Karl Malone gives himself "a D minus" for his performance in the NBA Finals but there are still a few days left before school is out for the year.
"Even though I haven't got into a rhythm yet, I'm not going to panic," said Malone, who is a dismal 14-for-41 from the field in the series. "I can't remember when I've had three bad games in a row."
The steady rain that fell in Salt Lake City matched coach Jerry Sloan's mood. Watching Game 2 on tape did nothing to improve Sloan's disappointment with his team's uneven, tentative performance.
"It looked like we were playing in a tuxedo," Sloan fumed. "We didn't want to get touched."
Sloan narrowed his concerns down to three areas: turnovers, offensive rebounds and desire.
"We didn't give enough effort in any of those areas," Sloan said. "We didn't take care of the ball, we let them rebound whenever they wanted and we didn't look like we cared sometimes."
The Jazz have committed 32 turnovers in the first two games of the series, compared to just 21 for the Bulls. Malone and John Stockton each have six in the series.
After being the hero in Game 1, Stockton had just nine points and seven assists on Friday. The Bulls also limited him to no points and one assist in the fourth quarter.
"It's hard to get assists when guys aren't hitting shots," Sloan said. "I'm not worried about our point guards."
Malone was most disappointed in Utah's inability to rebound. Chicago had twice as many offensive rebounds as the Jazz in Game 2, and the Mailman had five of the Jazz's nine offensive boards.
"That's part of desire, of wanting to win," Malone said. "If you want it bad enough, you'll go get those balls."
The Bulls had six offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter. Even little Steve Kerr stepped past Malone to corral his own missed shot in the closing seconds.
In the conference finals against the Lakers, Utah picked up nearly every loose ball. The Jazz dove on the floor, jumped into the stands and did anything else necessary to win games.
That tenaciousness was missing in the first two games of the finals. Whether the Jazz get it back could determine whether the series will return to Salt Lake City for Games 6 and 7.
It all comes back to desire, Sloan said.
"I just don't think we came to play basketball," he said. "Hopefully we'll come back and play harder now that we have to go there."
The Jazz were winless in three trips to the United Center during last year's finals, though they posted a 101-94 win there on Jan. 25 duing the regular season.
Two of the three finals games in Chicago last year came down to the final seconds. In Game 1, Malone bricked two free throws that set the stage for Michael Jordan's game-winning jumper. In Game 6, Bryon Russell's inbounds pass with five seconds to play was stolen by Scottie Pippen.
"That's a tough place to play, especially down the stretch," Malone said. "But sometimes we play more confidently on the road."
Although the Jazz sputtered in the fourth quarter yet again Friday, Malone agreed with Sloan's assessment that the game was lost in the first quarter when Utah failed to match Chicago's physical challenges.
"I think a tone was set early in the game," Malone said. "We have to be setting the tones if we're going to win."
And as for Dennis Rodman's boast that he could shut down Malone any day of the week?
"Please. Whatever," Malone said.
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