It was a battle of attrition.
And that was before Thursday's late-starting, TNT-televised game between the Jazz and the Phoenix Suns began.
Rather than the usual 12-on-12 NBA affair, in fact, Utah's 108-86 win over Phoenix at sold-out EnergySolutions Arena started just 10-on-9.
It was the Jazz who had the 10 on their bench, as they were without starting small forward Andrei Kirilenko, backup small forward Matt Harpring and reserve combo guard Ronnie Price.
Notable absentees for the Suns included three-fifths of their would-be starting lineup: point guard Steve Nash, small forward Grant Hill and power forward Shawn Marion, who combined represent 49 points from the league's top-scoring, 110.7 points-per-game offense.
Translation: Phoenix down three current or former All-Stars, Utah minus one former All-Star, one gritty veteran and one seldom-used sub.
Right off the bat.
And when all was done, too, as center Mehmet Okur finished with a team-high 22 points and season-high 17 rebounds (one board off his career high), shooting guard Ronnie Brewer added a career high-tying 21 points on 9-of-14 field shooting and point guard Deron Williams pitched in a 17-point, 11-assist double-double.
"We're a lot better team when Memo plays like that," Williams said. "I think that's his one of his best games of the year, if not his best game, because he did it from everywhere, he rebounded inside-outside, he played great defense.
"We were able to get a good win for us," Williams added, "and hopefully it will bring us some confidence." It was the fourth straight home win and fourth in their last five outings overall for the 20-17 Jazz, who now are midway through a four-game homestand two 22-point blowouts so far that continues Saturday against Orlando.
And it was just the seventh loss in 20 road games for the Western Conference-leading Suns, who fell to 25-11.
Not that either of these clubs resembled their usual selves.
Though he had thought he might be able to go, Kirilenko missed his third straight game with lower-back inflammation.
Harpring was out because wife, Mandy, gave birth at 9:45 Thursday night to the couple's second child a six-pound, nine-ounce girl, and an arrival that initially had not been expected until next Wednesday.
Price missed his second straight game with a sprained left ankle sustained in practice last Monday.
As for the shorthanded Suns, Hill underwent an appendectomy Wednesday and is expected to be out 2-to-3 weeks. Marion fell hard on his right shoulder and elbow in Wednesday's overtime win over Indiana, and was a late no-dress decision because of bruising in the elbow. And Nash remained home in Phoenix, where he exited Wednesday's victory over the Pacers late in the third quarter because of the stomach flu.
The two-time NBA MVP visited a Phoenix-area hospital late Wednesday night for IV fluid replenishment.
There was some thought by the Jazz that he might catch a daytime flight and make it to Salt Lake City in time for Thursday's 8:30 p.m. game. But that didn't happen, making Nash's absence perhaps the most noticeable of all.
"They're definitely a different team without Steve Nash," Williams said. "There's a reason he's a two-time MVP. He's one of the best players in the game but we knew they were still dangerous, they could still score."
With Nash out, the Suns started with usual backup point Leandro Barbosa and sporadically used Dixie State product Marcus Banks in the backcourt, while usual shooting guard and ex-Jazz swingman Raja Bell moved to Hill's spot at small forward and usual small forward Boris Diaw opened for Marion at power forward.
For Utah, C.J. Miles made his third straight start in Kirilenko's place and tried not to think about the Suns being far from full strength.
"We wanted a win," Miles said. "I mean, everybody's hungry right now after the struggles we've been going through =85 so we just came out aggressive."
The Jazz losers of 12-of-17 before their current run of success indeed jumped on the Suns early, going up by as many as 12 in the opening quarter.
"We wanted to set the tempo early," Williams said, "and I think we did a good job of that."
Only 16 first-quarter points from 25-point game-high scorer Barbosa kept things from being uglier for Phoenix early on.
Speaking of less-than-pretty, Utah opened the second quarter shooting just 1-for-15 from the field with four turnovers and the Jazz weren't able to push their lead heading into the second half to any more than 10.
Williams, Okur and Brewer did all hit double figures in scoring by the break, though, and Okur taking advantage of the undersized Suns lineup had a 12-point, 10-board double-double by halftime.
Behind that and another 10 points in a decisive 28-12 third quarter from Brewer, Utah went into the fourth comfortably ahead 86-60.NOTES: Kirilenko tried to go Thursday night, but couldn't because of tightness in his back. "I think Saturday for sure," he said. ... Utah could have recalled rookie center Kyrylo Fesenko from the NBA Development League for Thursday's game to add bench depth, but if it did that the still-developing Ukrainian because he has been recalled twice previously already wouldn't be allowed to return this season to the Jazz-affiliated Utah Flash. The Jazz figured they wouldn't need another big man against the small-ball Suns, anyway ... Harpring also missed a game against Phoenix in November of 2005 when wife Mandy went into labor with their first child, son Luke.
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