While the eyes of the basketball world were trained on nationally televised prime-time matchups featuring four of the NBA's highest-profile teams, a barn-burner of a battle with playoff implications of its own was going down in Salt Lake City. After 20 lead changes, 10 ties and 48 pressure-packed minutes, the Utah Jazz came up less than a half-second short, thanks in large part to the late-game brilliance of a certain Canuck.
Steve Nash wasn't an eye-popping marvel on Wednesday night — he scored 13 points on nine shots and dished nine assists with four turnovers in 32 minutes of play — but he was nails when it counted. The two-time league MVP calmly canned a pair of tough jumpers in the final 15 seconds of a nip-and-tuck fight with the Jazz, putting pressure on Tyrone Corbin's young team to match in perhaps their season's biggest moment. After offering multiple answers late, Utah came up just short in the final seconds.
A corner 3-pointer from swingman C.J. Miles (who'd had a strong night, pouring in 22 points on 17 shots) missed rim, and while Jazz star Paul Millsap (who was predictably brilliant, leading Utah with 25 points, eight rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks) was able to corral the miss, his follow attempt went up and in just after the red light had come on. Because Nash was on time and on the money while the Jazz were a split-second late and a few cents short, the Phoenix Suns snared a well-earned 107-105 win that shakes up the lower portion of the Western Conference playoff race.
As crazy as the game's final 30 seconds were, though, things got crazy well before that. How crazy? To wit:
• Phoenix took a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter after a 14-2 run keyed by Michael Redd (back from years of left knee injuries after a nice long soak in the Suns' Lazarus Pit, scoring 14 points per game in April and posting a team-leading 19 on Wednesday) and Sebastian Telfair (who, be honest, you thought was out of the league).
• After the Jazz got back within two at 100-98 following a Millsap steal and jumper, Channing Frye extended the lead to five with an utter nonsense, end-of-the-clock, turnaround 25-foot bank shot with 1:06 remaining that the Suns big man attributed to "the grace of God," according to the Arizona Republic's Paul Coro.
• Millsap again tightened the gap with a driving bucket to make it 103-100, then picked Steve Nash's pocket clean, got Nash for a clear-path foul, missed one of two free throws and opened the door for Al Jefferson to jab-step his way to a jumper over Marcin Gortat to knot things at 103.
As Coro wrote after the game, Nash took it from there:
The Suns' ensuing play was to set up for Frye or Michael Redd, but Redd was doubled and pushed a weak bounce pass in the area of Nash and Frye at the 3-point line. Nash grabbed it and stepped between Millsap and Gordon Hayward to make a 17-foot leaner with 1.7 seconds to go.
"I knew we didn't have a ton of time, but I didn't have to rush," Nash said. "I saw [Marcin] Gortat open under the basket, but I didn't want to mess around with it."
Gortat might not take too kindly to the characterization of passing him the ball under the basket when he's wide open "messing around with it" — the guy's the Suns' leading scorer at 16.2 points per game and he's shooting 72.7 percent at the rim, after all — but come on. Are you going to argue with Steve Nash there?
The win was Phoenix's third straight, fifth in seven games and fourth in their last five road contests, and it vaults the 28-26 Suns ahead of Utah (28-27) into sole possession of ninth place in the Western Conference. Meanwhile, the Jazz find themselves reeling after rushing into the playoff race with a six-game late March winning streak. Utah's lost five of its last seven, including a couple of heartbreakers like Wednesday night's defeat, which Spencer Ryan Hall of Jazz-focused blog Salt City Hoops called "just a punch in the stomach."
All's not lost for the Jazz, though, owing to late-season scheduling, as Lynn DeBruin of the Associated Press notes:
Utah has 11 games remaining, with lowly Golden State up Friday night before a home-and home series with San Antonio, then a three-game trip starting April 11 in Houston. The Jazz also close out the regular season with four of five games at home, where they are 19-8.
The Suns have a seemingly tougher road. Nine of Phoenix's remaining games are against teams that would be in the playoffs if they started today.
They'll face the Jazz again on April 24 in Salt Lake City.
When they do, though, the onus will be on Utah to pull it out, having dropped the season's first two matchups to a Suns team at which they now find themselves looking up in the standings.
Suddenly, the Suns — who looked destined for the lottery with a 14-20 mark at the All-Star break — are just a game back of the Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets, locked in a tie for the seventh seed and occupying the West's last two playoff spots. Phoenix plays at Denver, fresh off a bad loss to the New Orleans Hornets, in a huge game on Friday.
Video of the wild finish via the great memoismoney.