Battered Russell pulls Jazz back from the brink

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 May, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 May, 1998, 12:00am

BRYON Russell got 10 stitches on his face and the praise of his teammates.

Russell provided the third-quarter spark, and Karl Malone scored 29 points as the Utah Jazz beat the Houston Rockets 93-71 and avoided becoming the second top seeds in NBA history to lose a series to a number eight.

Utah trailed 42-36 at the half in Houston, and it looked like the Rockets might put them in the record book alongside the 1994 Seattle SuperSonics before the Jazz outscored the Rockets 57-29 in the second half.

'You have to give a lot of credit to Bryon Russell. He came in and played so hard the rest of us just caught on,' John Stockton said. 'This gives us a chance to stay alive.' The victory evened the best-of-five series at 2-2, with the deciding Game Five set for tomorrow (Hong Kong time) in Salt Lake City. The winners will play the San Antonio Spurs in the second round.

In the night's only other play-off game, Charlotte advanced to a second-round showdown with Chicago by winning 91-82 at Atlanta. The Hornets won the series 3-1.

In today's only action, Minnesota travel to Seattle for the deciding fifth game of that series, the winners of which play the Los Angeles Lakers.

Tomorrow, New York travel to Miami for Game Five of that series, and Chicago play host to Charlotte.

Russell scored 15 points and led a third-quarter charge that turned the game around for the Jazz.

The Rockets have a string of 17 consecutive play-off series victories when they've won the first game. Houston won Game One 103-90 in Utah.

Eighth seeds the Denver Nuggets beat top-seeded Seattle in 1994, but the Jazz avoided that fate as Malone scored 10 points in the third quarter, and Utah outscored Houston 28-10 in the fourth. Hakeem Olajuwon led Houston with 27 points and 15 rebounds, but Clyde Drexler was the only other Rocket in double figures with 11.

'We didn't start off well,' Malone said. 'But we stayed with it. Bryon did a great job and was a big lift for us off the bench. We had a game plan and we stuck with it.' The Rockets played most of the game without Charles Barkley, who bruised his right triceps muscle in the second quarter and dropped out after trying to play in the third. Russell and teammate Jeff Hornacek butted heads with 42 seconds left in the third period. Both received stitches and returned.

The Jazz, who trailed 21-10 after one period and 42-36 at the half, started coming back in the third period. They finally got their first lead since the opening minutes on a pair of free throws by Malone for a 57-56 edge with 3:07 left in the period.

The Jazz never trailed again, and poured it on in the fourth quarter when they used a 10-0 run to take an 83-65 lead with 3:42 to play.

Utah managed only 10 first-quarter points, matching the lowest quarter total by Rockets opponents in the play-offs. The Jazz rallied around Shandon Anderson, who had seven second-quarter points, and pulled within six-points at intermission.

'We had an outstanding defensive first half,' Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. 'We didn't shoot the ball real well so it was a close game. In the second half we couldn't make a basket.' Anthony Mason scored 21 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter for Charlotte against the Hawks.

'Mase was awesome,' said Charlotte coach Dave Cowens, whose team advanced to the second round for the second time in team history. Atlanta became only the third team to lose a play-off series to opponents they swept in the regular season.