I almost wish Deron Williams and Mehmet Okur played tonight.
That way the Suns would have a good excuse for dropping a 109-97 decision in Utah.
There’s no question EnergySolutions Arena is an impossible place to play, with the Jazz racking up a league-best 37-4 record in their friendly confines last year and starting the year off 5-0 at home after tonight.
But the Suns lost this contest because the Jazz wanted it more, dominating the hustle game before pulling away with a late 17-2 run.
“We just didn’t play,” head coach Terry Porter told Suns.com. “Anything hustle-wise, as far as getting loose balls, balls going on the floor, we didn’t get any of them. They were the aggressors all night, got to the free-throw line a lot and our guys got in foul trouble in the first half. Just didn’t do a good enough job.
“We just weren’t as sharp as we needed to be tonight and we had stretches where we were in the game and we just did not do a good enough job at both ends of the floor. Executing our stuff offensively and then defensively, we just had too many breakdowns.”
Added Steve Nash to Suns.com, “We didn’t have any energy, our defense was late, we were a step behind on our rotations, we weren’t active, and we didn’t deserve it.”
The Suns certainly didn’t deserve to win this one, not with the Jazz dominating the backboards to the tune of 47-26, including a 17-5 edge on offensive rebounds.
Phoenix has become a very good rebounding team this year with Shaq after being the worst in the NBA in that category last year before dealing for the Big Cactus, but you couldn’t tell it by watching this one.
Before today the Suns had only been outrebounded three times in 11 previous games and a Shaq-sized asterisk belong next to two of them; O’Neal missed the Nov. 7 game in Chicago when the Suns played with a similar lack of energy and were outboarded by 13, and he played just 13 minutes before being kicked out Sunday against Detroit, a game in which the Suns lost the rebounding game by three.
Phoenix’s only other rebounding disadvantage game came Nov. 10 against Memphis when the Suns were outrebounded by a mere carom. Not surprisingly, O’Neal fouled out of that contest after just 22 minutes.
This time around all of the Suns’ starters except Amare fought foul trouble. Shaq, Nash, Matt Barnes and Raja Bell each picked up three fouls in the first half and finished the game with either four or five. Nash uncharacteristically picked up his fifth foul at the 5:05 mark of the third quarter.
Shaq failed to dominate offensively with a nine-point, 3-for-11 night despite entering the game leading the NBA in field-goal percentage. The Daddy was even embarrassingly stuffed on a dunk attempt by 6-foot-8 forward Paul Millsap. That shouldn’t happen.
But after last night looking like a black hole at times when the ball went into the post to him, Shaq did a great job finding cutters in this one and ended up with five assists.
Amare was great in a 15-point first quarter on 5-for-7 shooting but “only” scored 15 the rest of the way.
Matt Barnes showed some life coming back from his two-game suspension with 19 points on 8-for-13 shooting. He did a real nice job cutting to the basket to get open for Shaq and Nash.
After essentially using a 10-man rotation Sunday despite Barnes and Leandro Barbosa being unavailable, Porter cut his rotation down to eight men, with Robin Lopez, Louis Amundson and Sean Singletary out of the mix despite the foul trouble.
Every starter logged at least 32 minutes, and Boris Diaw saw 24 minutes, Grant Hill 23 and Goran Dragic 16 off the bench.
With the suspensions, births, deaths and team-mandated days of rest Porter has seen his players miss games because of it would be impossible to get into a set rotation at this point, but he has shown no rhyme or reason to who plays when aside from the start and finish of games.
Perhaps that’s a good thing in November to keep the end of the bench on its toes, but I’d eventually like to see the Suns settle into a set rotation.