After two weeks of self-doubt, angst, concern and generally poor self-esteem, the Utah Jazz finally began looking like their former selves, Saturday night at the Delta Center. Those old, familiar shots were falling once again. The defense that had abandoned them was present and accounted for. And once again the House that Larry Built became a chamber of horrors for the visiting team.
All in all it was an impressive show of force. Jeff Malone was back driving the other guys mad with his leaning jumper. Tyrone Corbin returned from the vault to make eight of nine shots. Karl Malone and John Stockton? Olympian numbers all around.Following their standard first-half swoon, and the ejection of coach Jerry Sloan from the game, the Jazz got back to business, running up 79 second-half points to mash the L.A. Clippers 124-104.
"We just had some guys step up and do what they've done throughout their careers," explained Jazz assistant coach Phil Johnson.
In a strange switch of momentum, the Jazz began at their usual snail's pace, but finished going away. In the lethargic Jazz first quarter they shot only 30 percent. The sound of leather clanging off the rim could be heard throughout the building, as the Clippers built their lead to 14 points.
It was another page in a growing book of poor first halves for Utah. There was Corbin, lifting off for a jumper that rimmed out; there was Jeff Malone's leaning shot skipping across the rim; and there was Karl Malone's soft inside shot glancing harmlessly away.But L.A.'s turn was soon to come.
Even during a second-quarter comeback, the Jazz stalled on turnovers. Things didn't improve when, with 30 seconds to go in the half, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan got himself thrown out of the game for drawing back-to-back technicals.
On the disputed play, Stockton reached around Clipper Ron Harper to knock the ball out of bounds. Referee Steve Javie returned the ball to the Clippers, though Sloan protested.
When Sloan continued, Javie called back, "You want that a foul? You want a foul (on the play)?" Javie then hit Sloan with a technical. Sloan persisted and quickly drew a second technical and was ejected. After Kiki Vandeweghe made the two technical shots, the Clippers held the ball until Ron Harper landed a three-pointer to lead 55-45 at the break.
Whatevever momentum the Clippers had at the break didn't prepare them for the Jazz's second-half onslaught. Jeff Malone, who had a 4-for-16 night Thursday, made seven of nine shots and totaled 17 points in the third period alone and finished with 30.
"I worried after the last game. I could hardly sleep," said Malone. "When I came back tonight and missed my first three shots, I though, `Oh-oh.' "
But Malone's slump wasn't something the Clippers expected to last. "I've been around this league for a long time. I know Jeff and he's a guy that will hit his first, his second, his third, he just keeps on. He's a guy who can shoot the basketball. I mean, he's a guy who can flat-out shoot the ball," said Clipper guard Ron Harper.
Whatever the Clippers tried didn't work on the Jazz guard. "He made shots falling down, he made shots going left, he made shots to his right. Hey, he made shots," continued Harper. "Ain't much you can say. You know, he got hot."
By the time Jeff Malone was finished, the Mailman was just starting to warm up, pouring in 19 points in the fourth quarter. He finished with 31 points and 19 rebounds.
Trailing by 10 at the half, the Jazz led by six after three quarters. But the Mailman went to work inside in the final period and the Jazz put the game away early, stretching their lead to 21 points midway through the period.
While the Jazz were shorting out the scoreboard, the Clippers shot only 28 percent in the third quarter.
Corbin finished with 18 points, while Mike Brown grabbed 12 rebounds and Jay Humphries came off the bench to score 14 points. Stockton chipped in nine points and 18 assists.
Utah moved into first place with the win, a game ahead of Minnesota, and improved its record to 3-2. L.A. dropped to 2-4.
"They were great," said Clippers' coach Larry Brown. "They made every shot; we didn't make any shots."
GAME NOTES: Jazz center Mark Eaton began jogging up and down the court this week and has experienced no swelling . . . Clippers' center Stanley Roberts missed the game with a hyperextended knee . . . Going into Saturday's contest, Mike Brown was averaging 19.8 minutes a game. Despite being a starter, that's nearly two minutes fewer than last year. The reason is because the Jazz are using a three-forward rotation regularly . . . The win avoided the Jazz's first three-game home losing streak since 1985.