As the Jazz-Blazers series now shifts to Utah, the question in the air is just how much effect one of the strangest playoff games you've ever seen will have on Saturday's Game 3 in the Salt Palace.
Utah and Portland enter the game on the heels of Thursday night's 118-116 Blazer win in Portland. It was a game that saw the Blazers squander entirely a23-point lead, make a game-winning shot with three seconds remaining, and watch the Jazz's John Stockton miss a three-pointer at the buzzer that would have given Utah the upset outright.
Games like this don't come along every May. Normally, in the playoffs, a team gets on top and stays there. It doesn't get off until the other team is checking its baggage at the airport. There are no
Mr. Nice Guys. The only good opponent is an eliminated opponent.
But the Blazers either started feeling sorry for the Jazz, or confident about themselves, or bored, or all three, and in the final eight minutes of Thursday's game they turned the tide. They made exactly one basket from the field from 8:22 to the three-second mark while fouling out two of their starters, throwing away four possessions, getting an untimely technical foul, and generally looking, as center Kevin Duckworth said, "ugly."
In the meantime, the Jazz were scoring at a furious pace. They got a grand total of 36 points in the final eight minutes - a pace that would translate into 216 points in a full 48-minute game.
While all this transforming was going on, the 12,884 Blazermaniacs in Memorial Coliseum didn't know quite what to do. Normally the loudest, sign-wavingest, on-the-verge-of-berserk crowd this side of a British soccer pitch, the maniacs looked like 12,884 civil servants at the end of a shift watching the clock.
They shifted in their seats. They squirmed. They wondered when they could get out of there. Could Utah catch up that many points in only eight minutes? Could a game that was seemingly a safe rout unravel that fast? Would Karl Malone ever stop shooting free throws?
There was a timeout with 2:05 remaining and Malone - he would make 10-of-10 free throws down the eight-minute stretch - headed yet again for the line. The giant theater screen on the scoreboard displayed the mania meter, asking for madness. Some light noise started as the teams broke from their huddles and Malone stepped to the line. Then came more clapping and hand-waving. Then more noise, almost enough to make it to the medium mark on the mania meter. Well short of usual Coliseum noise, but, still, a groundswell . . . Then Malone made his first free throw.
He made his second in near silence.
The Jazz took the Blazermaniacs as out of the game as they did the Blazers, who, by now, were wearing blisters on their heels from back-pedaling. They, too, wondered if they had enough in the bank to stop this run.
The Jazz turned merely sensational. Stockton made consecutive three-pointers. Jeff Malone made two field goals and Karl Malone three. At the free-throw line Utah made 18-of-19 shots in the last eight minutes. The Malones were 15-of-15 combined, Thurl Bailey was 2-of-2, Stockton 1-of-2.
So frustrated was the Blazers' Buck Williams that he patted the referee on the back as he fouled out. "Under the circumstances, I thought it was the sporting thing to do," said Williams. The referee didn't. He assessed a technical. When the tide turns, it turns.
"They (the Jazz) were on the officials all game and Buck says something and they call a T on him," said Portland coach Rick Adelman, still incredulous 30 minutes after the game.
"The Jazz almost got away with stealing this one," said Adelman.
The fallout from the atempted theft?
That, as Portland guard Clyde Drexler said, "remains to be seen."
"It shouldn't have an effect on us," added Drexler, whose pass to Terry Porter at :3.6 for the game-clinching cripple atoned for eight minutes worth of sins, "I don't know about them."
Said Williams, "It's got to give the Jazz more adrenalin going back home."
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, never much of a believer in moral victories, wasn't so sure. "Obviously, we're not in a good situation now," he said, referring to the 0-2 hole the Jazz are in. "There's nothing good about losing. I don't care what the score is."
But Stockton did say, "It can't hurt. At least we didn't get blown out twice." And Karl Malone said, "It'll carry over when we get home, that's for sure."
A series that was beginning to look like a runaway has been salvaged. For one more game anyway. If for nothing else than to decide if Drexler was right when he said of Thursday's strange finish, "I think it was more our fault than it was theirs."