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Playing half a game good enough for Jazz this time

Charles Dickens, were he still alive, may have found Thursday night's basketball game in the Delta Center interesting. It was, after all, a tale of two halves.

It was the best of halves and it was the worst of halves for the Utah Jazz.Or, in the correct order, it was the worst of times and it was the best of times.

The Jazz did their keystone cops routine in the first half against the Boston Celtics - falling behind by as many as 18 points and treating the ball as if it carried infectious diseases. The Jazz had 16 turnovers in the opening two quarters, easily their worst half of the year in terms of ball handling.

But the second half was arguably Utah's best this season. They shot 64 percent from the field, took good care of the ball and dominated in all aspects of the game in scoring a season-best-for-a-half 73 points. The Jazz defense wasn't bad either. They held the Celts to just 42 points on 37 percent shooting in the second half.

The result was a 118-100 Jazz victory over the talented-but-not-yet-there Celtics.

The Celtics "were beat to the bone (in the second half)," said Bryon Russell, who scored 17 for the Jazz. "They used all their energy in the first half. Once they ran out of gas, those old diesels we have picked it up and put it in 16 gears."

The Jazz improved to 33-15 to move just one-half game behind the San Antonio Spurs in the Midwest Division standings. The Celtics, losers of their second straight on their current eight-game Western Conference swing, fell to 22-27.

"They are a veteran team and they didn't give up even when we had them down," said Boston rookie Ron Mercer, who finished with a team-high 24 points. "In the second half they stayed calm and they did the right things down the stretch."

The second half by the Jazz truly was impressive. Too bad Jazz coach Jerry Sloan wasn't around to see it.

Sloan, for the second time in a month, was ejected after getting tagged for a second technical foul. This time he was tossed by referee Woody Mayfield with 5:51 remaining in the third quarter and the Celtic still holding a 10-point lead, 71-61. Veteran assistant coach Phil Johnson coached the team the rest of the way.

Utah responded to Sloan ejection with a 13-2 run. With Karl Malone leading the way, Utah took its first lead of the game at 74-73 with 3:06 remaining in the third.

"I just wanted to take a nap," Sloan quipped about being tossed. "I was very frustrated with the way we were playing. Obviously, I didn't belong out there, so it was good for me that I did get kicked out."

A nap may have sounded enticing, but Sloan actually stayed awake. While the game wasn't on television locally, he was able to watch the satellite feed from the broadcast back to Boston. He liked what he saw.

"The second half, from what I was able to see on TV, it looked like we did a lot better job," said Sloan. "We didn't turn the ball over and we got the ball where it was supposed to go so we could get it inside."

Malone, who scored 16 points in the third quarter alone, was the largest benefactor from the team's better execution against the Celtics' pressure defense. The Mailman finished with 31 points and 12 rebounds.

"We could not stop Karl Malone in the low post," said Boston coach Rick Pitino.

Malone "was getting easy baskets right under the goal and they kept going to him," said Mercer. "It's hard to stop him. I don't think there is one person that can guard him one-on-one in the NBA."

The Celtics did a decent job defensively against Malone in the first half - by forcing the Jazz into turnovers before they could get the ball down the court and into Malone's hands.

Boston, using the same pressure defense Pitino's teams at Kentucky were famous for, caused all sorts of headaches early for the Jazz. Utah committed 10 turnovers in the first quarter alone, which allowed the Celtics to take a 13-point lead after one. They increased that advantage to as many as 18 points in the second quarter.

The Jazz used two point guards - John Stockton and Howard Eis-ley - at the same time at several different times of the game for extra ball-handling. The duo combined for 19 assists, 10 from Eisley and nine by Stockton.

It may have been that the Jazz figured out how to beat the press or just a matter of the Celtics being tired. In any event, Utah had no problem with the full-court press after the half. The Jazz committed only three turnovers in the third quarter and one in the fourth.

Greg Foster, who started at center in place of the injured Greg Ostertag, scored 16 points.

"Thank goodness we don't have to play against that style every night," he said.

The Jazz will play one of the few other teams in the NBA that employs trapping defenses on Saturday night, however. Utah is set to face the Seattle SuperSonics, owners of the best record in the league, in Key Arena on Valentine's night.

*****

Additional Information

> Jazz 118, Celtics 100

FG FT Reb

BOST Min M-A M-A O-T A PF Pts

Thomas 9 1-1 1-2 0-0 0 4 3

Walker 41 6-18 3-4 4-9 1 3 15

Knight 29 2-3 3-4 5-9 3 2 7

Billups 30 4-9 5-5 0-2 9 4 15

Brown 32 4-10 2-2 0-1 2 2 12

DeClercq 15 3-5 0-0 2-7 0 5 6

Mercer 29 8-15 8-8 1-5 1 2 24

Barros 18 2-6 6-8 0-0 2 2 10

McCarty 14 0-2 0-0 0-1 3 3 0

Bowen 13 1-1 0-0 0-2 0 1 2

Minor 10 3-7 0-0 0-0 0 2 6

Totals 240 34-77 28-33 12-36 21 30 100

Percentages: FG .442, FT .848. 3-Point Goals: 4-20, .200 (Billups 2-6, Brown 2-6, DeClercq 0-1, Minor 0-1, Barros 0-1, McCarty 0-2, Walker 0-3). Team Rebounds: 5. Blocked shots: 6 (Thomas, Walker, Knight, Billups, Brown, Mercer). Turnovers: 17 (Walker 3, Billups 3, DeClercq 3, Brown 2, Barros 2, Thomas, Knight, Minor, McCarty). Steals: 13 (Knight 2, Brown 2, DeClercq 2, Mercer 2, Barros, McCarty, Bowen, Thomas, Billups). Technical fouls: Walker, 5:01, third; Illegal defense, 3:40, second; Illegal defense, 3:27, second; Illegal defense, 10:49, fourth; Illegal defense, 9:42, fourth; Illegal defense, 5:28, fourth. Illegal defense: 1.

FG FT Reb

UTAH Min M-A M-A O-T A PF Pts

Keefe 27 4-7 0-0 2-3 2 3 8

Malone 38 11-16 9-12 2-12 4 2 31

Foster 26 6-10 4-5 0-4 0 1 16

Hornacek 19 1-4 5-5 0-2 4 3 7

Stockton 33 3-5 8-10 0-3 9 3 14

Anderson 11 2-3 2-2 0-3 0 2 6

Eisley 30 3-6 0-0 0-1 10 4 7

Morris 10 2-3 0-0 0-2 0 0 4

Russell 25 4-7 8-9 1-3 2 3 17

Carr 19 3-5 0-0 1-1 0 4 6

Vaughn 2 0-1 2-2 0-0 0 2 2

Totals 240 39-67 38-45 6-34 31 27 118

Percentages: FG .582, FT .844. 3-Point Goals: 2-5, .400 (Eisley 1-1, Russell 1-3, Morris 0-1). Team Rebounds: 8. Blocked shots: 9 (Keefe 3, Anderson 3, Carr 3). Turnovers: 20 (Eisley 4, Keefe 3, Morris 3, Hornacek 2, Stockton 2, Anderson 2, Russell 2, Malone, Foster). Steals: 8 (Malone 2, Russell 2, Keefe, Foster, Stockton, Morris). Technical fouls: Coach Sloan, 5:29, second; Malone, 6:01, third; Coach Sloan, 5:51, third. Ejections: Coach Sloan, 5:51, third. Illegal defense: None.

Boston 31 27 23 19-100

Utah 18 27 37 36-118

A-19,911 (19,911). T-2:20.

Officials-Bill Spooner, Woody Mayfield, Jim Clark.