Malone, Stockton: Chance of Lifetime
Eleven seasons together have produced a trip to the playoffs each time. Six of those ended in first-round defeats, two in the second round. On two other occasions, they have reached this level, but never this level.
Karl Malone and John Stockton are a victory away from their first berth in the NBA finals.
“My wife--she doesn’t know a lot about basketball, and I like it like that--she just kind of said, ‘Yeah, whatever,’ ” Malone said. “I was telling her, ‘You’re so close this time, I can taste it. I can taste being there.’ ”
The Utah Jazz can all drink in the moment, having rallied from a 3-1 deficit to tie the Western Conference finals against the SuperSonics by winning on the road Tuesday and then crushing Seattle by 35 points in Salt Lake City on Thursday to force a deciding Game 7 on Sunday at 4 p.m. at Seattle’s KeyArena. The winner goes to Chicago to open the championship series on Wednesday.
Stockton, the point guard, and Malone, the power forward, have been close. Their best chance before this was against the Portland Trail Blazers in 1992, when the Jazz also won two in a row to tie the conference finals, 2-2, then got to overtime in Game 5. But Portland won that night, then won the series with a victory at the Delta Center.
Now, the Jazz is on the verge again.
“I had a call from Charles Barkley [Wednesday] and he said you’ve got a great opportunity and it’s unbelievable what it’s like,” Malone said. “Just little things like that, just little hints that people have dropped. It’s a good feeling right now.
“Obviously we’d love for the series to be over, but it’s where we want to be at. We had to win two games to get to the seventh game, and now we got there. I can’t tell you how proud I am of the guys, simply because everybody wrote us off. . . . Then all of the sudden, those old Jazz are right there again. So we’ll see what happens on Sunday.”
Jeff Hornacek is a third wheel no more.
Normally the other dependable Jazz player, a starting shooting guard who can also play behind Stockton at point guard, Hornacek has become a star in this series, averaging 22 points in the six games while making 51.3% of his shots overall and 52% of his three-point shots. He also has held counterpart Hersey Hawkins to 6.7 shots a game, about five fewer than Hawkins’ regular-season average.
“Ninety-five percent of the time, our players think they’ve got him covered,” SuperSonic Coach George Karl said. “But he’s got that quick release, and he’s got a knack for getting open.”
All of the SuperSonics could use the extra day off after being hammered Thursday, some more than others. Nate McMillan, long a leader in the clubhouse and a calming influence on the court, has a sore back that limited him to 16 minutes in Game 5 and 12 in Game 6.