Work in Sports
SALT LAKE CITY (Ticker) -- Utah Jazz legends Karl Malone and John Stockton were not quite ready to go home and teammate Jeff Hornacek was not quite ready for retirement.
The talented trio answered three humbling losses in the Western Conference semifinals with a narrow 88-85 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, avoiding the first four-game series sweep in franchise history while extending the season -- and Hornacek's career -- at least one more game.
Malone had 27 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, Stockton added 18 points and nine assists and Hornacek contributed nine points and six boards as the Jazz forced Game Five on Tuesday in Portland.
"That's all we can do," a relieved Hornacek said after watching Greg Anthony miss a potential tying 3-pointer at the buzzer. "Go out, play as hard as we can and extend it one more game.
"It makes you feel good to hear we want to win this one for 'Horny', but no one is really thinking about it really being my last game. We just want to win the games. I don't go out there thinking this could be my last. We just play and if we win the series great and if we don't, then that's that. But we're battling out there."
Displaying the form that helped oust the Jazz in six games in last year's conference semifinals, Brian Grant had 16 points and 12 rebounds in the second half and pulled the Blazers within 81-80 with 4:34 to play on a thunderous dunk.
But Malone made a 22-footer and two free throws and Bryon Russell dunked to restore a seven-point cushion with 2:14 remaining.
"I think definitely this was a pride game," Malone said. "But as far as the series, it shows that if you come out to play, you can play anybody, anywhere. Our mindset is one game. That's all we got, one game. We win and we keep playing. If we lose, we go home. Sometimes, when you're in that position you try to leave it all out on the floor and I think tonight we did the things down the stretch, but I think the game in Portland is the same think only on their floor and you got have pride once again."
"I never really go in with a different mindset," Stockton said.
"I just go in to play and try to think as little as possible and just try and play basketball."
Smelling their first four-game sweep in 23 years, the Blazers again responded. Rasheed Wallace buried a 10-footer, Grant followed with two free throws and Steve Smith made 1-of-2 at the line to cut the margin to 87-85 with 14.3 seconds to go.
Armen Gilliam misfired on his first for Utah but made his second free throw with 6.7 seconds left, setting up Portland's final chance.
Anthony took a pass deep in the right corner and uncorked a high, arching shot that bounded off the right side of the rim and out as the Jazz rejoiced in front of the raucous crowd at the Delta Center.
Portland had defeated Utah by an average of 18.7 points in the first three games of the series, but played from behind for all but 46 seconds in today's contest.
Malone opened the scoring with a pair of jumpers and Hornacek's runner put the Jazz ahead to stay, 7-5, with 8:09 remaining in the opening period.
Steve Smith appeared to be the only Portland player with a nose for the basket in the first half, scoring 18 points over the first 24 minutes before managing just one when the Blazers needed him most.
"They pretty much fronted me or when I did catch it Karl came quick on a double team and I had to move the ball," Smith said.
"We have so many guys on the team that whoever gets doubled, we want to move the ball and we make them pay tonight, we just didn't get over the hump."
Grant finished with 20 points and Wallace added 15 for Portland, which shot 37.5 percent (27-of-72) and committed 17 turnovers.
Veteran center Olden Polynice gave an inspired performance for Utah with 12 points and 11 rebounds and Russell added 11 points.
The Jazz shot 46 percent (31-of-68) and held a 41-40 advantage on the boards.
"Facing elimination does a lot of things to you," Polynice said.
"And not wanting to get swept was ... and comments basically that we are too old and it's so sad to see us go out like this.
We're not done yet and it's only a sport that 36 years old is old, so we're not old. And we still have a chance. As long as we're still playing basketball we have a chance."
"Olden Polynice surprised everybody in the world today, including himself," said Portland forward Scottie Pippen, who engaged in a small second-quarter skirmish with Polynice that resulted in double technicals.
Leading 31-26 entering the second period thanks to a combined 26 points from Malone and Stockton, the Jazz managed to maintain a 54-49 advantage at the half despite the Blazers' unwillingness to let them pull away.
"I don't think there was anything unexpected from them as far as how hard they came out," Portland coach Mike Dunleavy said.
"They played for 48 minutes. I was disappointed in our case at times with the baskets that we gave up and didn't get it going.
We were down 10 points at times, we kept coming back. But you know when you flirt with danger, the way we were flirting with it today, it's going to jump up and bite you and that's what's happened."
Portland closed within three points on three separate occasions during the period, but was turned away each time and slipped behind 52-44 when Stockton hit a pair of free throws with 53 seconds left in the first half.
Smith made a technical free throw and Wallace dunked before Malone made a 16-footer. Smith hit two from the line with 11 seconds remaining as Portland pulled within five points at intermission.
Malone hit two free throws with 2:27 remaining in the third quarter as the Jazz appeared poised to pull away with a 75-64 advantage. But Grant dunked and made a free throw before his layup got the Blazers within 75-69 entering the final 12 minutes.
Grant engaged in a vicious battle along the interior with Malone in last year's playoffs and looked ready to send the Jazz home for the summer again when he scored on consecutive trips to pull the Blazers within a point with 4:34 to play.
Russell missed a 3-pointer and Stockton misfired from 16 feet as Grant grabbed a rebound to give Portland its first chance at a lead since the first quarter. But Grant lost the ball in the lane and Stockton fed Malone for a 22-footer that started Utah's decisive run.
"We didn't really look at it as Horny's last game," Russell said. "We just looked at it as a must-win game. That's all we can do. One game at a time and Horny's going to be there with us in the same mindset."
Portland center Arvydas Sabonis, who had 22 points on 10-of-13 shooting in Wednesday's 103-84 Game Three triumph here, managed just six points in 26 minutes.
Pippen also had six points on 2-of-9 shooting for the Blazers, who are 4-0 at the Rose Garden this postseason.