An NBA blog from Newsday's Bobby Bonett
Flashback: Electric Game 7 in Seattle
Day 15 of our 30-team NBA playoff flashback profiles the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder franchise has one NBA title, and has 12 playoff appearances since the 1991-92 season.
Date: June 2, 1996
Situation: The No. 1 Seattle SuperSonics and the No. 3 Utah Jazz are tied, 3-3, heading to Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals
Context: The 1995-96 Sonics were coming off back-to-back disappointing seasons — 63 wins in 1993-94 and 57 wins in 1994-95, but two first-round playoff exits. For the third straight year, Seattle cruised through the regular season, finishing 64-18 — the best record in franchise history — to earn the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. This season, though, Seattle avoided an early exit. They breezed past the Kings and Rockets in the first two rounds of the playoffs, setting up a Western Conference finals match-up with the Utah Jazz. The series pitted the Sonics’ point guard-power forward duo, Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, against the Jazz’s point guard-power forward duo, John Stockton and Karl Malone. The Sonics jumped out to a commanding 3-1 series lead, but dropped Game 5 at home in overtime, then were romped by 35 in Game 6, setting up Game 7 in Seattle.
Recap: Seattle and Utah went back-and-forth much of the game. While the Sonics were clinging to a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter, Utah closed the gap, and the two teams were within one with under 20 seconds left. Shawn Kemp was sent to the line with 13.9 seconds to go, and connected on both attempts, putting Seattle up 89-86. Instead of playing for the three, Utah’s John Stockton ran a pick-and-roll with Karl Malone; Malone was hacked, and headed to the line with under 10 seconds left. The Hall of Fame power forward bricked on both attempts, though, enabling Seattle to hold on and advance to its first NBA Finals since 1979. Seattle won, 90-86.
Top players: Shawn Kemp led Seattle with 26 points, including 10-for-11 from the free throw line, and 14 rebounds. Gary Payton had 21 points, six boards and five assists. Karl Malone was held to 22 points on 8-for-22 shooting, and just five rebounds. John Stockton added 22 points and seven assists.
After the game: Later in his career, George Karl, the head coach of the Sonics at the time, said that he remembered “walking out [of the arena], my ears just ringing . . . making that special step was something big in my career.” The celebration was short-lived, though; in the Finals, the Sonics were overmatched, falling behind 3-0 to Michael Jordan and the Bulls before losing the series in six games. The Sonics failed to make it out of the conference semifinals the next two years, and made the playoffs just three times from 1998-2008 before moving to Oklahoma City.
Watch 1996 nba conference finals sonics vs jazz game 7 in NBA
Check back tomorrow for the Wizards.
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