Suns grind Jazz's winning streak to a halt
PHOENIX – In one of their most effective work shifts of the season, the Phoenix Suns accumulated 99 points Friday night at US Airways Center.
To outscore the Utah Jazz by 15, they produced 48 points in the paint and 19 points on the end of fast breaks. While winning for the second game in a row and ending Utah's winning streak at four, the Suns (9-15) also managed an equally modest 13 second-chance points.
But let's not even bother attempting to count the style points. The NBA doesn't officially list those (not yet, at least) and – for this team – they fail to matter.
For this season's circumstance-dictated collective, the aesthetic capacity doesn't seem to jibe with its success potential. The Suns just aren't pretty enough to win in wow fashion.
And that's just fine, especially when coach Alvin Gentry can count on grinders such as Jared Dudley, P.J. Tucker and Jermaine O'Neal to remain competitive.
"You know, we earned it," Dudley, referring to the total team result, said. "That's how we have to play to be successful – we have to be aggressive, we have to scrap and, hopefully, we can keep doing that."
Resorting to hand-to-hand combat at both ends of the floor, this gruesome threesome helped the Suns limit the Jazz (13-11) to 40 percent shooting for their 84-point salvo. On the heels of Wednesday's defense-provoked victory over the big, bad Memphis Grizzlies, the Suns hardly resemble a squad that entered Friday's date as the 27th-most-efficient defense in the NBA.
"We've talked a lot about it," Gentry said of a defensive effort that has limited two consecutive visitors to less than 90 points. "We've spent a lot of time on just rotations and just understanding it and not having simple breakdowns or miscommunications in the rotations and I think it paid off."
Dudley (22 points), Tucker (10) and O'Neal (7) also pulled their weight on offense, making a combined 17 shots in only 25 attempts.
Their tag-team tendencies were required, again, because even when the Suns are hitting on all cylinders, that cylinder count seems to max out at about four. The fuel-efficient top speed was hit during a first quarter Phoenix won by ripping Utah to the tune of 34-22 while not committing a turnover.
The culprit for much of that damage was point guard Goran Dragic, the rare turbo-charged Sun who raced past a Jazz team seeming deficient in Dragon Speed Recognition Software.
So, with Dragic outrunning the slow-retreating Utah defense (he had 10 of his 17 points in the quarter), the Suns looked totally committed to reversing a recent slouch that included a seven-game losing streak.
"We play well against good teams," Dragic said, "and we demonstrated this in the last two games."
By the time we reached the fourth quarter, Dudley, Tucker and O'Neal teamed with Dragic and Markieff Morris during the game's decisive moments.
In defining the grinder approach to a team seemingly starting to play for each other, Dudley provided the hustle points that mattered. Dealing at his customary below-rim level – heck, almost subterranean – J.D. made two huge rebounding plays to help repel Utah's muted interest in a rally.
At 9:01 of the fourth, Dudley tracked an offensive rebound off the bounce (of course), pivoted, saw very little lane traffic and drove for a bucket that made it 82-72, Suns. On the ensuing Utah possession, he peeled another one-bounce rebound away from DeMarre Carroll with enough conviction (and contact) to conjure a foul on Carroll and a subsequent technical foul from complaining Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin.
After the free throw was converted, Dudley's demonstration of how heart can trump speed had put Phoenix in a comfy position that remained until the end.
"They made a play when they needed it most," said Jazz center Al Jefferson, who was limited to 14 points and 11 rebounds after going for 27 and 14, respectively, against the Suns earlier this season. "Give them credit. They played like they wanted the win."
Well, needed would be even more accurate.
Anyway, no review of the Suns would or should be complete without checking in on As Beasley Turns.
Our would-be star – talented and relentlessly enigmatic forward Michael Beasley – ended his evening with 11 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists.
As is customary of late, Beasley participated as a reserve in the first quarter. For the second game in succession, he was deployed at power forward for a few moments in each of his two stints. And he had a nice early run against Utah, making 3 of 5 shots (including 2 of 2 from 3-point range) and giving Gentry 8 points.
But with prosperity not exactly cast as his ally thus far, Beasley struggled in the opening stages of the final quarter. Two turnovers and a couple of missed shots earned him a seat on the bench while the grinders finished the game.
For now, Gentry and the Suns will maintain their patience with Beasley, because the grinders don't always provide such efficient firepower.
Some future style points probably won't be turned away if they arrive within the structure of a win.