It has been a rough week for the Utah Jazz. The lineup of opponents (read: headaches) included San Antonio, Boston, Portland and, Saturday night, Seattle. However, it could have been much worse had it not been for a spectacular week for John Stockton.
The Jazz guard recorded his 6,000th career assist and scored 10 points in overtime as the Jazz took a 104-98 win over the Sonics at Seattle Coliseum.Lately the Jazz have fallen into a familiar pattern: Hang on and give the ball to Stockton. Wednesday night in the Salt Palace Stockton scored nine points in overtime to lead the Jazz to a victory over the Celtics. On Saturday it was more of Stockton's Greatest Hits.
"He's just taken the games over this week," said Jazz center Mark Eaton. "When everyone else is bragging a little bit, he's our inspiration."
Said Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan, "I don't know what more you could ask of the guy."
The Jazz blew an 18-point lead to make sure they didn't get out of Seattle without sweating. Eddie Johnson's 10-point fourth quarter brought the Sonics back into the hunt and the teams were tied at 90-90 when Karl Malone banked in a shot with 14 seconds to go.
The Sonics worked the ball to Shawn Kemp with four seconds left, but he stepped on the baseline, turning the ball over to the Jazz.
Utah couldn't get off anything better than a 28-foot jumper at the buzzer by Darrell Griffith, and the game went into overtime.
Soon Stockton was at work on scoring 10 of his 23 points, as well as getting his record 6,000th assist. The assist came with 3:17 remaining on a pass inside to Malone for a bank shot.
Stockton tied the score on a twisting jumper with 2:08 remaining and drew a a foul, which gave the Jazz a 97-96 lead. The Jazz never trailed again.
In the final 1:32 Stockton added a basket from the wing, a driving layup and a free throw, the last of which gave the Jazz a 102-98 lead with 31 seconds left. Thurl Bailey polished off the scoring with a pair of free throws.
Other than keeping the Jazz spirits high, the game had other ramifications. Combined with San Antonio's loss at Sacramento, the Jazz moved back into a tie for first place in the Midwest Division. Utah now has 11 of its remaining 18 games against lottery teams, after a grueling week of games that included losses to San Antonio and Portland and the wins over Boston and Seattle.
Stockton characteristically spent little time talking about himself after the game. "We had a chance to win it in regulation, but we felt confident - but not overconfident - in overtime. We made some big plays on defense and were able to score when we got the ball on offense."
Utah now is idle until Wednesday at Denver.
As recently as two weeks ago the Sonics were a team on the move, having won five straight and six of seven. Through a series of daring moves they had traded away Xavier McDaniel, Dale Ellis and Olden Polynice in exchange for Eddie Johnson, Ricky Pierce and Benoit Benjamin. Although the Sonics had spent the early season digging themselves into a hole, their hopes began to revive.
But shuffling the deck only went so far. Seattle followed its hot streak by losing the last four games, including a disheartening 100-96 Friday loss to Minnesota.
"I'm almost in disbelief," said Seattle forward Michael Cage afterward.
Although in far better position than Seattle, the Jazz had their own problems. They had won four straight road games in early March, only to lose four of their next five outings, including a Friday night defeat at the hands of Portland.
After a few early minutes of turnovers by both teams on Saturday, the Jazz suddenly began to look like they had when they began their March road trip with four straight wins. They took a 27-18 first-quarter lead to an 18-point lead before the half was over, outscoring the Sonics 17-2 during one second-period run.
It looked for more than a half that the Jazz were more than Seattle was equipped to handle. Malone, who got only two points in the first half on Friday against Portland, had the Jazz's first four points of the game. Tony Brown, nearing the end of his second 10-day contract, came off the bench to score five straight points. Stockton began working on giving Gary Payton a migraine headache, scoring two consecutive baskets.
Although the Jazz got sloppy enough to let Seattle get back within 10 points, the Jazz closed the half out on a 20-foot buzzer shot by Karl Malone for a 52-38 lead.
After a 2-for-6 shooting start the Jazz could do little wrong, finishing the half shooting 66 percent from the field.
Malone finished the game with 32 points, but struggled with an 11-for-28 night from the field. Jeff Malone added 20 points.