The Utah Jazz stayed on pace with last year as they got their 20th win in 30 games last night in the Salt Palace against the Miami Heat. The 3-year-old Heat, still too close to their inception to be taken seriously, made a gallant effort before losing by eight, 112-104. They actually held the lead with a mere three minutes to play.
They made their mistake when they got in a toe-to-toe shootout with Karl Malone down the stretch. As his career matures, the Mailman's penchant for coming through in the fourth quarter of tight games is not decreasing.Here's the way it went in the final five minutes last night as the Jazz played their first game of 1991:
5:10 - Miami's Billy Thompson scores on a 17-foot jump shot to give the Heat a 98-97 lead.
4:56 - Malone answers with a dunk off a John Stockton (who had 17 assists) pass.
4:36 - Miami's Bimbo Coles scores on a 20-foot jump shot to give the lead back to the Heat, 100-99.
3:50 - Malone answers with a layup.
3:37 - Miami's Willie Burton scores on a 21-foot jump shot to give the lead back to the Heat, 102-101.
3:17 - Malone answers with yet another layup, off yet another Stockton pass.
2:58 - Miami's Coles, again, from 20 feet, 104-103, Heat.
2:39 - Malone answers with a jump hook in the lane, after a pass from you know who.
1:41 - Malone again, this time from six feet, to make the score 107-104, Jazz.
In three minutes and 15 seconds, Malone accounted for all 10 of the Jazz's points - all the points, as it turned out, they needed.
"I could have been the hero or the goat," said Malone afterward, turning down the Freddie Jackson tape playing on the boom box above his locker as a courtesy to the media crowd that had him surrounded. Score 40 points and grab 13 rebounds and win the game and you tend to draw a crowd, even when it's over.
"If you make them, great," the Mailman continued.
"If you don't, people start complaining about how much money you make."
No one was complaining last night after the Heat, playing without their two top players (center Rony Seikaly and guard Sherman Douglas, both out with injuries), kept the Salt Palace filled to the final buzzer.
Malone had played the way they felt a $3.2 million man ought to play.
"I expect a lot out of myself," said Malone. "Nowadays so do a lot of other people."
"It's not any genius on my part," said Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan, commenting on his team's strategy down the stretch. "He (Malone) wants the ball in those situations, and he gets the ball."
It was Malone's first breaking of the 40-point barrier this season. He had 10 such outbursts last year.
This one might not have come if the Heat hadn't kept pressuring for answers.
If there's one thing that should be obvious around the league by now it's to not make Karl Malone mad. Once you've got his attention, it's too late.
The Milwaukee Bucks found that out last year when Malone, feeling indignant after being left off the starting All-Star team, drilled the Bucks for a career-high 61 points.
Also last year, the Charlotte Hornets discovered a 52-point Karl Malone night after Malone heard alleged reports that some of the Hornets weren't impressed with his play.
Along those same lines, the Heat felt Malone's scorn last night.
They had had the audacity to play the Jazz on even terms in their own arena for three full quarters and three-quarters of a fourth. And this, after the Heat - only 8-22 on the season - beat the Jazz the last time they met, 99-93, in Miami on Dec. 23.
In that Jazz loss Malone had 25 points and 17 rebounds.
He had 27 points last night heading into the final period, when it was becoming increasingly obvious the Heat were seriously going to try to win the game.
So he scored 13 points in the last quarter alone, including his five-straight trick at the end.
"Not bad, considering everybody in the gym knew he'd be getting the ball," said Sloan.
"He was tough down the stretch all right," said Jazz Owner Larry Miller, the man who signs Malone's $3.2 million check. "With Karl, and with John, too, you kind of take it for granted. Not that you should. But you do."
Malone smiled as he turned the volume on his tape deck back up.
"You know," he said, "if I hadn't made them (the clutch shots), I'd probably be thinking I should be paid more, not less."
It's easy money when they go in. When they don't, that's when it feels like work.