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Mission accomplished

Malone, Jazz complete sweep despite Shaq's heroics

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Posted: Monday July 20, 1998 05:18 PM

INGLEWOOD, California (CNN/SI) -- The Utah Jazz returned to the NBA Finals with a 96-92 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers as Karl Malone had 32 points and 14 rebounds to complete the first four-game sweep in team history -- with Shaquille O'Neal again at the end of the broom.

The top-seeded Jazz never trailed after the opening 10 minutes and closed out the Western Conference finals in quick fashion, stunning the talented Lakers with teamwork and experience. Utah had lost at least one game in 14 previous best-of-seven series.

"I told the guys to just come out and play this game and play it with the kind of enthusiasm I thought we played with," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "We played with a great deal of intelligence, for the most part. I said when the series started that the team that played with the most intelligence would be in a position to win."

"There were times when we just played like a young team in this series, and every time we did, they capitalized," Lakers guard Nick Van Exel said.

Malone scored 10 points in the last 7 1/2 minutes, answering every belated surge by the Lakers. As it did through most of the series, Los Angeles played without much heart or emotion until it had to, and by then, it was too late.

"They were the best team playing before we got to the conference finals," Malone said. "I don't think surprising is the right word. We had a game plan coming in here.

"We earned everything that we got. That is what it has been like all year long. You put your mind together as a team and you can do a lot of great things. It is neat to get back there again."

O'Neal had another outstanding game with 38 points, including 11 straight Lakers points down the stretch. He shot 14-of-24 from the field and 10-of-18 from the line. But he missed a pair of free throws with 27 seconds to play that could have cut the deficit to one point and was swept out of the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five seasons.

"They were a lot hungrier than we were and we just played very inconsistent," O'Neal said. "Guys just have to step up. They have to find out what's important to them. If they don't want to play, then they need to ask for a trade. If they don't want to play, then get off my team."

As a member of the Orlando Magic, O'Neal absorbed a first-round sweep in 1994, an NBA Finals sweep in 1995 and a conference finals sweep in 1996. He was bounced in five games by Utah in the conference semifinals last year, his first with the Lakers.

Los Angeles had not been swept in any series since the 1989 NBA Finals, when they were beaten by Detroit. The Lakers' sweep of Phoenix that same year marked the last time the West finals ended in four games.

Jeff Hornacek scored 15 points and Greg Ostertag added 11 for the Jazz, who await the winner of the Eastern Conference finals between the two-time defending champion Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers. Utah, which has never won an NBA title, owns home-court advantage and the series starts at the Delta Center no earlier than May 31.

"You know we're not going to say, `Yes, we want to play this team,'" Hornacek said. "Chicago and Indiana are different teams. Chicago is similar to us, they have a couple of superstars and everyone else plays a role. Indiana has a guy at every position, so if one guy is off another guy can pick him up."

"It meant a lot to sweep the Lakers," Ostertag said. "We beat a very good team with a lot of good athletes that have the ability to score. Not unlike Chicago."

A three-pointer by Chris Morris opened the fourth quarter and gave the Jazz their largest lead at 70-57. Los Angeles cut the deficit to six points on four occasions, but Utah answered each time, as John Stockton hit a runner in the lane and Malone made two free throws, a jumper and two more foul shots on consecutive possessions.

A jumper by Eddie Jones, who scored 19 points, made it 82-76 and O'Neal began his run of points with a free throw with 3:30 to play. Hornacek made a layup and O'Neal sank three free throws before Malone buried a baseline jumper for an 86-80 lead with 1:49 to go.

O'Neal converted a three-point play, but Stockton made four free throws around one by O'Neal to extend the margin to 90-84 with 1:09 remaining. O'Neal converted another three-point play and Stockton uncharacteristically dribbled the ball off his ankle and out of bounds with 44 seconds to go.

O'Neal was fouled as he made a lane jumper with 27 seconds left. But the referees ruled that the foul came before the shot, and O'Neal missed both free throws. Malone rebounded and was fouled, sinking both free throws.

A three-point play by Kobe Bryant made it 92-90 with 22 seconds left. But the Lakers were unable to foul quickly and finally got to Stockton with 10 seconds to go. Stockton made both shots and Van Exel hit an uncontested layup before Greg Foster sealed it with a dunk with 2.5 seconds to play.

"We kept fighting and fighting but we just couldn't get over that hill," Van Exel said. "They just held on to the lead that they had."

Stockton scored eight points -- all in the fourth quarter -- and added eight assists. Reserve point guard Howard Eisley had nine points and five assists for the Jazz, who shot 48 percent (31-of-65) and made 30-of-33 free throws.

Van Exel scored 11 points for the Lakers, who shot 43 percent (32-of-74) and made 22-of-33 from the line. Los Angeles held a 37-34 rebounding advantage and committed just eight turnovers.

"How many times do we have to play them before we think of something different?" Van Exel said. "The game plans were fine. They just played well all four games."

In the first 9 1/2 minutes, O'Neal and Malone traded flagrant fouls, knocking each other to the floor. Malone's free throws after O'Neal's flagrant foul pulled Utah into an 18-18 tie and Bryon Russell's pair 64 seconds later gave the Jazz the lead for good.

Ostertag, who was slapped to the floor by O'Neal as the teams crossed paths at a practice in October, came on midway in the period and contributed four points and three blocks.

The Jazz took control with an 8-0 burst at the outset of the second period as Eisley, the hero of Game One, followed Shandon Anderson's layup with a pair of three-pointers for a 28-18 lead with 9:36 left.

"We've got a lot of confidence in our offense," Eisley said. "We are going to do whatever it takes to get people open. We are going to move the ball to get good shots."

Another three-pointer by Eisley and Malone's jumper opened a 35-24 lead with 5:34 to go. The Lakers trailed 47-38 at the half, as O'Neal shot 6-of-12 and his teammates shot 8-of-29.

A three-pointer by Rick Fox pulled Los Angeles within 51-45 with 8:19 left in the third quarter. But, Russell made two foul shots, Hornacek hit a technical foul shot called against Lakers coach Del Harris, Russell made a driving layup and Ostertag hit 1-of-2 from the line for a 57-45 bulge with 5:41 remaining.

Hornacek and Lakers forward Elden Campbell were whistled for double technicals with 1:05 left in the period.


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