Having disposed of L.A.'s "B" team in an economical three games, the Utah Jazz now - probably - get to play the varsity.
They love L.A. Or at least they better.With a 104-92 thumping of the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night at the Sports Arena, the Jazz completed the franchise's first sweep of a playoff opponent in 24 tries. They now await the winner of the Lakers-Trail Blazers series, which could end in a sweep Wednesday night, since that L.A. team holds a 2-0 edge.
If Game 2's 20-point margin of victory was deceptive in that it masked a contest that was actually closer, Game 3's didn't give an accurate picture, either. The Jazz basically handled the Clippers. They had a lead as high as 23 until some unusual calls allowed the Clips to hang closer than they deserved.
Everyone agreed this was Utah's best effort of the postseason.
"It was the best game in this series, absolutely," said Jazz forward Karl Malone, who finished with 26 points, 13 rebounds.
What everyone also agreed on was that it actually helped to finally hit the road.
"Being on the road we realized we'd have our hands full, and guys came ready to play," Jazz guard John Stockton said. "You know you're not going to get a boost from the fans, that you're going to have to do it yourselves."
"You stay at home and even though you don't want to listen to it, people tell you how good you are, and maybe you start believing it a little," Malone said.
What had largely been missing from the Jazz's repertoire in Games 1 and 2 was intensity. Those victories over the Clippers had been workmanlike affairs, with L.A. displaying more drive, more hustle, though not enough to offset the Jazz's talent advantage.
"When we were at home, we felt we could just show up and win, and we did," said guard Jeff Hornacek, who broke out of a mini-slump with a team-high 28 points. "You play any team on the road, it's a challenge. That kind of got us going today."
"I don't know if we played that great, but we definitely had more fire," said Stockton.
That was evident early, as the Jazz made 14 of their first 16 shots of the game. And, for a change, it wasn't just Malone and Stockton doing all the damage. Less than five minutes into the game every starter had scored, including center Greg Ostertag. He didn't make a major statistical contribution Monday, but coach Jerry Sloan praised him for being more involved.
"We got a little more intensity out of Greg," Sloan said. "In the first two games he hadn't been much of a factor."
"I felt great on both ends of the floor tonight," Ostertag said. "I was more active defensively, especially in the second half, and I was more active on the offensive glass."
The Jazz shot 73.7 percent from the field to lead 32-24 at the end of the first quarter, then pushed their advantage out to 13 at the start of the second period. The Clippers cut the deficit to six with a 7-0 run, but by halftime the Jazz led by a comfy 16 points, 58-42.
L.A. tried some token fullcourt pressure to open the second half, but a bigger factor was a spate of peculiar calls. In the first four minutes of the third quarter, the Jazz were whistled for three three-second violations, including calls on Malone on back-to-back possessions, and a backcourt traveling violation on Stockton. (Just for fun, if the Jazz play the Lakers, see if Shaquille O'Neal gets called for three three-second violations the entire series.)
The Clippers were unable to take advantage of that bit of good fortune, however, and the Jazz responded to it by ripping off 11 unanswered points to take a 23-point lead at 71-48. The Jazz dominated the boards in that quarter, 17-6; for the game, they held a 46-28 advantage.
If the Jazz had a let-up, it was in the final quarter. Utah shot just 28.6 percent (4 of 14) in the period, allowing the Clippers to get within 10 with 2:38 left. But the Jazz reeled off six straight points to end any threat.
"We didn't have the intensity for all 48 minutes like we should, but we had it for 36," said Hornacek, acknowledging the fourth-quarter letdown.
Afterward, most of the media questions involved the Lakers-Blazers series, as numerous attempts were made to get the Jazz to state a preference in second-round opponent. Naturally, the Jazz easily dodged those efforts.
"They're both great teams, and whichever team comes out is going to be playing very, very well," Stockton said.
"Whatever happens, happens," Malone said. "We're professionals. We should be ready to play anybody."
GAME NOTES: Forward Jerome Kersey of the Lakers watched the game from courtside with former talk-show host Arsenio Hall . . . Jazz guard Chris Morris suffered a sprained left wrist in the second quarter, but returned to play in the second half.