I know the final score was 95-83, but the Suns really won this game 95-80.
The sight of "superstar" Deron Williams taking and making an uncontested 3-pointer with 11 seconds left when his team is down 15 just made me sad. Sad for Deron. Sad for Utah that THAT guy ran Jerry Sloan out of his own building. Sad for the NBA that yet another team bent over and said "thank you sir, may I have another" to its "superstar".
If you're not sure why I'm P.O.'d by Williams' shot, think of it this way: Picture a time when Steve Nash hoisted a last-second stat-stuffer when his team was down 15 points with 11 seconds left. You can't. Okay, now remember a time that Grant Hill did it. Nope. I can't think of one either.
The Utah Jazz came out to prove something in this game. The players wanted to prove they could win without their fearless leader. They wanted to reinvent themselves without the benefit of a single practice to do it. The only way they were going to beat the Suns was find a new strength they no longer possessed: outside shooting.
It worked for 24 minutes, as they stormed out to 56 points on 5-7 3-pt shooting and 53% shooting overall.
And then the shooting failed them. In the second half, the Jazz scored 24 total points (yes, I'm still excluding Williams' uncontested 3 at the end).
Hit the jump and I promise to start talking about the Suns. Especially about how this now looks like last year's playoff team.
Ladies and Gentlemen, your Phoenix Suns have figured out how to play defense.
Over the past 11 games, the Suns defense is 3rd overall in the NBA (just behind Boston and Chicago). They contest jump shots. They stop dribble drives. They rotate.
I'm not a coach, so I can't tell you exactly what the Suns are doing differently in terms of Xs and Os, but I do know there's no more open jumper after open jumper. There's no more confidence being given to tired teams.
And before this gets lost in the shuffle: Gone are the 4th quarter collapses, in the name of defense and opportunistic offense.
And now, my big payoff:
As I watched this game like a giddy schoolgirl at a Justin Bieber concert, I realized something very profound: I realized that this team has "it" again, just like last year's playoff team. I saw it in their eyes, in their demeanor. This team will grind and grind, 10 men deep, until they prevail, no matter the deficit. Remember the San Antonio and Portland series'? Those Suns are back.
I even loved the Nash interview, postgame on ESPN. When the reporter asked him what he thought of the team's defense, he chuckled (maybe in a little bit of disbelief) as he noted the score and commented how they've taken a lot of crap for their defense in the past... and then didn't really finish the sentence. I think even Nash is speechless.
Ride the wave, Suns fans!
Players of the game:
- Hakim Warrick: 16 pts, 6 rebs, 3 assists, 1 steal in 22 minutes. But that doesn't even tell the story. Hak hustled out there. He BAMFd up.
- Robin Lopez: 14 pts, 6 rebs (5 offensive, including a couple putback slams!), 1 stl, 1 block in 17 minutes. He played really great till he ran out of gas late in the third.
- Marcin Gortat: 12 pts, 10 rebs, 2 blocks, 1 assist (plus several other nice passes out of contested rolls) and 1 steal in 31 minutes. He didn't get gassed, which explains his minutes vs. Lopez.
- Nash, Hill and Frye all played their usual games tonight as well, which means "stellar". Sure, Frye couldn't hit any 3s, but he grabbed 7 rebounds and played some damn nice defense.