The whole master plan, whereby the Jazz would escape their gruesome road trip with two wins, began to unravel when Milwaukee forward Fred Roberts replaced Danny Schayes near the end of the second period.
At the time it seemed innocuous enough. Roberts had done nothing of note before being replaced seven minutes into the game. His 6.2 scoring average wasn't anything to keep the Jazz up nights.How were they supposed to know?
But before the half had ended, the damage was done: Roberts had nine points in just one minute and 24 seconds. Although the Jazz still led at the break, it was all over but the formalities, as Milwaukee beat the Jazz 114-104 Monday night at the Bradley Center.
When Roberts and the Bucks were done, the Jazz road trip had turned sour again. They had lost to Orlando and Boston, but come back to handle Minnesota on Sunday. One-for-four was the best they could do on their week-long swing to the East and Midwest.
A check in the books proved the Jazz did accomplish one thing against the Bucks: records were falling. Utah committed a horrendous 29 turnovers, which wasn't a club record, but it was a season high and five more than the disastrous 24 against Phoenix in the season opener. John Stockton's 10 turnovers tied a Jazz record. And the Bucks' Alvin Robertson's 10 steals set a record for most steals against the Jazz in a game.
"For the most part," sighed the Jazz's Karl Malone, "we played a heck of a game. We did a lot of good things."
But not for long enough. Eleven Jazz turnovers in the third period and the Bucks had turned a 17-point deficit to a 14-point advantage.
Now the Jazz return to Salt Lake City even farther down the charts than they were when they left. But they're back home for 10 of the next 13 games, beginning Wednesday against Charlotte.
Initially, the Jazz game plan had worked well. They had pulled the Bucks into a half-court game and everything was working smoothly. Karl Malone was making jumpers, Blue Edwards was navigating his way out of a shooting slump and Stockton was doing everything - scoring, rebounding, passing, stealing.
It appeared the Jazz had all the planets lined up right. Stockton even hit a long three-point buzzer shot to end the first period with Utah leading 27-20.
What was good enough to work the first quarter was good enough for the second. The lead went up to nine, and even the ejection of Mike Brown for apparently swinging at Frank Brickowski didn't faze them. Seven minutes into the quarter, Utah held a 17-point lead.
Not far back in their minds was last year in Salt Lake, in which Utah saw to it that franchise records for both teams were set. The Jazz's 144-96 victory was the biggest win in franchise history, and the produced the biggest loss in Bucks' history."Last year they controlled the game early, and that's what they had going tonight," said Roberts.
But this year the Bucks changed the plan. Roberts, who entered for Schayes with 2:10 remaining in the half, waited only 14 seconds to score on a layup and draw a free throw, which he hit. Fourteen seconds later, the former BYU and Bingham High star stole the ball and laid up another basket. Twenty-one seconds later he blitzed in for a slam-dunk.
"They substituted and somebody didn't pick me up," offered Roberts.
A moment later, Roberts drove and picked up a foul on Thurl Bailey, sinking both shots. Then Brad Lohaus tipped in a shot at the halftime buzzer, to bring the Bucks to within four at 55-51.
The Jazz were beginning to get queasy.
The matter was decided early in the third period. Utah held a 63-60 lead at 8:02, but then coughed up 13 straight points in four minutes. This time it wasn't Roberts, but wiley old center Jack Sikma and guards Jay Humphries and Robertson.
"We were in a situation where we lost our engery," said Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan. "Their energy level picked up three or four notches as the game progressed."
In what was one of the most miserable quarter the Jazz have produced yet, they turned the ball over 11 times in the period. After the Bucks' long run, they led 73-63 and never let the Jazz back in.
The Jazz played hard, closing the lead to six early in the fourth quarter, but never got closer.
The Jazz, 2-6, were led by Malone with 24. Jeff Malone turned in a fine night, scoring 21 points, and Stockton ended up with 14 points, 15 assists, three steals and six rebounds.
Milwaukee put six playrs in double figures, including Ricky Pierce with 22, Sikma with 20 and Roberts with 19.
Although bitterly disappointed with the loss, the Jazz seemed determined to keep a moderate attitude about losing five of their last six games. "We're going to be a pretty good team," said Karl Malone. "This is the best Jazz team that I've been on. Once we get things in gear, we'll be fine."
But when that is, even the Mailman seems unable to answer just yet.
Game Notes: Milwaukee is 5-0 at home this year . . . Blue Edwards broke out of a shooting slump, going 6-11 and scoring 14 points.