The Phoenix Suns played basketball in the first half like the Suns team that started the season and were on a pace to be an historically bad defensive team. They turned the ball over 14 times and gave up 50 percent shooting to the Utah Jazz. In the second half, however, the new Suns showed up. The Suns who are playing elite level defense over their past 15 or so games and the team that's winning games on the defensive end of the floor.
That Suns team held Utah to just 41.9 percent shooting, had just five turnovers compared to eight forced, recorded five blocks, fought to a near draw on the boards, and most importantly won the game in the final possessions by getting three key stops and a big rebound.
It's fitting that the new-look Suns were led defensively by two of their three new players.
Marcin Gortat recorded 11 points and seven rebounds and had the biggest play of the game when he rotated on the baseline and forced Paul Millsap into a turnover with the Suns leading by just two points and seven seconds on the clock.
Mickael Pietrus was an even bigger factor for the Suns. Playing the entire fourth quarter in place of Vince Carter, he brought an aggression to the floor and hit big shots. Pietrus finished the game with 11 points, four rebounds, and four blocked shots in just 23 minutes of play.
"It's great when he makes shots, obviously, but what I love is him blocking shots, grabbing big rebounds. Tonight he was so active. You see this athleticism you don't see every night and it's pretty impressive. He really was huge for us tonight," Steve Nash (20 points, 14 assists) said.
Nash himself didn't do a bad job defensively either. Grant Hill deservingly got a lot of credit for his key stops on All-Star Deron Williams who was just 2-11 shooting in the game. But as Nash pointed out, the credit should be shared.
"Letting me guard him for most of the game. Obviously," Nash said when asked about the key to Hill's defense on Williams. "To be honest, I was guarding him for most of the game."
Channing Frye was the offensive star of the game for the Suns. He posted a career-high 31 points, including 19 in the first quarter. He was in a zone from long range (6-10) but also had a few nice post ups and mid-range shots. Frye also led the Suns with 11 rebounds and played solid defense on Paul Millsap.
Goran Dragic had a shaky return after missing the last seven games. He played just five minutes in the first half (two points, two turnovers) and then was benched in the second half in favor of Zabian Dowdell.
Dragic didn't seem upset by the decision to give his minutes to the third string point guard and based on the way Dowdell played, he shouldn't be too concerned about losing his job unless he fails to bounce back over an extended period of time.
"That's normal. It's coaches decision. He runs the team so (whatever is) better for the team. I know that I didn't play like 14 days so it's normal. I just have to work hard in the practice and get my minutes back," Dragic said.
With the win, the Suns sweep the season series over the Jazz for the first time since the 1982-83. The Jazz (31-25) are just one game ahead of the Suns (27-26) in the loss column.
Phoenix has one more game, Thursday at home against the Dallas Mavericks, before heading into the All-Star break. The team will have four full days off before returning to practice the following Tuesday afternoon.