HOUSTON (AP) - The Utah Jazz are in the NBA Finals for the first time in their history, thanks to a buzzer-beating 3-point shot and a fantastic fourth quarter by John Stockton.
Stockton swished the wide-open, game-winner from 25 feet away as the clock was expiring to give Utah a dramatic 103-100 victory in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals.
"I'm just glad it went in. I'm so excited," Stockton said.
"When it left his hand it looked like it was good," said forward Karl Malone. "I didn't know how to react. I thought it was good when it left. ... I'm so proud of these guys. We said we wanted to win it here. It makes it that much sweeter because they've knocked us out a couple of times."
The basket capped Utah's comeback from a seven-point deficit in the final two minutes and put the Jazz into the championship round against the Chicago Bulls.
Game 1 of the NBA Finals in Sunday evening at the United Center.
Coach Jerry Sloan, a former Bulls player and coach, admitted he hadn't givenmucvh thought to playing against his former team.
"I never thought we'd ever get there," he said. "It's been a long road to get back to that situation. I've been fortunate. I've got great guys to work with."
This was Utah's fourth trip to the conference finals in six years, and the Jazz had earned a reputation as a team that couldn't win the big game.
Stockton put an end to that history by taking over the game in the final quarter - especially the final two minutes. He finished with 25 points and 13 assists in his best game of the series, with 15 of his points coming in the final 12 minutes.
Houston took a 98-91 lead with 2:02 left on two foul shots by Charles Barkley, but Bryon Russell answered with his third 3-pointer of the night to pull Utah within four.
Stockon drove the lane for an almost uncontested layup with 1:22 left, then recovered a loose ball in the lane after Clyde Drexler lost control. Stockton took it all the way in for a layup that tied the game at 98-all with 1:03 left.
Barkley made two more free throws with 32 second remaining, and the Jazz called an isolation play for Stockton. Dribbling 1-on-1 against veteram Sedale Threatt, he went right past him and scored on a leaner in the lane to tie the game with 22.4 left.
That allowed Houston to set up for the last shot, and the Rockets ran a clear-out for Drexler, who was having his best game since mid-January. Drexler dribbed the clock inside five seconds, made a spin move and missed an off-balance runner from 12 feet.
Malone rebounded and the Jazz called timeout and set up the final play with just over two seconds left. Russell inbounded to Stockton, who found himself wide open as Malone screened Mario Elie - Stockton's defender - away from the play.
Stockton calmly took a step forward, cocked the ball above his right shoulder in his usual manner and let fly a 3-pointer that was all net.
He threw his arms in the air, danced in a circle to midcourt and jumped up and down as his teammates mobbed him in a joyous celebration that shocked the sellout crowd in The Summit.
It will be the first trip to the championship round for every member of the Jazz, from future Half of Famers Stockton and Malone, with a combined 25 years of NBA experience, to veterans Jeff Hornacek (11 years), Antoine Carr (13 years) and the rest of Utah's role players.
Even Jerry Sloan, the most tenured coach in the NBA after nine years with the Jazz, will be going to the final round for the first time. He never made it in 11 years as a player or in three seasons as coach of the Chicago Bulls from 1979-82.
Malone added 24 points and 11 rebounds, Hornacek scored 18, Greg Ostertag had 16 points and 14 rebounds and Russell scored 15.
Drexler scored 33 points to lead the Rockets, who were trying to improve to 12-2 under coach Rudy Tomjanovich when facing elimination in the playoffs.
Barkley added 20 and Hakeem Olajuwon 16.
Drexler had 10 of his points in the first quarter, and the Rockets took their first lead of the game on his 3-pointer 1:04 into the second quarter to make it 26-23.
Eddie Johnson followed with a 3-pointer to help the Rockets go on a 16-1 run to lead 33-24. The lead grew to 11 before Utah, getting six points from Ostertag in a three-minute span, pulled to 49-43 at the half.
Drexler led all scorers with 15 points, nearly matching his series high of 16. Ostertag led Utah with 12 points on 6-for-6 shooting before injuring his ankle in a spill along the baseline with 39 seconds left. Ostertag returned to start the secnd half.
Notes: Utah had lost 11 of its previous 12 road games in the conference finals. ... The Jazz also had been eliminated by Houston the last two times the teams met in the postseason, in 1994 and 1995. ... The Jazz outrebounded Houston 39-35. The team that won the rebounding battle won every game in the series. ... Sunday's Game 1 begins at 7 p.m. EDT.
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