Just like that, the Jazz's dream season suddenly looks very shaky. After Game 1 of the best-of-five series with Manute Bol and all those little guys Thursday night in the Salt Palace, the Jazz seem an awfully long way from the NBA Finals and a lot closer to home for the summer.
All Golden State needed to dramatically change the Jazz's postseason picture were 41 points from Chris Mullin; big-time, clutch drives from young guards Mitch Richmond and Winston Garland; and tough defense from Larry Smith and friends to frustrate Karl Malone.Warriors 123, Jazz 119. Game 2 of the best-of-five series is Saturday night in the Salt Palace, and the Jazz are already talking bravely about a comeback. "I don't think we're going to lie down and die," said Coach Jerry Sloan. "It's still a series," noted Darrell Griffith.
Yes, because this is not the NCAA Tournament, the Jazz will live to play again. The reality is, they have to win Saturday and once in Oakland next week, just to force a Game 5 in this first-round series - to say nothing of Phoenix and the Lakers, looming ahead in the Western Conference.
The Jazz almost avoided all this trouble with a stirring comeback. Down by 11 in the last four minutes, they cut the lead to three before Richmond answered with a driving bank shot, and to two on Thurl Bailey's three-point play before Garland drove for one of his own. When Bol blocked Bailey on a drive and Richmond made two free throws at the other end, the upset was in the books.
"We just played one of those perfect games," insisted Golden State Coach Don Nelson.
Well, almost. Watching the game, you'd have thought the Warriors made every shot. Sloan did. "(Mullin) seemed like he
hardly ever missed a shot," he said. "Every time it went up, it went in." Mullin was actually a fairly human 16 of 30 from the field; the Warriors made not quite half their shots. "We have to take the outside shot," said Mullin. "When we hit them, we look like genuises."
They did get an unexpected 30 points from Richmond, the rookie who had made only 8 of his last 34 shots in the regular season, before skipping the last two games with a back injury. John Stockton had 30 points and 14 assists for the Jazz, while Bailey scored 21 of his 27 in the first half and Malone struggled to reach 22 after going scoreless for the first 16 minutes.
"We had five guys around (Malone) all night," said Nelson. Smith did much of the work, although foul trouble limited him to 25 minutes.
"Larry Smith did a great job," said Mullin. "He surprises everyone - everyone except his teammates."
Malone and Smith, meanwhile, turned their matchup into a no-comment standoff afterward.
"We didn't have the inside game we wanted to have," said Bailey, speaking for Malone. "That could be for a number of reasons."
One obvious reason was Bol, who blocked seven shots and caused considerable other havoc in 18 minutes. Reminded the other day that Bol had blocked 10 shots in a March game against the Jazz, Sloan replied, "We won the game, didn't we?" Thursday, he was more charitable. "A couple of times, we should have taken jump shots," he said, after the Warriors blocked 14 shots, in all.
The long-awaited outcome of Nelson's three days of closed practices came right after the Jazz raised their Midwest Division championship banner and the starting lineups were announced. Nelson went small, starting Smith at center and Rod Higgins at forward and keeping Ralph Sampson on the bench all game.
"Well, it worked," Higgins said later.
"It just made a lot of sense to us," explained Nelson.
"I wasn't surprised by what they did; not at all," said Sloan.
As the Warriors started fast, Sloan almost immediately had to replace starting forward Mike Brown with Bailey; Brown returned only briefly, at center. The Jazz's most effective lineup had Bobby Hansen at small forward, for the sake of matchups.
Down 35-25 after one quarter, the Jazz worked their way back as Griffith scored seven points in 52 seconds on a 3-pointer, a jumper off the break and a dunk after his own steal. The Jazz closed to 61-59 at the half by scoring five points in the last second - Stockton hit a 3-pointer and Griffith a jumper, after Higgins stepped over the line on the in-bounds pass.
The Warriors took a 93-88 lead into the fourth quarter, after Malone charged with eight seconds left, when the Jazz could have worked for the last shot, and Mullin drove for a layup at the horn, giving him 18 points for the quarter. "We might have been able to put a little pressure on them," noted Sloan.
Instead, the Jazz crumbled for most of the fourth quarter, scoring only three points over six-plus minutes after a Malone jumper. Finally, they rallied with a Bobby Hansen jumper, a Stockton layup after a Hansen steal and a Malone rebound basket - after another Malone offensive foul.
The Warriors answered, leaving the Jazz to worry about making a real comeback. "We'll be ready, believe me," promised Griffith, looking to Saturday. Then again, what choice do they have?
JAZZ NOTES: Mullin set Jazz-opponent playoff records for most points in a quarter (18) and field goals and attempts; Bol's seven blocks and the Warriors' 14 blocks were also records . . . The Jazz blocked only five shots, led by Hansen with two . . . Bol banked in a straightaway 3-pointer . . . The Jazz made 30 of 35 free throws to the Warriors 19 of 20; Garland had their only miss.