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Final Bound! Jazz Sweep Lakers


No wild cheers. No jubilation. No celebration. Hardly more than a smile and a handshake.

Just another workmanlike victory for the Utah Jazz.

So what if Sunday's 96-92 win swept the Los Angeles Lakers out of the Western Conference finals? Showmanship is not Utah's style. Winning is.

"I love the attitude in this locker room right now," Karl Malone said."It's laid back, how we've been all year. We just walked off the court, showed some class."

It was Utah's first sweep of a seven-game series.

"I think the whole nation is surprised by the sweep," Malone said."We just took it one game at a time and had the killer instinct. When you've got somebody punch-drunk, knock them out, and we did that."

Malone scored 32 points, including 14-of-15 free throws, and grabbed 14 rebounds as the Jazz earned a second consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. This time, Utah will have the homecourt advantage, whether the opponent is Chicago or Indiana.

"No one else probably did, but we expected to be back," Malone said. "We didn't break out the champagne or anything like that, because we haven't done anything yet."

John Stockton, Malone's quiet partner in Utah for 13 seasons, sank six free throws in the final 1:24. His last two with 10.5 seconds remaining put Utah up 94-90. The cool Jazz were 30-of-33 from the foul line -- 10-of-11 in the fourth quarter -- as they fought off the Lakers' last gasp.

Utah's only miss from the foul line in the final period was by Greg Foster after his dunk put Utah up 96-92 with 2.5 seconds left.

Now the old men of utah won't have to play again until next Sunday at the earliest as they await the outcome of the Eastern Conference finals. It was the first time Utah pulled off a playoff sweep in a seven-game series.

At least the Lakers, swept for the first time since Detroit did it in the 1989 NBA Finals, exited swinging. Except for a poor Game 1, Shaquille O'Neal was magnificent in defeat. And Sunday was no exception.

He scored 38 points, despite foul trouble, 11 of them in the last 3½ minutes in a final rally that almost caught the Jazz.

"I'm very frustrated," O'Neal said."I've got to go home and live with it. You must learn to fail before you succeed."

It was a classic victory of brains over brawn, experience over youth.

"I said when the series started that the team that played with the most intelligence had the best chance of winning," Utah coach Jerry Sloan."We played with a great deal of intelligence."

It is a lesson the young Lakers had to learn, said coach Del Harris, whose job could be on the line despite what otherwise would be considered a highly successful season.

"To be really successful, you have to go through some failure," e said, repeating what has become a Laker mantra."The true winner is the guy who gets knocked down, then gets back up."

Down 70-57 after Utah's Chris Morris hit a 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter, the Lakers seemed finished for sure. The Forum crowd fell eerily silent.

But O'Neal, Jones and, in his first strong play of the series, Nick Van Exel, mustered one last surge.

O'Neal even made 7-of-10 free throws during one stretch. His second three-point play in the quarter cut Utah's lead to 90-87 with a minute to play. But the law of averages caught up with him. He missed two free throws with 27.6 seconds to play that could have cut the Lakers' lead to one.

Instead, Malone was fouled, made two free throws and the Jazz were up 92-87 with 26.3 seconds to go.

Kobe Bryant's three-point play cut Utah's lead to 92-90 with 22.7 seconds to play.

With the kind of unemotional calm that is Utah's trademark, Stockton sank his two free throws to make it 94-90. Van Exel's layup with seven seconds left cut it to 94-92, but the Lakers couldn't find anyone to foul and the Jazz got the ball to Foster for a dunk. Bryant fouled him, but by then it was too late.

"They made a run at us, but we continued to execute and get the ball where we wanted to," Sloan said.

Just as they did all series.

Harris thought some of the calls down the stretch were bad ones, a final bit of complaining for a Laker team that did a lot of it against the clever Jazz.

Sunday's game unfolded in a pattern that had become routine.
With Harris dressed fittingly in a black suit, the Lakers fell behind early, then played a game of catch-up they could never win.

Malone's methodical 18 points helped Utah build a 47-38 halftime lead. The best the Lakers could do in the third quarter was cut the lead to 51-45 on Rick Fox's 3-pointer with 8:17 remaining.

Howard Eisley sank three consecutive long 3-pointers in the second quarter. The first two capped a 14-0 run that put the Jazz up 28-18. Malone's 14-footer gave Utah its biggest lead of the half, 35-24, with 5:32 remaining before the break.

Jeff Hornacek, in his best game of what had been a mediocre series for him, added 15 points for Utah. Greg Ostertag came off the bench for 11 points and seven rebounds. Jones scored 19 and Van Exel 11 for the Lakers.

Los Angeles was the hottest team in the playoffs when the series began. Then came the 35-point blowout loss in Game 1, and the Lakers never recovered. Utah, which began the playoffs with a near-disastrous five-game series against Houston, is now the one on a roll.

And it is more than just Malone and Stockton. The Jazz bench outplayed the Lakers' counterparts throughout the series.

"It wasn't even the legends who killed us," O'Neal said."It was everybody else."

Notes:

  • The Lakers' 38 first-half points was their second-lowest total of the season. The lowest was 35 in their Game 1 blowout los to Utah.
  • Los Angeles had not lost four in a row in the last two seasons.
  • Malone and O'Neal traded flagrant fouls on each other in the first quarter; the Lakers got three points out of their flagrant opportunity, the Jazz got four.
  • After struggling to beat Houston in five games in the first round, Utah is 8-1 in the last two series.
  • Utah shot 47.1 percent, the first time the Jazz had been under 50 percent in the series.

    © 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved

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