A few hours after learning he hadn't received the NBA's top individual honor for the 1997-98 season, Karl Malone spent 41 minutes Monday night reminding the voters why they named him MVP last year.
But the Mailman was finished delivering his 33 points when Utah connected on its most important pick-and-roll play of the night.Malone had already drilled 12 of 18 shots, including nine mid-to-long-range jumpers, but with a minute left and the game on the line, he became a very large decoy. Instead of Malone, it was Antoine Carr who was on the receiving end of a perfectly placed pass from John Stockton off the Jazz's bread-and-butter play.
Stockton-to-Malone momentarily made way for Stockton-to-Carr, which, if nothing else, has a better ring to it for an auto dealership.
So, as two Lakers followed Stockton into the lane on the pick-and-roll, Carr drifted unnoticed into the left corner. The defenders probably made the correct choice in collapsing on Stockton, considering he had scored 21 points on 9 of 12 shooting and Carr had missed his only three tries. But if anybody knows how to make the best choice on a pick-and-roll play, it's Stockton.
"If you get a good pick on his man and he gets into the middle, he knows what to do with the ball," Jazz center Greg Foster said of Stockton. "He can either shoot it or pass it back to the picker or get it to the off-side guy. He makes us go, that's all."
Which is exactly what he did, again. Without hesitating, Stockton found Carr alone, and Carr's 18-footer then found the bottom of the net.
Carr's only two points put the Jazz up by three, 96-93, with exactly one minute remaining in the game. There were still a few free throws to be made along with some bricks by Shaquille O'Neal and Rick Fox, but that was no doubt the clutch bucket for Utah.
"If it's going to be the big one, I guess that's the only shot I want," Carr said. "They left me wide open, and when I'm that wide open I can hit the shot pretty easy. I just lined it up and nailed it."
Though the Lakers got burned that crucial time, L.A. coach Del Harris complimented his team for its defensive effort against the Jazz's trademark play.
"We did a good job on the pick-and-roll defense," Harris said.
In trying to show how well the Lakers did on the pick-and-roll, Harris pointed out that Utah scored less than one point each time it used that offense.
Regardless, the Jazz still shot 51.5 percent from the field and they got 27 points (out of 38 tries) from the free-throw line. Plus, they scored 18 points (compared to four for L.A.) off the fast break. With those numbers, who needs the pick-and-roll anyway?
"We'll take the victory," Stockton said. "Was it (because of) the pick-and-roll or was it the fact that we were able to get some rebounds or push the ball in a fast-break situation and get an easy basket here and there?
"Whatever it is that leads to a win, I'm thankful for. But whether the pick-and-roll was better than it was last game I couldn't tell you."
Still, Stockton seemed to thrive off of the pick-and-roll, finishing with 22 points and six assists. He drilled several short jumpers after floating into the lane off of the screen, and his final basket, a 13-footer with 1:55 left, came in similar fashion.
"It's just execution. It's not glitzy, it's not glamorous, it's not one-on-one, it ain't crossin' over, but it works," added Foster about the pick-and-roll. "It's effective and it's very hard to defend. And a lot of big guys don't like to defend it."
Pick and roll
John Stockton dribbles past a screen set by Malone, forcing Malone's defender to pick up the moving Stockton. Stockton's original defender is trapped behind Malone, who breaks to the basket and receives a bounce pass into the open lane for a signature Stockton-to-Malone score.