It was a night Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan should remember fondly for years. Down-and-dirty defense. Relentless pursuit. Diving for loose balls. Forced 24-second violations on the opposition. The clock running out and the Jazz pulling away. Now available for your gift-giving pleasure: "Jerry Sloan's Greatest Hits," coming soon to a video store near you.
Wednesday night at the Salt Palace, the Jazz embarrassed the Big, Bad Detroit Pistons, 106-85. "I guess," mused Jazz guard Delaney Rudd, "we were just a little bit badder."Certainly, it was a Sloan kind of night. Long a fanatical proponent of defense, Sloan had his team clinging to the Pistons like smoker's breath. Jeff Malone, who has built a career on a great fadeaway jumper, was phenomenal offensively, making 13 of 20 shots. But he also turned in a notable defensive game. On one play he blocked a shot and followed with a crucial basket on the other end. "A great defensive play," he laughed. "I'll make the ESPN defensive play of the week."
Perhaps they all will.
Everyone wanted to get into the act, in one way or another. Mark Eaton, never known as a big offensive threat, hurt the Pistons badly with 13 points. Karl Malone was his usual self, grappling his way through the inside and making opponents wish they had another job, scoring 23 points. John Stockton had a 14-point, 18-assist night. The Jazz even contributed a healthy dose of aid from the sidelines. Delaney Rudd, Thurl Bailey, Darrell Griffith and Mike Brown each had their moments, and each took something out of the defending World Champs.
For the second straight game, the Jazz's shooting was impressive. After beating Washington by 34 points on Monday with a phenomenal shooting effort, they came back to make 52 percent against the Pistons.
Meanwhile, the Pistons continued what has been a baffling slump. After winning 10 straight games, they suddenly became mediocre or worse, losing to Washington last Saturday night. That was followed by a 24-point loss to the Lakers on Tuesday, then the Wednesday loss to the Jazz.
Losing isn't something the Pistons suffer easily. Mega-villain Bill Laimbeer, who was booed lustily every time he entered or left the game, was so bewitched by foul problems that he finished the night with only two points. He ended up throwing his face guard - used to protect a broken cheekbone - toward his own bench. Joe Dumars, the team's best scorer, could only manage 11 points with Jeff Malone defending him. And Mark Aguirre, usually a reliable scorer, only played 17 minutes and got off six shots, scoring six points.
Afterward, the Pistons came off the court proud, but clearly beaten, looking gloomily around the happy Salt Palace crowd. It was painfully obvious something isn't right these days with the defending World Champs. For the second night in a row, they'd lost by a bundle.
Part of the Pistons' scoring problems had to do with the Utah defense. The only significant Detroit totals from Isiah Thomas, who netted 21 points. "You have to earn your rocognition," said Karl Malone. "They still don't think we play great defense, but we're - what? - third in the league in defense. Nobody recognizes that. But I can sense it coming together."In the early moments, the game didn't look like it would be anything but messy. While the Jazz were busy missing seven of their first nine shots and four of their first six free throws, the Pistons built a 15-6 lead. But before the period ended, the Jazz had cut the lead to one, thanks to two clutch baskets apiece by Rudd and Jeff Malone.
The teams settled down in the second period, with the Jazz suddenly becoming more intent on defense. "That's what I like to see," said Sloan. "Getting out and getting after people as much as we can."
The Jazz pulled slowly away from a 44-44 halftime tie, claiming a lead they would never relinquish. Karl Malone found Eaton for two straight baskets inside and Jeff added a pair of baskets for a 54-50 lead. Although the Jazz led by as much as seven points in the period, it ended with Utah clinging to a three-point lead.
The final period was a disaster for the Pistons, who went over six minutes without a field goal. Jeff Malone scored 11 points in the period to take the suspense out of the game, as the Jazz outscored the Pistons 27-6 in one span. "He's a big-league offensive player. That's a big weapon they've added," said Pistons Coach Chuck Daly.
"That's exactly how I envisioned him," said Karl Malone, of his teammate. "I envisioned him as being a great offensive weapon, and that's what he's doing. That's what I've been wanting to see."
Daly could only shrug and notice the eerie way the Jazz beat the Pistons at their own game. "It looked like us playing at home. They turned up the defense, and I don't know that we scored until I took the starters out. We could not score."
JAZZ NOTES: Utah has won seven of its last eight and nine of the last 11 games . . . The Jazz are 8-1 when holding opponents to under 100 points . . . They have held their last seven opponents under 46 percent shooting . . . Forward Blue Edwards said Wednesday that he expects to be ready to play Friday against the Lakers . . . Utah is 14-8 at home against the Pistons.