Opening night at the Salt Palace came off as well the marketing and promotions people could have hoped. The pre-game indoor fireworks display went off without a hitch (unlike other years). The house was full, as it will likely be for the remaining 39 home games. The Jazz even managed to contain The Admiral, David Robinson, which hasn't always been the case, either.
And if you bought a ticket hoping to see your favorite player on a good night, you probably got your money's worth . . . depending on when you went out for refreshments.Several Jazz players took a few minutes each to steal the spotlight as Utah took a 103-94 win over the San Antonio Spurs, Thursday. Unlike most games, where a player carries the team all the way through, this one had a little bit from everyone. Karl Malone went the first 42 1/2 minutes scoring only one field goal, then rang up 10 points in the last three minutes. Jeff Malone spent the first half missing open jumpers, then spent the third period making San Antonio Coach Larry Brown, the original Accidental Tourist himself, think about moving again. Thurl Bailey and John Stockton also had flurries that kept the Jazz slightly ahead of their new, dangerous Midwest Division rival.
The first of five games this year between the Jazz and Spurs is over, and both teams now know it's likely to be a long, exhausting battle to see who wins the division crown. As Brown said of the Jazz this year, "I really didn't think they needed a heck of a lot more to get better."
Ditto for the Spurs.
With two Spurs starters out with injuries, Robinson playing on a tender left foot and Paul Pressey bogged down part of the game by a groin pull, the Jazz can expect even more trouble when they meet the Spurs Jan. 12 in San Antonio.
Indeed, the Jazz can't take much solace in the win, considering the circumstances. The Spurs limped into the game with guards Rod Strickland and Willie Anderson out with stress fractures and Robinson listed only as a "probable" to play. Still, the Spurs sent waves of talent at the Jazz. Four players outside the starting lineup played 13 minutes or more. All five players on the bench scored points. All totaled, the Spurs got 24 points off the bench. "That is such a talented team," said Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan.
The Jazz got off to a rather unspectacular start, with Karl Malone, preoccupied with muscling inside with Spurs' veteran David Greenwood, missing four of his first six free throws and seven of his first eight field goal attempts.
"When you're out there, and it isn't going down for you, all you can do is hope that the next one will," said Malone. "It comes if you keep after it."
If Malone was keeping after it, so were some of the fans, who rode him for his poor shooting. After the game he referred to the taunts by saying, "That's just one of those things where the fans - it's amazing how they turn on you. But I get paid a lot of money, so that's part of it.
"I can hear fans and what they're saying, but I accept it because of who I am."
The first Jazz players to make a dent in San Antonio's plans were John Stockton and Thurl Bailey, who scored 12 and 10 points, respectively, in the second period. Bailey's mostly came on a series of hooks, and Stockton landed two three-pointers near the end of the half to boost Utah's lead to 47-42. Stockton turned in the best night of any Jazz player, finishing with 24 points and 17 assists. However, it was a performance that only drew attention when he made his home run shots.
Meanwhile, it was obvious The Admiral was, if not on AWOL, at least on partial furlough. He managed 22 points but made just seven of 17 shots, missing several inside. "Robinson looked a little tired or sick or something," said Sloan.
Utah made motions at blowing the Spurs out in the third period, taking a 14-point lead on the strength of Jeff Malone's hot streak. Jeff, who was 0-for-5 from the field in the first half, made five of seven shots and scored 13 points in the third period, relying on a string of fadeaway jumpers. "I've been in the league long enough to know you can miss six in a row, but with 10 or 15 seconds to go, you might make the shot that wins the game," he said.
The lead, once fat and comforting, shriveled to one point in the fourth period. The Jazz stagnated through much of the fourth quarter, failing to get much movement and missing easy shots. Greenwood's hook shot with 6:53 remaining closed the Jazz lead to 83-82.
But Karl Malone, who had 15 rebounds, slipped into a trance of outside shooting that included four perimeter baskets, and Utah took a 97-90 lead with 1:30 to go. Malone finally missed a 20-footer with 52 secconds left, but Mark Eaton was there to rebound the ball and slam it home.
Utah plays at Houston on Sunday while the Spurs meet the Rockets on Saturday.
The win moved both teams' records to 2-1. It also extended a formidable winning streak in the Salt Palace, where the Jazz have beaten San Antonio 13 straight.