Soooooo what now?
The Jazz’s playoff hopes are dwindling with each passing second. Whenever they catch a break, someone comes from behind and rips out their heart Apocalypto-style and feeds it to the vultures. Tonight, that man was Steve Nash. A man I admire with disdain. One of the most prolific (sorry B-Walton) point guards to play the game. So good that his team … remains out of playoff contention for reasons I have yet to discover.
Against the Jazz this season the Suns have looked like legit champs, or maybe Utah really isn’t as good as I’d like to think they are. [Pauses. Shrugs.]
Tonight Phoenix spewed 3-pointers (13 out of 31 to be exact) and nailed some hefty buckets down the stretch, causing me to consider the exactitude and meaning of records … and life.
I’m too winded to recall the entire game, but I’ll do my best to sum up the fourth quarter:
Utah trailed by 10 with about five minutes to go. The Jazz, led by Milsap, went on a 9-0 run to claw within two, punctuated by Milsap’s amazing defensive deflection and subsequent shot.
Utah played terrific defense on the Suns’ next possession, only to have Frye bank a turn-around 3-pointer with no time remaining on the shot clock. 103-98.
Sap continued to push the ball, willing his team to win, hitting another big time bucket – 103-100. Then, with less than a minute remaining, Milsap stole the ball again (this time from Nash) and was graciously given a clear-path foul – two free throws and the ball. Sap missed the first free throw, dropped the second and then Big Al cleaned up with a high arcing shot that again tied the game on the ensuing play. (The Jazz seriously need a 3-point shooter – all of our shots come from within 10-feet of the basket during crunch time!)
Not to be undone, Nash drove left and evaded Big Al long enough to hit a fade away jumper with 14 seconds on the clock.
After a time out, Milsap made a speedy drive to the basket and tossed a wrap around pass to Big Al who finished with the (soft) layup.
With only nine seconds to go, Nash split two defenders and hit the leap-n-leaner that turned out to be the game winning shot.
On the other end, Utah had a second to get off a shot and unfortunately passed to CJ in the corner. He jacked up a trey that fell into the hands of Sap … who put up the tip in, hoisted his arms in the air aaaaaaand … he didn’t get the shot up in time. Ouch.
The only time I’ve seen Jazz fans this dejected was when MJ’s Bulls trotted off with their second consecutive championship over the Jazz back in 1998. Tonight somehow felt worse.
There were a lot of emotions in this game, as the Jazz-faithful turned up in droves to support their up-and-coming ball club. They got a good game, for sure, but a horrible ending. Especially coming off the heels of Utah’s loss to Sacramento at home just last week. As I said, ouch.
Still, hope remains. The Jazz have 11 more opportunities to somehow squeeze by Denver/Houston, and carry a relatively easy end-of-season schedule. A win tonight would’ve been really nice, but you live and learn, right?
My take on the game is thus: Utah played astonishingly well despite their short-handedness, and despite Phoenix’s deadly 3-point shooting. They never should’ve fallen behind by 10, but seriously, some of the shots the Suns made were downright stupid. Steve Nash ate Big Al alive in the paint, and our bench struggled all night. That’s just a simple case of a vet taking advantage of inexperience.
Oddly enough, I wasn’t nervous throughout most of the game. I was sure the Jazz had this one – as soon as CJ started hitting his shots I thought, “We’re good.” I left to read my kid a story and came back to see the Jazz trailing heading into the fourth period. WTF?
I started getting nervous when the Jazz’s defense looked downright confused against Nash’s patented pick-n-roll. I think I even saw Gordy’s head spin Exorcist-like after the pasty-skinned maestro yo-yo’d the rock as though performing magic for a bunch of third graders and then hit Dudley for one of those long bomb 3-pointers the Jazz can never seem to guard (or shoot) consistently. (No word on whether or not Gordy upchucked after that play, though he did levitate and cry out the name, “ZUUL!”)
In truth, had Sap’s shot counted, and the Jazz won in OT, I’d be singing praise right now about how they played hard despite the stacked odds, and worked together (four players in double figures) to pull out the win (despite the bench’s no show – 20 collective points versus the Suns’ 40). The Jazz played extremely well down the stretch – but, as my mom shouted numerous times tonight: “THE GODS ARE OBVIOUSLY NOT ON OUR SIDE!”
Yes, it’s true. I watch basketball with my mom (the wife was asleep).
This season will forever be known as the season of that horrible quadruple OT loss to Atlanta. I keep bringing that game up, I know, but I can’t help but wonder where’d we’d be had we won that battle. Tonight the Jazz looked dejected at times, and only thrived because Sap forced them to. I’m not saying they played badly, but during their recent six game winning streak, Utah radiated confidence wherever they went. Since that Atlanta game, it takes a Herculean effort from Sap to keep the Jazz in the game once they fall behind.
Funny how much difference one game can make.
Or half a second for that matter.
As stated, the Jazz are in no way out of playoff contention. Denver and Houston play up-and-down basketball just like Utah. And Phoenix plays fairly crappy against most other teams whose names don’t start with J and end with Z (hence the record … tied with Utah). They still have a shot, but dammit, mom’s right: we need the gods! Where are you!
Parting thoughts: Someone tell the Mailman to stay away from Energy Solutions Arena – I think we’re 0-5 when he visits. My love/hate relationship with Big Al continued tonight – he was making me shout horrific things at my TV (not my mom) on the defensive end, but then making me apologize on offense; he hit two key shots down the stretch – good job big guy. Hayward came up big with 20 points, but seemed to disappear when we needed him most; he needs to keep jacking threes, eventually they will fall. CJ doesn’t need to keep jacking threes. The man has the unfortunate label of hero-to-goat tonight, as he dropped 22 points, but missed a wide-open trey with 1:30 to go that would’ve put us up by one; he also took that ill-advised air ball from the corner as time winded down, and, for whatever reason, hoisted the shot up as high as he could, taking precious time off the clock … Tonight’s winner of the Guy Who Usually Sucks but Whooped On Us Tonight Award goes to Michael Redd – he’s been very inconsistent this season, scoring in double digits only eight times this season … tonight he hit 19 points, including three treys, making it his third highest scoring game of the year. Thanks for choosing tonight to play like your old self Redd, you piece of …