On Wednesday night, the Suns earned a HUGE 107-105 victory over the Utah Jazz. With the win, the Suns moved past Utah in the standings and now sit in ninth place in the West, just one game out of the No. 8 seed. But it almost didn't happen.
The Suns' struggles in late game situations this season have been well-documented, and the lack of fourth quarter offense almost came back to bite them again. But a prayer was answered, and the with it the bleeding stopped.
Make the jump for a breakdown and some pretty pictures.
*All screen-caps courtesy of mySynergySports.com.
The Suns inbounded the ball up 100-98 with 1:18 left on the game clock and 11 seconds on the shot clock. Steve Nash dribbled up top for four seconds before driving the lane. After drawing the defense, Steve dropped the ball off for a circling Marcin Gortat.
As you can see above, Nash drew in the defense and Gortat was wide open. But the pass was a bit off-target and Gortat could not catch and shoot. By the time he picked it up, Paul Millsap had recovered and there were only four seconds on the shot clock. With nowhere to go, he passes it off to Channing Frye.
Frye caught the ball, took one dribble toward the top of the arc and Millsap switched onto him.
As you can see, nobody was open and there was less than two seconds on the shot clock. So Frye turned around, faded away and sent up a prayer that somehow banked in off the glass. ICMF. Suns up 103-98.
Frye's 3-pointer wasn't exactly what Alvin Gentry drew up in the time-out. Gentry did, however, draw up a nice play that should have worked. Nash managed to draw in the defense and get Gortat open for a jumpshot. Had Nash managed to hit Gortat in the hands, the play would have worked to perfection (whether or not drawing up a play to get a center open for an 18-foot jumpshot was a wise decision is a discussion for another post).
The Jazz came down and took their time, setting up a pick-and-roll for Gordon Hayward and Millsap that resulted in a tough finish by Millsap to cut the deficit to three. The defense wasn't bad by any means; Millsap is just really good.
The Suns came back down on offense and Nash set up a pick-and-roll with 10 seconds left on the shot clock. The Jazz switched on the pick, and Millsap ended up on Nash.
The angle of the camera makes it difficult to see what happened, but Nash brought the ball across his body out in front and Millsap was able to reach in and knock it away. In other words, Nash was just careless with the ball. To complicate matters, he instinctively reached out and grabbed Millsap to prevent the breakaway dunk, which resulted in a clear path foul.
Millsap made one of two free throws to cut the Suns' lead to two, and then the Jazz got the ball back due to the clear path foul. The Jazz put the ball in Al Jefferson's hands, and he faced up against Gortat. Jefferson cleared space with a jab step and knocked down the 19-footer right in Gortat's face. Tied up at 103 apiece, 28.2 seconds left.
It's difficult to tell what exactly the Suns tried to do on the next play, but it looks like they were going with a high-horns look -- that is, sending both bigs to set picks on either side of Nash's defender. Frye got there before Gortat and set a hard screen on Nash's defender's right side, which sent Earl Watson flying.
Nash drove hard to his left, and with Watson on his butt, Al Jefferson had to step up on Nash. Jefferson is far too slow to keep up with Nash, and the Two-Time MVP recognized that. He drove right past Jefferson then stepped back and slightly to the side to make sure Jefferson couldn't recover and block his shot.
Splash. Suns up 105-103, 14 seconds left.
The Jazz came right back, however, and got the ball to Millsap out on the wing. He attacked Frye with the dribble, and Frye pushed him towards the baseline.
It is tough to tell from this angle if Millsap had beaten Frye enough to get up a layup, so I am not sure if Gortat should have doubled or not in this situation. But he did, and instead of rotating onto Gortat's guy Jared Dudley ran towards the already contained Millsap, leaving Jefferson wide open at the basket. Two points Utah, game tied at 105 apiece with 9.4 seconds left.
This next play was a mess. It looks as if the Suns could have been trying the play that had won them a couple games last season, setting up a Channing Frye 3-pointer. That would have left plenty of time for Utah to answer, however, so maybe they were just trying to inbound it to Frye. Either way, Nash and Gortat set down screens and Frye ran to the top of the key to receive the pass. Utah covered that well, however, with Millsap jumping out on Frye and not giving him a look.
Frye passed it out to Michael Redd on the wing, and Redd attacked with the dribble. Redd's drive was shut down, but he did draw two-and-a-half defenders to him before kicking it back out to Nash.
Nash caught the ball on the move, and took one dribble before stopping. He let Millsap fly by him, then slid past Hayward for the Nashty leaner.
Nash's shot went through the rim to put the Suns up 107-105 with 1.7 seconds left. That meant the Jazz still had on more shot to send it to win or send it to overtime. Utah decided to go for the win, as C.J. Miles got the ball in the corner for a 3-pointer. Dudley closed out hard and forced an air-ball from Miles. The Suns failed to box out, however, and Millsap was waiting near the basket for the tip-in ...
Or not. Ball still in hand with the lights on, Suns win.
The Suns have still not figured out their fourth quarter woes. Phoenix still needs to run better plays and get better shots late in games, somehow. But in this game, it didn't matter. In this game, they had the Two-Time MVP in vintage form. For the first time in a while, we saw Steve Nash take over and close out a game in the final seconds. And it was glorious.