The NBA's very own version of Slow Dancing made another appearance Saturday night in the Salt Palace. Whenever Utah and Minnesota get together, it's like world class chess and raising bonsai trees: Slow is the only way to go.
There was one particularly prominent exception, though. Jazz guard Darrell Griffith tossed in three 3-point shots in a fast three minutes, to break open a close game and propel the Jazz to a 95-89 win over the Timberwolves.For three games now, the Jazz have been stuck in the same gear, playing well enough to win but not well enough to look good while doing it. Wednesday night, it was an ugly victory after Denver. Thursday, more of the same at home against Charlotte. It stood to reason that against the sixth-place Wolves, the Jazz wouldn't be painting a masterpiece.
"It's not pretty all the time," said Jazz forward Karl Malone, "but like I said, it's a win, baby."
If lacking in crispness and tempo, the game did feature considerable effort. Minnesota, which has beaten the Jazz only once in 10 tries, kicked things off with 57-percent shooting in the first period. Pooh Richardson got off to a stunning start, making his first five shots.
But at the start of the second period the Jazz dispatched Griffith, whose playing time this year hasn't been anything to write home to Louisville about. Making the most of his time, he took his first shot 11/2 minutes into the period, a typical rainmaker from 24 feet out that put the Jazz ahead 33-28.
Having made his first try, and assessed that he had the proper stroke going, Griffith followed up with another trey a minute later. His third, with 7:27 to go in the half, boosted Utah's lead to 41-32.
"You're just out there playing and you just try to make your shots," said Griffith. "As for me saying that was the turning point, I couldn't say."
However, Minnesota Coach Bill Musselman could.
"I thought the difference in the game was Griffith. His 3-point shots in such a short span really broke our backs. It was a close game and we were up by three after the first quarter, and then he comes in and his his three 3-pointers in about a minute-and-a-half. I thought his shooting was the difference."
Added center Felton Spencer, "Griff came in and scored nine points, and he did it so quickly, that's what hurt us."
After Griffith's nine-point quarter, the teams settled in to a predictable pattern. The Jazz, who led by as many as 12 in the second quarter, let the Timberwolves back as close as four points, but never lost control.
Minnesota made its final run in the early fourth quarter. The Jazz took two quick bad shots and the Wolves went on to score the first six points of the period, to pull to a 73-71 deficit with 10:03 to go.
"I told them we couldn't just go down and take the first shot. It looked like we were playing H-O-R-S-E with them," said Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan.
Then the Jazz got serious. Mike Brown made three free throws, Karl Malone converted on a three-point play and Brown came up with a transition basket. The Jazz were suddenly leading 81-71 and it was all over.
"We don't hit on all points all the time," said Malone. "But it seems that when we needed to get it done, we did it."
Malone finished with 27 points, while Stockton added 22.
The win moved the Jazz 1 1/2 games ahead of idle San Antonio, and kept them two ahead of Houston, also a winner on Saturday.
The Jazz now have until Monday, when Milwaukee comes to town, to figure out how to play better than the minimum. The Bucks are several notches better than the recent competition.
But as the Mailman points out, nothing's too wrong when the score is right. "We're not in a great sync right now, but we're winning."
The same can't be said for Minnesota, which is heading toward the end of another dismal season. Asked what the Wolves have to do to beat the Jazz, Richardson didn't hesitate: "Get a Mailman."
GAME NOTES: Utah leads the series 9-1 eight of the 10 were decided by 10 or fewer points . . . Utah is 10-3 against expansion teams this year . . . The Jazz are third in the NBA in defense, allowing 100.2 points a game . . . Forward Blue Edwards will start practicing this week and said he hopes to be back as early as perhaps Thursday's game at Sacramento.