THERE, SALT LAKE, do you feel better now? The Jazz beat the Rockets Saturday night 105-90 to even their best-of-five playoff series one-all, and judging from the scene in the Delta Center, it was probably good therapy for everyone involved.
There were enough boos, arguments, elbows, pushes, taunts and flying bodies to make a decent night in the WWF. But this is what happens when you put 20,000 people in a bad mood all in the same room together.Salt Lake hadn't felt this ornery since Johnson's army rode into town. The Jazz and their fans showed up in the Delta Center with giant chips on their shoulders after losing Game 1 on their home court two nights earlier, and Coach Jerry Sloan couldn't have been more pleased. Sloan had told the media that the only thing his team did to respond to the Rockets' physical play in Game 1 was whine.
By the end of Game 2, it was the Rockets who were whining and the Jazz who were rolling. The Jazz got revenge AND got even. They reversed Thursday's 103-90 score almost exactly and then added a basket for good measure.
By the end of the night, the Rockets had collected five technicals, Hakeem Olajuwon had been booted out of the arena and Charles Barkley had been banished to the bench after delivering a forearm to John Stockton's forehead. That's the kind of night it was.
The Jazz saved face, not to mention an entire season. A loss would have spelled doom, but now they head to Houston for two road games needing only one win instead of two.
For a while it looked like another nail-biter was in the works, especially when the Rockets cut the Jazz's lead to one point late in the second quarter. At halftime the Jazz led 47-42 and it was still anybody's game. But it was all Utah's when play resumed. Karl Malone, who had nine points in the first half, had 11 in the third quarter alone, as the Jazz blew the Rockets out of the arena. Malone finished with 29 points and Stockton had 17.
If the Jazz rolled over for the Rockets' rough play in Game 1, they didn't this time. It was no more Mister Nice Guy. Civility made only a token appearance. That was when the teams performed the obligatory pre-game handshake. It was the last time anyone came close to making nice.
The game was just minutes old when Matt Maloney - who had said Friday that he disrupted Stockton's game by getting physical with him knocked Stockton to the floor while fighting for position under the boards. Stockton picked himself up and bumped Maloney as he walked past his rival and tempers flared on both sides.
Minutes later Maloney fouled Foster after catching a Foster elbow, and Coach Rudy Tomjanovich suffered a meltdown. He had to be restrained as he tried to reach the official, but not before he was given a technical foul.
The first quarter still wasn't finished when Clyde Drexler was given his own technical for arguing with officials.
How bad were things? Even Jeff Hornacek and Drexler, two of the milder personalities in the NBA, had to be separated. As the half ended, Tomjanovich walked onto the court to talk with the officials, who wanted none of it and ordered him to the locker room to a chorus of boos.
Late in the fourth quarter, Olajuwon was awarded back-to-back technical fouls for disputing a call and a short time later Barkley crashed into Stockton with his forearm up to earn an instant technical foul. As Barkley walked away, Stockton gave him a shove to the back just as teammates restrained him.
"BAR-kley sucks! BAR-kley sucks!" the fans chanted for some 15 seconds as Barkley walked to the bench. That's the way it was on this night. The crowd was as ornery as the players, and came to the Delta Center armed with signs and attitude.
If the Rockets had been smart, they might have had Barkley on the bench a lot sooner for all the good he did them. He produced a strong performance in Game 1, but in Game 2 he looked like any fat, out-of-shape, thirtysomething guy with a hernia. He made just two of seven shots and had eight points.
Meanwhile, they actually managed to play some basketball, or something that closely resembled it. Rough play was the theme of the night. Mario Elie appeared to intentionally trip Bryon Russell as he picked up a loose ball at midcourt. Barkley used his considerable hind-end to knock Malone to the floor and drew a charge in the process.
But the Jazz stood up to such play on this night and now they've evened the score.