After ending the Jazz's playoff hopes in five games, the Portland Trail Blazers appear ready for a return to the NBA Finals, where they can take care of some unfinished business. In Tuesday night's 103-96 win over the Jazz, they showed why they're in the Western Conference Finals once again. "They just have a lot of poise," said Jazz center Mark Eaton.
Portland had six players in double figures as they closed out the Jazz's season. Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter led the way with 22 apiece, followed by Jerome Kersey , Buck Williams , Kevin Duckworth and Cliff Robinson . Danny Ainge put up nine points and had three rebounds and three assists in 15 minutes.The Jazz, who were beaten 4-1 in the best-of-seven series, had four players in double figures.
For the Jazz, it's time to fire up the barbecue. For Portland, it's more plane reservations. It meets the L.A. Lakers in the Western Conference Finals - a team it has beaten three of five times this season. "That's two great teams battling each other," said Jazz guard John Stockton. "It will really be good for the league. Those guys will battle tooth-and-nail."
Had it not been for a brief skirmish in the first half Tuesday, the Trail Blazers may have had to wait for their date with the Lakers. With the Jazz leading 50-43 with 1:24 left in the second quarter, Utah's Karl Malone mixed it up underneath with the Blazers' Buck Williams. Malone appeared to throw Williams to the floor, after which Williams shoved Malone. Williams was awarded a two-shot penalty.
Williams made both free throws, opening the way for an 8-2 run to end the half.
"We weren't playing very well in the second period, standing around, and when Malone threw Buck (Williams) to the floor, it kind of got us going. It's very important for us to get this series over in five games. Now we can get a chance to rest and get organized for the next series," said Blazers' Coach Rick Adelman.
"When Buck and Karl tangled, we became more focused," said the Blazers' Kersey.
Portland went on to outscore the Jazz 24-2 in the next six minutes of playing time.
The foul on Malone wasn't the first major infraction of the night. Drexler was whistled earlier for what was originally called a punching foul (two shots are awarded and the offending player is thrown out of the game). But the call was later changed to a flagrant foul and resulted in two free throws and possession of the ball for the Jazz. Drexler stayed in the game. Though it led to a 44-36 Jazz lead, they couldn't hold their momentum.
Now the Blazers hope to carry their momentum on to the Western Conference Finals. "Now we have to be ready for whoever," said Kersey. "It's a long way down the road to the NBA Finals. It's a long way and we've got another tough series coming up. It's nice to have the experience of going to the Finals as we did last year. Now we know we're supposed to be there, so it's an attitude that we have to take - and we are going to be there."