By the end of the Jerry Sloan Weekend, rookies Eric Leckner and Jim Les were suddenly valuable players and the Jazz's new coach, well, he was a wreck. "I just about am exhausted," Sloan said. "It's about the longest two days of my life."
Sloan's first win as the head Jazzman was a 110-102 decison over the Los Angeles Clippers in the Sports Arena Saturday night. The Jazz rallied from 11 points down in the second half, making big defensive stops at the end and playing through potential disaster - foul trouble for John Stockton and Mark Eaton in a one-point game in the middle of the fourth quarter.That's where Leckner and Les came in. Leckner scored consecutive inside baskets and Les, who went out briefly and returned after Stockton played long enough to foul out, hit two clinching free throws with 38 seconds left. Sloan played the rookies longer than he had to, and they delivered for him. Leckner had eight points and four rebounds in 12 minutes and Les was very steady.
"We've got confidence in them," Sloan said.
In the final seconds, Sloan walked down the bench and received handshakes on the way. Later, assistant coach Scott Layden hugged him on the way off the floor. Maybe this was just a win over the Clippers, but the Jazz were hungry to close a crazy weekend with a win for Sloan - besides, the Clippers are not bad in this building.
"We were anxious to get back on track," said Thurl Bailey, thinking of Friday's whirlwind events and the home loss to Dallas.
Karl Malone shot poorly but finished with 26 points and 17 rebounds, while breaking a front tooth on a fall to the floor in the second quarter and receiving a gash above his nose in the third period. Stockton added 24 points and 13 assists, Bailey had 21 points and Darrell Griffith 20.
Point guards Gary Grant (17 points) and Norm Nixon were effective for the Clippers, combining for 32 points and 13 assists.
While the Jazz entered the game claiming road wins over only San Antonio and Sacramento this season, the Clippers were proving themselves as a good home team. They'd lost only to New York in overtime and the Lakers in a tough battle in the Sports Arena.
So here were the Jazz, in just another day in the life of Jerry Sloan, head coach. He rode in the first-class cabin on the team's flight, took Frank Layden's traditional seat on the bus - row one, passenger side - and spent the afternoon in his hotel room, fielding telephone calls.
"It's really been hectic," he said, during a series of pregame interviews. "When this game is over, things will start to level off. I'm a little drained physically, and mentally, too."
Is he uncomfortable? "Not at all," Sloan said. "I'm excited about it; it's just that my role now has completely changed - there are certainly a lot more demands on my time."
Sloan, whose coaching style has him on his feet patrolling the sidelines for roughly 46 minutes a game, will barely have time to gather himself. The Jazz play Miami in the Salt Palace Monday and leave Tuesday for a six-game eastern swing.
Against the Clippers, the Jazz's 25-19 first-quarter lead was quickly gone when Nixon scored 10 points over Stockton early in the second period. Malone shook off his toothache to become a force inside, keeping the Jazz in the game - although they ended up being outscored 37-22 in the quarter.
The final stretch of the half was damaging to the Jazz, with only a Stockton free throw interrupting a nine-point Clipper run that started with Reggie Williams' jumper and follow dunk.
The Clips took a 56-47 lead into the second half, only to have Malone bring the Jazz within four points right away with a three-point play. The Jazz spent the rest of the quarter falling behind and coming back, eventually trailing 82-78 after Bailey's inside basket and Malone's two free throws.
The Jazz finally took their first lead of the second half on a Stockton drive with 8:16 left but appeared in trouble just two minutes later when Stockton and Mark Eaton both had to come out after collecting their fifth fouls on fairly cheap calls. Les and Leckner responded, though, with Leckner delivering two straight inside scores. When Griffith drove for a layup, the Jazz were up 100-95 with 3:51 left.
"It feels good to get quality minutes, where something's expected of you, and go out and produce," said Leckner, who has scored more points previously only when games were long ago decided.
Griffith later added a clutch three-pointer with the shot clock running down and a rebound basket, and the Jazz were safe. With the help of Les' clinching free throws, Sloan had win No. 1 - and a day off.
Said Sloan at the end of a long weekend, "Nothing's ever easy for me."
JAZZ NOTES: Forward Mike Brown, sent home before Friday's game when he had the flu, did not make the trip. Having started the season with a thigh injury, Brown has dressed for only seven of 19 games. Clipper forward Charles Smith, the team's leading scorer (16.8), came off the injured list Thursday but fell and bruised his hip and sprained his wrist and is sidelined again . . . Eaton's hook early in the third quarter came after three scoreless halves . . . Les was the most relieved Jazzman when the third quarter ended. In the last three seconds, Les had his inbounds pass stolen under the Clipper basket, then he fouled Joe Wolf - but Wolf missed both free throws.