Just when you were wondering what the Jazz could possibly to do top last spring's playoff surprise, the Upset Boys are delivering again. Nothing short of having Golden State breeze into the Salt Palace and walk away with two playoff victories could match all that April-May '88 madness.
Suddenly, the Jazz are 48 minutes away from Closed for Season. Game 3 of the best-of-five NBA playoff series is Tuesday in Oakland, and what suggests the Warriors will do anything but complete the sweep?Only the fact that the Jazz are totally unpredictable in the playoffs.
They proved that again in a 99-91 loss to the Warriors Saturday night, managing all of six points for almost a full 12-minute stretch late in the game. Which brought us quickly to the postgame locker-room scene:
Big News I: Karl Malone was talking again, after scoring all of his 37 points in three quarters.
"I probably took it too seriously," said the Mailman, explaining his previous no-talking stance.
Then again, little was left for the Jazz to say after this outing. As for Big News II: Warriors Coach Don Nelson is finally acknowledging that his team has a chance in the series. "We definitely are in a good position," he said.
"Now, you know they're good," Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan said, after the supposed secret was out.
While Game 1 was the story of the Warriors making tough shots and controlling the Jazz, this was different. Golden State was nothing extraordinary - Chris Mullin had a fairly quiet 22 points - and the Jazz led almost all the way before collapsing with a fourth-quarter performance that had all the makings of a genuine, homecourt choke.
"In the game of basketball," Sloan said, "if the ball doesn't go in the hole, you're going to lose."
The way the ball is shot may have something to do with it. In this case, even John Stockton was guilty.
By unofficial count, Stockton shot about 60 percent during the season from a familiar spot 15 feet out on the left side, where he passes into Malone and takes a return pass after the Mailman is surrounded. Routine stuff for one of the NBA's best shooters, right? Not Saturday.
Six straight times in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter, Stockton took that shot. Six straight times, he missed. He also missed on a two drives before finally connecting on a layup to end the Jazz's blitz of six points from 1:01 left in the third quarter to 1:24 left in the game.
"They dropped off of John, and the shot is there," mused Sloan. "They really packed it in on us, and we couldn't hit a shot."
Because Stockton was missing and missing, Malone could hardly be blamed this time for a true fourth-quarter disappearance. His three misses came after offensive rebounds; he had 22 boards in the game. "If I didn't get (the ball), I didn't get it," he said.
In the meantime, the Jazz had no offense and the Warriors played as coolly as ever. Before that Stockton layup, the Jazz made 3 of 21 shots in the quarter - a Mark Eaton dunk, a Thurl Bailey hook and an Eaton hook.
Eaton missed his chance to complete a three-point play, leaving the Jazz up 80-79 with 5:21 left. The rest was ugly, from a Jazz perspective. The Warriors reeled off 14 points, starting with Rod Higgins' consecutive 3-pointers. Terry Teagle scored the next eight and the Warriors were home free.
"We didn't expect to get a sweep," confirmed rookie guard Mitch Richmond, who had 21 points.
By the looks of things, the Jazz generally played the game they wanted. All the regulars played big minutes, ranging from Eaton's 37 to Bailey's 47, and the Jazz pounded the ball inside - not counting a few questionable Bobby Hansen (3 of 11) shots - and kept the score down. "Except for a few stretches, we played about as well as we could play . . . for what they allowed us to do," Sloan said.
Even with most everything going their way, the Jazz had to work hard for a 48-45 halftime lead. Malone had 24 points, topping his Game 1 total; Larry Smith, the Warriors' anti-Malone force, played only 12 minutes, because of foul trouble; and Manute Bol wasted four possessions with his wild 3-point tries. What kept Golden State in the game? The Jazz's 14 turnovers and the quietest 23 minutes of Bailey's career - two shots, two points and one rebound, while defending Mullin decently.
In the third quarter, the Jazz showed every sign of breaking away. Hansen hit a jumper and waved his fists when the Jazz went up by nine, and Bailey's turnaround shot made the lead 11 early in the third quarter before the Warriors regrouped. Nelson's switch to his halfcourt trap suddenly made Malone harder to find and the Jazz crumbled.
"We were the ones who were the culprits, with our impatience," said Sloan. "We took ill-advised shots, you might say."
Thanks to free throws, the Jazz were still in control, leading by nine with 1:01 left in the quarter. That's when the Warriors closed with six points, including a Higgins layup with two seconds left after Jim Farmer, making a brief appearance, issed a 3-pointer.
That was just the start of the Warriors' comeback, sending the Jazz very close to the end of the season.
JAZZ NOTES: The Jazz made 15 of 49 shots (.306) in the second half, finishing at .392 for the game . . . Darrell Griffith was limited to 17 minutes after shooting 23 times in 24 minutes of Game 1. He was 3 of 7 in Game 2, which looked very good in relation to the starters' totals - Stockton and Hansen were 9 of 29 . . . Mike Brown not only didn't start, he didn't play; Eric Leckner worked five minutes as the backup center . . . Just in case, Game 4 would be Thursday in Oakland, Game 5 Saturday in the Salt Palace.