The Suns were like an infielder who plays every hop right except the last one.

Gordon Giricek played his former team, the PMah Jazz, on Friday night.

(NBAE Photos)

They led by five at the end of the first period, they led by seven at the end of the second period, and they led by nine at the end of the third period. But alas, a defense which had hardly been invincible up until then went invisible down the stretch, and the Jazz hit them with a 41-point fourth period on 75 percent shooting and a 12-4 wipeout on the boards. And it also didn’t help that the Jazz, who missed 5 of their 10 free throws in the first period hit 15 of their 16 in the fourth.

The villain of this piece, at least for the Jazz, was Kyle Korver, a shooter who has been instrumental in turning PMah’s season around in the right direction since coming over from Philadelphia via the trade route. He certainly turned this game around in the fourth period, going 3 for 3 from the field and 7 for 7 from the line while scoring all 14 of his points in the final period.

This late blast tended to overshadow the fact Amare Stoudemire had a huge night, Shaquille O’Neal had a very large one and Steve Nash looked a lot more like his old self.

Stoudemire had 37 points, eight rebounds, three blocks, and what looked at the time like a game-saving steal. But even more impressive than those numbers is how much he has expanded his game both in terms of more shooting range and moving so well without the ball.

It was no secret from the day he got here that if a guy as big and fast as Amare ever learned a little patience and how to pick his spots, with and without the ball, that he would really be something. Well, he has, and he IS really something!

As for Shaq, who some critics of The Trade seem to think came to Phoenix not by air but by wheelchair, he had 20 points and 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks in just 31 minutes. And if you had told anybody the day The Trade was made that if Shaq could put up those kinds of numbers, the would have said you could start engraving the Championship Trophy right now.

Unfortunately, while The Big Cactus has helped the Suns even more on offense than had been expected by all but the most incorrigible optimists, he has had considerably less impact than expected on defense.

This is not to say the deplorable state of the team’s defense is all Shaq’s fault, or even mostly his. But there’s no getting around the fact that, while his bulk still makes him a load at one end of the floor, his reduced mobility makes him a target at the other.

This is one reason Coach Mike says (maybe “pleads”, or even “begs” would be more le mot juste), “We’ve got to find a way to defend a LITTLE.

I take this to mean that either Coach has bitten the bite of reality and lowered his sights – just last week he was asking his team to find ways to STOP (italics are mine) somebody – or he likes his retooled offense enough now to think just slowing opponents down will be sufficient.

Obviously it wasn’t last night, but then the fact the Jazz are the best shooting team in the league might have had something to do with that.

And for me at least, I think there was somewhat more reason to be optimistic than pessimistic. In any case, whether you’re a half full glass or a half empty one, it is STILL to soon to either bury the season or pronounce the trade the worst transaction since the Native Americans traded Manhattan to the United States for next to nothing. Or more recently, when Memphis traded Pau Gasol for less than nothing.

The bottom line: My advice to Suns fans who are on the disabled list either from leaping on and off bandwagons or leaping to conclusions is to be a little less athletic for the time being.

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