Poised Blazers let subtitle do talking


SALT LAKE CITY -- The Portland Trail Blazers have been called whiners, crybabies and pouters for weeks, but last night they were simply called the winners.

The Blazers kept their heads amid the din at the Delta Center and defeated the Utah Jazz, 105-97, to win the Western Conference title, four games to two.

With the victory, Portland advances to the NBA Finals, which will begin Wednesday, for the second time in the last three years.

"We've heard so much junk all year long," said Kevin Duckworth, wearing a brand-new 1992 NBA Finals cap. "They said the Blazers don't do this, they can't do that. The Blazers whine too much, they complain too much. It feels so much better to come out and not talk and just do it."

Indeed, the Blazers did it, and they did it despite the enthusiasm that John Stockton infused in the raucous fans and in his teammates.

Portland took this NBA West crown in a manner befitting champions, winning for the first time ever in the Jazz's new arena.

"The last two times we were here it was our mistakes that caused us to lose," said Blazers forward Jerome Kersey. "We got down on ourselves and talked to the referees too much."

There was some referee-bashing going on last night, but as momentum shifted from Utah to the Blazers in the second half, it was the Jazz who were doing the crying.

Early on, Utah was stunning.

Stockton, his left eye red from the accidental poke he took from Clyde Drexler in Game 5, was bubbling. The Utah guard scored on two drives and handed out two assists as the Jazz took a 9-0 lead before the game was three minutes old.

Later, Utah increased that lead to 21-8 and stayed in control until the second half, when the Jazz, playing without starting forward David Benoit, went cold.

In the second half, which started with Drexler slashing through the Utah defense like a rapier, the Blazers took over.

"I was glad to see them get up early," Blazers reserve guard Danny Ainge said. "You'd much rather have a team have their spurt at the beginning of the game than at the beginning of the second half."

The Blazers went at the Jazz in waves, with seven players scoring in double figures.

Kersey, Drexler and Terry Porter had 18 points each; Buck Williams added 15; Duckworth and Ainge scored 12 each; and Cliff Robinson tossed in 10.

As a team, the Blazers set a record for three-pointers (32) in a series, and Porter established an individual mark of 18 three-pointers in a series.

And even though Utah's spiritual leader, Stockton, had 18 points and 12 assists, the Jazz simply ran out of gas.

Karl Malone scored only nine of his 23 points in the second half, when Stockton managed just two assists.

Blue Edwards, starting for Benoit, had 15 points, and Jeff Malone scored 14.

The Jazz had only nine field goals in the second half as its shooting percentage plunged from 52.3 at halftime to 38.1 for the game.

Drexler, who scored only four points in the first half, brought his game back out on the court in the second half with a vengeance.

After missing six of eight shots from the field in the opening half, the Portland guard put up 12 points in the third quarter as the Blazers tied the game at 77.

"We didn't want to have to go back to Portland [for Game 7] because we knew they could beat us there," Blazers coach Rick Adelman said. "We went into the fourth quarter knowing it would have to be our best quarter of the year."

It may have been.

The Blazers used a smothering defense to hold Karl Malone to two points in the final 12 minutes. The Jazz, who shot nearly 53 percent from the field in the first half, made just nine of 40 shots in the second half, 22.5 percent.

Drexler, for one, looked forward to playing for the NBA crown.

"Every player's dream is to win an NBA championship," he said. "We're playing well right now. We made it to the Finals once again and it's a fantastic feeling."

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad