For the first time all season, this was a GOOD thing. (AP Photo/Jim Urquhart)

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.
It should be noted that Kirilenko was KILLING the Suns in the first half, and might've helped the Jazz not get outscored 51-24 in the second half (still not counting that final cheap-ass 3).

But even so, the Suns were tougher in this game. 

Look out NBA! 


Bring it! (AP Photo/George Frey)

I said in the preview that the Suns could only lose this game off big-time outside shooting by Utah. In the first half, that's just what Utah did. 5-7 on 3s. 53% overall. And a 12 point lead.

but can the Jazz keep it up? And can the Suns keep missing so many shots?

But really, the question is: will the Suns bring the EFFORT in the second half?

Let's go!


Who will prevail? The MVP candidate who is loyal to his coach? Or the one who wasn't?  (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Rick Scuteri - AP

Who will prevail? The MVP candidate who is loyal to his coach? Or the one who wasn't? (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

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Let's see how the Suns do on the road against a winning team, albeit one without their coach.






Phoenix Suns 95, Utah Jazz 83 PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns will do something Friday night that thay haven’t done in 23 seasons: They’ll take on the Utah Jazz without Jerry Sloan...

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Never got a COY despite being loved by peers and media for 23 years. (Photo/Jim Urquhart)

More photos » Jim Urquhart - AP

Never got a COY despite being loved by peers and media for 23 years. (Photo/Jim Urquhart)

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Reagan, Bush Sr, Clinton, Bush Jr, Obama. Five Presidents to one Jazz coach. 23 years.

Tonight's opponent, the Utah Jazz, is plummeting. The Jazz are not only losers in 10 of their last 14, but their long-time coach Jerry Sloan and his top assistant suddenly retired yesterday.

Active Jazz players Andre Kirilenko, Deron Williams, CJ Miles, Paul Millsap, Krylyo Fesenko and Mehmet Okur have NEVER played an NBA game without Sloan running the show. Never. Do they step up? Do they prove to the league that they can win even when their coach walks out on them? 

But here's the bigger question: does anyone think Sloan was actually the problem?

The marriage of Al Jefferson (for whom the Jazz surrendered 2 future #1s) to Sloan's motion offense was doomed from the start. Big Al is the antithesis of motion. He wants to set up on the low block and score the ball or rebound the ball, depending on which end of the court he's on. He's a 20/10 machine.

Unfortunately, his style does not lend itself to winning. His numbers are relatively "empty". While a Paul Millsap makes a difference on the game by his presence, Big Al sucks the presence right back out. He takes a while to get into position, and then rarely moves from it. And given the number of times he's got the ball against a double-team, he's fairly allergic to passing.

Not surprisingly, Utah eventually struggled. They ran out to a 15-5 start on the juice of several come-from-behind wins that splashed across national headlines for a few weeks. But then reality set in. Since that big start, Utah is 16-18 including 4-10 in their last 14 games. Another indicator of serious average-ness: on the season, Utah scores 99.6 points while surrendering 99.6 points. Even steven.

Deron Williams and Paul Millsap are their best players. CJ Miles' role is too big for him to handle, Andre Kirilenko is tailing off and nobody else is making a difference either. Raja Bell just doesn't have it anymore, while Price and Watson never had it in the first place.

Now with Sloan out, reportedly due to ongoing friction with Deron Williams, who knows what we'll see from Utah. They might sleep-walk through this game, unsure which way is up or down. Or, we might see a really focused, frenetic team trying to prove they can survive without Sloan. Deron Williams just might put up 40 and 15. Millsap has shown the ability to pour in the points.

But that won't mask Utah's biggest problem. They have NO outside shooting. No wing players who can create a shot, or are a threat to catch and shoot. Three of their best shooters from last season - Wes Matthews, Kyle Korver and Carlos Boozer - are gone. Mehmet Okur has been injured. All they have now is Raja Bell, CJ Miles and a band of bad backup PGs.

So you pack the paint against Jefferson and Millsap, force Deron Williams to stay on the perimeter and the game is yours.

Say hello the sad folks at SLC Dunk. They need your support.

But hey Alex, what about the Suns?

All I've got for you is one date.

Apparently, January 28 has become a magic date for Alvin Gentry's Phoenix SunsLast season, that date kicked off a 28-7 finish to a season that had started a pedestrian 26-21, triggered by Jason Terry famously calling out the Suns' defense on national TV.

This season, the Suns have gone 5-1 so far since January 28 to pull even at 25-25 after a 20-24 start. Those 5 wins have been over Boston, New Orleans, Milwaukee and Golden State (twice). The Suns even played well in their only loss, squandering a 4th quarter lead to division-leader Oklahoma City. 

On a larger scale, the Suns have won 10 of their last 14 games at the same time the Jazz have lost 10 of 14.

The Suns simply need to play to their strengths on offense, pack the paint on defense, and play inspired ball. Don't let the Jazz get confident. Don't let the jazz freelance their way to a win. Play hard.

 

 

Phoenix Suns First Test For Utah Jazz After Jerry Sloan - SB Nation Arizona
Suns' coach Alvin Gentry talked about Sloan's legacy and tenure, during which time over 250 other NBA coaches have been hired (and fired). Gentry counted up nine different coaching jobs he's held during Sloan's time running the Jazz.

"If I'm not mistaken, I think in the last 15 years he's had one losing season. That's a pretty good run right there," Gentry said.

and because it never gets old...

 

Video: Jared Dudley's First Dunk Of The Season - Desert Dirt - SB Nation Arizona
"Let me just say, Jared Dudley's dunk might have been the best dunk I've ever seen him do. Honestly, I thought it was Vince Carter streaking to the basket. If I had known it was Jared I probably wouldn't have passed it to him. But, I'm glad I did because we got a great highlight."

Phoenix Suns Player Thermometer, Week 15: It's A .500 Celebration! - Desert Dirt - SB Nation Arizona
In the actual week that was, the Suns played just two games -- one a tight loss to Oklahoma City in which referee favorite Kevin Durant benefited from a phantom foul call which, after a pair of technical fouls on Nash/Hill, resulted in a game-changing four free throws. The other game was Monday night's near-blown lead to Golden State in which the Suns shot out to a large early advantage only to see it slip away.

 

Suns vs Jazz coverage

Suns vs Jazz preview

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