Just when the Jazz were winning seven straight games and seemed on the verge of ending the Midwest Division race in March, everything suddenly changed along I-10 in southeast Texas Saturday night. We take you to HemisFair Arena, where the Jazz lose their cool in the fourth quarter and watch Alvin Robertson go wild on his way to - almost - a quadruple-double. And this just in from the Summit in Houston: The Rockets, showing signs of life again, hammer Portland.
The fun may just be starting, too.A 114-98 loss to the Spurs started the Jazz's toughest stretch of the schedule, featuring the famous San Antonio-Seattle-Houston road sequence. Mostly, this game seems harmless: a travel-day loss to a hungry team trying to avoid being swept in the six-game season series. "It's just a loss," John Stockton calmly reminded, after the Jazz gave up 39 fourth-quarter points.
He's right. How can we suggest the Jazz are in trouble, immediately after losing their first game since March 1? Well, just for fun, consider what's ahead: Tuesday, they play at Seattle and Denver is at Houston. Friday, the Jazz play at Houston. If everything goes the Rockets' way, they'll only be 21/2 games behind the Jazz with 15 games left.
"That's a lot of basketball - things can change very quickly," noted Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan, who's said the same thing for the last two weeks. "Other teams are not going to sit back and give us anything."
Not the Spurs, anyway. Robertson, who claims one of the two quadruple-doubles in NBA history, checked in with 27 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists and seven steals. "Three more steals would have been nice," said Robertson.
Robertson's "quad" came against Phoenix in February 1986; Nate Thurmond joins him in the NBA record book. Larry Bird almost did the same to the Jazz in February 1985 but skipped the fourth quarter of a Boston rout.
Faced with the threat of the first six-game sweep in franchise history, they went after the Jazz and kept coming, even after trailing by nine in the third quarter. The Spurs made two big fourth-quarter runs - Greg Anderson's tip, Willie Anderson's dunk and Robertson's three-point play put them up by eight; after Stockton and Thurl Bailey cut the lead to two, Frank Brickowski's two free throws and drives by Willie Anderson and Vernon Maxwell sent the Jazz reeling.
Even after taking a 5:55 a.m. flight out of Salt Lake City and impressing Sloan with their effort under the circumstances, this was not an especially redeeming outing for the Jazz. Malone made 6 of 19 shots; Darrell Griffith was 3 of 14 and yanked early by Sloan; Stockton lost seven turnovers while giving up 22 points to the rookie Maxwell; and while leading the Jazz with 22 points, Bailey tied his season high with seven turnovers.
The most damaging were his stepping on the baseline after taking a Stockton pass and a Robertson strip-steal, both with the Jazz down by four. "I don't know if it was a loss of composure, or just not thinking," Bailey said of the Jazz's fourth-quarter trouble.
"They were alive, you could see that from the beginning," said Sloan, crediting the Spurs.
The Jazz were trying to sweep a six-game series for the first time since blanking Houston in 1982-83 and knew the Spurs would not be easily brushed aside. They were also within reach of their longest overall winning streak in five seasons. Ironically, they'd started a seven-game run in November in San Antonio, the same place where the latest streak ended.
In a preview of coming attractions in Seattle, the Spurs were rough on the Jazz's All-Stars - Stockton traded shoves with Maxwell, Malone with Willie Anderson. The Jazz worked hard for a 51-48 halftime lead, and made a move in a strange third quarter when they went up by nine before Stockton went out for a rest. "It was a combination of things," said Sloan, a little mysteriously.
In the quarter, the Jazz made 10 of 15 shots and still lost ground. That's because they made 6 of 13 free throws and lost eight turnovers while Robertson scored 14. "We had 'em for a while, but we just couldn't seem to pull away," said Mark Eaton. The Spurs' comeback started when Stockton left, but he was struggling, too - at one point, he had six turnovers and five assists for the game.
The Jazz took a 77-75 lead into the fourth quarter, but the Spurs took care of the rest. In their own little way, this lottery team just might have started the real Midwest race.
"Nobody wants to lose," said Malone.
JAZZ NOTES: Former Spur Marc Iavaroni tied his season high with 10 points, while former Jazzman Scott Roth was scoreless in six minutes . . . The Jazz are undecided about placing Jim Farmer on the injured list and signing another player. Sloan will consult player-personnel director Scott Layden. "We'll just have to see what's available," Sloan said. Farmer, who played 31 games after joining the Jazz in January, is expected to miss the rest of the regular season after breaking the little finger or his left hand Friday against Miami . . . Eaton's eight blocks gave him 56 in six games against San Antonio . . . Maxwell started because Johnny Dawkins, who just came off the injured list, is having recurring leg trouble . . . Saturday, the Spurs drew their 6 millionth fan in 16 seasons, an average of about 9,200 a game.