Adam Keefe had a valid point following the Utah Jazz's nail-biting 101-99 victory over the Golden State
Warriors on Tuesday night in the new Oakland Coliseum Arena."There aren't too many teams in the NBA where the starting forwards can combine for 60 points," said the starting Jazz small forward.
There are even fewer teams that have a power forward - or anyone, for that matter - who can score 56.
Karl Malone, by his own admission, had one of those nights when even he - one of the greatest players of all time - seldom sees. Malone had a big first half against the Warriors, scoring 19 points. And then Malone punished Golden State for 35 points during the first 23 minutes and 57 seconds of the second half.
Yet it still wasn't enough to give the Jazz the much-needed victory over the pesky Warriors. The Mailman added a driving, six-foot one-hander with 2.2 ticks left to seal the deal.
"You just get into one of those zones sometimes," said Malone. "I think I've had three like that in 13 years."
The other "zones" he was referring to came against the Charlotte Hornets in Dec. 1989, when he scored 51 points, and a month later against the Milwaukee Bucks in January 1990 when he had a career-best 61.
Both those games came early in the season when there wasn't near as much riding on the outcome. Tuesday night's victory was huge because the Jazz are still fighting for the best record in the NBA - and the homecourt advantage in the playoffs - with less than two weeks remaining in the regular season.
Utah improved to 57-18 with the victory to move one-half game ahead of Seatte for the top record in the Western Conference. The Jazz remained 1-1/2 games behind the Bulls for the best mark in the league, however, since Chicago beat Washington earlier in the evening.
Malone's big night was notable because:
- It was the highest-scoring game by a player in the league this year, surpassing the 50 points scored by Tracy Murray and Shaquille O'Neal.
- It was the fourth best individual scoring game in Jazz history.
- It featured the highest scoring quarter by a individual in franchise history. Malone scored 25 points in the third, two more than all the Warriors combined.
- His 37-point second half was the second most prolific scoring half for a player in franchise history.
- The Mailman got so wrapped up in the game that he made a spontaneous display of public of affection to another player not seen on an NBA court since Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson retired - not that there's anything wrong with that.
Malone, after scoring and getting fouled on a play in the fourth quarter, gave teammate Greg Foster a quick celebratory kiss on the check.
"There's nothing wrong with that," said Malone pecking his teammate. "That's part of the game. You do things sometimes . . . . We've got a close team - that's real close - but it was just one of those things that happened at that moment. I don't know about what (Foster's) reaction was to it, but that's just what I thought about doing at the time."
Certainly Jazz coach Jerry Sloan must have felt like kissing Malone after the game - although it appears he refrained from doing so. At the same time, however, Sloan was not pleased with most of Malone's teammates. The Jazz trailed for the majority of the game to the lowly Warriors, a team that has won only 16 games all season.
"We had only one or two guys who came out and acted like they wanted to play," said Sloan.
"The Warriors just manhandled us. Karl Malone came out and had a tremendous game, but I've got to have some other people step up and give us some help . . .. You're just fooling yourself if you think you're going to win in the playoffs if you expect one guy to carry you."
Keefe put it this way: "(Malone) bailed us out because we didn't play particularly well, especially on the defensive end. . . . More than anything, this should be a warning or omen to us that we're not playing very well right now. We need to get that straightened out in a hurry or we'll lose a great opportunity."
John Stockton added 13 points and 14 assists, while Bryon Russell had a dozen points - including a driving layup with 1:19 to play that gave the Jazz a one-point lead with 1:19 remaining.
Stockton made a pair of free throws to give the Jazz a 99-96 lead with 14 seconds left, but Jimmy Jackson nailed a 3-pointer to tie the game with 11.4 seconds remaining. The Jazz didn't call a timeout, Stockton rushed the ball up the court, found Malone near the top of the key and the Mailman drove the lane in for the short game-winning shot.
Malone made only two of his first eight shots from the field, but was near perfect thereafter.
He was 18-for-29 from the floor for the game and 19-of-23 from the foul line. He added nine rebounds and four blocked shots to boot.
"He was on fire," said Russell.
Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo indicated after the game that he was unhappy with the officiating. "I can't comment on the calls, but I can read a stat sheet," he said.
Jackson led the Warriors with 28 points, while center Erick Dampier added 20. Donyell Marshall scored 13 points before leaving the game with a broken rib in the third quarter.
The Warriors are well out of the playoff race, but that hardly means they want to lose games to improve their chances in the draft lottery. In fact, the worst nightmare for the Golden State management - this side of Latrell Sprewell drawing a paycheck from them - is getting one of the top three picks in next June's draft. The reason? Thanks to a complex set of circumstances, Golden State will forfeit their first-round pick to Orlando if their selection is among the top three. If their pick is fourth or higher they get to keep it.
Thus, winning games down the stretch will give the Warriors a smaller chance of gaining a top-three pick - which is a good thing in their eyes.
The Jazz returned home immediately after the game. They'll play Midwest Division rival San Antonio tonight in the Delta Center. The Spurs are pretty well locked into either the fourth or fifth playoff position and they'll likely play Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs. They are presently trying to hold off the red-hot Suns in order to have homecourt advantage in that opening round, however.
Team W L Pct GB
Utah 57 18 .760 -
Seattle 57 19 .750 1/2
L.A. Lakers 55 20 .733 2
San Antonio 52 24 .684 5 1/2
Phoenix 51 25 .671 6 1/2