With one of basketball's most elementary plays, the pick and roll, the Utah Jazz rocked the Denver Nuggets, 111-109, in overtime Saturday at Denver to move within one game of the NBA Western Conference finals.
Jeff Hornacek and John Stockton made baskets off the play in overtime to give the Jazz a 3-0 lead in the series, with Game 4 tonight at Denver.
Hornacek scored 27 points, Stockton 24.
Karl Malone added 26 points and 13 rebounds for Utah, which extended its playoff winning streak to a club-record six games. Utah has beaten Denver in seven of eight games this season, including four victories in the regular season.
After leading the Jazz to victory in Game 2 by going directly at Denver's shot-blocking machine, Dikembe Mutombo, Malone suddenly turned playmaker in Game 3.
"All of a sudden our guards took over for us," Malone said. "I tell you what, when Hornacek and Stockton catch fire, we're awfully tough to beat. I just try to do the little things like set picks, and those guys hit some huge shots."
Stockton said the pick and roll--in which a forward or center sets a screen near the key to free a guard to roll to an open area if the defense doesn't switch assignments--"obviously is a tough play to guard. Fortunately, the shots fell for us on those plays. A lot of attention was being paid to Karl, and that left somebody open. It happened to be Jeff, and it happened to be me."
LaPhonso Ellis, who fouled out in overtime, led a late Nugget surge and finished with 25 points. Mutombo had 20 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots.
After regulation ended in a 98-98 tie, the teams exchanged baskets until Hornacek made a three-point shot with 1:35 to play for a 105-102 lead.
After Ellis countered with a jump shot, Stockton made an 18-footer with 1:02 left. Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf cut the deficit to 107-106, but Stockton countered again with another 18-footer with 30.2 seconds remaining. Both of Stockton's baskets came on wide-open shots on the pick and roll.
Abdul-Rauf's basket with 25.9 seconds left made the score 109-108, but Stockton made two free throws with 9.2 seconds remaining.
Malone praised the Nuggets, the NBA's youngest team. "I think they're going to be the team of the future--for sure," he said.
It's a future that might not include playing against Malone, he indicated in an interview on NBC-TV. Not if the Jazz can win the league title.
". . . The only thing to keep me motivated to play the game now is an NBA championship," Malone said in an interview aired at halftime of the Atlanta Hawk-Indiana Pacer playoff game. "And if I won a ring this year, I have no reason to play anymore. . . . That is the only thing to keep me motivated. . . . There's a lot of other things in life I'd rather do. . . ."
One of them is not to win two titles, Malone said. "Absolutely not."