Jazz Wins Game 1 of NBA Finals
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 4, 1998; Page C1
SALT LAKE CITY, June 4 John Stockton reminded the world tonight that Michael Jordan is not the only player in the NBA who can come through in the clutch.
With the Utah Jazz's precious home-court advantage hanging in the balance, Stockton scored on a running jumper with 9.3 seconds left and then sank a pair of free throws with 3.5 seconds left to give the Jazz an 88-85 overtime win against the Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of the NBA Finals tonight.
The Bulls had one last chance to force a second overtime, but Scottie Pippen's 32-foot three-point attempt caught nothing but glass, after which Pippen angrily took out his gum and threw it on the floor. Jordan had a game-high 33 points, but the combination of Stockton (24 points, eight assists) and Karl Malone (21 points, 14 rebounds) overcame that. Game 2 is scheduled for Friday, again at the Delta Center.
Stockton also had the last stab at preventing overtime, curling to the right corner for a three-pointer that landed squarely on the rim and headed back toward the ceiling as regulation expired.
It didn't look as if overtime would be needed when Malone, after missing 13 of his first 17 shots and everything that wasn't a layup or dunk, delivered a pair of driving dunks that broke a long stretch with the score stuck at 69-65. The Bulls' only answer was a free throw by Jordan that cut the Jazz's lead to 73-66 lead with 4 minutes 38 seconds left. Up until then, it looked as if Dennis Rodman, playing with injured ligaments in his right thumb tightly wrapped, would get the best of him, having grabbed 10 rebounds and stymied him on a majority of his missed shots.
The Bulls, undaunted, needed all of two minutes to tie the score at 75, roaring back with seven straight points crafted from a pair of jumpers out of Jordan and three-pointer by Pippen.
The two dunks didn't immediately end Malone's problems, either. He clanged yet another jumper and had a driving layup swatted by Rodman before hitting his first outside shot of the night, a step-back jumper that put the Jazz ahead, 77-75. He then stretched the lead to four with another jumper, burying it as if he had been doing so all game.
But the Bulls refused to go quietly, Pippen hitting two free throws and Longley nailing a bank shot with 14.3 seconds left to tie the score and force overtime.
The Bulls finished their conference finals series against the Indiana Pacers on Sunday. The Jazz's 10-day layoff was apparent, as it started off with bundles of energy and very little shooting touch. Utah hoisted three jumpers on its first possession, missing all of them, but got the ball back each time. Bryon Russell finally got the Jazz on the scoreboard after being fouled by Toni Kukoc before the ball was inbounded, an automatic two-shot foul, but even Russell showed some rustiness, clanging his first free throw before making the second.
The Bulls, meanwhile, were happy to rely on an opportunistic offense, pulling up for medium-range jumpers and exchanging Jazz turnovers for easy baskets, allowing them to build a modest 13-9 lead early.
The Jazz drew even by the end of the first quarter by giving up on the jumpers and attacking the basket. Howard Eisley, Chris Morris and Malone all scored on drives, and Malone made a pair of free throws after being fouled attempting a layup by Luc Longley.
The Bulls' weariness of playing a tough seven-game series against the Pacers, meanwhile, showed in the second quarter when Utah Coach Jerry Sloan put a team of speedy reserves on the floor Eisley, Russell, Chris Morris, Shandon Anderson anchored by the lumbering Antoine Carr as the designated rebounder.
That group appeared to catch the Bulls completely off guard, opening the second period with an 10-2 run for a 27-19 lead. Three of the five baskets in that stretch came on fastbreaks, all but one a layup.
Nobody seemed to struggle for the Bulls more than Scottie Pippen, who found the Jazz playing the passing lanes to pick off passes the way he usually does. Pippen finished the first half with three turnovers. That seemed to shake Pippen's confidence in other parts of his game, resulting in a missed layup in the first quarter and a missed dunk in the second.
The Jazz was kept from pulling away almost single-handedly by Jordan, who had 20 points by halftime, 15 in the second quarter. No matter who tried to guard him and Eisley, Anderson and Morris got their shot Jordan juked out of his way before nailing a turnaround jumper or an up-and-under layup. But no matter what Jordan did, he could not take the lead from the Jazz.
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