You have to hand it to the Phoenix Suns. They had every excuse to roll over and lose this game tonight. While they did lose the game, and the chance to play in the postseason, they gave it 100% with what they had. At crunch time, they had nothing left to give.
Yes, playing the biggest game of the season without the offense Channing Frye can provide and the defense Grant Hill provides every night hurt the Phoenix Suns. Further, Starting an inconsistent rookie and depending on Hakim Warrick at PF to defend and produce is not an ideal situation
The only good thing to come out of this loss is the Spurs won't have the chance to screw the Suns again.
Here is how it went...
In the first, the Jazz shut down the Suns offense while their bigs dominated the paint. The defense swarmed and smothered Marcin Gortat and Steve Nash.
The Suns allowed 54% Jazz shooting while shooting 40% themselves. But the Suns had problems with transition defense. Every Suns miss, and there were many, was met by a Jazz fast break bucket. The Jazz scored 20 points in the paint and converted 10 fast break points. An 8-0 Suns run in the second evened up the game at 25. A jam from Lopez and the Suns went up 27-25. The Jazz responded promptly, reeling off 8 straight points off of Suns missed shots and turnovers. The Suns missed 5 straight shots and went scoreless for 3+ minutes while the Jazz went 1-13.
Marcin Gortat missed all 3 of the shots he took in the lane, with 2 getting blocked by Derrick Favors. Things got uglier as Gortat was blocked 2 more times before the end of the half and given a reported "talking to" by Suns GM Lance Blanks who met him as he entered the locker room.
At the half the Suns were down 7, giving away 9 turnovers which led to 20 Jazz points while getting swatted by 8 Jazz blocks. All that kept the Suns in the game were the 3's by Shannon Brown and Michael Redd, along with Utah's 40% shooting.
In the second half, Steve Nash committed a turnover on the Suns first possession. That was the foreshadowing of things to come. Both teams traded hoops until a 10-0 Suns run trimmed the Utah lead to 1. But Alec Burks responded with 5 straight points while the Suns missed everything they tossed up. The Suns outscored the Jazz 26-24 in the 3rd, yet trailed 73-68.
The Suns seemed to be heating up as Michael Redd nailed a 3 to start the 4th. The boys continued to claw and fight, tying the game with 11 minutes left on a Sebastian Telfair bucket. With Michael Redd going to work on Alec Burks, the Suns briefly took the lead 76-74, which they quickly relinquished. The Suns went 4 scoreless minutes while missing 5 straight shots and found themselves down 80-76 with 8 minutes left.
Gortat and Nash returned with 6 minutes left. But Gortat was as useless as he was in the first 3 quarters and was pulled with 3 minutes left after missing a layup and letting Al Jefferson spin by for an easy dunk. The Jazz went on a 10-2 run and the game was effectively over, even with the Suns finding themselves within 2.
In they end, they couldn't score, couldn't get enough stops, and couldn't manage the Jazz bigs.
The big story tonight was the lack of a Gortat presence. He was flat abused by Favors and company. The man that helped carry the Suns throughout the season didn't show up tonight, or perhaps played to his ability against a tough Jazz front line. No one said Gortat was a finished product, but one still has to wonder how high the ceiling is for him.
Give the Phoenix Suns credit, they fought and battled, but they were over matched. They were forced to play a Jazz style grind it out game. They couldn't shoot and couldn't stop the Jazz big men. They needed to do that in order to have a chance.
As for the end of the season, it is sad and there are many unknowns ahead. But let's be honest with ourselves, our squad made it interesting until the very end. That is something none of us could have predicted after such an awful start. This team ended up overachieving.
Now we just have to trust in the Suns think tank and ride out a several months of questions.
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