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Final Score: Phoenix Suns fight hard, but lose to Jazz, 106-101

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The Suns had a late lead, but a Joe Johnson three put the Jazz ahead and the Suns couldn’t score again.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz traded shots all fourth quarter. Devin Booker and Eric Bledsoe led the charge for the Suns, while Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw kept the Jazz in it.

The Suns battled hard to keep Rudy Gobert off the glass on both ends, to modest success, while they tried to score enough to keep the lead.

The Suns took a two-point lead on T.J. Warren’s steal with 1:13 left, 101-99 Suns.

But then Joe Johnson hit a HUGE contested corner three after the Suns played a really solid defensive sequence. Tucker’s hand was in Johnson’s face, but he made it anyway. Pure Joe.

Booker missed a jumper on the other end, and Hayward made a couple of free throws to put the Jazz up three.

So that’s 6 points on the Jazz’s last two possessions. Can’t win that way.

Eric Bledsoe finished with 31 points, 9 assists and 9 rebounds. Devin Booker had 25 points. P.J. Tucker had 8 points and 13 rebounds, doing his best Tyson impression.

Marquese Chriss played the last five minutes of the fourth and didn’t do a whole lot of good. He committed a few fouls and got himself blocked by Gobert twice. Not his best game.

Tyson Chandler was out (stomach issues), and so were Jared Dudley (dizziness) and Brandon Knight (sprained wrist). On the other side, Rodney Hood was out (knee).

Without Chandler, Dudley and Knight, we get a glimpse of the young Suns here.

First half

The Suns started slowly, including Devin Booker air balling his first shot of the night.

Rudy Gobert is big, and talented. He had the advantage of going against Marquese Chriss in the opening minutes and was able to bully him once and get offensive rebounds as well, though Chriss successfully tapped one to Len. Len was stuck guarding Derrick Favors.

As predicted in the preview, the Suns had a Mexican hangover and missed six of their first seven shots, got out rebounded 7-2, out-assisted 3-0 and quickly got down 10-2. They were lucky it was only 10-2.

I mean, hoping to guard and rebound against Gobert and Favors with only Len, Chriss and Bender is a fools errand. Gobert had 6 rebounds in the opening minutes. The Suns really needed to stretch the floor with those guys and make most of their jumpers even to have a chance, and they didn’t.

And of course, Joe Ingles is still the Booker snuffler. Devin just couldn’t get anything with Ingles on him.

Eric Bledsoe had to take control on offense and poured in 3 of 6 shots, including a three pointer, and suddenly the Suns had pulled back to 15-14 by making 5 of 6 shots including a Bender three in early offense. He’s getting really good at stepping into that early in the clock while the big naturally sags into the paint.

Then Dragan Bender came in. And he changed the game (while Gobert sat, to be the fairest of fair). Bender guarded the perimeter and the rim excellently, blocking two shots (one cleanly) and stifling Gordon Hayward at least once. He also made a step-into three early in offense, and a dunk on a cut to the rim.

But Eric Bledsoe was the player of the first quarter, pouring in 12 points while dishing three assists (two on drive and kick for threes).

The Suns turned up the D, and the Jazz made only 4 of their last 15 field goal attempts in the quarter. They were helped with 9 free throws and had 16 rebounds to the Suns’ 9.

Suns up 28-24 at the end of one.

We got to see Tyler Ulis in the second quarter, as well as Boris Diaw for the Jazz. When Boris grabbed and pulled Ulis by the wrist to physically force a switch after setting a lazy pick, I worried for a moment there Boris was grabbing dinner.

The Suns maintained the lead with some scrappy defense and by forcing the pace, and Tucker even made a sneaky layup among the trees of Diaw and Gobert.

The Jazz kept trying to wrestle control of the game, but the Suns wouldn’t go away and ran every chance they got. Bledsoe was on fire in all ways, and Tucker was able to hold his own against bigger players.

Somehow, with Bender and Chriss both playing big roles (5 points, 2 rebounds in 11/12 minutes each), and without Tyson Chandler to battle Gobert, the Suns had a 6-point halftime lead. P.J. Tucker played the veteran tough guy role well, with 6 points, 7 rebounds and big steal.

Bledsoe finished the half with 18 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. He was masterful at setting up teammates and pushing the pace, better than I’ve seen from him.

Suns up 53-47 despite making only 3/12 on threes, being outrebounded 25 to 20 and giving up more FTs (12 to 8).

Second half

Eric Bledsoe came out just as strong as his first half, and nearly got to his double double in the opening minutes of the second half.

He got up to 22/9/7 in with 5:50 left in the third, forcing the Jazz to call timeout as the Suns pushed their lead back to 8 again, 70-62.

Bledsoe had the Suns in good position all quarter, but once Bledsoe sat for a rest the Jazz went on a bit of a run while the Suns failed to score as frequently.

It also helped that the Jazz made 5 of 9 threes in the third quarter, including two by Ingles.

The Jazz took the lead early in the fourth on a Joe Johnson jumper, but then the Suns took it back on shots by Booker and Tucker, while Tucker found a way to own the paint.

Booker drew four fouls on the Jazz in the opening minutes of the fourth as the Suns pushed to a 86-81 lead before Gordon Hayward made a jumper to stem the run.

Joe Johnson made a three to tie the game, hiding behind the biggest bodyguard in the NBA in Gobert.

Devin Booker did his best to make shots to keep the Suns in the game, twice scoring to give the Suns back a slim 2-point lead.