made 3 of 4; and, Alperen Sengun made 5 of 6. Sengun split his last 2 foul shots which gave Houston a 4 point lead with 4.1 seconds remaining in the game.

Sengun finished the game with 17 points (6 for 15 field goals) and 12 rebounds. Jabari scored 22 points (6 for 18 fgs; 7 for 8 fts) in the win. Amen Thompson added 15 points off the bench.

Fred VanVleet scored a team-high 23 points for the Rockets. VanVleet made 6 of his 14 three-point attempts. Houston made 15 threes (45 attempts) while Phoenix made just 7 threes in the ball game. Houston has hit 15 or more threes per game in three of the past six games after not doing so in any of the 18 games prior. The Rockets are 10-3 when holding opponents below 10 3 threes made in a game this season.

The Rockets, once again, did not get off to a good start in the first quarter. With 5:24 left in the first quarter, Houston trailed Phoenix 22-6. However, Houston went on a 9-0 run when Coach Udoka went to his bench unit and brought in Amen Thompson and fellow rookie Cam Whitmore.

Houston trailed Phoenix 28-20 at the end of the first quarter. The Rockets

The Rockets' offense found its groove in the second quarter. Houston made 14 of 22 field goal tries including 7 of 13 three-attempts. Fred VanVleet scored 11 points in the second quarter; and, Jalen Green chipped in 8 points. Fred and Jalen combined to make 5 of 8 three-pointers in the second period.

Houston outscored Phoenix 37-20 in the second quarter to lead 57-42 at halftime.

The Suns' dynamic duo of guard Devin Booker (5 for 15) and forward Kevin Durant (3 for 9) combined to miss half of the team's 48 field goal tries in the opening half.

The Rockets outscored the Suns 32-24 in the third quarter to take a 13 point (89-76) lead into the fourth quarter.

Durant led a Suns' comeback early in the fourth quarter. KD scored 7 of the Suns' first 12 points as Phoenix outscored Houston 12-5 in the first 3:15 of the 4th quarter.

Phoenix's Bol Bol was a key contributor for the Suns in the 4th. Bol (7'3") scored 13 of his season-high 25 points in the fourth. Bol scored 7 consecutive points including a driving layup to tie the game at 98 before swishing a 14-foot floater to put Phoenix ahead 100-98 with 5:13 to go in the game.

Phoenix went away from Bol the next 2 possessions and Devin Booker missed 2 fadeaway jump shots. The Rockets answered with 5 straight points to lead 103-100 with 3:48 on the clock. Jabari Smith Jr hit a 3-pointer to put the Rockets on top.

Booker and Durant each missed a three-point shot and Sengun scored a putback layup for a 5 point (105-100) Rockets' lead with 3:14 to go in the game.

After returning to the game, Bol Bol scored a runner and made the free throw to cut Houston's lead to 105-103. Phoenix guard Grayson Allen split 2 free throws for a 105-104 Rockets' lead with 1:59 left in the 4th quarter. Phoenix would get within 1 point three more times in the closing moments of the game; but, Houston's clutch free throw shooting pulled out the hard-fought victory.

"I think we got better after the first part of the fourth quarter," Ime Udoka, Rockets Head Coach said after the game.

Amen Thompson had 15 points and 10 rebounds off the bench. It is his fourth double-double over the past seven games and his sixth overall.

Thompson played 9 minutes in the fourth quarter.

"Just do whatever my team needs me to do to win really," Thompson said in the locker room after the game.

Coach Udoka explained why he had confidence to play Amen so many minutes in the fourth:

"We liked his length and athleticism on Booker. He blocked Booker's jump shot. He blocked the Durant jump shot; and, he blocked the Bol jump shot. It's rare for guys to get those blocks. His activity on both ends was great."

Booker finished the game with 25 points; however, missed 17 of his 24 field goal attempts. He was a perfect 11-for-11 at the free throw line.

Durant finished the game with 28 points, 11 rebounds and 8 assists. It is his fourth point/rebound double-double over the past 7 games. He had five point/rebound double-doubles over his first 43 games played this season.

The Rockets won despite being outshot and outrebounded. Houston is 7-11 in games in which it was outshot and outrebounded this season after going 4-58 over the past two seasons combined.


Jabari Smith Jr. had 22 points, 16 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and a block while hitting 3 3-pointers. Smith is the second-youngest player (20 years, 286 days) to have posted that stat line in NBA history (LeBron James at 20 years and 105 days vs. New York on 4/14/05) and the second Rocket to have done so (Russell Westbrook vs. Milwaukee on 10/24/19).


The Rockets' next game is Sunday, February 25, at home, against the OKC Thunder. Tip is set for 6 p.m. Central Time.

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