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Jazz subs sink Suns in win

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The Jazz were down early, seemingly headed for a loss.

Coming out of a second-quarter timeout, Greg Ostertag gathered his teammates on the Delta Center floor. He had a thought. It went something like this: "Look, we've been in this situation in a couple games lately, and we can bring this back."

Often, those around Ostertag might simply tune out the much-maligned backup center.

This time, though, was different.

"If he says something we don't agree with, it goes in one ear and out the other," forward Scott Padgett laughed later. "But that one actually made sense."

Sensible, and correct.

Utah used a 17-0 first-half run from its subs to rally from 14 points down Tuesday night, then easily held off Phoenix to win 98-84 and open a five-game homestand with several facts in its favor.

One is six victories in the past seven games, including two in a row. Another is that credit must go to the strength of its bench, something becoming quite a habit for the 18-16 Jazz.

"We'd be sunk without the second unit," starting point guard John Stockton said. "They're playing with great confidence and zeal, and just getting it done."

Having fun doing it, too, which is something that cannot be said of the Jazz's starting five.

"I thought our second group came in and put us in a good situation, to where we had a little bit of life and a lot of energy," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said.

"They've done a good job the last five or six games. I think that's huge for us," Sloan added, "(because) we're really getting off to some terrible starts with our starters. We don't have confidence in each other to pass the ball and run our offense."

Because of that, on this occasion, the Jazz found themselves down by 10 less than five minutes into the game.

Late in the first quarter the Suns lead was up to 14, 30-16.

At that point, power forward Karl Malone was on the bench with just two points on 1-of-7 shooting, and the rest of Utah's starters (Stockton, second-season shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson, veteran small forward Donyell Marshall and rookie center Jarron Collins, who wound up with a career-high 13 points) were sitting alongside him.

It's also when the reserve crew of point guard John Crotty (10 points), shooting guard Bryon Russell (11 points), small forward Andrei Kirilenko (six rebounds), power forward Padgett (a career-high 17 points) and middle-man Ostertag (five blocks) really went to work, reeling off that 17-0 run largely on the strength of 3-pointers from Crotty, Russell and Padgett.

"(That) really stretched the defense," Crotty said.

It also stretched the time Sloan kept Malone on the bench.

"That doesn't happen very often," the Jazz coach said when asked about Utah outscoring its opponent 33-9 during a quarter in which Malone did nothing but lounge.

"But I thought Scott . . . did a terrific job. It was hard to take him off the floor," Sloan added of Padgett, whose 17 points came just one game after the third-year forward tied his previous career high, scoring 16 in Saturday night's overtime win at Chicago. "I thought he deserved to play a bit more — and he will certainly get more opportunities with the way he's been playing the last couple of games."

By the end of the opening half, after Utah had outscored Phoenix 35-9 since being down by 14, the Jazz advantage stood at 12.

Malone did return to score 15 points in the second half, giving him 17 to match Padgett and Suns teammates Shawn Marion and Rodney Rogers for game-high honors.

Phoenix never did close to less than eight. And after Malone made a layup with 9:57 to go, Utah's lead stood at double digits the rest of the way, a couple of times going as high as 20.

"They got their second team in, and their second team came in and played good for them," Rogers said. "They got them back in the ballgame, and they took over the game."

Had a good time doing it, too, which . . . is something that cannot be said of the Jazz's starting five.

"It's amazing what you see," Sloan said, "when you have five guys who seem to be happy, and having fun."

Sensible, and correct.


E-MAIL: tbuckley@desnews.com