All of a sudden, the Team That Swept the Jazz is looking awfully vulnerable. Saturday afternoon before a national TV audience and a sellout crowd in Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the Phoenix Suns went after Golden State with outside shooting, offensive rebounding, defense and relentless hustle. Sound familiar? "This is a hard team for us," said Warriors Coach Don Nelson, and he should know.
The Suns' 130-103 victory in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinal series was frighteningly easy. Phoenix had answers for all the puzzling troubles Golden State caused the Jazz in sweeping their first-round series. "It's totally different," Warriors forward Terry Teagle said of the second round. "They're very flexible."Game 2 is Tuesday in Phoenix, before the series moves to Oakland. "I didn't expect what happened," Nelson said after his first '89 playoff loss. "I thought we could stay in the game."
Remembering the Warriors' sweep of the Jazz, Phoenix forward Eddie Johnson said, "We were scared, no doubt. That was an intimidating three victories. When we're scared, we concentrate better."
Whatever the reason, the Suns exploded after taking a 66-51 halftime lead as Tom Chambers scored 13 points in a 41-22 third quarter.
Where were all those Jazz-killers Saturday? Chris Mullin managed 18 points, but Tyrone Corbin made him work and the Suns shut off all those drives to the basket, causing seven Mullin turnovers. Mitch Richmond was held to 12 points by U.S. Olympic teammate Dan Majerle. Manute Bol blocked only two shots and missed all three of his 3-point tries.
Everything the Jazz were missing against the Warriors, the Suns have. A scoring center? Chambers moved to center frequently against Golden State's even-smaller-than-usual lineup and scored 25 points. "When they went to that small lineup, we were going to make them pay," said Johnson. Quick, aggressive small forwards? Corbin and Majerle teamed for 36 points and 16 rebounds. Outside shooting? Johnson had 20 points and guard Jeff Hornacek added 19.
"If they collapse on us, we can hit the outside shot, where Utah struggled," said Johnson. "That's the difference."
Nelson said, "I'm not getting into comparing teams . . . they're different - you've got that right. They're definitely different."
The other morning on his KNBR Radio show in San Francisco, Nelson broke down and criticized the Jazz. According to the Oakland Tribune, Nelson began by saying he figured Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan would not be listening - which was true. "Without giving too much away," Nelson said, "they were a pretty predictable team. We knew what they were going to do, when they were going to do it and where they were going to do it. We were able to anchor our defense and make it very difficult for them to score."
Later, Nelson backed off slightly by saying, "Jerry Sloan is a terrific coach - any coach at this level has to be."
The Suns and Warriors, meanwhile, came up with more theories on the Jazz's downfall. "Utah relies on three people," noted Phoenix guard Kevin Johnson. "We can go nine, 10 deep. It's probably a little more difficult to scout us than Utah. They run their same play the majority of the game."
Said the Warriors' Teagle, "There's no one particular (Phoenix) guy you can key in on."
So what do we make of the Jazz now? Saturday's Golden State showing may or may not support the idea that they just ran into a hot team. Did the Warriors, as Mark Eaton suggested, play over their heads in the first round? Or did they lack the flexibility to deal with the Warriors at their best?
"They do what we do very well," Nelson said of the Suns.
"They're just as small as we are," said Golden State guard Winston Garland.
No doubt, the Jazz needed somebody like Majerle against the Warriors - and they knew that last June. Like Chambers, he's a Sun who got away from Utah. Before trying to sign Chambers as a free agent, the Jazz secretly targeted Majerle, a 6-foot-6 swingman from Central Michigan, as their first-round draft choice.
Majerle ended up going to Phoenixat No. 14, three slots ahead of them, resulting in resounding boos at the Suns' draft headquarters. "I took it with a grain of salt," Majerle says now.
So how does Phoenix like Majerle in May? Great, of course. Noting the NBA all-rookie team selections, Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons said in his own, folksy way, "A lot of those people won't be in the league after Majerle's still here." Or something like that.
Unable to exploit weaknesses, Nelson tried Otis Smith in the first half and resorted to Ralph Sampson in the third quarter with his team down by 31. Neither had appeared against the Jazz.
"We did everything right, but I don't think they did everything wrong," said Fitzsimmons. Certainly, not much went right for the Warriors. They'll try the Suns again Tuesday - but they'd probably rather bring back the Jazz.