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Momentum Plays Transition Game for Phoenix, Utah

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It wasn’t listed among the injury reports, but Karl Malone, the Utah Jazz star forward and media critic, felt it. He even called for a second opinion.

Hives, up and down his back. Bumps from his road through the first round of the NBA playoffs, not to mention from the Jazz being one game away from elimination and playing at Phoenix, where they hadn’t won in 10 games. To double-check his self-diagnosis the other day, Malone called Delaney Rudd, the team’s backup point guard, for verification. Rudd concurred.

“Hell, yeah, it was the pressure,” Malone said. “Pressure because I already knew what the headlines were going to be.”

Jazz Continues First-Round Blues

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But Friday night at Phoenix, Malone did a rewrite job. Beginning play in a 23-of-62 slump, he scored 33 points to help the Jazz win, 105-94, to even the series and force a fifth and deciding game today (12:30 PDT) at the Salt Palace.

Pressure, of course, was on Malone for his poor play, but on the Jazz as a team because of history.

In the first round of 1987, the Jazz became the second team to blow a 2-0 lead. In 1988, it reached the second round, where it was beaten, 4-3, by the Lakers. Last year, the Jazz was swept by Golden State in a stunning upset. Then came 1990, when Utah won the opener while the Suns got only nine minutes from an ill Kevin Johnson. The Jazz lost the next two games.

So beyond getting a Game 5, Friday’s victory at Phoenix made a statement.

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“A lot of people came here, and the media came here, to say the Jazz is through,” Malone claimed after Game 4. “We got a good team effort, but there was extra motivation every time somebody said we couldn’t do it (so) we went out and did it.”

A few days ago, Utah winning two in a row from Phoenix seemed as hard to fathom as Malone’s offensive troubles, though he reached double figures in rebounds in all four games. But, to be sure, one will take care of the other. Another fine showing by Malone will go a long way toward giving the Jazz its punch to knock out the Suns.

The Lakers await the winner. Or the survivor. In what was expected to be one of the best first-round series in years, splits have come at both sites. And until Malone’s breakthrough, even if only for a game, both teams’ top offensive performers have been muzzled.

Today would be a good time for the real Tom Chambers to appear. So far, except for the fourth quarter in Game 3, he’s hardly looked like the guy who finished fourth in the league in scoring. By going four for 14 Friday, Chambers is at 17 for 54, or 31.5%, in the series.

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There seems to have been a new issue with each game. Johnson’s illness, two consecutive victories by Phoenix to take control, Malone’s emergence. Momentum that has gone back and forth like fast breaks.

Now, it is where no one could have imagined a few days ago. The Jazz, coming off a game that everyone agreed showed a fresh effort, is at home and apparently finally have all weapons at its disposal.

“We’ll have to have a different attitude and a different approach,” Johnson said. “We’ll have to steal it from them.”

Things have changed in the last week.

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“I can say only one thing: I can’t wait for Game 5,” Malone said. “That’s basically the end of the story.”

Either way.

Notes

The six three-point baskets by Phoenix’s Eddie Johnson in Game 4 tied an NBA playoff record. He also did it May 13, 1989. Michael Cooper of the Lakers did it June 4, 1987, in the finals against Boston, and Denver’s Michael Adams accomplished the feat April 30, 1989. . . . The Suns are 0-15 the last two seasons in games in which they have been scored fewer than 100 points, including both losses in this series.

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