Quiz: Where is the toughest place for the Utah Jazz to win on the road?
If you answered Boston, you're technically right, since the Jazz have never won there. But at least in Boston they've lost to some great Celtic teams.The real answer is Market Square Arena where the Jazz have lost 10 of the last 11 years, usually to inferior teams.
It happened again Saturday night as the Indiana Pacers made it a clean sweep over the Jazz this season with a 117-104 victory before 11,256 fans. A month ago in the Salt Palace, remember, the Pacers, beat the Jazz by eight points.
It's a puzzle how the Pacers, who've made the playoffs just three times since joining the NBA 15 years ago, continue to drill the Jazz. The Pacers are just 15-23 and unlikely to make the playoffs again, but they may be the only team to sweep the Jazz (26-13) this season.
"We've just always been outplayed," said Utah Coach Jerry Sloan, who doesn't believe in things like hexes or bad luck. "This is a good team with some talented players. They do a great job of spreading the floor out and they give us matchup problems.
John Stockton, a 7-year veteran, doesn't have any answers for the Jazz's bad fortunes in Indiana.
"I don't know - they shoot the ball well and if they're hitting their shots, they give anybody trouble," he said.
Karl Malone, who led the Jazz with 28 points and 8 rebounds, said, "It seems these guys go out and play to have fun and it's just one of those teams that's hard to beat."
The NBA schedule-maker could be blamed for the Jazz loss. Utah played Friday night in Cleveland - an overtime game, no less - and took a late flight to Indiana. Meanwhile the Pacers were relaxing for three days since their last game against Milwaukee Wednesday night.
Sloan, however, wasn't buying the Jazz fatigue factor. "That's a copout, it has nothing to do with it," he said. "I understand it, but that's part of the toughness in this league."
Regardless of the reason, the Pacers did look livelier than the Jazz all night and that was displayed in the final stats. Offensive rebounding is often a measure of a team's tenacity and the Jazz had little, not even getting an offensive board until 9:30 was left in the game when one dropped into Malone's hands.
For the night the Pacers outrebounded the Jazz 46 to 28 overall and 14 to 4 on the offensive boards.
Reggie Miller and Chuck Person did their usual numbers on the Jazz with 22 and 16 points, respectively. But it was little point guard Micheal Williams, starting only his 10th game in place of injured Vern Fleming, who surprised the Jazz with a career-high 28 points and added 7 rebounds.
"Micheal has been great," said Pacer Coach Bob Hill. "The blocked shots, the steals . . . I just can't say enough about him. I just hope he can keep it up."
Williams, a third-year player out of Baylor, gave Stockton fits all night. He surpassed his previous high point game midway through the third period and came up with a big block of a Stockton 3-point try late in the game.
Afterwards Stockton claimed he wasn't surprised by Williams' fine play in their first full-fledged duel. "He played very well, but everyone in this league is capable of playing well," he said.
Aware that the Jazz might be tired after their overtime win in Cleveland Friday, the Pacers tried to push the ball at every opportunity. "I told them to leak out and throw the long pass," said Hill.
Once again the Jazz got off to a sluggish start, making just one of their first six shots and falling behind 8-2.
They fought back, however, to take an 11-10 lead and a 4-point lead at 30-26. But a Miller 3-pointer from 35 feet at the buzzer gave the Pacers a 31-30 lead at the quarter and they never trailed.
From a 37-37 tie, Indiana ran off 11 straight points and took a 67-52 lead into halftime.
Utah showed some life and scored eight straight to start the third quarter. But the Pacers quickly built the lead back to 15 and even extended the lead to 18 at 95-77.
Sloan kept exhorting his team to "keep hanging" and the Jazz crept back into it with a 10-2 run to make it 106-100 with 2:24 left. But Karl Malone missed inside and was blocked by LaSalle Thompson. Then Williams sank four straight free throws to salt the game away.
Besides Karl Malone's 28, Stockton added 25 and Jeff Malone 24 for the Jazz. Thurl Bailey was the top reserve with 12 points.
GAME NOTES: The Jazz take a few days off before playing New York at home Wednesday night . . . Jazz rookie Andy Toolson celebrated his 25th birthday Saturday by playing the last 13 seconds. On the late charter flight from Cleveland the night before, Toolson's teammates made him sing Happy Birthday to himself over the plane's intercom system.