SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP)—John Stockton and Karl Malone headed for the bench together, and fans of the Sacramento Kings erupted in an emotional standing ovation for two of their team’s toughest opponents.
Chris Webber had 26 points and 11 rebounds, and Peja Stojakovic scored 22 points as the Kings advanced to the second round of the playoffs by beating the Jazz 111-91 Wednesday night to win their best-of-seven series in five games.
It was a fairly unremarkable victory for the deeper, more talented Kings, who never trailed while forcing their up-tempo style on the Jazz. Bobby Jackson had 18 points and six assists for Sacramento, which will face the winner of the Dallas-Portland series in the conference semifinals.
But the game probably will turn out to be a historic one. It might have been the final 48 minutes in the partnership between Stockton and Malone, the Jazz cornerstones who built a perennial winner in small-market Salt Lake City during 18 years together.
“If it turns out to be the last chance, it was just an honor to be here for it—a dream come true,” Webber said. “They’ve changed the game together.”
Both players and their coach, Jerry Sloan, must make decisions on their future in the coming weeks. All three could be gone by next fall—and even if only one leaves, the Jazz will never be the same.
With the loss still fresh, none of the three made any definitive statements on their future.
The 41-year-old Stockton will consider retirement after being an effective point guard for 19 seasons—longer than any player in league history.
“I haven’t stopped to think about that decision yet,” Stockton said. “Obviously, I have some time to think about it now. I’d prefer to compliment a very good team on basically manhandling us the whole series.”
Malone, the NBA’s second-leading career scorer, has strongly hinted he plans to finally follow through on his frequent threats to leave Utah to play for a championship contender.
“After a tough loss, you don’t want to back yourself into a corner and say something you’re going to regret,” Malone said.
What’s more, Sloan has hinted he might be ready to retire after 15 seasons. He’s the longest-tenured coach or manager in the four major pro sports.
“I don’t worry about what I’m doing, because I don’t know,” Sloan said. “We’ve always taken the approach that these guys are going to do what they want to do. They’ve given everything they can give to this team.”
Though the result seemed somewhat inevitable—Sacramento has won 14 of the clubs’ 17 meetings over the past two seasons—Stockton and Malone played the series’ final game with their typical hard-nosed style.
Stockton used all of his legendary grit against Kings point guard Mike Bibby, and Malone battled Webber throughout. Stockton found Malone for three of his seven assists—the last on a 6-foot jumper off a pick-and-roll late in the first half.
Malone finished with 14 points on 5-of-17 shooting, and Stockton had eight points in 28 minutes. Sloan removed them simultaneously with 5:01 left—and the Arco Arena fans couldn’t contain themselves.
“It was very classy,” Malone said. “We’ve had a lot of battles over the years. It’s kind of special, because we don’t see that every day.”
Stockton and Malone made the playoffs together during all 18 years with Utah—but until this spring, the Jazz had never lost three straight first-round series.
After the final buzzer, Malone headed to the locker room, while Stockton received hugs and words of praise from most of the Kings’ players.
The Kings must wait at least two more days to know their opponent in their third straight trip to the second round. The Mavericks won the first three games against Portland, but the Trail Blazers have won the last two.
“We played Kings basketball tonight,” Vlade Divac said. “When we do that, not many teams can beat us.”
The Jazz already were in trouble when Greg Ostertag was ejected in the first quarter. Ostertag, the inconsistent center who was effective in two of the series’ first four games, was tossed for a tirade against referee Bernie Fryer, and the Kings’ frontcourt capitalized on his absence all night.
“It’s pretty sad when you come out and see who’s officiating, and you know how the game will be called,” Ostertag said. “I apologized to my teammates because it affected the game. They passed the ball inside all night.”
There were prolonged spells of lousy offensive play by both teams during the series, but the Kings had few problems in the clincher. Divac scored nine of the Kings’ first 11 points before throwing a spectacular blind pass over his head to Doug Christie for a layup.
Moments later, Ostertag was thrown out when he overreacted to an iffy foul call by Fryer. Ostertag brushed against the referee to earn the second technical, then and circled Fryer all the way to the scorers’ table, screaming obscenities as Harpring and Tony Massenburg pulled him away.
Sacramento built an 18-point in the first half, and the Jazz never gotcloser than 10 in the final 20 minutes.
DeShawn Stevenson, suspended for Game 2 after getting into an argument with Sloan, had 14 points, five rebounds and four assists. … Johnnie B. Baker Sr., the 78-year-old father of Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker, skipped his son’s second game back in San Francisco to attend the Kings’ playoff game in his usual seats. The younger Baker chuckled when he learned of his father’s plans. “I said ‘Dad, are you going to come to all three?”’ Dusty Baker said. “He said ‘Ah, son, that’s too much driving. I’ll come Tuesday and Thursday.’That’s what he told me.”