Newsroom Notes: Suns' Playoff Push Falls Short Against Jazz
Posted: April 24, 2012
No team made more of a valiant effort since the All-Star break to earn a postseason berth than the 2011-12 Suns. But there just wasn’t enough time in the season as their playoff chances ended with a 100-88 defeat in Utah on Tuesday.
The contest was as close as a “play-in” game that one could find in the NBA, with the Suns coming into the night a game behind the Jazz for the eighth and final playoff spot. If the Suns had won, they would have controlled their postseason destiny when they faced the Spurs in Phoenix on Wednesday.
They would also have developed clearer picture of their playoffs hopes.
However, that picture wouldn’t be developed as the Jazz outrebounded the Suns 21-7 in the fourth period, including six offensive boards, to close the door on the Suns’ season.
“(Jazz forward/center) Al Jefferson was the difference in the game tonight,” Suns swingman Jared Dudley said. “He was a beast down there, especially in the fourth, and he made us pay for it. “
Jefferson scored eight of his 18 points and pulled down five of his 16 rebounds in the final period. His partner in the paint, Jazz forward Paul Millsap, was even more potent.
Millsap punished the Suns with 26 points and 15 rebounds.
“They’ve got two good bigs that can score,” Suns point guard Steve Nash said. “They have good balance, depth and skill, but it’s great when you can throw the ball into the post to two bigs.”
Out of the gate, Phoenix started the night off shorthanded, with power forward Channing Frye sitting out of the game with a subluxed right shoulder. Small forward Grant Hill tried to give his surgically repaired knee a go, but after going 0-for-3 in less than three minutes of action, it was evident that Hill wasn’t his usual self and was relegated to the bench for the remainder of the night.
Usually when the Suns were victorious this season, it was because they were successful in limiting turnovers and winning the battle down low. But in the first half, the Suns did neither, giving up 12 points on nine turnovers and getting outscored by 14 in the paint.
On the night, the Suns were outscored by 10 in the paint and gave up 10 more points off turnovers. But the Suns were still able to stay close in the first half, despite shooting just 40 percent and getting eight of their shots blocked around the basket.
Phoenix hung around by moving into a zone defense on Utah’s reserves in the second quarter, remaining in it for almost the entirety of the period. The adjustment worked, with the Jazz shooting 0-for-4 from behind the arc.
However, the Jazz’s size started to wear on the Suns in the fourth period, allowing Utah to get to the line 15 times in the period.
“We turned the ball over in the first half too much,” Gentry stated. “They ended up with 20 fast break points and 12 of them were off turnovers and another six of them were off blocked shots.”
On the offensive end, Steve Nash kept the Suns in the game by recording 14 points and 11 assists. In fact, TNT showed a graphic to begin the fourth period that illustrated that when Nash was in the game, the team had manufactured 60 points.
With him on the bench, the Suns only had accumulated eight through the first three periods.
“(Steve) was great and he has been great but he’s not a guy that can do it all by himself,” Gentry said. “We needed a total team effort.
“But the guys have been great (in responding since the All-Star break). This is the most fun I’ve ever had coaching.”
Jared Dudley and Michael Redd each added 15 points, while Shannon Brown and Hakim Warrick each chipped in 12 points apiece on the night.
So in the end, the Suns fell short of becoming the first Western Conference team since the 1996-97 Suns to rally from six games below .500 at the All-Star break to make the playoffs. But no one can discount their character for turning their season around.
“In the second half of the season we definitely picked things up as far as showing better chemistry,” Dudley said. “Hopefully we could build off this going into next season.”
Gentry said that at shootaround and during pregame the team was no different than it would have been any other day. The players went through their same routines, cracked the same jokes and warmed up the same way that they had all season.
Many may wonder that since the matchup against the Jazz was not an ordinary game if the players did anything extraordinarily special in preparation for it. Gentry said that they didn’t.
He doesn’t like to see guys psyche themselves out and put too much pressure on themselves. The only thing he told his team was that he didn’t want to come back at halftime and have a conversation about effort.
He only wanted to have a conversation about adjustments, which he did.
“Thunder (Suns assistant coach Dan Majerle) has been telling them how they used to live for games like this,” Gentry said. “This is what you play for. You don’t have to get up for this.”
Salt Lake Hospitality
Not only did Gentry marvel at how nice the people of Utah were and how incredible the weather was the last couple of days, but he also called the hotel that the team stayed at the “Michael Jordan of hotels.”
“There’s this place and then there’s everybody else,” Gentry said of the hotel.
After seeing his room, one would wonder if the resident of the Oval Office would be envious. Such a popular figure in the NBA, Gentry even had the owner of a prestigious Salt Lake City chocolate shop leave a gift for him at the front desk.
“When you’ve been around for 30 years, this is what happens,” he said joking.
The Suns wrap up their season at home on Wednesday when they play host to the top-seeded club in the West, the Spurs. The game is Fan Appreciation Night at the arena. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Fox Sports Arizona.
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