Antoine Walker and Rick Pitino are the new kids on the NBA block. They are young, brash and have outstanding credentials.
Their counterparts on the Utah Jazz - Karl Malone and Jerry Sloan - are part of the NBA's old guard. For them it's substance, not style, that's most important.Walker was huge Wednesday night in the Fleet Center. The 21-year-old Boston Celtics forward showed the Jazz firsthand why he's considered one of the top young talents in the league. He scored on a variety of moves, both inside and out. He dunked, trashed talked and even did a funky chicken strut at one point. The Jazz simply didn't have a defensive answer for him. Walker scored 36 points and added 10 rebounds.
But it was Malone who left the court with a smile on his face. The Jazz, behind the Mailman's 32 points and 15 rebounds, beat the Celtics 110-94.
"(Walker) had a great game," Malone said. "But we won."
For Malone and Sloan, that's the bottom line.
Utah improved to 41-16 with the victory, while the Celtics, much-improved this season under Pitino in his first year as the coach, fell to 28-31. The Jazz have now beaten the Celtics 13 consecutive times dating back to 1991.
The Jazz followed the same script Wednesday as they had in both Houston and Toronto, their previous games on their current five-game trip. They fell behind early, were forced to play catch-up and then pulled away in the fourth quarter. The trend is in stark contrast to early in the year when the Jazz made a habit of getting outscored in the final quarters of games.
"You don't like to start slow," said Malone. "We'd rather get every rebound, make every shot and play great defense, but sometimes that doesn't happen. . . . We like to put together a complete game, but the most important thing is that we win."
The Celtics' trapping, pressure defense - like the ones Pitino used for years at the college level as the coach of Kentucky - gave the Jazz plenty of headaches. Utah turned the ball over a season-high 23 times.
But on the occasions that the press was broken, the Jazz had great success, often either getting layups or getting fouled and scoring from the line. Utah was 37-for-42 on its foul shots for the game, 82.2 percent. In the second half, as the Jazz pulled away after leading by three points at intermission, they made 27 of 28 free throws.
"They're a team that does a lot of slashing and holding and all that," said Malone, accounting for all the Jazz free throws.
Malone, Sloan and company actually felt the Jazz should have been to the line even more often. Both Malone and Sloan each earned technicals for arguing for additional Celtic fouls. Not to be outdone, Walker was also hit with a T. (for trash talking), and Pitino was nailed twice in a matter of seconds and was ejected with 4:04 remaining.
While Malone, as is usually the case, led the Jazz in scoring and rebounding, the Jazz had four other players net double figures. Bryon Russell scored 14 points off the bench on 4-of-5 shooting from the field (including two 3-pointers). Jeff Hornacek added 13 points, while Adam Keefe had a dozen. John Stockton finished with 10 points, nine assists and two steals.
Sloan, as he's been doing quite often since center Greg Ostertag went on the injured list with a stress fracture to his left leg 10 games ago, went with a small lineup for much of the game. He had Malone play the center position with Russell, Keefe and Chris Morris alternating as the forwards.
"We're getting some great defense play out of our smaller guys against bigger guys, and that's been the key," said Stockton of the recent Jazz trend of going small. "I think it's good that Coach is changing things up."
Morris was less than pleased two weeks ago upon returning to the Jazz after an aborted trade to Orlando. But his spirits are lifting at the same time he's suddenly becoming a contributor after spending most of the year at the end of the bench. He played 14 minutes against the Celtics, scoring two points with three rebounds.
Pitino, meanwhile, is still trying to work in the newest additions to his almost completely revamped team from a year ago. New point guard Kenny Anderson - formerly of Portland by way of Toronto - scored 10 points with four assists.
While Sloan feels having the same personnel together for several years is one of the keys to Utah's success, Pitino has shown with the number of roster changes he's made that he likes to shuffle the deck.
"My philosophy is, if it's not broken, break it and make it better," Pitino said prior to the game.
That, however, is not Sloan's philosophy.
"It's hard to win if you're trading guys all the time," said the veteran Jazz coach. "We've had these guys together for a long time, and that's helped us. There was a lot of pressure on us to trade Stockton and Malone about five or six years ago. People were saying they were too old to play. Fortunately we didn't listen to those people."
The Jazz will have Thursday off before finishing the road swing with another back-to-back set this weekend. They play at New Jersey - Rony Seikaly's new home - on Friday night with the Milwaukee Bucks on tap Saturday.
Jazz reaction to Sprewell case
The Jazz had precious little to say on the record in the wake of the reduction of Latrell Sprewell's NBA-imposed suspension. See page D5.