EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns recover from awful start, Jazz stay strong in playoff environment

Nov 18, 2022, 10:10 PM
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) goes to the basket as Utah Jazz forward Jarred Vanderbilt (8) d...

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) goes to the basket as Utah Jazz forward Jarred Vanderbilt (8) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Nov. 18, 2022, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Two weeks ago, the Phoenix Suns lost at the buzzer to the Portland Trail Blazers.

A couple of missed calls in the last 30 seconds that hurt the Suns overshadowed what was Phoenix putting itself in a bad position, forced to chase the game after a brutal second quarter.

Friday’s 134-133 loss in Utah to the Jazz was similar in that way.

The Suns allowed the Jazz to get off to a 19-3 start. By the time it was 31-13 Utah, Phoenix let the Jazz score on 12 of their first 14 possessions. It did so with terrible defense, giving up open 3s and offensive rebounds to a team where that would be at the top of the scouting report.

A bad whistle on both sides of the court was inconsistent early, and that seemed to piss off Suns shooting guard Devin Booker, some fuel he used to have an incredible superstar first quarter of 14 points, four rebounds and six assists to ensure the Suns were not buried when the way they played suggested they should have been six feet under.

Phoenix was only down seven after the first quarter and a team-wide response eventually roared through in the third quarter, one that would put a lot of teams away.

The Jazz, right now at least, do not appear to be just a lot of teams.

They stuck with their brand of basketball, unfazed by the Suns matching them in nearly every facet. Even when the Suns got their first lead of the game at 7:21 to go and a 121-120 score, Utah didn’t get staggered by any of the Suns’ counterpunches.

Fatigue really kicked in at that point for a game that had an insane pace, especially in the third quarter, and playoff-level intensity was there for the whole second half.

Phoenix just couldn’t manufacture enough stops to eventually overtake the Jazz.

The Suns were not able to score the game’s next two baskets the rest of the way, thanks to Utah’s terrific execution and shotmaking.

A Jordan Clarkson fallaway with 1:18 left followed by a spinning fadeaway for Lauri Markkanen with 38.5 seconds remaining kept the Jazz’s lead above two points, and both shots were defended perfectly. That, however, like the Jazz’s 16-for-31 (51.6%) mark from 3-point range, can’t just be seen as unlucky for the Suns given how they let Utah get comfortable and confident early.

Markkanen’s jumper put the Jazz up three, and on the next possession, Cam Payne traveled. Utah’s following possession generated yet another open 3, this one for Malik Beasley, but Phoenix caught a break when it didn’t fall.

Booker took the ball up on the miss, looking for the 3 to tie the game or a teammate to kick it to for one, but there wasn’t anything open so Suns head coach Monty Williams called a timeout at 4.8 seconds on the clock.

The sideline out of bounds play got Damion Lee some space five feet out from the 3-point line at the top of the key, but Lee got caught trying to draw contact with the expectation of the Jazz fouling up 3. It still nearly went in, but didn’t, and that was the game.

Booker finished with a season-high 49 points on 16-for-31 shooting, plus eight rebounds, 10 assists, a steal and one turnover. He was phenomenal in 41 minutes but playing at altitude and carrying the offense on his own for so much of the game caught up to him in the fourth.

Deandre Ayton was brutal in the first half and woke up in the second half to end up with 17 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks and a career-high eight assists.

Markkanen shot a remarkable 15-of-18 from the field for a season-high 38 points. The Suns strangely kept allowing him to get switches, and then on those mismatches for Markkanen in the post, they weren’t doubling.

Malik Beasley added 27 points with seven 3s off the bench for Utah.

Phoenix is now 1-4 in games with clutch minutes, when the score is within five at under five minutes to go. Having Chris Paul (right heel soreness) back will help with that.

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