The end of the eighth episode of the ESPN documentary “The Last Dance” on Sunday delved some into the 1996 NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and Seattle SuperSonics.
It was very close to being a series between the Bulls and the Utah Jazz. As things happened, it would have been the first of three Finals matchups between Chicago and Utah instead of just the two that happened in 1997 and 1998.
The 1996 Western Conference finals featured the Jazz and the Seattle SuperSonics. Seattle was the top seed in the conference after finishing the regular season 64-18, while Utah was the third seed, having gone 55-27 (the San Antonio Spurs were the second seed, but the Jazz beat them in the second round).
Seattle took a 2-0 lead against Utah in the series and then led 3-1 before the Jazz eked out a 98-95 overtime win in Game 5. Utah then won Game 6 by 35 (the Sonics had won Game 1 by 30), setting up a Game 7 in Seattle.
The Sonics led 73-67 heading into the fourth quarter, having won the second and third frames by three points each after the teams were tied following the first. With just under two minutes remaining, however, a floater from John Stockton cut the deficit to just one, 85-84.
Jazz big man Antoine Carr fouled Seattle’s Shawn Kemp on two straight possessions, the second of which sent Kemp to the free throw line, and he made both to stretch the lead to three.
Jeff Hornacek then missed a jumper with Hersey Hawkins all over him, but Utah stole the ball from Hawkins on the ensuing possession and Karl Malone made a layup to make the score 87-86 with 32 seconds left.
Those wound up being the last points the Jazz would score. The Sonics went back to Kemp in the post on the next possession, and this time it was Greg Foster who fouled him (Carr had fouled out) with 13.9 seconds remaining.
Kemp made both free throws and the score was 89-86.
On the next possession, Malone inbounded the ball at halfcourt to Stockton. Malone then started to set a screen for Stockton, but slipped toward the basket instead of completing it. Stockton passed it to Malone, who was fouled by Kemp at the rim with 8.2 seconds left.
In what was Utah’s undoing, Malone, who was just 6 of 10 at the line for the game to that point, missed both attempts.
Hawkins got the rebound off the second attempt and was immediately fouled by Hornacek. Hawkins made just one free throw, but it was enough as Seattle got the 90-86 victory to win the series.
The Bulls, after setting a then-NBA record with 72 wins in the regular season (the Golden State Warriors won 73 games 20 years later), won the Finals four games to two.