Despite the fact that, two games into the playoffs, he is statistically far ahead in the Great Point Guard Shootout, the Jazz's John Stockton doesn't see an advantage either way between himself and Kevin Johnson of the Phoenix Suns.
"We're tied," says Stockton. "We're one and one.""I think the most effective point guard is the winning point guard," Stockton says as the Jazz-Suns first-round series heads into Game 3 tonight in the Salt Palace.
That Stockton would take such a non-numbers approach is no surprise. Pete Rose he isn't. Every year, when he annually breaks his assists record, he wonders why they stop to give him the ball before the game's over. A couple of weeks ago, when he set his latest season record, they stopped the action long enough to give him the game ball and the first thing he did was pass it back to the referee, who, wearing a perplexed look, handed it to the scorers' table and said, "Here, save this for John."
Still, when he and the Suns' Johnson get together, there are bound to be comparisons, by the numbers and otherwise. For one thing, they play the same position; for another thing, they're good at it. Who's-the-best-point-guard-in-the-league debates usually center on these two (with Magic Johnson exempted because he's 6-9 and because he's Magic Johnson). In a recent issue of Sports Illustrated, Jack McCallum conducted a survey of the NBA's coaches to try to find an answer to the Stockton-or-K.J. question. The coaches came out in favor of Johnson 16-5, mainly on account of his higher scoring average, but most of them hedged their bets, saying you wouldn't have to pry off their fingernails before they'd take either one.
Last year's Stockton-Johnson playoff showdown was in the spotlight, and so is this year's sequel. Johnson came into this '91 series a step ahead because memories of his all-it-won-was-the-series jump shot at the end of Game 5 last year are etched into a lot of minds, especially Utah minds.
Johnson has not, however, started off the '91 series like a Jazz-killer. In the loss and the win last week in Phoenix he averaged un-K.J. numbers of just 12 points, 2.5 rebounds, nine assists and four turnovers.
By contrast, Stockton's two-game averages are 20 points, three rebounds, 13 assists and 3.5 turnovers. From the field, Stockton is shooting 17-for-24 while Johnson is 6-for-22. In Saturday's game, K.J. was 2-for-10 from the field and scored just 10 points.
If it were gymnastics, K.J. would be in big trouble.
"His numbers aren't there, but so what?" says Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan. "I don't think you ever have the advantage on Kevin Johnson. He's a factor. No matter what."
As for his own point guard, Sloan says of Stockton, "He's playing hard. He always plays hard."
Stockton says his good playoff start has not been fueled by any thoughts of last year's Jazz-Suns series, when Johnson, in addition to his dramatic game-winning shot, scored 31 points a game (to Stockton's 21.3) and 10.3 assists (same as Stockton). At least not any conscious thoughts.
"If there's anything subconscious going on, I don't know," he says.
He does know the series is far from over; and he knows that if Sloan isn't going to say Johnson is playing like a dog, far be it for him to say it either.
"I can't beat Kevin Johnson by myself," he says. "I can try to contain him, but . . . I need my team."
"He's actually been penetrating well."
And so it goes. If you didn't know the series wasn't over, you would after talking to Stockton. Maybe he is, after two games, so far ahead of his Suns counterpart that the 16 coaches who voted for K.J. are right now calling Sports Illustrated to change their votes. Maybe he has been a constant headache to the Suns. Maybe he has missed only seven shots in 24 tries and, with his points and assists, accounted for just under 50 percent of the Jazz's playoff offense to date. But why stop the game before it's over. What, him worry? When you're standing where he's standing, the only answer to the Great Point Guard Debate is to look in the direction of the second round. The one who's headed there: He's the winner.