Utah Jazz 100, Phoenix Suns 88 — Botched play-in game


That’s it, that’s all folks.

Despite an improbable run to turn around what was once a 12-19 season, the Phoenix Suns’ playoff hopes are officially squashed after they fell to the Utah Jazz 100-88 in Salt Lake City on Tuesday night.

Thanks to a trio of monster double-doubles from Paul Milsap (26-15), Al Jefferson (18-16) and Derrick Favors (13-11 and five blocks) combined with a two-point performance from Marcin Gortat and little offensive production elsewhere, the Suns will miss the playoffs for consecutive seasons for the first time since 1988.

Their season-long climb from the basement of the Western Conference into the playoffs race fell two games short, leaving the Suns with nothing but a late lottery pick, a handful of expiring contracts, little young talent, an organization lacking direction, and a two-time MVP set to explore the free agent market.

Excited for the future of Phoenix Suns basketball right about now?

The Suns had a chance put that inevitably grim future on hold for at least four playoff games with a win against the Jazz, but all of the problems they entered the season with came out in the biggest game of the year.

With Gortat rendered ineffective and the Suns sorely missing Channing Frye and Grant Hill, the Suns had no go-to-scorer to extend the 76-74 lead that Michael Redd gave them with 10:14 to go in the game. From that point on Phoenix missed 12 of its last 17 shots, with three of the makes coming with under a minute left and the game in hand.

The Suns had no answer for the Jazz bigs as Utah’s three-headed monster of Milsap, Jefferson and Favors accounted for 57 percent of the team’s points and 75 percent of its rebounds. And Phoenix once again struggled taking care of the ball as the Jazz turned 15 Suns turnovers into 19 points and scored 24 fast-break points to boot.

Tuesday’s game was a microcosm of the Suns’ season. This once-random collection of everything from NBA journeymen to former lottery picks couldn’t come together with their season hanging in the balance, and their post-All-Star break resurrection was wasted.

But although Suns fans everywhere are mired in disappointment, the mere fact that this game meant anything is a testament to Nash and Alvin Gentry. A year ago no one would have thought that a team that plays guys like Sebastian Telfair and Michael Redd major minutes and starts players like Shannon Brown at shooting guard would even have a shot at the playoffs.

This roster has no business being mentioned with the best eight teams in the Western Conference. But through sheer chemistry and the direction of Nash and Gentry they came together to give themselves a chance. Even without Frye or Hill on the road against a hungry Jazz team, the Suns made it close early in the fourth. This team greatly overachieved, and there’s value in that.

“No one gave us a chance when we were 12-19 and really didn’t have any answers. It could have went the other way,” Nash said after the game. “I’m really proud of the coaches and the team. We hung in there and found a way to make it work together and gave ourselves a shot.”

But despite the moral victories and feel-good storylines surrounding the Suns’ comeback, the reality is they will miss the playoffs and face an offseason full of uncertainty. To play off the popular phrase, they can’t call it a comeback and not even Robert Saver, Lon Babby and Lance Blanks know what this team will look like next season.

Nash has made it clear he’ll test the free agent market. His decision will shape the future of the franchise for the next five years plus. Phoenix will either bring him back and build for one final run, or search for a new face of the franchise and move in a new direction.

All of that will come to light eventually, but for now, Tuesday night’s loss expedites the sobering reality of what the Suns have to work with moving forward.

Nash may never be in purple and orange again. Arguably their best piece, Gortat, just proved he may not be an All-Star caliber player without Nash and Frye opening up the pick and roll for him.

Then there’s questions like, is Markieff Morris really a starting power forward of the future? Is there a reason to try and re-sign Robin Lopez? Is the free agent market good enough to try and build around Nash?

All year the Suns had one last potential Nash-led playoff push to lean on. They could focus on winning games this year and sneaking into the playoffs, setting the stage for another Suns-Spurs rivalry series.

Now that’s out of the window and it’s time to face the music. The dreaded crossroads is here and Phoenix Suns basketball is set to go through the spin cycle with no concept of what type of team will come out.

And 1

  • Gortat on his performance: “I am going to take the blame for that. I should finish stronger just played smarter and make the right decision. I was just rushing everything. My teammates were open on the wing I should have kicked it to the wing make sure they got the shot.”
  • Gentry on the game: “We just got to play better. In a game like this you’ve just got to play better. We kept hanging around and then we got it to 73-74 and we had several opportunities to go ahead. We just didn’t play very good tonight. You can’t afford to not play well in a game like this. You’ve got to give them credit. At the end of the game, I thought Al stepped up and Paul played well. They did a good job overall on our screen and rolls tonight I thought. They kind of took Marcin Gortat out of the game.”