Blazers regain poise, series lead


PORTLAND, Ore. -- Portland kept its cool. Utah lost John Stockton for the last 29 minutes. Care to guess the result last night in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals?

The Trail Blazers, assailed for losing their poise Sunday, needed all their composure as they were put to the ultimate test by the depleted Jazz. Portland passed it, but required a five-minute overtime session to outlast Utah, 127-121, before a sellout crowd of 12,888 in the Memorial Coliseum.

Portland took a 3-2 series lead against a Jazz team that had to play the second half without Stockton, the NBA's top assist man the last five seasons. He suffered an injured left eye on the final play of the half when he was accidentally poked by Portland's Clyde Drexler.

"He had some double vision and blurred vision," said Utah team physician Russell Shields. "It is improving and has improved dramatically. But he still is having trouble with distance and double vision. No long-term visual problems are expected."

It's the short-term Utah has to worry about. Stockton will see an ophthalmologist today. Afterward, his availability for Game 6 tomorrow in Salt Lake City will be determined.

"We still feel confident about ourselves," said Utah's Jeff Malone. "We're going home. We can beat them there. If we play our game, we still can force a seventh game here."

If there ever was a team that should have lost its composure, it was the Jazz. Stockton, who passed for 10 assists in the first half, is their offensive catalyst. But they refused to crumble, sending the game into overtime on Delaney Rudd's three-pointer with 5.5 seconds to play.

"I got scared when John didn't come back," said Portland coach Rick Adelman. "I said, 'Oh boy,' because I knew they had the ability to step up. You could see it in Karl Malone and Jeff Malone's faces. They both got aggressive."

But Portland was more aggressive in overtime. The Blazers made all seven of their shots. There were plenty of times when Portland could have been rattled. The most important time the Trail Blazers did not fall apart came when Stockton's replacement, Rudd, forced the overtime with only his 12th three-pointer of the season and his only points of the game in regulation.

"I just wish we were down by two instead of three when I took it," said Rudd. "I felt confident taking it. They gave me a good look at the basket. My adrenalin was flowing. I wanted to help."

Rudd provided major help with nine assists and only one turnover in 28 minutes.

"I know John Stockton is the man," he said. "There's no question, he's our main guy. But we've got other people who stepped up. Guys like Karl and Ty Corbin."

The Jazz got the usual magnificent scoring night from Karl Malone, who scored 38 points. Corbin, getting his most extended playing time because of David Benoit's absence due to the recent death of his father, scored a career-playoff high 28 off the bench.

But Portland had too much firepower: Jerome Kersey (29), Terry Porter (24), Drexler (24) and Kevin Duckworth (24).

"We just executed so well," Porter said. "We had four or five consecutive trips where we got wide-open shots. We did a great job running our stuff."

Utah's chances to win took a serious blow in the final second of the first half.

Stockton asked team officials to return in the third period. Instead of going to a hospital to have his eye further examined, he stayed in the locker room and had officials throw a ball to him to test the eye.

Late in the game, it was announced that Stockton would not return. Tomorrow, he better be there.

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