He and the Phoenix Suns were ready.
Nash had 18 points and 10 assists to lift the Suns over the Jazz 95-83 on Friday night, spoiling the debut of new Utah coach Ty Corbin.
“The energy in the building was big and we knew something was going to happen,” Nash said. “They obviously felt inspired to win for their new coach and we just had to weather the storm.”
Nash scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half as the Suns sizzled and the Jazz fell flat after taking a 15-point lead in the first. The Suns outscored the Jazz 51-27 over the final two quarters and won going away.
“It was very emotional to start the game and we played off of that, but eventually it ran out,” Paul Millsap(notes) said. “Mentally, the guys were drained. It’s been a tough few days with the losses and what happened with coach on top of that.”
Sloan was a fixture on Utah’s bench for 26 years, 23 as a head coach—the longest active tenure in major American professional sports before he abruptly retired Thursday.
“It was weird and different when I looked to the bench and expected Coach Sloan to call a play,” Millsap said.
The Hall of Famer is the third-winningest coach in NBA history with a record of 1,221-803. Corbin is still looking for his first as a head coach at any level.
“We ran out of gas,” Corbin said. “In the second half, we just got away from everything we were doing.”
Some said a clash with Williams was to blame for Sloan’s departure, but Sloan said he merely lost the energy needed to coach in his famously intense manner. When Williams, who openly challenged Sloan at times this season, was introduced before the game, loud cheers were mixed with a measure of boos.
“Maybe I feel a little more pressure now,” Williams said. “Do I care what the fans think of me? Yeah, I’d be lying if I didn’t. I don’t want them to think I ran a Hall of Fame coach out. But I can’t get caught up in that anymore. … They can choose who they want to believe.”
Meanwhile, the Suns (26-25), who have won four straight against Utah, are headed the other direction. Phoenix moved above .500 for the first time since Dec. 7 with its sixth win in seven games.
“When things weren’t pretty for us, we had guys step up for us,” Nash said. “It may not be in our mentality that defense is going to win us games, but we’ve been playing that way the last three weeks and defense has us winning.”
Corbin, a former Jazz player in the 1990s who has been an assistant coach since 2004, received a sustained ovation as he walked into the arena and took his place in front of Utah’s bench. Before the game, the new coach acknowledged he was nervous and joked he might call Sloan at halftime for some advice.
But he and the Jazz were fine in the first half, and led 56-44 at the break.
“The key was energy,” Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said. “Hakim and Marcin gave us that. They helped turn around the hustle plays and made a big difference.”
When Andrei Kirilenko(notes) twisted his right ankle in a scramble for the ball in the second quarter and limped to the locker room, the Jazz were down to nine healthy players. Raja Bell(notes) sat out with a strained left calf and Ronnie Price(notes) did not dress due to a sprained toe, while Francisco Elson(notes) played with an inflamed knee.
The Jazz appeared energized from the start and raced out to a 13-2 lead. Corbin sat in his seat most of the time, rising only to call a play or remind a player of a defensive assignment.
“We were all high on emotion,” Hayward said. “We were all into it and wanted to play for Coach Ty, but defensively we didn’t get stops and we couldn’t get into transition.”
Notes: Former Jazz star Karl Malone sat courtside and told reporters before the game he was shocked that Sloan abruptly resigned because “Coach don’t quit nothing.” … “Come Home Sloan” and “Can’t We Just Kiss and Make Up” were some of the signs lamenting Sloan’s departure. … Kirilenko missed three games in early February with a sprained left ankle. … Hill and Vince Carter(notes) went over to the Jazz bench to offer congratulations to Corbin before the opening tip.