After losing four consecutive games on the road, the media here christened the local basketball team Doctor Jazz because they made their opponents get better. "We've started a lot of winning streaks recently," said Utah Coach Frank Layden.
Tonight, Layden's team merely continued one by dropping a 103-101 decision to the Washington Bullets. It was the second consecutive victory on the road for Washington.
The Bullets' victory wasn't an easy one, however. Leading by 17 points with less than six minutes to play, the visitors needed a last-second, 22-foot jump shot by Greg Ballard to come out on top.
The game winner came only two seconds after Utah's Darrell Griffith had connected on a three-point field goal that appeared destined to send the game into overtime.
"I thought the shot was good the moment I shot it," said Ballard. "Once I turned I had my eyes right on the basket and the release was right there. I wasn't surprised it went in."
Ballard felt that the fact he made the shot took Utah by surprise because the team was gearing up to stop Gus Williams, who led the Bullets with 31 points. "It was logical," Ballard said, "because he was having a great night, but we expected them to key on Gus, so I became the first option."
Before the game there didn't appear to be many options available to Washington. Cliff Robinson, who missed Monday's 101-91 victory over Cleveland because of a sprained right knee, was joined on the sidelines by Jeff Ruland, who strained his right shoulder in that game.
Ruland was replaced in the starting lineup by Tom McMillen, who was a more than adequate replacement.
Playing 45 minutes, McMillen scored a season-high 20 points and had six rebounds for Washington that helped the team to a 22-17 record.
After trailing by 52-51 at the half, the Bullets gave up a basket to Griffith (21 points), then scored 12 consecutive points, seemingly to take control of the game. Leading by 82-64 at the start of the fourth quarter, that effort was slowly washed away by the Jazz.
The big culprit was free throws. Of 37 Utah points in the final period, 13 came on free throws, three of those completing three-point plays.
Adrian Dantley, Utah's leading scorer with 22 points, had six points from the line, which not only put points on the board but stopped the clock, enabling the Jazz to continue their comeback.
"I expected something like that to happen," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue. "Dantley was taking the ball to the basket and getting calls while we were running basic plays and not getting much out of them."
After Griffith's shot, the Bullets remained remarkably calm, according to Williams.
When asked what he thought after seeing Griffith's three-pointer, Williams replied, "I thought we had two seconds left to play. The game wasn't over for us, just like it wasn't over for them when we were leading by 18 points."
Ballard's shot left the crowd of 8,118 momentarily stunned. Things were further confused when referee Hue Evans momentarily hesitated before signaling the basket good.
"That had me a little worried," said Shue. "The ball was clearly good, I just kept waiting for him to signal it."
When that finally happened, Utah Coach Frank Layden, normally a more than willing speaker, was left at a loss for words.
"They played well," he said softly. "They shot well . . . without Robinson and Ruland they did very well . . ."