"Stockton for three... yes! John Stockton sends the Utah Jazz to the NBA Finals!"
The shot heard 'round the NBA. It was the first time the Jazz ever made it to the Finals, a turning point for the franchise which led to another championship series appearance and years of NBA Playoff success.
That shot also had an impact on the team that the Jazz beat to make it to the Finals. Stockton connected over Charles Barkley in Houston and thereby nixed the Rockets' chance of returning to the Finals two years after they won their last ring. In the 12 years since, the club from Houston hasn't been out of the first round.
The Jazz also played a big part in Houston's season-ending disappointments of the past two seasons.
They met in the first round of the 2007 Playoffs. The Jazz were the fourth seed, having won the Northwest Division, but the Rockets held home-court advantage, as they had compiled a better record during the regular season.
All signs pointed to '07 being the year that Tracy McGrady would finally escape a postseason-opening series. The Rockets had experienced players, among whom were two superstars in McGrady and Yao Ming, plus the aforementioned comfort of home confines in four of seven potential games.
On the other hand, the Jazz were a young, inexperienced team with only a few players who had ever been to the Playoffs. It was the first taste of postseason action for their two rising stars, Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer.
In the first few games, it looked like Houston might sweep the Jazz, as they won the first pair in Houston. But Utah answered by winning both games at their place to tie the series at two apiece.
The teams continued to trade wins, each winning in their respective houses, until the memorable Game Seven in Houston was set up.
An energetic Jazz squad came out and handled the Rockets in the finale, once again sending them home for the summer earlier than the fans in Houston had hoped.
The following year, the clubs were matched again in the opening round. And like last time, they were the four and five seeds, with Houston holding the home-court.
But the series began differently this time. The road team won the first three games (Utah took two in Houston, Houston one in Utah).
But then, the home team won the next three contests. Utah earned the right to advance in six games and got a stellar performance by Deron Williams in the clincher.
Tonight's game between the Rockets and the Jazz on TNT may not be a postseason game, but it will have the intensity and atmosphere of a late April battle.
The Rockets are coming off a road victory in San Antonio on Sunday which allowed them to capture first place in the Southwest Division. Meanwhile, the Jazz have won 14 of their last 17 and are currently sixth in the West and second in the Northwest.
If Houston is triumphant tonight, they will be able to stretch their lead over the Spurs and will remain the second seed overall in their conference. If Utah wins, they will be just a half game behind Denver for the Northwest Divison lead and a mere one-and-a-half games out of second in the West.
There have been some memorable moments in contests between these two teams. Though rivalries are born in the Playoffs (as this one was), the Jazz and the Rockets' regular season games will never be played like ordinary regular season games from now on.
Expect a tooth-and-nail till bout; whoever's left standing wins the ball game. You'll get no less in the duel between two of the top teams in the West tonight.
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