Jazz Gored by Bulls, Left at Lowest Point
By Ric Bucher
CHICAGO, June 7 Karl Malone found his shooting stroke while the rest of the Utah Jazz players lost theirs tonight, an exchange that resulted in the lowest point total in modern NBA history, the largest margin of victory in an NBA Finals game and a huge step by the Chicago Bulls toward winning their sixth title in the last eight seasons.
With forward Scottie Pippen playing the passing lanes like a free safety and the Bulls collectively using their superior speed and lankiness to harass the Jazz into shooting a collective 30 percent and committing 26 turnovers, the Bulls took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series with a resounding 96-54 victory tonight at United Center.
"Is this actually the score?" said Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan when a box score was placed in front of him. "I thought they scored 196. Seemed like they scored 196. ... I'm somewhat embarrassed for NBA basketball for the guys to come out and play at this level, with no more fight left in them than what we had. It's an embarrassment for all of us."
And an embarrassment that is likely to be etched in the playoff record books for quite a while. Their 54 points broke the all-time record low of 55, set during the regular season in March by the Indiana Pacers in a loss to the San Antonio Spurs. But it also smashed the playoff record of 64, set by the Portland Trail Blazers against Utah two years ago and matched last season by the Orlando Magic against the Miami Heat a year ago.
The Jazz also lopped 17 points off the previous NBA Finals low of 71, set back in 1955 by the Syracuse Nationals and matched in 1981 by the Houston Rockets.
All of which occurred despite Malone breaking out of his slump in Games 1 and 2, making 8 of 11 shots for 22 points but, as Sloan suggested, the preoccupation with getting Malone on stride could have contributed to the downfall.
"We want him to be able to shoot well, we want everybody to shoot well, but the most important thing is to execute well," Sloan said. "We can't get so concerned about one individual that we fail to play a team basketball game."
The Bulls seemed as shocked by the landslide victory as the Jazz, but they clearly weren't complaining. With the fourth quarter barely four minutes old, Michael Jordan was on the bench with ice bags strapped to his knees and a game-high 24 points to his credit. None of the Bulls' starters played more than Scottie Pippen's 35 minutes, allowing Coach Phil Jackson to rest a team that appeared fatigued at the end of Games 1 and 2.
"That," said Jackson, "is the kind of game you never expect in a situation like that. Malone did shoot the ball well, but other than that, we stopped the rest of the team."
The United Center is not considered a shooter's arena because of its cavernous size, the open space behind the baskets and the glare of lights that blind anyone firing from the corners. But all that, along with moving a step closer to the basket and shooting with less hesitation, proved to be a panacea for Malone. After missing 14 of 25 field goal attempts in Game 1 and 11 of 16 in Game 2, his stroke appeared flawless as he buried his first six shots, hitting nothing but net on five of them and barely grazing the inside of the rim on the sixth. They included four jump shots, including a difficult fall-away jump shot with Dennis Rodman waving at his shooting elbow.
But Malone was practically all the Jazz had going offensively. His teammates started off by missing 17 of their first 18 shots, a baseline jumper by John Stockton being the only shot to drop. Utah looked to center Greg Ostertag, thrust into the starting lineup after Greg Foster's lackluster effort in Game 2, but the 7-foot-2 Ostertag missed all four of his first-half shots, despite being guarded by the 6-7 Pippen.
The Bulls didn't shoot the ball particularly well, either 33 percent in the first quarter but they used the same formula of strong offensive rebounding and aggressive foul-drawing drives to the basket to compensate, building an 18-point lead without making a single three-pointer, thanks to a 13-5 scoring edge in free throws and 25-18 advantage in rebounds.
Once again Toni Kukoc provided an early spark, the same as he did in Game 2, although this time he used hustle plays more than driving layups to score 12 of his 16 points in the first half.
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