Jazz 104, Bulls 93
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ Karl Malone had a determined look in his eye, a fresh spring in his step and a healthy dose of confidence that had been so obviously missing.
He was back in his comfort zone at the building where the Jazz are undefeated in the playoffs, and he broke out of his MVP blues and finals funk Friday night.
Malone scored 37 points and Greg Foster led a 28-point contribution from Utah’s bench as the Jazz held off a late Bulls charge to take Game 3 of the NBA Finals 104-93.
``My teammates definitely feed off what I do,″ Malone said. ``I was able to make an effort right off the bat and I was able to get inside. That set the tone.″
The victory cut Chicago’s lead to 2-1 in the best-of-7 series and kept the Jazz from falling into an 0-3 hole that no NBA team has recovered from.
Utah, which hasn’t lost at home since Feb. 23, went ahead for good midway through the first quarter, opened a 16-point halftime lead and built it to 24 at the midpoint of the third quarter.
``Our defense never reacted to Karl’s explosiveness in the first half. I think we kind of laid back on our heels a little bit and he came out aggressively,″ Jordan said.
``That’s the Karl Malone we all know.″
The Bulls weren’t finished, though, and used a 16-3 run to pull within 11 with 7:43 left. There was plenty of time for more, and Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen put a scare into the raucous Delta Center crowd that gave Utah such a big early boost.
Jordan hit a pair of 3-pointers and Pippen nailed three in a row from behind the arc, the second of which pulled Chicago to 90-83 with 2:52 left. Pippen tied an NBA Finals record with seven 3s.
But Jordan, strangely quiet through the first three quarters, missed his next three 3-pointers and Utah, which lost Game 1 with some crucial misses at the line down the stretch, closed the game by making 14 consecutive free throws.
The series resumes here Sunday evening, and Malone plans to operate some more in that comfort zone.
It started for Malone on Friday, when he drove one of his Harley-Davidson motorcycles to the game, arriving in a cut-off black T-shirt.
``Michael and Scottie were laughing at me, they were wearing $5,000 suits and I came with this right here,″ he said, pointing to the same T-shirt. `` Everybody in America sent me e-mails and all that, but I just needed that Harley ride today. I’ll take it Sunday, too.″
Malone’s 37 points were his most since scoring 42 in Game 4 of the second round against the Lakers.
``We ask our small guys to do a lot for us,″ Malone said. ``Now’s the time for our big guys to step up.″
Foster, one of those big guys, finished with 17, matching his career-high.
``I don’t want anybody thinking about Greg Foster,″ he said. ``I just want to go out and have fun and do my job. Tonight, we came out and showed some spunk.″
John Stockton had 17 points and 12 assists and scored Utah’s final six points from the free throw line.
Pippen finished with 27 and Jordan 26 for the Bulls, who dug themselves too deep of a hole to climb out of.
The main reason was Malone. He scored 15 points in the first quarter alone, when the Jazz got a boost from the raucous Delta Center crowd that is such a big part of Utah’s 9-0 home playoff record and 38-3 regular season home record.
``I said to myself the first time down the court that I was going to take it hard to the basket,″ Malone said. ``I did and it got us going.″
Malone scored eight straight points for Utah to break the game’s last tie midway through the first quarter, and Foster took over in the second quarter when the Jazz started to turn it into a blowout.
The backup center, who totaled only six points combined in the first two games, had 15 of his points by halftime, when Utah held a 61-45 lead.
He even outscored both Jordan (14) and Pippen (12) in the first half.
It was more of the same for the Jazz early in the third quarter as the Bulls came out flat and couldn’t stop anything.
A 14-6 Jazz run, ending with a steal by Malone and a feed ahead to a wide-open Bryon Russell for a highlight-reel reverse slam, made the score 77-53 and forced Chicago to call a timeout.
When the Bulls came back, they were ready to make a game of it.
Chicago scored the final seven points of the quarter and Jordan opened the fourth with a driving basket to make it 77-62, and a tip-in by Brian Williams, who finished with 16 points, cut the deficit to 11.
Then it was time for Jordan to take over. The only question was whether he could do enough.
He hit a 3-pointer, a jumper and another 3-pointer, then fed Pippen for a pair of 3s that made it 88-80. Malone scored on a drive to bump the lead back to 10, but that would be Utah’s last basket of the night.
Another 3 by Pippen made it an eight-point game, and his fourth of the quarter with 31.2 left made it 98-91.
By then, however, the Jazz were in the midst of their run of consecutive made free throws to end the game. Chicago got no closer.
``We got very casual and didn’t handle the ball well,″ Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said of the fourth quarter. ``The turnovers were because of that. When you have a big lead, you tend to get conservative. You play not to lose, instead of doing the things that got you the lead.″
Russell added 14 points for Utah, which outrebounded Chicago 47-35.
The Bulls got little from anyone other than Jordan, Pippen and Williams. Dennis Rodman had no points and three rebounds in 24 minutes and sat out most of the fourth quarter. Ron Harper scored only two points and was burned by Stockton several times on drives to the basket.
Notes: Pippen was whistled for a second-quarter technical by referee Hue Hollins after a blatant non-call on which Adam Keefe climbed over his back. ... Rodman debuted a new hairdo, a half-completed Rubik’s Cube look. The left side of his head was magenta and the right side was a mix of green, yellow, orange, red and purple patches. ... Jazz rookie forward Shandon Anderson missed the game to be with his family in Atlanta following the death of his father Wednesday. His status for Game 4 is uncertain. Chris Morris played Anderson’s second-quarter minutes and scored seven points while also containing Jordan defensively.