When Goran was ruled out before the game it was safe to assume the Suns had their work cut out for them. Instead they took the night off. The Jazz made short work of a team without their leader that looked like an Ish out of water.
The game didn't start as a bruising battle between defensive heavyweights. The Jazz were getting the shots they wanted early and by the first called timeout at 5:18 Utah led 18-13 by going 8-13 from the field and committing no turnovers. The first foul of the game wasn't even called until the back side of that timeout, though, which meant that the play was very fluid... especially for any game involving the Utah Jazz.
Ish Smith looked comfortable at the helm, with his new plenipotentiary power over the point guard position, and recorded four assists in the period. Despite Utah leading for the entirety of the first quarter, it was the Suns who were providing all the pyrotechnics. Gerald Green had a ferocious dunk on a breakaway after a steal coming out of Utah's first timeout and then followed that up with a slam dunk contest style reverse jam a few minutes later. Not to be outdone, Archie Goodwin joined the fun with a colossal driving one handed slam right over the lumbering Enes Kanter.
First Quarter: Jazz 28, Suns 25
The Suns took their first lead (31-30) early in the second quarter, but the Jazz responded by rattling off a 10-0 spurt. Channing Frye broke the slump for Phoenix with a three pointer and then Ish scored high of the glass with a teardrop to cut the lead back to four. At seven minutes into the quarter Smith's bucket was Phoenix's first score at the rim in the period, a stark contrast from the highlight reel performance in the first quarter.
The Suns kept within striking distance, but couldn't close the quarter as they let Utah outscore them 11-3 over the last three minutes. The pace was more plodding this quarter and the Suns started to look a little sloppy and disjointed. The Jazz, on the other hand, were actually running opportunistically and led the Suns 12-4 in fast break points. This despite Phoenix averaging a league best 19 per game to Utah's 12.4.
Richard Jefferson, Derrick Favors and Trey Burke were all in double figures by the intermission and were a combined 13-16 from the field. While Goran Dragic's absence on the offensive end was evident the Suns were also being outclassed on the defensive end. Gerald Green led the Suns with 13 points at the half, as he appeared to be asserting himself as the Suns primary offensive weapon.
Halftime: Jazz 53, Suns 44
P.J. Tucker fouled Hayward on an attempt at the rim at the 8:11 mark. This isn't necessarily notable except for the fact that I couldn't really remember seeing him do anything else in the game. Ghosting. That may have also been a good way of describing Phoenix's overall energy through the first half of the third quarter. Evidently coach Hornacek felt the same listless vibe because he subbed Dionte Christmas into the game. No offense to Dionte, but that's kind of a message substitution.
If nothing else it may have had an effect in some capacity, because Markieff Morris was given a technical foul moments later. It was the most spirited display from the Suns since the first period. But this wasn't like the entertaining brand of basketball to start the game, this was pretty hard to watch... unless perhaps you're a Jazz fan. The methodical pace favored the Jazz and they stretched their lead to 14 (69-55) while the Suns offense festered.
The Suns finally uncorked their offense at the end of the quarter, and we even got to see a Christmas three, but they were still giving the Jazz whatever looks they wanted and Utah was shooting 54.5% from the field through three quarters.
Third Quarter: Jazz 78, Suns 64
Early in the fourth quarter the Jazz lead swelled to 18. Goodwin was still out there doing work, but he may as well have been out there by himself. In absolutely (hilariously) fitting fashion, the final bullets were put in the back of Phoenix's head by none other than ex-Sun Diante Garrett. Garrett scored 12 points in the first 4:15 of the fourth quarter to teleport the game to the land of garbage time. I'm pretty confident in my guess that he never did that in a fourth quarter when he played here.
The bullet thing is actually somewhat fitting because I couldn't decide whether the fourth quarter of this game more closely resembled an execution or a funeral. Haven't been missing these types of games this season...
Final Score: Jazz 109, Suns 86
The Jazz really had a balanced attack, but I'll give it to Gordon Hayward since he finished just one assist shy of a triple-double with 17 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.
Archie Goodwin continued to ooze potential. He can definitely get around the court and appears to have the same nose for the rim as teammates Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. How
sad funny is it that the Suns best player on the court tonight was a combo guard when both of their elite starting combo guards are sidelined? Besides the general intrigue over the development of the precocious Goodwin the Suns may also be faced with a serendipitous glut of talent at the guard spots if they can ever keep them healthy. At least tonight, Archie looked like he deserved to be getting some burn. Sure, he's young and there's no need to rush him, but you're never too young to get playing time if you've earned it.
Goodwin finished the game with 16 points (on 6-10 shooting), six rebounds, two steals and one savage dunk over Enes Kanter.
Green's two dunks in the first quarter were pretty epic, too.
The Suns let Diante Garrett humiliate them (at least it looked pretty humiliating) with his dazzling display at the beginning of the fourth quarter. His career high before tonight's game (I had to look it up after I mentioned it earlier) was 13 (now it's 15...). His high as a Sun was nine. He scored 12 points in the first 4:15 of the fourth quarter as the Jazz lead ballooned from 14 to 22.
In my preview for the game I pointed out three areas to watch for this game (not that you'd have to be possessed of even marginal intelligence to suggest these):
Pick up the pace - The Jazz are 27th in the league in pace. That's just above the Chicago Bulls and Memphis Grizzlies, teams the Suns are a combined 0-4 against this season. Though Phoenix has won two of three against Utah, one of those came on a last second shot.
The Suns stumbled their way along to 86 points, which is tied for their season low.
Finish early - The Jazz have been prone to blowout losses this season. The Suns need to come out with a vengeance, seeking redemption for squandering leads in the previous two games. If the game is close early I expect it be close late. Stifling defense would be a key here, something the Suns have not been playing consistently. The 112 points the Suns surrendered to Utah earlier in the season (tied for Utah's third highest output) will not be acceptable.
This kind of came true... except for the close at the end part. Utah shot 57% from the field and 50% from three point range on their way to 109 points. That's fourteen above their season average.
Dragon fire - Goran Dragic needs to be Goran Dragic. I realize I'm being fastidious here, and somewhat discounting his career high in scoring Sunday, but in his last three games not including the one against Houston he is averaging just 13.7 points and 4.7 assists. Not very Dragon-like. Hopefully he will be engaged after never really getting into the flow of the game against Houston... and hopefully the training staff have enough rubber bands and superglue to keep his ankle from being an issue.
I guess they don't sell rubber bands in Salt Lake City. Obviously Phoenix could have used Goran's services tonight. Well, he didn't play and would have probably gained stature in pundits eyes based on the travesty of a team the Suns looked like without him... but I'm pretty positive nobody's going to take much time to analyze this suckfest.
Well, that sucked.
Sometimes when a team has a player go down they rally round the family for at least a game or two. The Suns didn't.
Hopefully Goran's ankle is better soon because these guys were flat like the world used to be.
Oh yeah, and Memphis won, too.
After last year's 25-57 disaster and three years of declining results, the Phoenix Suns have burst onto the scene with a 33-22 record and a spot in the playoffs if the season ended today. Has this year already been a success no matter what happens in the last 27 games?
The good guys at NBA.com posted a roundtable this week, asking the question: Have the Suns already secured their happy ending?
To a man (not being sexist - they were all men in the round table), they agreed that the Suns already met the requirements for a happy ending by far exceeding their expectations this season and still having all the picks and cap space they'd planned for this summer.
Some of them think the Suns will make the playoffs, while others think the Suns will come up short with the toughest remaining schedule of the bubble teams (Dallas, Memphis, Golden State and Phoenix). The only exception was the guy from NBA Australia, who wrote "If the definition is winning a playoff series then no, I don't think they can touch any of the top four teams in the West."
What say you, Suns fans?
With the 33-22 record after 55 games, have the Suns already qualified for happy ending to this season? Last year, the Portland Trail Blazers hung around the playoff picture until the final month of the season, only to end on a 13-game winning streak. That was considered by most in the NBA as an accomplishment anyway.
By contrast, last year the Phoenix Suns were drowning their way to a 25-57 finish that marked the darkest days of the franchise since at least the drug scandal of the 80s.
Assuming the Suns don't completely implode over the next two months, is it a successful season to win 40-45 games but come up just short of the playoffs?
Or have expectations changed so much that it's only a happy ending if the Suns get into the postseason?
Leave a comment and/or vote in the poll.