PORTLAND'S PROBLEMS started in earnest 49 seconds into the second quarter when the Jazz put in their reserves. Normally that may not be a big deal, but in this case the Blazers should have considered getting a restraining order. Instead, they just went with the flow.
They figured with the reserves in, things certainly couldn't get worse.Which, as it turns out, was their big mistake.
The Blazers had managed to keep close throughout the first period of Saturday's first-round playoff game, despite making only 31 percent of their shots. Entering the second quarter, they were down by just six.
But soon enough, things started to get ugly. Greg Ostertag had already checked in for the Jazz when Felton Spencer drew his second foul. Chris Morris arrived for Jeff Hornacek, and at the same juncture Bryon Russell took over for David Benoit.
Before long, the Jazz were breaking the speed limit. They were up over 75 mph and still gaining. Russell landed a 3-pointer to put the Jazz up by 10. Ostertag rejected a Buck Williams shot and pulled down a rebound. In a 1-minute span Morris made two 3-pointers and the Jazz lead had jumped to 16.
Instead of making up ground, the Blazers were suddenly laying on it. It was all as one-sided as a slot machine. What had been building inside for nearly four days - since the Jazz dropped their second straight to the Blazers - was coming out in a very nasty way. All totaled, the Jazz held Portland to an NBA playoff low point total in a 102-64 win, Sunday at the Delta Center.
"I was saying, `C'mon guys! C'mon, guys! Keep going! Keep going!" said Russell.
Which they did.
In no way was Sunday's Game 5 a classic. It didn't go down to the final seconds. It didn't feature evenly matched teams exchanging baskets. It was more of a case of deciding what you wanted to miss. Did you want to miss Karl Malone rolling around Clifford Robinson for a basket, or John Stockton slipping past Rod Strickland for a layup? Did you want to see Ostertag swatting a Portland shot into the Salt Flats or did you want to see Russell dunking on the break?
If you went out for a frozen yogurt, you'd come back to find the lead had doubled. It was like walking in on the end of "Citizen Kane." You knew you had missed something big, but you weren't exactly sure what.
The lead was up to 22 by the half, 32 by the end of the third quarter. It even stretched to 40 late in the game. It was the kind of one-sided fight you see in a martial arts film.
"They wanted us," said Jazz forward Karl Malone, "and they got us."
Certainly the Blazers got a full dose of what the Jazz are noted for. All-Stars Malone and Stockton finished with 25 and 21 points, respectively. Malone augumented his game with 10 rebounds and a steal, while Stockton had 11 assists and a steal.
But the Blazers troubles didn't end there. It was like buying a car and then adding on the luxuries - the totals just kept rising. Ostertag ended with 8 points and 8 rebounds, Russell 10 points, 4 steals and 8 rebounds. Morris had eight points and 5 rebounds, including two treys. The Jazz bench finished with 41 points.
"They had everything working," said Portland's Buck Williams. "They defended well, they shot well, they outrebounded us. They deserve to go to the next round."
Considering the Jazz's history with big leads, Sunday's score was even more surprising. This is a team that, over the years, has wasted many a prosperous lead. A team that, however successful, has never been noted for its ability to put teams away early and keep them there. A 20-point lead in the first half can easily dissolve into a frightening finish.
After leading 2-0 in the series this year, the Jazz again made it interesting by losing the next two in Portland. "Usually we get big leads and lose them because we relax a little bit. Tonight we didn't relax," said Spencer.
Besides dominating the Blazers on offense, the Jazz defense was on them like a fresh coat of paint. They controlled the game so completely that only one starter - Stockton - even played in the fourth quarter.
"It's been a long time, especially in the playoffs, since we played like this the whole time," said Malone. "So it was fun."
So by the time it was all over, and someone asked the Mailman if "ever in your wildest dreams" he thought the Jazz could win by 38, he had had plenty of time to come up with a ready answer. "I don't really dream too much at all," he said. "I don't really have too many wild dreams."
But that didn't mean it couldn't happen. Or didn't. As even the Mailman admitted, it had been a long time indeed since the Jazz put someone away so completely and actually kept them there.