April 5, 2015
Down to their second-to-last home game Saturday night, the Suns provided reminders of a different time in the season when wins and Gerald Green playing time were more common.
Green's jump shot can be erratic, but it remains as flammable as a rag soaked in gasoline.
The Suns were in need of a spark with a five-game losing streak and a stale offense Saturday when the Green light shined for 24 points in 22 minutes of an 87-85 Suns victory against the Jazz at US Airways Center.
The Suns (39-38) avoided falling below .500 for the first time since Dec. 19 with a stellar defensive game and Green's 10-for-17 shooting and best scoring game since November.
The Suns and the Jazz (34-42) shared the NBA lead for most losses by five points or less this season, so it was no surprise that they would tangle down to the wire in a game that prevented Utah from pushing Phoenix for 10th place in the Western Conference.
The Jazz had the NBA's best scoring defense and sixth-best record since the All-Star break, but their three-game winning streak ended against a Suns team missing starters Brandon Knight (ankle/heel) and Alex Len (broken nose).
Len's replacement, Brandan Wright, had another solid start with 14 points and an important late-game defensive challenge, but it wass point guard Eric Bledsoe who finished the Suns' scoring with five of their final seven points. He scored twice on drives and added a free throw with 16.3 seconds to go, although he left the Suns lead dangling at 87-85 when he missed the second free throw.
The team that has lost four games on buzzer-beating shots and another game Thursday night on a last-second shot at Golden State got the defensive stand. Switching against the coach's preference on the final possession, Marcus Morris wound up on Gordon Hayward and prompted him into a dribble hand-off to Joe Ingles. Marcus Morris switched to Ingles, whose drive missed with help from Wright. Markieff Morris knocked out the rebound to Utah's Rodney Hood, who missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer. P.J. Tucker jumped and knocked into Hood's right hip while he was in the air shooting but there was no call with the official indicating Hood had kicked his leg out.
"I felt contact, so it is what is," Hood said.
"He kicked his foot out," Tucker said. "I knew they weren't going to call a foul on that one. No way."
Who knew an offensive onslaught was coming when the Suns opened the game with a 13-point first quarter?
Against the NBA's top post-All-Star break scoring defense, the Suns survived on getting to the free-throw line until Green entered midway through the second quarter and immediately showed more offensive activity than his teammates. Green scored off a mismatch against Derrick Favors and did not need a green light to keep firing. He took the Suns' shots on six of the next nine trips for 10 points in five minutes. It led to a 47-37 Suns halftime lead after Markieff Morris' four-point play.
Utah rallied with a 17-5 run until Green returned with shots ready to launch, hitting a pull-up jumper on his first touch. From the time Green entered in the third quarter, Green scored 14 of the Suns' next 18 points.
Green talked plenty during the game about how he could have been doing this to put the Suns in the playoffs but avoided interviews after the game.
The Suns did not have a second-chance point in the game until Green followed his own missed 3 and slammed it back for a 74-74 tie with 7:47 remaining. Moments later, Tucker rebounded Green's missed 3 from the wing and kicked it back out to him as he slid to the corner for a 3 that rattled in for a two-point lead with 6:37 to go.
Green had lost playing time in the past two months for a variety of reasons - defensive mistakes, turnovers, a drop-off in shooting and a guard overload - but he remained a fan favorite.
"Every guy on the team should be that way," Hornacek said of Green being able to score after inconsistent playing time.