George Karl's Greatest Moments - 1996 West Finals
From Albany, N.Y., to the Golden Gate Bridge, from Seattle to Spain, Nuggets coach George Karl has been a part of more than 2,000 professional basketball games in the NBA, CBA and Europe.
Karl, one of seven coaches in NBA history to win 1,000 regular-season games, sat down with Nuggets.com to reflect on some of his most memorable games and moments over the past 35 years.
Rivalries cannot be manufactured. From 1992 to 1996, Seattle vs. Utah was the genuine article.
The SuperSonics were a brash, young group led by rising coach George Karl, trash-talking point guard Gary Payton and freakishly athletic forward Shawn Kemp. The Jazz countered with straight-talking coach Jerry Sloan and pick-and-roll surgeons John Stockton and Karl Malone.
On May 12, 1992, Utah spoiled George Karl’s 41st birthday with a road win that proved too much to overcome for the SuperSonics in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs. A year later, Karl and the Sonics got a measure of revenge by eliminating Utah in the first round.
The rubber match of the rivalry would take place in 1996 with a trip to the NBA Finals at stake.
The top-seeded Sonics opened the series with a 30-point victory and held serve again at home with a four-point win in Game 2. The Jazz answered by winning Game 3 by 20 points, but Seattle seized control of the series with a two-point victory in Game 4 at the Delta Center.
The Sonics, who lost just three home games during the regular season, missed a chance to close the series as the Jazz pulled out a 98-95 overtime victory at Key Arena. Utah then tied the series with a 35-point rout at the Delta Center.
Game 7 would determine who would advance to face the Chicago Bulls for the NBA title.
Behind Kemp and Payton (26 and 21 points, respectively), the Sonics led by seven with less than eight minutes remaining, only to see the Jazz close within a point in the final minute. Kemp made two clutch free throws with 13.9 seconds left and Malone missed two free throws with 8.2 seconds to go. When Hersey Hawkins added a clinching free throw, Karl celebrated his the first career trip to the NBA Finals.
It was validation for the Sonics and their coach. Despite winning at 120 games in the two previous seasons, they had lost in the first round both years.
The monkey was off their back, but there was no time to relax.
Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were awaiting their arrival.
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