Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan, a legendary defender in his NBA playing days, came up with a way to stop Washington's last chance Saturday night. What great strategy - having Karl Malone switch and take the Bullets' Jeff Malone coming off a screen to mess up the play.
Well . . . "We didn't really have that part of it planned," Sloan said later.After a tough 100-98 victory in the Capital Centre keyed by defense when it counted and Karl Malone's 28 points and John Stockton's 27, nobody was complaining in the visiting locker room.
When Jeff Malone took the ball and sized up the Jazz's Bobby Hansen, the play was unfolding just right for the Bullets. Using a Mark Alarie screen, Malone might drive past Hansen and shoot a jump shot or go all the way to the basket.
Remember, the Jazz never switch.
Uh, maybe just this once. Karl Malone stepped up on Jeff Malone, forcing a pass to Bernard King. When King shot wildly over Mark Eaton, the Jazz escaped with a wild win.
Until the last 13 seconds, the Jazz would have spent three fun-filled days in Cleveland, wondering about Mel Turpin's revenge, Thurl Bailey's missing offense and the general joys of life on the NBA road. Instead, they can focus on salvaging a 2-2 trip by defeating the Cavaliers on Tuesday.
Karl Malone gave the Jazz their only lead of the fourth quarter on two free throws with 13 seconds left after being fouled on a drive. Later, he made one of two shots to leave the Bullets one last chance, but Malone fumbled King's pass as the horn sounded.
In between came the Jazz's Last Stand.
"I feel comfortable in a situation like that, that we're going to hold them," Hansen said later.
Just the same, there's nothing like a little help. Jeff Malone had already scored 31 points and was making everything, so there was little doubt the Bullets would look to him for a winning shot. On his own, Karl Malone chose to leave his man and take Jeff Malone coming off the screen.
Watching from the bench, Sloan cringed. "Those things happen once in a while, just from anxiety," he noted.
Malone, naturally, insisted he knew what he was doing. "It was pretty crucial that I did that," he said. "It was just something that Bobby and I did. If it hadn't worked, they would have chewed us out. It was one of those things we communicated, and it worked."
But the Jazz never switch. "We don't normally switch," corrected Hansen, "but you don't want to leave a man like that open."
After running into the other, unexpected Malone, Jeff Malone dished to King in the right corner. Bailey moved quickly and forced him to the baseline.
"We had just talked on the bench about forcing him to some help," Bailey said. "I knew (Eaton) was going to be there."
Which is more than King knew. Like his teammate Malone, King was in for a huge surprise when he wheeled toward the basket. Like a 7-foot-4 surprise. Running square into a stationary Eaton, King heaved his shot all the way over the basket and Karl Malone rebounded.
One long second later, the Jazz had a sixth straight annual win in the Cap Centre.
"Right now, it's a blur," Washington Coach Wes Unseld said of the loss.
By now, the Jazz know what to expect on these visits to suburban Washington. They'll encounter Joe O'Laughin, the world's most entertaining bus driver. They'll battle verbally and with a questionable gesture or two with the NBA's certified most obnoxious fan, a loud-mouthed attorney who sits directly behind the visitors' bench. And they'll find a way to beat the Bullets.
Once, they needed a Darrell Griffith 3-pointer at the horn. Another time, they had to have Jeff Malone miss on the Bullets' last chance. This was just another in the long list of adventures.
"You kind of get to where you look forward to coming here," noted Hansen, the famous fan's chief target.
The latest win was probably the toughest of them all. "We had a lot of opportunities to fall apart," said Sloan.
Jeff Malone had managed only four points while fighting a cold when the Bullets came to the Salt Palace last month, but he was on fire in the second half. Turpin, the reformed overeater and former Jazzman, also came alive with 10 points and the Bullets charged ahead 75-70 after three quarters.
Washington went up by nine early in the fourth quarter, but the Jazz worked back. They had frustrations along the way, like the time Blue Edwards charged into Turpin for an offensive foul and also received a technical foul. By this time, Sloan was alternating between kicking and pounding the press table.
"Obviously, on every possession you want the call to go your way," he noted later.
After the Jazz cut the lead to one on a Stockton drive, things turned crazy in the last two minutes. King missed a shot, but Eaton was called for a 3-second violation. Stockton came up with the ball after a wild scramble and fed Malone, who drove but missed - the ball went out of bounds and somehow was given to the Jazz.
The Jazz looked to Malone again and found an opening in the lane to drive for the foul. Free throws have killed the Jazz this season, but Malone delivered for the win. Now that was a switch.
JAZZ NOTES: The Bullets had a 30-12 edge in the eight minutes Stockton was on the bench . . . Karl Malone tied his career high with seven steals, and Eaton's nine rebounds gave him 5,005 for his career . . . Bailey's 12 points gave him a quiet 31 in three games and Hansen's funny shooting continued: He was 2 of 4 on 3-pointers (12 of 25 for the season) and 1 of 2 on free throws (4 of 16 for the year).