It has been almost four months and 52 games, but the Utah Jazz did what they've waited all season to accomplish, Friday night. After stuggling through some atrocious early shooting, the Jazz claimed a 109-104 win over the Golden State Warriors. The victory was Utah's first road victory over a winning team this year.
The win also moved Utah into sole possession of first in the Midwest Division, since San Antonio dropped a decision to the Clippers."We have struggled on the road very badly," said Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan. "This was probably one of our better games we've played on the road. We need to play well on the road, and this was a good start for us."
Mark Eaton nailed two key free throws with 28.5 seconds left and John Stockton two more with 16.9 to go, as the Jazz held off a furious Warriors' rush at the finish.
The Jazz win came after better than half a season of playing great at home and miserably on the road. Somehow, they had managed to be one of the best home teams in the world and just another ballclub everywhere else. Although they had won 10 road games this year going into Friday's contest, none had won half its games, except the Warriors. (That doesn't count a "designated" road win over Phoenix in Japan.) The Jazz overcame a nine-point deficit in the third quarter to avoid falling for the 12th time in 14 games at Oakland Coliseum Arena.
"We were down by nine and it was a good time for us to fold up, but we just hung in there," said Sloan. "They're a tough matchup for us every time we play."
Malone led the Jazz charge with 32 points and 10 rebounds, while Stockton added 24 points and 12 assists. Thurl Bailey produced a fine 18-point, 11-rebound performance off the bench.
Although the Jazz-Warriors game always presents an intriguing contrast in styles - Jazz from the inside, Warriors from the outside - this one was slightly watered down. Utah was missing starting guard Jeff Malone, who skipped the contest while nursing a strained lower back. Meanwhile, the Warriors were without Sarunas Marciulionis (on injured reserve). Center Alton Lister, who did play, was just coming off a case of the flu.
However, the big-ticket attractions were there in full force. The Warriors' trio of Mitch Richmond, Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin - who have eached scored over 1,000 points this year - combined for 71 points, just shy of their average of 74.4. The Jazz checked in with their standard heavyweight numbers from Stockton and Karl Malone,but also got a fine performance from rookie Andy Toolson, who held Mullin to five points in the final period.
"Andy had an excellent game. He showed patience on offense and some ability to get up on Mullin there at the end," Sloan said.
While the Warriors, playing in the grueling Pacific Division, have been languishing in fourth place, they usually present more than a serious problem for the Jazz. In Oakland they had previously won four straight and 11 of 13 against Utah. And, of course, the Jazz still have a vivid memory of the 1989 three-game playoff sweep by the Warriors.
In their first meeting this year, the Jazz took a whopping 135-117 win over Golden State. In that game, Jeff Malone went for a season-high 43 points.
Despite a close start on the game, neither team looked anything like a playoff contender. Golden State got off to a frigid beginning, making only seven of its first 25 attempts. The Jazz were only marginally better, hitting on 37 percent of their attempts in the first period. However, they made up for the difference with seven turnovers in the initial 12 minutes. Utah clung to an 18-17 first-quarter lead.
If they were short on effectiveness, both teams were long on enthusiasm. Malone and Mullin each picked up a technical in the first half for complaining to officials. Near the end of the half, the Warriors' 6-foot-10 Jim Petersen and Utah's 7-5 Eaton - two players normally expected to simply stand straight and block shots - went on the floor together diving for a loose ball.
The Warriors eventually went ahead by six in the first half, as Hardaway scored six straight points in the second quarter, en route to a 16-point half. Utah tied the score soon after, but trailed by three at the half.
However enthusiastic the teams were, they remained in the shooting doldrums, neither even making 40 percent of their first-half shots.
Trailing by six going into the final period, Malone led the way scoring 13 points in the quarter. The Jazz went ahead on Blue Edwards' layup and free throw (89-86) and never trailed. Though the lead got up to five, there wasn't room for the Jazz to breathe until the final moments. Eaton's free throws put the Jazz ahead 104-99, but a Richmond three-pointer with 18 seconds to go cut the Jazz lead to 107-104. Richmond missed on a second three-point try and Bailey got a slam at the buzzer.
The win moved the Jazz's season record to 35-17 while Golden State dropped to 29-23.