Adrian Dantley gets only one trip to the Capital Centre each season and last night he made the most of it, once again showing his hometown fans why he is one of the most prolific scorers in the National Basketball Association.
The former Notre Dame all-America from De Matha High School scored 39 points--including three long-range jumpers down the stretch--to lead Utah to a 113-106 victory over the listless Bullets before a bipartisan crowd of 8,134 at Capital Centre.
It was the first victory by the Jazz over the Bullets in its last 15 tries, dating to its days in New Orleans. It certainly was a personal triumph for Dantley, who unjustly has the label of a loser because of Utah's dismal record in recent years.
"This is the sixth time I've played here and the first time I've won," Dantley said afterward. "I didn't think I had a good game--I must have missed 10 layups--but it's nice to win here."
The 6-foot-5 forward made 14 of 31 field goal attempts and 11 of 14 free throws. He had 24 points in the second half as the Jazz snapped a four-game losing streak and won for only the fifth time in 27 road games.
The only bright spot in the Bullets' third straight loss was the shooting of Frank Johnson. The first-round draft choice from Wake Forest scored a career-high 27 points and also had a game-high nine assists.
"We were very passive and I don't know why," said Bullet Coach Gene Shue. "I thought we had a chance to take control early when they were missing (12 of their first 14 shots) and we didn't."
The Bullets were beaten badly off the boards: the Jazz outrebounded them, 52-45, and converted 18 offensive rebounds into 22 points. Jeff Wilkins, who is averaging seven rebounds, had 17 and James Hardy a career-high 16.
Shue's defensive scheme against Dantley was to go with Greg Ballard early and Jeff Ruland late, but when Ruland was called for some early fouls, the plan was foiled and Rick Mahorn got the inenviable task.
"He takes small guys inside and bigger guys outside," Shue said, marveling at Dantley's point production. "He's difficult to defend because he's so good at drawing fouls. You don't want to keep your best player on him because he's going to get in foul trouble."
Dantley scored six of his 11 points in the first quarter on foul shots after being fouled by Ballard and Charles Davis. The Jazz overcame deficits of 10-6 and 16-15 to score 14 of the last 18 points and hold a 29-20 lead at the end of the quarter.
In the second quarter, Utah increased its lead to 42-29 after five minutes before Johnson led a run by the Bullets that brought them within a point (54-53) by intermission.
"I played terrible in the first half," Dantley said of his 15-point effort. "If I had made my layups, we would have been way ahead."
The Bullets rallied to move ahead, 77-74, on the scoring of Ballard (19 points) and Ruland. But Dantley took charge again, scoring eight points in the last two minutes to give the Jazz an 86-83 lead going into the final period.
The crowning blow was Dantley's four points in the last four seconds. He made a free throw, then got the rebound of his second attempt. He put it back in, and after getting hacked made the foul shot.
Dantley continued his pace early in the fourth quarter, making two free throws, a 15-footer and an arching 20-footer that increased Utah's advantage to 98-91 with 5 1/2 minutes left.
"They were giving me the outside shot," Dantley explained. "They were playing great team defense. I wasn't going to drive because they were clogging the middle. When they put Mahorn on me, I just took him outside."
Dantley's last eight points came from at last 15 feet from the basket. After the 20-footer, he made a turnaround from the foul circle that made it 102-96, then ensured the victory with a 19-footer from the left side that put the Jazz in command, 108-101, with 59 seconds remaining.