PHOENIX The rookies were overwhelmed. The regulars had a tough stretch, too.
In the end, though, they managed to do what Jazz teams of a season or two ago might not have: They came back, rallying from 15 points behind in the third quarter and six points down with just more than two minutes remaining to beat Phoenix 108-104.
Andrei Kirilenko sparked the Friday-night victory at US Airways Center with a 17-point, 14-rebound double-double and dished three assists, including two to 17-point scorer Matt Harpring in the final one minute and 22 seconds.
The Jazz's go-ahead basket was fed by Deron Williams to Carlos Boozer, who dunked in the last of his team-high 21 points and along with 12 boards capped his second double-double in as many games this season.
Two free throws from 18-point scorer Derek Fisher with 9.3 seconds to go sealed the deal for coach Jerry Sloan's club, which after winning its 2006-07 road opener and improving to 2-0 readily admitted to feeling awfully good about itself.
"This team is different, I think," said Williams, a rookie in 2005-06. "Last year, we realized that we let a lot of games slip away late in the game and we can't afford to do that if we want to be a playoff team.
"It's a game that last year we easily would have gave up. ... It shows a lot about how we want to win this year."
For a while, though, Sloan was wondering if that's what the Jazz really wanted.
Rookies Ronnie Brewer and Paul Millsap seemed awestruck in facing the lightning-fast Suns, with Brewer committing two turnovers and a foul in his three scoreless first-half minutes and Millsap managing to pick up three fouls and make a turnover of his own in a short second-quarter span of just 1:19.
Sloan never did go back to either one, and chalked it off to a learning experience.
"They're rookies," he said.
The Jazz coach, though, wasn't so kind with his remarks about C.J. Miles, the 19-year-old second-season shooting guard who was making his second straight start.
Miles had a couple steals, a couple assists and a couple points in his 18 minutes, but shot just 1-of-5 from the field and caught some flak for his less-than-edgy play.
"He came out kind of soft," Sloan said. "I mean, I don't care if he's 19 or 30. If he's going to be on the floor in the NBA, he's got to be able to step up and get after it. We can't put diapers on him one night, and a jockstrap the next night. It's just the way it is."
What really riled Sloan, however, was a second quarter in which the Jazz committed a whopping 12 turnovers one shy of the team record for most miscues in a period and blew what had been an early 13-point lead.
Phoenix won the quarter 36-18, and went into the break up seven at 54-47.
The coach's consternation continued into the third quarter, when midway through the period a fastbreak layup by ex-Jazz guard Raja Bell put the Suns up 71-56.
Eight seconds later Sloan called a timeout and replaced starters Miles, Williams, Boozer and double-double center Mehmet Okur (13 points, 11 rebounds) with Harpring, Fisher, Gordon Giricek and Jarron Collins.
That group got the Jazz back in the game, and allowed Sloan to finish with his horses namely Williams, Boozer and Kirilenko well-rested.
"They kind of quit on me for a little bit there," Sloan said. "We had a stretch where we looked like we didn't want to win the game.
"But those guys fought back, and got us back to where it looked like we'd have a chance. That's what we have to overcome as a group to think that we can't win when we get down a little bit.
"We started hanging our head," he added, "and they (the Suns) were just running us off the floor."
By game's end, though, Jazz heads were held high.
"We didn't overreact when we got down 15," Fisher said, "and we didn't want to panic or overreact when we were down with six with a couple minutes to go.
"We just wanted to keep doing the things that we know we're capable of doing."
They did just that, pounding the ball inside on three successive scoring plays the two Harpring baskets, and Boozer's stay-ahead bucket and even managing to, get this, impress Sloan a bit with their evident unity.
E-mail: [email protected]