Best Finals games ever in Delta Center

Published: Saturday, Dec. 31, 2005 8:16 p.m. MST
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Forget Willis Reed's inspiration in just coming out of the tunnel to play for the New York Knicks in 1970 or the triple overtime game between the Suns and the Celtics in 1976 or any of the Magic Johnson/Larry Bird battles in the 1980s.

The top two NBA Finals games in history — at least according to a recent NBA.com poll — were played in the Delta Center.

Neither game is looked on too fondly by Utah Jazz fans, however.

The NBA came out with a five-DVD set earlier this year called "The NBA's Top 10 Greatest." The first DVD has host Bill Walton and a panel of former players and a journalist discussing NBA history in 10 categories — including greatest Finals moment. It is also revealed what fans on NBA.com voted as the greatest Finals games.

The No. 1 choice? Game 6 in 1998 — when Michael Jordan sunk "the shot" over Bryon Russell to give the Bulls their sixth NBA title. The No. 2 choice was the previous year — when Jordan, despite being sick, led the Bulls to a Game 5 victory over the Jazz in the Delta Center.

Granted, voters on NBA.com may not have the best historical perspective, but both of those games were outstanding and only added to M.J.'s legend.

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The other four DVDs in the set have one full game from each of the past four decades. The 1970s are represented by the 1970 Game 7 between the Knicks and Lakers when Reed hobbled onto the court just before tipoff and then scored the Knicks first two buckets in helping New York to its first NBA title.

The 1980s are represented by a first-round playoff game between the Bulls and the Celtics in 1986 — when Jordan scored 63 points, only to lose to Bird and Boston in double overtime. The 2000s are represented by Game 5 of the Spurs vs. the Lakers in 2004 when Derek Fisher nailed the game winner at the buzzer to give the Lakers a 3-2 series lead.

The game from the 1990s, however, would be the one most interesting to Jazz fans. It features the NBC broadcast of Game 6 of the 1998 Finals — a game that took place nearly eight years ago. I was at that game, covering it for the Deseret News, so I had actually never seen the broadcast of it before.

So I popped it in the DVD player the other night to watch what Bob Costas, doing play-by-play, along with commentators Doug Collins and Isiah Thomas had to say about it.

I remembered many things about that game but was a little fuzzy on some of the details. I recalled how Scottie Pippen aggravated a back injury early and missed much of the first half, leaving M.J. to take on an even greater load. Jordan had 23 points at halftime. I hadn't recalled how good Karl Malone had been in the first half, with 20 points in leading the Jazz to a 49-45 halftime lead.

The bad call that sticks out for many Jazz fans came with just under 10 minutes to play in the first half when Howard Eisley made a long 3-pointer that would have given the Jazz a 31-24 lead. Instead, referee Dick Bavetta disallowed the shot due to a shot-clock violation. Replays clearly showed, however, that the ball had left Eisley's hand with one second remaining on the shot clock. Costas and Co. brought the play back up in the fourth quarter when Chicago's Ron Harper made a shot that appeared to have left his hand after the shot-clock expired — but that was allowed.

Jordan actually was quite human during the fourth quarter of the game — until the final 40 seconds. He was just 2-for-8 from the field to start the fourth quarter. The Jazz, who had led for virtually the entire game, went up by three on a Stockton 3-pointer with 42 seconds left. That's when Jordan took over. He scored on a driving layup, then stole the ball from Malone before sinking his picture-perfect 18-foot jumper (after pushing Russell out of the way) with 5.4 seconds remaining to give the Bulls the 87-86 lead.

Stockton's 3-point attempt in the final seconds was just short, and the Bulls had a sixth title.

It may or may not be the best game in Finals history, but it certainly was an outstanding performance in Jordan's final appearance in a Bulls uniform.

And it's the last NBA Finals game that will be played in the Delta Center for a long, long time.


E-mail: lojo@desnews.com

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