When it came down to crunch time after one of the most exciting quarters ever played in the Salt Palace, the Portland Trailblazers' main man came through. The man who came ever so close to not even playing Sunday, because of something called "turf toe."
Clyde Drexler, who has been with the Blazers longer than any other player on the team, made two key plays in the final minute Sunday that propelled Portland to a key victory at the Salt Palace.First, he canned a 17-footer from the left angle to put the Blazers up for good at 102-101 with 36 seconds left. Then, at the other end, Drexler made the key defensive play, stepping in front of an attempted pass from Karl Malone to Thurl Bailey with 18 seconds left.
So thanks to Drexler, instead of going back to Portland tied 2-2, the Blazers are up 3-1 with a chance to wrap up the series Tuesday night.
All weekend Drexler has been quietly suffering from the turf toe affliction, which is something like the way it feels after you stub your toe, only it doesn't go away. `I was very, very close to sitting out today," said Drexler, who suffered the injury late in Game 2.
"When you have turf toe, you don't have balance and you need balance on your jump shot," he said. "I wasn't really concentrating on shooting tonight. Since I had turf toe, I passed up many shots."
In fact, the last outside shot Drexler tried before his game-winner was an air ball from 3-point range that missed badly. But he wasn't afraid to take the shot when it counted at the end.
The Blazers had set up a "standard" play during a timeout at the 43-second mark, where Drexler would get the ball and study his options. Kevin Duckworth picked off Drexler's man, Jeff Malone, and when Duckworth's man, Mark Eaton, didn't step up, Drexler was left with an open 17-footer.
"You gotta make one, you can't miss them all," said Drexler, who was a decent 7 of 15 on the night. "I did everything I could to keep myself on balance and luckily it went in."
At the other end, the Jazz were looking for the go-ahead basket. Malone, who had put the Jazz up 101-100 with a top-of-the key jumper with 43 seconds left, looked to be open from the left angle but decided to pass to Bailey cutting near the basket. The ball never got there.
"That was a great basket cut by Bailey," said Drexler, who was covering Bailey. "The pass just happened to be a second late and I anticipated it correctly."
Malone had no excuses about his pass but would have liked to have it back. "I was going to take the shot, then I saw T cutting," said Malone. "It was one of those situations where if you had it to do over again you might do it different. I made the pass, he stepped in front of it. That's basically it."
Besides Drexler, the key to the Blazer victory was the play of Duckworth, who finished with 30 points and 11 rebounds after getting 30 points and 14 rebounds in the first three games combined.
A day earlier, Duckworth refused to talk after the game, claiming he had a sore throat. He was plenty talkative after Sunday's win, however.
"I'm just thankful I was able to be there when we needed it," said Duckworth. `I hit my free throws and I had a feel for the ball. I had a great feeling when the game was over because I really came through for my team."
While going back to Portland with the 3-1 lead might be comforting, the Blazers, of course, are trying not to be too confident.
"The Jazz are a very good team," said Drexler. "We know anything can happen."