Score one for Generation X.
The Seattle SuperSonics, that unlovable but talented team of strutters, woofers, rappers and thugs, are going to the NBA Finals.The Utah Jazz, an overachieving squad of nice guys, solid citizens and farm boys, are going home.
Score it Seattle 90, Utah 86, in Sunday's Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, a triumph for the villains. Only in movies do The Good Guys always win in the end.
But it was close. The Jazz were a pair of turnovers, a handful of missed free throws, an arguable whistle or two away from knocking off the Sonics, before a crowd of 17,072 mostly demented fans. The contest wasn't decided until the final 10 seconds.
"The gods weren't going to let this not be a close game," said Seattle coach George Karl.
When the final horn sounded, Karl - who spent most of this series moaning about Utah's illegal defense, and Karl Malone's elbows, and John Stockton's mouth, and any number of other silly things - finally had something good to say about the Jazz.
"Utah was a fantastic competitor," he said. "They fought. They overachieved a lot. They pulled things out of their hat and played very well and battled us."
The Jazz deserve more credit than Karl's condescending remarks gave them. In fact, if not for a couple of big `what ifs', the Jazz likely would have won this series.
What if, for instance, the Jazz had been given a couple days to prepare for the Sonics before this series started?
Or what if Stockton had been as healthy in Games 1-5 as he was in Games 6 and 7?
The Jazz, classy to the end, declined to engage in such musings.
"You can always look back at `what ifs'," said Jazz guard Jeff Hornacek. "You put a couple of those `what ifs' together and we're in the Finals."
A reflection of their coach, the Jazz don't blame losses on referees, or dirty opponents, or indigestion.
"We competed in the game, we just made some mistakes down the stretch," said Jazz forward Karl Malone.
"The biggest thing is we turned the ball over a couple times (in the closing minutes)," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. "When you're trying to hang in there, you can't do that."
Nor can you get outrebounded, 37-30. Or outshot from the field, 54.2 percent to 44.9. Or outshot at the foul line, 70.4 percent to 65.4.
Perhaps the most glaring differential, though - glaring because everyone expects so much of Malone - came at the power forward position. Seattle's Shawn Kemp had his best game of the series, the Mailman his worst. Kemp made eight of 12 shots for 26 points, with 14 rebounds. And he made four free throws in the final 1:17 of the game.
"He's a wonderful player," Sloan said of Kemp. "Every year he's gotten a little bit better, and I admire guys who do that."
Malone, meanwhile, made just eight of 22 shots for 22 points, with five rebounds, his low for the series. And the Mailman was six of 12 from the line, including two misses with 8.2 seconds left that would have pulled the Jazz within a point.
"Obviously I didn't have the kind of game I wanted to have," Malone said. "I can live with that. I don't have any excuses."
It wasn't just at power forward that the Jazz were outplayed, however. Detlef Schrempf finally got untracked and made six of nine shots for 15 points, compared to a combined four-of-13 effort for Jazz small forwards Bryon Russell and Chris Morris. Hornacek nailed just three of 10 shots and was outscored by his Sonic counterpart, Hersey Hawkins, 14-10.
The Sonics coach said his team's chief defensive goal was not to let Hornacek go nuts.
"We talked a lot the last three days about Hornacek," he said. "If there's one thing we wanted to do tonight, it was pressure his shots, his catches."
Seattle also put a lot of pressure on Stockton, in the form of physical play. It seemed as if every time he ran past a Sonic he got whacked, and Karl even had hacker Vincent Askew guard him on occasion - and not because Askew is quick. Stockton said the physical stuff didn't bother him.
"I enjoy that, mostly," he said. "Nobody likes a cheap shot, but I enjoy physical play."
Something was to his liking, or he's finally 100 percent healthy, because he had his best game of the series. He made nine of 15 shots for 22 points, led the Jazz with eight rebounds, and handed out seven assists.
"Stock is a player," said Russell. "He came out and played his heart out tonight."
This game was close throughout, and that fact, coupled with the relatively slow pace, seemed to favor the Jazz. But while the Sonics never could pull away by much, neither could Utah mount a charge. At halftime the stats were almost dead-even; the Sonics were shooting better, but the Jazz were getting more shots off because of fewer turnovers.
Late in the third quarter, the Sonics threatened to take charge with a 13-3 run that put them in front 71-60. But the Jazz got a three from Russell - who could barely see the basket after bumping heads with Gary Payton - and a drive from Stockton, and by the end of the period trailed by just six.
Seattle had its biggest lead of the fourth quarter with 5:29 left, 85-77, on a three-pointer by Schrempf, after back-to-back Jazz turnovers.
Once again, though, the Jazz bounced back. While the Sonics were going nearly five minutes without scoring, Utah came within one on Stockton's pull-up floater in the lane. Kemp then made his first pair of free throws, after which Hornacek's jumper was deflected. Malone stole the ball from Hersey Hawkins and scored on a layup at the other end, and Kemp made two more free throws for a three-point Sonic lead.
After a Jazz timeout Stockton got the ball to Malone, who was fouled, narrowly missing a shot in the process. Malone's second missed free throw was rebounded by Hawkins, who was fouled and made one of two shots to seal the win.