As the Utah Jazz celebrated the fifth Midwest Division title in franchise history following a rough 98-88 victory over San Antonio on Wednesday night, the Spurs' star center David Robinson was in a Salt Lake City hospital bed.
The Jazz are hoping for a quick recovery by the Admiral, although one reason is a bit selfish. Utah would love to see the Spurs win a few key games against Seattle and the Lakers down the stretch.Robinson, the Spurs' leading scorer and rebounder, was knocked out cold by an elbow to the head from Karl Malone early in the first quarter. Robinson fell hard to the ground landing flat on his face. The sellout crowd at the Delta Center spent a few anxious moments in silence with Robinson prone on the court unconscious. He soon came to, but left the game with a concussion and was later checked into LDS Hospital. A CAT Scan came up negative, which was good news, but he was held overnight as a pre-cau-tion.
Spurs-Jazz games, by nature, are wars, but after Robinson's injury things really began to heat up. Fortunately, despite some rough play - with a couple of flagrant fouls mixed in - no one else from either team required hospitalization or was even hurt.
Rookie Tim Duncan kept San Antonio close, but the Jazz survived.
Utah, now 58-18, clinched its second straight division crown with the victory and moved a full game ahead of idle Seattle for the best record in the Western Conference with six games remaining. San Antonio fell to 52-25.
The division title "doesn't mean a whole lot," said Jazz forward Adam Keefe. "Obviously we feel we have a lot more potential than to just win the Midwest. It's a small feather in our cap, but to be honest, it doesn't really mean anything. It doesn't guarantee home-court advantage. It doesn't give you any playoff wins."
But it keeps the Jazz on pace to have homecourt advantage through-out the conference playoffs. If the Jazz win all six of their remaining games, they'll finish with the top mark in the West.
Seattle (one game back) and the Lakers (11/2 behind) are still breathing down their necks.
That's why the Jazz are hoping Robinson will be able to play again in the near future. The Spurs have two remaining games against the Sonics - including one at home on Friday night - and one with the Lakers. Thus, as of today, the Jazz are officially Spurs fans for a few days.
The same can't be said of the Spurs toward the Jazz. Players in the San Antonio locker room were calling for the NBA to discipline Malone for the play in which Robinson got hurt.
"It was malicious," said injured Spurs forward Sean Elliott. "When I saw it, I was at a loss. . . . If (the NBA) has any guts, they better step up (to suspend Malone) even though he's the reigning MVP."
Spurs forward Monty Williams said the Jazz are well known for their cheap shots.
Even Duncan, the soon-to-be rookie of the year who scored 34 points, threw down the gauntlet.
"It will motivate you even more when you look back and say that they did this or they did that to us," said Duncan. "It's time for pay-back. That's the only thing we can say about that. If it gets to the playoffs and we're up against them, it's going to be a whole different game."
On the play in which Robinson got his concussion, Malone had the ball inside with the Admiral on defense. Malone spun and shot. His left elbow caught Robinson in the temple on the follow-through. Robinson was whistled for a foul on the play, not Malone.
"When I turned, I hit him," said Malone, "but I didn't mean to. It was just one of those things that happens."
Malone, who was a Dream Team-mate of Robinson's, says the two are friends and that he would never intentionally throw an elbow at him.
The Mailman was hit with a flagrant foul later in the first quarter when he threw an elbow at Duncan, though. Spurs center Will Perdue was nailed with a flagrant foul, too, when he body slammed Malone on a fast-break layup attempt late in the second quarter.
Malone, one night after burning the Warriors for 56 points, scored 32 on Wednesday with a game-high 10 rebounds.
"Teams are coming at him," said Stockton of his power forward team-mate. "They're laying a lot of bodies on him, they're determined to foul him and try to frustrate him a little bit. He just kept his composure, made his free throws, got back down the floor and came back at them again. Karl continues to amaze me."
Stockton wasn't too bad, himself. He finished with 17 points and nine assists. Jeff Hornacek added 15 points, while the Jazz bench chipped in 18 in the fourth quarter when the game was still on the line.
Utah has now won the second game of a back-to-back set 11 consecutive times dating back to early December.
While the Jazz and Spurs are done for now, they could meet in the second-round of the playoffs. Should the Jazz hang on to get the first seed and then advance past the eighth seed, they will face the winner of the No. 4 vs. No. 5 match-up, which figures to pit the Spurs against the Phoenix Suns.
The Jazz, winners of 21 of their past 23 games, will next take on the Los Angeles Clippers Friday night in the Delta Center. Utah will then play the Timberwolves in Minnesota on Saturday.