SALT LAKE CITY -- A season-long fight for home-court advantage was at risk, after just one game.
It didn't happen, although the Bulls forced an overtime after struggling from eight points down in the final quarter. But Utah got nine in the final session to steal the 88-85 win before a sellout crowd at the Delta Center.
In victory, the Jazz took a 1-0 advantage in the best-of-seven series, which continues here tomorrow. But Utah survived a major scare, perhaps effected by rust that accompanied the nine-day lay-off leading to last night's opening game.
Utah point guard John Stockton provided the game's biggest shot, driving past Steve Kerr and hitting a tough layup with nine seconds left, giving the Jazz an 86-82 lead and the game. Chicago was hurt by two turnovers in the fourth quarter, one a 24-second violation by Michael Jordan and the other when Luc Longley fumbled a pass in the low post just before to Stockton's shot.
Stockton led the Jazz with 24 points and Karl Malone added 21.
Michael Jordan led the Bulls with 33 points, and Scottie Pippen added 21 but at the buzzer missed a three-pointer that would have tied the score.
Chicago had trailed by eight early in the fourth quarter and by four with 55 seconds left in regulation after a jumper by Malone.
But the Bulls tied the game, first pulling to within 79-77 after two free throws by Pippen with 51 seconds left.
Later trailing by two and looking to tie the game in the final seconds, Jordan drew a double team and passed off to Longley. The Chicago center scored on a lay-up with 13 seconds left, forcing the overtime.
Going into the opening game the biggest concern for Utah was the rust that came with the nine-day layoff. The Jazz, who swept Los Angeles in four straight, had to wait for the Bulls to finish their seven-game Eastern Conference finals series against Indiana.
"You never know until you get back out there and play the game," said Utah guard Shandon Anderson, on whether it would tough with the layoff. "That's something we'll see the first couple of minutes of the game. You can't simulate playing Chicago in practice, so it'll take a couple of minutes to adjust to the situation, and once we get going it's smooth sailing."
Those concerns by the Jazz proved to be valid at the start of the game. Utah committed four turnovers in just over three minutes midway through the first quarter. The Jazz trailed by as many as four early in the game but, despite a 20-point scoring outburst from Jordan, Utah had a 45-40 half-time lead.
The key to Utah's first half was the play of Stockton, who scored 13 first-half points, including the final six for the Jazz over the last 70 seconds. Also helping was the play of the bench, which had a 16-4 scoring advantage over Chicago's.
Those contributions were huge because Malone, who dominated the Western Conference finals series against Utah, looked rusty as he scored only nine first-half points.
Chicago started a line-up that was smaller than anticipated after strained ligaments in Dennis Rodman's right thumb kept the forward out of the starting line-up. Toni Kukoc started in his place, but he struggled shooting, missing four of his five first-quarter shots.
Still, Chicago took advantage of Utah's missing five of its first six shots. After Pippen scored on a dunk with 8: 24 left, Chicago's lead was 8-5. Two free throws by Pippen with 1: 38 left gave Chicago its biggest lead of the quarter, 17-13. But the Jazz scored the last four, tying the game at 17 on a Malone lay-up with five seconds left.
One of Chicago's biggest concerns entering the series was how its bench would match up with Utah's, and that was evident at the start of the second quarter when Phil Jackson put Pippen on the court with Jud Buechler, Randy Brown, Rodman, and Dickey Simpkins.
The Jazz took advantage and scored the first six points of the second quarter, taking a 23-17 lead on Bryon Russell's fast-break dunk. Utah increased that lead to as many as eight points, which was about the time that Jordan decided to single-handedly attempt to keep the Bulls in the game.
Over the final 7: 56 of the first half, Jordan scored 15 of Chicago's 21 points. He hit six of seven shots along the way, and by the time Jordan's outburst was over, five Utah defenders had tried to stop him.
When Jordan made a three-point play with 51 seconds left, the Bulls were within 41-40 and appeared to be gaining momentum going into halftime. But Stockton scored the final four points, including a jumper with just under four seconds left, that gave the Jazz the 46-40 half-time lead.
Jordan cooled off in the third quarter, when he scored just five points. So did Stockton, whose only field goal in the third was a lay-up with 10: 46 left.
Despite Malone's continued scoring woes, the Jazz was able to maintain its advantage. And with Russell's jumper with 26 seconds left, Utah took a 67-59 lead going into the final period.
Pub Date: 6/04/98