Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Will Hardy noticed a trend this season: The Utah Jazz are in every game.
It hasn't mattered if they fall down big in the first half or some key players have some off nights, Utah tends to have some heart-pumping moments late in games.
"When things are going our way or not going our way, I am just really proud of the way they are resilient in every game," Hardy said. "It seems like whether we win or lose we find ourselves in every game, every night. That is what makes this team fun."
Fun came again Saturday in Phoenix. At least, until the final result.
Devin Booker threw up a high rainbow shot with 2.1 seconds left in the game. He would have liked for it to fall, but the real reason for the shot was to run out the clock, which was accomplished. The ball bounced off the rim and, by the time anyone could get to it, the clock expired.
Game over. Phoenix beat Utah 113-112.
Last Friday, it was the Jazz at the end of a tight contest between the two teams. Eight days later, the Suns got a bit of revenge. It was anything but decisive, though. The biggest lead by either team during the second half was 5 points.
"Our defense let us down in the fourth quarter," Hardy said. "We got one stop in the first 11 minutes. We did not rebound the ball down the stretch at all and we did not execute on the last play defensively at all."
That last play left many scratching their heads.
The Suns elected to start the foul game by intentionally sending Jordan Clarson to line with 26 seconds remaining. Apparently, that's where the foul ended, too, Clarkson went to the line and made both free throws to cut the Suns' lead to one point.
There was just two seconds separating the shot clock and game clock — not nearly enough time to secure a stop, get a timeout and draw up a game-winning play — yet, the Jazz still didn't foul.
If it wasn't for Utah's surprising start, it could have been chalked up to a coy tank job. If not that, though, then what happened? Hardy said he wanted the team to foul; he just wanted to get the ball out of Booker's hands first. That message apparently didn't get across.
"I will take responsibility for that," Hardy said. "I clearly did not communicate very well what we wanted to do on that last possession."
A foul might have been the best way to get a stop anyway. Phoenix scored 35 points in the fourth quarter and had eight offensive rebounds; those rebounds were the reason the Jazz came up short.
Utah's offense was dynamic in the final quarter, shooting 10-of-16 overall and 5-of-8 from the 3-point line, and the Jazz threw numerous punches down the stretch.
Jordan Clarkson, who led the Jazz with 22 points, got blocked, got it back and then escaped a trap for a layup. Lauri Markkanen hit consecutive 3-point shots, and added three free throws after being fouled on another deep attempt. Collin Sexton, meanwhile, had back-to-back buckets in the final minutes to keep the Jazz in the game.
All of that — and more — occurred in the final 4:35 of the game. And all of it was canceled out by bad defense and worse rebounding.
Booker and Deandre Ayton dominated the second half. Ayton had 29 points and 21 rebounds, and Booker added 27 points and 11 rebounds. So it made sense that Hardy wanted to get the ball out of his hand; he also wished it didn't have to get to that point.
"We have to rebound as a team," Hardy said. "We've talked all season about we don't have one player on our team who can go up and get 18 defensive rebounds. So it takes that secondary guy or guys sometimes coming in to help rebound."
The Suns had five offensive rebounds in the final four minutes, which led to an extra 4 points.
And even when the Jazz did get a stop, they couldn't take advantage. Sexton rebounded a Cameron Payne miss with one minute left, but soon after threw an errant pass that was intercepted by Ayton.
And so the Jazz had another fun game, another tight finish, but, ultimately, another loss. Utah has dropped four-straight games and are now 12-10 on the season.
"You live and you learn and move on to the next one," said Sexton, who had 20 points and five assists. "We're gonna watch the film tomorrow and try to build from it."