The Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings once had arguably the most heated rivalry in the West – two teams with passionate fan-bases, contrasting styles, and emotional personalities that seemed to gravitate toward each other in the postseason at the turn of the century.
The rivalry began in the 1998-99 lockout-shortened season, in which all three regular season meetings went to overtime and seemed to contain some sort of altercation (such as their 4/13/99 meeting which featured a Greg Ostertag ejection and numerous technical fouls). The Jazz finished that season with the NBA’s best record at 37-13 but tie-breakers pushed them down to the #3-seed and a matchup with the Sacramento Kings who were in their first year of the Vlade Divac/Chris Webber-era.
After the Jazz opened the series with a 117-87 rout, the Kings stole Game 2 in SLC that involved the infamous Webber cheapshot on Stockton that would hamper the 37-year old point guard throughout the postseason, as well as a Bryon Russell sprained ankle. Game 3 went to overtime, where Jazz center Todd Fuller missed 2 FT’s with 4.2 seconds left and Utah trailing by 1 to push the Jazz to the brink of elimination.
With Sacramento leading 2-1 in the best-of-5, Arco Arena was a madhouse for Game 4 as the raucous cowbell-ringing Kings fans could sense imminent victory over the aging and exhausted Utah Jazz. Game 4 was a back-and-forth affair with each team responding to the other team’s mini-runs.
In the 4th-Qtr, Sacramento appeared to deal a dagger when Vernon Maxwell’s three put the Kings ahead 81-76 with 2-minutes remaining – setting the stage for one of the most dramatic finishes in Jazz postseason history.
Kings 81, Jazz 76 – 2:00 4th-Qtr:
1:59 4th-Qtr – Stockton finger-roll on side pick&roll with Malone; 81-78 Kings
1:48 4th-Qtr – Chris Webber 1-2 FT’s posting up Russell; 82-78 Kings.
1:30 4th-Qtr – Shandon Anderson left-corner three; 82-81 Kings.
1:16 4th-Qtr – Vlade Divac 2-2 FT’s posting up Malone; 84-81 Kings.
0:57 4th-Qtr – Anderson left-corner three; 84-84.
0:31 4th-Qtr – Anderson transition layup off feed from Stockton; 86-84 Kings.
0:23 4th-Qtr – Divac three-point play posting up Malone and fouled by Stockton; 87-86 Kings.
0:13 4th-Qtr – Malone layup off high screen-roll with Stockton; 88-87 Jazz.
0:07 4th-Qtr – Divac 2-2 FT’s posting up Ostertag; 89-88 Kings.
0:00.7 4th-Qtr – Stockton 22-footer off high screen-roll with Malone; 90-89 Jazz.
Final Score: Jazz 90, Kings 89.
In the final 2-minutes, the Jazz were perfect offensively going 6-6 for 14 points, with Stockton’s game-winner the capper. After “The Shot” in Houston, this was arguably the second-most memorable basket in Stockton’s illustrious Hall-of-Fame career.
(Note: You can watch the original broadcast of the entire 4th-quarter here)
Utah’s road victory was also a perfect example to expose the myth that Jerry Sloan always closed out games with his starters. In Game 4 Sloan did not play Jeff Hornacek a single second in the 4th-quarter. Not only was the 36-year old sharp-shooter showing fatigue, he was also struggling against Sacramento’s more athletic wings who were either beating him with quickness (Jon Barry/Vernon Maxwell) or in the post (Tariq Abdul-Wahad). As a result, Sloan closed the game with a crunchtime lineup of: John Stockton, Howard Eisley, Shandon Anderson, Bryon Russell, and Karl Malone.
Despite the size discrepancy between Malone/Divac and Rusell/Chris Webber – Utah’s small lineup was effective as the 6-7 Russell fronted the 6-10 Webber in the post and Utah’s four three-point shooters caused Sacramento’s slower frontcourt problems – with Shandon Anderson springing free for two corner-threes before beating the Kings in transition.
In Game 5 two days later, Sloan again had enough of his ineffective centers and – with Utah trailing late in regulation – went back to his small lineup in crunchtime – this time including Hornacek (18 pts) along with Stockton, Anderson, Russell and Malone. Once again, the small lineup created problems as Russell was left alone in the corner for the game-tying three with 48-seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime. In the extra session, the Kings couldn’t matchup with Shandon Anderson’s quickness and hard-cutting as the 3rd-year guard again shook loose with 6 of his 16 points in OT.
In Game 2, Sloan had tried to close the game with Ostertag (who had a playoff career-high 16 points in Game 1) and got nothing. He went with Fuller in Game 3 and was burned. After trying Thurl Bailey early in the 4th-Qtr of Game 4 with less than stellar results – he simply went with his 5 best players to close both Games 4 and 5 – and that move (along with their tenacity and grit) won him the series over a talented Kings team that was on the rise to a Western Conference power.
The rivalry remained intense and heated when the teams met in the postseason two years later. Two dramatic victories in Games 1 and 3 boosted Sacramento to a grinding 3-1 series victory as the top-seeded Kings would eventually advance to Game 7 of the conference finals. Their 2002-03 regular season meetings involved the Utah fans showering the referees with water bottles as they left the court following a controversial ending and with Sloan shoving referee Courtney Kirkland to earn a 7-game suspension. Their ensuing 2003 playoff series became most noted as Stockton and Malone’s swan song. The Kings would win the series 4-1, and as Stockton and Malone exited the game together for the final time – the classy Sacramento fans gave the duo a rousing standing ovation.
In the 9 seasons since, neither team has qualified for the playoffs in the same season with 5 Jazz posteason appearances and 3 by Sacramento. As the players and coaches moved on – the rivalry has faded but for 4 seasons, it was as intense as there was in the Western Conference. It treated us to emotional fireworks, raucous crowds and dramatic finishes – none more memorable than Stockton’s game-winner.