Stockton thought last shot was in

Published: Monday, June 15 1998 12:00 a.m. MDT

Admit it. As John Stockton positioned himself at the top of the 3-point line, straightaway, with the defender desperately trying to get there and just seconds left, it was Game 6 in Houston all over again, wasn't it?

You just knew Stock would hit it, and the Jazz would live to play another day.That's what he thought, too.

"The last one, I had a good look at it," said Stockton. "I don't think you ever hear anybody shoot the last shot and say they didn't think it was in.

"I certainly did," Stockton said in the interview room Sunday night, long after that "sure shot" bounded high off the rim and out to Bryon Russell, who tried to fling it in from 25 feet away as the Chicago Bulls were already beginning to celebrate the one-point win and sixth NBA Finals championship that Stockton's missed shot meant to them.

Stockton had already put in a tiebreaking 3-pointer with :41.9 left as Karl Malone threw a near-skip pass from the low left block to Stockton on the right 3-point angle for an 86-83 Jazz lead. "Karl just made a good pass, and I shot one in. I guess that's pretty simple," Stockton said of the play.

But Michael Jordan's too-easy lay-in on a bench-called isolation play with :37.1 left cut the lead to 86-85, and Jordan's double-team steal against Karl Malone in the low left block with 19 seconds left and 17-foot, I'm-going-this-way-then-that-then-this jumper that left Russell skidding past him put the Bulls on top 87-86.

Stockton, who shot only rarely in the Finals after his 24 points on 9-for-12 accuracy in Game 1, took the initiative and took the shot that he thought would be good.

Asked if that was the play that was drawn up in the timeout, Stockton said, "It's an option. It doesn't have to be where it comes from. I felt confident shooting it. I think most guys felt comfortable with the shot, although I didn't ask them. I didn't poll anybody. It just didn't go in."

"He has made a bunch of those," said backcourt-mate Jeff Horn-a-cek. "That is pretty much the same play that we beat the Rockets with last year. He didn't have a great look, but he got it off."

"We were just trying to get a shot," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan of the play. "That's a very difficult thing to do against this team and with the number of seconds on the clock. I thought we did a very poor job of executing the play that we drew up, and obviously they did a good job of trying to force us out on the floor a little farther.

"John had to take a hurried shot," Sloan said, blaming "turnovers down the stretch" for the loss more than one missed shot.

And more than inadequate defense on the greatest player of all time, who scored 45 points, including the Bulls' last eight points.

"We know he's going to shoot well down the stretch," said Sloan, knowing there'd be second guessing about whether Jordan should have been double-teamed on his final shot.

"We wanted to force him into the middle," he said, noting Jordan had successfully gone baseline about three times in the latter stages of the game. "Those are the things you have to be able to do. It's been our philosophy for 13 years here."

But Jordan has his own agenda. "He's a guy that can - all your philosophies, you can throw them out the window. You can double him, push him to the middle. But great players make those kind of plays. We have to live with that. We're not going to change our whole structure of basketball just because of one player.

"We're certainly aware of the things he can do," said Sloan said, adding that his players were trying. "They didn't say, `You can have it; we're going to give it to you.'

"You're going to be questioned, regardless, and I don't have a problem with that. I thought our players tried. The mistakes we made were costly. And you go from there."

Said Jazz center Greg Foster: "There is nothing that you can do, basically, unless you double-team. And then he kicks it to a (Steve) Kerr, and they knock it down, so what difference does it make?"

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