PHOENIX – Irrational confidence makes you grip your seat and grind your teeth when Eric Bledsoe is forcing the issue. Many times, it’s off a defensive rebound, and in the Suns’ 87-84 win against the Jazz, it was mostly off Utah’s 20 turnovers or sparked by Phoenix’s 10 blocked shots.
Yeah, it wasn’t much about the defensive rebounds considering the Jazz nabbed 22 off the offensive glass.
“We just didn’t have it tonight,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “Hopefully these guys learn that you can’t always wait ’til the end. You win this one but you keep playing with fire like that, it’s going to bite you.”
It didn’t Friday night at U.S. Airways Center thanks to a perhaps irrational Bledsoe three-pointer with 0.7 seconds left that lifted an 84-all tie. Phoenix’s execution on offense wasn’t all that swell, but the defense that held the Jazz to 36.5 percent shooting and forced 20 turnovers wasn’t all that shabby – Utah didn’t score more than 23 points in any quarter.
“Tonight we didn’t finish it,” Hornacek said. “We didn’t finish it by getting the rebound. On defense, if you sit there and say, ‘I’m going to stop my guy, I’m going to stop my guy,’ all of a sudden you’re the guy who forgets to do that. I think they did a pretty good job about that.”
The Suns looked set for overtime after Jazz forward Gordon Hayward worked around a screen on the left wing of an inbounds play. Phoenix forward P.J. Tucker chased him through the screen and seemed close enough for a contest. But Hayward came to a halt atop the three-point arc and showed that savvy that had him, with Bledsoe, in the conversation as a player who could’ve earned an extension to his expiring rookie deal.
Forgive us reporters that we didn’t ask Hornacek if the play reminded him of a game involving his old Utah Jazz team — a Game 6 loss to the Chicago Bulls back in 1998. Let’s just say it wasn’t inertia keeping Tucker from stopping with Hayward to contest the shot.
“He’s such a good player, he did it subtly,” Tucker said of Hayward’s push-off. “I hate to say this, but like the Michael Jordan little (push-off) … that’s a tough shot man, tough shot. It was a great shot.”
Phoenix had the final say with the game tied, and a purposely broken play by Bledsoe saw the Suns steal a victory.
There was no need for a three when Bledsoe set up the offense with 16.8 seconds left on the clock. Yet, the guard who had struggled with five turnovers in the first half and went through a 4-for-15 shooting night knew what he had as Hayward eyed him defensively. Bledsoe waved off a Miles Plumlee screen as the time on the clock dwindled.
“I just kept being aggressive,” Bledsoe said. “My teammates kept telling me, coach kept telling me, my shot is going to fall and I just stuck with it.
“I knew he was playing the drive,” Bledsoe said of Hayward. “So you know, I was going to wait until the clock got really low to shoot it, so I already had it in my mind to shoot it. I planned on it being a three. He was a the way down, daring me to shoot it.”
Dragic gets hurt on ‘football play’
Late in the first half, Goran Dragic and P.J. Tucker collided violently just past halfcourt as the Jazz attempted to advance the ball with a long pass over the top of the retreating players.
“He took off, it was a long high pass, and I was kind of playing cornerback on it,” Tucker said, “waiting for it to drop. And as soon as it started to drop I took off and Goran was coming in like a safety, trying to get an interception. It was a football play.”
Neither player got up initially. Dragic was first but he was also the first to leave. He started the second half for Phoenix but was pulled shortly after the third quarter began.
The injury caused Hornacek to go 12-men deep on Friday, and Dragic’s replacement, Ish Smith, put in two points, five boards and an assist with a bench unit also including Dionte Christmas.
“(Smith) gave us a huge lift,” Hornacek said. “To me (Dragic) just didn’t look right, so we figured take him out, put Ish in, let (Dragic) get checked out, and make sure we’re not pushing him through something we shouldn’t be pushing him through.”
Christmas played his first NBA game and gave Phoenix a lift. He filled in Archie Goodwin’s rotation spot in the second half even though Goodwin looked comfortable and scored four points and recorded two blocks in 10 first-half minutes.
“Second half I just felt that we needed more shooting, that’s why we went with Dionte instead,” Hornacek said.”
It worked. Christmas came out gunning and scored nine points while grabbing four rebounds.
“Coach put me in at a crucial time and he has a lot of confidence in me,” he said, “so I have to show that I can be professional about it, and give it all I got but still be smart about the situation.”