June 6, 1997 in Sports

Special Delivery Desired Malone Needs To Produce In Game 3 To Keep Jazz Hopes Alive Vs. Bulls

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Karl Malone has no intention of letting one game define his distinguished basketball career.

But he might not have a choice.

And Game 3 of the NBA Finals is that game.

The scene shifts here tonight and unless the Jazz can pull off a remarkable reversal of fortune, that scene might be the sun setting on their season.

“You can say that in a nice way, huh?” Malone joked when he faced the media on Thursday.

It was pretty much a solo audience. Most of Malone’s teammates opted not to make themselves available after the Jazz’s midday workout at Westminster College - leaving Malone to answer the questions.

Symbolism, anyone?

In falling behind the defending champion Chicago Bulls 2-0 in the best-of-7 series, the Jazz have multiple issues. Utah hasn’t been able to run its bread-and-butter offense against Chicago’s hounding defense. The Bulls’ bigger guards are giving John Stockton and Jeff Hornacek headaches on both ends. The Jazz haven’t blocked a shot and aren’t holding their own on the boards, and several Finals first-timers - notably Bryon Russell and Greg Ostertag - have wilted in the glare.

And in the wake of a 97-85 blasting on Wednesday, coach Jerry Sloan - one of the toughest who ever played the game - questioned his players’ determination.

But the fact is, if Karl Malone’s game doesn’t come alive, Utah is dead.

“Big games like this, you want to play big,” he acknowledged. “Not saying you don’t in other games. But what I don’t want to do is add some more pressure. We know how big it is.

“I don’t think it’s going to define my career or my year at all. It’s just one game. You have to approach it as one game. But I’ll admit - lose this game, it looks pretty bleak.”

It looks bleak enough. The Jazz have never come back from an 0-2 deficit in their playoff history - and this is the eighth opportunity.

Malone’s mission is magnified because he has been Utah’s rock all year - though he admitted that “I haven’t been shooting the ball well throughout the playoffs and I’m not shooting it well now.”

It’s this simple: The Bulls routed Utah on Wednesday night with Michael Jordan as virtually their only offensive producer - and with 38 points, he definitely produced. He’s averaged 34.5 points in two games and is shooting 51 percent - after making just 38.7 percent of his shots in the Miami series.

But Utah isn’t going to win with Malone averaging just 21.5 points per game, or shooting 6 of 20, as he did Wednesday.

He insisted it’s not a hand injury that’s to blame. He claimed its not the added pressure of “proving” his distinction as league MVP.

“I’m not going to give it back,” he said. “Shots just aren’t falling. Maybe they will. I’m not going to stop shooting them. Hopefully, I’ll get the feeling back.”

Hope may be all there is to go on.

For Malone’s history shows that he is a substantially poorer shooter in the playoffs, when teams have time to plot double teams and defensive strategies. A lifetime 52.7 percent shooter, Malone’s percentage drops to 47.4 in the playoffs - 42.5 percent this year.

More dependent on the fadeaway jumper than ever before, Malone has eschewed taking the ball hard to the basket - though he maintained that “I’m getting deep enough. It’s not the physical part that’s the problem. The big issue is getting to spots we need to be at, and holding those spots. And I have to make my layups.”

Holding spots was also on Sloan’s mind - though his concern was mostly for his guards.

“Their guards are bigger than ours and whenever we go to set screens, they’re just knocking us out of the way,” he said.

“I’m not trying to criticize officials. There’s no rule in the book that says you’re getting my spot - or you’re not getting it. If you can’t keep it and a foul isn’t called, you’re probably going to be overpowered.”

Which is a pretty good description of what happened Wednesday night.

The Jazz’s mission will be made even harder if rookie Shandon Anderson isn’t on hand.

Anderson’s father, Willie Sr., died Wednesday of throat cancer - a fact Anderson learned about 2 hours before game time. He flew from Chicago to be with his family in Georgia, and it’s not known when he’ll return. , DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: ON DECK Today: Chicago at Utah, 6 p.m. (NBC) Sunday: Chicago at Utah, 4:30 p.m. (NBC)

This sidebar appeared with the story: ON DECK Today: Chicago at Utah, 6 p.m. (NBC) Sunday: Chicago at Utah, 4:30 p.m. (NBC)


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