Phoenix Suns 95, Utah Jazz 83 -- Second half stinginess

Robin Lopez and the Suns' defense buckled down on Paul Millsap and the Utah Jazz in the second half. (AP Photo/Jim Urquhart)

Robin Lopez and the Suns' defense buckled down on Paul Millsap and the Utah Jazz in the second half. (AP Photo/Jim Urquhart)

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 Jerry Sloan as their head coach for the first time since the late ’80s.

That certainly would have been the recipe for a defeat a couple weeks ago, but none of that could derail the Phoenix Suns express Friday night in Salt Lake City as the Suns used a stifling second-half defensive effort to beat the Jazz going away, 95-83.

The Suns trailed 56-44 at the break after a first half in which Utah got off to a quick 13-2 lead, but they kept plugging away until the tide turned in a big way in the second half.

“We just said, ‘Stick with it,’” Steve Nash told ESPN in his walkoff interview. “We played so poorly in the first half we were lucky to be down 12. We came out feeling like we had a second life. We went on a little run to start, and that was kind of it.”

That was all thanks to a scintillating second-half defensive effort that would impress the Boston Celtics. The Suns held the Jazz to 27 points on 32.4 percent shooting from the field and 2-for-10 shooting from deep, and that was only after C.J. Miles and Deron Williams hit garbage threes in the final 33 seconds.

That means in the first 23:27 of the half before the game had been decided the Jazz scored just 21 points on less than 30 percent shooting without drilling a three. They rebounded just three of those missed buckets as the Suns outboarded them 29-15 in the half with four players with five boards and a fifth with four. According to Elias, no team in the shot clock era has scored fewer second-half points in a head coach’s debut.

The Suns, meanwhile, played a typical Phoenix offensive half by scoring 51 on 48.8 percent shooting, although they still struggled behind the arc, hitting 3-of-14 in the half. Their defense allowed them to overcome a 3:37 drought near the beginning of the fourth with the bench unit in as both teams traded misses before Nash and Hill returned to restore order.

“We just got off to a horrendous start,” head coach Alvin Gentry told reporters. “Couldn’t make a shot, gave up too many transition baskets to them early in the game. We knew that there would be a reaction, an emotional reaction to the whole Jerry (Sloan) thing. And we told our guys we were just going to have to weather that and then lock in, and the last 36 minutes of the game is going to be played like the game is going to be played.”

Added Jazz head coach Tryone Corbin (sounds weird, right?), “We ran out of gas. I mean, I don’t know if it was emotions in the first half, when we showed up for the game, but the second half, we just got away from everything we were doing.”

It really says something about the changing identity of the Suns that they could win a game in a (formerly?) hostile environment on the second game of a back-to-back on a night their shots weren’t falling against such an emotional team.

Sure, it helped quite a bit that Andrei Kirilenko missed the second half with a twisted ankle, Raja Bell was out with a strained left calf and Ronnie Price couldn’t go because of a sprained toe. Those injuries certainly depleted Utah’s bench and made some kind of an impact on the anemic second half.

Still, the Suns’ simplified defense has become a weapon during the Suns’ stretch of winning six of seven and 11 of 15 to move a game over .500 for the first time since Dec. 7. Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus in particular played fantastic man defense as the Jazz never could get anything going in the second half.

It was also good to see Gentry stick with his hot players rather than go with a set rotation.

The bench played together until the four-minute mark of the second quarter as a reward for going on a spurt. In the fourth quarter, Pietrus and Hakim Warrick joined Gortat in playing the entirety of the period as only Nash and Hill were brought back halfway through. Pietrus played solid defense on Williams while Warrick put up a real nice 8-4-2 stat line in the fourth quarter alone.

Channing Frye (2-for-11, 1-for-7 on threes) and Jared Dudley (1-for-7, 0-for-3) just didn’t have their shooting eye tonight, so Gentry went with the hot hands instead. He also played Lopez a full 10:16 in the third as he enjoyed perhaps his best stretch of the season in putting up 11 points and grabbing five boards (four offensive).

The Jazz didn’t have an answer for his activity, and if he played like that every night this Suns team would be really dangerous. Lopez was just much more aggressive than normal and seemed to be playing with lots of confidence, and that made a big difference.

The win allows the Suns to keep pace with Portland, who beat the Raptors tonight. Phoenix trails the Blazers by two games but just one in the loss column, and the squad is one back of Memphis but up one in the loss column.

The Suns’ recent winning ways more interestingly bring them closer to the rest of the West pack. They now trail the Jazz, who have lost 11 of 15 and four in a row at home, by just three games and one in the loss column. If the Suns beat the Kings on Sunday and then Utah again on Tuesday in US Airways Center, they would be even in the loss column and 1 1/2 back of the Jazz overall, and with their second win of the season in Utah tonight they clinched the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Jazz.

Looking further up the standings, No. 6 Denver is just two games up on the Suns in the loss column and could be making a franchise-altering deal any second now and even No. 5 New Orleans three up in the loss column isn’t beyond being caught.

For some time now the West playoff picture looked like a top heavy top seven and then Portland, Memphis and the Suns battling for No. 8. But at this point the final three or so spots may be up for grabs for all those teams in the mix.

The Suns have put themselves in that discussion with their 11-4 run, but most importantly they have finally gelled with their Orlando acquisitions and seem like they could be poised to make another second-half run.

The offense will always be there, but if the Suns can continue to play the kind of defense they did in the second half tonight they will be a threat in the Western Conference down the stretch.

And 1

Beckley Mason over at HoopSpeak wrote an interesting feature on the jump pass, and that discussion includes a look at Nash’s propensity to execute this risky maneuver. … The Suns committed just six turnovers in this ballgame. … Warrick and Pietrus were both a team-high plus 15 in 22 minutes of action. … After trailing by 15 in the second quarter, the Suns came all the way back to take a 15-point lead of their own in the waning moments of the contest.

  • Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    First off, lets talk about what our twin towers did in this game.

    LoTaT: 12-23, (26 pts) / 16 rebounds / 3 blocks.

    That’s doing work, and if they, (really more RoLo joining Thortat on the stat sheet), could bring that every night it’d be easy sailing.

    Prince Hakim went 22 minutes and put up 16 / 6 / 3. says when he gets 22 minutes he’s averaging 17PPG. It won’t happen all the time, but it’s good to know that when he does get extended minutes, he brings it, (and that flat-footed SMASH was filthy).

    As I said before, for the first time this year I felt like the Suns weren’t in danger even though Utah went all Rambo out of the gates. We simply let them hit the NOS all early and cruised, then blew past them to the finish. Shout out to Vin Diesel and Paul Walker.

    I’d still like to see Gentry finally make the switch at center. I don’t care if he likes playing RoLo 4 minutes at the start. Get Thortat in there.

    The Bench Mob, (is it too early to bring that back from the dead?), is beginning to come together, and it’d be good to get RoLo settled in so that when Dragon gets that bandage taken off of his claw, they’re really ready to go full octane and clamp down on defense.

    I’m beyond ready to see Dragon / JMZ / Pietrus / Warrick / RoLo, (with some J Chill & ZD sprinkled in), go COPS on the other team and lock them down.

    I’m also ready for Vincanity to fall out of the rotation. He had one dunk that I can remember, and the rest of his stat line, (and the game before this one), make me feel like i’m in a Vanilla sky and I’m yelling out for tech support to fix him.

  • Lloyd

    I don’t know if the Suns will make the playoffs-because of our poor start and Portland is playing so well-but, if they do they could present serious match-up problems with three very good bigs; Frye, Lopez and Gortat.

    With the Lakers offering up damaged goods (Bynum) for Carmelo, why aren’t our Suns trying to make a deal for him? We can do better than beat up Bynum.

    We could offer Lopez, Dragic, a number one and even (I hate to include him in any deal; Dudley).

    Are the salaries difficult to work out in such a deal? Perhaps. But, isn’t that what Lon Babby is for?

    The Lakers offer up crap (see Gasol), and we just sit by and be content.

    Phoenix is not Oklahoma. We have great weather, 250 golf courses, parties in Scottsdale etc. (Please notice how many pro athletes live here.) Money talks. The Suns should at least attempt such a deal!

    Hey Sarver; Carmelo sells tickets!

    Please Suns management (Blanks, Babby and Sarver) don’t let Carmelo go to the stinking Lakers!

  • Lloyd

    Hey Suns fans……Lets make some noise and get Carmelo for the Suns! Carmelo and Gortat is quite a duo. And, you would have Carmelo, Gortat and Nash. Pretty darn good!

  • AJ

    @Lloyd. Come on man, lets not blow up this team just to get melo as a rental (idk if he’ll sign an extension here given how vocal he has been about playing in his hometown of NY). Also Lopez for melo? I doubt the logic of that trade. We are winning (in my eyes at least) because we have two solid defensive/physical centers on our roster, i.e. One on the floor at all times who can patrol the paint. I don’t think the addition of Melo is going to help.

    And on a second note, have some faith. The suns might be the tenth seed, but they are only 1 game out in the loss column (which isnthe one that counts).

  • AJ

    More on Lopez: keep it up big guy.

    I mean he was a different player in the 2nd half!!

  • Lloyd

    AJ -

    If the Suns get Carmelo, of course, they will sign him to a huge contract. That is why they are paying Lon Babby! Again, money talks.

    Do you really want to see Carmelo with the Lakers? I sure don’t. That would be terrible for Suns fans. Carmelo is still young.

    Carmelo, Gortat and Nash? Sign me up!

  • Lloyd

    Philosopher, theologian, Tommy Lasorda once said; “There are those that let things happen, and there are those that make things happen.”

    Are the Suns going to “let things happen”, Carmelo going to the Lakers? Or are the Suns going to “make things happen”, Carmelo with a long term deal in a Suns uniform?

    G.M. Blanks makes this deal, and Babby does the contract. We will buy the tickets! I can already see the line at the Suns ticket office and Sarver at his cash register counting his money!

  • Lloyd

    AJ -

    It is not Lopez for Carmelo. It is Lopez, Dragic, a number one pick and maybe Dudley…….that is a much better deal than either the Knicks or the Lakers are offering.

    Bynum (Oden) is damaged goods, and the Lakers are putting a bow on him and trying to get rid of him.

    Tim Legler has stated that if Denver trades Carmelo for Bynum, it is a bad deal for them, and they will be “very dissapointed.”

  • TRX

    lol? I would be extremely happy if the Lakers swapped Bynum for Carmelo. That’d be one of those rare deals where both teams get worse.

    The Lakers would be down to two legit bigs; Gasol/Odom would have to play a ton of minutes. The team would have only a few months to incorporate a second ballstopper, with little inclination to play defence, into a triangle offence predicated on ball movement – a dangerous offence broken frequently enough by Kobe as it is.

    The Nuggets lose a top scorer on a roster working solely off him offensively. Nene scores efficiently because he doesn’t create for himself. Even Billups has been getting assisted on a higher percentage, both at the rim and from three. The only place he really creates for himself now is 10-23ft. Bynum’ll improve them defensively when he’s on the court, especially if he plays with Nene. But then they also have no stretch four, although they could move Harrington to the 3.

    And I really don’t think the Suns are in a position to be giving up so many young players considering their top players are on the wrong side of thirty as it is. All for a player who scores inefficiently, rebounds pretty well for a SF and plays subpar defence. Hard to be efficient when you only shoot 53.8% at the rim and take the other bulk of your shots from the worst spot on the court (16-23ft).

  • Sean

    I’ll join those saying I don’t want Carmelo on the Suns. He’s a very good offensive player, but I think he’s overvalued.

    Most advanced stats suggest the same. Note Carmelo’s absence on any of the Western Conference advanced stats leaders.

    I’d like to see the Suns ride out this season with the crew they have. I’d only like to see a trade if they can find a quality 2 or 4 in exchange for VC, maybe a #1, and some combination of their other wings. But that’s unlikely to happen.

  • lewis

    impressed. Thats the word i’m looking for. A back to back game, an emotional utah team, and a horrible, horrible shooting night, but we still won. We played hard and never gave up, also impressed with gortat not picking up charges on the pick and roll and his passing.

    Now if only we can parley something out of carter in a trade for a shooting guard who is still alive we could actually be dangerous

  • Derek

    Its cool that the suns won finally without the threes falling and channing frye not having a good game.

  • Mike

    Carmelo is not coming to the Suns. It’s Hollywood that he wants to be near to for his wife’s supposedly *blossoming acting career*. LMAO!

    So, it’s either NY or LA. Most likely, NY. Why would Carmelo be a second fiddler guard to Kobe?

    Deron Williams simply killed Steve Nash in the first half. It was suns backup PG that tired out Deron Williams in the 2nd quarter and 2nd half.

    Steve Nash is a defensive liability against bigger, stronger, and faster PGs. Hence why the Suns needed to step up their weak side help defense to stop the Jazz penetration.

    In regards to VC, some folks need to understand that to maximize VC’s talents you need to play him like a PG for the entire game, and add a lot of post-up plays.

    On a team like the Suns with Nash, VC can’t do much but wait around for shots.

  • AJ

    while I agree that I do not want to see the lakers get better, I kind of agree with TRX. I have never really liked Carmelo or his game so I do not want to see him in a suns jersey and in further agreement w/ what has been said above, I do not want to see the suns trading young, solid basketball players who also play defense for a player who in my mind has questionable motives (I do not appreciate how he has been so public about being traded and I think it is unprofessional) and doesn’t play defense.

  • Mel.

    For me, the biggest “tell” on how good the Suns were in this game was in the last three minutes. To paraphrase the great Chick Hearn, there was no risk of things getting out of hand, as the “jello was jiggling, the fridge was closed, so on and so forth,” though Deron and the Jazz were STILL playing nasty and tough, trying to put a positive spin on the loss.

    The Suns, however, didn’t even blink. They sagged badly on a three-pointer in the closing seconds, but watching them crash the boards (Hakim and THORTAT in particular) was like chicken soup for the starving Sun’s fans’ souls. Marcin looked like he WANTED that double-double, and was right in the mix, despite the fact that it was ostensibly recycling time (Not quite garbage, since it wasn’t THAT severe of a blowout).

    All in all, a lot to love about this one, and the fact that the team is coming together. Maybe not contender-class, but watchable… which has always been the base criteria for anybody who falls in love with them, I think.

  • Steve

    I’m stoked about the team right now. I won’t crown them yet, but they’re TRYING. And that’s what I really want out of my team if I’m going to spend my money on them. Things are looking up on planet orange for the first time since Jason Richardson forgot to box out Ron Artest.

  • Rich Anthony, (KJL)

    “We could offer Lopez, Dragic, a number one and even (I hate to include him in any deal; Dudley).”

    I read this around six times. After I did, I combed through various news paper ads around the world, (because I don’t know where you’re from), for self-help clinics that I could suggest to you. You need help. I’d like to think that we’re friends, Lloyd, and friends help friends when they’re out of their minds.

    First – Carmelo would have to sign an extension with PHX. He will not. Alright, even if he did agree to sign one. Look at the numbers on that extension versus the numbers of the players you’re offering up for him.

    We can’t even afford to do that deal, as you put it, (and by the ghost of Elliot Perry it’s so bad.), and you didn’t even put in the proper players that PHX would be shopping! (Vince Carter).

    So lets execute this deal, (red-orange vomit). We now have Carmelo YAY! ….

    Point guard of the future: gone. Young big man less brittle than Bynum: gone. A first rounder that would be better served in the off season: gone. JMZ and his phenomenal defense: gone.

    Grant Hill: either on the bench now or out of position.

    We’re back to having to outscore teams to win, (so no shot at all to get better and instead we’ve just become a whole lot worse), because now we can’t stop anybody.

    Nash breaks down, because Dowdell can’t spell him in long stretches like Dragon can and Gentry isn’t going to trust ZD like Dragon, so Nash is back up to near-40 minutes a game.

    So now if Nash and Hill do leave for whatever reason in the offseason, we have Carmelo Anthony and uh… um. Vince Carter? With Gortat? Dowdell is the starting point guard? minimal draft picks to help? At or OVER whatever the new cap will be because of ‘Melo? No depth off the bench?

    So now we’re the Lakers when Kobe Bryant was playing with guys like Smush Parker and SLAVA?

    Even Minnesota would be laughing at us. Cleveland too. New Jersey too. Toronto too. Vancouver too, (and they don’t even have a team anymore!).


    I started watching the game at the seven minute mark and Suns were down by like 15, I said to myself no sweat they can come back. Thanks for believing in yourselves and not letting this victory get away from us. I noticed when we lock down on defense we don’t have to shoot teams out of the building also. This is not championship caliber basketball but it’s getting alot better.

  • Lloyd

    Mike -

    You mention “Hollywood” is what Carmelo is after. You must be thinking of the Hollywood of years ago.

    Today the Los Angeles area is nothing but wall to wall graffiti. Gang bangers everywhere. Every evening on the 6:00 news, the natives are “treated” to a live car chase while they are eating their dinners.

    None other than L.A. Times columnist Bill Plashke wrote that he feared for his safety while going to Dodgers stadium.

    The San Fernando valley is nothing but porn shops. Lakers and Dodgers games are filled with nothing but fights and unruly gang bangers.

    Sometime google the actions of the Los Angeles fans after the Lakers win a championship. Fights in the streets. Folks just driving by, and their cars are being set on fire or overturned. Looting, with cop cars getting burned. Los Angeles fans make the Taliban look civil.

    Please don’t talk about “Hollywood” or the L.A. area. I know it well. I lived there for 47 years, and it sucks. Thank God that we now live in Arizona!

  • PHXsunsFanInLA

    “Today the Los Angeles area is nothing but wall to wall graffiti. Gang bangers everywhere. Every evening on the 6:00 news, the natives are “treated” to a live car chase while they are eating their dinners.” At lloyd….this is not true los angeles isn’t that bad like you say

  • AJ

    @Lloyd and PHXsunsfaninLA

    perhaps Lloyd is exaggerating, but I don’t really like LA either…I mean it has somethings going for it like all cities do, but the traffic is just sooooooo bad it makes everything not worth it. at least for me.

  • Kenton

    @ Lloyd: Grim

  • Mike Meez

    @Lloyd, damn I thought I didn’t like living in L.A. but you made it seem terrible. Moved back from there a year and a half ago after 4 years in college. There are some crappy areas (I lived right next to Highland Park and that wasn’t even the worst) but it’s really not that bad. Dodgers game, I agree with you, especially in the upper decks where all the gangbangers sit. But not true about Lakers games, tickets to those games are so expensive you don’t really see many of those seedy types. It’s more rich people who don’t give a crap about basketball, just go because going to a Lakers game is part of the “scene”.

    Anyway, in regards to Melo I kinda take the middle position. I think it would be beneficial to acquire him even for all those pieces- Lopez, Dragic, 1st round pick. Say what you will about him, but Melo is a star who’s taken the Thuggets from the muck to playoffs and a Conference Finals. You just don’t find guys like that often. He’s a guy you can build a team around. And with him, Gortat, Dudley or Dragic, whatever other guys we can keep, Suns would have a good base for the future beyond the Nash/Hill years imho.

    However, I do agree with those who say that Melo would probably not sign an extension here. He claims he only wants to play in NY, but sounds like he would settle for L.A. All for stupid LaLa haha. And while I love Phoenix, it’s not the entertainment hub like a L.A. or N.Y.. It would be quite an uphill battle to convince Melo that LaLa could just hop on the 1 hour flight to L.A. whenever she wanted.

    Also, I agree that the Lakers might have trouble integrating Melo into their lineup, but how can you not be scared of that much talent on one team. It reminds me of the Heat. Wade and LeBron took some time getting used to playing with each other because they were crowding each other out a bit but they are already an elite team in the East even with a bunch of scrubs surrounding them.

  • Mike Meez

    Come to think of it though, the hour-long flight (actually I think it’s technically 50-55 minutes) to L.A. plus driving time to wherever LaLa would need to go from LAX or Burbank airports would not be much longer of a commute than my commute from Eagle Rock, L.A. to Century City (20 miles but 1 hour+ in rush hour). So, that’s something to think about LaLa Vasquez

  • Lloyd

    Mike Meez –

    You make some great points. People seem to forget that to get a good player or players, you have to give something good up in return. You are not going to get a franchise player like Carmelo for Josh Childress and Hakim Warrick.

    I am a Suns fan that gets frustrated with seeing the Lakers pull off deals to get players like Gasol, and we just sit on our hands and applaud moves like bringing in the likes of a James Jones, etc.

    That is why I jumped on this so much; when I heard that the Lakers may get Carmelo for an injury prone, inconsistant Andrew Bynum.

    I felt that the Suns had the resources to make a better deal than either the Knicks or the Lakers.

    I like Lopez. He has tremendous upside, if he can just get as interested in basketball as he does his comic books. My wife loves Dragic. Dudley is my favorite player on the Suns. But, Carmelo is a great player, and he is only 26 years old.

    In my previous post I stated that, I do like the Suns having three bigs; if they can make the playoffs, it will present some match-up problems.

  • Lloyd

    Mike Meez –

    You mentioned Highland Park. A few years ago I had a client that I had to meet in Highland Park (I sell insurance) and they told me not to park in front of their house because I could get mugged and my car stolen.

    I had another appointment in La Puente (L.A. County), and was instructed that I should turn off my car lights while driving down their street, because if I left them on, the gang bangers would know that I was not a resident, and they would shoot me and take my money.

    Ahh, L.A. is the place, indeed!

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