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After losing their opening game by 39 points to the Jazz, the Phoenix Suns were back on the air by late Saturday afternoon, looking more like a playoff team is supposed to. They overcame another spell of atrocious shooting to hold off the Jazz 102-92 at Veteran's Memorial Coliseum.It wasn't a great game of daring shots and exceptional plays. But at least the one-sided scores are subsiding. If nothing else, Saturday's game served to settle down what began as a truly weird playoff experience on Thursday.
The best-of-five series is now evened at one game apiece, with play moving up to Salt Lake beginning Tuesday night. It appears now the Jazz and Suns are ready to get down to ordinary (read: close) basketball.
"This was playoff basketball as I remember it," said Suns' Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons. "The other night only one team played."
Ah, yes. The other night. That was the opener, in which the Jazz beat the Suns by a whopping 129-90 margin, sending the
subs in long before the final horn. But already things are getting back to business-as-usual. This one wasn't decided until midway through the fourth quarter, when it became apparent the Jazz couldn't close on a six-point deficit.
The last hugely lopsided score has probably come and gone.
"I think so," said Suns guard Jeff Hornacek. "I hope so."
"I don't think you can use the first game as a barometer," said Jazz guard John Stockton. "It was a different game, especially when you consider the two teams that were playing. You throw that one out and evaluate this one straight up."
While the Suns looked much more like their old selves Saturday, there were still, to them, some disturbing incongruities. Although they beat the Jazz by 10 points, they shot only 42 percent - hardly the standard for playoff basketball excellence. All-Star Kevin Johnson finished with 10 points, making only two of 10 shots. Xavier McDaniel, another highly recommended hired gun, was 3-for-13.
"A lot of people expect us to score so many points, and I think they're spoiled by that," said Suns' forward Tom Chambers. "When they see me or Horny (Jeff Hornacek) or Kevin (Johnson) missing shots, they think that's the whole basketball game. But in the playoffs, it takes on a whole different perspective. We were able to get our playoff faces on now, even though it took us a game."
For most of the first half, the Suns were going along the same trail they took when they were wiped out in the previous game. They didn't score their first basket until they'd played a minute and a half. They made only nine of their first 23 shots.
But instead of being in trouble, they were in the thick of the race. The Jazz, who were on their way to missing nine free throws on the night, were unable to take advantage of Phoenix's continued poor shooting.
By the end of the half, the Jazz were only leading 41-40.
"At half in the first game," said Hornacek, "we were down by 13 points and had shot 35 percent. Tonight, we were shooting 35 percent at half and were down by just one. We knew if we stuck by our defense, we'd get them."
Although not especially artful, the game did have its moments of intrigue. Jazz guard Jeff Malone and Suns' forward Dan Majerle, both of whom didn't practice on Friday due to injuries, were present and accounted for. Malone turned in a fine 23-point night. Majerle scored 12 points and took in five rebounds.
But the story of the night was the sudden appearance of backup center Andrew Lang. The 6-foot-11 Suns player easily eclipsed his season high for points, coming off the bench to score 20 points and get eight rebounds. (See story on page D1.) While Lang was having an unheard-of night, Jazz center Mark Eaton wasn't. Plagued by foul troubles, he was whistled out with 6:04 to go in the game, finishing with four points and four rebounds.
Things began to go sour on the Jazz in the middle of the third quarter when they went eight possessions without a field goal. Leading 54-53, they suddenly saw the Suns outscore them 8-1 to go ahead 61-55.
The Jazz got within four points in the fourth period before losing their hold for good. Karl Malone committed a foul, then drew a technical with 4:46 to go, which put the Suns ahead 83-75. Lang slammed home a shot, and the Jazz couldn't get closer than a six-point deficit.
The Jazz were hurt by 22 turnovers and, according to Sloan, lost concentration, allowing several easy Suns' baskets.
Hornacek, who was limited to just three points on Thursday, came back to lead the Suns with 25, including 13 straight free throws. Jeff Malone's 23 points topped the Jazz, while Stockton and Karl Malone got 22 apiece.
Despite the Jazz winning one of two and now having two home games coming up against the Suns, the Mailman was in no mood for consolation.
"First of all, when we came in here (people said) we didn't have a prayer. To say, `Hey, we got one down here' is B.S. You go in to win two," he said.
"Now we go home. We can watch the tape of Thursday's game and tonight and we can adjust. We know what we want to do."
As for the Suns, they were merely relieved that their first game malady wasn't long-lasting.
"I hate to say it," said Fitzsimmons, "but I would have enjoyed the game even if we'd lost. Because tonight I saw emotion.
"We got good play from everbody. I'm glad we're back in the series. It's 1-1 and I'm looking forward to our next one."