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Phoenix Suns can’t keep pace with Utah Jazz, drop preseason game

The Phoenix Suns took a third quarter lead, but could not hold on as the Jazz won.

NBA: Preseason-Utah Jazz at Phoenix Suns Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

The Suns tried hard, they just couldn’t make enough shots to keep pace with the better-shooting Jazz.

Rudy Gobert had 21 points (13/14 FTs) and 10 rebounds in 28 minutes and Trey Lyles had 16 points and 6 rebounds off the bench as the Jazz won 104-99.

Brandon Knight led the Suns with 17 points and 2 assists in 25 minutes, while Devin Booker had 13 points and 3 assists and Eric Bledsoe had 11 points and 4 assists on 40 minutes between them. T.J. Warren had 15 points.

Marquese Chriss continued to look good on the floor all game (11 points, 8 rebounds), and fellow rookies Dragan Bender (6 and 4) and Tyler Ulis (10 and 4) had good fourth quarters.

First quarter

The Suns started a lineup that many envision the right one to lead the team back to the playoffs some day, except in 2018-19 more than today.

With Booker entrenched in the lineup from now on, seeing Marquese Chriss (Dudley resting) out there with Alex Len (Chandler resting), T.J. Warren and Eric Bledsoe has me excited.

Chriss started out showing he is fearless, going hard to the rim four times in the opening minutes right at the Stifle Tower. Once he was deterred, once blocked and then he had consecutive finishes (dunk, wiggle/layup Amare style).

Chriss was active, even bringing the ball around the top of the key on the dribble as part of a motion offense.

Devin Booker was Devin Booker, looking like the best guard on the court. Dante Exum tried but couldn’t contain Book.

Rudy Gobert was the best player in the opening minutes, with 10 points, 4 rebounds a steal and a block in the first 8 minutes.

For some reason I got super-trolled by Jazz followers who took exception to my tweet that Exum wasn’t able to hang with Booker in the opening minutes. I stand by that comment.

The best thing about the last part of the first quarter and into the second was Brandon Knight. He came out focused and engaged, and had 7 quick points on 3-5 shooting. Unfortunately, the rest of his group did not play as well.

The Suns ended the opening quarter down 31-23, and then gave up the first 6 points of the second quarter.

Second quarter

The Suns came out with Alan Williams, Dragan Bender and three little guys - Brandon Knight, Leandro Barbosa and Archie Goodwin.

Knight was the only scorer of the bunch. Unless Knight was scoring, every possession was a contested two that missed badly (even Alan Williams’ putback slaps were off). Yes you read that right. By mid-second quarter, Knight had only taken one long two all night and it was open. The rest were drives to the rim.

The Suns starters returned with just under six minutes left and a 10-point deficit. Knight left with 10 points (4-7 shooting), 2 rebounds, a steal and a block. He caused at least another steal as well, I’m certain. Definitely “good Brandon” showed up in this game.

The Suns pulled all the way back and had a chance to tie the game at 47-47, but Alex Len missed a couple of free throws and the Jazz scored on the other end to take a 4 point lead into halftime.

The Suns final lineup of the half had the new Hydra together with Knight, Bledsoe and Booker on the wing, with Chriss and Len in the front court. They played well together, but couldn’t get the game tied.

Third Quarter

Just like on Monday night when the Suns opened the half with a 12-0 run to take the lead back from the Austin Spurs, these guys ran out to the 9-2 run to take a three point lead on Bledsoe’s three pointer at 56-53.

The Jazz started the second half with the same intentions as the first half - setting up Gobert for pick-and-roll finishes. The result was kind of bloody, with Gobert just so huge but not nimble with the ball on the run. He either had a clean finish, or got bogged down in traffic to get to the free throw line. His arms are so long there’s no blocking the shot once he grabs it. The foul-him strategy should have worked. On the night, Gobert made 13 of 14 FT attempts, after making only 57% of them last year, a drop from his career 58% average.

Chriss had a real nice post move to score while getting fouled on a turn around into the paint. Add in the earlier jumper, smooth in-the-air adjustment on a drive to the rim and a hard dunk, and you’ve got a well-rounded player. Chriss also shows good effort on defense and grabbed some rebounds in traffic. Me likey.

Tyler Ulis came in to the loudest cheers of the night (fans love an underdog) and found that George Hill uses his 6’3” frame very well, scoring several times on Ulis in short order. Ulis got the better of Hill once or twice, but generally the veteran Hill didn’t give Ulis any breaks. In six minutes, Ulis got one of everything: bucket, steal, assist, rebound. At least he didn’t have a turnover after five on Monday. I write this with the clear knowledge that I’m rooting heavily for Ulis to succeed.

Suns down 75-72 after three.

Fourth Quarter

This time Ulis began the fourth with the Knight/Williams/Bender/Barbosa group. But again, the Suns had no shooters out there and this time Knight missed a few of those beautiful drives to the hoop. The Suns were soon down 87-78.

Dragan Bender continued to show the only thing he can do right now is move well laterally on defend to stifle the perimeter player. Other than that, he’s kind of a mess right now.

Just as I type that, Bender gets consecutive bully blocks on Jeff Withey’s tomahawk dunk attempts and makes a couple of nice touch passes to teammates for scores.

Meanwhile, Chriss fouls out attempting to contest a three by Lyles. He finished with 11 points and 8 rebounds. He made only 4 of 15 shots, but all were tough shots in the paint. Finishes will come, hopefully.

Booker fouled out with 3:43 left. He scored 13 points, grabbed 4 rebounds and dished 3 assists.

The Suns just didn’t have it in them to keep their third quarter lead, as once again the opponent was more prepared to make the right plays at the right time.

You take the good, you take the bad, you take them all and there you have the Facts of Life.

Brandon Knight had maybe his best game in a long, long time. He had 17 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists in 25 minutes. Modest numbers, given he averaged 18/5 last year, but all of the shots were from efficient spots on the floor and played hard the whole time.

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