Blazing with confidence
Portland ready to assert itself at home against Utah
Posted: Friday May 21, 1999 09:25 PM
John Stockton's missed drive at the end of Game 2 Thursday night let the Blazers escape Utah with an 84-81 victory and evened the best-of-7 Western Conference semifinals 1-1.
The win, which came after Portland nearly blew a fourth-quarter lead for the second time in the series, also boosted the Blazers' already abundant confidence heading into Saturday's Game 3 at the Rose Garden.
"We did not go into Utah saying to ourselves ... 'How are we going to win? Can we win?'" Blazers coach Mike Dunleavy said Friday after winning the NBA Coach of the Year award. "We believed that we could win. We know we can win every game we play."
Portland won 22 of the 25 games it played at home during the regular season, with one of those losses coming to the Jazz in mid-March, 91-77. In the playoffs, Utah has lost its last seven games in Portland. Its last win here was in a first-round series in 1988.
"We have no doubt we can win one or two of those games up there, if we don't turn the ball over and play the kind of defense we're capable of," Stockton said.
The Blazers led 73-64 with 5:13 to play before the Jazz rallied behind Stockton and Jeff Hornacek. Their consecutive 3-pointers pulled Utah within 82-81 with 12 seconds left. Portland's Greg Anthony made one of two free throws with 10 seconds left, setting up Stockton's miss. It appeared that he might have been fouled by Jim Jackson, but the officials let the play stand.
The sometimes hotheaded Blazers kept their cool, unlike Tuesday night's opener, in which Rasheed Wallace was called for a flagrant foul on Bryon Russell. Wallace threw a tantrum, was called for a technical, and the Jazz scored four points on the possession to tie the game at 78-all. They didn't trail again.
"I think there was a lot of growing up that happened," Blazers power forward Brian Grant said of Game 2.
Grant said the Blazers will continue to exploit their quickness advantage in the paint, even though Utah center Greg Ostertag has played better this series after a poor opening-round against Sacramento. In Game 1 against the Blazers, he had six points and six rebounds, and he grabbed 14 rebounds Thursday night.
"Greg has had two pretty good games, which is nice because [Arvydas] Sabonis is a tough matchup for him," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "He's being conscientious about his rebounding, and he's doing some good things on defense."
The Jazz have to play better against Isaiah Rider, who continued his playoff surge with a career postseason-high 27 points Thursday night. He's averaging 19.8 points in the playoffs, and is taxing the Jazz defense by hitting from the outside and driving the ball inside.
"I don't know, I thought I played pretty good defense," Hornacek said. "I don't know how much more we could have done, unless it was making somebody else take the shot."
Karl Malone, third in the league in playoff scoring at 23.9, behind only Allen Iverson (28.5) and Shaquille O'Neal (25.8), said the Jazz can't repeat their 18-turnover performance if they hope to win in Portland and take back homecourt advantage.
"We put ourselves in a hole, and now we have to dig ourselves out," he said. "You can't be intimidated now. They came into our place, they wanted to get a game, and they did. Now we have to go to their place. To win it, we have to win on their floor."
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