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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sonics Shed Choke Label With Win Over Jazz

SEATTLE -- Shawn Kemp had 26 points and 14 rebounds as the Seattle SuperSonics held off the stubborn Utah Jazz 90-86 to finally shed their choke label and advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1979.


The Sonics, who were upset in the first round the last two years and blew a three games to one lead in these Western Conference finals, rebounded Sunday to take the seventh and deciding game and set up a championship showdown with the mighty Chicago Bulls.


The Jazz pulled within one at 85-84 with just 1:49 left, but Kemp took control with clutch free throws and the Sonics kept their composure down the stretch to deny Utah its first trip to the finals.


"It's just been a great day, it's been a great series and I'm just glad they fell down today," said Kemp.


Karl Malone and John Stockton scored 22 points apiece for Utah, but the future Hall of Famers remain two of the game's best players never to have been to the finals despite reaching three conference finals in the last five years.


"It's very hard to go this far, this hard and to come up short," said a dejected Stockton, who also had eight rebounds and seven assists. "I can only imagine what the next level would be."


Defensive Player of the Year Gary Payton added 21 points, Detlef Schrempf scored 15 and Hersey Hawkins chipped in 14 for the Sonics, who won their lone NBA title in 1979.


"I never doubted this team," said Seattle coach George Karl, whose team lost Game Six by more than 30 points.


"I've never felt like this. I'm proud of everything coming together where last year at this time, a lot of people didn't think we could ever win anything."


Utah had been the more composed team in the previous two games and Seattle looked as if it was ready to lose another series it should have won. But the Sonics made the plays at crunch time and the Jazz made the mistakes.


Two three-pointers by reserve David Benoit and a drive by Stockton pulled Utah within 80-77 with seven minutes left. But Kemp made two free throws, the Jazz threw away two passes and Schrempf made a three-pointer to rebuild the lead to 85-77 with 5:28 left.


Utah then put together a 7-0 run to make it a one-point game and keep the Seattle fans on the edges of their seats.


But Kemp made two foul shots with 1:17 to go and Jeff Hornacek had a shot blocked by Hawkins. Malone scored with 32 seconds left but Kemp drew another foul and made a pair of free throws to boost the lead to 89-86 with 13 seconds left.


The Mailman tried to deliver one more time for Utah, driving to the basket and picking up a foul. But his potential game-tying three-point play with eight seconds left came up empty when Malone's shot bounced off the backboard and he missed both free throws.


"It was a tough loss and I didn't play that well," said Malone. "You know, I got to give them a lot of credit, they played really hard.


"We played hard. We just didn't get it done and I missed some easy shots but I just got to try and come back next year and do a better job."