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JAZZ BLOW BIG LEAD BUT BEAT LAKERS, 107-104

SHARE JAZZ BLOW BIG LEAD BUT BEAT LAKERS, 107-104

The way Darrell Griffith's life is going these days, you'd have figured the Jazz would make him a contract offer right then and there in the locker room after the game Thursday night. In five fun-packed seconds, the veteran guard did everything right against the Los Angeles Lakers. Griffith came off the bench, took a pass from Bobby Hansen on the left wing, dribbled and spun toward the lane and delivered an 18-foot jump shot to give the Jazz a one-point lead while being fouled by the L.A. Lakers' Byron Scott. Just for that special touch, Griffith even missed the following free throw.

"Yeah, that was on purpose," he said later, smiling playfully.Griffith's miss worked because Karl Malone rebounded the ball, was fouled and made two free throws. When A.C. Green and James Worthy had to try 3-point shots in the last four seconds and both missed badly, the Jazz escaped with a 107-104 victory in the Salt Palace. Talk about good timing. After going scoreless for four-plus minutes, they scored four points in less than three seconds.

All that came after the Jazz had lost a 23-point lead in the second half, just when they were trying to make a strong statement about the Midwest Division race and the upcoming playoffs. The Lakers answered. "You expect that of the Lakers," said Malone. "The Lakers make unusual runs."

Until Griffith's shot, the Jazz were suddenly in trouble. If they'd lost, they'd have led San Antonio by only 1 1/2 games, to say nothing of their psychological standing. "It would have been pretty hard to get back up," said Malone, who scored 45 points.

Now, the Jazz (53-23) still have an outside chance to claim the Midwest Division title without winning at San Antonio Wednesday. The magic number is four - and they have six games left, the Spurs have five. The 58-18 Lakers, meanwhile, are trying to close out Detroit for the NBA's best record.

And they almost won their eighth straight Thursday with a comeback that caused Coach Pat Riley to say, "We played with a hell of a lot of heart."

All they needed was one more defensive stop - but not even Scott's foul was enough to shake Griffith.

After the ball was knocked out of John Stockton's hands and out of bounds with 12.2 seconds left, Coach Jerry Sloan called timeout and sent Griffith into the game. "(Griffith) made me look like I knew what I was doing," Sloan said.

Sloan's homemade play was designed for Stockton, but he was covered. So was Malone, according to Griffith's quick glance. Not that Griffith had any strong inclination to give up the ball.

"It's in my blood," he said of taking the last shot. "The ball's not always going to go in, but I accept the agony of defeat."

On his way to becoming a free agent, unless the Jazz sign him before July 1, Griffith has averaged 13.2 points in the last 10 games. In Phoenix Monday, Griffith intentionally missed a free throw with the Jazz down by two, and Mike Brown's rebound shot tied the game. This time, Griffith would have settled for making the free throw for a two-point lead with 7.3 seconds left, but he missed and the long rebound came right to Malone.

The Jazz and Lakers went at each other like this was May or June instead of April. After holding Malone to 25 points in the Forum April 1, Mychal Thompson stayed home with a knee injury, leaving Malone to Green - you remember Green, the guy elected to start the NBA All-Star Game ahead of the Mailman. So Malone went for 45, No. 5 on his all-time hit list.

"He was just a man out there," said Sloan.

Stockton had 15 points and 23 assists, his fourth-highest total, while Worthy had 33 points, Magic Johnson added 20 points and Green had 18 points and 15 rebounds.

The Jazz charged ahead 31-26 after the first quarter as guard Delaney Rudd scored seven points in the last 1:08. Down by 13 points in the second quarter, the Lakers cut the lead to six - only to have the Jazz score the last nine points of the half on baskets by Bobby Hansen, Malone and Bailey and Griffith's 3-pointer.

After not quite four minutes of the third quarter, the Jazz were up 69-46 and the question on press row was the size of the Lakers' biggest loss this season - 19, at Portland. It's still 19, by the way. Taking out reserve center Vlade Divac, Riley went to small lineup and a trapping defense that caused the Jazz trouble, mostly because they kept missing shots.

By the start of the fourth quarter, the Jazz were up only 86-81 and Sloan went the rest of the way with his own small lineup, including a Malone-Bailey-Edwards front line. They held steady, still leading by seven after Malone's tough turnaround shot, giving him 43. Right after that, the Jazz failed to score on five straight trips - and Malone was guilty on four of them. During his stretch of a three-second violation, a missed turnaround shot, a missed force-up shot and a bad pass, the Lakers scored four times, taking a 104-103 lead on Worthy's two free throws with 1:05 left.

After Malone's turnover, Scott missed a jumper and Blue Edwards rebounded, leading to the Stockton drive that resulted in the Jazz's taking the ball out under their basket. Griffith and Malone took care of the rest, after which Johnson gave the Lakers one last chance by knocking Green's airball back out to Worthy, whose shot was also way short.

JAZZ NOTES: Stockton's 15 first-half assists are a team record . . . Malone's rebounding totals for the last 10 games: 17, 18, 14, 6, 13, 17, 17, 13 and 11. The two lowest numbers came against the Lakers. Eaton had 11 rebounds in only 25 minutes . . . Hansen has made 8 of his last 11 3-pointers. Hansen played 36 minutes, his high for a regulation game since Jan. 6, but Sloan had Edwards guarding Magic down the stretch . . .. Sloan is 5-2 against the Lakers.