Jazz 102, Golden State 83
OAKLAND, Calif. — It was a rather ordinary visit to Golden State, another simple victory involving plenty of work by the fellows from the bench.
But after the Jazz beat the Warriors 102-83 on Wednesday night at The Arena in Oakland, after Bryon Russell posted his team-high 18 points, after Danny Manning scored 14 of his 16 in the fourth quarter, after Jacque Vaughn delivered 11 assists and added 10 points, Karl Malone was moved to make some rather extraordinary remarks.
"We haven't (done) anything yet, but I'll say it: You know, it's the most talent I've been a part of," the Jazz star said with 19 games remaining in Utah's 2000-2001 regular season.
"Even though we went to the (NBA) Finals (in 1997 and '98)," he added, "I'll still say this team right here is the deepest that I've been a part of."
Malone says it's so for a variety of reasons, a few of which were highlighted in the 44-19 Jazz's relative walk against the 16-49 Warriors, losers of eight straight.
For one, there was the play of Vaughn, which Jazz coach Jerry Sloan lauded as some of the season's best from the reserve point guard.
"Jacque's playing with a lot of confidence now," Malone said before volunteering a shot at John Stockton's last backup, who left for Dallas after last season. "I kind of think you can forget about Howard Eisley. (Vaughn) got an opportunity, and he's made the most of it."
For another, there was the play of Manning, which resembled what Malone is accustomed to so-often doing himself.
"He gets in a zone like that — it's neat to see it for him, you know?" Malone said. "I think it's great. . . . I know what it feels like — to come in and score about 10 points in three minutes."
The Jazz actually needed Manning's contribution — and those of Vaughn, Russell and the rest — to stay a half-game behind Western Conference leader San Antonio and put a little space in the race behind them and Wednesday-night losers Sacramento and Portland.
Utah started slow, stumbling through turnovers on four straight first-quarters possessions during one early stretch. The Jazz did get it together enough to be up by 15 going into the second quarter and 14 at the break. But they allowed Golden State to come within six a couple of times in the third and once in the fourth, the last time when Mookie Blaylock scored three of his team-high 17 on a 25-foot jumper with 10 minutes and 29 seconds remaining.
That's when Manning, the beneficiary of some questionable defensive switches by the Warriors, went to work.
The veteran forward from the University of Kansas scored 12 of Utah's next 17 points, all in a span of less than five minutes. By the time he was done with that particular run, the Jazz were up by 15, and Sloan was nearly ready to empty the rest of his most-helpful bench.
"Those guys gave us a little bit of life," said Sloan, who was less than thrilled with Utah's 19 turnovers, 13 of which came from Jazz starters, including six by 16-point scorer Malone. "We can't always depend on guys 38, 39 years old to be the guys who provide energy for us — although they've done it a great deal of the time."
Sloan was also pleased with the play of Russell, who lost his starting job to Donyell Marshall in January: "He's been pretty steady all year long," he said. "When we took him out of the lineup it was a tough thing to do . . . but Bryon's been very instrumental in our team by being effective off the bench."
It is that bench that Malone hopes will help enable the Jazz to step up and return to where it once was.
Manning, for one, is confident it can.
"Hopefully it will help out," he said. "You know, we have a lot of guys on this team that can score points. But everyone's pretty much accepted their roles, and everyone believes in the team philosophy that we have going."
By NBA standards, that is rather extraordinary in itself.
MISC.: Malone on Wednesday moved into a tie with Paul Silas for 10th place on the NBA's all-time games played list, with 1,254 . . . The Jazz avenged a December loss that ended their 17-game winning streak against the Warriors . . . Former Jazz forward Adam Keefe made his fourth start of the season, which was without Paul McPherson (ankle sprain), Larry Hughes (shoulder strain) and Rookie of the Year candidate Marc Jackson (groin strain). He finished with eight points and five rebounds in 22 minutes.