Game 1 of the Jerry Sloan Years found the Jazz fighting like crazy just to threaten the Dallas Mavericks. They had trouble in a halfcourt game, trailed by 15 points in the third quarter and never could quite overtake the Mavs in a 97-89 loss in the Salt Palace Friday night.
The Bring Back Frank campaign should be starting anytime soon."The honeymoon's over, right?" mused Sloan, taking over for the departing Frank Layden and showing he has potential in delivering postgame quotes, even if he's 0-1 lifetime as the Jazz head coach.
The only trouble with Sloan's coronation was the Jazz had to play the Mavs, who broke Utah's seven-game winning streak two weeks ago in Dallas. This time, Dallas kept the Jazz from breaking a franchise record with a 10th straight home victory.
Dallas guard Rolando Blackman scored 18 of his 22 points in the second half, closing with a bank shot for a five-point lead with 44 seconds left. The Jazz had come as close as two points midway through the fourth quarter before guard Derek Harper hit a jumper and three-pointer. Later, forward Sam Perkins scored twice when the Dallas lead was three.
"We weathered the storm down the stretch," said Dallas Coach John MacLeod.
The Jazz's late run was stirred up mostly by Karl Malone, who finished with 29 points. John Stockton had a curious game with 21 points, but only nine assists to go with nine turnovers, while Thurl Bailey had 19 points and Darrell Griffith 16.
"`I'm probably as proud of these guys as I'll be, all the time I'm coaching," Sloan said after the comeback try. "They really played hard."
Pinning down any distinctive Sloan philosophies after one game was difficult, because forward-center Mike Brown was sent home before the game with the flu - he's not expected to travel to Los Angeles for tonight's game with the Clippers. Sloan used Malone for all of the second half, a result of Brown's absence, but also went with Darrell Griffith for the whole second half while using Stockton for only 34 minutes, with Stockton having a tough night and reserve Jim Les playing well in a second-half stretch.
No doubt, this was a tough day for the Jazz, who did not react with especially inspired play as most teams do after a coaching change. Of course, this was not the usual firing-replacement switch that comes in the middle of a season. "I thought we did a pretty good job of playing through what was going on," said Griffith.
"It was quiet," Malone said of the mood in the locker room. "You'd have thought somebody had died."
Layden, meanwhile, kept a decidedly low profile on his first night as the team president. He reported as usual to the coaches' office before the game to visit with his former assistants, but team owner Larry Miller had to convince him to come out for a brief pregame ceremony, during which he received a warm, 55-second standing ovation and hugs from all the players. Sloan was also loudly cheered during the standard introductions, after which the Jazz scored the first six points of the game.
Is Sloan a great coach or what?
The only trouble was, the Mavs came back. By halftime, they had a 46-40 lead and the Jazz were clearly struggling. But after falling behind by 15 in the third quarter when Blackman started heating up and the Mavs went hard to the offensive boards, the Jazz made their move and turned on the sellout crowd more than they had all season, which proves there's something to be said for close games _ as long as the home team wins. As the final minute was slowly played out, hardly anybody was left in the seats. Layden was gone, too, having left immediately after his ceremony.
When Stockton hit a 15-footer with 7:38 left to cut the lead to 77-75, everything was in place for a storybook end to Sloan's whirlwind day. But the Mavs had other ideas.
Harper hit his back-to-back shots and probably the best news of the fourth quarter for the Mavs came when Mark Aguirre (3 of 14) collected his fifth foul and went to the bench. MacLeod kept him there for the last six minutes, while Perkins and Blackman came up with big plays. The Jazz's best chance of the last three minutes came after a Blackman miss when they were down 88-85, and Stockton passed up a 3-point chance and went to Griffith, who miss an 18-footer.
And so ended the Jazz's biggest news day since Miller bought the team . . . and since they traded Adrian Dantley. The players acted like they'd miss Layden a little more. "It was really hard to look over and not see him there," said Malone.