It’s no choke: The Seattle SuperSonics are back in the NBA Finals for the first time in 17 years.
Four free throws by Shawn Kemp in the final 77 seconds - the last of his 26 points - preserved a shrinking lead, and the Sonics subdued the stubborn Utah Jazz, 90-86, in the seventh and deciding game of the Western Conference finals.
Energized by the tumult generated by 17,072 fans at KeyArena, the Sonics shook off countless Utah rallies - and the emotional weight of previous playoff failures and, most recently, their 35-point loss in Salt Lake City last Thursday.
“We just had to win,” said Sonics forward Sam Perkins. “The way we lost in Game 6 and all those things that happened the past two seasons just make it more worthwhile to be on the winning side for a change.”
Even if the reward is a date with Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls - winners of a record 72 regular-season games this year.
“We think we can beat Chicago,” said guard Hersey Hawkins. “You don’t work this hard to put yourself in this position and then start thinking you’re up against the impossible.”
The Sonics, who last reached the Finals in 1979, open the best-of-seven series Wednesday in Chicago.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo