Work in Sports
Blazers hoping home is where the clincher is
Posted: Tuesday May 16, 2000 09:15 AM
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- The longer Jeff Hornacek postpones retirement, the more pressure will be heaped on the shoulders of the favored Portland Trail Blazers.
Hornacek, the Utah guard who plans to retire after the season, could play his last game Tuesday night when the Jazz visit Portland for Game 5 of the best-of-seven series.
The Jazz, down 3-1, won Game 4 88-85 Sunday by holding Portland to 38 percent shooting. But as bad as the Blazers were, they still had a chance to tie in the final seconds.
If Portland can play only a little better, it will get back to the Western Conference finals for the second consecutive year and possibly put an end to the Jazz as we know them. A loss Tuesday night, and the Blazers will start to feel the same lump in the throat as the Indiana Pacers, another team that had a 3-0 lead.
"We want to try to jump on them early and maybe plant that seed that they can't beat us in Portland," Blazers guard Steve Smith said.
Utah has lost 13 consecutive playoff games in Portland and four consecutive on the road in the postseason this year. None of it matters to the Jazz, who have reduced their fate to simple math.
"If we win, we keep playing. If we lose, we go home," Karl Malone said. "Sometimes when you're in that position, you've got to leave it all out on the floor. The game in Portland is the same thing. You've got to have pride."
The Blazers still are simmering over just about everything related to their Game 4 loss: the officiating, the Delta Center fans and the postgame trash-talking of Jazz center Olden Polynice.
Polynice had 12 points and 11 rebounds and held Blazers center Arvydas Sabonis to six points, but the journeyman's performance went beyond the stats.
He pumped up the Jazz and the crowd by screaming and flailing his arms and by confronting Portland's Scottie Pippen in the first quarter. Nothing much happened, but Pippen clearly was annoyed, shoving Polynice away.
"I don't care how many rings somebody has, they're not going to talk to me any kind of way," said Polynice, who took more shots at Pippen after the game. "He's still living off the six rings," Polynice said. "But there was a guy named Michael [Jordan] who did that."
Ouch. Still, the Blazers don't expect to lose their concentration again.
"I know Scottie is focused on one thing, and that's winning, and I don't think he'll let Olden Polynice or anybody take him out of that," Brian Grant said.
Pippen also was perturbed by coach Mike Dunleavy's decision to keep him out of the game for the first 10 minutes of the fourth quarter Sunday.
Pippen didn't come in until there was 2:11 left. Without him, the Blazers cut an eight-point deficit to 81-80, but by the time he came in, it was 87-80.
Dunleavy was taken aback by questions about the matter Monday. He said he talked about it after the game Sunday, and that Pippen "basically understood."
"I said to him, as far as late in the game is concerned, I went back to Steve (Smith) at 6:51. The normal rotation is to come back with Scottie in the next dead ball," Dunleavy said. "What happened was, in the next dead ball, we were on a run. It was 81-80, and I kind of just stayed with the guys that were on the floor at that time."
Besides Polynice, a big reason the Jazz won Sunday was the aggressiveness of John Stockton. In the first three games, which Utah lost by a combined 56 points, Stockton took just 23 shots and averaged 7.7 points. In Game 4, he took 12 shots and scored 18.
"John Stockton makes his own decisions. He's always been a very good shooter, and the more shots he takes is fine with us," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "I think there are times when he realizes he needs to take on that responsibility. That's just part of what he's always been about for all these years."