SALT LAKE CITY — For the first time since Dec. 9, 1988, the Utah Jazz played a game without Jerry Sloan holding the title of head coach.
That sobering and sudden reality was the reason why his replacement, Tyrone Corbin, only got two hours of sleep Thursday night after Sloan and longtime assistant Phil Johnson announced their surprising resignations.
Corbin probably didn't get much more shuteye Friday night after his head coaching debut began the same way Sloan's legendary era ended — with a loss.
Though his Jazz squad fizzled and fell in a 95-83 setback to the Phoenix Suns, the NBA's newest coach can take comfort in the fact that his predecessor suffered a similar fate with his Utah clubs on 682 different occasions.
Heck, Sloan even lost the first game he coached with the Jazz after replacing Frank Layden — and that was a home game (against Dallas) as well.
It should be noted that following that first taste of failure Sloan went on to win 1,127 times over the next 23 seasons. He also landed a spot in the Hall of Fame and became the third-winningest coach in league history.
Then again, that might not be all that encouraging to Corbin right now, considering how the Jazz coughed up a 15-point first-half lead and only scored 27 points in the entire second half.
That's why Corbin described his debut as "frustrating," even repeating the word.
"Frustrating," he said. "Just the fact that it was a game we felt we should have won. Our effort just wasn't the same as it was in the first half."
Corbin admitted the emotions of a tumultuous two-day stretch seemed to catch up with the Jazz after they took a 56-44 lead into the locker room. Stumbling Utah, which had lost 10 of its last 14 games (and now 11 of 15), seemed to be on its way to a fun win and a great start for its new coach.
Jazz CEO Greg Miller even tweeted at halftime about the "great vibe in the locker room."
That was as absent from the arena in the second half as Sloan and Johnson, though, thanks to the Jazz's energy exodus and an explosion by Steve Nash & Co.
"We ran out of gas," Corbin said. "I don't if it was emotions in the first half. We were so up for the game, but in the second half we just got away from everything we were doing."
With the retired Sloan off elsewhere doing a "dizzy duck" impression — that's what he said he'd be doing at his resignation press conference, at least — the arena wasn't lacking in ties to his time in Utah.
Not only did Corbin take over his head coaching spot on the bench, but former Jazz sharpshooter Jeff Hornacek also took a spot on the bench in a yet-to-be-defined assistant coaching position.
Former Sloan stalwarts Thurl Bailey and Mark Eaton were also at the arena.
Through coincidental timing, the state's most reliable Mailman happened to be in attendance as well.
After delivering a memorable pregame interview — one in which he defended Sloan and Johnson and then went on a Malonesque rant — Malone settled into a front-row seat about 10 feet away from Jazz players.
Understandably, a buzz of bizarreness permeated the building on this night.
For the first time since he joined the Jazz in 2005, the face of the franchise, Deron Williams, received a mixed reception in the building that usually roars in approval for the two-time All-Star.
Though cheered by many, Williams was booed loudly during introductions after reports and rumors linked him with Sloan's surprising resignation.
Jeers turned into near-unanimous cheers as Williams hit shot after shot in the first half en route to a near-triple-double of 19 points, 14 assists and eight rebounds.
Fill-in starter C.J. Miles added 19 points, Paul Millsap chipped in 14 and Gordon Hayward contributed 14 off the bench, but the Jazz were hurt by the lack of offensive production by Al Jefferson. The center only had four points to go with his 12 boards.
Nash led Phoenix (26-25) with 18 points and 10 assists as the Suns handed the Jazz (31-24) their fourth straight home loss.
The Jazz began the game shorthanded on the bench — both in coaches and players.
Mehmet Okur (back) didn't dress, and guards Raja Bell (strained left calf) and Ronnie Price (sprained right big toe) both sat out because of injuries.
Considering the dressy attire of Bell and Price, you might have thought they were Corbin's new assistants as they sat next to the small coaching staff that also includes Scott Layden and Hornacek.
But after starting with 10 healthy players, the Jazz ended up with just nine. Starting small forward Andrei Kirilenko sprained his right ankle in the first half. After hobbling off the court and into the training room, AK never returned to action.
X-rays on his ankle were negative, which was good for the Jazz. Utah's play without Kirilenko, however, also proved to be on the negative side.
The Jazz were up 50-37 when he left and took a 12-point lead into the locker room.
"He was playing well. He was being very active. He was handling the ball," Corbin said of Kirilenko, who ended with eight points, five boards and two assists in 13 minutes.
"He was making passes and making some shots. It affected us a little bit," Corbin added. "As I told them at halftime when we found out he wasn't playing, we can't make any excuses. We are the guys that are going to play. Nine guys are dressed and nine guys have to play."65 comments on this story
The Jazz will have three days to work on getting their new coach his first win as they don't play again until Tuesday night in Phoenix.
And for the record, Sloan won his second game as Jazz head coach.