The Utah Jazz of the 1987-88 season were a team on the rise. It was the third season of the John Stockton-Karl Malone pairing, and it was already clear they were going to be (as is the popular saying nowadays) a problem. Utah went 47-35 in 87-88 and earned a date with the Portland Trailblazers in the first round of that year's playoffs, handling them in four games. This set up a matchup with the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, led by the tried-and-true trio of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and James Worthy.
That Lakers team had a bigger target on their back than normal. Pat Riley told the crowd at the 1987 championship parade that there would be another one come summer 1988. Nobody likes that kind of arrogance except Lakers fans, so everyone in the NBA was gunning for the Lakers' throne. It was all for naught during the regular season, however, as Los Angeles won 62 games and earned the first seed in the Western Conference playoff picture. After a clean sweep of the San Antonio Spurs in Round 1, the Lakers were set to go up against the upstart Jazz in Round 2.
The young guns from Utah gave the grizzled championship vets from Los Angeles a good run for their money, but it all came to an end on May 21, 1988. Following a devastating last-second loss in Game 5 despite Stockton's playoff-record 24 assists, the Jazz managed to force a deciding return to Los Angeles after winning Game 6 in Utah. In Game 7, Stockton once again shone. Playing all 48 minutes, Stockton dished 20 dimes and scored 29 points on 10-for-15 shooting. His running mate in Malone matched his double-double in a different manner, putting up 31 points and 15 rebounds. Despite those heroic efforts, the Jazz fell to the Lakers 109-98, unable to overcome 20-plus point efforts from Byron Scott, Johnson, and Worthy.
The Lakers would go on to defeat the Detroit Pistons in that year's Finals, otherwise known as the same Finals where Isiah Thomas injured his ankle and still managed to score 25 in a quarter despite basically limping around. That was a landmark moment in Thomas' career, even if it didn't result in a ring, and he may not have gotten it if Stockton's 20 assists had gotten the Jazz the win, like it would nearly any other time. It's wild to think that, between Game 7 and the brutal Game 5, Stockton dropped 44 assists in two losses.
This would unfortunately be a recurring theme for the Jazz over the next decade; if it wasn't Johnson and the Lakers, it was Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls running roughshod over Utah despite Stockton's generational passing talents. But this Game 7 is a pretty stunning loss. It's unlikely we'll see anybody get anywhere close to Stockton's 20 Game 7 assists again, much less lose in the process.