CHICAGO -- What happened to Karl Malone in the first two games of the NBA Finals was surprising. What happened to Malone and his Utah Jazz teammates last night in Game 3, at the hands of a suffocating Chicago Bulls defense, was downright shocking.
Looking to bounce back from a loss that cost the team home-court advantage, the Jazz responded with the lowest-scoring effort in the history of the post-shot-clock NBA, getting thrashed, 96-54.
In defeat, the Jazz found itself associated with quite a few records for futility, including:
Fewest points in a game since the introduction of the shot clock (the previous was 55, by Indiana this season).
Fewest points in an NBA Finals game (previous was 71 by Syracuse vs. Fort Wayne in 1955, and Houston against Boston in 1981).
Fewest field goals (21) in a game and fewest points in a half (23, in the second half).
It all added up to a 42-point Chicago victory, the largest margin of victory in an NBA Finals game (previous record was 35).
"I don't know if I've ever seen a team play any better defensively since I've been in the business," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said.
"And they ate us alive. We couldn't get into the offense, we couldn't get the ball up the floor. They came out and got after us. I don't know if I've ever seen a team that quick defensively."
That defense forced Malone into seven turnovers, including one out of frustration in the third quarter when he nailed Dennis Rodman in the face with an elbow. And the usually sure-handed John Stockton had five turnovers, several times throwing the ball away after uncharacteristically getting caught in the air.
"They had a hell of a defense and we didn't respond," Malone said. "It was just an old-fashioned -- we got our butts kicked. We don't have any excuses. We didn't respond as a team, and that's what happens.
And to think the biggest concern the Jazz had going into last night was whether Malone would show up, after the MVP runner-up had hit just 14 of 41 shots in the first two games of the series.
In scoring 22 points, Malone was the only Utah player in double figures. And on the surface his 8-for-11 shooting from the field was impressive. But what was unimpressive was the so-called second-best player in the league attempting just five shots over the final three quarters (making two).
At least Malone showed up -- briefly. That's more than can be said for Bryon Russell (1 of 7 from the field, four turnovers), Greg Ostertag (0-for-7 from the field in making his first start of the Finals), and Howard Eisley (0-for-6 from the field).
The biggest key to the game was the Chicago defenders cutting off the Jazz at the head -- or, in this case, at the point. In the second quarter, the Bulls started sending a second defender at either Stockton or Eisley as soon as they crossed half court. This forced the point guards to pick up their dribble, thus slowing Utah's offensive attack.
"We thought we could hold them up a bit, so they didn't have the fluidity," Chicago coach Phil Jackson said. "And Scottie is able to make Stockton slow down, stop at half court, and we can get our defense set up to prevent a little bit."
Michael Jordan scored 24 points to lead the Bulls, in the process earning plenty of rest in the blowout as he played just 32 minutes. Toni Kukoc added 16 points and Scottie Pippen and Scott Burrell each had 10.
"Everybody had a good time out there," Jordan said. "We came out and played hard. We put the effort and intensity in and as a result we could relax a little in the fourth quarter."
Outside of Malone, there was little help as the rest of the Jazz hit just 6 of 27 shots in the first half. Combine that with 12 first-half turnovers -- four each from Malone and Stockton -- and it was no surprise that Utah trailed at the half, 49-31.
What was a surprise was the halftime deficit, considering each of the first two games in the series went down to the final minute. But Chicago's defense in the first half was about as intense as it has been this series. The Bulls recorded seven first-half steals, three from Kukoc, who also scored 12 points and grabbed five rebounds.
At the start of the game, it appeared Utah's transition to playing three games in Chicago would go smoothly. That's because Malone, after two subpar performances, started the game aggressively. He scored on a layup just over 30 seconds into the game, an indication that he would not settle for the jump shots that he took -- and missed -- in the first two games.
But even after Malone scored on a dunk with 5: 55, giving him all of his team's points and a 10-5 Utah lead, the story line of the game was already in place.
That's because in the first quarter Russell, Ostertag and Jeff Hornacek shot a combined 0-for-16 from the field. Add Stockton's 1-of-2 shooting from the field and Eisley's two misses in as many attempts, the rest of the Jazz -- other than Malone -- shot a combined 1-for-14 in the opening quarter.
Utah, which went scoreless over the last 3: 32 of the quarter while missing eight straight shots, was fortunate to be trailing 17-14 at quarter's end.
Until Shandon Anderson scored on a short jumper with 9: 46 left in the half, Utah had endured 11 straight misses and a scoreless stretch of 5 minutes 46 seconds. And as quickly as Malone established himself as a factor at the start of the game, he became a non-factor in the second quarter when he attempted just one shot.
What began to work for Chicago was double-teaming Stockton -- usually with Pippen leaving his man -- as soon as the Utah point guard crossed halfcourt.
What that did was remove the ball from Stockton's hands as he was forced to pass, and slow the Utah offense.
That defense helped force nine second-quarter turnovers by the Jazz. And over the final 2: 27 of the half the Bulls finished with a 12-2 run, taking a 49-31 lead into half-time.
It got no better for the Jazz in the third quarter, which did not score until there were almost three minutes gone in the period and who would eventually trail by 26 points late in the period.
And the frustration began to surface when Malone, in a rare post-up, was called for an offensive foul after throwing an elbow at Dennis Rodman's face with 1: 32 left in the third.
By the end of the quarter, the Bulls had a 72-45 lead, on the way to a victory that gave Chicago a 2-1 lead in the series.
"I don't put too much significance into it," Jackson said. "But we don't get our hopes up for this being any kind of steady thing for the rest of the series."
"Wow," Jazz center Greg Foster said. "We played scared and overanxious. It had to happen sometime to someone. It's too bad it happened to us."
The Utah Jazz's 54 points last night were the fewest in an NBA
game since the 24-second shot clock was introduced for the 1954-55 season. Records for fewest points before last night:
NBA game: 55 -- Indiana vs. San Antonio (74), March 29, 1998.
Playoff game: 64 -- Portland at Utah (102), May 5, 1996.
Finals game: 71 -- Syracuse at Fort Wayne (74), April 7, 1955; Houston vs. Boston (94), May 9, 1981.
Chicago vs. Utah
(Chicago leads 2-1)
Game 1 Utah, 88-85, OT
Game 2 Chicago, 93-88
Yes'day Chicago, 96-54
Wed'day at Chicago 9 p.m.
Friday at Chicago 9 p.m.
June 14 at Utah 7: 30 p.m.*
June 17 at Utah 9 p.m.*
TV: Chs. 11, 4
Pub Date: 6/08/98