Utah Jazz 87, Phoenix Suns 80 -- Second quarter shutdown

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns played a near flawless offensive first quarter in which their starters played almost the whole time.

But once the bench entered to start the second the Suns looked like a different team as they bricked their way to a putrid final three quarters in their 87-80 loss to the Utah Jazz.

“I thought the first quarter was the best we’ve played all season,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “I thought the last three quarters were just the worst we could have possibly played. The second quarter was as poorly as we’ve played the whole season. The last two quarters I didn’t think we really did anything in those two quarters, too. So we had a really good first quarter and then I think the last three quarters we just never got anything going, had no rhythm. “

The Suns shot an unsustainable 77.8 percent in the first quarter while drilling 14-of-18 shots with Shannon Brown’s 1:21 for Jared Dudley being all the time the bench received.

After the bench unit hit its first two shots to begin the second, the Suns failed to score a single point over the next 8:27 until Luis Scola mercifully ended the drought with a jumper. For the quarter, the Suns made as many shots (four) as they missed in the entire first quarter for as shocking of a turnaround as you will ever see at this level.

The Jazz went on an 11-0 run during the first four minutes of this drought to tie the game at 36 before going stone cold themselves. The Jazz then failed to score for the next four minutes of the Suns’ scoreless streak during a period in the game in which the teams combined to miss a whopping 15 consecutive shots.

The second quarter was so bad that the Suns yielded an opponent season low in scoring and were still outscored by eight. Yes, this was an NBA game we’re talking about, and this came against teams ranked 23rd and 26th in defensive efficiency entering the night, so this wasn’t exactly the early 90’s Knicks shutting people down.

“First quarter we just had good rhythm, ball movement,” Dudley said. “Second quarter it was isos, shot clock winding down, fadeaway, shot clock winding down, jump shot. Anytime we get in these iso situations we’re not going to be that good because we’re just not an iso team.”

The poor shooting was contagious as the Suns shot just 35.1 percent over the game’s final three quarters and scored as many points in the second and third quarters combined as they did in the first after that nine-point second quarter effort.

“We were always on the clock,” Gentry said. “We weren’t executing and we weren’t getting into the play sets quickly enough and so we got on the clock. So we end up taking some really difficult shots or forced shots because we were on the clock and we have to do a better job of getting ourselves in a position and getting ourselves set so that we can run the offense and execute it to the point that we can get good shots.”

Perhaps the rotations had something to do with the Suns’ poor effort as after Gentry pondered staggering his subs after Wednesday’s win, he went right back to the full second unit to begin the second quarter, and the Suns never regained their momentum from there.

His solution in the second half was just to ride his starters until the game was over for the most part, as Goran Dragic got his first rest with 5:18 remaining in the contest, Dudley did not sit until 2:26 remained in the game and Gortat played the entire second half.

Even if that had worked this time, riding the starters that hard is not a sustainable strategy, and at some point Gentry has no choice but to take them out for a rest. It’s tough when the starters are playing that well together, but perhaps staggering rest is the least of two evils if Gentry determines this bench as currently composed should not play together in a shift.

Making matters worse tonight, the Suns turned the ball over 20 times when they weren’t bricking jumpers, and they allowed the Jazz to score a whopping 60 points in the paint, which accounted for over two-thirds of their scoring for those non-math majors out there. The Jazz shot 51.7 percent in the paint and 32.3 percent outside it.

“That’s really a high number when you talk about the percentage of points scored in the paint compared to the overall points,” Gentry said. “Almost everything they did was in the paint except for a couple of jump shots.”

The silver lining in this one is that the Suns really did play incredibly well offensively in that first quarter. They moved the ball, played together and got easy shots. It was basketball as it’s meant to be played as Dragic tallied 11 points and three assists and both Scola and Gortat went for eight.

That lineup just seems to work with a nice combination of offensive and defensive players and probably Phoenix’s overall smartest combo of guys. I hope Gentry continues to trot out this lineup because it should only get better with more usage.

“The first quarter we all had fun playing together,” Gortat said. “We shared the ball, we swung the ball, we had an inside-outside game. First of all we had some stops, we had a good defense and we were able to run the break. Then all of a sudden second quarter, third and fourth quarter we did not do this. That’s just how it is. If you don’t play the game you’re supposed to play, you’re going to lose it.”

The Suns did indeed lose it for the seventh time in eight games, a losing streak that has dropped them 10 games below .500 in early January after losing to a traditionally porous road team.

The season is still young, yet after a poor performance like this the Suns must face the reality of being the second-worst team in the Western Conference.

“We’re just not a consistent team right now,” Dudley said. “That’s the only way to slice it. I’m not going to beat around the bush. We’re good one quarter, then other quarters we’re not. Defensively sometimes we’re in there and sometimes we get lapses and because of that it’s indicative of our record, and right now we’re not a real good team.”

  • Ty-Sun

    CBSSports.com rates Dragic as the #15 PG in the NBA which is about where I would have placed him just on my gut feeling. Nash spoiled us! He was/is one of the greatest PGs ever and it’s unfair to Dragic to call him a failure just because he isn’t Steve Nash. The Suns have a very good PG in Dragic, better than many other teams have.

    I think the reason that the Suns went all in on Eric Gordon was because they knew that the 2 was their weakest position and that actually hurt them in recruiting OJ Mayo. I don’t remember the actual timeline but I think that NO was still deciding on whether to match the Suns’ offer to Gordon when Mayo came to Phoenix or at least Mayo wasn’t invited to Phoenix until after the whole Gordon fiasco played out. Either way, Mayo was let know that he was at best the Suns’ 2nd choice which certainly would have hit his ego in the wrong way.

    Trading Gortat for Harden sounds like a good deal but it would have left Phoenix with a very big hole in the middle so I don’t blame them for passing on that deal… IF it was really ever offered. If it was, I would suppose that taking on Perkins contract was part of the deal too. OKC would love to get rid of Perkins in any deal that would bring them even a middle-range starting NBA center. They couldn’t afford to pay Harden what he was worth which is why they traded him to Houston. At least in that trade they got Martin who has fit in well immediately and Lamb who could fill in the same role in the future.

    But back to the Suns, they could still make a trade with OKC that could make a big impact on their future. It depends on whether you think Lamb has a future in the NBA and whether Gortat is worth keeping instead of taking on Perkins contract. As I’ve said once before, Perkins would be a downgrade in talent but an upgrade in attitude. The Suns need some “mean” players.

    And with attitude as a premise, I would promote Bill Laimbeer as the next head coach of the Phoenix Suns. I know a lot of people don’t care about or even keep track of the WNBA but Laimbeer has proven to be a great coach there. I hated Laimbeer as a player but if Gentry is on his way out then I would love to see Laimbeer get his chance as an NBA head coach in Phoenix.

  • azbballfan

    Gosh you know i wanna say Lambeer was coaching the Detroit Shock the WNBA but i cant remember specifically

    I think a coach can only do so much and with Gentry having a contract that expires at the end of the season i dont think any really good coach (stan or jeff van gundy?)

    would want to come into the franchise with the mess its in right now and turn it around

    if i am the Suns and i had to make a coaching change…..

    i would go the Bobcats route and get a coach like Mike Dunlap

    But at the end of the day, you gotta have the talent to win, or play such suffocating defense that it makes up for your putrid offense

    If Gentry doesnt want to be here next year why not give Lambeer a call

    If the Suns lose tonight maybe the fans that show up at US Airways can come to games in some kind of basketball related “paper bag with eyes on it over your head” set up

    i watched some of the Suns-Sixers game and there was totally no one at that game

  • bill.thomas

    If Gentry isn’t burnt out by now, then whatever he has should be bottled and sold on infomercials.

  • bill.thomas

    Trading Gortat for Harden 1:1 would never occur in a million milleniums but if it did, we would be much, much better. Harden + Dragic > Harden + Lin. There are quite a few mediocre big men who could replace Gortat’s minutes and get better with playing time. E.g., Sean Williams. So we play small ball for a year.

    In that case we could also get Jamison for Beasley or for Johnson’s expiring contract. Jamison is surplus to requirements at Staples after Howard, Gasol and Hill. Jamison cannot be played in lieu of Gasol, if that happens a lynch mob will appear.

    But this is all hypothetical bc Suns management apparently made no headway as to Harden, whether through incompetence or bc OKC wanted nothing we had to offer.

    Actually OKC would demand Gortat, a take-off of Perkins’ contract, and other considerations.

  • azbballfan

    You got alot of good points there Bill

    Thats what i heard, Gortat, a 1st rounder for Harden.

    The Suns have the 2nd lowest payroll in the NBA righ tnow, and have almost zero money in payroll 3 years from now

    They need to pull the trigger on some moves soon

    2 wins on the road and its January and barely above 500 at home when you just had the easiest schedule in the NBA to this point.

    Yep, time for Babby to call in some favors for being an agent for 30 something years and get some deals done that make us a better team in the future cause we sure aint winning now