EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns have one last hurrah with clutch dominance, come back to beat Jazz

Apr 8, 2022, 10:27 PM | Updated: 10:32 pm

The Phoenix Suns, much like they have in the past week, looked ready for the postseason to start through three quarters in Utah on Friday night.

The Suns were down 17 entering the fourth quarter and still saw a deficit of 14 with 7:30 to go.

But Phoenix found a little bit of momentum in one last run at the game that it didn’t feel like it had in ’em. From there, once the clock hit under five minutes, we all knew what was coming.

The Suns closed the game on a 27-7 run in that last 7:30 of the fourth quarter to beat the Jazz 111-105.

“I didn’t think we had a team spirit in the third,” head coach Monty Williams said. “It felt like we were down 30. And it was an eight-point game and then it got to 17 and that’s when for whatever reason I saw this steadiness in our huddle. We call it the wear-down effect, where if we can just stay with it, trust each other (and) keep playing the right way we can live with the results.”

The takeover for the Suns was just as expected as the meltdown for the Jazz. The loss for Utah is its fifth since mid-February when it was leading by double digits in the fourth quarter.

And the Jazz played like a team who knew that, completely losing all their confidence and flow offensively once that point in the clock hit.

From there, the Suns (64-17) were mildly executing their offense before it was suddenly a four-point game with under five minutes remaining, where the clutch minutes the Suns are now a league-leading 33-8 in activated once again.

Devin Booker caught the ball in the triple threat at the left elbow and knocked down a deadly 19-foot jumper to cut the deficit to two. That bucket would start a stretch of the Suns scoring on seven of their next eight possessions.

The Jazz (48-33) called their second timeout of the run there but it did not stop the bleeding at all. Utah looked shellshocked, and as we’ve talked about all year, this Suns team is like a shark in the water when it comes to that.

Mikal Bridges scored the game-tying bucket after incredible defense on Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, with Rudy Gobert’s free throws on the Jazz’s next trip finally stopping a 14-0 Suns run.

In the closing act, it was the Bridges and Deandre Ayton show. They combined to score the Suns’ next 11 points while making critical defensive plays as well.

Bridges had the real dagger, a driving and-1 finish off a terrific feed by Chris Paul that read what the Jazz expected was coming to put the Suns up five with 45 seconds left.

“Mikal on both ends of the floor tonight was absolutely phenomenal,” Williams said.

Bridges scored nine of his 18 points in the final 3:19 of the game. While his offensive numbers are up this year, Bridges’ progress has been far more about his willingness to seek out the ball in those winning moments, an indication of his overall confidence going up this year.

“He’s looking for it and I also feel like guys are looking for him,” Williams said of Bridges. “They trust him now. And not to say that they didn’t before but they’ve seen him put the work in. They’ve seen him willingly take shots in those moments, and because of that, I think it builds a level of trust amongst the group.”

Booker scored 24 of his 33 points in the first half. Paul had 16 assists to go with 16 points while Ayton added 19 points.

Paul and Booker each played 38 minutes, and judging by Williams’ rotations and the way the Suns were getting after it at the start of the game, this looked like the starters’ last real go before resting for the regular season finale in Phoenix against the Sacramento Kings.

There were multiple parts of the game’s closing moments where the Suns were simply laughing. Bally Sports Arizona’s Kevin Ray noted a point after a Suns basket that Booker was laughing toward a Utah crowd that is known to get rather talkative. After Paul’s free throws shortly after to close the game, Jae Crowder and Booker were giggling some more.

It won’t wind up as one of the Suns’ signature wins this season but it really spoke to who this team is. Once the game was even remotely up for grabs, they snatched it away in a relentless fashion. All while on the road with nothing to really play for.

And they lauighed about it after doing so.

“We love it. We wild too,” Bridges said of the Suns’ mentality in road games. “Everybody wants to send everybody home, wants to see the crowd walk out at the end. You already know we got dogs on the team but we got some villains on the team that’s trying to break people’s hearts for sure.”

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