After spending one of the more enjoyable nights of his life this past Thursday in the Salt Palace, when he scored 41 playoff points to put a damper on the Utah Jazz's plan to hang onto their homecourt advantage, Chris Mullin of the Golden State Warriors wasn't about to forget one thing: That it's a five-game series.
He didn't grow up on the streets of Brooklyn and not get street-wise. He learned when to talk and learned when not to talk.Thursday night wasn't the time to talk.
In the locker room after the game, when a Bay Area sportscaster stuck a microphone in his face and asked him, "What did you do to confuse the Jazz?" Mullin paused, gave the question some thought, and said, "I ain't going to tell you."
"Come on," said the sportscaster.
"No," said Mullin. "I ain't givin' away no game plan."
Particularly not one that got Mullin in a position to hoist up no less than 30 shots against the Jazz in the 123-119 Opening Night upset. Most of the shots were as open as you could ever hope for, given the circumstances of the playoffs. "I had a lot of good looks at the hoop," said Mullin. Good enough looks to make 16 of the field goals, and another eight-of-eight free throws - all of which added up to his not-insignificant 41 points.
In four regular season games this year against the Jazz, Mullin averaged 22 points, with a high of 31.
His playoff performance went well beyond that. He was the elusive Warrior that tore up Utah and eliminated the homecourt playoff advantage the Jazz spent most of the past six months working to achieve.
Warriors Coach Don Nelson remained as tight-lipped as Mullin concerning the intricacies of just exactly how it was that Mullin was able to bust loose for all those shots, and all those points. Like Mullin, he says he's not in the habit of giving game plans away, and certainly not during the early stages of a best-of-five game series.
"We know we have to take the outside shots, and we have to hit them," is all Nelson is saying.
"And when we take them and hit them, we look like geniuses," says Mullin.
As the series enters Game 2 tonight in the Salt Palace, the Jazz's biggest concern is keeping the 6-foot-5 Mullin contained. After just one night, they realize that seeing him open on the wing is the shortest distance between the onseason and the offseason.
"We've got to get to him. We've got to run the floor better defensively," said Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan, who, by the way, doesn't subscribe to the notion that Nelson and the Warriors have devised a well-guarded, exotic game plan that has solved the Jazz's defensive scheme.
"What we didn't do Thursday was help out," said Sloan. "We weren't getting back on defense. When we've got the ball and a shot goes up we've got to do one of two things. Either go to the boards to get the ball, or get down the floor and stop them."
Caught up by the trappings of Game 1, the Jazz, in Sloan's estimation, didn't do either one very well.
And too often, said Sloan, after a Warriors shot the Jazz were starting their fastbreak without one key ingredient - the ball.
"How many times did we head off on the break, and we didn't have the ball because they had gotten another offensive rebound?" he said. "They got 18 offensive rebounds. That's just not enough effort on our part."
It is Sloan's opinion - and one that he stressed strongly at Friday's practice at Westminster College - that the Jazz are much better off worrying about taking care of the fundamentals of their own defense than they are worrying about what tricks the Warriors have in their game plan.
"People say it's a chess game," says Sloan. "Well, how much of a chess game is it when they're getting open shots because we're not running over to stop them?"
Nonetheless, Mullin, Nelson, and the rest of the Warriors - many of whom also had their share of open outside shots Thursday - aren't about to share any secrets, or agree that it's that simple. What's more, Nelson says, "We might anticipate doing something a little different again Saturday. We're certainly studying the films."
Stay tuned. Do the Warriors have a game plan that can turn the Jazz's No. 1-in-the-NBA defense into something resembling a matador's cape? Or did the Jazz make the Warriors look like geniuses Thursday because they eschewed the fundamentals of defense? The answer will largely determine which team goes on to play in May.