The Utah Jazz's swan song on the 1990-91 season was played out under familiar circumstances Tuesday night at Memorial Coliseum. They came back from a large deficit but were unable to continue under a blast of relentless rebounding and breakaway fury orchestrated by the Portland Trail Blazers.
Summer's here for the Jazz, and they will spend it with the images of Buck Williams, Kevin Duckworth and Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter and Jerome Kersey dancing in their heads.The Jazz's 103-96 loss to Portland will go down in the record books as the final game in a 4-1 series defeat. The record book, however, won't tell the full story of three close losses that went into the final moments before the outcome was decided. "Records aren't always an indicator of how good a team is," said guard John Stockton. "But that's where we are."
Regardless of how the record book has it, Stockton says he'll remember it as a close series that could have been won by the underdog Jazz. "I'll think of it as definitely a winnable series," he said. "I remember when we lost 3-1 to Dallas one year (1986), I thought, `Wow! We got murdered.' But I don't feel that way with this one."
In three of the Jazz's four losses to the Blazers, they failed after establishing chances to win. In Game 2, Stockton's desperation shot skipped off the rim at the buzzer after Portland's Terry Porter had made a layup basket with 3.6 seconds to go. Game 4 saw the Jazz miss two three-point tries in the final 10 seconds as the Blazers prevailed. And finally there was Game 5, when the Jazz had the lead down to three points inside the final two minutes but never got closer.
"We got back in the game, but that's the story of about three of those games," said Jazz guard Jeff Malone. "Portland won the series, but in three games, if the ball had bounced differently . . . it definitely was much closer than 4 games to 1."
However exciting the Jazz's exit was, it showed very little in the way of originality. They have been stuck in a mode of falling behind, charging back and coming up short for a week. "Same old story," said Malone. "It's tough. We come back and just didn't do enough."
If there were any suspicions that the Jazz had already booked their summer vacation reservations, they didn't arise on Tuesday night. They led the Blazers by four after one
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quarter and extended it to 10 midway through the second period.
For a time, all was going well enough for the Jazz. Jeff Malone was heading off on one of his patented shooting trances, scoring eight quick points in the second quarter. Thurl Bailey was working toward his best game of the series. But soon it was back to business as usual. The Blazers went on a 9-2 run and trailed by just a point at the half.
While the Jazz were missing their first six shots of the third quarter, the Blazers were back and running again, outscoring the Jazz 29-4 - through the end of the second and the early third quarters - to go ahead 67-52. Portland got back-to-back three-pointers from Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter to start off the second half.
"We had lapses where we let those guys get up on us. Then we expended so much energy coming back," said Malone. "If we had stayed at an even keel, we'd have been OK."
The culprit again was problems underneath, where the Jazz were out-boarded by 10 (43-33). More significantly, Portland took down 17 offensive rebounds, scored 23 second-chance points and totaled 22 points off Jazz turnovers. Portland scored 22 of its points off the fast break.
For all their determination to reverse the tide, Coach Jerry Sloan had concerns before Tuesday's game was ever played. He canceled practice Monday and held a team meeting, in which he quietly talked to players. Privately Sloan worried whether some had already made their summer plans and given up hope of beating the Blazers.
Had anyone been looking for a reason to give up, there was ample data to back it up. Utah came in after losing six straight and 32 of the last 42 at Memorial Coliseum. This year, including playoffs, the Blazers beat Utah six of eight games. Portland went on to win 63 regular season games, best in the NBA.
Evidence aside, the Jazz weren't finished off easily. After falling behind by 15 points, the they embarked on a 12-3 run that cut Portland's lead to six, then hovered around a 10-point deficit through half the final period.
Utah closed to within three points with 4:14 to go and trailed by that much again at the 2:51 and 1:28 junctures. But Jeff Malone missed two important jumpers, and moments later Karl Malone was off on a shot with 59 seconds left, with Utah trailing by five.
In the final minute Stockton missed a three-pointer and Jeff Malone's pass was stolen by Drexler. Porter was fouled on the play and made both, giving the Blazers a 102-95 lead.
Karl Malone, who skipped interviews with reporters after the game, finished with a game-high 26 points, followed by Jeff Malone with 20 and Stockton with 19. Bailey finished with 12 points to lead the reserves.
Portland had a typically balanced ledger: Drexler and Porter with 22 apiece, Kersey with 15, Williams 14 and Kevin Duckworth 11.
As the Jazz packed their bags for the final time this season, they wondered aloud about the flurries that had done them in. "They played so well in spurts, and we could have done a little better job in responding to those challenges," said Stockton. "This was a closer series than four games to one."
"I think we were pretty loose for the game, and for the most part we just tried to play our game and take care of our business," said center Mark Eaton. "And it almost worked."