Monday, May 5, 2008
Not just a Cowboys Blog
I am a big fan of the Jazz as well. I remember the feeling I had back in 1997 and 1998 when they went back to back in the Finals losing each time in six games to the mighty Chicago (Michael Jordan) Bulls. I think that 1997 was not to be that big of a dissappointment as far as the finals go because, the Bulls were expected to win it(I believed that it was the final one for the Chicago)and that the Jazz finally getting there was the beautiful thing of it. In 1996-97, after years of near misses (1988, 1992, 1994, 1996) mixed in with years of disheartening first round playoff flameouts(see 1989, 1990, and 1995) the Jazz finally made it to the finals with the aid of a 64-18 record (best in the West and an NBA Best in MOST seasons) compared to the 69-13 Bulls. THat year, the Jazz were as deep as anyone in the league, maybe not the most talented but the most disaplined. Karl Malone won his first Regular season MVP award. He was approaching the age of 34 and still in his prime. John Stockton, the point guard, who had already become the league's all time leader in assists and steals, was still the savvy floor general and at age 35, was also, incredibly still near his peak. Jeff Hornecek was the shooting guard, while he and Stockton were backed up adequately by Howard Eisely and Shandon Anderson. Throw in Adam Keefe and Veteral Antoine "BiG DAWG" Carr for depth at the Forward spots to back up Malone and Bryon Russell. And not to forget about Greg Foster and Chris Morris, each pure shooters, who made the Jazz that much tougher to beat when they were hot from the outside. The Center was young Greg Ostertag, who was up and coming at the time, and about to become a very rich young underachiever in the years ahead once he signed that new deal. The Jazz closed out the year, an astounding 31-4 over the final 35 games of the regular season, in pulling away from the rest of the Western Conference field. Houston, a talented veteran team with Hakeem, Charles Barkley, and Clyde Drexler, finished a distant second to the Jazz at 56-26. Los Angeles had won their division with a 56-26 record. They would meet the Jazz in the second round, after Utah completed their first ever playoff sweep against the Clippers 3-0 in the first round(still a best of five at that time)The Lakers, a young team headed by Shaq, were talented but undisciplined, unharnessed. They would go down in five to the Jazz 4-1, although they played them tough in close losses in Salt Lake City in games 2(Jazz escaped 103-101) and Game 5(the clinching game with the Jazz winning 98-93 in overtime, remembered best for Rookie Kobe Bryant's airballs) So now it was Houston in the Western Conference Finals. The Rockets had easily dispatched the first time playoff bound Minnesota Timberwolves in the opening round and then outlasted the Seattle Supersonics(the previous year's Western COnf. Champs) in a grueling seven game series. The Jazz were rested and took the Rockets easily in Games 1 and two (101-86 and 104-92 respectively) In Game Three, the Jazz roared out to a 31-18 lead after one period but hit a wall thereafter as HOuston stormed back and seized a 118-100 win. Then, in Game Four, the Rockets evened the series in a close one 95-92 when reserve forward "Fast" Eddie Johnson drilled a three pointer as time expired. Game 5 was close as well, with the Jazz being able to stay one step ahead throughout the second half. Karl Malone's 29 helped the Jazz regain the series edge 3-2 in a 96-91 win. Game Six was hotly contested, back and forth with the Rockets facing elimination and the Jazz trying to close it out down in Houston. After three quarters it was 71-70 Houston. But in the fourth quarter, the Rockets surged to a 90-77 lead, and the series looked to be headed back up to Utah again for a winner-take-all Game 7. Many Jazz fans, myself included, turned the game off at that point, resigned to game seven. I remember thinking" at least it's up here". At work the next morning is when I found out what happened. The Best Finish that I didn't see live. The Jazz stormed back with the aid of Stockton, to forge a 100 all tie in the closing seconds. The Rockets had their chance to win it and failed and the Jazz rebounded with two seconds left and called timeout. The inbounds pass went to Stockton, who was left alone with Barkely arriving too late. Karl Malone had bearhug picked Clyde the Glide out of the way as well, and Stock let it fly from about 25 feet. "UH OH" said announcer Greg Gumbel, followed by" YES! JOHN STOCKTON SENDS THE UTAH JAZZ TO THE NBA FINALS!!!!!" In the winners lockerroom afterwards, Jeff Hornacek said the most striking statement of all "We knew that they (HOuston) would be tight if it was close at the end, because we had the luxury of a Game seven(at home no less)and they didn't"