Jazz Cancels Dubious Date With History by Staving Off Upstart Nuggets : NBA playoffs: Malone scores 31 in 91-81 victory, setting up duel for title shot against the Rockets.

From Associated Press

The Utah Jazz, desperate to avoid one of the most embarrassing defeats in NBA history, finally ended Denver's memorable playoff run Saturday.

Karl Malone scored 31 points as Utah halted its playoff skid against the upstart Nuggets with a 91-81 victory in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals.

"Everybody loves Cinderella, everybody loves the underdog. So it was neat to get the job done," Malone said. "I love to hunt and fish in the summers, but I'm not quite ready to do that yet."

The Jazz led, 3-0, in the series before Denver rallied to square it at 3-3. As the 17th consecutive home team to win a Game 7, Utah avoided the embarrassment of becoming the first team ever to lose an NBA playoff after leading 3-0.

"I think we wanted it a little more," Malone said. "Contrary to what happened earlier this week, everybody just stuck together and played hard."

He made 12 of 23 shots and also had 14 rebounds as the Jazz earned only its second trip to the Western Conference finals. In 1992, Utah lost in six games to Portland.

But Malone said it was too early to rejoice.

"Houston will be tough," he said. "Until we touch untouched waters, I have nothing to celebrate. We've been to the Western Conference finals before."

Jeff Hornacek scored 18 points for the Jazz, who now will face Houston in a series that starts Monday at Houston.

Reggie Williams had 17 points, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf 14 and Brian Williams 13 for the Nuggets, who were making their first conference semifinal appearance since 1988. Dikembe Mutombo got 12 points, 17 rebounds and two blocked shots to extend his NBA playoff record for a series to 38.

"Malone told me as the game ended, 'It was a hell of a series, great job.' And I wish him well, and good luck," Mutombo said. "I'm happy with the excellent season we had, for me being able to block all these shots, break these records."

Denver Coach Dan Issel wasn't discouraged.

"Our kids have gotten some incredible playoff experience," he said. "I'm tickled to death. We've exceeded expectations."

The loss ended a remarkable playoff run for the Nuggets, who fell behind Seattle, 2-0, in the first round, only to win, 3-2, and become the first eighth-seeded team to eliminate a top-seeded team.

Down by 19 points midway through the fourth quarter, the Nuggets rallied, as they had in each of their victories. This time, however, the Jazz found the answer in their halfcourt offense.

Jazz owner Larry Miller, usually a Delta Center fixture, was not on hand to see his team win. Miller agreed to a two-game NBA ban from his arena after scuffling with several Denver fans during Utah's 109-101 double-overtime loss here on Tuesday.

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