PHOENIX — Phoenix didn’t fair well in its first three back-to-back games this season. And in a growing trend, the Suns fell 112-104 on Saturday night in U.S. Airways Center in their fourth back-to-back of the year.
While Phoenix’s offense had been cruising of late, the defense has fallen off considerably. And as coach Jeff Hornacek said prior to the game, it wasn’t about Eric Bledsoe’s absence. With Bledsoe playing 28 minutes, the Suns allowed the Jazz to shoot 51 percent and go 9-of-18 from three-point range. On the rebounding front, a small Phoenix squad kept pace with Utah but couldn’t do much damage in the paint.
The Suns actually were grabbing enough offensive rebounds to keep pace with the Jazz, but they didn’t do nearly what Utah did once they got the boards. Utah scored 46 points in the paint to Phoenix’s 38 and had 25 second-chance points to 13.
Goran Dragic scored 24 points and had nine assists, and Channing Frye added 17 points and six rebounds. It wasn’t enough to overcome a balanced Jazz attack that put on the points early and hit enough free throws down the stretch run of the fourth quarter to hold off a Suns rally.
Now, a look at the three keys to the game from our preview.
Will Goran Dragic bully Trey Burke in Round Two?
To a degree, Dragic had just as much success against Burke as he did the first time around. But Burke didn’t back down and remained in attack mode throughout.
Often it wasn’t pretty. Burke struggled and went 6-for-15 from the field, but he hit four threes and finished with 20 points, four assists and six rebounds. While he filled the stat box, he also hit a critical jumper with 1:13 left in the game to push Utah’s lead to 105-97. That would essentially seal the deal for Utah’s third win in 18 games.
Burke went at both Dragic and Bledsoe. After seeing the longer point guard alter his shots a night prior, he did body into Dragic on one play to bump the Suns guard away to get a floater off. Defensively, Burke baited a sleepy Bledsoe bringing the ball up the court – Burke used a burst of speed to catch up to Bledsoe in transition and take the ball away from behind. The Utah point guard also continued to attack the paint, but struggled to hit floaters over the high-jumping Bledsoe.
Dragic ended the night with another big game and scored 11 of his points at the foul stripe.
Speaking of Bledsoe, how will he handle the back-to-back?
Bledsoe played eight first-half minutes off the bench and looked out of sorts for the most part. In an attempt to get him in the flow of things, Hornacek started the point guard in the second half, but overall it didn’t help the Suns’ energy. Utah opened the third on a 10-2 run, forcing the Suns into an early timeout.
After a quiet first quarter of three points, an assist and two fouls, Bledsoe got churning in the second half. He scored eight third-quarter points and finished with 13. He didn’t look like his old self just yet.
Fatigue could have been a factor for Bledsoe in the first half — his reaches certainly said he wasn’t moving his feet. And a layup miss with a minute left with Phoenix trailing by seven made the case for fatigue being a factor also.
Does Phoenix keep Gordon Hayward under 10 shots?
Nope, and it didn’t matter either way. Hayward was the last Jazz starter to hit double-figures and didn’t do so until some late free throws as Phoenix attempted to rally in the final minutes. He went 3-for-11 from the field while being hounded by P.J. Tucker, but it was the battle in the paint that ultimately lost Phoenix the game.