After Friday night’s game between the visiting Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz, both teams came away feeling like they’d learned something.
The Jazz, who host the Suns again on Sunday night in Salt Lake City, gained confidence despite losing 131-128 to Phoenix in an NBA in-season tournament game.
“That was a very hard-fought game against a good team. If nothing else, it shows our group that we are capable of playing with anybody,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said. “For us to get to where we’d like to be with our team and at a place where we are winning at a high level, we have to grow in an execution standpoint to close a game.”
After falling behind by 14 points — and trailing by nine with under three minutes to go — the Jazz were within one point in the waning moments of Friday night’s game. With Utah trailing 124-115, Ochai Agbaji hit a 3-pointer, Lauri Markkanen dunked and Jordan Clarkson drained a deep shot for a quick 8-0 run.
Kevin Durant hit two free throws with 51 seconds left and then nailed a trey after two John Collins foul shots to give the Suns some breathing room and a four-point lead with 18.8 seconds left.
“My 3 was feeling good all night,” Durant said. “I had missed one to start the fourth quarter that looked good coming off my hand. So I just kept it in the back of my mind: I wanted to get to that shot again.”
Durant scored 10 points in the final 4:01 to help Phoenix win its second consecutive game.
“He hit a bomb and won the game,” Suns coach Frank Vogel said. “It was a big-time shot by a big-time player but he was really terrific the whole night.”
Durant finished with 38 points, going 6-for-8 from beyond the arc, and totaled nine rebounds to help the Suns stay alive in in-season tournament group play. He’s now scored 25 or more points in 11 consecutive contests, marking the longest active streak in the league.
Durant’s nine assists paired nicely with Devin Booker’s career-high 15 assists and 24 points. The Suns, playing without injured Bradley Beal (lower back strain), dished out 35 assists in the high-scoring affair. The performance, they said, showed that Phoenix can be potent even without a true point guard.
With Beal sidelined, the Suns start three shooting guards, including Booker, Eric Gordon (14 points on Friday) and Grayson Allen (10).
“We’re natural point guards, too. We’re natural basketball players. We can play every position,” Durant said. “We just set people up and be set up as well.”
The Jazz, meanwhile, continue to be impressed with their new starting point guard — rookie Keyonte George. He scored 11 of his 15 points in the final six minutes of the first half, helping Utah dig out of a hole and go into the locker room tied at 75-75.
George contributed six assists and three rebounds for the game.
Clarkson led Utah with 37 points and five 3-pointers along with five assists and three rebounds, Markkanen chipped in 21 points, and Collins totaled 15 points and 14 boards.
Though the Jazz played well against a talented team, the loss stung because a win was within reach.
“It hurts to lose the game,” Markkanen said, “especially when you give yourself an opportunity to win.”
–Field Level Media
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