In terms of weapons, Phoenix's three-point capability isn't exactly a secret. Dan Majerle and Jeff Hornacek aren't classified material. They're easier to see coming than an Iraqi Scud. Look them up in the phone book under "Long Distance Service."
Just don't tell the Jazz. In just more than a minute it was all over. Majerle landed two treys and Hornacek one in the early fourth quarter to break open a tie game, as Phoenix stopped the Jazz 114-109 Sunday at Veteran's Memorial Coliseum."These guys can shoot those shots," said Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan. "It's not like we didn't know they can make them. We just went to sleep for a couple of seconds."
And so it was the Jazz went down in a quick hailstorm of long-range shots. Although it was your basic close, relentless, hard-edged Utah-Phoenix game, and even though the Suns have been hit with a recent rash of injuries, the outcome wasn't much of a surprise. This was national television, which is a bugaboo of sorts for the Jazz anyway. Then there's the Jazz's jinx in Phoenix, where they haven't won a regular season game since March of 1986.
Nevertheless, the Jazz-Suns rivalry remains one the NBA's best. They have played 20 times in the last 21/2 years - counting regular season and playoffs - and the Suns have won 11, the Jazz nine. Along the way they have produced some of both teams' most memorable games.
"We'd be hard pressed if we played a hundred games to get one blowout," said Jazz guard John Stockton.
Until the three-point attack was unleashed on the Jazz, Sunday's contest was warming up toward another remarkable finish. The Jazz trailed by 16 in the second quarter, but fought back on the fading jumpers of Malone.
After a poor 2-for-8 first half, Malone used the third period as his own personal lab. The Jazz cut a 53-46 halftime lead to nothing on Malone's baseline shot, but that only served as a forewarning. Malone then hit four more consecutive shots, the last one a 17-footer that put the Jazz ahead 62-58.
He continued by making two of the next three shots, finishing 7-of-8 for the period. Curiously, he never got a shot the rest of the game.
Malone's third-quarter shooting display only temporarily took the focus off the main course of the day, which was the John Stockton-Kevin Johnson matchup. As advertised, it was an admirable production. Though Stockton only had 14 points, compared to 32 for Johnson, Stockton added 18 assists and two steals to Johnson's 14 assists and no steals.
"I'm more of a scorer than he is, so it's not fair to make that comparison," said Johnson. "We look at it more as who wins and who loses."
Neither was willing to give in on that point. At one stage in the late third period, Johnson made eight quick points, going inside to draw fouls or pulling up for outside jumpers.
Meanwhile, Stockton made a shot on the run, shoveled a couple of assists and dropped in a three before the end of the quarter. The trey assured the Jazz of a 78-76 lead at the end of the period.
They got a good, long look at one another, each playing the entire game. Johnson never sat out, due to an injury to backup Negele Knight, while Sloan opted to stay with Stockton all the way rather than use Eric Murdock or Delaney Rudd to deal with Johnson.
"We were talking all night," said Johnson. "He (Stockton) was telling me to quit getting the refs on my side and then he'd would say to me to take a break so he could take one," said Johnson.
Stockton's 48-minute night was his first since a May 21, 1988 playoff game against the Lakers.
Beating the Jazz came at an opportune time for Phoenix. The Suns spent Friday night losing to the lowly Dallas Mavericks. Beset by injuries - Knight was missing and Majerle and Johnson were nursing ankle and shin problems - the Suns were fearing the worst against the Jazz.
"We know we can play," said Johnson. "Our problem is how to deal with adversity. The moment we're healthy,
well, we're the sleeper."
The Jazz, naturally, weren't thinking in those terms. Having played two overtimes this year already with Phoenix, they went in predicting a close game.
True to form, nobody budged in the final period until Majerle tossed up his three-pointer at the end of the shot clock for an 85-82 Suns' lead. Though Karl Malone answered with a basket, that was Utah's last gasp. Hornacek hit a three from the top of the circle and Majerle came to the top for another three, moving the Suns' lead to 91-84.
"We fell asleep a little on those three-pointers," said Sloan. "We're all aware they can shoot them. We just got there a couple of seconds late."
"On a play like that, with Hornacek and Majerle, you gotta have some guys step out and help you out and we didn't play it correctly, and hit hurt us," said Malone.
"I was surprised in a close game that he'd (Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons) would call that play," said Hornacek.
However, he did. Three times.
Hornacek went on to score 13 points in the period. Johnson, who had 12 in the quarter, handled most of the rest of the scoring.
Karl Malone's 26 was high for Utah, while Blue Edwards added 23 and Jeff Malone 19.
The Jazz got the lead back down to four points, but Hornacek's running hook with 4:21 to go put the Suns ahead safely by eight. "Well, when you can't jump and you can't dunk, you learn to make that shot," said Hornacek.
Next stop for the Jazz is an equally daunting prospect: at Golden State on Tuesday. With Chris Mullin and Sarunas Marciulionis playing for the Warriors, the Jazz have two more long distance callers they can stay up late worrying about.