PHOENIX — Their effort didn't result in a victory in Phoenix on Tuesday night, but the Utah Jazz showed some progress in Tyrone Corbin's second game as head coach.
The shorthanded Jazz — especially compared to how they played in Corbin's debut against the same team on Friday — had better energy, executed more efficiently on offense and fought back from a fourth-quarter deficit before losing a 102-101 heartbreaker to the Suns on Tuesday.
"We're coming around," Corbin said. "Guys are relaxing a little bit and we're playing forward, which is the most positive thing about it. We're recognizing where we are and we're building from there. I'm really not disappointed in the effort, just some of the mistakes we made down the stretch."
Certainly, those mistakes were killers for the Jazz.
Utah had three chances to either tie the game or go ahead in the final minute and failed each time. Down 99-98 with 40 seconds left to play, Al Jefferson, who scored a season-high 32 points, threw up an airball to give possession back to the Suns.
After forcing a 24-second shot-clock violation, the Jazz left the ball in the hands of their best player. Deron Williams, after freeing himself with a left-to-right crossover, missed a 19-foot jumper in rhythm with 10.9 seconds left. That miss was a heartbreaker for the Jazz, as Williams had drained a 3-pointer on a similar move to make it 99-98.
"I've won a lot of games with that same shot," said a dejected Williams.
The Jazz's final opportunity to tie or take the lead came when Phoenix was up 100-98. Paul Millsap took a pass from Williams and drove hard before losing the ball out of bounds near the basket with seven seconds remaining. He wanted a foul call on the play but didn't get it.
"He got the ball in a good spot, may have had the opportunity to stop and make a 6-foot jump shot but he went for the foul and didn't get the call," Corbin said. "We have to live with it."
Steve Nash then sank two free throws with 2.9 seconds left. C.J. Miles made a 3-pointer with 0.3 seconds remaining and all Phoenix had to do was inbound the ball to end the game.
There are no moral victories in the NBA, but the Jazz feel they're headed in the right direction with how they played against Phoenix.
"We played harder," Williams said. "Everybody's playing hard. We're trying. They got hot today."
Channing Frye, in particular, scorched the nets.
He scored a career-high 31 points and made six 3-pointers. He almost single-handedly kept the Suns in the game in the first half by making his first five 3-pointers and first eight overall field goal attempts. The Jazz outplayed the Suns for much of the first half, leading by as many as eight, but couldn't get further ahead because of Frye's hot hand.
Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry was disappointed Frye didn't get more shots in the first half.
"I thought Channing got us off to a great start," Gentry said. "I got to introduce our guys to the guy that's making shots. He's making shots and we can't seem to get him the ball after he made his first five."
Corbin didn't have the luxury of feeding the hot hand, benching players or placing blame. He hardly had anyone to sub in the game.
The Jazz had just nine players available because of injuries to Mehmet Okur (back), Andrei Kirilenko (sprained ankle), Raja Bell (strained calf) and Ronnie Price (toe). That left Earl Watson as the only guard on the bench, and he played 36-plus minutes.
Corbin had to mix and match his players, going with unconventional lineup combinations during several stretches of the game.
Utah, despite being shorthanded, led 89-81 with 7:12 to play, but didn't score during the next four minutes.
"We fell off, but we fought back," Corbin said. "That's a good sign for us, but it's a game we felt we should have won."
No player was more disappointed in the loss than Williams. He shot 2-for-11 from the field, finishing with 11 points and 11 assists.
"A lot of guys played well for us," Williams said. "I'm just sick of playing like crap. I need to pull my weight and help this team."
Williams said there's no excuse for how he's shooting the ball.
"It's mental," he said. "I just don't have the confidence right now in my shot and it's affecting the rest of my game. I just got to go out there and shoot and have some confidence. Easier said than done.'
The Jazz have one more chance to give Corbin his first victory as a head coach when they host Golden State tonight. It is their final game before the All-Star break, and they want to take some pressure off of Corbin by picking up a win.
"We definitely want to get coach his first win — get that monkey off his back, so we can come back fresh and be able to just go all out the rest of the season," Miles said.