Jazz takes Game 1 in OT Stockton's late shot helps Utah turn back rallying Bulls, 88-85

June 04, 1998|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

SALT LAKE CITY -- For 13 years, he has helped make the phrase "Stockton to Malone" part of basketball vernacular, yet Game 1 of last night's NBA Finals had a problem -- Karl Malone kept missing.

So, with the Utah Jazz at risk of blowing their home-court advantage against the Chicago Bulls, Stockton was forced to step into a scoring mode.

After the Jazz was taken into overtime, having blown an eight-point fourth-quarter lead, Stockton scored seven of the team's nine points in the extra five-minute session -- including a tough running jumper with nine seconds left -- that helped the Jazz to an 88-85 win over the Bulls.

With the win, the Jazz took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, which continues here tomorrow. That was a big turnaround from Game 1 a year ago, when two missed free throws by Malone late likely cost the Jazz the game.

Last night's game marked the first time a home team had won an overtime game in the NBA Finals since 1984. It also marked the first time since 1991 -- Chicago's first championship season -- that the Bulls have trailed in the Finals.

"It's great to win, regardless of how you did it," Stockton said of the tight game, coming after the Jazz had destroyed the Los Angeles Lakers in a four-game sweep of the Western Conference finals while the Bulls fought a seven-game series against Indiana.

"The 10 days off was a very long time," he said. "I'm not claiming I was rusty or anybody else was. We had a long time to think about it, and sometimes thinking too much can hurt you."

It didn't seem to hurt Stockton, who led the Jazz with 24 points and made nine of his 12 shots. None was bigger than his short jumper with 9.3 seconds left in overtime.

At the time, Utah was clinging to an 84-82 lead, and the Jazz had the ball after a turnover by the Bulls' Luc Longley with 28 seconds left. With Steve Kerr defending him, Stockton drove to the middle of the floor, stopped suddenly, and hit the shot that gave Utah an 86-82 lead.

That shot was very necessary, because Toni Kukoc followed with a three-pointer from just in front of the Utah bench, pulling Chicago within 86-85 with 5.4 seconds left. Stockton was fouled and hit two free throws on Utah's next possession, and a game-tying three-point try by Scottie Pippen just before the buzzer was off the mark.

"We feel like we let one slip away," said Chicago coach Phil Jackson." It was an incredible shot by John Stockton at the end to extinguish our hopes."

Said Stockton of his shot: "I was in the paint and just drove in there, and it seemed like some guys fanned out to the passing lanes. I just shot the shot. Fortunately, it went in."

Had that shot not fallen -- and had the Bulls escaped with the win -- a lot of fingers would have been pointed at Malone. While Malone did hit two huge jumpers in the final minutes of regulation, when Utah's offense went stagnant, he ended the night hitting just nine of 25 shots.

"What I tried to do was stay with the offense," Malone said of his tough shooting night. "Probably the whole night, maybe I took three tough shots. All the rest were within the offense, and if they are there on Friday, I'll take them."

The Bulls can look back at the game as an opportunity wasted.

Aside from Michael Jordan (33 points) and Pippen (21 points), there wasn't much to Chicago's offense.

Kukoc, who saved Chicago in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, was off, hitting only four of 12 shots from the field. Ron Harper was tentative offensively despite hitting his first two shots, and Kerr got off just three shots in 27 minutes. The Chicago bench was outscored 22-8.

"I felt a lot of opportunities were there for our good shooters, and they didn't pull the trigger," Pippen said. "That forced me and Michael to drive the ball more. We have to be a little bit more aggressive."

Jackson didn't want to play his main players a lot of minutes, but Jordan played 46 minutes, Pippen 44. Off the bench, Dennis Rodman, coping with strained right-thumb ligaments, played 40

minutes and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Fatigue may have been a factor in the overtime, when the Bulls committed three turnovers. On one possession, the Bulls lost track of the shot clock and were called for a 24-second violation with 1: 40 left and trailing 84-82. Longley lost the ball in the low post with 29 seconds left, leading up to Stockton's shot.

"We made a lot of mental mistakes down the stretch," Jordan said.

Pub Date: 6/04/98

NBA Finals

#

Chicago vs. Utah

(Utah leads series 1-0)

TV: All games chs. 11, 4

Yesterday--Utah, 88-85, OT

Tomorrow--at Utah, 9

Sunday--at Chi., 7: 30

June 10--at Chi., 9

June 12--at Chi., 9*

June 14--at Utah, 7: 30*

June 17--at Utah, 9*

*-If necessary

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