by Daniel Olsen
The Utah Jazz fought hard with Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell sidelined. It was not enough to defeat the Phoenix Suns though. A new first place team emerged in the Western Conference for the first time in almost three months. The Suns started out fast and stayed in front en route to a 121-100 home victory over the Jazz.
The Suns had their way early as they salivated when Rudy Gobert was off the floor and still found ways to score when he was on it. Their strategy early was to go hard to the rim and make easy baskets. Eventually the Jazz packed the paint. It didn’t matter though. The Suns have the best mid-range shooters in the NBA in Chris Paul and Devin Booker. Besides an early flurry from the reliable Joe Ingles, the Jazz did not get their offense going at all. The Suns led the Jazz 39-23 at the end of the first frame.
It did not get better here. In fact, it got only worse for the Jazz on the defensive end. The Suns continued to be scorching hot as they knotted up the point total at 29-29 with the Jazz to keep a strangle-hold on that double-digit lead.
Everything Chris Paul touched seemed to turn to gold. While he only had 12 rebounds on the night, his nine assists kept the ball moving. His orchestration of the offense is the reason the Suns are sitting atop the mountain of the Western Conference.
The frustration seemed to mount as the Jazz could not get stops to pull within striking distance. Bojan Bogdanovic would drill a contested three. What happened next? The Suns called a timeout. They would score 24 seconds later after the teams traded turnovers. The Jazz should have capitalized here.
A couple minutes later, Ersan Ilyasova hit a three. It was once again in vain as Chris Paul hit a field goal on the other end. Three for two is a nice trade but the Jazz shot poorly from the field overall. They made 14 threes compared to 11 from the Suns. However, Phoenix was able to hit shots from anywhere else on the court. They tired out a Jazz backcourt that is not used to having so many minutes in the absence of Mitchell and Conley.
The third quarter was a massive struggle as the Jazz at one point missed ten straight three-point shots. While they got a few inside looks, the Suns were making shots from virtually every location on the court. The Suns scored 28 points and held the Jazz to their lowest scoring outing of the game at 20 points in this frame. At this point, there was a slim chance of any comeback.
The bench alert is way more fun in a big time win than a blowout loss. However, it was nice to see the bench show some success that most of the starters didn’t. Besides 22 points from Bogdanovic, the other four starters struggled as they combined for just 31 points. While the bench didn’t have an insane night like they did on Wednesday, they still had a respectable outing with 47 combined points.
Although Clarkson led the second unit with 12 points, his inefficient 20 percent from the field might disqualify him from the sub of the game honors. Instead, some more love needs to be given to Matt Thomas. He built on his stellar shooting performance on Wednesday and had ten points in just nine minutes. Most of his damage was done beyond the arc. The Jazz normally do their damage from deep. While they weren’t terrible from three, their defense wasn’t good enough to keep up with the Suns on an average shooting night. That needs to change if they are going to be a championship team.
It is going to be a short turnaround for the Jazz as they have a second game of a back-to-back slate this weekend. The good news is that they are going to be coming back home to host the Toronto Raptors. The Jazz beat the Raptors on March 19 with a final score of 115-112. That game in the temporary Tampa home of the Raptors was also on the second night of a back-to-back. The game will be broadcast tonight at 8 PM Mountain Time.
While the Jazz had their main weapons available in that game, they are a better team now. The Raptors are currently seven games under .500. The Jazz will look to win this game no matter who is on the court. They are going to need to play to win in every game and hope the Suns slip up. Phoenix holds the tiebreaker after a season sweep of the Jazz. Utah had 31 points from Mitchell last time against the Raptors. They will need other players to pick up the slack this time.
- With this loss, the Jazz have been swept by the Timberwolves, Suns and the Wizards this season. These eight losses account for almost half of their losses on the season.
- The Jazz held the top spot in the NBA for 88 days. While it is disappointing to lose that lead, the Jazz have had injury problems for the first time this season. There is still nine games to be played before the postseason.
- Devin Booker did have a killer crossover on Rudy Gobert. Gobert is still the two-time Defensive Player of the Year and should not be defined by one play.
- The Suns had 54 points in the paint and their elite half-court offense held the Jazz to just 34 points in the same area.
- The Jazz did score 28 points off turnovers while the Suns scored just ten. If the Jazz are going to beat the Suns in the playoffs, their transition offense will have to be rolling.
- The Suns are the second best team in field goal percentage (48.9 percent). They are trailing only a Brooklyn Nets team that is basically a group of Eastern Conference All-Stars.
- In just two games against the Suns, Mitchell scored 64 points. That’s more than any Jazz player has scored in the three contests against the Suns this year. Bogdanovic was second with 45 points in three games played.
Featured image courtesy Matt York, AP Photo