With tonight’s 111-120 loss to the Phoenix Suns, the Utah Jazz fall to 5-16 on the road this season, the second worst road winning percentage in the Western Conference. In case you were wondering, this is the same Jazz team that boasts one of the conference’s best home records at 15-6.
These nearly mirrored home and road records reflect more than just wins and losses; they reflect a Jazz season that has very much become a tale of two teams.
Tonight, the Jazz faced some familiar road demons as the team showed a complete inability to guard the high pick-and-roll, score against a zone defense, or defend the three-point shot.
As has become somewhat commonplace for the Jazz on the road, an opposing point guard – this time, Steve Nash – gave the Jazz all they could handle. The two-time MVP carved up the Jazz defense, constantly beating his defenders at the point of attack and getting into the lane to create open shots for his teammates. Nash finished the night with 12 points and a game-high 16 assists. Thanks in part to Nash’s uncanny ability to get into the lane and distribute the basketball, the Suns shot 56% from the field and made an impressive nine 3-point shots on 19 attempts.
“Nash did a good job of search dribbling, he broke our defense down and kicked the ball out and they made some three-point shots against us,” Coach Ty Corbin said of Nash’s impressive performance. “I thought we panicked a little bit. We weren’t as aggressive on the pick-and-roll as we were early and we let him search dribble and he was able to get his guys open looks as a result.”
Despite the loss, the Jazz started hot and, for the better part of the first half, looked to be in control. With the help of a 15-2 run – extending from the midway point of the first quarter through the opening minutes of the second – the Jazz completely dominated the Suns, taking a commanding 13-point second-quarter lead.
The Suns, however, quickly bounced back. With the help of a stingy zone defense, Phoenix closed out the half on an 11-0 run to tie the game at 53 and started the third period on a 21-8 scoring run.
The Jazz, behind third-string point guard, Jamaal Tinsley – who played extended minutes due to an ankle injury to Earl Watson – made one last run at the Suns. Tinsley finished the third quarter by making a buzzer-beating, half-court, three-point bucket and orchestrated a Jazz fourth-quarter comeback to tie the game with only minutes remaining in regulation.
From there, however, in familiar road fashion, the Jazz failed to make the necessary plays in the closing minutes of the game to come away with a win.
The Suns had three players score more than 20 points (Frye 26; Gortat 25; and Dudley 21). Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap led the Jazz with 18 points apiece.
Tonight’s game marked the start of an important three-game stretch for the Jazz. After tonight’s loss, Utah and Phoenix, along with the Jazz’s next two opponents, Minnesota and Golden State, are all within one loss of each other in the race for the West’s final playoff spot. The Jazz will look to bounce back tomorrow night at home against the Timberwolves.