PHOENIX — Alvin Gentry warned that his Phoenix Suns better be wary of the Utah Jazz and their insistence of feeding their big men in the post. He also warned of the Jazz bench catching fire.
Neither of those things are easily done, and despite Phoenix’s effort, Utah had success in both of those areas.
Nothing a little hot shooting couldn’t solve, though.
Channing Frye scored a season-high 26 points in addition to Marcin Gortat’s 25, and the Suns shot 56.4 percent from the floor in a 120-111 victory against the Jazz in US Airways Center. Steve Nash only attempted four shots, but he ended the night with 12 points, mostly from the foul stripe, and 16 assists, using the pick-and-roll to pick apart the Utah defense.
“This offense is predicated on the pick-and-roll and Steve making decisions on the pick-and-roll,” Dudley said, stating the obvious. “The difference is now, Channing isn’t always settling … he’s getting in the lane sometimes, he’s swinging it. I’m not always settling. Guys are definitely being more efficient out there.”
Dudley and Frye hit 9-of-16 from three-point range as the rest of the Suns went 0-of-3 from the land of plenty.
That white-hot shooting was necessary to combat Utah’s big men — Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors — combining for 50 points and 20 rebounds. Giving up 52.2 percent shooting to the Jazz wasn’t promising for Gentry, who didn’t necessarily put the blame on his big men.
“Where we failed a little bit is we gave up too many drives where our bigs had to step up,” Gentry said, “and now they’re dropping it off to their bigs. We just got to do a little bit better job of dribble-penetration, containing.”
Gortat and Frye scored 18 of the Suns first 22 points, and much of that came from an aggressive Gortat trying to get over the Minnesota game, one of his worst performances of the year.
“I definitely tried to come out and be aggressive from the first minute, get a lot of post-ups,” the Suns’ center said. “I know the team needs that. That was my goal.”
But taking the starting frontcourt duo off the court to inevitably catch a breather sucked the life out of the Suns.
After Phoenix gained a 19-15 lead with 4:39 to play in the first quarter, Utah went on a 20-3 run behind a bench push anchored by forward Derrick Favors, who scored 14 on the night and mostly abused Hakim Warrick, who saw playing time in front of rookie Markieff Morris.
Outscoring Phoenix 30-22 in the first quarter, a 46-33 Jazz lead with six minutes to go in the second quarter made it appear that Utah’s bench had thrown a nasty punch. Of course, giving up hot starts has been a problem for Phoenix in the past three games, but on Wednesday, it was a matter of the Suns staying calm.
“We don’t like to do that,” Frye said of his team giving up hot starts, “but we understand the game is a game of runs. We continued to believe in each other … we just tried to play good ball and tried to figure it out. I think that’s the sign of a good team.”
That amounted to an 11-0 Suns spurt of their own, and a Frye three-ball with 0.7 seconds before the halftime buzzer gave Phoenix a tie game at 53 going into the locker room.
Dudley scored 11 straight for the Suns — including three 3-pointers — in the meat of the third quarter, when Phoenix opened up a lead, and the Suns’ starting two guard ended the night with 21 points.
“When you got three, four guys in the 20s I think it’s a sign of, number one, Stevie. And we’re playing very unselfish,” Frye said. “Without Marc rollin’, I wouldn’t get those shots.”
Utah wasn’t done fighting after taking the Suns own blow to the chin.
The Jazz bench added 55 points on the evening, and despite back-up point guard Earl Watson missing most of the game after spraining his left ankle and starter Devin Harris in foul trouble, an 11-point, eight-assist effort from veteran Jamaal Tinsley had the Jazz had tied the game at 91 points with less than 10 minutes remaining. Tinsley hit a deep, running three-pointer to end the third period and cut into a 10-point lead.
Luckily for Phoenix, the hot shooting continued and it once again pulled away from Utah by the final buzzer.
But the big picture still showed lapses in the defense that Gentry isn’t overlooking.
“Defensively, we have to get back to what we were doing,” Phoenix’s head coach said. “That is just way too many points in the paint (64). Don’t get me wrong, we love the win. But for us, we have to get back to doing a better job controlling the paint more and we had too many points off turnovers.”