The Phoenix Suns played a terrible first half and shot just 40 percent from the field and half as well on threes on the second game of a back-to-back against an emotional Utah team playing without...

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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)

View full size photo »

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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