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Historical Handicapping: Who would win Game 7 of 1997 NBA Finals?

What if Steve Kerr hadn’t made that shot in Game 6 to send the Bulls to another title? We break down the lines if Bulls-Jazz played a Game 7 in ‘97.

Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls shoots a jumpshot against the Utah Jazz during Game four of the 1997 NBA Finals at the Delta Center on June 8, 1997 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

‘The Last Dance’ has everybody re-visiting the Chicago Bulls dynasty in the 1990s. The 10-part documentary series brought us inside the Bulls locker room for their title runs from 1991-1998, culminating with Michael Jordan’s shot over Bryon Russell to win it all in ‘98. While we all remember what happened in 1998, many forget that it was the second straight year the Bulls faced the Jazz. The 1997 series was arguably more important for Jordan’s legacy, giving us the “Flu Game” and Steve Kerr’s game-winning shot at the end of Game 6 to give the Bulls a second straight ship. But what if Kerr missed?

A tweet on Monday from CBS Sports’ Tim Doyle helped spark a debate: If the Bulls had lost Game 6 in ‘98 and the Jazz are favored by 3.0 in a hypothetical Game 7, who would you bet on? In order to get a better grasp on the situation, we brought in an expert, DraftKings Sportsbook director Johnny Avello, the Las Vegas legend. In this look, we’re going back to the 1997 Finals between Utah and Chicago and if Kerr missed and the Jazz forced Game 7. Let’s look at the line and make a historically hypothetical pick.

Utah Jazz vs. Chicago Bulls 1997 NBA Finals — Game 7

Jazz at Bulls (-6)

So we’d still get the “Flu Game” in all its glory, don’t worry people. Instead of Kerr’s heroics, we head back to United Center for Game 7 in ChiTown. Jordan ate that entire pizza before Game 5 and seemed to be OK in Game 6, scoring 39 points with 11 rebounds. This series, like many involving the Bulls during the ‘90s, was pretty tight. Four of six games came down to the wire. Game 6 could have gone either way. Game 5 could have gone either way.

The interesting thing about the Bulls dynasty was they really never let the other team in a series push it to Game 7. Generally, when MJ and the Bulls clinched it was in Game 6 or earlier. I know this is arguably the best basketball dynasty ever and MJ was and is the GOAT, but the Bulls didn’t have much experience playing in a game of that magnitude — they never needed to. This somewhat plays a factor, but you need to consider that the Jazz — also playing in a Game 7 — would have to do so against the best team ever assembled. On the road. While this line seems fair, considering what was at stake and the two teams, another tight one seemed likely.

There’s a difference between a spread pick and a straight-up pick as many of you already know. It’s easy to pick the Bulls in this spot — and any of these hypothetical spots — but this is a lot to cover in a Game 7 between two very evenly matched teams. People forget that while MJ and the Bulls were dominant, they didn’t do themselves many favors before the fourth quarter. Sometimes you’d get a blowout but almost always we saw some late-game heroics via Jordan, via Kerr, via Scottie Pippen. The Jazz had been able to stifle the Bulls on more than one occasion in ‘97, holding Chicago to 73 points in Game 4.

So with that in mind, it’s difficult to pick the Bulls to cover a 6-point spread against Karl Malone and John Stockton. Both series between the Bulls and Jazz were decided by a late possession in the last game. I’d expect a similar outcome if Game 7 had happened in ‘97. My pick against the spread would be Jazz (-6), though my expectation would be for Jordan and the Bulls to get it done at home.

So who would you have went with on the spread? Hit us up on Twitter @DKNatn or my personal account @BenZweimanDKN to keep the debate going!

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