George Karl's Greatest Moments - 1996 NBA 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.
The Seattle SuperSonics arrived at the NBA Finals with a franchise-record 64 regular-season wins on their resume and a Western Conference title in their pocket. Their accomplishments were modest compared to the Chicago Bulls.
Led by Michael Jordan, the Bulls set an NBA record with 72 regular-season wins – including 18 in a row during one stretch – and they were well-rested for the finals after winning 11 of 12 playoff games.
Few people gave Seattle coach George Karl and his team much of a chance to slow the Phil Jackson-coached Bulls. The Sonics did little to convince anyone otherwise when they lost the series-opener at the United Center by 17 points.
The Sonics were more competitive in Game 2 but couldn’t overcome a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter, and the Bulls took the series by the horns when the series shifted the Seattle for Game 3. Chicago silenced the Key Arena crowd by taking an 18-point after the first quarter and never looked back in a 108-86 victory.
With two more games still scheduled in Seattle, the Bulls started making plans to celebrate their championship on the road. Karl remembers officials from the NBA and Chicago rehearsing for the trophy presentation before Game 4, and he used that as a motivating tool in the locker room.
Pride was one of two factors that helped Seattle as they tried to avoid elimination. The Sonics also benefitted from the return of defensive specialist Nate McMillan, who missed the first three games because of back spasms. McMillan took a cortisone shot before Game 4 and helped limit Jordan to 6-of-19 shooting in Seattle’s 107-86 victory.
McMillan was back on the court for Game 5, and the Sonics used a strong fourth quarter to send the series back to Chicago.
Momentum was suddenly in Seattle’s favor, but the Bulls were simply too tough. Despite a poor shooting night by Jordan (5-for-19) in Game 6, Chicago clamped down defensively for an 87-75 win that gave the franchise its fourth title in six years.
Though proud of his team’s accomplishments, Karl was left with a hollow feeling. Never had he been so close his dream of winning a championship.
The Sonics would win two more division titles under Karl, but they were unable to advance past the second round. Karl left Seattle after his contract expired in 1998. His next appearance in the conference finals would have to come in another city.
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