By most standards the Utah Jazz had to figure they had put in a decent night against Portland's Terry Porter. Going into the fourth period he had scored only six points. The All-Star guard was having a notably un-All-Star night.
But in a 54-second span in the final 11/2 minutes Porter poured in six points. Soon they were remembering him once again, as the Blazers took a 106-96 win over the Jazz Friday night at the Salt Palace.The Portland win came at a crucial time for the Blazers, who had lately begun to look strangely vulnerable. After leading the Pacific Division since the start of the season, they suddenly found themselves only 11/2 games ahead of the charging Los Angeles Lakers. They had lost six of their last eight games, including four in a row. The King was dead, long live the King.
"I don't think it was time to push the panic button, but we knew we had to get it together," said Blazer Coach Rick Adelman.
"A lot of people thought that we were the frontrunners and that we had never been in this position before and didn't know how to handle it," said Porter. "But I think we were good enough to meet the challenge."
Porter's biggest challenge came in the closing minutes of the game. The Jazz had cut Portland's 10-point lead to two on a Mark Eaton free throw with 1:56 to go. Karl Malone, who had been held in check by Buck Williams to the tune of 11 points in three quarters, was beginning to finally get some space in the trenches. Thurl Bailey was en route to a season-high 25 points.
However, Porter wasn't paying attention. He began his run with a 20-foot jumper with 1:33 left, putting the Blazers ahead 97-93. Twenty-eight seconds later he popped in a 14-footer. Then with 38 seconds to go he went around a series of screens and drove for a layup. The final basket put the Blazers safely ahead, 101-96.
From there it was a matter of he and Ainge hitting six straight free throws between them. Porter ended the quarter with 12 points.
The loss took a little more steam out of the Jazz, who entered the contest a half-game back of San Antonio in the Midwest Division. The Jazz have lost three of their last four games and now go to Seattle for a Saturday contest against the Sonics. However, they pulled off an overtime win over Boston on Wednesday.
"Porter is a great player. He just kind of lulls you a little bit. He's a big time player in this league and he's not afraid to take the big shots," said Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan.
Although Friday's event was close, Sloan said it left something to be desired in the effort department. Although there were several non-calls and controversial calls - including the tossing of a fan from the arena - Sloan was in no mood to blame the officials. "We wanted to complain about the officials," he said. "If you want to get too concerned about the officials in basketball, you're going to be out of the league."
It didn't take long to establish that the game was going to be intense and close. Utah jumped ahead 5-0 but moments later the Blazers had taken a one-pointlead.
Although the first half was close and exciting, it was missing something: Karl Malone. The Mailman, carrying Buck Williams around as a hood ornament all night, made only one of his first six shots for two first-half points. But in Malone's absence the Jazz got 15 points from Thurl Bailey and 13 from Jeff Malone to keep the Jazz in the game.
After Malone's hook-shot put the Jazz ahead 53-51 with 8:30 to go in the third period, the Blazers went on an 11-4 run for a 62-57 lead. In the early fourth quarter Porter's basket put the Blazers ahead 83-73 with 9:43 remaining.
The Jazz struggled back until Malone's inside shot cut Portland's lead to one point. However, from there the Blazers took over. Clyde Drexler, who led the Blazers with 26 points, missed two shots and Kevin Duckworth one, with the Blazers getting the rebound each time. Finally, Alaa Abdlenaby rebounded for an 89-84 lead.
The Jazz never got closer than two points behind after that.
Malone finished with 18 points, Jeff Malone with 15 and Stockton 17. The Jazz record fell to 41-22 while the Blazers improved to 47-16.