NBA CLASSICS: THE 1997 WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS GAME 6
Game Information: Game Six of the 1997 Western Conference Finals
Teams: Utah Jazz (64-18) at Houston Rockets (57-25)
Hall of Famers: Stockton, Malone, Drexler, Barkley, Olajuwon
Referees: Dick Bavetta, Steve Javie, Eddie F. Rush
One of the great blessings of YouTube has to be the ability for basketball fans to go back and watch some of the legacy defining moments of All-Time great’s careers.
Game six of the 1997 Western Conference Finals was no exception as legends John Stockton, Karl Malone and Charles Barkley were all in search of their first rings at the time. This game came at a crossroads for a Utah franchise that was time and again close to the finals but could never break through.
Star power forward Karl Malone had just received the league’s MVP award and it seemed like this could finally be the year for the Jazz to reach the finals.
Houston on the other hand had their own power forward in search of his first ring as Barkley was in his first season with the Rockets. After winning back-to-back titles in 94 and 95 but falling to Seattle in 96, the addition of Barkley seemed logical as the forward could slide in nicely alongside stars Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.
Barkley had a solid season, his final as an All-Star in the new reduced role, but everyone knew the only reason he came to Houston was for moments like this one. Playing for head coach Rudy Tomjanovich and a Rockets franchise that was 11-2 under Rudy T when facing elimination seemed like a massive upgrade over Phoenix.
If that 11-2 record wasn’t enough to assume a game seven back in Utah was inevitable, the fact the Jazz were 1-11 on the road in conference final games should’ve been.
What played out though was a fascinating game that featured a series of ten plus point runs for each team as they traded momentum back and forth. It felt like a classic shootout in football where the quarterback who gets the ball last wins the game and luckily for Utah, they were that team.
The Jazz finished the game on a 19-6 run to slay their Western Conference demons and break the collective hearts of Barkley and the rest of the city of Houston.
It was finally Malone and Stockton’s moment but how the hell did we get there.
Most memorable moment: John Stockton hits “the shot”
Any time there’s a series clinching buzzer beater, it’s pretty much a lock for most memorable moment. It’s fitting Stockton hit the shot though because my god was he good in the final two minutes of this game. Game seven seemed inevitable, Malone was gagging as usual and the Rockets crowd had hit a frenzy.
Stockton refused to accept Utah’s usual fate.
The tiny point guard scored 13 of the final 19 and had an assist, a massive win for all the white suburban Dads out there Stockton seemed to be playing for. Stockton was to the stereotypical white Dad what Allen Iverson was to the boys of the hood.
There’s no doubt about it that this one game will live on in infamy as the defining clutch moment in the Hall of Fame point guard’s career.
Legacy saver: Greg Ostertag 16 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks
You’ll be hard pressed to find a more heroic performance from a less likely source than Greg Ostertag in this game. Without him, Malone and Stockton’s legacies of choking go up an even higher notch.
Luckily though, the centre from Kansas played his role to a tee, grabbing countless easy offensive rebounds and cashing in buckets thanks to the extra attention on Malone. Utah was hilarious to watch in this game as it felt like they just picked a random seven foot white dude at all times to play next to Malone whether it was Ostertag or Greg Foster.
In the end though, the joke was on me (and the Rockets) as despite the comedy of what seemed like an irrelevant player playing so many minutes, Ostertag’s performance was the hidden key to a Utah victory.
The absolute definition of the dude you forgot that saved an All-Timer’s legacy.
Telling stat: Drexler takes one shot in the final three minutes
In his final great game of his career, Clyde Drexler was ludicrous in this game. His inside out game looked straight out of 2020 the way he launched seven threes and attacked the rim all game long.
However, in the final three minutes, as momentum started swinging back to Utah, the Rockets went away from Drexler completely. He was their best player all night and in the biggest moments, he was an afterthought.
If Drexler is more involved is there a game seven? We’ll never know. It’s crazy though that we’ll never know.
The lesson is stay with the hot hand kids, because when your team falters like Houston did, it leaves a series of brutal questions to answer.
You know it isn’t 2020 because: Utah took NINE threes the entire game
Okay I hate to be that guy but Utah took nine freaking threes in this entire game. NINE. Stockton for his career shot 38% from deep and along with Bryon Russell and Jeff Hornacek, this team was built to jack threes.
Instead, every single possession was a pass to Malone on the right block where he would either fade, hand it off to a cutting Stockton or kick it to someone for a long two. At one-point Utah ran this exact same thing TEN times in a row.
Now Malone was a bucket all game on fades but I mean lets mix it up sometimes right?
Also it is infuriating watching a play where Hornacek comes around a screen at the top and pulls a long contested two because there’s no space. Like if he took one step back it would’ve been open and for more points.
How did it take this long for people to recognize this?
Most translatable thing: Hakeem’s game
This isn’t even prime Hakeem and some of the moves he throws are just sickening. I mean my god would he be good now with shooters around him.
The guy was literally undoubleable in the post because of his vision and impossible to guard one on one thanks to his array of moves. If you put prime Hakeem on let’s say the Bucks instead of Giannis right now, they be impossible to defend.
There is absolutely no one even remotely on his level in the league right now at his position and it’s a truly fascinating thing to imagine just how freakishly dominant he’d be in today’s spaced out game.
Oh, and he was the best defender on the floor by far at age 34. If you don’t think he’d be the best player in the league right now in his prime, go watch some Dream highlights, you won’t be disappointed.
Who won the game: Stockton and Malone
Let’s not overthink this, reaching an NBA Finals was the only thing not on this duo’s resume. Malone had his MVP and Stockton was well on his way to basically every passing record possible.
To think a duo of that stature playing their entire primes together wasn’t able to even reach a finals is impossible. This one game slayed all those questions of their previously pathetic playoff track records.
Sure, Malone was just good in this game and Stockton was mediocre by his standards until the fourth but by the grace of the basketball gods, they found a way to do it. Malone carried stretches throughout while Stockton brought them home.
A truly perfect depiction of their duo and a testament to them since the pick and roll was shut down by Hakeem all series.
Stockton’s shot in many ways saved two all-time great’s legacies and that’s why this is a must watch game for all NBA fans.
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