Work in Sports
SALT LAKE CITY (Ticker) -- Karl Malone really wants to win an NBA championship.
Malone scored a playoff career-high 50 points as the Utah Jazz began yet another quest for an elusive NBA title with a 104-93 victory over the Seattle SuperSonics.
"I'm not in this business to embarrass any other player or any other team," Malone said. "I'm in this business to win a championship and however it come about. It don't matter to me whether it's pretty or ugly. That's what I want to win."
The NBA Most Valuable Player two of the last three seasons, the 6-9 Malone simply was overwhelming, making 18-of-32 shots and grabbing 12 rebounds. However, he did most of his damage with a feathery mid-range jumper rather than the awesome strength he often displays.
"The thing that is most disconcerting about it is that he didn't seem to be any hotter than he usually is," Seattle coach Paul Westphal said. "I think he could go for 50 anytime he wanted to. He got to the line a lot, which is something we don't want to happen but he consistently kept hurting us and we looked up at the end and he had 50."
Working primarily against Vin Baker and Horace Grant, Malone scored in double figures in each quarter. He saved his best for last, scoring 15 of Utah's last 17 points after Seattle had cut the deficit to 87-80 with 8:34 remaining.
"It was just one of those games," Malone said. "It's always good to talk about yourself but I think it's more important to talk about your teammates and what they try to do for you out there."
"He's the greatest power forward ever to play the game," Grant said. "He was on one of those rolls. I have nothing but respect for the guy."
Malone is one of just three players to score 30,000 points and is considered the best power forward in NBA history. The only thing missing from his basketball resume is a championship as the Jazz repeatedly have come up short.
Utah has made 17 straight playoff appearances and reached the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998, losing to Chicago in six games each time. Last year, the Jazz were bounced by Portland in the conference semifinals.
Malone eclipsed his previous high of 44, set May 3, 1992 against the Los Angeles Clippers. He became the first player to score 50 points in a playoff game since Michael Jordan did it for the Bulls against Washington on April 27, 1997.
Jeff Hornacek had 13 points and 11 assists and John Stockton added 10 and 10 for the Jazz, who shot 46 percent (37-of-80), made 23-of-26 free throws and overcame a sluggish start to lead by as many as 17 points.
"I played terrible so I'm glad Karl had a good game," Hornacek said. "I was missing shots (4-of-11)."
"He was obviously ready to play but I don't see anything he would've done that would've led you to believe he'd score 50," Stockton said. "That's kind of an unusual and incredible role."
While Malone sizzled, Seattle's star somewhat struggled. Gary Payton had 24 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. But he made just 11-of-29 shots and a late flurry was not enough for the SuperSonics, who went with their new lineup.
"You're not going to stop Gary Payton," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "He's just a guy that keeps playing. he got them right back in there close to finish the game. He's not going to quit."
Game Two of the best-of-five series is Monday at the Delta Center.
"I don't know what (Malone) was on, but I hope he'll be on that again Monday," Jazz forward Bryon Russell said.
"If he has to get 50 to beat us, so be it," said Sonics center Greg Foster, who was once Malone's teammate. "I don't think he's going to go for 50 again. At least I hope not."
After misfiring nearly all game, Payton had a three-point play and a jumper. A 3-pointer by Brent Barry capped an 8-0 burst, pulled the Sonics within seven with more than 8 1/2 minutes to go and forced Utah to call timeout.
With the shot clock running down, Malone fired in a 3-pointer, just his third of the season. He followed with an inside basket to reach 40 points and a jumper that rebuild the lead to 94-80 with 6:59 remaining.
From there, Malone simply answered nearly every Seattle point with one of his own. Shammond Williams drove for a hoop and Malone made two free throws. Grant threw in a hook and Malone made two more from the line. Williams made a foul shot and a 3-pointer and Malone hit a jumper, keeping the lead at 100-88 with 2:28 left.
"We've got to pay more attention to Karl," Baker said. "We've got to double him a little bit more and get into his body."
In the final minute, Malone had to be goaded into going for 50.
Hornacek instructed him to post the left side and Malone took a pass and sank a turnaround jumper with 24 seconds to go.
"To get that 50 mark or whatever, they came to me every time down," Malone said. "I told Grant after the game I'm not trying to rub anything in, I just tried to stay within what we were trying to do and those were shots I was taking all night."
Malone's offensive explosion seemed to demoralize Baker, who came off the bench and managed just 10 points on 4-of-18 from the field.
Howard Eisley scored 10 points and Greg Ostertag grabbed 10 rebounds for the Jazz. Williams scored 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting for the Sonics, who shot 43 percent (38-of-89).
Malone scored 11 points in the third quarter, including eight in a 22-8 surge that opened the period and gave Utah a 74-57 lead with 4:15 remaining. Seattle inched back within 10 before Eisley hit two 3-pointers in the final minute to rebuild the lead to 15 points.
"There's not a whole lot you can do," Westphal said. "You cand ouble him and try to get him to pass but then you leave other guys open and that's not too good, either."
Westphal used the new lineup he experimented with in the last week of the season, replacing starters Baker, Ruben Patterson and Barry with Rashard Lewis, rookie Lazaro Borrell and Williams.
Malone was unstoppable from the start as he scored 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the first quarter. But Williams was even better for Seattle, making 5-of-5 and scoring 12 points as the Sonics grabbed a 25-22 lead.
Payton fed Baker for a dunk that gave Seattle its largest lead at 35-27 with 7:27 left in the second quarter. Malone, who had returned just moments earlier, scored 10 more points as Utah rallied to take a 52-49 halftime lead.
Malone made 9-of-14 shots in the first half while Payton was limited to 6-of-20 shooting.