Karl Malone has been saying lately that he doesn't want to be the big scorer this year like he has been last couple of years. "I hope I don't score 30 points a night this year, I really don't," he said.
For most of Thursday night's game with San Antonio, Malone looked like he was doing his darnedest not to even make it into double figures.His first two shots were airballs . . . his first three free throws bonked off the front of the rim . . . and when he got the ball down low, he showed little interest in going to the basket. With a little over five minutes left in the game, the Mailman had a mere five points and the Jazz were clinging to a precarious 86-82 lead over the injury-riddled Spurs.
Then, just like he was turning on a switch, Malone suddenly exploded and looked like his reliable old self. He scored nine of the next 11 Jazz points, including three straight long jumpers.
And the Jazz ended up with a fairly comfortable nine-point win thanks to the Mailman's late delivery.
Malone admitted he wasn't looking to score early in the game and that his free throw troubles (4 of 12 on the night) were concentration problems. But when crunch time came he was ready.
"There comes a time in a ballgame when your teammates are looking at you and you have to get something going. I struggled at the beginning, but they called my number a lot at the end," he said.
Coach Jerry Sloan said there was no design to keep the ball away from Malone and let the other players do the scoring, which is how it worked out for a while.
"We tried to throw it into him a couple of times, but they did a pretty good job of keeping it away from him," he said.
Until midway through the final quarter, Malone's stats showed 1 for 8 from the field, with his only basket coming on a dunk in the first quarter. After making a free throw at the 5:32 mark, Malone sank a turnaround 12-footer on the left baseline to make it 89-84.
After missing two more free throws, he made another baseline turnaround to make it 93-86 and followed with a pair of swishers from the right angle to counter a pair of baskets by David Robinson.
With less than a minute left, Malone moved his range out a bit too far and missed from 20 feet after making four in a row. But fortunately Mark Eaton was there for the follow, and the Jazz were safe.
"Karl made some big shots at the end, and those were tough shots," said Sloan.
Malone's frustration after the game had more to do with the Salt Palace fans than with his play during the game.
"It's amazing how the fans can turn on you," he said. "They were saying things like `Get it going' or `Open your eyes' or `What's wrong with you tonight?' But that's life. They love you one day and boo you the next."
Malone did have a good night on the boards, pulling down a game-high 15 rebounds. Besides his 4 for 12 from the line, he finished 5 for 14 from the field.
"When you're out there having a rough time of it," said Malone, "the only thing you're thinking is hopefully the next one will go down."
Thankfully for the Jazz, Malone's shots finally went down when it counted.