Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images
Steve Nash sank five free throws in the last 11 seconds in the Suns' win over the Jazz on Wednesday.
Phoenix 103, Utah 98
PHOENIX, Dec. 12 (AP) -- Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni liked what he saw even as the Suns struggled to put away the slumping Utah Jazz.
A team known for a flashy offense revealed a gritty side - led by Steve Nash, who had 29 points and 11 assists despite playing half the game with a chipped tooth - in a 103-98 victory over the Jazz on Wednesday night.
"Obviously I didn't want to lose the game, but I'm sitting over there going, 'Hey, this is good,''' D'Antoni said. "We're going to win a lot of games this way, and this is what's going to help us win a championship if we can. It's not the other stuff. It's not the other fluff. It's playing with the intensity and the defense and the determination that we showed tonight.''
No one was more determined than Nash, who chipped his tooth when he took an inadvertent forearm from Carlos Boozer while pulling down a rebound late in the first half. The two-time MVP handed the tooth to trainer Aaron Nelson, then conducted a live interview with ESPN before heading to the locker room.
With a gap between his teeth, Nash resembled a hockey player in his native Canada.
"I just kind of took an elbow or something and it chipped off,'' Nash said. "So I get to spend some of my day off at the dentist, as luck would have it.''
Nash hit 10-of-12 shots from the floor and 3-of-4 from beyond the arc. He also hit five free throws in the final 11 seconds as fans in U.S. Airways Center chanted "MVP!''
The Suns needed this win because they had dropped two in a row - enough to spark widespread panic in Phoenix even though it's not even Christmas. Now, Suns fans can go back to dreaming about the franchise's first NBA title.
"In some ways, it's exactly what the doctor ordered,'' Nash said. "I think it showed us a lot of positives. We're a good team. We're capable defensively. We've got to play with that energy and intensity that we played with tonight against everybody.''
Shawn Marion had 26 points and 15 rebounds as the Pacific Division-leading Suns snapped a two-game losing streak.
Boozer led Utah with 24 points and 13 rebounds. Paul Millsap scored 20 points with 13 rebounds for the the Jazz.
Utah dropped its fifth straight game, the Jazz's longest losing streak since a five-game skid from last April 3-10.
"We've got to get this turned around, and once we do that, the sky's the limit for us,'' Millsap said.
After the Suns had allowed at least 100 points in nine straight games, D'Antoni challenged his team to play better defense. The Suns responded by limiting the Jazz to 43.8 percent shooting from the floor.
The Suns won despite scoring seven points below their league-leading average and shooting only 23.5 percent from beyond the arc.
"This how we have to win,'' D'Antoni said. "Some really good things happened, and it started on the defensive end. I thought the energy was there the whole night.''
Marion supplied most of the energy. He blocked five shots, had two steals and deflected numerous passes.
"Obviously, Shawn Marion was unbelievable,'' D'Antoni said. "I don't know if anybody noticed or not.''
Marion did it while seemingly guarding half the Utah roster.
"Since he can guard at least three or four guys at the same time, it helps because you don't have to guard a whole lot else,'' D'Antoni said.
Marion, who guarded Boozer and also defended point guard Deron Williams, shrugged at the suggestion that he set an example for his teammates.
"Sometimes it won't be as pretty or as perfect as you want it to be, but sometimes you just have to get it done,'' he said.
Leading 76-75 midway through the fourth quarter, the Suns took command with a 9-2 run fueled by Marion's 3-pointer from the left corner.
The Jazz wouldn't fold. Trailing by 8 with 4 minutes to go, the Jazz closed to within 94-93 with 2:21 to play. But Grant Hill hit a lay-up to put Phoenix ahead 96-93.
Utah's chance to rally ended when Williams missed two free throws with 38 seconds left - a common problem on a night the Jazz went 17-of-27 (63 percent) from the line - and Marion hit a layup 23 seconds later.
"As it turns out, we missed a lot of free throws coming down (the stretch), and you'd like to have those back,'' Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. "We're a young team trying to figure out what we are sometimes.''
Notes: Utah center Mehmet Okur missed the game with a shoulder injury. Millsap replaced him in the starting lineup. ... Phoenix improved to 10-1 against teams with a .500 or better record. ... The Suns wrapped up their longest December homestand - two games. They're on the road for six of their final eight games of the month, including Christmas Day at the Los Angeles Lakers.