Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Utah Jazz vs. Houston Rockets, Game 4, 1997 Western Conference Finals, May 25, 1997

For the 250th post at The Canon Review, I decided to do a post much like the first post, in which I watch and review a classic basketball game. Actually, that was the original purpose of this blog, but about a week later I figured I'd get bored with the concept and made it more of a variety blog. Anyway, this game is a classic battle between the Utah Jazz and the Houston Rockets in game 4 of the 1997 Western Conference Finals, and what a battle it was. The game featured five future Hall of Famers, with Karl Malone and John Stockton on the Jazz, and Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, and Clyde Drexler on the Rockets. Naturally, in this 95-92 game won by the Rockets, it would not come down to any of these great players, but a role player, as the Rockets' Eddie Johnson sunk a three pointer at the buzzer to give the game to the Rockets. A few notes about this game:

- The first thing I noticed about this game is how ugly the Rockets' uniforms are. During this time, the Rockets were wearing these white pinstriped uniforms with a giant cartoon like logo on the chest and the text done in red and blue. They looked like pajamas, to be honest. The Jazz didn't exactly have the greatest uniforms during this era either, but they looked much sharper than the Rockets' gear, at least. Here's a picture so you can decide for yourself.

Photo courtesy of

- The Rockets seemed to have a rather simple offensive plan. Bring the ball up, throw it in deep to Olajuwon or Barkley in the post, and have them either take a shot if they're single covered or pass back out if the double team came. Not very imaginative, but when you have players like Olajuwon and Barkley, you don't have to overthink to score points. While Barkley and Karl Malone battled for most of the game, Olajuwon had guys like Greg Ostertag and Greg Foster playing him, giving the Rockets a huge advantage, and despite early foul trouble, Hakeem was easily the best player on the Rockets, scoring 27 points, grabbing 10 boards and blocking 4 shots. However, the reason the Jazz hung around and kept this game so close is that the Rockets could not make them pay for double teaming their two star post players. The Jazz would never have the man guarding Drexler double down because that's just asking for trouble, so the Rockets would pass it out to guys like Matt Maloney, Sedale Threatt, and Mario Elie and hope their shots would fall. Well, Maloney and Elie were a combined 3-11 from downtown, and Drexler was 1-4 from three point range himself, as the Rockets missed too many open shots. They did get the big one at the end from Johnson, though.

- The best matchup in this game was the Malone-Barkley duo at the power forward position. At the start, it looked as if Malone would dominate, as he could do whatever he wanted to against Barkley early on. But Malone got into some foul trouble in the first quarter and once he came back in, he didn't seem like the same player he was at the beginning of the game. Malone may have finished with 22 points, but he only went 10-28 shooting from the field and shot a mere two free throws. Barkley may not have been the greatest defender to play the game, but he did a nice job on Malone throughout the game, with a little help from Olajuwon when needed. On the offensive end, Barkley made his presence felt by scoring 20 points and shooting 11-12 from the free throw line. As the game became more and more physical, it was Barkley that held the advantage despite being the smaller man, as he seemed to be the aggressor in this matchup.

- Speaking of matchups, John Stockon of the Jazz was matched up against Matt Maloney for much of the game, and Stockton just owned him. Maloney was particularly flustered by the pick and roll, and he got no help from the interior defenders who couldn't leave Malone to chase after Stockton. On a night where Malone struggled, Stockton picked up the slack with 22 points on 9-12 shooting from the field. However, one thing I did notice was that reverse PG Sedale Threatt seemed to have more success against Stockton in the limited time they were matched up together, which makes me wonder why they didn't give Threatt more playing time. Since Stockton basically owned Maloney throughout the enitre game and series, would it really hurt to give Threatt more of a chance and see if he can do any better. Or maybe the Rockets could have switched Mario Elie on Stockton and have Maloney guard Jeff Hornacek. Just a thought.

- The officiating during this game was not exactly the best in the history of the game. Foul calls were way too inconsistent, as sometimes ticky-tac fouls would be called while full on assaults would go unchecked. Barkley was throwing people all over the place and somehow only got three fouls. Malone got called for two fouls early on that either were questionable or on someone else, and he had to sit down and wasn't the same player afterwards, so the refs definitely had an impact on this game. Both coaches drew technical fouls, and Utah's Jerry Sloan came very close to drawing a second after Foster was smacked hard without a call. Also, this game wasn't the best played game either, as there were a bunch of missed layups. Shandon Anderson of the Jazz missed four in a row during the second quarter, and the two teams didn't exactly remind anyone of the Showtime Lakers.

- Before his game winning shot, Eddie Johnson was 1-4 from the field. But in game three, Johnson came off the bench and scored 31 points, so you've got to think that the Jazz should have considered him a possible option for the winning shot. But on the final inbounds play with 6.2 seconds to go, the Jazz collapsed on Hakeem, not a bad idea, then doubled Drexler in the corner hoping to trap him and force a tough shot. But Drexler kept his cool, passed it to Maloney, who found a wide-open Johnson behind the three-point line, and Johnson promptly nailed the shot. On the possession prior to Johnson's heroics, the Jazz had two shots to take the lead, as Stockton missed an open 18-footer, then Byron Russell missed a contested three from the corner. Interestingly enough, Johnson may not have been in the game had Mario Elie not fouled out with three minutes left, as Johnson wasn't lighting up the scoreboard that night. But when pressed into action, the veteran with the smooth shot came through.

After this game, the Rockets had evened the series at two games apiece. However, the Jazz won the next two games (with Stockton clinching game 6 with a late three pointer) and advanced to the Finals. As it turned out, this was the Rockets' best shot at reaching the Finals again with Olajuwon, as they had an injury-plagued season the next year, then lost in the first round in the playoffs to the Utah Jazz in Clyde Drexler's final season. The Jazz, meanwhile, lost to the Bulls in six games in the 1997 season, then repeated the same feat the next year. Well, thanks for reading, and if you any ideas for future posts, or thoughts about this post, than either leave a comment on the blog or send them to me at e-mail at

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