The first game of the Jazz-Blazers playoff series came off just the way the oddsmakers and television analysts - not to mention Portland coach Rick Adelman - had it pictured.
The Blazers kept Utah's Karl Malone under control, which took care of their No. 1 concern. By the time the fourth quarter had rolled around, Portland was up and running, both figuratively and literally. Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals had none of the surprise of the Jazz's first round series. Six Blazers scored in double figures and the Jazz went nearly seven minutes without a field goal as Portland beat the Jazz, 117-97 Tuesday night.The score wasn't the only predictable occurrence. As promised, the contest had ample doses of body contact. Clyde Drexler, nursing bruised ribs, said he felt like he had hit Karl Malone's knee at "about a hundred miles an hour." John Stockton's face looked like it had been through eight rounds with Mike Tyson.
As both teams will attest, the road to the Finals are paved with bruises and bloody lips.
The matter was decided largely on the weight of a six minute and 43-second stretch of blank tape in the third period. The Jazz had cut Portland's one-time nine-point lead to 71-68, and appeared poised to make their run. But suddenly they found themselves swimming in dark waters. Stockton lost the ball and the Blazers turned it into a pair of free throws. Then the Jazz proceeded to miss 10 straight field goal attempts in a bewitching spell that began with about three minutes to go in the third period and stretched until nine minutes remained in the game.
By that time the Jazz were trailing by 21 points and it was time to plan for Game 2.
"We were doing all right for awhile," said Jazz guard Stockton. "Then came about a five-minute stretch where it killed us. We tried to get back with some quick shots instead of being patient. We missed the shots, they got on the break, it became a track meet, and it was over."
Other than the Jazz's alarming spell of shooting problems, in which they missed 10 straight attempts and went from contention to consternation, it was a game of high aspirations. The major pairings had been set and were shaping up as expected. Malone was working on another All-Star night, scoring 17 points and taking in nine rebounds in the first half alone. Although Jeff Malone was off to a cool 2-for-7 start, he had held the Blazers' Clyde Drexler to only seven points. And Stockton, matched in a classic duel with Terry Porter, was playing his opponent evenly.
But the complexion would change shortly after. With 5:32 to go in the third period and Portland ahead 68-66, Drexler was kneed in the ribs by the Mailman, charging in to stop a shot. He lay underneath the basket while 12,884 Blazermaniacs plotted to check Drexler into a hospital and lynch Malone.
"I was going in for the shot," said Drexler, "and I see Malone coming at me going about a hundred miles an hour. His knee hit my ribs. For about two minutes, I had a hard time catching my breath."
Soon it was the Jazz struggling with their breath. Drexler scored six points in the ensuing 21/2 minutes, while the Jazz were well on their way to shooting themselves out of the game.
However sore Drexler was Tuesday night after the game, he had company. Stockton played a good share of the night using his face like a speed bag. Midway through the third period, with Portland leading by four, Stockton was leveled by a forearm screen by Williams. He lay groggily on the floor for a moment while an official appeared to signal an offensive foul by Stockton.
Before it was reversed and ruled a foul on Williams, Sloan picked up a technical foul.
Stockton laughed when asked by an Oregon reporter how his face felt afterward. "I feel good. This is the NBA, so you take a beating," he said. "My face is about the height of an average elbow in the NBA."
Although he had no such problems with elbows, the Mailman had third-quarter troubles of his own, missing 10 shots in 12 minutes. The quarter ended with the Jazz trailing 82-69. "I missed seven or eight in a row," said Malone. "I wasn't keeping track, because I'm supposed to be making them."
However, when considering whether it was Portland's defense or his own shooting that caused the drought, Malone said, "Basically it doesn't matter what Buck (Williams) or anybody else does. It's what I don't do," said Malone. "I missed a lot of open shots that over the course of the year went in. I take a lot of the blame for that."
By early fourth quarter the Blazer lead had jumped to 21 points and they were never able to get closer than 13 points down.
Utah finished the game shooting 40 percent from the field and both teams cleared the benches for the final two minutes.
The final stats looked like a blueprint of Portland master plans. The Blazers out-rebounded the Jazz 55-41, including a whopping 16 offensive rebounds. They scored 31 points off fast breaks. And the bench outscored Utah's 36-25, including 12 from veteran Walter Davis.
Drexler finished with a team-high 20, followed with Porter's 19. Stockton led the Jazz with 23, while Malone added 21.
The loss left the Jazz to regroup for Thursday's Game 2, set to be played at 8 p.m. (MDT) in Portland.
"It's just one game," insisted the Mailman. "It's going to be a good series, regardless of what happened tonight."
GAME NOTES: Portland has won five games in a row against the Jazz in Memorial Coliseum . . . Portland has won only twice in the last 19 trips to the Salt Palace.