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NBA PLAYOFFS : Warriors Use a Full Nelson to Sweep Jazz

May 03, 1989|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | Times Staff Writer

OAKLAND — The series was a sweep, just like most everyone predicted. Three games and done. Broom, broom, out go the lights.

The Golden State Warriors had already cast themselves as the little team that could, Don Nelson having coached his shorty lineup to a 23-game improvement from last season, but now they are something else. They are in the Western Conference semifinals after stunning the Utah Jazz--and the entire National Basketball Assn.--with a 120-106 victory Tuesday night at Oakland Coliseum Arena to take the first-round series, 3-0.

Something else, indeed.

"I said before it would be a miracle if we win it," Nelson said afterward. "But miracles do happen, and one just happened tonight.

"I've been around a long time. I can't ever remember being more proud of a team or remember a bigger win."

Three Warriors scored 20 points or more--Chris Mullin with 35, Mitch Richmond with 26 the day after being named the league's rookie of the year, and Terry Teagle with 24 off the bench--and two others broke double figures. In the biggest game for the franchise in years, contributions came from almost everywhere.

Maybe even above.

"Yes, it was a miracle," Nelson said, continuing with a theme that will no doubt be retold in these parts for a long time. "For us to win three straight against such a good team, against a team that almost beat the Lakers in seven games last season, for us to do what we did, we had to have had help from somebody else."

The capacity crowd of 15,025 cut loose with 2:37 remaining--in the third quarter. "Sweep! Sweep! Sweep!" they chanted, proclaiming a notion that no one would have dared even dream a week ago.

The Warriors, the fourth-place team out of the Pacific Division with a 43-39 record, led at that point, 71-66, and were in the midst of a 12-0 streak. When Golden State finished the third quarter with a 7-0 run, it was 82-71. A close game had turned into a double-digit deficit for the Midwest Division champions, and it would get worse in the fourth quarter, reaching 15 points.

When Utah made one last run and cut the lead to 94-88 with 5:25 left, Manute Bol, Golden State's 7-foot-7 string bean of a cult hero, hit what has become his obligatory three-point shot with 5:02 left.

Rod Higgins hit another three-pointer and it was over, for good.

The kid who held up a home-made sign in the front row had it right: A poster-size envelope, addressed to Bol was stamped in red ink, "Return to Sender." The return address was Karl Malone at 0-3 Dead End Street.

"You just don't dream about sweeping a team like Utah," said Warrior guard Winston Garland, who contributed 11 points. "They're too good."

A playoff upset of this magnitude hasn't happened in the NBA since the New Jersey Nets knocked off the Philadelphia 76ers, the defending champions, in the first round in 1984. What made Utah-Golden State all the more improbable--beyond the fact that the Jazz is one of the most talented teams in the league--is that the Warriors closed the regular season with six consecutive losses, two coming against teams that didn't make the playoffs.

Then they won the first two games of the series at Salt Lake City, breaking a five-game losing streak there in the process. Mullin scores 41 and 22 points, respectively, Richmond gets 30 and 21, and Bol blocks a combined 13 shots.

Tuesday, the Warriors returned home, where they went 29-12 during the regular season, and played Utah just about even in the first half. They trailed, 49-48, at the intermission, but had a couple impressive stretches and shut down the Jazz inside game despite the usual size disadvantage.

Golden State used a 17-2 run (including a 12-0 spurt) midway through the second quarter to take a 40-32 lead with 5:41 left in the half. Karl Malone's hook in the lane ended the drought for Utah and started the Jazz on a 17-8 surge to close the period.

The Warriors took control from there, earning a trip to the best-of-seven conference semifinals to meet the Phoenix Suns, beginning Saturday.

To Arizona they go. For at least one more series, heaven can wait.

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