The 1990 portion of the Utah Jazz's season came to a close Saturday afternoon in the Salt Palace, amid much joviality and holiday cheer (read: Jazz 131, Clippers 102). It was a time for seeing old friends and meeting new ones. Dan O'Sullivan, in town on a temporary pass (10-day contract), made his NBA debut by scoring six points and collecting four rebounds. Walter Palmer, the Jazz's only draft choice this year, made a rare appearance, and ended up scoring a career-high six points, including an alley-oop slam-dunk.
The celebration also included all the old familiar faces. Jeff Malone continues to make that summer trade that brought him to the Jazz look like grand larceny. Karl Malone says marriage is fine, and proved it by scoring 66 points in two games since taking the vows. And John Stockton is back to doing the improbable, including throwing in a 27-foot jumper at the end of the half.There's a new year coming, and considering the way 1990 went out, nobody's complaining.
Certainly someone in the NBA deserves some credit here, scheduling the lowly Clippers to play the Jazz during the week between Christmas and New Year. Need somebody to rout during the holidays? Call 1-800-LA-CLIPS. The team's best player, center Charles Smith, is out with a thigh injury. Guard Ron Harper is only beginning to practice after starting the year on injured reserve. And the much-maligned Benoit Benjamin - who has been known to miss practice due to a bruise on his buttocks - is fresh from making dental history by missing eight games due to the removal of wisdom teeth.
The result of all the upheaval has been seven losses in the last eight games for the Clippers.
Injuries and swollen mouths aside, the Clippers remain an enigma. For all their problems, they have won 11 games and continue to be looked on as a team capable of making the playoffs. Whether that's this year, or at the turn of the century, is debatable.
After staying with the Jazz through 21/2 quarters, the Clippers came to the inevitable conclusion most of the rest of the NBA has reached: The Jazz have one too many stars to handle. Karl Malone and Jeff Malone scored 28 points between them in the third period, leading the way to an all-out rout in the fourth quarter. Then the Jazz emptied the bench and everyone went home happy.
"Karl Malone," said Clippers' Coach Mike Schuler, "is an absolute handful."
In the early going, Malone wasn't so much of a problem, taking only three shots and scoring four points in the first period. The Clippers, behind the guidance of guard Jeff Martin, hung on for a 24-21 lead at the end of the quarter.
To the Clippers' dismay, the Jazz had the first of several scoring runs in the second
period. Trailing 37-31, the Jazz got back quickly by scoring eight unanswered points. As the half came to a close, the Jazz pulled off a remarkable play in less than two seconds. Blue Edwards threw a court-lengthin-bounds pass to Mark Eaton, who tapped the ball to Stockton on the wing. Stockton then threw up a drifting, one-handed three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Jazz a 58-49 halftime lead.
"If you can get the ball into Stockton's hands, he's going to make things happen," said Schuler.
L.A. fought on admirably in the third quarter, but fell behind by 11 midway through a run of Jeff Malone's that netted him 16 points in the period. One of the shots was a three-pointer, his first of the season; the others were mostly drifting jumpers that that nestled softly into the hoop.
"When he gets going in the direction he wants, you just can't stop him," said Schuler.
Perhaps the most dramatic of Jeff's shots, though, came in the first period when he landed a widely-fading jumper - difficult even by his standards - and drew a foul. "His shots don't amaze me," said the Mailman. "Jeff is Jeff. He takes shots like that. He has brought a whole new shooting thing to this team."
When Jeff (29 points) wasn't causing the Clippers problems, Karl was. He added 12 in the quarter, including six in one trip down the court. Malone made an inside shot and drew a flagrant foul from Benjamin on the play, which resulted in a free throw and possession of the ball. He made the free throw, then added another basket inside, this time drawing a foul from Mike Smrek, which he converted. That series boosted Utah's lead to 97-82.
Karl drew a technical with 1:38 to go in the period and the Jazz leading 89-80, but the Clippers missed three straight free throws, blowing a chance to cut the lead to six. "It's a hundred dollars," shrugged Malone, referring to the fine he'll be levied. "I'm sure some homeless person could use that . . . but if it takes that (a technical) to win games, I'll give that up."
Utah eventually built the lead to 25 points, after which the subs began arriving with just over four minutes remaining.
The win, which moved the season mark to 19-10, gave the Jazz exactly the same record they had at this time last year. "If you'd told me back in November that we'd be where we are now, I'd have taken that (bet) in a second," said Coach Jerry Sloan.
The Jazz now are idle until a Wednesday night game in the Salt Palace against Miami.
Meanwhile, the Clippers will continue working their way through injuries and ill winds, and hope they don't lose heart. "I don't think the final score is an indication of the game at all," said Schuler.
Perhaps not. But to the Jazz, it was as good a way as any to remember their last game of the old year.