The Great Japan Experience came to a dramatic finish Saturday night, and for the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns, it was the only way to end what had been a, well, exotic week. After two games in the Orient, neither had to go home feeling the whole trip was a waste.
With this series, two wins would have been good, but two losses would have been a disastrous way to start a season.Tom Chambers' 10-foot jumper in the lane fell away at the buzzer as the Jazz took a 102-101 victory over Phoenix Saturday night in Metropolitan Gymnasium.
When Chambers' shot fell away, both teams walked onto the court and waved farewell to the crowd, which gave the teams a standing ovation.
"We know it would have been a long ride home if we hadn't won," said Malone. "We came over here, we made history, and now we can go home."
Malone led the Jazz with 29 points, including two free throws with 41 seconds to go to give the Jazz the winning margin.
Malone missed an 18-footer with eight seconds remaining, setting up Phoenix's final try. The Suns in-bounded the ball after a timeout and Kevin Johnson worked the ball in to Chambers, who backed into the lane on Malone then put up the final shot.
Jazz forward Thurl Bailey got 15 points and Jeff Malone 13. Kevin Johnson led Phoenix with 28.
Friday's first game was everything the Jazz had been concerned about going in. They were unable to get back quickly enough on defense to keep the Suns from getting their running game going in the second half. The result was a number of transition baskets in the second half that took Utah from a one-point deficit at the half to a 23-point loss.
In that game, Coach Jerry Sloan pulled a surprise move by starting Bailey, who he had indicated during the exhibition season that Bailey would probably begin the year as a sixth man. But with Bailey starting, the Jazz got little help from the bench. Blue Edwards was the most effective, with six points in 22 minutes, but all totaled, the bench only contributed 13 points.
"I was a littled disappointed the way we came off the bench," said Sloan.
This time the Jazz got eight badly needed bench points from Darrell Griffith.
After shooting almost 60 percent for the first half, the Jazz ended the first game at only 44 percent, making just 13 of 42 attempts in the second half.
Game 2 of the NBA Japan series had virtually the same trappings as the first. The contest was preceded by highlight videos of NBA players; The Chicken and the Memphis State pon-pon girls performed during timeouts and a Japanese high school band played the nation's national anthem. There were drum rolls and Springsteen music and smoke plumes, same as the day before.
And, naturally, a record number of snapshots were taken by fans, who couldn't in good faith return home without the requisite photo of America's Famous Mailman.
Not much changed with the teams, either. They played through an identically close first period.
Utah built a three-point lead, but couldn't extend it. The lead changed hands eight times in the quarter, but John Stockton's inside shot with three seconds left in the period gave the Jazz a 31-29 lead.
Karl Malone, who scored 33 points in the opening-night loss to the Suns, led the first period scoring with 10 points.
Utah built its lead up to five points in the second period. Darrell Griffith came off the bench to score five points, including a three-pointer with 5:09 remaining in the half.
Jeff Malone's one-handed hook-jump with 18 seconds left in the half provided the Jazz with a 53-52 lead.
Neither Karl Malone, who had 33 points on Friday night, nor Tom Chambers, who got 38, were as much a factor early on Saturday. Malone had scored 12 by the half and Chambers, bothered by three personal fouls ended the half with six points. Chambers finished the game with 19 points.
Jazz forward Bailey scored 15 while Eddie Johnson got 11 for the Suns.
Kenny Battle came off the bench to score nine first-half points.
By the time the third quarter was rolling along, it was obvious this wouldn't be the same story as the previous day. The teams remained close, with the Jazz edging out to a 66-62 lead with 7:00 remaining. Although Phoenix made an effort to start the transition game going, the Jazz kept Kevin Johnson in check.
Utah's Jeff Malone, who was held to 11 points on Friday, went to work in the third period, scoring eight points. His shooting helped ignite Utah to an 81-75 lead. But Phoenix came back with a five-point run to pull the Suns to into an 82-82 tie.
Karl Malone led the Jazz with a nine-point quarter while Kevin Johnson had the same for the Suns.
Neither team could get more than a two-point lead in the final quarter. Karl Malone's hammer dunk with 3:32 to go put Utah ahead 97-95, but Dan Majerle answered with a basket of his own after a spell of missing by both teams.
The teams traded free throws down the stretch, with Karl Malone putting Utah up 102-101 with 41 seconds left.
Now that the Tokyo trip is over, the Jazz have a troublesome November schedule to consider. They are off until Thursday's home opener against San Antonio, then travel to Houston for next Sunday's contest.