The evening started with a power blackout and ended with the Jazz's newest All-Stars on the bench after fouling out, while Jim Les was driving to the basket in all kinds of traffic. A game that featured one crazy play after another down the stretch finally went Atlanta's way, leaving the Mailman steaming and the Jazz wondering what's happened to their home magic lately.
Thanks mostly to Cliff Levingston's 21 points and 12 rebounds, the Hawks survived with a 94-93 victory Wednesday and rushed out of the Salt Palace, scrambling to catch a late flight to Denver. Reggie Theus' two free throws with six seconds left and his block of Les' hopeless driving shot gave the Jazz their second one-point loss in three home games. "I wish I had it to do over - with all the guys flying at me, I should have dished it out," said Les.". . . One of our better examples of executing in a tight game when the pressure's on," insisted Hawks Coach Mike Fratello, perfectly willing to overlook losing a nine-point lead in the last five minutes.
The game was delayed 30 minutes by a power failure that lasted about an hour, ending just before the scheduled game time. Only if the blackouts had lasted past 9 p.m. would the NBA have considered a postponement.
Just like last week against Charlotte, Jazz rookie Eric Leckner's would-be winning basket was washed away at the other end. This time, Leckner recovered the ball in the lane and made an easy layup with eight seconds left. After a timeout, Atlanta went to Theus and Karl Malone immediately stripped him and grabbed the ball, only to have veteran referee Earl Strom - always a welcome sight to visiting teams and willing to make the unpopular call - whistle a foul on Malone from behind.
Afterward, Malone stormed about his mistreatment to anyone who would listen - owner Larry Miller, locker neighbor Darrell Griffith - except reporters. Coach Jerry Sloan wished Malone had just stayed out of trouble.
"We had the lead; you don't want to go for the steal in that situation," said Sloan, who told Malone the same thing in the locker room.
The play unfolded just a few feet from Sloan. His reaction, when he saw Malone go for the ball? "I can't tell you what I thought," he said, smiling. "I didn't want to hear that whistle, I'll tell you that. That hurt my ears - it hurt my whole body."
The Jazz will regroup for New Jersey Friday, having proven that keeping the Midwest Division lead will be no picnic. This was a tough assignment, a travel-day game against a good team that was waiting for them; then again, the Jazz have lost three times with the same opportunity the Hawks had.
So blame this loss on the Big News Theory, with the Jazz losing their fourth home game after Mark Eaton and John Stockton were named to the Western Conference All-Star team; the Jazz's shooting less than 40 percent; a frustrating game for Stockton, who had only six assists; and the Jazz's troubles with physical teams like Seattle, Milwaukee and now Atlanta.
"I think we can be physical; I don't think we have any problem with that," said Thurl Bailey, who led the Jazz with 24 points. "We just weren't ready to play."
Yet, the Jazz managed an eight-point lead after the first quarter, when Les made his first basket in 10 games, and overcame Stockton's foul trouble to stay up 51-48 at halftime. The third quarter was almost distastrous - an Eaton hook was the Jazz's only basket for six minutes, and they were down by seven when Eaton went out with his fourth foul. Mike Brown, playing power forward, came alive for five of his season-high nine points to keep the
Jazz within 71-69 at the break.
Malone scored only four of his 20 points in the second half, but hit a jumper that started a comeback after Atlanta went up by nine. Later, Levingston's second-chance basket kept the Hawks' lead at six, but Leckner - playing for Eaton, who fouled out - scored off a rebound and Bailey drove for a three-point play. After Doc Rivers made one free throw, he twice fouled Stockton on double-teams, and Stockton's four straight free throws gave the Jazz a 91-89 lead with 37 seconds left.
Dominique Wilkins, held to 12 points, made a big play on the Hawks' next trip by shoveling the ball in the lane to Antoine Carr, who hit an eight-footer while drawing Stockton's sixth foul. The three-point play put Atlanta ahead by one with 17 seconds left. The Jazz went for a shot right away; Bailey's pass for Malone was knocked away, but Leckner found the ball and scored.
After Theus' go-ahead free throw, Bailey was supposed to in-bound the ball to Darrell Griffith, but went to Les. "Jim came to the ball, so he was my first option," said Bailey.
"I saw Thurl pump once and I thought he was in trouble," said Les. "He looked at me, and I came to him." Les was the last Jazzman to touch the ball.
JAZZ NOTES: Levingston, the Hawks' No. 5 scorer, made 9 of 11 shots - aside from him, Atlanta shot 37 percent . . . Brown tied his season high with seven rebounds . . . Eaton had 14 rebounds in only 24 minutes before fouling out of his fourth game.