Faced with a must-win situation Tuesday, the Phoenix Suns picked a bad night to shoot a low field goal percentage, and couldn't handle the Utah Jazz interior offense and defense in a 100-88 loss that ended the Suns' hopes of making the playoffs.
Instead, the Jazz (35-30) will go into the NBA playoffs as likely the No. 8 seed after a winner-take-all game went its way in Salt Lake City. The Suns (33-32) host San Antonio for nothing more than pride Wednesday night in what might be Steve Nash's final game as a Sun.
The Suns hung around for much of the game, never trailing by more than 10 points (60-50) until the final couple of minutes when the Jazz took control. Phoenix led 27-25, then took a 76-74 lead with 10:14 to play after a Michael Redd bucket.
At that point, things were looking up for the Suns, but then they went cold. The Suns went scoreless for three minutes but still trailed 80-78 with 7:13 left. Another scoring drought had the Suns down 85-80 with 4:35 left. That's when big Al Jefferson took over for the Jazz.
Jefferson, with two stitches near his eye, made four huge baskets in the late going. He spun and dunked on Marcin Gortat with 4:17 left and scored again seconds later to give the Jazz an insurmountable 89-80 lead. He hit the next two shots for the Jazz and that was it.
The Suns went into the final quarter down by five, 73-68, well within striking distance. Redd drained a 3-pointer to cut the lead to two, then Sebastian Telfair -- in for Steve Nash to start the quarter -- converted a three-point play with a layup and free throw after Hakim Warrick stole the ball at the other end. That tied the score at 74.
There was hope.
Phoenix made just two of their first nine shots of the game, but the Jazz were just about as cold early on. A jumper by Gortat made it 10-8 at the 5:52 mark of the first quarter.
Gortat was horribly ineffective on offense, getting five shots blocked and making just 1 of 8 field goals in the game.
The Suns came in having beaten the Jazz seven straight times, but this game had higher stakes than any typical regular season contest. The young Jazz proved to be up to the challenge and showed it on the glass, out-rebounding the Suns 56-42 in what was a big key to the game.
Paul Milsap, Jefferson and Derrick Favors were beasts in the paint for the Jazz. Milsap led the way with 26 points and 15 rebounds, Jefferson added 18 and 16 but was the difference in the fourth quarter and Favors swatted five shots, scored 13 points and pulled down 11 boards.
Phoenix got their normal balanced scoring and were down just four, 82-78, when Nash re-entered the game midway through the fourth quarter. Coach Alvin Gentry just couldn't afford to keep him on the bench any longer in such an important game. Redd and Jared Dudley had 15 points each and Nash had 14 and 11 assists, and got a nice hand from the crowd.
The Suns put it together after the All-Star break and made an exciting run to be in the playoff picture, but in the end, they were the ones hearing another team's crowd chanting "Playoffs!!! Playoffs!!!"
Grant Hill, dealing with a knee injury, was able to play just three minutes and Channing Frye missed the game with a shoulder injury.