The 1997 Conference Finals was the Utah Jazz's fourth appearance at that stage of the playoffs in six years.
In 1992, they lost in six games to the Portland Trail Blazers and in 1994, they lost to the Houston Rockets in five. So, in only one of those previous three appearances - Game 7 in 1996 vs. the Seattle SuperSonics - did the Jazz actually have a chance to win the series and progress to their first-ever NBA Finals.
In 1997, however, they had a chance to progress to their first-ever NBA Finals with a game in-hand. Although, not easy, they had to clinch the series in Game 6 on the road in Houston.
This game, that witnessed four lead changes and five ties, never saw any team run away with it for the first three quarters. The maximum lead held by any team was 10, as the Rockets led 71-70 before the fourth quarter.
Then, over the first 5:30 minutes of the final quarter, the hosts go on a 19-7 run that helps them hold the largest of the lead of the game at 13. However, just like the first three quarters, the Jazz rallied and replied with a 21-8 run to have the game tied at 98 with a minute left.
A couple of clutch free-throws from Charles Barkley took the Rockets ahead once again 100-98 but Stockton wasn't ready to give in.
STOCKTON. AGAIN.- NBA (@NBA) May 30, 2020
🎵 22 PTS, 12 in the 4th
🎵 3 straight TOUGH layups in traffic
We are TIED at 100. #NBATogetherLive pic.twitter.com/tuIVRblFX2
Following Stockton's game-tying layup, Clyde Drexler missed a shot to take the Rockets ahead which gave the Jazz a final chance to ice the game.
And that's what Stockton did:
🚨🚨🚨- NBA (@NBA) May 30, 2020
"JOHN STOCKTON SENDS THE @UTAHJAZZ TO THE NBA FINALS❗️❗️❗️"#NBATogetherLive #TissotBuzzerBeater pic.twitter.com/oy0YJd9mwL
Stockton finished the game with 25 points, 15 of which came in the fourth quarter where the Jazz battled back from a 13-point deficit. He also dished out 13 of the team's 22 assists for the game. Karl Malone was the other major contributor for the Jazz, finishing with 24 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and two blocks as all five starters for the team finished in double figures.
Meanwhile, for the Rockets, Clyde Drexler led the way in scoring with his 33 points while Hakeem Olajuwon stuffed the stat sheet with his 16 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, six blocks, and two steals.
Watch the full game below:
Although the Jazz progressed to the NBA Finals and lost to the Chicago Bulls in six games, the 1996-97 campaign was by far their best season in franchise history, even to date.
From 1984 to 2003, the Jazz made it to 20 consecutive playoffs - the second-best such streak in the NBA history - and their regular-season record in 1996-97 of 64-18 is a franchise-best. That season, Karl Malone became the first MVP in franchise history.
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