It was right there. The Utah Jazz had a commanding 2-0 lead in the NBA Finals within their grasp. The Delta Center crowd felt it. Tens of millions watching on television knew it.
But they fumbled it away.Actually, to give credit where credit is due, the Chicago Bulls stole it. Thefts by Toni Kukoc and Ron Harper in the final minute doomed the Jazz.
The Bulls, the world champs until somebody proves otherwise, scored a crucial victory, 93-88, Friday night in the Delta Center in their quest for a sixth NBA title in eight years.
"That was a roller coaster game," said Chicago coach Phil Jackson. "I don't know if we've seen too many like that. (There were) so many turns of the tide."
It may have been the final game played in the Delta Center this season. Tied 1-1, the next three games will move to Chicago's United Center, meaning a sweep there by either team will end the best-of-7 series.
Utah had to like it's chances entering the fourth quarter holding a 73-70 lead. The Jazz had won 60 straight during the regular season and playoffs when leading after three. They had only lost twice all year in that situation, and both of those times were very early in the year when John Stockton was still on the injured list.
But the Jazz came out to open the fourth quarter with a thud. The Bulls weren't much better, but managed an 11-1 run to take an 81-74 lead. The Jazz rallied, however, and managed to take a one-point lead, 86-85, with 1:46 remaining on a 3-pointer by Jeff Hornacek. The Delta Center was rocking. The Bulls were reeling. When Karl Malone grabbed the rebound off a Scottie Pippen miss, the Jazz had the ball and the lead with only 70 seconds remaining.
Then John Stockton, the hero of Game 1, threw the ball away. Stockton, arguably the best passer in league history, was picked off by Kukoc in the lane with under a minute to play. Steve Kerr missed a 3-pointer at the other end, but got his own rebound, dished off to Michael Jordan, who scored and was fouled. Jordan's free throw gave the Bulls an 88-86 lead with 47.9 to play and they never trailed again. Jackson called Kerr's own rebound of his missed three "the most significant play out there."
Michael Jordan finished with 37 points on the night - 21 more than his MVP runner-up Malone.
1998 NBA Finals
Jordan scores 37 as the Jazz fail to sustain a fourth-quarter lead.