Jazz 124, Suns 115 — A wasted effort


In a game in which Goran Dragic explodes for a career-high 32 points, Channing Frye busts out of his slump for 21 points in 28 minutes, Steve Nash dishes out 15 assists and the team knocks down 17-of-30 threes, the Phoenix Suns should undoubtedly walk away with a ‘W.’

But after pasting a ridiculous 45 points on the Jazz in the second quarter, the Suns once again surrendered a 17-point second-half lead — the fourth double-digit lead they’ve given up for a loss in their last 10 games (during which they are 3-7).

Utah took advantage of the Suns’ stalled second-half offense and weak zone defense by scoring 66 second-half points en route to a 124-115 Suns loss.

With Leandro Barbosa out, Dragic shined, but his career effort was wasted by poor defense and atrocious rebounding, and the Suns fell on the road for the 12th time in the last 13 games.

As has been the story for most of 2010, the Suns played terrific for about two-thirds of the game. But in an atmosphere like EnergySolutions Arena against a physical and relentless Jazz team, you can’t win games taking quarters off.

Phoenix looked unstoppable for three quarters of play. Jason Richardson got things started for the Suns, scoring 11 first-quarter points. J-Rich looked great for a stretch, until Dragic decided to take the spotlight.

Immediately when the Slovenian lefty entered the game, things changed. Last season you would never imagine saying Dragic and game-changer in the same sentence, but Goran version 2010 has become exactly that.

When he converted an And 1 off of a jump shot less than a minute after entering the game, you could feel he was in for a big night. in the first half the ultra-confident Dragic scored 24 points in only 13 minutes on 7-of-8 shooting, which surpassed the career high he set Saturday night by four points.

“He’s playing with a lot of confidence,” Alvin Gentry told Suns.com. “It’s one of those situations where he gets the experience a little bit more every time, and as he gets the experience he adds a lot more confidence. He’s shot the ball well for us this season, especially from three.”

He mixed in aggressive drives, scoop shots, and contested threes, and the Suns looked like the best team in the NBA for the better part of a quarter. Most of that came with a lineup of Dragic-Richardson-Dudley-Amundson-Frye, mixed in with a little bit of Earl Clark and Robin Lopez — the very same group that played so well during the Golden State victory.

Dragic was unconscious, Frye was locked in, and the Suns proved what they can do when they are knocking down shots. But in the second half the Suns showcased the other end of the spectrum, showing how ugly things can be when they don’t convert open looks.

They left the locker room up 11, and until the final two minutes of the third quarter, they were in control. But after Nash left the game with just over two minutes left in the third after picking up his fourth foul, a 17-point lead deflated to five by the quarter’s end. The Jazz figured out the Suns’ mediocre zone defense and ended the third with 12 unanswered points.

Behind the stellar play of rookie Wesley Mathews (21 points), Carlos Boozer (21 points and 20 rebounds) and Andrei Kirilenko (25 points), the Jazz carried that momentum all the way through the fourth quarter.

Still in zone defense, the Suns couldn’t stop anyone and settled for jump shot after jump shot on the offensive end. The Jazz pounded the paint — 58 points in the paint and 48 rebounds — and the Suns roamed the three-point line — 36 points in the paint and 31 rebounds.

The Jazz stole this one from the Suns, a theme that has occurred all too often as of late.

When things slow down and the Suns can’t get stops, the offense disappears. That was the case tonight as the Suns scored only 19 points in the final 14 minutes of the game, after exploding for 96 until that point.

“We just couldn’t get into our offense,” Nash told Suns.com. “They pushed us out, we had no penetration and we were just jacking up jump shots or turning it over.”

Nash looked exhausted and couldn’t shake Deron Williams for the life of him. Amare Stoudemire was an absolute ghost in the fourth quarter, both offensively and defensively. He scored only one point on 0-of-3 shooting in the final 12 minutes and certainly made a case for why he shouldn’t get max money.

When things aren’t going right, he checks out mentally. But in his defense, three shots is not nearly enough for a guy who is considered your biggest offensive threat. This guy needs shots, but when the majority of his looks come off the pick and roll and Utah takes that away like the the Jazz did tonight, his offense suffers.

The Suns were shorthanded with Grant Hill leaving after four minutes because of his heel injury and Nash and Dudley in foul trouble, but a 17-point lead should never evaporate so quickly. When the Suns are knocked off of rhythm, all Hell breaks loose. How do you possibly score 45 points one quarter, and 19 another? Only the Phoenix Suns could pull off that feat.

The Utah bigs dominated down low, and the Suns never rose to the challenge. Losses like this have to affect a team’s psyche. It doesn’t matter if they’re professionals, when you seemingly do everything right for the majority of the game and then forget to flip the switch on in the fourth, it has eat away at you.

Dragic’s unbelievable effort was wasted, Frye’s bounce-back performance meant nothing, and the Suns’ hot shooting didn’t translate.

Defense and rebounding is the root of the problem, and unless this team comes out with energy and desire for a full 48 minutes every single night, the downward spiral will continue.

And 1

  • The biggest positive takeaway from the game is obviously Dragic. Knocking down 10-of-13 shots and 6-of-7 threes is big time, especially in front of a hostile crowd at EnergySolutions Arena. Dragic is averaging 26 points per game in his last two and should be fun to watch for the next month with Barbosa banged up.
  • Nash reached the 8,000-assist plateau, making him the eighth player in NBA history to reach that mark.
  • With the loss the Suns dropped to seventh in the Western Conference and are only a half-game ahead of Memphis for the eighth spot.
  • STAT looked pedestrian tonight. He seemed intimidated by the more aggressive Boozer and Paul Millsap. Tonight was one of those nights that made you think Amare no longer has a long-term home in Phoenix.
  • The Suns allowed a 28-point second-half turnaround and gave up their seventh double-digit lead in the month of January.
  • Phoenix has now faced every NBA team at least once this year after playing its first game against Utah.