Budinger scored 12 points while playing a team-high 31 minutes and starter Luis Scola had 16 points to help the Rockets outlast the Phoenix Suns 96-89 on Thursday night.
"The first half, we played so well," said Patrick Patterson, who had 14 points in a backup role. "We thought in the second half we could go out there and keep passing the ball, sharing the ball, looking for each other, getting stops on defense and pushing it on transition. We feel that our second unit can go out there and compete with anybody."
Kyle Lowry scored 14 points, joining Scola as the only Houston starters in double figures, and the Rockets used a 57-13 edge in scoring from their backups to win their third straight and fourth in five games. Houston's reserves averaged 51.5 points in the Rockets' two victories against Phoenix this season.
"All of those guys shot over 50 percent," Lowry said. "You can't do any better than that. You can't ask for no more."
The Rockets held Phoenix to five field goals and 13 points in the fourth quarter.
"We definitely tightened down our defense and just tried to make it as tough as possible for them and create chaos for them," Budinger said. "We were able to make some steals, get in the passing lanes and make it tough for them."
Houston also dominated on the glass, pulling down 12 offensive rebounds to Phoenix's five and scoring 22 second-chance points to Phoenix's six.
"These guys are relentless on the board so you've got to be able to put your body on them," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said after Rockets snapped his team's three-game winning streak. "You have to be able to pursue the ball and go get it. When you have good defensive possessions time after time and they get the ball back time after time, it's a little deflating."
Channing Frye, playing the entire second half, scored a season-high 21 points, and Marcin Gortat added 16 for the Suns. Steve Nash, selected to his eighth All-Star game earlier Thursday, scored 14 points on 7-for-7 shooting and had 13 assists.
Michael Redd scored on a layup with 8:14 remaining to give the Suns an 81-80 lead. But Jordan Hill hit a 17-footer and Courtney Lee added a 17-foot pullup jumper to give the Rockets the lead for good at 84-81 with 7:30 to go.
The Suns pulled to 92-89 on Gortat's free throws with 2:18 left and had a chance to tie it with a 3-pointer. But Lowry tipped a crosscourt lob pass into the Suns' backcourt, sprinted to the ball and made a layup to give Houston a 94-89 lead.
"We didn't convert in so many areas, so it makes it a really disappointing loss," Nash said. "You're going to have cold patches but you've got to find other ways to stay in the game."
Two Phoenix offensive fouls in the final minute, the first coming when the 6-foot-11 Gortat ran over the 6-foot Lowry, sealed the victory for the Rockets.
"I'm 5-2," said Lowry, laughing. "He didn't see me.
The Rockets' backups dominated play throughout the game, outscoring the Suns' reserves 17-3 over the first 6-plus minutes of the second quarter.
Gentry responded by playing four of his five starters the entire third quarter and Gortat and Frye the entire second half rather than using the bench players. The backups were a combined 1 for 15 from the floor in the first half.
"We had a really nice second quarter," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "Our first and third is what we've got to figure out."
Redd provided all but two of the 13 points for the Suns' backups, who played only a combined 56 minutes.
The Rockets attempted only six free throws, making four. Houston did not go to the line in the first half. ... Houston G Goran Dragic matched a season high with 11 assists. ... Markieff Morris had the Suns' other two points off the bench. ... Gortat played 41-plus minutes, one below his career high. ... Suns F Grant Hill was the only starter to come off the floor for Phoenix in the third quarter, giving way to Redd.
Carmelo Anthony and Phil Jackson have not discussed the Knicks' coaching search since their exit meetings last month.
The Hornets' Spencer Hawes has a sprained MCL in his right knee, an MRI revealed Thursday, and is likely out for the rest of the first-round series against the Miami Heat.
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