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Over the summer, Marcin Gortat's most troubling memory was his terrible showing in the loss to Utah on April 24, 2012 that knocked the Suns out of playoff contention. He made only one of eight shots for two points in the game, getting five of those eight shots blocked in the process. He couldn't shake the memory and needed to redeem himself this season.

Gortat sorry for Utah debacle | October 16, 2012

He stressed over that game all summer - what he did wrong, what he could have done better. But what he talked most about at practice yesterday with SB Nation Arizona's Kris Habbas was the team's fans.

"I feel sorry for the fans, I feel bad for them. They were supporting us from the first game to the last game. Being the guy who was leading the team most of the games in points and boards, and all of a sudden the main game is coming and you're failing.

"You know, it hurts.

"The only thing I can say is I'm sorry to the fans. I will try to do better. I'm just going to learn from it."

The 2012-13 season started off with a bang. Marcin Gortat averaged 15 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocks in the first six games of the season.

Then came another roadie at Utah.

And another beatdown. Despite stressing over that Utah game all summer, this time he didn't even make one shot, going 0-for-6 from the floor with his only point coming off splitting a pair of free throws.

After that, Gortat receded into a shell of himself.

In the 17 games since that Utah loss, Gortat's averages dropped by 3 across the board even when factoring in equal minutes - points, rebounds and blocks all dropped precipitously. In those 17 games, Gortat pulled down 10+ rebounds only twice. This after pulling down 10+ in five of six games to open the season and averaging 10 per game last year.

It seemed like the Marcin Gortat we all knew and loved had died. His body was still here, but his spirit was gone.

He alternated between blaming himself and blaming the team, the rotations, the coach, the offense, anything he could think of (though not to us - just to the Polish media). To be fair, he blamed himself as much as all the other things combined.

"I am working every day with Jermaine, trying to put myself in a better position to score," he said. "I am working hard every day, trying to become a better player."

When he faced Utah last night, he could have continued to curl up in his shell but to his credit he came out with a fire in his belly. Even when he missed 5 of his first 6 shots, he stayed aggressive and never lost that fire.

"That kind of game I need," he said. "I came ready to play. Even though I missed a lot of shots at the beginning of the game, I was trying to stay engaged."

Marcin Gortat finished the game with his first double-double (12 points, 14 rebounds) in two weeks and only his third such effort since the first Utah game.

Gortat was relieved and smiling afterward, though still a little wary of the media who caught wind of his tirades to the Polish press and had questioned him about it for the past month.

"Utah is my little nightmare," he said. "I am happy I had a good game today."

Maybe now we will get back that double-double machine who last year was the Suns best defender.

Asked what has changed over the last two wins, Gortat said without hesitation, "Our defense. Our energy. Staying more one on one. Not doubling too much. We are helping each other."

Both Gentry and PG Goran Dragic thought Gortat was a big key to their defense as well as their offense.

"He was playing well on defense against Jefferson," Dragic said. "And in the pick and roll, he was rolling hard and sucked that defense inside. JD had some open looks [from that]."

Maybe just like the last Utah games killed Gortat's game, this quality game against them will throw that monkey off his back.

Whether you want Gortat traded for future assets, or you want him to lead a Suns resurgence, you have to be happy with Gortat's return to prominence.

You may have witnessed our Polish Machine, our Phoenix, being reborn.

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The Phoenix Suns won this game on effort and defense. Kris Habbas of SB Nation Arizona says those two things go hand in hand.

Defense is not anything new to the conversation of, "How can the Suns get back on track?" It is the conversation and it starts with a sense of urgency on the court. Typically the bench plays like it is game seven of the NBA Finals every night, but now they are getting that out of the starters.

The Player of the Game is a toss up between the Garbage Man and the Junkyard Dog. We met the Garbage Man this summer and fell in love with him from the first time he took the court.

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P.J. Tucker was a force of nature out there: 10 points, 4 rebounds, a block, steal and assist in only 15 minutes of play. Wow. You wonder why he didn't play more minutes?

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The reborn Junkyard Dog was his own force of nature out there. In 43 huge minutes, he scored 22 points on 9/12 shooting, had 4 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Boom!

"To be successful, we have to be aggressive," Jared Dudley said after the game. "We have to scrap, and hopefully we can keep doing that."

The Suns beat a Utah team that came to win. Utah tried to be physical with the Suns, to body them up and force the Suns out of their rhythm. It didn't work.

"It was their style of game," Corbin said of the Suns. "Not ours. We cut it to 4 twice but we just could never get over the hump."

After allowing double-digit deficits in 19 of their first 23 games (and 10 of 11 at home), the Suns fought their way to a big lead. Utah did not lead for a single second in this game.

"It's much easier to play with a lead," Goran Dragic said. "Everyone starts to relax."

One player who got his personal monkey off his back was Marcin Gortat. I will post a story on Gortat this weekend, so for now I'll just leave you with this quote:

"I had a lot of energy today and came ready to play," he said. "It was a good game and we won, but we have to keep working hard."

For this weekend, the Suns and their fans should be happy with the team. They just won consecutive games against winning teams for the first time this season, the first time since March 2012 and only the SECOND time in two seasons.

The Suns held consecutive opponents to less than 90 points for the second time all year and only the fourth time holding two straight opponents under 90 in the last two seasons. Phoenix is 5-1 this season when holding any opponent under 90 points.

Revel in it, kids.

And look for a plethora of takes on these last two games coming up this weekend on BSotS. There are so many story lines to discuss!


Final - 12.14.2012 1 2 3 4 Total
Utah Jazz 22 20 23 19 84
Phoenix Suns 34 22 21 22 99

Complete Coverage >



PHOENIX — For the second game in a row, the Phoenix Suns washed away all the poor rotations, stagnant offense and laughable turnovers to drop a winning team. Alvin Gentry’s club defeated...

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Phoenix came out hot to start the first quarter on offense, and picked up right where they left off against the Grizzlies defensively.Goran Dragic was playing fast and furious and attacking the basket with every opportunity to help establish an aggressive pace right off the bat. Jared Dudley was also very effective once again to start the game, scoring 13 points in his first 18 minutes to go along with 3 assists and 2 steals.

Not only that, but Michale Beasley was able to get off to a hot start scoring 8 points in the first quarter off 3-5 shooting in only 10 minutes at the power forward spot. The Suns continued their defensive blitzkrieg and held the Jazz to only 30% from the field in the second quarter and were able to take a 14 point lead going into the half.

The Jazz opened up the third quarter going on a 12-6 run to cut the lead to only 8 before Gentry called a time out. The Suns simply didn't show the same intensity on the defensive end, as Utah began getting the open shots that simply weren't there in the first half. Luis Scola was cold offensively so Gentry opted to go with Beasley at the 4 again after his hot start in the first half. The Jazz attacked Beasley who couldn't stop them on D and wasn't nearly as effective on offense as he was to start the game.

Still, the Suns found some solid play behind Dragic and the defense and rebounding of Gortat. The Suns traded baskets with the Jazz through the remainder of the third quarter. The Suns bench came in late in the quarter and held serve, playing well enough to hold onto the lead at 77-65 at the end of three.

The Suns second unit plus Dudley started the fourth quarter and allowed a quick bucket and two turnovers from the Jazz that once again cut the lead down to seven. After the Suns had done so well protecting the ball with only 9 turnovers to that point, Gentry couldn't have been happy to see his bench start the final quarter so sloppily.

However, Phoenix was able to swing the momentum right back in their favor through none other than the "Junk Yard Dog" himself, as Dudley hustled his way into the paint on offense and drew a loose ball foul against Utah on defense which not only gave the Suns the ball back, but also cost the Jazz a technical foul at the hands of the upset Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin.

P.J. Tucker also got into the action with a couple of nice fast-breaks off steals, though only converting on one and missing two free throws on the other. He also had a really nice drive through traffic shortly after to finish with a nice spinning layup at the rim. Dragic came back in at around the seven minute mark to help close the game along with Dudley, Tucker, Morris, and Jermaine O'Neal. O'Neal also had some impressive plays on offense and defense to help secure the win and help the Suns go on a 12-2 run to expand the lead to 15 with about six minutes remaining.

Marcin Gortat eventually came in to replace O'Neal and was able to score one final bucket off a beautiful pick and roll pass from Dragic to register a double-double in points and rebounding for the night. In the end, it was a great team win with nearly every player who touched the floor (except for an off night from Luis Scola) able to help contribute to the victory.

The Suns were led by Jared Dudley who had 22 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals in his nearly 43 minutes of play. Goran Dragic was also impressive with his 17 points, 5 assists, and 2 steals. PJ Tucker gets the nod for the Suns best defender tonight which led to at least a few of his 10 offensive points as well.

The Jazz were led by Al Jefferson's 14 points on only 6-16 shooting and 11 rebounds. Paul Millsap was also relatively quiet with only 12 points and 7 rebounds, and the Suns all but shot down Gordon Hayward who was held to just 3 points on 0-5 shooting from the field. Defense!

This makes two well-earned, hard fought defensive victories in a row for the Suns against quality Western Conference opponents. Let's hope this trend continues.


Final - 12.14.2012 1 2 3 4 Total
Utah Jazz 22 20 23 19 84
Phoenix Suns 34 22 21 22 99

Complete Coverage >


For more, visit SLC Dunk.

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Tonight the Suns will take on the Utah Jazz at home after an impressive defensive win over the Memphis Grizzlies Wednesday night. Can the Suns stay the course and beat another playoff-caliber Western Conference foe at home?

Tonight, the 8-15 Phoenix Suns will take on the 13-10 Utah Jazz at home. The Suns are coming off their most impressive win of the season thus far after beating the Memphis Grizzlies, one of the best teams in the league, and breaking a seven-game losing streak. However, the Jazz are also coming off a very impressive win of their own against one of the other best teams in the league, the San Antonio Spurs.

The good news for the Suns is that they appear to be healthy once again, with Goran Dragic, Jermaine O'Neal, and PJ Tucker all returning to form and contributing significantly to the Suns win over the Grizzlies. They will also be playing the Jazz at home in Phoenix--a much different situation than having to face them on the road. Do the Suns have what it takes to string together another quality win tonight?

When: Tonight, 7pm MST/9pm EST

Where: US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona (locally), NBA League Pass

The History:

  • This will be the 160th meeting between the two teams with the Suns leading the all-time series 86-73.
  • The Suns have won 56-22 against the Jazz at home.
  • LAST MEETING: In Utah November 10, 2012, Jazz beat the Suns 94-81

Probable Starters:

Goran Dragic vs. Mo Williams
Shannon Brown vs. Randy Foye
Jared Dudley vs. Marvin Williams
Luis Scola vs. Paul Millsap
Marcin Gortat vs. Al Jefferson

Keys to a Suns Victory:

Momentum:

The Suns are coming off a much needed feel-good game against the Memphis Grizzlies. The Suns need to try to build on that momentum in hopes that it can carry them through to another win at home. The last thing the Suns can afford to do is start off flat, as has been their modus operandi so far this season. If they can start the game aggressive and with crisp execution on both ends of the floor, they should be able to pick right back up where they left off.

Defense Wins Games:

Especially for teams who lack a superstar or a true go-to scorer. As the Suns showed against the Grizzlies, they have the ability to be a good defensive team when everyone is on the same page. The Suns simply don't have the firepower to outscore their opponents any more...those days left with Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, and Shawn Marion. However, the Suns can still win games with defense, and that is exactly how they will need to win tonight's game as well.

Dudley and Tucker:

Although Jared Dudley has been frequently moved around between the starting unit and the bench as a shooting guard, Alvin Gentry may have finally found the best place for him. Dudley has only been playing as the starting small forward for two games now, but he has been much more effective in that role than in either circumstance as a two-guard. Dudley was the x-factor against the Grizzlies, and for the first time this season showed that energy and hustle that earned him the "junk-yard dog" moniker just seasons ago.

As for P.J. Tucker, the Suns desperately need his defense and hustle, and missed it badly the past few games when he was injured. Now that Tucker seems to be healthy again, he needs to continue playing at 110% on defense and being around the ball to get rebounds and offensive put-backs. If both he and Dudley can have a similar performance against the Jazz that they did against the Grizzlies, then I like the Suns chances a whole lot more.

Battle of the Bigs:

Marcin Gortat has been the Suns biggest enigma this season--looking great at times, but more frequently, looking either out of sync or uninspired...or both. Jermaine O'Neal has been great off the bench, but he is not meant to be relied upon to play starter minutes. The Suns need Marcin Gortat to step up tonight against the strong and crafty Al Jefferson and not only provide poi ts in the post, but also the kind of defense that Gortat is capable of playing when he's motivated to do so.

Likewise, someone has to step up against Paul Millsap as well. Luis Scola certainly isn't known for his defensive abilities, outside of his ability to take charges. However, he's certainly been playing better defense than Markieff Morris so far, and he will need to give his best effort against Millsap who has averaged 22.6 points and 10.3 rebounds over his last three games. The Jazz certainly have the front court advantage, so it will take a great effort by the Suns on both ends of the court to win this match-up.

Bench Bunch:

In my opinion, the greatest advantage the Suns have against the Jazz is their bench. The Suns will likely see substantial minutes from Sebastian Telfair, PJ Tucker, Jermaine O'Neal...each of whom are known for their defense and hustle on the court and their ability to help close out games in the fourth quarter. The Jazz' best bench player by far is Gordon Hayward who plays starter minutes as a sixth man. Both Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors can also get hot on occasion, but the Suns should be able to win the match-ups of the second unit as long as Hayward is held in check.

The Bottom Line:

It's hard to say if Wednesday's game against the Grizzlies was just a fluke, or a culmination of the Suns starting to form a new identity. The safe bet is to say they just played a good game--after all, they certainly haven't shown that they can play at that level with any sort of consistency thus far.

However, if Alvin Gentry and the Suns can take what worked for them Wednesday night and translate it into their new identity--along with the adjusted line-ups and minutes for players who have earned it, and players who have not, then maybe the Suns can tack on another impressive win tonight. The Suns certainly have the ability to win this game...Time will tell if they have the resolve.

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