It had nothing to do with Paul Millsap's failed tip-in.
It had a little to do with Steve Nash owning the Jazz during the final 14 seconds.
It had almost everything to do with Michael Redd, Sebastian Telfair, Channing Frye, Markieff Morris and more ripping Utah apart on its home court.
The Jazz fell 107-105 to the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday. It was a game Utah didn't deserve to win, and a contest the Jazz had no business losing.
Utah still has 11 matchups left this season, the Jazz are only 3.5 games out of fifth place, and the team's just one hot streak away from looking like itself again. But with every close contest Utah drops and every should-be victory it gives away, the Jazz are making it much harder on themselves during a period when playoff teams rise and everyone else falls away.
Since March 25, Utah's done little but fall. The slide started with a four-overtime road loss to Atlanta. Including the Hawks heartbreaker, the Jazz are 2-5 in their last seven. Utah's been blown out by the Los Angeles Clippers, beaten up by Boston, and dropped close ones to Phoenix and Sacramento. Even the Jazz's wins haven't been inspiring. Utah only edged Portland because the Blazers collapsed during the final minute and blew a 14-point lead, while a 21-point win at New Jersey started with the Jazz trailing 17-15 after the first quarter.
Al Jefferson — Utah's leading average scorer and rebounder — has often disappeared during Utah's last two games. Paul Millsap and Gordon Hayward have often been the team's lone two offensive threats. The Jazz's watered-down bench continues to be exposed. Utah's struggling to start games and failing to finish them. And for as much as reserve point guards Earl Watson and Jamaal Tinsley have meant to the Jazz's success this season, they're also veterans with obvious holes in their games, which were easily exposed by the Suns.
The Jazz — at their best a fiery, aggressive team — aren't attacking. Sacramento set the tempo during its 104-103 victory March 30. Boston punked and punched-out Utah. The Hawks flew out of the gate, then took over during the third and fourth overtimes. The Clippers alternately bombed away and pounded the Jazz inside Phoenix? The Suns soared to a 10-2 start, then relied on everyone from Nash and Redd to Robin Lopez and Shannon Brown to slice away at Utah's confidence. By the time the 6:43 mark in the fourth quarter rolled around, it was 97-87 Phoenix, and the Jazz were again running from a fight.
Utah's allowed at least 31 points during the first quarter of three consecutive games: 38 to the Clippers, 35 to Portland and 31 to Phoenix. The Jazz don't have the perimeter shooting, speed or overall offensive weapons to play catch up, while the team's defense continues to be suspect during key moments.
During Utah's slide, the absence of injured veterans Josh Howard and Raja Bell has been obvious. Both would've been useful down the stretch against Phoenix — Howard's length and athleticism could've aided Utah's defense; Bell might've been able to hold down Redd.
Strong numbers from C.J. Miles (22 points, five rebounds, three assists), who played his best game since the loss to Atlanta.
Millsap (game-high 25 points; 10 during the fourth quarter) was again beastly. Even Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said his improved ballhandling skills are noticeable.
Jefferson finished with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting and seven rebounds, but it was his second consecutive quiet game. He said he felt like he produced a solid performance, but acknowledged he deferred to Miles, Millsap and Hayward since they were hot.
Hayward was again terrific. Twenty points on 8-of-11 shooting and a career-high 10 rebounds during a game-high 39:54.
Watson and Tinsley were outplayed by Nash and Telfair. With starter Devin Harris out, Utah's point-guard combo combined for just seven points on 1-of-5 shooting. Nash and Telfair recorded 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting, and their 12 assists easily topped five by Watson and Tinsley. Moreover, Nash dominated the final 30 seconds and scored 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting during the second half — including two big 3s — while Telfair teamed with Redd to key Phoenix's fourth-quarter run.
Derrick Favors recorded nine points and eight rebounds but only played 15:08. Enes Kanter was limited to 8:27.
Utah should beat Golden State on Friday. But with the loss to Phoenix, the Jazz's away-home back-to-back series against San Antonio on Sunday and Monday becomes huge. After the Warriors game, the Jazz play five of seven on the road.
Radio: Appearing on 97.5 FM The Zone at 8:55 a.m. Thursday to discuss the Jazz.
Brian T. Smith
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