Malone's 29 Boosts Utah To 3-2 Lead In the West

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah -- The MVP finally had the kind of game everyone was waiting for.

Karl Malone broke out of an eight-day bout with mediocrity Tuesday night, scoring 29 points in his most productive offensive game of the Western Conference finals as Utah defeated Houston 96-91 in Game 5.

Malone, who shot 11-for-22 from the field -- including 7-for-11 in the second half -- also shut down Charles Barkley defensively to move the Jazz within one victory of the U.S. National Basketball Association Finals.

Malone, who had been saying "I'm due'' for the better part of a week, grabbed 14 rebounds, shot 7-for-8 on free throws and handed out four assists. Several of his shots were rally-killers in the second half, when the Rockets refused to go down easily despite falling behind for good in the second quarter.

Malone, who averaged 27.4 points on 55 percent shooting this season but just 22 points on 43 percent this series, also locked up the victory with two free throws with 13 seconds left that gave Utah a 96-89 lead.

It was the 22nd straight home victory for the Jazz, who haven't lost at the Delta Center since Feb. 23. They will look to wrap up the series Thursday night in Houston, but they'll have to become the first team to win a road game in this series.

Six Utah players scored in double figures. Stockton had another strong game with 17 points, Bryon Russell scored 13, Jeff Hornacek 11 and reserves Howard Eisley and Antoine Carr had 10 each.

Hakeem Olajuwon scored 33 points for Houston, while Clyde Drexler had 15 and Matt Maloney 14.

Barkley, who unsuccessfully tried to draw Malone into a trash-talking duel in the first half, finished with just 10 points on 3-of-6 shooting. And he did almost nothing after making two 3-pointers in the first 3 1/2 minutes of the game.

Part of the reason for Barkley's poor showing was Malone, who held his ground against Barkley in one-on-one isolations better than he did last weekend when the Rockets won two straight games to tie the series.

Malone also found the range on his turnaround jumper, which has become his bread-and-butter shot.

"If he keeps making that fade-away jumper, I'll shake his hand after the series and say good luck against the Bulls,'' Barkley said.

Malone's performance put the Jazz in a position to go where they've never gone -- the NBA Finals -- after four appearances in the conference finals over the past six years.

It also brought them one step closer to satisfying a local populace that has grown weary of all the close calls. When the Jazz awoke Tuesday morning, the headline in the local paper read: "Hey Karl, Isn't It Time To Deliver?''

"When someone takes a stab at you on the front page of the paper it kind of upsets you,'' said Malone, who is known as "The Mailman.''

Barkley also thought the media was being unfair. After all, Malone scored 21, 24, 21 and 22 points in the first four games.

"Unfortunately, he's the man. And he doesn't get all the credit but he takes all the blame," Barkley said.