Karl Malone probably expected to have another fourth-quarter rest Friday night at the Delta Center. After all, the lowly Vancouver Grizzlies, just 24-hours removed from an embarrassing loss to the worst team in league history, were in town to meet the red-hot Utah Jazz. It was sort of the NBA's version of a 16th seed meeting a No. 1.
Malone and fellow future hall of famer John Stockton - who had the entire final period off during Wednesday night's victory over the Sacramento Kings - had to figure it would be more of the same on Friday.But the pesky Grizzlies made Malone and Stockton work down the stretch. It wasn't as easy as everyone - with the possible exception of Jerry Sloan - expected, but the Jazz survived to win, 110-101. It was Utah's ninth consecutive victory and its 16th in the last 17 games. Vancouver, which lost to Denver on Thursday, fell to 15-47.
The fact that the entire world expected the Jazz to breeze to the home victory on Friday made it one of "the toughest games to play," said Sloan afterward. In those types of games, the coach said, it's easy to relax or get overconfident and to not execute in the normal fashion.
"When we don't execute, we're the worst team in basketball," said Sloan.
The Jazz didn't execute up to Sloan's lofty standards through the first 31/2 quarters, but they did down the stretch to keep alive their longest winning streak of the season.
Vancouver never led, but tied the score, 88-88, with 7:33 to play.
At that point Malone, who had been resting on the Jazz bench, checked back in and got down to business. He sunk back-to-back 17-foot jumpers. Then he scored on a dunk and sunk a pair of free throws. After a pair of Stockton free throws, Malone netted six more Jazz points in a row.
When the dust had settled, Malone had poured in 14 points in a 31/2-minute span - giving the Jazz a 106-97 lead with three minutes to play.
Game. Set. Match.
"That's just Karl being Karl when the game is on the line," said Jazz guard Shandon Anderson, who started his second straight game in place of the injured Jeff Hornacek. "He's our go-to guy down the stretch and he pulled us through again."Said Vancouver center Bryant Reeves, "We held (Malone) in check, pretty much, all through the game until late in the fourth quarter. He was just coming off of those baseline picks and hitting the fade away jumpers. He took over the game."
Malone finished with a game-high 30 points while pulling down nine boards. Greg Foster tied a career-high with 18 points, while Adam Keefe scored 14 points with a team-high 11 boards.
Stockton scored his 15,000th career point on a driving layup in traffic with 6:25 remaining in the first quarter. At the next deadball situation, the accomplishment was announced over the P.A. system and Stockton was given a standing ovation from the sellout crowd. He finished with 16 points and 11 assists.
Reeves, Vancouver's Greg Ostertag look alike, led the Grizzlies with 23 points and a dozen boards to help keep the game closer than expected. Shareef Abdur-Rahim added 19 points, while new point guard Bobby Hurley gave Vancouver a lift off the bench with 17 points.
"We were able to keep it reasonably close and hang right in to the fourth," said Vancouver coach Brian Hill. "(Utah) is the best executing team in the NBA and you have to do pretty much the same thing against them. We weren't able to do that, but I was much more pleased with the way we played tonight."
The Jazz, now 46-16, are actually one game ahead of last year's pace after 62 games. The Jazz now have the second-best record in the league thanks to the Bulls losing to the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night. Utah is just one game behind the Seattle SuperSonics for the best mark in the NBA heading into its final extended trip of the season, which begins Sunday in Detroit.
Ostertag, who has missed the past 15 games due to a stress fracture to his lower left leg, will make the trip, but has not been activated from the injured list as of yet. Hornacek, who sat out Friday with a sore right knee, is expected to be back in action on Sunday in Detroit.
The Jazz, who recently swept a five-game trip, still aren't satisfied.
"Hopefully we play a lot better (on the coming trip) than we did on the last trip," said Hornacek.