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1992 NBA Season – Unbelievabulls

SI nov 11 1991

The World Champion Chicago Bulls were the team to beat heading into the 1992 NBA season *photo courtesy of Getty Images

According to the NBA preview Sports Illustrated addition, the Bulls were going to win a second straight title and were going to beat Portland in the Finals.

Writer Jack McCallum seemed to think the balance of power was in the West.  After Chicago, his best championship contenders were Portland, L.A. Lakers, Phoenix, San Antonio, and Utah.

With that being said, the thought seemed to be that the only team that could beat the Bulls were themselves.  Outside forces, like Chicago Tribune writer Sam Smith authoring The Jordan Rules, were potentially divisive.  Another potentially divisive situation was Scottie Pippen signing a contract extension after the 1991 season that signed him through 1997-98 (and would look worse as time went on).  Pippen’s deal made sure that he never higher paid than Jordan (who was signed through the 1995-96 season after signing an 8-year contract in 1988), but eventually put Pippen behind many, many other players as salaries sky-rocketed in the ’90’s.

Ultimately, what would test the Bulls the most were rising and rejuvenated teams in the East that were not among the top 9 championship contenders in McCallum’s NBA preview edition.  A long season of added pressure didn’t help either.

But, after the first week of the season, the biggest story would be dealing with more than basketball.

Magic Johnson had sat out the Lakers’ first 3 games of the regular season with an “illness” and the Lakers had gone 1-2 (amazingly, playing three overtime games).  Then on November 7, 1991, Magic and his agent called a press conference.

The world was shocked with the announcement and many (sports fans or not) remember where they were when they heard about this announcement from Magic.

Many did not know about HIV or AIDs at the time, and this announcement raised a lot of questions.  The biggest would be how long Magic had to live.  Magic survives to this day and over the years, he would help educate the world about HIV & AIDs.

At the time, it was not known that the virus could be spread through heterosexual intercourse because it had really only come up in gay communities.  So many, perhaps including Magic, didn’t think they were at risk.  But testing skyrocketed after the announcement because now it was in the public eye that anybody could contract HIV/AIDs.  Since that day in 1991, research, awareness and medicine has gone way, way up.  A lot of thanks for that goes to Magic.

Magic would make a return for the 1992 NBA All-Star Game (because he had been on the Lakers’ roster at the beginning of the season, he was on the ballot and fans voted for him) and the 1992 Olympics.

All is documented in this 30 for 30.

As for the Lakers, their record fell off and they would be out of the championship contender list.  They had traded 3 future 2nd round picks to Seattle for Sedale Threatt.  While Threatt was more than adequate as the point guard, he was no Magic Johnson.  Threatt, teamed with James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Vlade Divac, Byron Scott, A.C. Green, Terry Teagle, Elden Campbell, Tony Smith, and coached by Mike Dunleavy (basically the same team that made the 1991 NBA Finals) finished at 43-39.

But they did beat out a faltering Houston Rockets team for the 8th playoff spot on the final day of the season.  Houston lost to Phoenix on the final day to finish at 42-40 while the Lakers beat the Los Angeles Clippers in overtime to gain the spot.  These weren’t the same old Clippers either.  They finished at 45-37 to make the playoffs for the first time since they were the Buffalo Braves in 1976.

This set up the first time that the two teams in Los Angeles made the playoffs and would be made even more unique by the events of April 29, 1992 in L.A.

On April 29, the same day that the Lakers were taking on top-seeded Portland in Game 3 of their playoff series at the Great Western Forum and a day after the Clippers had played Game 3 of their playoff series against Utah at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, a trial jury acquitted four LAPD officers of charges for excessive force in the videotaped arrest and beating of Rodney King in March, 1991.

After the verdict was announced, rioting went on in Los Angeles for 6 days.  This forced the NBA to delay both series while moving the games elsewhere.  The Clippers and Jazz played Game 4 in Anaheim where the Clips won to tie the series at 2-2.  The Lakers/Blazers series was moved to Las Vegas, where the Blazers blew out the Lakers to eliminate them 3-1.

But the delay of both games until Sunday, May 3 would set up a scheduling quirk in the Utah/Clippers series after the Clippers won Game 4.  They traveled to Utah and played the all-or-nothing Game 5 the next night.  Perhaps playing on emotion, the Clippers grabbed as much as a 15-point lead and led 52-40 at halftime.  But they ran out of gas and the Jazz came back to win 98-89.  But on that same day, the curfew was lifted in Los Angeles and things slowly returned to normalcy.

It was quite a season for the Lakers and quite a spring in Los Angeles.

But the best basketball of the season would still be played in Chicago.  And the 7-2 Bulls were trying to avenge an early-season home defeat at the hands of an interesting team that had made a interesting trade less than 3 weeks prior to this game.

November 20, 1991 – Chicago Bulls 112 @Golden State Warriors 108

The Golden State Warriors had one of the most entertaining teams in 1990-91.  Although they finished at 44-38, they upset the Midwest Division champion San Antonio Spurs in the 1st round and then gave the eventual Western Conference champion Los Angeles Lakers a run for their money in a close 5-game series.

The Warriors had a young roster led by Chris Mullin, Tim Hardaway, and Mitch Richmond (known as Run TMC) and coach Don Nelson had instilled a modern day offense that created matchup problems for opponents.  But since it was still 1991, the Warriors felt they needed to get bigger if they wanted to advance further in the playoffs.

In back-to-back draft picks (16 and 17), they took big men Chris Gatling and Victor Alexander.  But they weren’t done.  Just before the 1992 season opened, Nellie (who was also the GM) sent Mitch Richmond (and Les Jepsen) to Sacramento for their 1st round draft pick, Billy Owens.  Owens was the 3rd pick of the draft and Nellie felt he’d add rebounding as well as versatility in being able to play multiple positions.

Evidently, Nelson called it the “worst trade I’ve ever made” 23 years later.

But, at the start of the season, it didn’t seem so bad.  The Warriors were off to a 7-2 start and had defeated the Bulls in Chicago 15 days prior.  That game was actually Billy Owens’ debut (he signed a contract late), but Chris Mullin stole the show with 38 points.  Golden State out-scored Chicago 31-18 in the 4th quarter to win 118-110.

The Bulls had won 6 in a row since and wanted some vengeance.  Chicago had not made many changes to its 1991 roster.  They drafted Mark Randall out of Kansas with their 1st round pick.  But he’d be released at the end of December along with Chuck Nevitt (who was picked up in November).

The Bulls had Randall and Nevitt as insurance as Scott Williams was still out recovering from off-season shoulder surgery (he’d make his season debut on November 23).  Bill Cartwright would also be out until the end of December after breaking a bone in his hand on November 15.  The Bulls would also be without Craig Hodges until December.

But the one trade that was made was on November 4 when the Bulls sent disgruntled Dennis Hopson to Sacramento for veteran guard Bobby Hansen.  Hansen would fill a void at guard with Hodges out and he would stay around for the rest of the season.

In the first matchup between the teams, Owens had not started.  Now Owens was Nellie’s 6’9″ two-guard, but it would end up backfiring matchup-wise.  Owens was not put on Jordan, which meant Mullin had to play MJ.  After the first 2 minutes, Nelson took out his starting center Victor Alexander (who wouldn’t play the rest of the game) and put Sarunas Marciulionis at guard (moving Owens to forward).

Nelson had to do this with 10:13 left in the 1st quarter because the Bulls had taken a 6-0 lead.  Jordan hit a pull-up in transition.  Horace Grant hit a lefty hook from the post.  Scottie Pippen then pushed the ball and found Grant on the break for a slam.

At the other end of the floor, MJ was put on Mullin to cool him off after the previous game in Chicago.  The Bulls held their early lead and swarmed the Warriors defensively, causing turnovers and forcing around 33% shooting from Golden State in the 1st quarter.

Grant was the beneficiary of feeds from Jordan and Pippen.  He scored 10 1st quarter points as he also got on the offensive boards.  Grant also got a steal late in the quarter and fed Pippen for a flying breakaway slam.  This put the Bulls up 11 and they held a 28-16 lead heading into the 2nd quarter.

Stacey King gave the Bulls a spark early in the 2nd quarter as he scored 9 of his 11 1st half points.  Marciulionis would be the Warriors’ spark-plug but he picked up his 4th foul mid-way through the quarter.

The Bulls grabbed as much as a 15-point lead in the 2nd quarter but the Warriors hung around thanks to their bench.  Even without Marciulionis, Vincent Askew, Mario Elie, and Rod Higgins hit some big shots.  They, along with Mullin and Hardaway, kept Golden State within 54-45 at the half.

Mullin had 11, while Hardaway and Marciulionis contributed 8.  Pippen led the Bulls with 14 while Jordan had 13 and Grant 12.

The Warriors started out strongly in the 2nd half and cut the Bulls lead to 59-56.  But then Jordan scored 5 straight points and Chicago regained a 66-56 lead after Grant got another layup.

Askew then hit a runner in the lane and Higgins followed with a three.  Hardaway got a steal and fast break reverse to cut the lead back to 66-63 with 5:45 left in the quarter.  Pippen stemmed the tide with a jumper but then Higgins got a three-point play after a feed from Mullin.  Mullin followed with a breakaway layup and then Higgins tipped in a miss by Mullin on another fast break.

The Warriors had come back to take the lead.  But, as was customary with Phil Jackson, the Bulls didn’t call a timeout and MJ silenced the crowd with a jumper from the top.

Chicago eventually regained a 6-point lead when B.J. Armstrong fed Pippen for a three-point play and then hit a pull-up from the foul line.  Jordan also scored his 12th point of the quarter on a one-handed double-pump banker after a baseline drive.

But, in the last 14 seconds of the quarter, Armstrong stepped out of bounds on the baseline after he and Jackson felt he was bumped by Hardaway, but there was no call.  Hardaway then backed up Armstrong 1-on-1 and nailed a three with 0.3 seconds left to cut the Chicago advantage to 81-78 heading into the 4th.

During the break, Phil Jackson picked up a technical as a result of at least one foul that should have been called on Hardaway, in his mind.

Marciulionis came in for the first time since picking up his 4th foul in the 2nd quarter and almost personally kept the Warriors in the game.  But Jordan made sure Chicago stayed ahead with 8 points and a feed to Armstrong for a corner three.

But Marciulionis was relentless and scored his 11th point of the quarter on a scoop shot after rebounding a miss by Mullin.  This gave Golden State a 95-94 lead with 7:47 left.

But Golden State went cold over the next 2 1/2 minutes.  Jordan hit a pull-up from the elbow.  Cliff Levingston hit two free throws.  Grant got another layup after a feed from Armstrong.  Then, after a block from Horace, MJ found Pippen for a layup on a 3-on-1 that forced Nellie to use a timeout with 5:08 left.  The Bulls were up 102-95.

Golden State cut it back to one after going on an 8-2 run, but missed their chance at re-grabbing the lead after Hardaway missed a pull-up jumper.  Marciulionis then picked up his 5th foul on the rebound.

Each team split a pair of free throws before Pippen hit a pull-up from the wing at the end of the shot clock (and after Jordan was doubled and kicked it to him) to give Chicago a 107-104 lead with 2:06 left.

Jordan later rebounded a Hardaway miss and found Levingston who drew a foul.  But Cliff missed both free throws and Jordan fouled Askew on the rebound.  But Askew missed both free throws as well.  These misses highlighted a night in which the Bulls finished 27-for-40 from the line and Golden State ended up 20-for-32.

The teams then traded missed field goals, including Marciulionis trying to tie it with a three.  Marciulionis then fouled out as he sent Armstrong to the line.  B.J. hit 5-of-6 free throws in the last 50 seconds to help finish off the Warriors on this night.

The Bulls would start out their 6-game west coast (annual late November circus trip) road trip with a win.  They won two nights later in Seattle in a game that was memorable because it would be the last time that Michael Jordan fouled out of a game (both Jordan and Pippen fouled out and the Bulls still won in overtime).  They would take on a tough Portland team at the end of the trip.

Golden State had no problems with the trade during the season.  They sat at 46-23 (3.5 games behind Portland at the top) when they went to New Jersey for a late-season high-scoring matchup against an improved team.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (26) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (16) – Power Forward

Will Perdue (2) – Center

John Paxson (4) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (35) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (12)

Stacey King (13)

Cliff Levingston (4)

Bobby Hansen (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Golden State starters (points scored)

Chris Mullin (18) – Small Forward

Tyrone Hill (6) – Power Forward

Victor Alexander (0) – Center

Tim Hardaway (18) – Point Guard

Billy Owens (7) – Shooting Guard

Golden State bench (points scored)

Sarunas Marciulionis (22)

Rod Higgins (22)

Mario Elie (6)

Vincent Askew (9)

Tom Tolbert (0)

Golden State Coach: Don Nelson

November 29, 1991 – Chicago Bulls 116 @Portland Blazers 114 (2OT)

Although the aforementioned Portland Trailblazers would beat out the Golden State Warriors for the Pacific Division title, they were going through some adjustments and mental hurdles early in the 1992 season.

In losing to the Lakers in the 1991 Western Conference Finals, Portland learned that they weren’t patient enough to run an effective halfcourt offense.  Their game was more scramble, fast break, and chaotic.  But when push came to shove and they had to execute, they couldn’t at key moments.

The Trailblazers, under coach Rick Adelman, were now trying to work on that stuff and were off to a shaky 9-5 start, although they had rebounded from a 1-3 beginning.  But still, their outside shooting (or lack of it) was the main issue.

Their two best shooters, Terry Porter and Danny Ainge, were struggling.  Porter had lost his father around training camp, so things were probably still weighing on his mind.  It continued to look like it in the 1st half.

Portland took an early lead thanks to their offensive board work, one of their big strengths.  But each team was turning the ball over early on as well.

Chicago was on a 10-game winning streak (including 4-0 on their annual circus road trip to the west coast), but there were signs of fatigue as well with the Bulls.

But their biggest thing would be superstars battling injuries.  Michael Jordan appeared to strain his lower back on a drive to the basket where he drew a foul.  Scottie Pippen was battling knee tendinitis.  Each would have their moments of brilliance but, at other times, looked to be affected by these injuries.

Pippen and Jerome Kersey each led their teams with 7 points in the 1st quarter as Chicago grabbed a 24-23 lead.

But in the 2nd quarter, Chicago’s bench out-played Portland’s.  Stacey King continued his mini-resurgence (that would mostly last through December) and had 6 points early on.  B.J. Armstrong also hit two jumpers to give the Bulls a 32-26 lead and force Adelman to use a timeout with 9:17 left in the half.

Jordan would score 8 Chicago points in a row later as the Bulls went on a 10-3 run to take a 46-34 advantage halfway through the quarter.  MJ scored 14 points in the quarter and finished with 20 for the half.  King would contribute 12 off the bench.

But Portland wouldn’t let the lead grow any more as Clyde Drexler had a strong finish to get to 13 points.  Kersey followed with 11.  But Terry Porter would be held scoreless and just didn’t look aggressive.  The Bulls led 56-47 at the break.

The Bulls continued to lead early on in the 3rd, but Porter got going with feeds to Drexler and Kersey for slams and then he nailed a pull-up jumper for his first two points.

Portland later went on a 5-0 run, culminating with a reverse slam from Drexler after an alley-oop pass from Buck Williams, to cut the lead to 66-62.  Then after Pippen nailed a jumper, Porter came right back with a three.

The Blazers were never able to grab the lead in the 3rd quarter but did force Jordan to pick up his 4th foul with 1:43 left.  They also cut it to 77-76 heading into the 4th quarter.

But at the start of the 4th, Portland did go ahead after Alaa Abdelnaby and Kevin Duckworth scored down low.  But Scottie Pippen, despite missing two free throws and then catching his own airball on a wild shot, scored 7 points in a row to put the Bulls back ahead.

Pippen got hotter as the quarter went on and made two more jumpers to bring his game total to 22 points.  A Jordan steal and B.J. Armstrong breakaway put Chicago up 90-86 and forced Portland to use a timeout with 5:53 left.

But the Trailblazers, especially Drexler and Porter, were on their game and came back to take a 93-92 lead and force Phil Jackson to use a timeout with 3:25 left.  But Drexler put Portland up by three with a step-through banker against Pippen in the post for his 6th point in a row.

Pippen would come right back with a high-arcing jumper from the wing.  Kersey then tipped in a Porter miss.  Armstrong hit a jumper from the wing after Pippen penetrated.  Drexler then drove down the lane for a layup to give the Blazers a 99-96 lead with 1:24 left.

The Blazers would then force a few Chicago misses but couldn’t grab a defensive rebound.  Pippen rebounded a Jordan miss with under 50 seconds left (to give Chicago their 4th shot on this possession) and gave it back to Michael.  MJ drove and drew a double team.  He then kicked it out to Armstrong at the top for a three-pointer that tied the game at 99 with 35 seconds left.

After a Portland timeout, they ran the clock down but Kersey missed a wing jumper.  Horace Grant rebounded and got it ahead to Pippen.  But Scottie, looking like he lost complete track of time, slowed the ball down as the clock was ticking the final 10 seconds and no timeout was being used.

Pippen finally got it to MJ who had to force a long three-pointer and came up short.  The two fatigued teams would now go into overtime.

Four minutes would go by in the first overtime and only 6 total points were scored.  Portland grabbed a 103-101 lead but missed several opportunities to increase that lead.

Finally, Jordan (after missing 11 of his last 12 shot attempts) hit a banker from the post after a fake to tie the game with under a minute left.  But Porter would give Portland the lead again with a pull-up from the foul line with 30.4 seconds left.

The Bulls used a timeout this time and got it to Michael earlier.  Jordan drove but missed a tough up-and-under shot on the drive.  Kersey rebounded with 15 seconds left and proved old habits die hard.

Kersey immediately threw a long dangerous pass to Porter at half-court.  Porter was able to grab it in between two Bulls but then traveled while trying to go to the basket.

In a situation where Portland needed to calm down, not try to force the play and just get fouled, they did the exact opposite.  Their chaotic, scramble mentality took over and gave Chicago another chance.

Jordan got the ball, drove again, and drew a foul from Drexler.  But it was Portland’s foul to give and Chicago got the ball on the side with 5.1 seconds left.  After a timeout, Jordan went to the left baseline, pivoted, and got off a fall-away jumper that went in with 1.2 seconds left to tie the game.

Almost interestingly, Pippen was called for a foul on Danny Ainge after the shot went in.  But Chicago was not in the bonus and no free throws would be attempted by Ainge.  The game would subsequently go into double overtime after Porter airballed a wild shot.

The Trailblazers would again take the early lead but went cold halfway through the 2nd overtime.  Chicago didn’t this time and would take a 115-109 lead with 1:08 to go after Jordan nailed another fall-away from the baseline.  It was the 8th consecutive point by the Bulls.

But Portland, to their credit, didn’t go down easily.  Porter hit a driving banker.  Pippen then missed a jumper at the end of the shot clock and MJ missed a seemingly easy follow-up.  Drexler was then fouled but split his free throws (Clyde finished 6-for-12 from the line).

But then MJ missed another jumper and Porter got the ball after a rebound scramble.  He got it ahead to Drexler for a breakaway slam to cut the lead to 115-114 with 8 seconds left.  But then Drexler fouled out after committing one on Jordan.

MJ would split his free throws and Portland got a final chance with 3.5 seconds left.  But Porter couldn’t get off a final shot and the Bulls survived.

Chicago, despite its fatigue, would win in Sacramento the next night and eventually set a franchise record with 14 consecutive wins.  They would then try to match that in January.

Portland would continue to right themselves and grab the best record in the West from Golden State by February.  But they would have to answer for the rest of the season whether they could win a big game against a top-notch team.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (28) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (17) – Power Forward

Will Perdue (0) – Center

John Paxson (6) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (40) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (11)

Stacey King (12)

Cliff Levingston (0)

Scott Williams (2)

Bobby Hansen (0)

Chuck Nevitt (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (21) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (16) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (14) – Center

Terry Porter (14) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (38) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (2)

Danny Ainge (2)

Alaa Abdelnaby (6)

Robert Pack (1)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

December 7, 1991 – New York Knicks 137 @Atlanta Hawks 128 (2OT)

On the 50-year anniversary of Pearl Harbor, games were still going on in the NBA (there are certain dates that I believe at least a moment of silence should be observed).

This particular one was a classic between two teams that were, more or less, in transition.  The Atlanta Hawks of the 1980’s were just about gone.  Only Dominique Wilkins and Kevin Willis (and Jon Koncak) were left from the 1988 team that took the Boston Celtics to 7 games in the Semifinals.  A lot of the rest of that team was broken up after the 1991 season.

Point guard Doc Rivers was traded to the Clippers for the 9th pick in the 1991 NBA draft (and two future 2nd rounders), which Atlanta used to select UNLV’s Stacey Augmon.  But the Hawks also gave up their backup point guard as Spud Webb was traded to Sacramento for Travis Mays (a bigger point guard from Texas who only played 2 games for the Hawks in 1992 and was gone from the NBA after 1993).

As a result, Rumeal Robinson was starting at point for Atlanta.  His backup was 35-year-old Maurice Cheeks, who Atlanta acquired from the Knicks in exchange for center Tim McCormick, who would play only 22 games for New York in his final NBA season of 1992 as the knee injuries that hampered his entire career finally became too much to overcome.

With McCormick and Moses Malone, who had signed with Milwaukee as a free agent, now gone, Atlanta’s center was shooter Blair Rasmussen.  Rasmussen was acquired from Denver in a three-team deal that sent Atlanta’s other 1991 1st round pick, Seton Hall’s Anthony Avent, to Milwaukee and a future 2nd rounder to the Nuggets.

Coach Bob Weiss filled the rest of the roster with young unproven players such as Paul Graham, Alexander Volkov, Duane Ferrell, and Rodney Monroe.  Graham and Volkov had impacts in this particular game.

With Wilkins having another strong start to the season and Willis becoming a rebounding terror like rarely before (Willis averaged 15.5 rebounds per game, 2nd in the league, in 1992 after not averaging more than 10.5 in his first 6 NBA seasons), Atlanta was off to a 10-8 start which was 3rd in the Central Division and 5th overall in the East.

Meanwhile in New York, Pat Riley was now in the process of following up what he did in Los Angeles as coach.  The Knicks had won the Atlantic Division in 1989 but had fallen short of expectations the next two seasons.  The only holdovers from 1989 were Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, Mark Jackson, Gerald Wilkins and Kiki Vandeweghe.

Vandeweghe would just about be the only Knick in the regular rotation that missed any time in the 1992 season (McCormick doesn’t count in this case, even when he was able to play he didn’t play much in 1992).  Riley’s top 8 guys missed a total of 1 game in 1992.  Riley was in the process of creating a physical, defensive monster led by Ewing and Oakley.  Mark Jackson was reborn at point guard and finished 5th in the NBA at 8.6 assists per game (his highest average since his All-Star season in 1989).

Gerald Wilkins had up-and-down moments, but mostly his athleticism could not make up for his lack of shooting ability.  Wilkins split time at two-guard with John Starks; who was almost as athletic, a little bit better defender, and a much better outside shooter (even if he was streaky).  Even though he came off the bench, Starks would be New York’s 2nd leading scorer (a problem that New York would have over the next few years, in my opinion).

Starks ascension meant a disappointing year from Wilkins and New York’s new acquisition.  In L.A, Riley had the scoring small forward that could post up, run the floor, and be a main scorer in James Worthy.  Riley was hoping for similar results from Xavier McDaniel.  New York traded Jerrod Mustaf and Trent Tucker to Phoenix for the X-Man, who had averaged over 20 points per game in his last 4 1/2 seasons in Seattle but never quite fit in in Phoenix.

Although McDaniel became a physical presence for Riley and the Knicks, his 13.7 points per game in 1992 was the lowest of his career.  McDaniel averaged almost as much the next season in Boston, while coming off the bench.

Even so, McDaniel started with Ewing, Oakley, Jackson, and Wilkins for 81 of the 82 games.  Starks came off the bench along with 1st round draft pick Greg Anthony, also from UNLV, and big strong Anthony Mason, a physical specimen who was signed as a free agent after playing 24 games in his first two seasons.  As mentioned, from this top 8, only Mark Jackson missed one game.

With that continuity, New York was making noise again in the Atlantic Division.  They were one game behind Boston at this point after losing to the Celtics the previous night.  But the Knicks had been on a 6-game winning streak before that setback.

They recovered in Atlanta to grab an early 10-3 lead as Jackson scored 6 points.  Gerald Wilkins also got off to a good start in the matchup against his older brother, Dominique.  But Dominique kept Atlanta in it and even forced his brother into a technical after Gerald was called for a touch foul on a Dominique banker.

New York led 34-29 after one quarter as it became apparent that the defensive monster Riley was trying to create was not present on this night.  A layup by Dominique after some great pivot moves tied the game at 40 halfway through the 2nd quarter.  The teams would battle each other to a 56-all halftime tie.  Ewing and Dominique were the main scorers, but Willis and Gerald, along with Starks and Paul Graham off the bench were contributing as well.

A baseline jumper by Dominique gave Atlanta a 58-56 lead and gave ‘Nique 20 points.  But New York would grab a lead from there as Ewing went to work with a turnaround fall-away from the baseline and later, a vicious rebound-slam.  Bob Weiss used a small lineup for most of this game, which meant Kevin Willis (who wasn’t quite the weight-lifter he’d become later in his career) was playing center and guarding Ewing for most of the game.

Atlanta went on a 7-2 run to cut the New York lead to 72-71 on a three-point play from Dominique.  The teams would keep battling to an 80-all tie at the end of the 3rd quarter.  It wasn’t the first and wouldn’t be the last time they’d be tied at the end of a period on this night.

Early in the 4th quarter though, Atlanta took an advantage as Alexander Volkov drove baseline for a three-point play.  Willis followed with a hook shot in the lane.  Dominique nailed a three while drawing a foul (he missed the free throw though) and then Paul Graham got a layup after a steal by Cheeks.  Atlanta led 91-84 and New York called a timeout with 9:31 left.

Atlanta would increase the lead to as much as 10 as Dominique kept attacking and scoring.  But New York hung around as Starks got hot.  Riley also gambled by using Greg Anthony at the point instead of Jackson in the 4th quarter.  Anthony culminated an 11-2 Knicks run with two free throws to give New York a 113-111 lead with 8.2 seconds left (the run was not shown on the NBATV version of this game).

But Dominique got one more bucket against Gerald (a driving finger roll against Ewing as well, no less) to tie the game at 113 and send it into overtime.

The teams battled back and forth in the first overtime.  Paul Graham fouled out for Atlanta after 19 points.  Gerald committed his 6th foul trying for a steal against his brother.  Dominique’s two free throws gave the Hawks a 120-119 lead and gave Dominique 48 points.  Starks’ two free throws with 1:39 left gave New York the lead again but Wilkins would hit two more from the line to bring his total to 50.

Ewing then answered with a running hook across the lane while drawing a foul on Willis.  The three-point play gave the Knicks a 124-122 lead.  But Willis put back a miss by Wilkins to tie it up with 39 seconds left.

Riley didn’t use a timeout and his team went inside to Ewing.  His turnaround shot was in-and-out and Atlanta had a chance to win.  After a timeout, the ball went to Wilkins, who was predictably double-teamed.

Dominique had to kick the ball out to Cheeks at the top, who swung the ball to an open Rumeal Robinson as time was running out.  But Rumeal’s college clutchness did not translate to the NBA (while his lack of outside shooting ability did) and he was way short on his jumper at the buzzer.

Both teams ran out of gas in the second overtime and each scored two points over the first 3 minutes.  But New York grabbed a 128-126 lead with 1:47 left when Anthony fed Ewing for a slam on a pick-and-roll.  On their next possession, the Knicks put it away as Starks nailed a three at the end of the shot clock.

A turnaround jumper by McDaniel put the final nail in the coffin.  This loss would kick off a 2-7 stretch for the Hawks.  They would recover and hold the 6th spot in the East when disaster struck on January 28 in a game against Philadelphia.  Dominique Wilkins, as he recalled, was just trotting up the court when it felt like somebody kicked him in the heel.  But nobody was there.  As it turned out, Dominique tore his achilles tendon.  He would miss the rest of the season.

Without Wilkins, Atlanta went 16-24 over the rest of the season and finished 38-44, tied with the expansion Miami Heat for the final playoff spot in the East.  But Miami gained the spot with a better conference record than Atlanta (27-29 as compared to 23-33).  The Hawks would rebound over the next two seasons.

Meanwhile, New York would eventually pull ahead of Boston by two games at the top of the Atlantic Division by the All-Star break.

New York starters (points scored)

Xavier McDaniel (18) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (6) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (43) – Center

Mark Jackson (15) – Point Guard

Gerald Wilkins (26) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

John Starks (19)

Anthony Mason (2)

Greg Anthony (8)

Brian Quinnett (0)

New York Coach: Pat Riley

Atlanta starters (points scored)

Dominique Wilkins (52) – Small Forward

Kevin Willis (20) – Power Forward

Blair Rasmussen (12) – Center

Rumeal Robinson (9) – Point Guard

Stacey Augmon (6) – Shooting Guard

Atlanta bench (points scored)

Paul Graham (19)

Alexander Volkov (5)

Maurice Cheeks (5)

Jon Koncak (0)

Atlanta Coach: Bob Weiss

wilkins brothers

Dominique Wilkins (left) got the better of the individual matchup against his brother Gerald on this night, but Gerald’s team won the game *photo courtesy of Pinterest

January 17, 1992 – San Antonio Spurs 96 @Chicago Bulls 102

The Chicago Bulls continued to roll on through January.  They were 31-5, had won 7 games in a row, and now had Bill Cartwright and Craig Hodges back.  There was even talk of them breaking the 70-win barrier and overtaking the 1972 Lakers’ 69-13 record as the best ever in the regular season.

The San Antonio Spurs were now in year 3 of the David Robinson/Larry Brown experiment.  They still had the same starters in forwards Terry Cummings and Sean Elliott and guards Rod Strickland and Willie Anderson.  They tried to add bench strength by acquiring big forward Antoine Carr from the Sacramento Kings.  They also signed veteran Detroit Piston Vinnie Johnson, in what turned out to be his last NBA season, and young forward Donald Royal.

But with the talent, things didn’t go well.  Rod Strickland held out for a better contract through the first 24 games of the season.  The Spurs went 13-11 in those games and had a 5-game losing streak.  Terry Cummings also missed some games through that stretch.

The Spurs started winning a little more consistently after Strickland returned and were 21-15 entering Chicago Stadium, which was good for 1.5 games behind Utah in the Midwest Division standings.

They started off well in the Madhouse on Madison as Michael Jordan had to go out early after getting hit with an elbow by his own teammate, Scottie Pippen.

Cummings scored 6 early points and the Spurs used an 8-0 run to take an 18-12 lead with 9 minutes gone by in the 1st quarter.  San Antonio maintained a 27-22 advantage at the end of the 1st quarter.

Chicago did start the 2nd quarter on an 8-1 run to take the lead as San Antonio missed their first 8 shots from the field.  But Phil Jackson, in an attempt to rest players over the course of a long season, sat down the starters for a stretch.

The Spurs regained their footing and Chicago was plagued by 10 first half turnovers.  San Antonio’s bench, led by Sidney Green’s 12 points, played a major role.  Strickland was also aggressive as a scorer and playmaker.  Strickland got his 8th assist of the 1st half when he found Robinson for a slam with 5.8 seconds left in the half to give the Spurs a 54-45 lead at the break.

Michael Jordan was held to 7 points in the 1st half but he must’ve had his “secret stuff” at halftime.

He came out immediately aggressive in the 3rd quarter at both ends.  MJ got some steals and got to the line for the first time all day.  He hit 4 free throws and found John Paxson with a behind-the-back pass for a wing jumper.  A Pippen feed to Horace Grant for a three-point play cut the lead to 56-54.  Grant had quietly kept the Bulls in the game with 10 1st half points.

Jordan then tied it with a lefty scoop on a drive down the lane and Larry Brown had to use a timeout with 9:13 remaining in the quarter.

The timeout helped initially as San Antonio was able to regain a 65-58 lead.  But the Bulls made their big run of the game after that.

MJ found Grant for a layup.  Paxson hit a three at the end of the shot clock.  Jordan and Grant each hit two free throws.  Then after a steal, Pippen found Jordan on a 2-on-1 break for a flying slam.  Brown had to use another timeout with 4:24 left and the Bulls leading 69-65.

Strickland would quell the run after the timeout with a jumper but then he got into a brouhaha with Pippen that almost escalated (with Scottie throwing punches that, luckily for him and perhaps Strickland, didn’t connect).  Double technicals were called but nobody was ejected (weren’t those the good ole days?)

Jordan hit a pull-up from the wing and later a stop-and-go drive down the lane.  Then Pippen got another steal off the Bulls trap.  He dribbled coast-to-coast and found Jordan for another slam.  Chicago now led 77-67 and MJ had 20 points in the 3rd quarter.

The Spurs were able to cut it to 79-73 going into the 4th quarter but the Bulls 19-2 run might have done them in.

The Bulls maintained their lead as Phil Jackson put Will Perdue out there against David Robinson.  Perdue kept grabbing rebounds and putting enough of a body on Robinson to slow him down at the offensive end.  Although, part of this may be due to Robinson not being as aggressive as he should have (a common theme in the Admiral’s career) and the Spurs not consistently going down low to Robinson.

San Antonio cut the lead to 88-82 with 7 minutes left but could not score over the next 2 minutes (neither could the Bulls).  Pippen finally hit a pull-up with 5 minutes left to break the drought.

The Spurs finally got going as Robinson hit a pull-up from the wing.  But each Spur basket was matched by Chicago as Paxson hit two jumpers.

A baseline jumper by Sean Elliott, who was playing through a dislocated finger, cut the lead to 94-90 with just over 2 minutes left.  But Pippen hit a fall-away jumper from deep on the baseline at the end of the shot clock.  Jordan then blocked a shot by Cummings and followed that up by finding Perdue with a no-look pass for a slam with 1:23 left.

That sequence finished the game and Perdue had 12 points and 14 rebounds while playing the entire 4th quarter against David Robinson.

The Spurs lost two days later against Boston to bring their record to 21-17.  On the morning of their next game two days later, Larry Brown left under bizarre circumstances.  Stories were different on whether Brown was fired or resigned (depending on who you ask) and there wasn’t a clear reason.  But, one way or another, Brown was gone and Bob Bass, the Spurs’ Vice President of Basketball Operations, was named interim coach for the rest of the season.

After this cloudy change, the Spurs got to host the Bulls 11 days after their first encounter with Chicago carrying a 13-game winning streak.

Meanwhile, Larry Brown wouldn’t be out of work for long.  On February 6, Brown was asked to take over a Los Angeles Clippers team that was a game and a half out of the playoffs (a place they haven’t been since they were the Buffalo Braves in 1976).

Brown led a Clippers team of Danny Manning, Ron Harper, Charles Smith, and Doc Rivers to a 23-12 finish and a 45-37 overall record, good for 7th place in the West.  The Clippers won an emotional game on May 3rd (highlighted at the top of the blog before any game action) to tie their series with the Utah Jazz.  But they were eliminated the next night.

San Antonio starters (points scored)

Sean Elliott (14) – Small Forward

Terry Cummings (17) – Power Forward

David Robinson (20) – Center

Rod Strickland (15) – Point Guard

Willie Anderson (2) – Shooting Guard

San Antonio bench (points scored)

Antoine Carr (2)

Vinnie Johnson (8)

Sidney Green (12)

Donald Royal (3)

Greg Sutton (3)

Paul Pressey (0)

San Antonio Coach: Larry Brown

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (17) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (19) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (0) – Center

John Paxson (12) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (31) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (2)

Stacey King (0)

Will Perdue (12)

Craig Hodges (5)

Cliff Levingston (0)

Scott Williams (2)

Bobby Hansen (2)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Larry-Brown

Larry Brown was fired by the Spurs 4 days after this game.  He would be hired by the Clippers 16 days later and led them to their first playoff appearance since 1976 *photo courtesy of ComC

January 19, 1992 – Chicago Bulls 87 @Detroit Pistons 85

Now on an 8-game winning streak, the Bulls got to go back to the Palace at Auburn Hills for the first time since conquering Detroit the previous season.

Boy had the tables turned.  A few years ago, the Pistons had been the measuring stick for the Bulls.  Now, even Piston players were admitting that Chicago was a measuring stick for a still good Detroit team.

The Pistons got off to a so-so (to say the least) start for the season.  On December 14, they were 10-14.  Then Detroit picked it up and won 12 of their next 14 heading into their matchup with the Bulls.

With a few exceptions, the same cast was back for 1992 but older.  Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars still ran the back-court and the Pistons winning ways picked up when they started to play better.  Bill Laimbeer was in the middle with Mark Aguirre, John Salley, and Dennis Rodman at forward.  Rodman was having an amazing year on the boards as he would average a career-high 18.7 rebounds per game in 1992 and kick off a 7-season stretch in which he averaged at least 14.9 rebounds per game.

The changes for Jack McCloskey, Chuck Daly, and the Pistons involved trading for veteran scorer and 1-on-1 player Orlando Woolridge.  They traded James Edwards to the Clippers on the same day they acquired Woolridge from Denver.  Then a month later in September, management waived Vinnie Johnson and traded for Darrell Walker.

Woolridge added scoring, especially when he got into the starting lineup after Daly experimented with Salley, William Bedford, and Aguirre at the strong forward spot.  But Woolridge couldn’t replace James Edwards’ low post presence and did not present the defense that the Pistons were used to.

Walker became the third guard in Vinnie Johnson’s place but didn’t present the scoring that Vinnie did, even if he was better defensively.

But the Pistons were still tops in the league defensively and showed it to the Bulls after the first 6 minutes.

In the first 6 minutes, though, Chicago was hot.  John Paxson hit three jumpers, Scottie Pippen hit two, and Michael Jordan and Horace Grant each hit from the outside.  The Bulls hit their first 7 shots and led 16-8 with 6:17 left.

Furthermore, Chuck Daly picked up a technical when Bill Cartwright and Rodman got into an elbow tussle under the basket and Daly felt something should have been called on Cartwright.

But then the Bulls went cold and missed their next 6 shots.  Meanwhile, Detroit got on the boards and either got out on the break as a result or got multiple shots at the basket.

An 8-0 run tied the game at 16 but that wasn’t Detroit’s biggest run of the quarter.  With the game tied at 20, Detroit ran off the final 11 points as Phil Jackson rested Jordan.

The Pistons out-rebounded Chicago 17-5 in the 1st quarter and led 31-20 after Dumars got a breakaway layup when Rodman picked up a steal in the final seconds.

Jordan came in to start the 2nd quarter and immediately got a three-point play against Walker.  B.J. Armstrong came in and hit three shots when Detroit left him open.  Chicago also grabbed 7 offensive rebounds in the first 6 minutes of the 2nd quarter and cut the lead to 36-33.

But Chicago could not overcome Detroit’s lead in the 2nd quarter despite 11 points from Jordan and 7 from Armstrong in the period and the Pistons picking up 2 more technical fouls.

Isiah Thomas and Jordan each picked up their 3rd foul just before the half.  Detroit led 45-44 at the break.

The Bulls finally took the lead early in the 3rd on a three-point play by Cartwright.  The teams then preceded to trade blows in the quarter.  Detroit grabbed a 64-58 lead when Isiah crossovered into the lane for a scoop shot.

But the Bulls finished the quarter on a 10-1 run as Isiah picked up his 4th foul and sat.  The Bulls led 68-65 entering the 4th.

The final quarter would be more of a defensive struggle than the first 3 quarters and Detroit’s defense hit first.  Chicago did not score for the first 6 minutes and change.

Meanwhile, Aguirre and Dumars led the Pistons on a 10-0 run that was putting the game away.  Detroit had a chance to grab a 77-68 lead when Dumars led a 4-on-1 fast break.  But Dumars tried to take it himself, got cut off by the lone man back (B.J. Armstrong), and missed a wild reverse shot.

The Bulls then went on the transition and Cliff Levingston was fouled reasonably hard by Dennis Rodman.  A flagrant was called on Rodman on the play.  While Dennis fouled Levingston hard, he was going for the ball and didn’t make a typical Bad Boy Piston foul on this particular play.

It was a flagrant foul you’d expect to see called in 2017 but not in 1992.  It was a bad call and would turn the momentum around.  Levingston hit the two free throws and then Pippen hit a baseline jumper to cut the lead to 75-72.

Detroit was able to hold Chicago off for a minute as Isiah nailed a three and Aguirre hit a fall-away at the end of the shot clock.  But the Bulls got their offense back going as Paxson nailed a three, Pippen spun in the lane for a three-point play, and Jordan hit a turnaround from the post to cut the Piston lead to 82-80.

Jordan then had a chance to tie it at the line with 1:57 left.  He made the first but missed the second (Chicago would give Detroit several chances because of missed free throws).  But Chicago controlled the rebound and eventually would take the lead when a doubled Jordan found Pippen in the lane for a jumper.

Jordan followed with a steal and drew Isiah’s 5th foul on a breakaway (another clean foul but this was actually called by today’s terms, “a common foul”).  Jordan made both free throws with 1:09 to go to put the Bulls up 85-82.

Aguirre missed an inside shot and Cartwright rebounded.  The Pistons had gone cold at the wrong time.  They also went cold on the boards as Pippen grabbed Jordan’s miss at the end of the shot clock.  Pippen gave it back to Jordan and Dumars had to foul MJ with 24.5 seconds left.

But Michael split the free throws and Isiah drove down the lane for a layup to cut Chicago’s lead to 86-84.  Jordan was fouled again with 17 seconds left.  Again, he split the free throws giving Detroit a chance to tie with a three-pointer.

Isiah ended up being the one open for the tying three but it hit the back of the rim.  Levingston rebounded and drew a foul with 6 seconds left.  But Cliff missed them both, which included an airball on the second free throw.  This gave Detroit a chance to take it out of bounds and set a play with no timeouts left.

Thomas dribbled it into the front court but was fouled by Paxson before he could get off a shot with 2.6 seconds left.  Isiah made the first free throw and was talking to Rodman (who was, again, having a wonderful rebounding season) about how he was going to miss the second free throw.

Thomas did miss it hard off the back rim but Chicago was able to back-tap it out to half-court as the buzzer sounded.

The Bulls had survived for their 9th win in a row and 70 wins was still a possibility.

Chicago’s win streak reached 13 games but they’d have to try and tie their season-long win streak on the first game of a west coast trip against a tough opponent with a new coach.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (17) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (2) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (6) – Center

John Paxson (15) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (34) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (7)

Stacey King (2)

Cliff Levingston (4)

Scott Williams (0)

Bobby Hansen (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Detroit starters (points scored)

Dennis Rodman (11) – Small Forward

Orlando Woolridge (18) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (8) – Center

Isiah Thomas (16) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (15) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (14)

John Salley (2)

Darrell Walker (1)

Lance Blanks (0)

Charles Thomas (0)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

January 28, 1992 – Chicago Bulls 104 @San Antonio Spurs 109

Interim coach Bob Bass wanted the San Antonio Spurs to run more and be freer on offense than they were under Larry Brown.  So far, the Spurs were 2-1 under Bass but the aggressive approach showed early on.

Right off the tip, Terry Cummings took a quick runner and banked it in.  The Spurs led for the rest of the game from there.  David Robinson also proved why he was a star.

Robinson was in the top 6 in 5 statistical categories (not including points) and he showed off his versatility.  He started the blocking an underhand scoop from Michael Jordan.  Later, off a steal, Robinson went coast-to-coast and put the ball around Jordan (who was going for the steal) and slammed it down with a two-hand overhead.  And, yes, the Admiral also blocked an MJ dunk attempt.

The Spurs took a 16-4 lead as Phil Jackson had to use two timeouts.  San Antonio grabbed as much as a 14-point lead as Terry Cummings led the way with 10 points.

But the Bulls closed the quarter on an 8-2 run as MJ hit two shots and Scottie Pippen got a flying breakaway slam.  The Spurs led 31-23 going into the 2nd quarter.

The Spurs regained their 14-point lead as Robinson grabbed his 10th rebound in the first 15 minutes of the game.  A baseline drive and slam by Sean Elliott increased the Spurs lead to 43-25.

Robinson then went out for his first rest of the game and the Bulls started attacking the basket.  Jordan, along with B.J. Armstrong and Stacey King off the bench, got going and cut the lead to 45-38.

Robinson then came back in and threw down a reverse alley-oop slam on a feed from Willie Anderson.  The Bulls cut it to 50-46 with 1:27 left in the half but Cummings hit his 16th point on a pull-up jumper in the lane.

The Bulls had the last possession to try and cut it back to 4 points but Pippen missed a runner with a few seconds left.  Robinson grabbed his 11th rebound and fed it out to Antoine Carr.  Carr got to halfcourt and fired up a fling at the last possible tenth of a second.  The ball went in and the Spurs led 55-46 at the half.

In their first season matchup, the Spurs also had a 9-point halftime lead but were victimized by Chicago coming on in the 3rd quarter.  This time, there was no such thing as the Spurs got out on the break.

Rod Strickland got two quick assists and the Spurs led 61-47.  But Sean Elliott picked up his 4th foul and the Bulls started to get some shots to fall.  Jordan got a three-point play on an alley-oop layup and then John Paxson nailed a three to cut the lead to 67-61.

Later, Chicago went on a 6-0 run to cut the lead to 71-69.  Cummings then rebounded a Carr miss and slammed it home.  But another three-point play by Jordan not only cut the lead to 73-72 but drew the 4th foul on Robinson, all in the 3rd quarter.

But despite the Admiral going to the bench, the Spurs maintained a 78-74 lead after three as rookie Greg Sutton hit a big basket.

Robinson came back in early in the 4th and picked up his 5th foul soon after with the Spurs up by five.  But San Antonio maintained their lead with Cummings and Elliott getting big baskets.  Elliott’s highlight was a one-handed rebound-slam.

The Spurs held a 99-93 lead when Robinson came back in.  The Bulls started making their run at that time as Jordan scored and fed Horace Grant for layups.

The lead was down to 101-100 when the Spurs went down low to Robinson.  He was doubled and kicked out to Anderson.  Anderson swung the ball to Strickland at the elbow where Rod hit a big jumper with 2:30 left.

Jordan responded with a driving layup to cut it back to 103-102.  San Antonio used a timeout with 1:33 left.  The ball found Willie Anderson who was guarded by Jordan.  Anderson went to the foul line, faked, and hit a tough leaner with Jordan in his face.

Robinson then got his 8th block on a shot from Grant.  But the Bulls got the ball back after Cummings missed an ill-advised shot.  Paxson missed a tying three attempt but Pippen tipped it in with 30.4 seconds left to cut the lead to one.

Chicago pressed but the Spurs broke it like they had all game.  Elliott found Robinson at the foul line and David took it to the hole and hit a scoop shot while drawing a foul.  Robinson missed his chance to put the game away as he missed the free throw.  Chicago rebounded and called timeout with 20 seconds left.

The Bulls went for the quick two-pointer as Jordan found King inside.  But Cummings blocked his shot and Elliott retrieved the ball.  Pippen had to foul him with 11.8 seconds left and Sean made two free throws to put the game away.

The Spurs had snapped the Bulls 13-game winning streak and had their best win of the year.

For the Bulls, this kicked off a 6-game road trip that ended any talks of a 70-win season before the All-Star break.  The Bulls lost two nights later in Houston.  Then, less than a week later, in Utah.  The Bulls lost in triple overtime in the last 0.5 seconds.  Jordan was called for a foul on Jeff Malone, vehemently argued the call and, in the process, bumped referee Tommie Wood.  Jordan was ejected for the foul language and then suspended for the next game in Phoenix.  The Bulls lost that one too and were 2-4 on the trip.  They were 39-9 at the break.

The Spurs rolled right along through the All-Star break despite losing Willie Anderson in February with a stress fracture.  Through March 23, they were 42-26 when Robinson missed a few games.  It was then announced that Robinson had to have surgery on his thumb to avoid permanent damage.

He would be out for 6 weeks.  The Spurs season didn’t last that long.  Although they still finished 5th in the West without Robinson and Anderson, they were swept by Phoenix in the 1st round.

Then over the summer, Terry Cummings tore his ACL in a pickup basketball game.  He would never average double-figures for the rest of his career.  The talented early 90’s Spurs would be a changing team over the next few seasons.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (21) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (6) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (3) – Center

John Paxson (9) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (39) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (9)

Stacey King (11)

Will Perdue (4)

Cliff Levingston (0)

Scott Williams (2)

Bobby Hansen (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

San Antonio starters (points scored)

Sean Elliott (18) – Small Forward

Terry Cummings (30) – Power Forward

David Robinson (21) – Center

Rod Strickland (8) – Point Guard

Willie Anderson (8) – Shooting Guard

San Antonio bench (points scored)

Antoine Carr (8)

Vinnie Johnson (4)

Sidney Green (7)

Greg Sutton (5)

San Antonio Coach: Bob Bass

February 9, 1992 – NBA All-Star Game @ Orlando: West 153, East 113

In sports, there are those moments that stand the test of time and, as they say, cannot possibly be scripted.

It was a nice story that the NBA allowed Magic Johnson to play in this All-Star Game after he shocked the world with his announcement 3 months earlier.  But Magic had not played a game in that time.  To think he could score 25 points on 9-for-12 shooting and get 9 assists in the 2nd half to be the unquestionable MVP seems a little bit beyond the imagination.

NBC announcer Dick Enberg mentioned after the game that even if Magic had scored 5 points, he’d still be the MVP.  This wouldn’t have seemed right, even for Magic.  But that would be the more realistic expectation.  But like he had his entire career (and is still doing), Magic went above and beyond.  He put on a show, he flashed his famous smile, and had one feeling good afterwards with his appearance.

It started after the introduction of the starting lineups.  First of all, the West was introduced after the East despite the game being in Orlando (usually the home team is announced last) and Magic was the last player introduced from the West lineup.  The introduction was followed by a prolonged standing ovation and every member of the East team coming across court to give Magic a hug.  That was a great moment all in itself.

Then the game started, and with Magic and Isiah Thomas leading the way by pushing the ball, both teams got off to a remarkable start and an entertaining 1st quarter ensued.

Isiah drove right at Magic for a layup and then Magic came right back at him and went coast-to-coast for his first field goal to put the West up 8-4.  Michael Jordan came right back with an MJ specialty.  He drove baseline, hung in the air, and threw in a double-pump reverse layup.

The action continued like that as both teams pushed the ball off of steals and made baskets by the other team and highlights ensued.  Scottie Pippen drove down the lane for a flying slam over David Robinson.  Later, Pippen threw an alley-oop inbounds pass to Jordan for a slam.

The East got the early lead before Magic threw in a hook shot from the baseline.  Jordan came back with a drive down the lane in which he hung in the air again and got the ball around Robinson and in the basket with his left hand.  Magic came right back with a coast-to-coast drive for his 8th point.  Robinson followed with a steal and Chris Mullin fed Karl Malone on a 3-on-2 break for a layup and a 19-18 West lead.

The game would be tied at 23 after Pippen rebound-slammed a miss by Isiah.  At this point, both teams were shooting at above 70% from the field.

But then the West made their 1st of 2 monster runs to take a big lead and put the competitive aspect of this game out of the way.  Clyde Drexler led the way on this first run as he nailed a three, took the ball from half-court and finished with a flying slam, nailed another three, and got a layup off a feed from Tim Hardaway.  Drexler had 10 points on the West’s 14-0 run.  This led to the West’s 44-31 advantage after the 1st quarter.

Things would not slow down in the 2nd quarter.  Magic scored 6 more points to bring his total to 16.  This included a long hook shot over Dennis Rodman, one of the league’s best defenders.  Magic finished 6-for-7 from the field in the 1st half but had no assists.

The East stayed within striking distance and cut the lead to 62-53 when Michael Adams made a pull-up jumper from the elbow.  But then the West had their 2nd monster run.

Hakeem Olajuwon threw down a reverse slam after a baseline spin from the post.  James Worthy hit a turnaround in the lane.  Jeff Hornacek found a trailing Dikembe Mutombo for a big slam on the break.  Worthy got a steal and slam.  John Stockton nailed a three.  Jeff Hornacek made a jumper off an inbounds pass.  Stockton drove by Jordan for a layup and then came up with a steal and fed future teammate Hornacek for a layup.

When all was said and done, the West had gone on a 17-0 run and led 79-53.  It was 79-55 at the half.

It would not be a question who would win for the 2nd half but the action was still entertaining.  Clyde Drexler showed off his open-court athleticism many times in the 3rd quarter and score 12 points to bring his game total to 22.  Magic finally got his 1st assist when he found Robinson with a touch-pass on a 4-on-1 break to put the West up 92-59.

With that, Magic did not score in the 3rd but started finding several people for shots as the West continued to shoot over 60% and increased their lead.  The credit to their spirited play again went to Magic, courtesy of coach Don Nelson.  Nellie had said in a halftime interview that Magic’s contagious spirit up-lifted the West and increased their energy for the game.

The West led 115-83 after 3 quarters.

The 4th quarter looked more of the same as Magic found people for shots and the West continued to shoot well.  Their final field goal percentage was at 65.3%.  It was a great show so far but Magic Johnson pulled out an encore and a finish for the ages.

Magic stood open at the wing behind the three-point line after Mutombo kicked it out to him.  Magic figured he’ll just launch a three and see what happens.  The trey went down and it was just the beginning.

Adams answered with a three for the East.  But Magic came right back down, pulled up behind the three-point line, up-faked Isiah, and nailed another to get the crowd going.

Then in the final two minutes, Isiah Thomas decided he was going to isolate and go 1-on-1 against Magic.  Isiah dribbled out the shot clock while Magic played sound defense and the crowd rose to their feet.  Thomas threw an airball and Dan Majerle got a transition slam to make the score 150-113.

Then MJ, Michael Jordan, decided he was going to isolate and go 1-on-1 against Magic Johnson as the crowd rose to their feet.  Magic stayed in front of Michael and forced a high-arcing miss and the West rebounded with under 30 seconds left.

They went to Magic one last time and he isolated and backed down Isiah Thomas behind the three-point line.  Magic backed him down and then stepped back for a long three that went down.  It was an amazing shot and an amazing moment.  There was 14.5 seconds remaining and the East decided they were just going to stop the game because it had to end on that shot.

Then came the MVP presentation in which David Stern called Magic, “a most courageous person.”  Magic then thanked everyone for voting for him and thanked the players for decided it was OK for him to play despite his condition, a sentiment that wouldn’t continue for everyone.

But Magic would be back for the Olympics as the Dream Team would take on the field in Barcelona.  He would be joined by his longtime rival Larry Bird, who wasn’t able to play in this All-Star Game.  Bird would end up having one more memorable moment when Boston took on Portland on March 15 later in this blog.

For now, it was Magic Johnson’s moment.  A full recap is here.

West starters (teams) and point totals

Chris Mullin (Golden State Warriors) 13 – Small Forward

Karl Malone (Utah Jazz) 11 – Power Forward

David Robinson (San Antonio Spurs) 19 – Center

Magic Johnson (Los Angeles Lakers) 25 – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (Portland Blazers) 22 – Shooting Guard

West bench (teams) and point totals

Tim Hardaway (Golden State Warriors) 14

Hakeem Olajuwon (Houston Rockets) 7

Jeff Hornacek (Phoenix Suns) 11

Otis Thorpe (Houston Rockets) 2

James Worthy (Los Angeles Lakers) 9

John Stockton (Utah Jazz) 12

Dan Majerle (Phoenix Suns) 4

Dikembe Mutombo (Denver Nuggets) 4

West Coach: Don Nelson (Golden State Warriors)

East starters (teams) and point totals

Scottie Pippen (Chicago Bulls) 14 – Small Forward

Charles Barkley (Philadelphia 76ers) 12 – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (New York Knicks) 10 – Center

Isiah Thomas (Detroit Pistons) 15 – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (Chicago Bulls) 18 – Shooting Guard

East bench (teams) and point totals

Mark Price (Cleveland Cavaliers) 6

Brad Daugherty (Cleveland Cavaliers) 6

Joe Dumars (Detroit Pistons) 4

Dennis Rodman (Detroit Pistons) 4

Reggie Lewis (Boston Celtics) 7

Kevin Willis (Atlanta Hawks) 8

Michael Adams (Washington Bullets) 9

East Coach: Phil Jackson (Chicago Bulls)

magic_allstar_prog

Courtesy of nba.com

ORLANDO- FEBRUARY 9: Magic Johnson #32 of the Western Conference All-Stars holds the MVP trophy following the 1992 NBA All Star Game on February 9, 1992 at the Orlando Arena in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1987 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

ORLANDO- FEBRUARY 9: Magic Johnson #32 of the Western Conference All-Stars holds the MVP trophy following the 1992 NBA All Star Game on February 9, 1992 at the Orlando Arena in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1987 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

February 15, 1992 – New York Knicks 98 @Chicago Bulls 99

The Bulls rebounded after the All-Star break with two lobsided wins.  This included a 106-85 drubbing of the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden two days before they met in Chicago.  The Knicks had played at Indiana the night before and had little left for their first matchup with the Bulls.  They had a lot more energy for their second matchup.

The Knicks still had a 3.5 game lead over Boston for the Atlantic Division title and were 0.5 game behind Cleveland for the 2nd best record in the East behind Chicago.  The Bulls were 41-9 and 9 games ahead of the 31-17 Knicks in the standings.

The Bulls got off to a good start in this game as they trapped Mark Jackson in the backcourt the first time New York touched the ball.  Horace Grant got a steal from Jackson and a slam to put Chicago up 4-0.

The Bulls eventually gained a 10-2 lead as Michael Jordan picked up 2 fouls on Gerald Wilkins and hit 4-4 on free throws.  But Wilkins stayed in the game and was a major contributor in the 1st quarter.  He had 8 points (including two outside jumpers, his weakness) in the next 5 minutes as New York came back to tie it at 18.

Mark Jackson would then score New York’s next 7 points as the Knicks took a 25-24 lead.  The Knicks were playing with confidence on offense, something they wouldn’t always do this season, against the Bulls vaunted defense.

New York increased its lead to 32-28 near the end of the 1st quarter when Patrick Ewing recovered a blocked shot and slammed one down.  But Jordan finished the period with a fall-away jumper from the baseline that cut the lead to 32-30 at quarter’s end and gave MJ 12 points.

The Knicks continued to play with confidence, but the Bulls got a spark off the bench as Craig Hodges hit two three-pointers to give Chicago the lead.  But other than that spark, Jordan didn’t get much help from his teammates in the 1st half.  MJ had 22 in the 1st half while nobody else had more than 6.

Meanwhile, the Knicks went down low to Patrick Ewing and he drew the 3rd fouls on Bill Cartwright and his backup, Will Perdue.  Ewing had 13 points in the 2nd quarter and looked as aggressive as he’d ever looked against the Bulls, although the Knicks would have problems in a lot of games of just not going inside to Ewing enough.

Ewing led New York with 21 points in the 1st half and the game was tied at 57 at the half.  Although, New York probably should have held the lead.  A young John Starks missed two free throws with New York up 57-55 in the last minute.  MJ later got a steal off the trap and slammed one down to tie the game.

For the 3rd quarter, Pat Riley got a spark from his corner-men as Xavier McDaniel scored 8 points and Gerald Wilkins hit two three-pointers.  This output put New York up 73-67 with 6:42 left, and the only reason the Bulls were that close was that Scottie Pippen got going with a rebound-slam and then a pull-up jumper over Anthony Mason.

Pippen would end up with a total of 11 points in the 3rd quarter to bring Chicago back into the game.  But McDaniel’s 10th point of the 3rd on a baseline jumper put New York up 81-80 heading into the 4th quarter.

New York grabbed another quick lead at 89-85 after Wilkins and Starks nailed three-pointers.  But Chicago surged back into it as their role players sparked them.  Horace Grant hit a short jumper and later rebound-slammed a Pippen miss to bring his point total to 17.  Bill Cartwright rebound-slammed a miss by Jordan to bring his point total to 14.  Craig Hodges also hit two more jumpers to bring his point total to 10.

When all was said and done, the Bulls had grabbed a 93-91 lead and Riley used a timeout with 5:53 left.

A baseline spin and layup by Anthony Mason tied the game.  Pippen then hit a turnaround jumper from the top over Ewing, who had been held to 6 points in the 2nd half so far.  But Ewing found Mason off a double team to tie the game again.

Jordan responded with a fall-away from the foul line for only his 5th point in the 2nd half, but the Bulls led 97-95 with around 3 minutes to go.  Mark Jackson then found Ewing with a behind-the-back pass on a pick-and-roll for a slam to tie the game at 97.

Jordan drew a foul from Wilkins with 1:57 left and hit two free throws.  Both teams then exchanged turnovers and New York called a timeout with 1:16 left.  After Ewing grabbed an offensive rebound, the Knicks went to him in the post against Cartwright.

Ewing made his move (which included a blatant traveling violation that wasn’t called, not the only time in Ewing’s career that that happened for better or worse) and a foul was called on Cartwright with 43.7 seconds left.  Justice may have been served as Ewing missed the first free throw.  He did made the second the cut the Bulls lead to 99-98.

Chicago ran down the shot clock before Pippen saw an opening and drove.  Ewing blocked his shot on a play that was very close to goaltending (if not actually goaltending).  B.J. Armstrong recovered the ball but had to throw up a prayer as the shot clock was running out.  He missed and Ewing rebounded.  New York used a timeout with 20.8 seconds left.

However, in a big moment for the Knicks, they could not find a way to get Ewing the ball down low.  McDaniel was finally forced to drive baseline against Pippen.  He pulled up for a short jumper after an up-fake and Pippen blocked the shot out of bounds with 3 seconds left.  New York used their last timeout.

Riley set a play that got the Knicks a great shot.  Gerald Wilkins broke open at the baseline where he had been hitting shots all day.  But this time his attempt hit the rim, backboard, and bounced away and the Bulls survived.

Chicago would get a similar type of game two nights later against another Eastern Conference opponent.  The Cleveland Cavaliers came to the Windy City with a 32-16 record and something to prove to the Bulls.

New York won 4 of their next 8 games before they put together a 4-game winning streak at the beginning of March.  But then a two-point home loss to the Lakers was followed by a matchup against their suddenly improved Metropolitan rivals who had drubbed them 13 days earlier.

New York starters (points scored)

Xavier McDaniel (20) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (2) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (30) – Center

Mark Jackson (11) – Point Guard

Gerald Wilkins (17) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

John Starks (8)

Anthony Mason (10)

Greg Anthony (0)

New York Coach: Pat Riley

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (19) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (17) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (14) – Center

John Paxson (2) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (29) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (4)

Craig Hodges (10)

Will Perdue (2)

Scott Williams (2)

Stacey King (0)

Cliff Levingston (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

February 17, 1992 – Cleveland Cavaliers 113 @Chicago Bulls 112

The 1992 Chicago Bulls tour continued (don’t worry, the next 3 games and 4 of the next 5 on this blog do not feature the Bulls) with a matchup against their old division rivals from Cleveland.

Ever since Michael Jordan had knocked the 57-25 Cavaliers out of the playoffs with his game-winner in 1989, Cleveland hadn’t been much of a rival to Chicago.  The Bulls had won the last 12 matchups, including two earlier this season in which one was questioning whether the Cavs were a serious threat to the Bulls despite an improved record.

Cleveland came in at 32-16, 2nd best in the East behind the 42-9 Bulls.  This came at the heels of a 33-49 season in 1991 for Cleveland.  The improved record could almost unequivocally be due to the return of Mark Price.

Price tore his ACL early in the 1991 season and was lost after 16 games.  Despite a still-talented roster that included All-Star Brad Daugherty, and veterans Larry Nance, Craig Ehlo, and John “Hot Rod” Williams and a great coach in Lenny Wilkens, the Cavs could not compete without their heart and soul.  Price was the guy who broke down the defense (mainly by splitting the defenders when Cleveland often ran a pick-and-roll) and either scored himself or gave the ball to Daugherty, Nance, or whoever.

Price would be back at near-full strength for 1992 and made it to the All-Star Game.  But Cleveland was cutting down his minutes as he recovered and, unlike 1991, they had good backups at the point.  Terrell Brandon was drafted with the 11th overall pick in the 1991 draft.  John Battle was then signed as a free agent after 6 seasons in Atlanta.

Brandon and Battle would be the backup point guards while Price averaged just under 30 minutes per game (5th on the team).  The other roles would still be the same from 2-3 years ago, minus Ron Harper.  Daugherty and Nance were the power players inside with Williams coming off the bench.  Ehlo was the two-gaurd with Steve Kerr, who was out for this game, backing him up.

The small forward position would still be a mystery.  Winston Bennett was getting another shot after Cleveland let Chucky Brown go in December.  But Bennett would average under 4 points per game and Cleveland would release him in March after re-signing former Cavalier Mike Sanders, who had spent the last two seasons in Indiana before getting waived in November by the Pacers.

Bennett would get two buckets early in this game as the beneficiary of good passes.  Cleveland made their first 4 shots and stayed with Chicago through the first 6 minutes.

A 6-0 Bulls ran that was kicked off with Jordan going down the lane for a lefty layup and culminated with a fast break in which Jordan found Scottie Pippen, who found Horace Grant for a slam, put Chicago up 21-13.  But Craig Ehlo got open for two jumpers, including a three, to cut into the lead.

Price would score the Cavs last 4 points of the quarter, including a runner in the lane after splitting the defense in the last few seconds, to cut the Bulls lead to 27-25 at the end of the 1st quarter.

The 2nd quarter would be a high-scoring good-shooting affair, but it would be trending against the Bulls in two ways.  Chicago’s offense was Jordan and Pippen hitting shots without the others getting involved.  Chicago’s defense left the lane open for some good shots for Cleveland.  At one point in the 1st half, the Cavaliers’ field goal percentage was at 74%.

Ehlo led the way with 12 points, Daugherty had 11, Price 9 and Nance 7 (with contributions from the bench of Hot Rod, Battle, and Brandon mixed in) as Cleveland took a 59-51 lead with under 2 minutes remaining in the half.

Then the Bulls defense woke up and forced several turnovers and rushed shots.  After Pippen made a jumper, he blocked a jump shot by Battle and took it coast-to-coast uncontested for a slam.  Jordan then rebounded a miss and pushed it to Scott Williams for a breakaway.  This cut the lead to 59-58.

Jordan then completed the 9-0 run with a lefty layup for his 22nd point and a 60-59 halftime lead for the Bulls.  Pippen was right behind him with 18 points.

But the late run didn’t kill Cleveland’s vibe as they continued their balanced attack and hot shooting early in the 2nd half.  Price, Daugherty, and Nance were the main cogs.  Chicago stayed in it as John Paxson’s hot shooting joined the Jordan/Pippen attack.  But both Pippen and Grant picked up their 4th fouls in the 3rd quarter.

Jordan rose to the occasion late in the 3rd as he scored 14 points over the last 6 1/2 minutes and drew the 4th foul on Nance.  But the Cavs stayed within 90-88 heading into the 4th quarter as Hot Rod Williams joined the attack with 6 points late in the 3rd.  Price ended up scoring 11 points in the quarter.

But Jordan’s attack continued early in the 4th as it finally looked like Chicago was going to pull away.  MJ scored 6 points and then, after Terrell Brandon missed a breakaway layup, Pippen found B.J. Armstrong for a baseline jumper to put the Bulls up 99-92.

But Cleveland got back into it over the next 3 minutes.  Daugherty hit a turnaround jumper from the baseline.  Price fed Hot Rod for a slam and then connected on a pull-up three from the top to cut the Bulls lead to 101-99 with 5:16 left.

Hot Rod later tied it at 103 with two free throws after Pippen picked up his 5th foul.  Paxson hit a wing jumper for his 6th field goal of the 2nd half in 6 attempts but a rebound-slam by Daugherty tied it again.

Jordan’s finger roll gave Chicago a 108-105 lead and forced Lenny Wilkens to use a timeout with 2:20 left.  Jordan now had 44.  But Cleveland kept the pressure on again and cut it to 110-109 before Price stole a Pippen pass.

Ehlo then drove by Jordan at the left wing and hit on a scoop shot to give the Cavaliers a 111-110 advantage.  The Bulls tried to get the basket right back but Grant over-led Jordan with his inbounds pass to mid-court and the turnover gave Cleveland the ball with 1:04 left.

The Cavs ran down the shot clock and Price missed a jumper.  On the rebound scramble, Bill Cartwright came over the back of Ehlo and was called for a foul.  Ehlo made both free throws with 44.5 seconds left to make it 113-110 Cleveland.

Chicago came right back as Jordan nailed a step-back jumper from the baseline with 34.5 seconds left.  Cleveland again ran down the shot clock but Grant came up with a steal as the clock ran out and Chicago used a timeout with 6.2 seconds left.

With the situation being the same as 1989 with 3 more seconds on the clock this time, a Cavs fan probably couldn’t help but think back to Black Sunday, a day that May 7, 1989 is sometimes referred to in Cleveland.

But this time, Craig Ehlo was able to deny Michael Jordan the ball despite several screens.  With Pippen unable to find Jordan, he had to take it himself and missed a running jumper from the elbow at the buzzer.

Cleveland now had its first win against Chicago since two days before Black Sunday and its biggest win in a resurgence 1992 season.  The Cavs would end up finishing at 57-25, good for 3rd place since they finished 10 games behind the Bulls in the division.  They would take on a more resurgent New Jersey Nets team in the 1st round of the playoffs with a chance for their first playoff series victory since 1976.

The Bulls would go 13-2 over the next month (with losses being by two points at Detroit and at home against Indiana).  They would get a chance to extend an 8-game winning streak against a struggling opponent.  But they’d end up needing a special MJ performance to do so.

Cleveland starters (points scored)

Winston Bennett (4) – Small Forward

Larry Nance (15) – Power Forward

Brad Daugherty (25) – Center

Mark Price (23) – Point Guard

Craig Ehlo (16) – Shooting Guard

Cleveland bench (points scored)

Hot Rod Williams (16)

John Battle (10)

Terrell Brandon (4)

Danny Ferry (0)

Cleveland Coach: Lenny Wilkens

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (24) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (8) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (4) – Center

John Paxson (13) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (46) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (6)

Scott Williams (6)

Craig Hodges (4)

Cliff Levingston (1)

Will Perdue (0)

Stacey King (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

March 4, 1992 – Indiana Pacers 107 @Detroit Pistons 110 (OT)

The Detroit Pistons went into the All-Star break at 28-20, but stumbled to a 6-5 start to the 2nd half of the season.  Chuck Daly eventually replaced Bill Laimbeer in the starting lineup with John Salley, and it provided the Pistons with much more athleticism.

But one of the constants was that Dennis Rodman kept rebounding.  All culminated when Rodman grabbed (or tipped) a career-high of 34 rebounds in this ball game against the Indiana Pacers.

While Detroit was holding onto the 4th spot in the Eastern Conference standings, the Indiana Pacers were 27-33 and a game out of the 8th spot.

After giving a heck of a challenge to Boston in the 1991 1st round, Indiana not only stumbled but face-planted out of the gate.  At one point, the Pacers were 15-28.

Then Bob Hill made a move that wasn’t flashy and didn’t look like it would amount to much, but it proved to turn the season around.  Hill put Greg Dreiling back into the starting lineup in place of young, emerging Rik Smits.

In 1991, Hill had put Dreiling in the starting lineup when the team was 15-24.  They finished with a 41-41 record with Dreiling only missing one start.

But Smits was back in the lineup to start the 1992 season, which meant the offensive minded center was fighting with Reggie Miller, Chuck Person and Michael Williams for shots.  All the while, Indiana sacrificed its defense and routinely gave up over 100 points per game.

But with Dreiling and LaSalle Thompson in the lineup along with Miller, Person and Williams, the Pacers had some strong interior defense with enough scoring to go around.  Smits would anchor the second unit with Detlef Schrempf, Vern Fleming, and rookie Dale Davis.

Schrempf followed his 1991 6th man of the year award with the best season of his 7-year career (and another 6th man of the year award).  Schrempf scored in double figures in 73 of the 80 games he played (despite only starting 4 games).  All but 1 of those games he didn’t score in double figures came before January, and none of those games happened after the Pacers turned their season around.

Schrempf was 3rd on the team in scoring (behind Miller and Person) and 1st in rebounding, averaging 9.6 rebounds per game.  He would haveone of his best games of the year against Detroit on this day.

Indiana was 12-5 since making the lineup change and had just had their best win of the year the previous night when they beat Chicago at Chicago Stadium.  They did this despite Smits being out with tendinitis in his knee.  Smits would sit out for the Detroit game as well.

The Pacers got off to an early lead at the Palace with Michael Williams scoring 4 points and handing out 3 assists to put Indiana up 14-8 with 6:23 left.  But Rodman helped Detroit regain a lead as he grabbed 10 rebounds in the quarter.

The Pistons led 27-23 and would go up by as much as 6 in the last 3 minutes.  But Indiana got back into it with Scrempf leading the way.

Detlef had 8 straight Pacer points to bring them back to a 27-all tie.  Detroit would get a spark from their bench as well.  Darrell Walker made an impact after Joe Dumars went out briefly with an injured knee.  Mark Aguirre hit the offensive boards for two putbacks as Detroit regained a 6-point lead.

Walker would score 6 points and had a big steal in the back court and feed to Orlando Woolridge for a slam to put the Pistons up 47-41.  Woolridge followed with a turnaround jumper in the lane to give Detroit an 8-point lead late in the half and give Woolridge 12 points.

But the Pacers got some momentum in the final 5 seconds.  Schrempf hit a running jumper in the lane for his 14th point of the half.  Then Dale Davis stole the inbounds pass and drew a foul with 1.4 seconds left.  Despite shooting 57% from the line as a rookie, Davis made these two to cut the lead to 49-45 at the break.

The momentum continued as Indiana tied it at 56 early on in the 3rd.  Isiah Thomas got going with 8 points to keep Detroit ahead over the next 6 minutes.  But the Pacers finally grabbed a 69-68 lead.

Then Person made a long three at the end of the shot clock and Michael Williams followed with a runner in transition.  This gave Indiana a 74-68 lead late in the 3rd.  But Joe Dumars, playing through his knee injury but struggling, made a big three to cut the lead to 74-71 heading into the 4th quarter.  Rodman had 20 rebounds to this point.

Detroit regained the lead early in the 4th and increased it to 81-78 with 7:47 left after Rodman tipped in a Woolridge miss and Isiah got his 21st point on a goaltending call against Dale Davis.

The Pistons increased their lead after the Indiana timeout as Rodman kept grabbing rebounds.  He would have 28 at this point, including 14 on the offensive glass.  Detroit led 90-82 after Salley hit two free throws following a BS flagrant foul call on Davis.  But Salley missed a slam with a chance to increase that lead.  Davis followed with two buckets to cut the lead in half.

Detroit hit a dry spell and Indiana kept working a two-man game with Michael Williams and Chuck Person (at the time, Reggie Miller wasn’t quite Reggie Miller yet.  He only took 6 shots in the whole game and wasn’t in the offense down the stretch, for the most part).

Williams and Person scored 8 straight points to give Indiana a 94-92 lead with 1:05 to go.  They would then force a turnover as Isiah stepped out of bounds on a baseline drive.

Indiana tried its two-man game again, but Detroit adjusted by leaving Reggie Miller open for a three.  Again, Reggie wasn’t quite Reggie yet and Miller missed the trey that would’ve put the game away with 31.6 seconds left.  Rodman rebounded and Detroit went to the offense without using a timeout.

Dumars attacked the defensively weak Michael Williams and drew a foul with 18.6 seconds left.  Dumars, at this point, had 6 points and was 2-for-12 from the field.  But Joe Cool made the two free throws to tie the game.

Indiana had to use a second timeout after Schrempf was trapped near mid-court with 10.4 seconds left.  Person then missed a good shot from the wing.  Rodman rebounded at the buzzer and the game was headed into overtime.

An interesting tidbit for some of Rodman’s rebounds was that he had a lot of offensive tips at the basket that missed.  Some still counted as rebounds (controlled tips, as they say.. whatever that means) and may have inflated the numbers a bit.

Dumars hit two quick jumpers to start overtime off feeds from Isiah (both would play the entire 2nd half as Darrell Walker, despite a good 1st half, sat.. proving he wasn’t quite Vinnie Johnson as Detroit’s 3rd guard) to give Detroit the lead.

Salley tipped in a miss after Rodman had a tip (which counted as a rebound) and Isiah hit two free throws to put Detroit up 102-96.  But Rodman was called for a flagrant foul against Williams and then committed his 5th against Person.  The lead only dropped to 102-99 despite the two fouls.

Rodman then grabbed his 33rd rebound (and 17th on the offensive board) with 2:10 left and drew a foul.  Dennis split the free throws to give Detroit a 4-point lead.

Williams hit a pull-up off a screen from Person as Indiana went back to its two-man game.  On the next Detroit possession, Rodman had another tip at the basket which counted as his 34th rebound, breaking a Piston single-game record set by Bob Lanier, who had 33 in a game.  Rodman would get an ovation from the crowd during the next stoppage of play.

But Detroit failed to score as Schrempf blocked a Dumars attempt and knocked the ball out of bounds off of Dumars with 59.4 seconds left.  Williams then found Schrempf on a pick-and-pop for a jumper from the top that tied the game.

But Isiah made his biggest play of the game as he drove down the lane, got in the air, created contact with Dale Davis, went away from Davis after the contact, turned his body, got off a reverse shot, banked it in and drew Davis’ 6th foul.

The three-point play gave Detroit a three-point lead, which would be held at 108-105 when Indiana used its last timeout with 14.7 seconds left.

Person went 1-on-1 for a three and drew a foul from Woolridge while attempting a three.  The bomb almost went in, which would’ve made a bigger difference.  At the time, the NBA had not yet adopted the player shooting three free throws if they got fouled while shooting a three.

So Person made the first and missed the second intentionally but Dumars rebounded and Detroit got a timeout with 4.4 seconds left.  The game appeared over after Laimbeer, who had lost his starting job 2 weeks previously, made two free throws with 3.3 seconds left to give Detroit a 110-106 lead.

But Isiah committed a dumb foul away from the ball as he tried to deny Michael Williams from getting it.  Because the foul was away from the ball, Indiana got one free throw and then the ball out of bounds.

Williams made the free throw, but Indiana’s long inbounds pass intended for Person sailed out of bounds and Detroit survived.

The Pistons played their next 5 games on the road and went 5-0 to increase their winning streak to 7 games.  Detroit then played 6 of their next 9 games at home and went 2-7 during that stretch and dropped back to 5th in the East.

Detroit stayed at the #5 spot and finished the season at 48-34.  It looked for a long stretch that they’d play their old rivals, the Boston Celtics, in the 1st round.  But things changed dramatically in the Atlantic Division over the last few weeks of the season, which’ll be covered later.

Indiana recovered to finish at 40-42, but lost a key home game against Cleveland in their final game of the season.  This allowed New Jersey to pass the Pacers for the 6th spot in the East.  With that, the Pacers, instead of Detroit, would play Boston in the 1st round for the 2nd straight season.  This year wouldn’t be as dramatic as the Celtics swept Indiana.

The Pacers would then make a big statement before the 1993 season as they traded Chuck Person and Michael Williams to Minnesota for Pooh Richardson and Sam Mitchell.  This would put Smits and Schrempf in the starting lineup and give Miller the most shots in the Indiana offense.

It worked for a career-high for Reggie early in the 1993 season (which will be covered) but it didn’t improve Indiana’s overall record, which forced some more “big statement” trades.

Indiana starters (points scored)

Chuck Person (17) – Small Forward

LaSalle Thompson (4) – Power Forward

Greg Dreiling (7) – Center

Michael Williams (28) – Point Guard

Reggie Miller (6) – Shooting Guard

Indiana bench (points scored)

Detlef Schrempf (26)

Dale Davis (12)

Vern Fleming (2)

George McCloud (5)

Randy Wittman (0)

Indiana Coach: Bob Hill

Detroit starters (points scored)

Dennis Rodman (10) – Small Forward

Orlando Woolridge (20) – Power Forward

John Salley (15) – Center

Isiah Thomas (31) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (14) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (10)

Bill Laimbeer (2)

Darrell Walker (6)

Brad Sellers (2)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

rodman-92

Dennis Rodman grabbed a career-high 34 rebounds (including 18 offensive) against Indiana on March 4, 1992 *photo courtesy of Pinterest

March 14, 1992 – New Jersey Nets 96 @New York Knicks 94 (OT)

One had to go back to March 13, 1987 to see the last time that the New Jersey Nets won a game at Madison Square Garden.  Orlando Woolridge and Buck Williams each had at least 30 points in that game for the Nets while Patrick Ewing led New York with 31.

Both Metropolitan teams finished at 24-58 that season, but New York would improve to a perennial playoff team once they made moves like drafting Mark Jackson and acquiring Charles Oakley in a trade.  Only Ewing and Gerald Wilkins were left from the ’87 Knicks team while the Nets had nobody left.

They suffered through a 19-63 season in 1988 before drafting forward Chris Morris from Auburn with the 4th overall pick.  After Woolridge signed as a free agent with the Lakers, Morris was the 2nd leading scorer on a 1989 team, coached by former Knick Willis Reed, that went 26-56 and didn’t have anyone average over 16 points per game.

The Nets then traded Buck Williams to Portland for Sam Bowie, drafted Oklahoma’s point guard Mookie Blaylock with the 12th overall pick, and brought on veteran Bill Fitch as coach.

New Jersey regressed to 17-65 in 1990 with 1987 1st round flameout Dennis Hopson leading the way at 15.8 points per game.  They acquired center Chris Dudley from Cleveland for insurance in case Bowie was beset by injuries, although Bowie would have 4 healthy seasons with the Nets.

New Jersey then won the lottery and got the 1st pick in the draft.  They selected Syracuse’s Derrick Coleman with that pick and, later in the 1st round, took UConn’s Tate George.

They improved back to 26-56 in 1991 but acquired Drazen Petrovic and Terry Mills in a three-team mid-season trade.  The team was starting to come together a bit as Coleman, Blaylock, Morris, Bowie and Petrovic all averaged double figures (with all but Petrovic starting) although the record didn’t show it.  Coleman would win rookie of the year.

Then with the #2 pick in 1991, the Nets drafted Georgia Tech phenom guard Kenny Anderson.  Anderson would get a little lesson in humility under Fitch as he averaged only 17 minutes per game as a rookie and would be a DNP-CD (did not play – coach’s decision) in this ballgame.

Although the lineup was seemingly in place, the Nets started out the 1992 season at 2-11.  From there, they always seemed to be playing catch-up.  They improved to 19-21 at one point and then lost 8 games in a row.

This also showed in their first 3 meetings of the season with the Knicks.  They lost two close games at Madison Square Garden and then got blown out in New Jersey.

But in their latest meeting, the Nets “embarrased” the Knicks 90-75 in New Jersey that left some bad taste that almost escalated in this game.  That win capped a stretch in which New Jersey had won 8 out of 10 ballgames.  They followed by losing 4 straight on the road before completing a comeback victory against the Celtics in Hartford, Connecticut on the previous night.

Now New Jersey stood at 28-35 and were a game out of a playoff spot.  All five starters were averaging in double figures with Petrovic and Coleman leading the way at 20.6 and 19.8 points per game, respectively.

The Knicks were still leading Boston in the Atlantic Division by 4.5 games.  But the Knicks had lost a close one to the Lakers in which Ewing missed two free throws late.

New York, despite 3 days off, started this game by missing their first 7 field goals while Gerald Wilkins and Drazen Petrovic were hollering at each other.  Meanwhile, Petrovic, Blaylock, Coleman, and Morris each got early field goals to put the Nets up 8-0 and force Pat Riley to use a timeout with 9:08 left in the 1st quarter.

Finally, Mark Jackson and Gerald Wilkins brought the Knicks back to within 10-9 over the next 3 minutes.  But New York could not grab the lead despite Bowie picking up 3 fouls.

Blaylock and Coleman would then lead New Jersey to as much as an 11-point lead as the Knicks shot 6-for-20 in the 1st quarter.  The Nets led 26-17 at the end of the quarter.

New Jersey then ran to a 14-point lead with Petrovic scoring 7 points over the first 4 minutes.  The Knicks frustration almost boiled over as Morris and Anthony Mason each picked up technicals in a near-brouhaha.

The Nets kept up the attack as Mookie Blaylock attacked New York’s guards and scored 18 points in the 1st half.  Coleman was right behind him with 15.  New Jersey had as much as a 15-point lead but New York cut it to 56-44 when Wilkins made two free throws with no time on the clock.

The New York crowd was rather subdued in the 1st half and it also showed at halftime when the Knicks retired Dick McGuire’s #15.  Although one could understand that McGuire played for New York in the ’50’s (so not many people remember or saw him), the lack of enthusiasm was palpable (the loudest cheers, of course, came for the Knicks of the ’70’s that were on hand for the ceremony).

The game then continued as it did in the 1st half.  Petrovic and Coleman led the Nets back to a 15-point lead and the New York crowd started to boo.  With about 7 minutes left in the quarter, another near scuffle happened that started with Ewing and Morris talking angrily to each other.  All that became of it was Bowie being charged with a flagrant for pushing Xavier McDaniel down to the floor (McDaniel took a dive, LeBron James would be proud), and a referee almost taking himself out by tackling Bowie to get him away from the fray.  All can be seen here.

That get-together seemed to turn the momentum in the Knicks favor as New Jersey had only 1 field goal over the next 6 minutes.  Meanwhile, Ewing scored 8 points in a row (and drew fouls #5 on Bowie and #4 on Dudley) to cut the lead to 69-64.

New Jersey would increase it back to 78-68 heading into the 4th quarter, but they would not score a field goal over the first 5 minutes of the 4th.

During that time, the Knicks’ reserve back-court of Greg Anthony and John Starks (who would play, along with Anthony Mason, in the starters’ place for the rest of the game) brought New York back.  They cut it to 82-79 with 7:34 left when Ewing kicked out to Kiki Vandeweghe for a corner jumper.

Bowie countered with two outside jumpers but those would be the Nets only field goals until 2 minutes remained in the 4th quarter.  Greg Anthony found Anthony Mason for a hook (with Ewing getting the hockey assist) and then Ewing rebound-slammed a miss by Starks on the break.

With 3:49 left, Anthony found Ewing for a turnaround banker in the post to cut the lead to 86-85.  Mason later got a steal and threw a long pass to Ewing, who was able to gather it and find Starks for a breakaway slam.  This gave New York the lead but they could not increase it on their next possession.

Coleman then kicked out to Petrovic for a three from the top to give the Nets an 89-87 lead with 2:01 left (it also got a fist-pump reaction from Drazen).

Both teams couldn’t score on their next possession (with the Knicks getting 4 shots), but then Ewing attacked Bowie and drew his 6th foul with 1:07 left.  Unlike the previous game, Ewing hit two big free throws to tie the game.

The Nets went inside to Coleman who hit a banker over Mason to give Jersey a 91-89 lead.  But Coleman sprained his ankle on the play and once he was removed, he would not return to this game or play in their next one against Chicago.

Ewing then traveled on a move to the lane with 39 seconds left, and actually seemed incredulous of the call.  But then New York got a break as Petrovic traveled when he popped out to the wing to get a pass from Blaylock with 29.1 seconds to go.  Anthony then found Ewing for a leaner from the baseline to tie the game with 18.6 seconds left.

After a timeout, the Nets ran the shot clock down but Blaylock was short on a jumper from the top.  Mason rebounded and New York got a timeout with 0.9 seconds left.  But they couldn’t do anything as the inbounds pass from Mason was deflected.

The first 3 1/2 minutes of overtime was the ultimate defensive (or offensive) struggle.  Nobody scored until Greg Anthony made a free throw with a minte and a half left.  Chris Morris, after missing some bad shot attempts in the overtime, responded with a driving scoop shot in the lane to put the Nets up 93-92.

New York did not go to Ewing on their next possession and Starks threw up an airball (that sentence would become frustratingly familiar to New Yorkers by 1995, at least).  The Nets then ran down the shot clock and Tate George (who took over for a tired Blaylock for the last minute and a half of overtime instead of high-prized Anderson) hit a runner from the baseline before the buzzer.

The Knicks were now down 95-92 and took a timeout with 20.4 seconds left.  They went for the quick two-pointer and ended up getting 5 attempts before Ewing finally tipped it in with 5.6 seconds left.  New York then fouled George, who split his free throws.

Riley used a timeout with 4.6 seconds left.  Mason inbounded to Anthony, who dribbled away from traffic for a few seconds before finally getting it to Ewing.  Ewing was forced to launch a quick fall-away jumper from the elbow that went off the front rim.

The Nets had their first win in New York since 1987 and, perhaps, their biggest win of the year.  They would manage to stay in playoff contention when Golden State arrived at the Garden State for a high-scoring affair two weeks later.

The Knicks followed this loss by winning 7 games in a row.  But they still had to hold off Boston for the Atlantic Division title.

New Jersey starters (points scored)

Chris Morris (10) – Small Forward

Derrick Coleman (28) – Power Forward

Sam Bowie (4) – Center

Mookie Blaylock (21) – Point Guard

Drazen Petrovic (22) – Shooting Guard

New Jersey bench (points scored)

Chris Dudley (4)

Tate George (5)

Terry Mills (2)

Rafael Addison (0)

Doug Lee (0)

New Jersey Coach: Bill Fitch

New York starters (points scored)

Xavier McDaniel (10) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (2) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (35) – Center

Mark Jackson (9) – Point Guard

Gerald Wilkins (9) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

John Starks (11)

Anthony Mason (6)

Greg Anthony (7)

Kiki Vandeweghe (5)

New York Coach: Pat Riley

ewing-morris

Patrick Ewing and Chris Morris caused a near brouhaha here that started with them talking.  But it was Sam Bowie, in the background, who would get a flagrant for shoving McDaniel down and then get taken down by a referee *photo courtesy of Youtube

March 15, 1992 – Portland Blazers 148 @Boston Celtics 152 (2OT)

Two weeks before this game, Portland traveled to Chicago to take on the Bulls in a matchup featured on NBC.  Before the game, Phil Jackson mentioned that while Portland was talented, they had a tendency to self-destruct.  This was especially true in close games or big matchups.

The quote seemed to sting Portland, who would not get a chance to test that theory as Chicago won the game 111-91.  The Blazers followed by going on their longest winning streak of the season.  They won 7 games in a row to get to 46-18, 3 games ahead of Golden State in the Pacific Division and Western Conference standings.

But now was another chance in a nationally televised game to prove the doubters wrong.  They were traveling to Boston where they had won the last two years.

The Celtics were all sorts of not healthy through the 1992 season so far.  Coach Chris Ford lost Larry Bird to a back injury on December 30.  Bird didn’t return until March 1.  2nd year guard Dee Brown was out until February after off-season knee surgery.  Kevin McHale missed some time with assorted injuries.  All would contribute to a season in which Boston would languish behind New York in the Atlantic Division standings.

Brian Shaw would miss the first month of the season with a hamstring injury while veteran John Bagley, who had missed the entire 1991 season with a knee injury, started in his place.  Bagley stayed in the lineup even after Shaw returned and Shaw would be traded to Miami on January 10 in exchange for Sherman Douglas.

Douglas had missed the first two months with Miami after getting into a contract dispute.  He would not quite find his way in Boston for this season, so Bagley and eventually Brown started at the point.  Douglas would be out for this game with an injury.

With Brown and Bird back, the Celtics were playing with their top 6 players of Brown, Bird, McHale, Reggie Lewis, Robert Parish and Kevin Gamble for the 6th time all season.  The Celtics would also get some nice contributions from Ed Pinckney and rookie Rick Fox while others were injured.

Boston had won their first 4 games since Bird’s return, but they regressed by losing 3 in a row (which included blowing a 19-point lead to New Jersey two days earlier).  They sat at 35-29 and were 4 games behind the Knicks for the Atlantic Division.

This matchup would become a regular season classic that is still being talked about.  It was also perhaps Bird’s last great moment in the NBA.

It started out well for the Celtics as they took an early 12-4 lead with Parish scoring 6 points.  But Portland got back into it with the three-point shot.  Clyde Drexler hit two and Terry Porter hit another as Portland eventually grabbed the lead.

Drexler would score 15 points in the 1st quarter while Bird contributed 10 and McHale 8.  Boston held a slight lead at 34-31 at the end of the 1st quarter.

The Blazers re-took the lead in the 2nd quarter with their bench leading the way.  Cliff Robinson and Danny Ainge each hit two field goals and then Mark Bryant’s steal and slam put Portland up 47-40 with 5 minutes gone by.

Bird would keep Boston in it as he scored 16 points on 8-for-12 shooting and grabbed 9 rebounds in the 1st half.  But Drexler and Porter led Portland to a 62-58 halftime lead.  Drexler had 20 points while Porter had 16.

Portland would then increase their lead to 73-62 early in the 3rd after Porter knocked down his 3rd three-pointer of the game.  Boston responded with an 8-2 run and would stay in the game as Bird, Brown, Gamble and Lewis contributed big hoops or big steals and assists.  Brown would bruise his thigh late in the 3rd quarter and did not return, although he could’ve, until late in the 2nd overtime as Bagley played the entirety of the stretch run.

The Blazers still held an 88-81 lead when the game got away from them a bit.  First, Lewis got a three-point play on a running hook.

Then Cliff Robinson felt he was fouled on a drive in which he lost the ball out of bounds.  He argued vehemently with official Hugh Evans and probably said some magic words as Evans hit him with two quick technicals and threw Robinson out of the game.  For the short term, this hurt as Bird made two free throws.  For the long term, it would hurt as well as Rick Adelman lost the big man that he usually used down the stretch of games in 1992.

McHale would give Boston the lead on a baseline spin and scoop.  Drexler then didn’t get a call, argued, and picked up a technical.  Boston would end the 3rd quarter ahead 92-90 after Lewis hit a wing jumper.

But Lewis picked up his 5th foul early in the 4th and Portland ran to another advantage with Ainge leading the way.  Ainge hit four free throws, a jumper, and then hit Buck Williams with a nifty behind-the-back pass on a fast break.  Williams scored and was fouled on the play.  Although his missed the free throw, Portland led 100-96 with 7:38 left.

But Bird, once again, kept Boston in it as he scored their next 7 points to tie the game at 103.  Parish then gave Boston the lead with a banker after a pick-and-roll with Bagley and drew Duckworth’s 5th foul.  On the next possession, Parish drew Duckworth’s 6th foul and Adelman was left with Buck Williams as his only experienced big man.

Parish would end up scoring 8 Celtic points in a row as Boston took a 111-109 lead.  But the home team would go into a drought when they could least afford it and Portland took advantage.

Drexler tipped in a lob from Jerome Kersey.  Drexler followed with a steal and fed Bryant for a slam on a 4-on-2 break.  Williams made a free throw before missing the second shot.  But Kersey tipped in that miss and Portland led 116-111 with 3:05 left.

The only scoring in the next minute and a half was a breakaway slam from Kersey after a steal by Porter.  Boston looked in trouble as they trailed 118-111 with 1:48 left.

After a timeout by Ford, McHale drew Buck Williams’ 5th foul and hit two free throws.  Parish then rebounded a missed jumper by Porter.  But Drexler stripped Lewis on a drive and McHale fouled Kersey, who hit 1-of-2 from the line.

Bryant fouled Bird with 48.4 seconds left and Bird hit two free throws to cut the lead to 119-115.  Portland ran down the shot clock and Drexler missed on a drive.  But Boston couldn’t control the rebound and Buck Williams came up with it.  Drexler was fouled with 20 seconds left and the writing looked to be on the wall.

Drexler split the free throws to put Portland up 120-115.  Boston used their last timeout and went inside to Bird.  Bird quickly spun past Kersey on the baseline and hit on a reverse layup.  He then fouled Williams with 15 seconds left.  Buck was Portland’s weakest foul shooter but hit both shots this time.

Bagley then found Bird for a driving layup to cut the lead back to 122-119.  McHale then fouled Kersey with 7.2 seconds left and Boston was now down to needing Kersey to miss both shots.

Kersey did just that and, to add insult to injury, he stepped into the lane after releasing the second shot (knowing he missed it) and was called for a lane violation.  This stopped the clock and let Boston set a play without a timeout, which was key since they were out of them.  Portland then helped out some more by using their own timeout.  They were living up to their self-destruction label so far.

Lewis inbounded at three-quarter court to Bagley.  Lewis quickly got a return pass and found Bird at the left wing guarded by Drexler.  Bird spun and then got into the air with Clyde the Glide.  Since Bird wasn’t going to win that leaping matchup, he jumped into Drexler with the left side of his body and shielded the ball in his right hand.  He ended up double-pumping and launching a running three (Bird ended up landing way in front of the three-point line but he had started his jump from just behind the line) that went down and sent the Boston Garden crowd into a frenzy.

Bird had done it again, this time with an awkwardly incredible shot.

Portland got a timeout with 2 seconds left and got a decent shot as well.  But Drexler missed a three from the top of the key and the game was headed into overtime.

At this time, Bird had 43 points.  This included 16 in the 4th quarter and Boston’s last 9 points.

Boston took the early lead in overtime as Bird hit a turnaround from the baseline.  But Portland went on a 6-0 run to take a 132-128 advantage with under 2 minutes left.

But Bagley knocked down a big jumper from the top after Bird kicked out to him.  Then Bird tied it with a turnaround fall-away from the post.

With 50.9 seconds left, Drexler drove and drew Lewis’ 6th foul.  Drexler hit both free throws this time.  Bird then missed two threes on the next possession, including a wide open one after Bagley penetrated and kicked out.  Kersey rebounded Bird’s second miss and Portland ran down the shot clock.

In an instant replay of regulation, Drexler missed at the end of the clock but Buck Williams came up with the offensive rebound.  He was fouled by Parish with 4.4 seconds left.

But wouldn’t you guess it, Williams missed both free throws to keep Portland’s self-destruction label going.  Bird rebounded his second miss and got a timeout with 4.2 seconds left.

Ford had Kevin Gamble inbounding this time with Lewis out.  Gamble couldn’t get it to Bird so he found Bagley and then headed for the corner.  Bagley returned the ball to a suddenly wide-open Gamble who knocked down the jumper as the buzzer sounded to tie the game and send it into a 2nd overtime.

With that, the Celtics would finally take control in the 2nd overtime.  They went on an 8-0 run which culminated with Bird finding Ed Pinckney (who came in when McHale fouled out early in the 2nd overtime) for a reverse slam.  Boston led 144-136 with 1:15 left.

Portland, to their credit, didn’t give up easily as Drexler’s scoring and passing (and a long three from Ainge) cut the lead to 149-147 with 23.1 seconds left.  But then Drexler committed his 6th foul on Gamble with 14.9 seconds left.  Drexler got a nice ovation from the Boston crowd after his 41-point performance.

Gamble made both free throws to put the game away.

Portland would finish the season at 57-25, which was good enough for tops in the West.  They got by the Lakers in the 1st round and won some close games against Phoenix to take a 2-1 lead in their 2nd round series.  Game 4 would be another double overtime classic.

With everyone seemingly healthy, Boston would go on a 7-game winning streak following a loss at Milwaukee two days later.  But on April 3, the streak was snapped in a loss to Indiana and Bird would be injured again.  At the time, Boston was 5 games behind the Knicks and seemed destined for a 1st round matchup with Detroit.

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (23) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (15) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (6) – Center

Terry Porter (29) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (41) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Danny Ainge (19)

Cliff Robinson (5)

Mark Bryant (6)

Alaa Abdelnaby (2)

Robert Pack (2)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

Boston starters (points scored)

Kevin Gamble (14) – Small Forward

Larry Bird (49) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (22) – Center

Dee Brown (4) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (23) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Kevin McHale (22)

John Bagley (9)

Ed Pinckney (6)

Rick Fox (3)

Boston Coach: Chris Ford

big-3-bird-parish-mchale

March 15, 1992 would perhaps be the last great moment of the Big 3 (certainly the last for Bird except possibly Game 6 of the East Semifinals vs. Cleveland) *photo courtesy of Basketball Photo

March 19, 1992 – Chicago Bulls 106 @Washington Bullets 100

Occasionally when you are the champion, the get a challenge from a struggling team that just happens to hit on all cylinders that particular night.  Sometimes the champion loses, and the bad team celebrates like they won the championship.  Other times, the champion wins a very close game or pulls away in the end when the bad team reverts to form with the pressure on.  That’s what the Washington Bullets did in this case.

The Bullets had not made the playoffs since 1988, when Wes Unseld took over as head coach mid-way through the season.  After that season, they drafted forwards Harvey Grant in the 1st round and Ledell Eackles in the 2nd round.  Grant would become an 18 point per game scorer by 1992, while Eackles split starting time with Larry Stewart but was Washington’s 4th leading scorer and would have a big game against the Bulls.

Tom Hammonds was drafted with the 9th pick in 1989, but he struggled his first two and a half seasons in Washington before being traded to Charlotte for Rex Chapman a month before this game.  Chapman would play one game for the Bullets, at the end of the year, due to injuries.

In 1990, the Bullets acquired 1989 top pick Pervis Ellison in a three-team deal.  They also drafted A.J. English in the 2nd round.  In 1991, the Bullets swapped 1st round picks with Denver and acquired Michael Adams in the deal.  Adams made his only All-Star game appearance for the Bullets in 1992.  Washington drafted Louisville’s LaBradford Smith with that 1st round pick.

Then to fill out the roster for 1992, the Bullets signed the likes of David Wingate, Larry Stewart and Andre Turner as free agents.  All amounted to a 22-44 record when they took on the Bulls on March 19.  Chicago was looking for their 8th win in a row.

But it wouldn’t come easy as Eackles morphed into a great player and hit several jump shots.  Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were hitting early for Chicago, but all were from the outside and nobody else on the Bulls starting lineup was getting involved.

Finally Washington grabbed a 20-19 when Eackles scored his 8th point on a driving double-pump.  Wes Unseld’s team would not relinquish the lead for awhile and took a 26-21 advantage at the end of the 1st quarter.

Harvey Grant, who was the twin brother of Chicago Bull Horace Grant, scored 5 early points in the 2nd quarter to put the Bullets up 33-23.  Washington held that advantage until Adams got going late in the 2nd quarter and scored 9 points.

The Bullets went up by as much as 58-43 before Pippen drove and spun down the lane for a slam.  Washington held a 58-46 lead at the break but Chicago survived a momentum play as Adams stole the ball from Pippen in the last few seconds but missed a breakaway.  Still, the Bullets had only 4 turnovers in the 1st half.

Jordan got going in the 3rd quarter, with some help from Pippen, to get Chicago back into the game.  Michael scored 11 points in the first 7 minutes as the lead was cut to 69-66.

MJ would end up with 15 points in the 3rd quarter and 31 after three.  Pippen had 8 of his 20 points so far in the 3rd quarter.  Those two brought Chicago all the way back to take a 78-77 lead entering the 4th quarter.  Eackles was keeping Washington in it with 24 points.

The Bulls took an early five-point lead in the 4th quarter against Washington’s bench, but the Bullets went on a 6-0 run to take an 83-82 lead.

Jordan then went for the kill.  He hit a pull-up from the top and then a flying slam after spinning baseline against A.J. English, who would be guarding Michael in the 4th quarter.

Jordan then connected on a pull-up banker in transition followed by a runner in the lane against a double-team.  The Bulls led 92-85 but Washington countered with an 8-0 run, culminated with two more buckets from Eackles.  Chicago now trailed 93-92 with 3:43 left and Phil Jackson had to use a timeout.

Jordan then hit four free throws and Horace Grant tipped in a miss.  But Pervis Ellison, who would win the Most Improved Player in 1992 (before regressing and becoming the same player in 1994 that he was in 1991), kept Washington in it with a turnaround jumper from the post and then an alley-oop slam off a Harvey Grant feed.

But with 1:40 left, Ellison had the chance to give Washington a 99-98 lead.  But he missed both free throws.  Chicago later controlled a jump ball and Jordan hit a pull-up in the lane over Wingate to give the Bulls a 100-97 lead with 1:09 left.

Ellison then lost the ball out of bounds on a feed from Adams.  Later, after Eackles came up with a steal but English missed a shot, Ellison committed a foul on Jordan with 33.4 seconds left (Pervis was already reverting to bust form).

MJ made both free throws and then sealed the deal with a block on Ellison at the other end.  After two more free throws, Jordan had a season-high of 51 points, including 20 in the 4th quarter, and the Bulls had survived.

Chicago was pretty much locked into the top spot, although their 8-game winning streak would be snapped with a home loss to Orlando two nights later.  The Bulls would travel to Boston late in the season as the Celtics looked for a launching pad at one more run at the Knicks for the Atlantic Division.

Meanwhile, Washington would finish at 25-57 and would get another Jordan-esque performance against them in December, 1992.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (22) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (9) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (1) – Center

John Paxson (6) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (51) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (4)

Craig Hodges (9)

Will Perdue (2)

Stacey King (1)

Cliff Levingston (1)

Scott Williams (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Washington starters (points scored)

Ledell Eackles (28) – Small Forward

Harvey Grant (11) – Power Forward

Pervis Ellison (16) – Center

Michael Adams (19) – Point Guard

David Wingate (10) – Shooting Guard

Washington bench (points scored)

A.J. English (10)

Larry Stewart (4)

LaBradford Smith (2)

Andre Turner (0)

Charles Jones (0)

Washington Coach: Wes Unseld

March 28, 1992 – Golden State Warriors 153 @New Jersey Nets 148 (OT)

At the same time that Kentucky was taking on Duke in perhaps the greatest college basketball game of all time (written about in the 1992 College Basketball post), two high-scoring teams were going at it.  Although, at one point, the crowd and some of the players were more enthralled by the ending of the Kentucky/Duke game.

Whenever Golden State was involved, a high-scoring affair was possible.  At various points through the season, Don Nelson was experimenting with rookie Billy Owens at guard.  And he wasn’t done experimenting.  But, for this game, Owens was at forward in Golden State’s fast lineup.

The Warriors were 46-23, 3.5 games behind Portland for the top spot in the West while New Jersey was staying in playoff contention at 31-38, 1 game behind Miami for the final playoff spot in the East.

The teams started out very fast as New Jersey led 17-15 just over 5 minutes into the game.  The Nets were 8-for-10 from the field at that point while Golden State was 5-for-9.

All five Nets starters were in the scoring act at that point, including Chris Dudley (starting in place of an injured Sam Bowie) who was dominating the Warriors small lineup down low.  Eventually, Tyrone Hill picked up 4 fouls while Owens, who was leading the Warriors with 7 points, picked up 2.

A three-point play by Derrick Coleman tied the game at 28 with 2:58 left in the 1st quarter.  The Nets would later go on an 8-0 run to take a 42-37 lead at the end of the 1st period.  New Jersey was 18-for-26 from the field.

The Nets were able to hold that lead throughout the 2nd quarter as both teams traded hoops.  Kenny Anderson, who wasn’t seeing much time in his rookie season, came in and sparked the Nets late in the 2nd quarter.  He finished with 7 points and 2 assists, but did not play in the 2nd half.

New Jersey led 73-69 at the half as Coleman led the way with 18 points.  Drazen Petrovic and Chris Morris each had 12.  Tim Hardaway led the way for Golden State with 15 points.  Mario Elie and Owens had 13 (Owens had 4 fouls too) and Sarunas Marciulionis had 12 off the bench.

Tyrone Hill, despite picking up his 5th foul, sparked the Warriors in the 3rd quarter with 9 points and some key boards.  Golden State re-took the lead as Marciulionis also added 12 points in the quarter.

But Coleman and Mookie Blaylock kept New Jersey right in the game.  Blaylock scored 13 points, including a coast-to-coast scoop at the end of 3rd quarter buzzer to cut the Warriors’ lead to 109-108 heading into the 4th.

In the 4th, the Nets took a quick lead as Dudley scored and hit the boards.  He would finish with a double-double.  New Jersey also got 7 points from Terry Mills, which included a three-pointer to put the Nets up 129-119 with 6 minutes to go.

New Jersey would increase that lead to as much as 11 but a reverse scoop by Hardaway on a drive to the lane (an incredible shot as Hardaway wasn’t looking at the basket when he shot it) cut the lead to 135-128 with 2:39 left.

The Nets held on at 139-132 but had a turnover on a long pass with 55.2 seconds left.  After a timeout, Owens took advantage of a mismatch that Nellie was hoping he’d have by playing the 6’8″ Owens in the back court.  Owens posted up Petrovic, scored, and drew a foul.

He missed the free throw but his former Syracuse teammate, Coleman, split a pair of charity tosses.  Hardaway then went 1-on-1 and scored to cut the lead to 140-136.  Blaylock then split a pair of free throws.  Elie tipped in a Marciulionis miss.  Marciulionis then came up with a steal and was fouled, but he split his free throws.

After this confusion, Golden State had cut the lead to 141-139 with 27.6 seconds left.  Nellie wanted his team to play straight up defense and not foul.  They did so for 19 seconds until Marciulionis fouled Morris with 8.3 seconds left and got yelled at by Nelson.

But Morris split his free throws giving the Warriors a chance.  New Jersey went 7-for-12 from the line in the final 2:39.

After Golden State’s last timeout, Hardaway got the ball at the top against Blaylock.  Mookie went for the steal and Hardaway spun to his left.  He had an open three, launched, and nailed it to tie the game with 3.7 seconds left.

New Jersey used a timeout but didn’t get a good shot as Mills bricked a three from the top.

After the scoring explosion of regulation, the two teams went scoreless for the first 2 minutes of overtime before Coleman hit a pull-up from the baseline after a spin.

Marciulionis responded with a euro-step and a score.  Coleman then lobbed to Morris for a slam but Elie came right back with a driving three-point play to give Golden State a 147-146 lead.

Hardaway later alley-ooped to Owens on a fast break to give the Warriors a 3-point lead with 1:08 left.  But New Jersey would fight back as Coleman hit a turnaround from the post and Dudley blocked a Hardaway shot.

The Nets went back to Coleman down low.  He was doubled but tried to shoot over it.  His shot was blocked by Vincent Askew from the weak side.  This set up a transition break in which Owens slammed and was fouled by Morris with 9.5 seconds left.

The three-point play essentially finished the game and looked like a killer loss for the Nets and their playoff hopes.

New Jersey sat at 31-39 and were two games out of the playoffs.  But then Bill Fitch’s team won 9 of their final 12 games to climb to the 6th spot in the East at 40-42 and set up a date with Cleveland in the 1st round.

Golden State would finish at 55-27, their best record since 1975-76, and Owens averaged a solid 14.3 points per game (4th on the team) and 8.0 rebounds per game (1st on the team).

But they finished 2 games behind Portland in the Pacific Division (back-to-back losses to the Trailblazers in a home-and-home series in April proved to be the difference, the Blazers went 3-2 against the Warriors during the season), and would get an introduction to the Reign Man in the playoffs.

Golden State starters (points scored)

Chris Mullin (21) – Small Forward

Billy Owens (21) – Power Forward

Tyrone Hill (10) – Center

Tim Hardaway (34) – Point Guard

Mario Elie (23) – Shooting Guard

Golden State bench (points scored)

Sarunas Marciulionis (35)

Vincent Askew (5)

Chris Gatling (3)

Victor Alexander (1)

Jud Buechler (0)

Golden State Coach: Don Nelson

New Jersey starters (points scored)

Chris Morris (15) – Small Forward

Derrick Coleman (35) – Power Forward

Chris Dudley (16) – Center

Mookie Blaylock (27) – Point Guard

Drazen Petrovic (23) – Shooting Guard

New Jersey bench (points scored)

Terry Mills (15)

Kenny Anderson (7)

Tate George (6)

Rafael Addison (4)

Doug Lee (0)

New Jersey Coach: Bill Fitch

April 5, 1992 – Chicago Bulls 86 @Boston Celtics 97

With two weeks to go in the regular season, the Boston Celtics were trying to hold off Detroit for the 4th spot in the East.  They were 1 game ahead of the Pistons and 5 games behind New York for the Atlantic Division title.

It didn’t look like Boston was going to catch the Knicks, especially after they lost Larry Bird again to back spasms that were aggravated in a loss to Indiana two days prior.

Now their prospect seemed to be that if they could beat the Pistons in the 1st round (the Celtics had lost to Detroit in 1991, despite having home court advantage), they would get into a 2nd round matchup against the Bulls.  This didn’t look at all promising for Boston as Chicago had pummeled them 3 times so far in the regular season.

If nothing else, this would give the Celtics a chance to tell themselves and their followers that they could compete with Chicago.  But without Bird, who would end up missing a month, it wasn’t expected.

Although an advantage for Boston was that Chicago had long clinched home court advantage throughout the playoffs and now were just playing out the season.  Phil Jackson, who just got a contract extension through the 1996 season, was now resting his regulars a little bit more and playing his bench to help build their confidence.  The Bulls motivation may not have been helped by Larry Bird not playing.

Despite not having Bird in the Boston Garden that day, there was a presence from the old 1980’s rivalry.  Magic Johnson in his continued retirement had become the third man on the broadcast table for NBC with Marv Albert and Mike Fratello.  Magic got a warm reception from the Boston Garden crowd.

It didn’t look like Chicago was coasting early on as they grabbed a 6-0 lead after a three-point play by Scottie Pippen on a cut following a handoff from Bill Cartwright as part of the triangle offense.

Robert Parish and Dee Brown kept Boston in the game but Chicago maintained a 20-14 lead before Brown hit two jumpers and found Kevin Gamble for another to tie the game at 20.  Brown then extended the run to 8-0 with a stop-and-go drive and layup as he looked to get some early offense with John Paxson guarding him.

The run went to 10-0 before it was stopped and Boston held a 28-26 lead at the end of the 1st quarter despite 9 points from Pippen and 8 from Jordan.  Brown had led the way with 10 points for Boston.

The scoring continued in the 2nd quarter as neither team seemed to be able to play defense, a concern that at least Phil Jackson expressed as his team had coasted down the stretch of the season.

Jordan and Pippen led the way for the Bulls while Reggie Lewis and Kevin McHale was doing most of the scoring for Boston.  It went back-and-forth before Parish hit three key baskets to help give Boston a 55-51 lead at the half.

Jordan had 18 points and Pippen 17, while the rest of the team had 16.  Not the balance that Chicago usually had when they had success.  Lewis, Brown, and Parish each had 12 to lead the Celtics.

The scoring dropped considerably in the 3rd quarter as each team went cold and settled for outside shots.

Chicago eventually tied it at 59 but Boston regained the lead with a 6-0 run and held off the Bulls to lead 70-67 at the end of the 3rd quarter.  Brown had picked up his 4th foul for Boston while, most notably, Jordan and Horace Grant were getting extended rest periods for Chicago.

Chicago’s bench was mostly in for the start of the 4th quarter and Boston maintained its lead with McHale scoring 8 points early on.  The Celtics extended to their biggest advantage when John Bagley hit two field goals, including a pull-up jumper at the end of the shot clock.

Boston now led 84-76 and Jackson used a timeout with 6:25 left.  At that point, Phil went back with his starters and said, win the game.

But Jordan was cold and couldn’t get anything going while Boston had the momentum and couldn’t be stopped.  Bagley hit a three and Rick Fox hit a runner in the lane.

The Bulls would get as close as 91-86 before McHale grabbed a defensive rebound and Gamble went coast-to-coast for a layup with 1:28 to go.

Chicago did not score from there and Boston had a confidence boosting win without Larry Bird.  Bird would miss the rest of the regular season and the 1st round of the playoffs.

But despite that, Boston finished off the season with an 8-game winning streak that started with this win over Chicago.  A key win in that streak would be a 93-89 triumph over New York to give Boston a 3-2 season series advantage over the Knicks.

It became huge when Boston’s win streak helped them tie New York at the top of the Atlantic Division at 51-31.  With their season series win, Boston claimed the Atlantic Division and swept 7th seeded Indiana in the 1st round to extend their win streak to 11.  Meanwhile, New York would get the tough 1st round series against Detroit.

The winner of that series would play the 67-15 Bulls, who would get another special performance from Jordan in polishing off 8th seeded Miami.  This game will be featured later in the blog.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (22) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (13) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (4) – Center

John Paxson (12) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (26) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (4)

Stacey King (4)

Will Perdue (1)

Craig Hodges (0)

Cliff Levingston (0)

Scott Williams (0)

Bobby Hansen (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Boston starters (points scored)

Kevin Gamble (10) – Small Forward

Ed Pinckney (4) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (14) – Center

Dee Brown (14) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (21) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Kevin McHale (20)

Rick Fox (5)

John Bagley (9)

Boston Coach: Chris Ford

April 28, 1992 – East Quarterfinals, Game 3: Cleveland Cavaliers 104 @New Jersey Nets 109

It wasn’t a terribly exciting start to the 1992 NBA playoffs.  In the first 17 games, spanning 5 days, the road team had won 3 times (the 3rd of which was Boston completing the sweep in Indiana on April 27).

But on its 6th day, the playoffs started to get going (especially if you lived in L.A. as we covered at the top of this post).  Detroit (vs. New York) and Seattle (vs. Golden State) were the only underdogs to win road games so far, and both series would play a classic Game 3 on this night (April 28).

But first, the Cleveland Cavaliers were trying for their first playoff series win since 1976.  They were also trying to sweep a series for the first time against a resurgent New Jersey Nets team.

New Jersey was in the playoffs for the first time since 1986 and were trying to win their first playoff game since 1984.  They made a battle of it in Game 1 as Drazen Petrovic scored 40 points (without hitting a single three-pointer).  But ultimately Cleveland won 120-113 as Brad Daugherty had 40 as well and Mark Price followed with 35 (and was the only player from either team to hit a three-pointer in the game, he hit 5 of them).

Cleveland had a much easier time in Game 2 as Daugherty led 5 double figure scorers with 29.  The Cavs won 118-96 despite Petrovic and Derrick Coleman scoring over 20 but getting almost no help.

The Cavaliers started out Game 3 as hot as they had been in Cleveland.  Steve Kerr, who had been starting in the playoffs so far ahead of Craig Ehlo and John Battle at the two-guard spot, hit two jumpers to give the Cavs the lead.

But 9 early points from Chris Morris put the Nets out in front 17-12 halfway through the quarter.  New Jersey continued to lead as Coleman scored 10 1st quarter points and the Nets defense held Daugherty scoreless for most of the period.

But Cleveland cut it back to 31-30 at the end of the quarter as Larry Nance scored 9 points for Lenny Wilkens’ team.

The 2nd quarter would be more scoring and hot shooting with a little bit of chippiness involved.

Danny Ferry and Drazen Petrovic almost came to blows (it actually looked like Ferry threw a haymaker) and were each assessed double technicals.  But this would not match the chippiness of Seattle/Golden State and especially New York/Detroit.

Coleman definitely threw a haymaker in the scuffle but it went unnoticed by the officials, luckily for New Jersey.  Coleman had gotten a technical earlier in the quarter for slamming the ball after an offensive foul was called on him.

Nance and Morris led the for their teams in a high-scoring 2nd quarter.  Nance finished the half with 16 points while Hot Rod Williams scored 10 off the bench in the 2nd.

Morris had 19 at the half and actually hit his first 11 shots of the game and finished 12-for-14 from the field.  New Jersey led 59-54 at the half.

Morris’ hot shooting continued to keep the Nets ahead early in the 3rd quarter.  But baskets by Price and Nance tied the game at 68 with 6:11 left.

New Jersey continued with its cold spell and Cleveland took a 75-70 lead.  They increased it to 84-77 at the end of the 3rd quarter as Nance had 22 points and Price had come alive with 8 of his 15 points in the 3rd.

The 4th quarter didn’t start out promisingly for New Jersey either.  Struggling Mookie Blaylock, who had yet to show up for the playoffs, picked up his 5th foul.  Then with 8 1/2 to go, a wing jumper by Nance put the Cavs up 88-78.

They kept that lead at 10 until Coleman tipped in a miss.  Then former Cavalier and Yale Bulldog Chris Dudley sparked the Nets, as he jumped out and stole an inbounds pass at halfcourt.  He then fed Petrovic for a breakaway layup to cut the lead to 92-86.  Wilkens used a timeout with 6:07 left.

Nance hit for his 28th point on a baseline jumper to stem the tide.  But Coleman responded with a turnaround from the baseline.  He then fed Dudley on a cut for a banker to cut the lead to 94-90.  Petrovic followed with a three and the Nets and New Jersey crowd were fully back into it.

Blaylock came back in and hit a huge three after 4 free throws from Price.  Blaylock then found Coleman for a turnaround from the post to cut Cleveland’s lead to 99-98.

After Nance picked up his 5th foul, Dudley tipped in a miss to give New Jersey the lead with 2:39 left.  Dudley had sparked the team with 3 offensive rebounds and great defense on Daugherty.

A putback by Terry Mills, who was in the game for Morris to match Cleveland’s huge front line of Nance, Hot Rod, and Daugherty, gave New Jersey a 104-101 advantage with under 2 minutes left.

After Petrovic committed a silly foul in the back court, Kerr hit two free throws.  But Drazen made up for it on the next possession as he popped out to the top of the key beyond the three-point line, took a pass from Blaylock, and nailed a trey with 1:02 to go to give New Jersey a 107-103 lead.  Drazen followed with an emotional celebration that must’ve been felt by every Nets fan and fan from Europe.

That three ended up putting the game away, although the Nets had to survive two missed threes by Price that could have cut the lead to one.  New Jersey had their first playoff win since 1984 and would be a quarter away from getting their second in Game 4.

But led by Hot Rod Williams, the Cavs out-scored New Jersey 31-16 in the 4th quarter of Game 4 to win 98-89 and move on to play Boston in the 2nd round.  It would be their 2nd playoff series win and 1 of the 4 they got before LeBron James hit town.

New Jersey had a young, talented team that would be back in 1993 with a different coach.  Several young stars had mutiny against Bill Fitch.  Morris and Coleman had refused to go into games late in the season and at the end of Game 4, Petrovic sulked on the bench, reportedly by choice, as the Nets season ended.

Fitch resigned on May 12 and another veteran coach would be named to replace him 16 days later.

Cleveland starters (points scored)

Mike Sanders (6) – Small Forward

Larry Nance (28) – Power Forward

Brad Daugherty (14) – Center

Mark Price (19) – Point Guard

Steve Kerr (9) – Shooting Guard

Cleveland bench (points scored)

Hot Rod Williams (18)

John Battle (8)

Craig Ehlo (2)

Danny Ferry (0)

Cleveland Coach: Lenny Wilkens

New Jersey starters (points scored)

Chris Morris (28) – Small Forward

Derrick Coleman (22) – Power Forward

Sam Bowie (8) – Center

Mookie Blaylock (10) – Point Guard

Drazen Petrovic (20) – Shooting Guard

New Jersey bench (points scored)

Terry Mills (9)

Chris Dudley (5)

Tate George (5)

Kenny Anderson (2)

New Jersey Coach: Bill Fitch

drazen-petrovic

Drazen Petrovic’s reaction after hitting the game-cinching three-pointer to give the Nets their first playoff win in 8 years *photo courtesy of The Brooklyn Game

March 28, 1992 – East Quarterfinals, Game 3: New York Knicks 90 @Detroit Pistons 87 (OT)

In a way, these two teams set the precedent for the next decade of physical, low-scoring games in this series.

Many of Detroit’s stars were past their prime while New York never really had much to go with Patrick Ewing, so they needed to keep games low-scoring to stay in it.

The Knicks did open it up to 109 points in Game 1 in blowing out the Pistons by 34.  Ewing led the way with 24 points and 12 rebounds.  Ewing was held to 12 and 6, on 5-for-20 shooting, in Game 2 as Joe Dumars led 5 double figure Detroit scorers with 21 points.

But it was Isiah Thomas who came through with a game-winner to give the Pistons an 89-88 win and a tied series going back to Auburn Hills.

The Palace was primed and it was interesting to hear Piston broadcaster George Blaha talk about the Knicks, especially Charles Oakley, being cheap-shot artists when the Pistons had been doing it for the last 5 years.  But, hey, who said local announcers are objective, and its not like the Knicks weren’t cheap-shot artists.

Oakley almost got into it with the Pistons bench in the first minute of the game.  Then Oakley forearm shivered Dennis Rodman on a drive to the hoop that caused another mini-fracas.  Oakley got a flagrant and Ewing and Orlando Woolridge got double technicals.

Xavier McDaniel got a technical later on when Rodman fouled him twice on a drive to the hoop, something Blaha “somehow” missed.  Rodman also got a technical early in the game after arguing with an official.

But after the first 5 minutes, the teams settled down and played as clean a game as they possibly could, which wasn’t that clean of a game.  But there were no more brouhahas and only two more technicals.

The Oakley flagrant ignited Detroit early on as they went on a 9-2 run to take a 14-8 lead at the 6:53 mark.  McDaniel led the Knicks back with 8 points late in the quarter to give New York a 22-20 lead at the end of the 1st quarter.

The scoring continued to go at a snails pace as neither team reached 40% from the field.  But Anthony Mason and John Salley sparked their teams off the bench in the 2nd quarter.  Each had 9 points and were very active in the quarter.

The Pistons recovered to take a 41-40 halftime lead when Dumars nailed a deep pull-up from the wing.

But the Knicks got off to the fast start in the 3rd quarter as they pounded the offensive board and got numerous second and third shots, most notably with scores from McDaniel and Ewing.

After a breakaway layup by Mark Jackson, the Knicks had a 50-43 lead with under 8 minutes to go.

They managed to hold that lead by default for the rest of the quarter.  But Detroit got big momentum after Jackson committed an offensive foul with 3 seconds left in the 3rd period.

The Pistons went to Mark Aguirre at the deep wing and he got off one of the few clean shots he would in this game (a fadeaway from a few steps in the front of the three-point line, no less) and nailed it with 0.7 seconds left to cut New York’s lead to 61-59 heading into the 4th quarter.

New York got off to another fast start in the first 2 minutes of the 4th, helped by a John Salley technical after a horrific foul call against Ewing.

The Knicks led 68-61 and Chuck Daly decided to go with a three-guard lineup with Darrell Walker matching up against Xavier McDaniel.

Somehow it worked as the Pistons defense swarmed and double-teamed the low post people and the Knicks went ice cold.

Detroit also hit the offensive boards as Bill Laimbeer and John Salley put back misses to tie the game at 68 and force Pat Riley to use a timeout with 7:34 left.

Dumars then hit a jumper and Laimbeer nailed a three to complete a 12-0 Detroit run and force Riley to use another timeout.

But the Knicks got a big hoop when Ewing kicked out of the double team to John Starks for a three-pointer.  It would be New York’s only hoop for awhile but it kept them within range after Laimbeer and Walker each hit two free throws to give Detroit a 77-71 lead.

Ewing then hit a turnaround over Rodman while drawing a foul, and finally taking advantage of the small lineup.  (It was interesting that Laimbeer wasn’t guarding Ewing down the stretch, which tells me the little quickness Laimbeer once had was all but gone).

Isiah hit a pull-up at the end of the shot clock for one of his three field goals (in 12 attempts) on the day.  Ewing responded with a turnaround jumper from the post.

The scoring then stopped over the next few minutes.  Detroit would have a big basket waived off when Dumars nailed one just after the 24-second buzzer went off.

Ewing finally cut it to 79-77 with a free throw after New York got three offensive rebounds on that possession.  But Ewing fouled Dumars on a drive with 27.5 seconds left.  It was a hard, but clean (for 1992), foul.  But it did leave Dumars perhaps a little shaken.  He missed the two free throws (Karma, Bad Boys? Karma?).

Oakley rebounded the second miss and New York didn’t use a timeout.  They went inside to Ewing, who nailed a turnaround, fall-away jumper in the lane to tie the game at 79 with 13.4 seconds left.

Detroit used a timeout and went to Isiah to go 1-on-1 against Mark Jackson.  There had been numerous times Isiah had blown by Jackson with ease but, in this case, Jackson stayed in front of Isiah and forced him to take a prayer of a hook shot at the buzzer that hit nothing but the side of the backboard.  Overtime.

Jackson would seem to get confidence from his 1-on-1 defensive skills and made some key plays in overtime.  He penetrated and, at first, found Starks for a corner three.  Then he penetrated again and found McDaniel for a baseline jumper.  New York led 84-81.

The teams suddenly couldn’t stop each other in overtime as Detroit cut the lead to one when Laimbeer connected on a baseline jumper.  But Ewing drove right past Laimbeer at the end of the shot clock for a scoop and a foul.  Although Ewing missed the free throw, New York led 86-83.

Dumars then hit a pull-up from the wing.  Detroit then almost had a stop but they were called for a kick ball with 4 seconds left on the shot clock and 1:40 left in the game.  Ewing then took the inbounds pass and made a runner in the lane.

Isiah then found Salley, who stepped through two defenders and made a banker fron the left of the lane to cut the Knicks lead back to 88-87.

Detroit then finally got a stop when Ewing kicked the ball out of the double team to the top that went in between Jackson and Starks and to the back-court with around 34 seconds left.

Isiah missed a runner in the lane and the ball was knocked out of bounds off of Detroit.  But the Pistons got another chance when Dumars stole a bad inbounds pass from Oakley.  The Pistons used a timeout with 13 seconds left.

This time, they went to Dumars to go 1-on-1 against Starks.  Starks successfully hand-checked Dumars (legal at the time) and forced him to kick it out after trying to drive.  Jackson stole the kickout pass and was fouled with 3.9 seconds left.  Jackson made both free throws.

Detroit got one more chance after a timeout but Laimbeer was short on a three-point push shot and New York survived and puffed their chests coming off the court.

But Detroit survived another slugfest, 86-82, in Game 4 to send the series back to Madison Square Garden for an all-or-nothing Game 5.

New York starters (points scored)

Xavier McDaniel (21) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (0) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (32) – Center

Mark Jackson (10) – Point Guard

Gerald Wilkins (5) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

John Starks (6)

Anthony Mason (11)

Kiki Vandeweghe (5)

Greg Anthony (0)

New York Coach: Pat Riley

Detroit starters (points scored)

Dennis Rodman (11) – Small Forward

Orlando Woolridge (10) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (15) – Center

Isiah Thomas (6) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (15) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

John Salley (20)

Mark Aguirre (4)

Darrell Walker (6)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

May 28, 1992 – Golden State Warriors 128 @Seattle Sonics 129

Its games like this that make me sad there’s no basketball team in Seattle anymore.  The crowd was into it, loud, energetic, and definitely made its impact.  What also helped was the balls-to-the-wall, in-your-face style of play-by-play man Kevin Calabro (a pre-cursor perhaps to Gus Johnson in terms of every play being the most exciting play ever, Calabro may have taken 6 breaths throughout the game and sometimes one forgot that he was with an analyst in Bob Blackburn, who was soon let go in what he called “forced retirement.”).

The Supersonics, as a team, were young and up-and-coming.  They had become the first 8-seed to force the top seed into a 5th and deciding game in the 1st round in 1991 when they did so to Portland.

K.C. Jones had only lost Sedale Threatt from his 1991 team when the Sonics traded him to the Lakers for 3 future 2nd round picks.

Jones had a deep, core roster of guards Ricky Pierce, Gary Payton, Nate McMillan, and Dana Barros, along with forwards Derrick McKey, Shawn Kemp, and Eddie Johnson and centers Benoit Benjamin and Michael Cage.

The Sonics got off to a good start but slumped in January and were 18-18 when K.C. Jones was fired.  He would eventually be replaced by George Karl, who was more of a disciplinarian.  The Sonics eventually righted themselves and had a 25-11 finish to the season to grab the 6th spot at 47-35.

They put it together despite McKey missing almost two months with torn ligaments in his thumb.  Veterans Pierce and Johnson were the most consistent while youngsters Kemp and Payton a little less so (more often than not in 1992, Kemp came off the bench).

But Kemp would be huge in a Game 1 victory against 55-27 Golden State in which the Sonics never trailed.  Kemp had 28 points (on 10-for-15 shooting) and 16 rebounds as Seattle out-rebounded Golden State 52-34.  This happened despite the Warriors going with the big lineup of Billy Owens in the back court.  But Owens seemed to be the only Warrior to show up as he had 25 and 11.

The Warriors did something about it in the next game when Alton Lister knocked Kemp off-balance on a baseline drive and the two wrestled each other to the floor and nearly set off an altercation.

That happened early in the 3rd quarter and seemed to key the Warriors, who went on a rebounding rampage despite going with a small lineup.  Mario Elie sparked the Warriors with 17 2nd half points and Owens had another double-double.

Chris Mullin and Tim Hardaway came back stronger after not shooting well in Game 1 as Golden State ran away with it and tied the series at 1-1 headed to Seattle.

The Warriors continued with their small lineup while Seattle put Benoit Benjamin into the starting lineup for Game 3.

Golden State got off to an early lead as Lister attacked Benjamin and got 7 early points.  But after the 1st quarter, Lister did not play.  The tone would be set as each team looked like it couldn’t stop the other.  They were tied at 28 at the end of the 1st quarter.  It would be the only quarter in which either team scored under 30 points.

The Sonics got going with a 15-8 run in the first 3 1/2 minutes of the 2nd quarter.  Dana Barros would be the key cog with 3 three-pointers during that stretch.  But other members of Seattle’s bench; Nate McMillan, Eddie Johnson, and Michael Cage, also contributed.

Derrick McKey took advantage of his matchup against Mullin and had 14 1st half points.  The Sonics went up by as many as nine, but late three-pointers by Mullin (who kept the Warriors in it with 11 2nd quarter points) and Hardaway (with 1.1 seconds left) cut the Seattle lead to 65-60 at the half.

Seattle broke out again in the 1st 2 minutes of the 3rd quarter and took a 71-62 lead after a 6-0 run.  But Golden State got back into it with their “new Big 3” of Mullin, Hardaway, and Owens leading the charge.

They cut it to 76-73 before a three-point play by Benjamin and a three-point shot by Pierce eventually led Seattle back to an 85-76 advantage.

While the scoring was fast-paced and the shooting was phenomenal, the officials also let the players play.  This didn’t always sit well, especially with the Seattle crowd, who seemed to goad George Karl into a technical foul with 3:41 left in the 3rd.

The Warriors out-scored the Sonics 15-10 over the last 3:41 of the quarter and cut the lead to 95-91 going into the 4th.  Kemp and Owens each had 4 fouls but stayed in the game.

McKey had been huge so far with 23 points through 3 quarters to lead the way, while Pierce, Johnson and McMillan helped.  But in the 4th quarter, the Warriors allowed Shawn Kemp to re-introduce himself (although not like the Reign Man and his dunks would in Game 4).

Kemp only had one slam in the 4th quarter of Game 3, but he was aggressive, got the the line, and, most importantly, made his free throws.

At first, Seattle regained a 112-101 lead with 6:33 left off shots from McMillan and Eddie Johnson.  McMillan took the playing time of Payton for most of the 2nd half, until a key final minute.

Chris Gatling then got a layup off a feed from Sarunas Marciulionis and drew Kemp’s 5th foul.  Despite missing the free throw, Gatling contributed huge off the bench with 16 points on 7-for-7 shooting.

But the Warriors’ biggest bench contribution came from Sarunas Marciulionis, especially in the 4th quarter after Elie fouled out.

A Marciulionis kickout to Hardaway for a three kicked off a 14-2 run (aided by a technical on Seattle assistant coach Bob Kloppenburg) to give the Warriors the lead.

During that run, Marciulionis routinely attacked the Seattle defense by going 1-on-1 into the lane and drawing fouls.  He hit 6 straight free throws and then got a breakaway layup after a steal by Hardaway.

Hardaway then gave the Warriors their 117-116 lead when he got by the defense with a stop-and-go dribble for a layup.  Karl used a timeout with 3:40 left.

The Sonics had gone small at this point as they had Kemp at center against Gatling.  The other matchups were McKey vs. Owens, Eddie Johnson vs. Mullin, Pierce vs. Marciulionis, and McMillan vs. Hardaway.

Pierce hit a leaner from the foul line.  Marciulionis hit two more free throws.  McKey hit a leaner from the baseline at the end of the shot clock.  Hardaway recovered a loose ball and hit a three to give Golden State a 122-120 lead.

With 2:16 left, Kemp hit two free throws to tie the game.  Mullin got a breakaway after Seattle missed on their next possession.  Then the Sonics got three shots on their following chance and Kemp drew a foul from Gatling and hit two more free throws with 1:15 left.  The game was tied at 124.

Karl then brought in Payton for defensive purposes.  But Gary would be involved in a key play that would set off the next 5 years for the Sonics.

After Mullin missed a corner jumper and McKey grabbed a loose ball rebound.  Payton pushed the ball on a 2-on-1 break.  Seeming to know exactly what to do, Payton threw a lob up for the Reign Man.

Kemp grabbed it high in the air and threw down a huge slam as Gatling gave a slight push for the foul.

Payton and Kemp would combine for many more over the next several years.

The three-point play gave Seattle a 127-124 lead with 58 seconds left.  Marciulionis then drove on Payton and drew a foul.  Sarunas hit two more free throws to finish with 12 4th quarter points.

Seattle then, perhaps inadvertently, realized what happened when they didn’t go to Shawn Kemp.  Pierce, McMillan, and Benoit Benjamin played hot potato with the ball and did not get off a shot before the 24-second buzzer.

Golden State called a timeout with 24.6 seconds left.  Marciulionis penetrated and found Gatling.  Gatling got the ball to Owens at the foul line.  Owens spun by Kemp into the lane and hit on a reverse scoop shot to give the Warriors a 128-127 lead with 7.5 seconds left.

Owens had more than proven his worth so far in the series, and was looking like the most aggressive of the new big three.  This point would be proven on the next Warriors possession.

Meanwhile, after a timeout, McMillan inbounded the ball right to Kemp.  Shawn drove immediately against Tyrone Hill, who Nellie put in the game in Gatling’s place, and drew a foul as Hardaway reached in with 6.1 seconds left.

Kemp was 10-for-13 from the line at this point.  The first one hit the front rim and bounced in.  The second one was as clean a swish as one could have.  Seattle led.  Golden State didn’t use a timeout.

Hardaway got the inbounds pass and dribbled all the way to the foul line.  Hardaway perhaps had a shot but kicked out to Mullin.  Mullin faked, dribbled, and looked to have a clean-ish shot.  But instead he passed off to Marciulionis, who airballed an attempt just as the buzzer sounded.

Seattle had survived after shooting 61.5% from the field for the day, but needing all of Kemp’s 12 free throws to win.

Golden State now needed to win Game 4 to stay alive two days after Mullin and Hardaway, who led the league in minutes in 1992, each played 46 minutes in Game 3.

Golden State starters (points scored)

Chris Mullin (24) – Small Forward

Billy Owens (15) – Power Forward

Alton Lister (7) – Center

Tim Hardaway (26) – Point Guard

Mario Elie (9) – Shooting Guard

Golden State bench (points scored)

Sarunas Marciulionis (27)

Chris Gatling (16)

Tyrone Hill (4)

Victor Alexander (0)

Vincent Askew (0)

Golden State Coach: Don Nelson

Seattle starters (points scored)

Derrick McKey (27) – Small Forward

Shawn Kemp (22) – Power Forward

Benoit Benjamin (12) – Center

Gary Payton (8) – Point Guard

Ricky Pierce (21) – Shooting Guard

Seattle bench (points scored)

Eddie Johnson (19)

Nate McMillan (11)

Dana Barros (9)

Michael Cage (0)

Tony Brown (0)

Seattle Coach: George Karl

April 29, 1992 – East Quarterfinals, Game 3: Chicago Bulls 119 @Miami Heat 114

In 1988, the Miami Heat became the first expansion team of 4 that would come into the NBA over the next two seasons.  In 1992, they became the first of those 4 expansion teams to make the playoffs.

After naming Detroit Pistons assistant Ron Rothstein as head coach, the Heat went into their first draft in 1988 with the 9th and 20th picks.  With the 9th pick, they selected Syracuse center Rony Seikaly.  With the 20th pick, they grabbed DePaul guard Kevin Edwards.  With their first 2nd round pick, the Heat grabbed rugged Eastern Michigan forward Grant Long.

Seikaly, Edwards, and Long started most of the games in 1989 (Edwards was their leading scorer at 13.8 points per game) as the Heat went 15-67.

With their 1st and 2nd round picks in 1989, the Heat selected Michigan’s Glen Rice (4th overall pick) and Syracuse’s Sherman Douglas.

Rice and Douglas made immediate impacts and Seikaly raised his averages to 16.4 points and 10.4 rebounds to lead the Heat.  They went 18-64.

In 1990, the Heat drafted Minnesota forward Willie Burton with the 9th pick after trading the 3rd pick for two 1990 1st rounders (the second 1st round pick was Dave Jamerson, who would be traded along with 2nd round pick Carl Herrera to Houston for big man Alec Kessler, who had 4 uneventful seasons in Miami and died of a heart attack in 2007).

The Heat went 24-58 in 1991 as Edwards went to the bench (he and Burton averaged around 12 points while coming off the bench for most of the games).  Douglas, Rice, and Seikaly averaged over 16 a game.  But with all this young talent, Miami was giving up a lot of points and didn’t have a lot of veteran leadership.

Ron Rothstein resigned and veteran coach Kevin Loughery was named to the head spot.  Michigan State’s Steve Smith was drafted with the 5th overall pick.

Smith came in and played brilliantly at the point while Douglas held out for a new contract.  The Heat matched an offer for Douglas from the Lakers but were shopping him around and found a taker in Boston.  The price was Brian Shaw, who was struggling in Boston after an early-season injury.

Shaw continued to struggle in Miami as Bimbo Coles, acquired in a 1990 draft-day trade with Sacramento, started at the point.  Smith missed a month with arthroscopic knee surgery and Glen Rice was put at guard.

But at the All-Star break, Miami was right in the thick of the playoff race.  Rice, Seikaly, and Long were having stellar seasons (Rice broke out to 22.3 points per game on 47% shooting).  Smith, Burton, Coles, and Edwards were all averaging double figures.

But then Burton started missing some flights and was benched.  In early April, Burton sought treatment for depression and would miss the rest of the season.

A month earlier, Shaw cracked the starting lineup and the Heat had their playoff lineup of Shaw, Smith, Rice, Long, and Seikaly.  The Heat went 10-10 with that lineup to finish the season at 38-44.

But they qualified for the final playoff spot despite Atlanta having the same record.  But the Heat’s conference record was better than the Hawks, which won Miami the tiebreaker.  Their reward was a matchup against the 67-15 Chicago Bulls.

Chicago won the first 2 games without any trouble, and Miami set up a party atmosphere for their first ever home playoff game in Game 3.  The fans, who actually came out in droves and had energy, were given clackers.

The young Heat players were energized by the atmosphere and were flying around through the 1st quarter while Chicago was a step slow.

They forced turnovers and got out on the break.  As a result, the Heat took an early 13-5 lead and forced Phil Jackson to use a timeout at the 7:07 mark.

An 8-0 Heat run increased their lead to 21-7 as all five starters were aggressive.  The Heat took their biggest lead at 33-15 on a three-point play by Seikaly.  The Bulls cut it to 33-19 at quarter break.

Scottie Pippen had kept Chicago in it with 11 1st quarter points.  Michael Jordan had been “held” to 2 points.  But Jordan had seen enough.

He got going with back-to-back jumpers to cut the lead to 38-27.  MJ later blocked a Rice attempt that led to a breakaway three-point play by B.J. Armstrong.

Then Jordan made a three-point play in his own way.  He stripped the ball and dribbled coast-to-coast, which included a behind-the-back dribble and crossover, and dunked on 7’2″ Alan Ogg, while Ogg fouled him.

After that gem that only Jordan could provide, the Miami advantage was down to 41-36.  Jordan ended up scoring 14 points in the 2nd quarter, but Miami held that 5-point advantage at halftime at 56-51 after Smith nailed a three in the last few seconds.

Jordan then scored the first 6 points of the 2nd half to give Chicago the lead and force Loughery to use a timeout with 10:27 left.

MJ continued his assault with 20 points in the 3rd quarter to bring his game total to 38.  But much to the young Heat’s credit, they stayed with the Bulls and even took an 80-79 lead heading into the 4th quarter.

Jordan and Pippen weren’t getting much help so far from the others in terms of scoring.  But in the 4th quarter, two guards hit some key shots.

First, Craig Hodges (a forgotten man on the Bulls bench and soon to be forgotten in the NBA perhaps due to a letter he gave to President Bush when the Bulls visited the White House) hit two three-pointers to give Chicago an 89-84 lead.

Later, Jordan found B.J. Armstrong for a corner three that gave the Bulls the lead for good at 94-93.  Jordan followed with a coast-to-coast slam and Miami took a timeout with 6:43 left.

A three-point play by Coles, in which he split B.J. and M.J. on a drive, tied the game at 96.  But then Jordan hit a fall-away in the lane after getting a pass from Bill Cartwright.  Armstrong followed with a steal and Pippen got a breakaway.  Two free throws by Jordan capped a 6-0 run and gave the Bulls a 102-96 advantage.

The Heat didn’t fold and cut it to 104-101.  They had the ball too but Horace Grant came up with a steal.  Then Pippen found Armstrong, who was playing in John Paxson’s spot down the stretch, on a 2-on-1 break and B.J. made the layup while drawing the foul.

That and several Jordan daggers seemed to put the finishing touch on it.  Miami, again to their credit, didn’t give in.  But they missed some key free throws that could have made things more interesting.

The closest the Heat got was 117-114 after Shaw hit a long three.  But Jordan hit two free throws, after trash-talking with Smith and Shaw, to give him 56 points.

Jordan wasn’t going to lose a playoff game to expansion Miami.

Despite its talent, Miami would regress a bit in 1993 while two other expansion teams took up the spotlight and one advanced in the playoffs.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (31) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (8) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (1) – Center

John Paxson (2) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (56) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (13)

Craig Hodges (6)

Will Perdue (2)

Cliff Levingston (0)

Scott Williams (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Miami starters (points scored)

Glen Rice (25) – Small Forward

Grant Long (17) – Power Forward

Rony Seikaly (22) – Center

Brian Shaw (19) – Point Guard

Steve Smith (18) – Shooting Guard

Miami bench (points scored)

Bimbo Coles (9)

Kevin Edwards (4)

Keith Askins (0)

Alan Ogg (0)

Miami Coach: Kevin Loughery

April 30, 1992 – Golden State Warriors 116 @Seattle Sonics 119

The shooting percentages came back down to earth for Game 4.  The two teams, at times, looked like they had a semblance of a defense.

In the 1st quarter, that team would be the Warriors as Seattle missed shots they had made in Game 3 and Golden State pushed the tempo.

Tim Hardaway nailed a three and Mario Elie went coast-to-coast for a slam.  Elie would later get another breakaway and Billy Owens scored 6 points as the Warriors stayed ahead.

A 7-0 Tim Hardaway run made the score 22-13 Golden State.  Back-to-back baskets by Elie put the Warriors up 29-18.

Hardaway finished the quarter with 12 points while Elie and Owens each had 8.  But Seattle would get back into it when Eddie Johnson came off of George Karl’s bench and scored 10 points in the last 3 minutes of the quarter.

Nate McMillan also came in and settled the team down after Gary Payton was playing a bit out of control.  Seattle pulled back within 35-34 at the end of the 1st quarter.

The 2nd quarter would be characterized by a lot of free throws as both teams were playing physically but nothing got out of hand.

The Warriors went on a quick 6-0 run but Seattle got back into it.  Seattle’s surge would be highlighted by two Shawn Kemp dunks that have stood the test of time.

The first was when he got the ball at the top of the key with a wide open lane.  Kemp jumped, brought the ball back behind his head with the right hand, cradled it, and then tomahawked it over Alton Lister, who was trying to take a charge.

That slam gave Seattle a 48-47 lead.  They increased it to 55-50 but Chris Gatling sparked a 10-0 Warriors run to give them the lead.

Gatling then continued to play a spark as he blocked a McMillan shot on a drive.  But then Kemp got the ball and went up with Gatling.  Kemp powered the ball over Chris and drew a foul for the second big Kemp slam.

The three-point play cut the lead to 60-58, which would be the score at halftime.  Below are both Kemp slams:

Hardaway led Golden State with 17 points while Kemp had 17 and 12 rebounds at the half.  Shawn’s strong play, lost in the dunks, was continuing from the 4th quarter of Game 3.

Golden State opened the 2nd half on a roll as well.  Owens led the Warriors to a 68-60 lead and forced George Karl to use a timeout with 9:25 left in the quarter.

The Sonics brought Johnson and McMillan back into the game and this time McMillan sparked Seattle with 5 points in his team’s 10-3 run over the next 4 minutes to cut it to 71-70.

Payton later came back in and played a little more under control.  He found Johnson for a jumper to give Seattle a 76-75 lead.

The teams traded hoops as Elie and Sarunas Marciulionis sparked Golden State, while Payton had 4 assists and a field goal over the last 5 minutes of the quarter.

The last assist came in the last few seconds of the 3rd as Payton recovered a rebound and found Michael Cage for a layup to give Seattle an 88-86 lead heading into the 4th.

Seattle then pushed the lead out to 94-86 over the first minute and a half.  They would maintain a 105-96 advantage with 5:41 left as Payton, Pierce, and Johnson were playing splendidly.

Meanwhile, Golden State’s two stars were struggling.  Chris Mullin shot 4-for-12 for the game and sat in the final 5:41 with an ailing back that he hurt in the 1st quarter.  Hardaway was 8-for-29 from the field, 3-for-13 on threes, and, most surprisingly, 8-for-15 on free throws.

But Gatling, Elie, and Marciulionis would continue to play out of their minds.  Gatling put back a miss, Elie got a steal and breakaway slam, Marciulionis got a breakaway after a long pass by Elie, Marciulionis found Elie for a jumper in the lane, Marciulionis completed the 10-0 run with a breakaway scoop after a steal.  The Warriors were back in the lead at 106-105.

Pierce stopped the run with a breakaway three-point play off an assist from McMillan.  Hardaway nailed a high-arcing three at the end of the shot clock.  Kemp kicked out to McMillan for a jumper.  Owens recovered a loose ball and laid it in.

With 1:49 left, Marciulionis split two free throws and Golden State led 112-110.  Eddie Johnson tied it with a leaner in the lane.  With under a minute left, Hardaway drove and was fouled by McMillan.  He split the free throws as Golden State finished 25-for-39 from the line.  The Warriors still led 113-112 at this point.

But Pierce broke free from Elie and McMillan found him for a layup.  Seattle led 114-113 and Don Nelson used a timeout with 39.2 seconds left.

He went to Hardaway, who bricked a pull-up jumper in the lane.  Kemp rebounded and had the ball knocked away right to Payton.  Gary was fouled with 25.9 seconds left and made both free throws for a 116-113 Seattle lead.

After another Warriors timeout, Hardaway went for the tie but missed a three.  The ball kicked out to Elie, who missed what was a long two-point attempt (but may have been called a three because there was no replay at the time).  Kemp then grabbed his 20th rebound, to go with 21 points, and gave it to Payton.  Payton was fouled with 8.5 seconds left.

Payton split the free throws this time and Golden State gave themselves a chance when Marciulionis nailed a three with 4.6 seconds left.

Seattle used a timeout and got the ball to Pierce, a 92% foul shooter in 1992.  Pierce nailed both for a three-point lead.

Without any timeouts to spare, the Warriors last chance went by the wayside when Hardaway airballed a prayer from half-court.

Seattle had stunned the 55-27 Warriors and were moving on to the 2nd round.  After Kemp had seemingly come of age in Game 3, it was Gary Payton who would do the same in Game 4 with 11 2nd half points and 9 in the 4th quarter.

This series victory by Seattle would turn out to be the only playoff series in 1992 in which the lower seeded team won, and each team went the opposite way in the future.

Seattle, despite a 4-1 loss to Utah in the next round, would go on to bigger things with Kemp and Payton leading the way.

Golden State would win one playoff series over the next 20 seasons and would not get as many as 55 wins until 2015, when the Warriors’ long string of frustration vaporized.

Unfortunately, by 2015, no basketball team was residing in Seattle.  Something made all the more painful by seeing the crowd’s passion that was evidenced in these latest two wins against Golden State.

Golden State starters (points scored)

Chris Mullin (11) – Small Forward

Billy Owens (21) – Power Forward

Alton Lister (4) – Center

Tim Hardaway (27) – Point Guard

Mario Elie (22) – Shooting Guard

Golden State bench (points scored)

Sarunas Marciulionis (17)

Chris Gatling (14)

Tyrone Hill (0)

Victor Alexander (0)

Vincent Askew (0)

Golden State Coach: Don Nelson

Seattle starters (points scored)

Derrick McKey (10) – Small Forward

Shawn Kemp (21) – Power Forward

Benoit Benjamin (3) – Center

Gary Payton (15) – Point Guard

Ricky Pierce (27) – Shooting Guard

Seattle bench (points scored)

Eddie Johnson (26)

Nate McMillan (11)

Michael Cage (6)

Seattle Coach: George Karl

May 3, 1992 – East Quarterfinals, Game 5: Detroit Pistons 87 @New York Knicks 94

After blowing a chance in Game 3, Detroit survived elimination in Game 4 as Joe Dumars and Isiah Thomas had their best games of the series.

On the contrary, New York didn’t seem to come out with the intensity that they had in the 3rd game.  Now the Knicks were playing a deciding game at home for the first time in 18 years.

But the home team had the same dry periods in the 1st quarter of Game 5.  Detroit scored 6 of the first 8 points before New York seemed to right themselves with a 7-0 run.  During that run, Charles Oakley was called for another flagrant foul against Dennis Rodman.  This time, Rodman missed the two free throws.

However, the Knicks then went 4+ minutes without scoring while Detroit ran off 11 straight points.  New York then cut it back to one with another 7-0 run.

The Pistons led 23-19 at the end of the 1st quarter as Isiah Thomas scored 6 points on 6 free throws.

The scoring slowed down in the 2nd quarter as Detroit got one field goal in the first 8 minutes.

New York took as much as a 5-point lead as rookie Greg Anthony sparked them off the bench with 5 points and an assist.

Late in the quarter, double technicals were called on Rodman and Anthony Mason.  This would perhaps prove to be a bigger factor when, in the 4th quarter, it looked like the referees were about to put another technical on Mason but pulled back.

Mason would prove to be a big factor as Charles Oakley was slowed with a hip pointer that he injured in the 1st quarter.  New York led 38-35 at the half.

Through the first 7 minutes of the 3rd quarter, Detroit scored more points than they had in the 2nd quarter and led 51-48.

A three-point play on a putback by Xavier McDaniel tied the game.  Dumars responded with his own three-point play (on, really, a prayer of a shot in the lane that he only attempted when he heard the whistle) and drew the 4th foul on a struggling John Starks.

Starks had hit his first shot of the game and then missed his next 10.  This forced Pat Riley to go to a struggling Gerald Wilkins, who the Knicks would end up releasing before the start of the next season.

But Wilkins hit some big shots, especially in the 3rd quarter, as New York went on an 8-0 run.  His biggest came with 1.1 seconds left in the 3rd when he recovered an offensive rebound and hit a pull-up from the baseline to give New York a 63-58 lead heading into the 4th.

It continued as a three-point play by Wilkins on a lefty drive down the lane put New York up 68-60 and drew Bill Laimbeer’s 4th foul.

Isiah Thomas kept Detroit in it as the Pistons cut the lead to 2 points twice.  But they were held off by jumpers from McDaniel and Patrick Ewing, who was scoring his points but struggling from the field.

Ewing later put back a missed free throw from Anthony to give the Knicks a 79-72 lead with 5 minutes to go.  Mason got a three-point play (after a second technical was almost called on him) on a putback and Greg Anthony drew Isiah’s 4th foul after getting a steal.

The Knicks grabbed their biggest lead when Ewing kicked out to Starks, who broke his drought with a three from the top to give New York an 87-76 advantage with under 2 1/2 minutes to go.

But Isiah wasn’t done, and brought back memories of the last time he played the Knicks in a do-or-die Game 5:

Isiah hit a three after Dumars grabbed an offensive rebound.  Then John Salley got a piece of a Ewing jumper and Isiah hit another three to cut it to 87-82.

But it wasn’t to be this time as Starks scored off a baseline drive.  Ewing later blocked a three-point attempt by Isiah and then jammed home a missed free throw by Mark Jackson to put the game on ice.

For the first time since 1986, the Detroit Pistons were eliminated before the Eastern Conference Finals.  Their next playoff game would be played in 1996 with only Joe Dumars remaining.  Their breakup began with Chuck Daly resigning his coaching post two days after this game and eventually being hired by the New Jersey Nets to replace Bill Fitch.  This came after Daly coached the U.S. Olympic team in the summer of ’92.

For the Knicks, they were on to play the Bulls.  They had been eliminated by Chicago 2 of the previous 3 seasons, but with Pat Riley and the Knicks new physical nature on board, the rivalry basically began with this next series.

Detroit starters (points scored)

Dennis Rodman (2) – Small Forward

Orlando Woolridge (12) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (8) – Center

Isiah Thomas (31) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (12) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (7)

John Salley (13)

Darrell Walker (2)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

New York starters (points scored)

Xavier McDaniel (19) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (0) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (31) – Center

Mark Jackson (7) – Point Guard

Gerald Wilkins (13) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

John Starks (10)

Anthony Mason (5)

Greg Anthony (9)

Kiki Vandeweghe (0)

New York Coach: Pat Riley

May 4, 1992 – East Semifinals, Game 2: Boston Celtics 104 @Cleveland Cavaliers 98

The Boston Celtics came into the playoffs on an 8-game winning streak.  All of those 8 wins came without Larry Bird, who was trying to come back one final time from his back issues.

The success continued in the first round of the playoffs as Boston swept an Indiana team that had taken the Celtics to 5 games the previous season.  The biggest surprise was John Bagley, who was scoring big highlighted by a 35-point effort in Game 2 against the Pacers.

It all came back down to earth in Game 1 at Cleveland.  The Cavaliers destroyed the Celtics 101-76, out-scoring them 33-14 over the last quarter and a half.  Robert Parish struggled with 4 points and 3 rebounds before going out with an injury in the 3rd quarter.

Brad Daugherty had 26 points and 17 rebounds while Larry Nance had 24 and 9.  For the millionth time in the last 6 seasons, the Celtics looked done to everybody.

But back they came in Game 2 as both teams pushed the tempo over the first 6 minutes.  It set the stage for the rest of the game in which both teams shot over 50%, although the game slowed down after those first 6 minutes.

Parish opened quickly with a hook shot in the lane.  Reggie Lewis followed with a steal and breakaway.

Parish later answered a 5-0 Cleveland run with a pull-up from the baseline.  Then after Craig Ehlo, who was back in the starting lineup after recovering from a late-season knee injury, nailed a three, Bagley pushed it right back up and found Ed Pinckney for a layup.

Bagley would push it twice more in transition and blow by Mark Price for two layups, which shouldn’t happen considering how slow Bagley was at this point of his career, but he was getting it done so far in the playoffs.

However, after a 7-0 Cleveland run that forced Chris Ford to use a timeout at the 5:48 mark, Boston slowed it down to play their style.  Cleveland was up 17-14 at this point.

Boston went on an 8-2 run after the timeout and finished the 1st quarter at 68% shooting from the field.  But they only led 30-27 despite Lewis scoring 10 points and Parish 8.  Kevin McHale hit a foul-line jumper at the buzzer after Bagley penetrated to give the Celtics their lead.

Cleveland opened the 2nd quarter on a 10-0 run as Boston had to use two timeouts over the first 3 minutes.  Cleveland kept the lead for the rest of the quarter with balance but Parish and McHale kept the Celtics within range.

Parish had 14 points at halftime while McHale had 10, 8 of them in the 2nd quarter.  Lewis had 12 points at the half while Daugherty had 13 for Cleveland and Price had 10.

The Cavaliers led 55-54 with Boston shooting 63% from the field and Cleveland 58%.

The 3rd quarter went back-and-forth as Parish led Boston to a lead with 7 points in the first 7 minutes of the quarter.  Lewis contributed 5 more before picking up his 4th foul and sitting with Boston up 69-66.

Daugherty scored 7 more points in the 3rd and John Battle hit a scoop in the lane with 1.3 seconds left in the quarter to give Cleveland a 76-75 lead entering the 4th and give Battle 12 points off the bench.

Boston opened the 4th quarter on a 6-0 run as their inside people (McHale, Pinckney, and Parish) were dominating Cleveland’s big front line (The Cavaliers only out-rebounded Boston by one).  Parish continued to be the key as he, at one point, hit 9 consecutive shots from the field.

His 9th consecutive field goal and 27th point gave Boston a 91-82 lead with 5:48 left and forced Lenny Wilkens to use a timeout.  Parish had made himself effective in this game by making himself available in the post and for outlets when another Celtic penetrated.

Cleveland was not effective in keeping their man in front of them at the perimeter, which was the start of their normally great defense looking ineffective and giving up a high shooting percentage to Boston.  Parish and McHale were also winning the position battles down low and getting the ball in the post.

Price brought Cleveland back to within four points with a three-pointer and two free throws, but Cleveland would be held at bay by McHale, Bagley, and Lewis.

The Reggie Lewis daggers would be the biggest, as he hit one pull-up at the end of the shot clock, grabbed an offensive rebound and hit two free throws with 1:50 to go, and then connected on a baseline jumper at the 1:14 mark to put Boston up 103-93 and effectively ending the game.

The old Celtics had come back to life and stolen one in Cleveland by shooting 59% for the game from the field.

This wouldn’t be the last that Cleveland saw of Reggie Lewis in this series and, in a few games, they would get some help from one, Larry Bird.

Boston starters (points scored)

Kevin Gamble (6) – Small Forward

Ed Pinckney (12) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (27) – Center

John Bagley (11) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (26) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Kevin McHale (18)

Sherman Douglas (4)

Joe Kleine (0)

Boston Coach: Chris Ford

Cleveland starters (points scored)

Mike Sanders (4) – Small Forward

Larry Nance (14) – Power Forward

Brad Daugherty (22) – Center

Mark Price (20) – Point Guard

Craig Ehlo (8) – Shooting Guard

Cleveland bench (points scored)

Hot Rod Williams (12)

John Battle (14)

Steve Kerr (4)

Cleveland Coach: Lenny Wilkens

May 5, 1992 – East Semifinals, Game 1: New York Knicks 94 @Chicago Bulls 89

There was some question whether former Bull Charles Oakley would be as physical with Chicago as he was against Detroit.

It was answered early when he neck-tied Bill Cartwright on a drive to the hoop and was called for a flagrant foul.

Before this happened, New York had taken a 4-0 lead in Game 1 when Gerald Wilkins hit two jumpers on kickouts by Patrick Ewing and Phil Jackson had already used a timeout.

Cartwright missed both free throws and the Bulls didn’t get on the board until the 9:56 mark of the 1st quarter.  Chicago also missed 8 of their first 9 shots.

But New York could not take advantage early on and Chicago had it tied at 16 with around 3 minutes to go in the 1st quarter.  But then Scottie Pippen picked up his 2nd foul and Jackson took out Michael Jordan for his normal rest at the end of the 1st quarter.

So for a rare time, the Bulls didn’t have either Pippen or Jordan on the court and New York took advantage.  John Starks hit a pull-up from the baseline after it looked like he pushed off on John Paxson.  It wasn’t called and Paxson disagreed with the non-call enough to pick up a technical.

Phil Jackson picked up another technical later in the 1st as free throws from Starks built a lead.  Then Greg Anthony hit a fall-away three to give New York a 25-16 lead at the end of the 1st quarter.

Chicago’s struggles were personified when Will Perdue missed 4 straight free throws late in the 1st quarter.  Perdue would not play for the rest of the game and his playing time diminished in favor of Scott Williams as the playoffs went along.

More than anything though, New York’s defense was swarming in the 1st half as Chicago went through an 8-minute stretch (even with Jordan and Pippen back on the floor) with only 1 field goal.

The problem was that the Knicks couldn’t take advantage of it as their offense struggled.  They maintained a lead for the rest of the half but it never got to be bigger than 44-32 with a minute and a half to go in the 1st half.

Ewing was 3-for-11 and only had 6 points at halftime but he did have 3 blocks.  Xavier McDaniel was also the beneficiary of some Ewing feeds as he scored 12 points.

Pippen and Jordan brought Chicago back to within 46-38 at the half as both teams shot 39% from the field in the 1st half.

One figured Chicago would get it going on both ends for a stretch and that New York had to be ready for it.  It happened early in the 3rd as Chicago cut it to 52-46 at the 9:08 mark and forced Pat Riley to use a timeout.

Riley had to do it again 29 seconds later when Pippen blocked a shot and Paxson drove for a layup.  It didn’t help much as the crowd and the Bulls defense was getting into it.

Pippen cut it to 52-50 on a lefty floater in the lane.  Ewing then made a big play that got him going.  He faced up on Cartwright at the baseline, drove by him with a crossover, and slammed one down.

The Knicks were able to hold off Chicago for this stretch as Greg Anthony hit a big three at the end of the shot clock and also drove down the lane for a score.

But Jordan just kept coming.  A fall-away in the post over Starks gave MJ his 8th point of the quarter and 20th of the game to cut New York’s lead to 61-60.

But Ewing put back a miss and later hit three baseline jumpers as New York built a 73-64 advantage heading into the 4th quarter.

Ewing hit two more jumpers early in the 4th to give the Knicks a 79-69 lead.  At this point, Chicago had gotten no production from their bench.  But the reserves sparked a rally.

Scott Williams hit a baseline jumper.  Craig Hodges finished a 3-on-1 break.  B.J. Armstrong hit a pull-up jumper at the end of the shot clock and then another tough shot from the wing.

Two free throws by Jordan after Ewing picked up his 4th foul gave the Bulls their first lead of the game at 80-79 at the 5:53 mark.  Jordan then crossed over on a drive down the lane and finished with a lefty banker for a three point Bulls lead.

But Ewing ended a 13-0 Bulls run and a 5+ minute Knick drought with a turnaround jumper from the baseline.  On New York’s next possession, Ewing didn’t get the ball until he was outside at the top of the key with the shot clock running down.  He still hit the jumper at the buzzer to give New York an 83-82 lead.

Jordan and Ewing traded baskets over the next few minutes as each team traded leads.  Chicago tied it at 87 with 1:13 to go when Jordan made a free throw.

New York got two chances on their next possession and Ewing cashed in on the second chance with 33.8 seconds left when he hit a running jumper while going across the lane.  Ewing was now 11-for-14 from the field in the 2nd half after his struggles in the 1st half.

Chicago didn’t use a timeout and went right to Jordan.  As had been the case for most of the game, Jordan was bottled up in the lane.  He kicked out to Pippen, who was long on a jumper from the left corner.

Ewing rebounded and was fouled by Horace Grant with 13.4 seconds left.  Ewing hit both free throws.  The Bulls got another chance when Pippen put back a Jordan miss and then Mark Jackson split his free throws with 4.1 seconds left.

But Jackson’s miss came on the 2nd free throw and Ewing grabbed the rebound.  He was fouled with 1.1 seconds left and hit both free throws to clinch the game after 28 2nd half points.

The Knicks had heard that they were going to get swept by the Bulls in this series.  Chicago had won 14 consecutive games against New York dating back to 1990 and 17 consecutive at Chicago Stadium dating back to 1987.

But New York had a 1-0 series advantage after one of Patrick Ewing’s best playoff performances (and maybe this was the best when all was said and done).

New York starters (points scored)

Xavier McDaniel (16) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (4) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (34) – Center

Mark Jackson (6) – Point Guard

Gerald Wilkins (6) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

John Starks (12)

Greg Anthony (10)

Anthony Mason (4)

Kiki Vandeweghe (2)

James Donaldson (0)

New York Coach: Pat Riley

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (22) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (9) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (6) – Center

John Paxson (12) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (31) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (4)

Scott Williams (3)

Craig Hodges (2)

Will Perdue (0)

Cliff Levingston (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

ewing-92

Patrick Ewing led New York to a Game 1 upset in Chicago with 28 2nd half points *photo courtesy of Getty Images

May 7, 1992 – East Semifinals, Game 2: New York Knicks 78 @Chicago Bulls 86

It looked for much of the night that Chicago would cruise.  Not many would have blamed the Knicks.  Their last 4 games against Detroit were hard fought and they had gotten a hard fought win in Game 1 in Chicago.

One would think the Bulls would come back strong and New York would be too emotionally drained to respond, at least that’s what TNT analyst Doug Collins thought.

But early on, New York stayed with a hotter shooting Chicago team.  John Paxson hit three wing jumpers and Scottie Pippen hit a runner in the lane.

But, led by 6 early points from Xavier McDaniel and back-to-back baskets by Gerald Wilkins and Mark Jackson, the Knicks tied it at 12 with 5:48 left in the 1st quarter and forced Phil Jackson to use a timeout.

From there, Michael Jordan got going as he was determined to go down low against John Starks and get some baskets.  At one point, MJ scored 15 straight Chicago points as the Bulls took the lead.

Jordan had 17 1st quarter points.  But, led by Jackson, New York stayed within range as both teams had a hot shooting 1st quarter.  The Bulls led 27-24 at the end of the quarter.

B.J. Armstrong opened the 2nd quarter with a three-pointer as Chicago’s bench got involved much earlier than they did in Game 1.  But the Bulls went scoreless for the next 4 minutes and the Knicks bench gave them a 32-30 lead with 7:33 left.

But then New York went cold and only had 2 field goals for the rest of the 1st half.  Chicago’s bench pushed them on a 7-0 run, despite Cliff Levingston almost getting the Will Perdue disease from Game 1 by missing 4 straight free throws (Levingston missed his first 3 before making one).

Armstrong and Scott Williams were positive factors.  Even Perdue came in and did some good things after his nightmare of Game 1 (Perdue’s only basket would be taken away at the end of the half when his putback came after the buzzer, despite it initially counting).

Meanwhile, New York’s biggest problem was a combination of not getting Patrick Ewing the ball and when Ewing got the ball, he wasn’t as aggressive as he was in Game 1.  Ewing only had 5 field goal attempts in the 1st half and, although the Bulls were a bit more aggressive in double teaming, seemed to be content with getting the ball back outside to his wing players.

The Knicks also had 10 first half turnovers, which obviously didn’t help.  There also was the Michael Jordan factor as MJ hit two more turnaround jumpers in the post and was, at one point, 10-for-13 from the field with 21 points.

But MJ would go cold and miss his last three field goal attempts of the 1st half.  Pippen also would never get going as he finished 2-for-12 from the field.

With that backdrop, Chicago only held a 46-37 halftime lead after Perdue’s basket was taken away.

Both teams drudged along in the 3rd quarter with Chicago continuing to hold the lead.  New York had 9 more turnovers in the 3rd and Starks picked up fouls number 4 and 5.

But the only positive factor for the Bulls was that Horace Grant got going a little bit with 6 points, including a tip-in with 0.8 seconds left in the 3rd to give Chicago a 64-54 lead heading into the 4th.

Jordan and Pippen struggled in the 2nd half (Pippen for the entire game) and the biggest factor was that neither got a dunk or clean layup in the first 2 games of the series.  New York was continuing to do a great job of clogging the lane and forcing the Bulls to shoot outside shots.

Patrick Ewing finally got going and was aggressive in the 4th quarter to lead New York back.  Ewing hit three baseline jumpers to cut Chicago’s lead to 71-66 with 6:56 left as Jackson had to use a timeout and the crowd started to murmur some concern.

A field goal and two free throws from Anthony Mason cut the lead to 73-70 before Jordan hit his 2nd field goal of the 2nd half.  Then B.J. Armstrong got a steal from a struggling Greg Anthony, who had gotten lots of playing time down the stretch for Pat Riley in a lot of the playoff games so far.

Armstrong dribbled it down court against Anthony on a fast break and found a trailing Horace Grant for a slam that got the crowd going and forced Riley to use a timeout with 4:12 left.

But New York stayed in it as Chicago struggled from the foul line.  Ewing hit four straight free throws and then, after Jordan went 0-for-2 from the line, cut the Bulls lead to 79-78 with a deep baseline jumper with 2:03 left.

The Bulls were beyond concerned and Starks even had enough irrational confidence to yell to Doug Collins on the TNT crew that they were going to win this game.

The Bulls ran down the shot clock and Jordan found Armstrong outside.  B.J. went to the foul line and hit a pull-up jumper as the clock expired.

Then after Ewing was called for an offensive foul trying to get position against Bill Cartwright down low, the Bulls ran down the shot clock again.  And, again, the ball ended up in the hands of Armstrong.

B.J. this time went baseline and hit a pull-up as the clock expired to give Chicago an 83-78 lead with 25.7 seconds to go.

Jordan then stole a Starks pass to Anthony and the Bulls sealed up the win.  Armstrong had been a HUGE factor shooting 7-for-10 from the field and hitting two big field goals when the Bulls needed it.

But it was looking like, as the series went to New York, the Bulls couldn’t exactly look past the Knicks.

New York starters (points scored)

Xavier McDaniel (15) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (3) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (16) – Center

Mark Jackson (10) – Point Guard

Gerald Wilkins (8) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

John Starks (6)

Anthony Mason (13)

Kiki Vandeweghe (5)

Greg Anthony (2)

Kennard Winchester (0)

New York Coach: Pat Riley

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (6) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (14) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (2) – Center

John Paxson (10) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (27) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (18)

Scott Williams (8)

Cliff Levingston (1)

Will Perdue (0)

Craig Hodges (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

May 8, 1992 – East Semifinals, Game 3: Cleveland Cavaliers 107 @Boston Celtics 110

Despite being back on their home court, the Celtics wouldn’t shoot nearly as well as they did in Game 2 (In fact, Cleveland would have the high shooting percentage at 57%).

Boston, who was without Larry Bird for one last game, would hit their first two shots and then miss their next 8.  Cleveland took a 17-8 lead when Mark Price scored 8 points by stepping back against the trap and hitting jumpers.  Price also threw a beautiful half-court lob pass to Larry Nance for a reverse slam.

After Chris Ford used a Boston timeout with 4:01 left, the Celtics went on a 10-0 run to take the lead with 1:37 left in the quarter.  The Cavs came out on top at the end of the 1st quarter, 22-20.

Cleveland took an early 8-point lead in the 2nd quarter.  But Boston stayed in the game thanks to their bench and to their offensive boardwork.  Kevin McHale had 11 2nd quarter points against good defense from Hot Rod Williams, who forced McHale to use three moves to get a shot off in the low post.

A bigger factor turned out to be Dee Brown.  Brown had been bitten by the flu bug late in the season and lost his starting spot to John Bagley and his backup spot to Sherman Douglas.  But Brown hit a jumper for his first points of the series and, later, got a breakaway slam after a block by McHale.

Boston would come back to tie it at 48 at halftime when Ed Pinckney grabbed Boston’s 10th offensive rebound of the 1st half, scored and drew a foul for the three-point play.

McHale led Boston with 15 points while Price had 15 for Cleveland.  But, for Boston, Bagley was 1-for-7 from the field and Robert Parish was 0-for-6, although he made up for it on the boards and with defense against Brad Daugherty, holding him to 5 points.

Daugherty got going a little bit in the 3rd with 9 points.  But the game would be back and forth until Cleveland grabbed a 5-point lead with a 6-0 run.

Nance would get going in the last 5 minutes of the 3rd as he scored 7 of his 9 points for the quarter to keep Cleveland ahead.  The Cavs would be up by as much as 7 and would lead 83-79 going into the 4th.

Cleveland would continue to lead early in the 4th but Boston stayed within range.  After Nance picked up his 5th foul, Parish hit a baseline jumper after another offensive rebound (Boston would have 21 for the game and Parish had 9 of them) for his first field goal.

The Cavs lead was cut to 91-89 at that point and a timeout was taken with 6:50 remaining.

After Price hit two free throws immediately following the timeout, Pinckney drove down the lane for a banker and Brown, who got the 4th quarter minutes for a struggling Bagley, hit a pull-up from the top.

Hot Rod Williams then committed his 5th foul on an offensive foul and another timeout was used with 5:50 left and the game tied at 93.

From there, it would be the Reggie Lewis show for Boston.  He hit two jumpers and Parish hit a turnaround.  But Cleveland, led by Price, matched them and tied it at 99.

But Lewis followed with a pull-up from the elbow while drawing the 5th foul from Mike Sanders, who was guarding Lewis for much of the stretch.  That three-point play put Boston up by three.

Lewis followed with a banker in transition after Brown pushed the ball.  The Celtics now led 104-99 with 3:09 left and Cleveland used a timeout.

Both teams then traded baskets for the next few possession, which meant Boston led 108-103 with 1:44 left after Lewis hit for his 13th point of the quarter with a pull-up in the lane after a spin.

With 1:31 left, Brown committed his 6th foul and Price hit two free throws to cut the lead to 108-105.  The Celtics then ran down the shot clock and McHale hit a tough turnaround jumper from the baseline to make it 110-105.  McHale then grabbed a defensive rebound after two Cavalier misses and the game looked like it was curtains.

But Daugherty rebounded a Bagley miss at the end of the shot clock and Craig Ehlo hit a pull-up from the foul line with 13.5 seconds left to cut the lead to three.

The Celtics then passed the ball around to avoid getting fouled.  It went brilliantly at first but then Nance deflected a pass with 3 seconds left and Ehlo came up with it.

The Cavs had a timeout left but in the haste of the play (and not knowing how much time was left), Ehlo just threw up a prayer that was nowhere close as the buzzer went off.

Boston had now won 13 of their last 14 games and had a 2-1 lead against Cleveland with Larry Bird coming back for Game 4.

Cleveland starters (points scored)

Mike Sanders (7) – Small Forward

Larry Nance (19) – Power Forward

Brad Daugherty (22) – Center

Mark Price (27) – Point Guard

Craig Ehlo (15) – Shooting Guard

Cleveland bench (points scored)

Hot Rod Williams (11)

John Battle (6)

Steve Kerr (0)

Henry James (0)

Cleveland Coach: Lenny Wilkens

Boston starters (points scored)

Kevin Gamble (10) – Small Forward

Ed Pinckney (17) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (11) – Center

John Bagley (2) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (36) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Kevin McHale (22)

Dee Brown (10)

Joe Kleine (2)

Sherman Douglas (0)

Boston Coach: Chris Ford

reggie lewis

Reggie Lewis was having a breakout playoff series against Craig Ehlo and Cleveland.  Unfortunately, this would be the last playoff series Lewis appeared in.  Photo courtesy of ebay

May 9, 1992 – East Semifinals, Game 3: Chicago Bulls 94 @New York Knicks 86

The Knicks had put concern into the Bulls minds in the first 2 games.  They took the first game and nearly the second.  But their physical defense had made an impact and now they were going back to Madison Square Garden for games on back-to-back days.

But, true to their championship metal, the Bulls came out aggressive in Game 3.  They started by pressing and trapping all over the floor and throwing double teams at Patrick Ewing.  On offense, they hit 10 of their first 12 shots from the field.

Scottie Pippen looked sprier after his struggles in Game 2 (due perhaps mostly to an injured ankle, although the Knicks defense probably helped too).

Pippen hit 2 of his first 3 shots, both jumpers, while Michael Jordan hit his first 4 shots.  This included Jordan’s first dunk of the series when he got a steal from Mark Jackson off the trap and went in for a breakaway reverse slam.

After a three-pointer by John Paxson with 2:46 left in the 1st, the Bulls led 29-17 after a 16-4 spurt.

The Bulls led by as much as 13 in the 1st quarter, helped by 12 points from Jordan, but New York cut it to 32-23 at the end of the quarter.

The Knicks then managed to hang around in a much lower scoring 2nd quarter (as the game got back to New York pace).

But the Bulls still ed 48-39 late in the quarter when Michael Jordan got another chance for a breakaway slam after Chicago won a jump ball on their end.

Yep, home movie style and you got to look at it twice!  After not getting a chance to slam in the first two games, maybe Jordan forgot how, right??

The Knicks gained the momentum from the missed slam and finished the half on an 8-0 run to cut the Bulls lead to 51-50 at halftime.

Jordan still had 19 points in the 1st half while Pippen had 12.  Ewing was held to 8 points as Chicago’s defense was surrounding him.  Charles Oakley and Gerald Wilkins actually led New York with 11 1st half points.

The Knicks then took a quick lead in the first minute of the 3rd quarter when Mark Jackson hit a pull-up from the top and then found Ewing with a behind-the-back pass for a baseline jumper.

But the scoring slowed down considerably over the rest of the quarter.  There’d be one field goal scored by either team over the next 4 minutes.

Chicago got some help from its bench as Cliff Levingston put back his own miss and got a three-point play out of it at the 6:19 mark to give Chicago a 57-56 lead.  Will Perdue later put back a miss as well.

The Knicks also got a bench assist as John Starks nailed a three at the 2:41 mark to tie the game at 61.

But the Bulls finished the quarter on a 10-3 run to take a 71-64 advantage heading into the 4th.  Jordan had 9 more points in the quarter for 28 overall.

For the 3rd straight game, Ewing (who was getting a rest during the Bulls rally late in the 3rd) got going in the 4th quarter as he’d score 13 of his 27 points.  But he’d turn out to be the Knicks only offense (stop me if you’ve heard this before).

Ewing made two straight jumpers to cut the lead to 73-68.  But two jumpers by Pippen, including a three, increased the Bulls lead back to 78-68.

The Knicks would not be able to sustain any rally as, for the first time in the series, they got no production from Xavier McDaniel, Anthony Mason, or Greg Anthony.

Chicago countered all Patrick Ewing rallies.  And the 4th quarter would be personified by a highlight in which Jordan seemed to be telling the Knicks what they could do with their physical play.

It started on a rebound scramble when the ball found Jordan at the left wing.  Jordan then drove to the basket and slammed into Ewing, trying to take a charge.  Meanwhile, while Jordan was in the air, McDaniel slammed into him.  This caused MJ to land kind of awkwardly, awkwardly enough that people have torn knee ligaments landing like this.

MJ scored and drew the foul as McDaniel fell into Ewing.  As the two Knicks were on the ground, Jordan stood over them and yelled something that wasn’t very nice to them.

That three-point play gave the Bulls an 87-77 lead with 4:21 left and Jordan went to the bench briefly with a bloody nose.

After Ewing made back-to-back baskets, Pippen knocked down a killer three at the end of the shot clock to give Chicago a 90-81 lead with 2:42 left.

New York would score one field goal the rest of the way as Ewing got only one shot attempt and Chicago survived to take a 2-1 lead.

But the Bulls would have to play the Knicks again in just over 24 hours.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (26) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (10) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (7) – Center

John Paxson (5) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (32) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (0)

Will Perdue (6)

Cliff Levingston (3)

Craig Hodges (3)

Scott Williams (2)

Stacey King (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

New York starters (points scored)

Xavier McDaniel (11) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (13) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (27) – Center

Mark Jackson (8) – Point Guard

Gerald Wilkins (13) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

John Starks (9)

Greg Anthony (5)

Anthony Mason (0)

Kiki Vandeweghe (0)

New York Coach: Pat Riley

May 10, 1992 – East Semifinals, Game 4: Cleveland Cavaliers 114 @Boston Celtics 112 (OT)

Larry Bird was back for Boston.  But he didn’t start for this game as the Celtics were rolling, having won 13 of their last 14 games.

They started out well in Game 4 as Reggie Lewis hit his first 4 shots, including a three.  Ed Pinckney also continued his strong contribution and Robert Parish got two field goals after not getting one until the 4th quarter of Game 3.

Boston led 21-14 when Mark Price and Brad Daugherty led a 6-0 Cavs run to bring them right back.  Another 6-0 Cleveland run gave them a 26-25 lead late in the 1st quarter before a baseline drive and reverse layup by Lewis, for his 13th point, gave Boston the lead entering the 2nd quarter.

Mark Price was off to an aggressive start for Cleveland with 6 points and 6 assists in the 1st quarter.  Price kept the Cavs in it for the early part of the 2nd quarter when Boston seemed to get an emotional lift from Bird entering the game for the 1st time.

Bird would hit his first shot attempt but otherwise looked a step slow after being out for a month.

Cleveland got good play from rookie Terrell Brandon off the bench (who would make Steve Kerr expendable in the off-season, but he was still a year away from finding his way onto the Bulls).  That coupled with Reggie Lewis getting a rest, contributing to a Celtics drought, gave Cleveland a 48-43 lead with 3:46 left.

Larry Nance would then finish the half strong as the Cavaliers expanded their advantage.  A three-pointer by Price at the buzzer gave Cleveland a 63-51 halftime lead.  Nance had 16 points, including 6 in the final 3:46.  Daugherty also had 16 and Price 13.  Lewis had 19 for Boston.

The lead stayed at 12 for the first 3 minutes as a struggling Kevin Gamble picked up his 4th foul.  Rick Fox, playing for the first time since Game 1, came into the game to replace him and contributed with hustle and a three-pointer, but he committed 4 fouls in 5 minutes trying to stop Nance.

Nance scored 8 more points in the 3rd quarter as Cleveland held off Boston’s first run that started when Daugherty picked up his 4th foul.  The Celtics, led by Lewis, made a late run in the 3rd to cut the Cavs lead to 83-80 entering the 4th.

Boston continued its surge as they went on a 6-0 run to take an 88-85 lead with 9:56 left.  It was a 4th quarter run that had won them Game 3 and they pushed their current advantage to as much as 5.

But Cleveland stayed with them as they matched the Celtics basket-for-basket through a long stretch while slowing down Reggie Lewis, who had 1 field goal in the final 11 minutes of regulation and through overtime.

Price completed the Cavs comeback with his 22nd point on a lefty drive down the lane to give Cleveland a 99-98 lead with 2:41 left.  But they didn’t score for the next minute and a half as Boston took a 103-99 lead on a jumper from John Bagley.

But Price came right back with a running banker in the lane.  Then with under a minute to go, Nance blocked a shot by Parish and Pinckney fouled Hot Rod Williams on the rebound scramble.

With 29.3 seconds left, Williams made both free throws to tie the game.  He’d get a chance to win it after Nance rebounded a miss by Lewis and Price pushed the ball for a 2-on-1 break with Hot Rod.

Bird was the only one back and had to foul Williams to stop a layup with 8.2 seconds left.  But for seemingly the first time all game, the Cavs got rattled by the crowd as Williams bricked both free throws.

Parish rebounded and Bird pushed the ball and got it to Lewis.  Lewis airballed an attempt at the buzzer with Craig Ehlo draped all over him (Jordan made THAT shot with Ehlo all over him).  Both Lewis and Bird felt Ehlo should have been called for a foul but the game went on into overtime.

Cleveland took the early advantage in overtime as Price hit a jumper and Nance hit two more.  Boston was down 109-104 with 3:40 left and had to use a timeout.

But the Cavs wouldn’t score over the next 2 minutes and a turnaround fall-away by Kevin McHale (who was having another great game off the bench) cut the lead to 109-107.  McHale missed a chance to tie it though as he missed a scoop shot after a great baseline spin.

On the other end, McHale had a key rebound taken away from him by Williams and Nance connected on a jumper to break the drought.

Boston missed another chance to tie when Lewis split two free throws and Cleveland led 111-110 with 42.9 seconds left.  Nance then found Daugherty on a cut for a layup.  Bagley followed with two free throws before Daugherty split his pair with 14.7 seconds left.

Boston had a final chance to tie with their big three in the game along with Lewis and Bagley.  Lewis penetrated and dropped off to Bird, who missed a driving banker as it looked like he was fouled.  Lewis got the rebound and airballed a shot as it looked like he was fouled (best though, make the players play through it in the final seconds).

Finally, Bagley got a third chance but Mike Sanders blocked his shot at the buzzer and Cleveland had their first playoff win in Boston (they were 0-6 previously) and had tied the series at 2.  It was also Cleveland 4th all-time road playoff victory, and the 2nd in 1992.

Cleveland rode this huge win in Boston to blowout wins in Game 5 & 7 to advance in the playoffs and bring an end to Larry Bird’s career.

Bird was moved to the starting lineup for Game 6 and had 16 points and 14 assists (including 8 and 7 in the 1st quarter) to lead Boston to their only remaining victory in Bird’s last playing appearance at Boston Garden.

Bird’s retirement started the end of Boston’s dominant reign over the NBA.  After the 1993 season, the Celtics lost two more key players (one tragically) and would compete in one more playoff series until 2002.

Cleveland starters (points scored)

Mike Sanders (9) – Small Forward

Larry Nance (32) – Power Forward

Brad Daugherty (20) – Center

Mark Price (26) – Point Guard

Craig Ehlo (1) – Shooting Guard

Cleveland bench (points scored)

Hot Rod Williams (18)

Terrell Brandon (6)

John Battle (2)

Cleveland Coach: Lenny Wilkens

Boston starters (points scored)

Kevin Gamble (4) – Small Forward

Ed Pinckney (10) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (16) – Center

John Bagley (8) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (42) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Kevin McHale (23)

Larry Bird (4)

Dee Brown (2)

Rick Fox (3)

Boston Coach: Chris Ford

nance vs bird

Larry Bird’s return would not re-vitalize the Celtics as Larry Nance and co. proved to be too much of a matchup problem for Bird, in the final moments of his career, and the Celtics *photo courtesy of Getty Images

May 10, 1992 – East Semifinals, Game 4: Chicago Bulls 86 @New York Knicks 93

For New York, in giving back home court advantage in Game 3, they had lost all the hustle stats in the 4th quarter and Patrick Ewing had not gotten the ball down the stretch when the Knicks couldn’t buy a field goal.

The Knicks were also chastised by coach Riley for losing all the hustle stats down the stretch, most notably getting out-rebounded by 10 in the 2nd half (New York was the league’s leading team on the boards during the season).  New York was also 11-for-22 from the line.

For Game 4, there would be none of that as the Knicks played with renewed intensity and gave the most help for Ewing, who would have a subpar game.

New York took an early 10-4 lead that was aided by a Phil Jackson technical.  Xavier McDaniel, who disappeared in Game 3, had 6 of those points.

But Chicago came back with an 8-0 run capped by a Pippen alley-oop to Jordan.  The teams would battle back and forth in a high-scoring (for this series) 1st quarter.  McDaniel and Gerald Wilkins each had 8 points as the Knicks took a 27-25 lead entering the 2nd quarter.

Jordan had 10 1st quarter points and continued piling them on early in the 2nd.  But he would be Chicago’s only offense for a stretch while John Starks and Anthony Mason powered New York’s attack off the bench.

The Knicks took a 40-33 lead and forced Jackson to use a timeout with 6:45 left.  At this point, Jordan had all 8 of Chicago’s 2nd quarter points and Starks nearly matched him with 7 in the quarter.

But over the next minute and a half, Chicago went on a 7-0 run to force Riley to use a timeout.  The surge extended to a 10-1 Bulls rally before Starks hit another jumper.

Starks would finish with 11 2nd quarter points but 20 from Jordan and 10 from Horace Grant powered Chicago to a 49-47 halftime lead.

Ewing and Pippen both struggled in the 1st half.  Although each was aggressive, Ewing finished 1-for-8 with 3 fouls and Pippen was 1-for-6.

It would be more of the same in the 3rd quarter.  Ewing eventually put together two straight field goals before picking up his 4th foul and heading to the bench with Chicago up 59-57.

But the Bulls couldn’t take advantage as Jordan went out briefly with a sprained ankle and never really recovered for the rest of this game.  It was also Chicago’s turn to struggle from the line as they finished the game 17-for-29 while New York came back with a 26-for-35 effort.

The free throws and New York’s aggressive defense with McDaniel, Mason, and Oakley in the front court and Starks with Greg Anthony in the back court kept them in the game with Ewing on the bench.  It also drove Phil Jackson to frustration as veteran referee Dick Bavetta called a second technical on Phil and threw him out with time running out in the 3rd quarter.

Jackson walked out waving to the derisive New York crowd and Jim Cleamons took over.  Chicago led 67-66 at the end of the 3rd quarter.

The 4th quarter would be all New York and it was led by non-superstars (in other words, people other than Patrick Ewing).

It started when McDaniel recovered a loose ball (a hustle stat that the Bulls won in the 4th quarter of Game 3) and found Starks for a breakaway reverse slam.

Starks then found Mason for a baseline jumper.  On the next possession, McDaniel came over the back of Cliff Levingston to grab an offensive rebound.  McDaniel then hit a jumper while drawing a foul.  The X man followed with two more field goals to keep New York ahead.

The Knicks were also surged on by the New York crowd, who was noted for being louder than it had been since the glory days of the ’70’s.  This was mostly according to Phil Jackson, who would know having played on those ’70’s teams.  Jackson had said the Game 3 crowd was as loud as he had heard New York in a while.  The Game 4 crowd seemed to take it to another level.

Ewing had come back in and made a crucial wing jumper at the end of the shot clock to give the Knicks a 79-72 lead.  Jordan did his best to keep Chicago in it but had no lift on his jumper, thanks in large part to the sprained ankle he was playing through.

A breakaway three-point play by Wilkins gave the Knicks an 84-75 lead.  A three-point play by Jordan, in which he drew Ewing’s 5th foul, cut the lead to six but would be MJ’s final points of the day.

Wilkins tipped in a Ewing miss to make it 86-78.  The Bulls final rally came when B.J. Armstrong got a steal and a breakaway three-point play to cut the lead to 86-82.

But Ewing followed with a turnaround fall-away in the post and Chicago would not score another field goal until the last second.

New York had come up big as McDaniel and Wilkins took over the 4th quarter, and Starks and Mason were huge off the bench.  Ewing had struggled with a 5-for-16 effort but hit two big shots in the 4th quarter to out-last Chicago.

Believe it or not, I won’t write about every game in this series.  The next two would be more of the same.  Jordan had 26 of his 37 points in the 2nd half of Game 5 as Chicago used a late spurt in win and take a 3-2 lead.  New York then out-scored Chicago 32-16 in the 4th quarter of Game 6 to win going away, holding Jordan to 3 points in the 4th quarter and Pippen scoreless.

It was now down to a 7th game for the Bulls and Knicks.  A 67-win season for the defending champion Bulls was now down to one game.  The Knicks were one game away from their biggest victory since winning the championship in 1973.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (13) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (13) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (6) – Center

John Paxson (6) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (29) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (11)

Scott Williams (3)

Craig Hodges (3)

Will Perdue (2)

Cliff Levingston (0)

Stacey King (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

New York starters (points scored)

Xavier McDaniel (24) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (8) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (15) – Center

Mark Jackson (3) – Point Guard

Gerald Wilkins (17) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

John Starks (16)

Anthony Mason (7)

Greg Anthony (3)

New York Coach: Pat Riley

May 11, 1992 – West Semifinals, Game 4: Portland Blazers 153 @Phoenix Suns 151 (2OT)

Now that we’re in the West, nobody will mistake this series as New York/Chicago.  Portland would have a 42-point 1st quarter by missing only 4 shots from the field and both teams would be in the 100’s after 3 quarters.

Despite winning this game for their 3rd close win of the series, there were still signs that the Portland Trailblazers self-destructed in close games.  It was something that dogged at them all season despite having the best record in the West.

Mainly for this game, it would be free throws.  But Portland announcer Steve “Snapper” Jones was quick to point out on how there were times Phoenix players didn’t seem to want to shoot in clutch situations.

For the 4th straight season, Phoenix won 50-plus games.  But for the 3rd straight season, they finished 3rd in the Pacific Division.  They had bombed out in the 1st round in 1991 with Xavier McDaniel as their key forward.

McDaniel would be traded to New York for Jerrod Mustaf and Trent Tucker.  Tucker would be waived in November as Phoenix had a log-jam at guard.

Kevin Johnson had averaged 20+ points and 10+ assists in the last 3 seasons and had been an All-Star in 1990 & 1991.  But KJ’s scoring numbers dipped a bit to 19.7 points per game while the scoring numbers of shooting guards Jeff Hornacek and Dan Majerle climbed to what would turn out to be career-highs.

Hornacek averaged just over 20 points per game while shooting 51% from the field.  Majerle, as Phoenix’s 6th man, averaged 17.3.  Both guards would be All-Stars in 1992.

The front court would be more of the problem to Phoenix, even though there was enough there that Mustaf couldn’t crack the rotation for soon to be retiring Cotton Fitzsimmons (at least until his replacement, Paul Westphal, was fired in 1996).

Tom Chambers’ scoring dipped to a career-low of 16.3 points per game and by the time Phoenix reached Game 4 versus Portland, Chambers wasn’t starting and was fueding with Fitzsimmons over playing time.

The Suns had athletic Tim Perry and Andrew Lang, who brought energy but Perry’s 6.9 rebounds per game led the Suns.  Phoenix was also in the middle of the pack defensively, giving up 106.2 points per game (it probably didn’t help that their best defensive player, Mark West, was relegated to Andrew Lang’s backup at center).

Phoenix also had 2nd year forward Cedric Ceballos, who would start in all 8 playoff games as his minutes rose by 12 per game from the regular season (up to 23.5 per game) and his scoring reached double figures.

The Suns also had wide body Ed Nealy and journeyman backup point guard Steve Burtt.  Both would be in the game at the end of Game 4 due to several Suns fouling out.

Portland had won the first 2 games in the City of Roses as Terry Porter and Clyde Drexler dominated down the stretch.  Phoenix won Game 3 as Hornacek had 30 points and Perry 27.

The 4th game showcased hot shooting (or no defense) early on.  A three-point play by Drexler, off a Porter feed, gave Portland a 20-17 lead at the 6:18 mark of the 1st quarter.

Portland then went on a run with Porter, Drexler, and Jerome Kersey nailing jumpers to take a 42-29 advantage at the end of the 1st quarter.

Phoenix stayed in it in the 2nd quarter as Tom Chambers played his way out of the doghouse for a bit.  Chambers had 17 points in the quarter and his last jumper cut Portland’s lead to 71-65 with 2.5 seconds left in the half.

The last 2.5 seconds may have been the longest in NBA history as an inbounds pass went to Porter, who immediately threw a long pass to Danny Ainge for a three-pointer at the buzzer.

Drexler led Portland with 18 points while Chambers had 19.

Ainge would get 10 more points in the 3rd quarter to bring his total to 20 but Phoenix, led by Majerle, got back into the game and took the lead late in the quarter.  But a technical by KJ helped Portland regain a 104-100 lead after 3 quarters.

KJ did lead Phoenix back to tie it at 106.  Then Hornacek got a steal and Thunder Dan Majerle slammed it go give the Suns the lead again and force Rick Adelman to use a Portland timeout at the 9:46 mark.

The Trailblazers regained the lead for a bit before the Suns went on a 9-3 run to take a 125-120 lead with 2:26 remaining.  The Suns also had the ball at this point.

But a missed jumper by Majerle and a missed tip-in by Hornacek started a Phoenix drought that was characterized by main players looking like they didn’t want to shoot.  Chambers followed that in Phoenix’s next possession by throwing an airball.

Meanwhile, Kersey and Cliff Robinson hit jumpers to cut the lead to one.  Portland then had a chance to take the lead but KJ stole a kickout pass from Drexler to Porter.  KJ was fouled with 38.6 seconds left to stop a layup.  Johnson hit both free throws to give Phoenix a 127-124 lead.

But after a timeout, Porter drove baseline and drew Andrew Lang’s 6th foul while making a tough shot.  The three-point play tied the game with 33.6 seconds left.

Phoenix didn’t use a timeout and KJ tried to drive and dish.  But Cliff Robinson stole his kickout pass and Portland went for the last shot while not using a timeout.

They got a good one as Porter pulled up for an open wing jumper.  The ball bounced off the rim and over the backboard with 4.6 seconds left and Phoenix had a final chance after a timeout.

But after the inbounds pass, Chambers and Majerle gave up potential shot attempts and Phoenix didn’t get one off.  The game was headed to overtime.

Portland got the first two buckets before Cliff Robinson fouled out.  Phoenix came back with KJ finishing on two impressive drives down the lane (including a big slam from the 6’1″ guard).

The teams battled to the final minute.  Porter missed a key free throw and Phoenix would lead 138-137 after KJ made two from the line.  But Drexler rebounded a missed three from Ainge and gave it back to Danny for a jumper from the top that gave Portland a 139-138 lead with 34.2 seconds left.

After a timeout, Portland came out with Drexler on KJ.  KJ still tried to drive but missed a layup and Kersey rebounded.  Chambers then picked up his 6th with 27.5 seconds left.

The Portland broadcasting team was nervous with Kersey at the line in a clutch situation.  He made 1 of 2.  But the Blazers looked like they were in the clear when Drexler came off of Johnson and stripped the ball away from Hornacek on a drive.  Porter took a long pass and was fouled by KJ with 8.4 seconds to go.

Porter was an 85% foul shooter in 1992 and was the least-likely candidate to fall for the Portland jinx despite missing a free throw a minute earlier.  But that went out the window when he pulled a string and came up way short on the 1st free throw.  Porter missed the second as well and Nealy (who had come in for a fouled out Tim Perry earlier in overtime) rebounded.  Phoenix used a timeout with 7.9 seconds left, down 140-138.

KJ then attacked Drexler 1-on-1 and forced Clyde back on his heels.  KJ then connected on a step-back jumper to tie the game with 2.7 seconds left.  Portland used a timeout.

The Suns would actually have a chance to win after Ceballos stole an inbounds pass to Drexler.  But Cedric pulled a string and airballed an attempt from half-court.  The game was headed to a 2nd overtime.

Phoenix was dealt a blow 11 seconds into the 6th period as KJ picked up his 6th foul.  Steve Burtt had to come into the game.  Burtt was seeing his first critical playoff action as he had been getting plenty of tryouts with NBA teams since back in 1984, but he only stuck on with a team in the 1985 and 1988 seasons before getting a chance in Phoenix.

It didn’t start out well as Burtt was blocked by Drexler on a driving layup.  But Portland couldn’t take advantage either as Drexler was called for an offensive foul on a drive with the Blazers leading 146-144.

Hornacek then connected on a three after an offensive rebound by Majerle.  Kersey then missed two free throws and Burtt made a big play by finding Ceballos for a layup to give the Suns a 149-146 lead with 1:15 left.

But then Drexler made two free throws.  Kevin Duckworth rebounded a miss by Hornacek and was fouled by Ceballos on a reach-in with 43.6 seconds left.  Duckworth was a 69% foul shooter and seemed like a sure candidate to fall for the Portland jinx.

But wouldn’t you know it? Duckworth made both shots.  After a Phoenix timeout, Majerle connected on a pull-up banker with 27.3 seconds left to give the Suns the lead.

Portland went to Drexler after a timeout.  He missed on a drive but the rebound kicked back to Duckworth, who was fouled by Mark West with 10.7 seconds left.

Again, the 7’0″ 275 lb center made both shots with his soft shooting touch.  Phoenix called a timeout and the ball ended up in Steve Burtt’s hands.  Burtt got off a good shot on a driving pull-up.  The ball went in-and-out, literally.  Drexler went over the back of Hornacek and tipped the ball to Porter, who was fouled with 3.6 seconds to go.

Porter split the free throws and Phoenix got a final chance with 2.3 seconds left.  Majerle took a return pass on the inbounds but bricked a long three and Portland survived.

The Blazers won more convincingly in Game 5 to close the series.  Portland then blew out Utah in the 1st 2 games at home in the Western Conference Finals.  But, again, the Blazers had to win some close games to close out a series against another team that had a propensity of coming up short in the clutch.

For Phoenix, a new direction would be had for the next season.  Not only would Cotton Fitzsimmons be replaced by assistant Paul Westphal as coach but the Suns got a superstar.

On June 17, 1992, Phoenix traded Jeff Hornacek, Tim Perry, and Andrew Lang to Philadelphia for Charles Barkley.  Both Barkley and Phoenix would be rejuvenated for 1993.

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (21) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (11) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (14) – Center

Terry Porter (31) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (33) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (16)

Danny Ainge (25)

Ennis Whatley (2)

Alaa Abdelnaby (0)

Robert Pack (0)

Mark Bryant (0)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

Phoenix starters (points scored)

Cedric Ceballos (19) – Small Forward

Tim Perry (7) – Power Forward

Andrew Lang (13) – Center

Kevin Johnson (35) – Point Guard

Jeff Hornacek (23) – Shooting Guard

Phoenix bench (points scored)

Dan Majerle (21)

Tom Chambers (29)

Mark West (0)

Steve Burtt (2)

Ed Nealy (2)

Phoenix Coach: Cotton Fitzsimmons

May 17, 1992 – East Semifinals, Game 7: New York Knicks 81 @Chicago Bulls 110

The New York Knicks had done the unthinkable.  They had pushed the Chicago Bulls to a 7th game and now were perhaps on the brink of ending Chicago’s season, which was one of the best in NBA history.

Through the previous 3 games, Xavier McDaniel and Gerald Wilkins had stepped up their production to provide help for Patrick Ewing in the scoring department.  Then John Starks got 27 off the bench in Game 6.

There was also the Knicks defense that had worn Chicago down.  Michael Jordan’s numbers had dropped slightly while everyone else’s on the Bulls dropped dramatically.

But there were some factors that would help Chicago other than Game 7 being at Chicago Stadium.  Ewing had sprained his ankle in Game 6, although he was able to return to help the Knicks out-score Chicago 32-16 in the 4th quarter.  There was also the fact that for the first time since the series started, the teams would get two days off between games.

It was particularly noted how Chicago and Michael Jordan looked tired at the end of Game 6 and it didn’t help that the first 6 games were played in a span of 10 days.

As expected, the Bulls came out aggressively in Game 7.  Jordan and Scottie Pippen repeatedly drove to the basket.  Jordan, in particular, came out to attack.  He hit two early turnaround jumpers from the post and Pippen penetrated to find Horace Grant for a slam.

But New York also got off to a 4-for-4 start from the field and took a 9-8 lead.  It would be their last lead of the game.

Pippen and Jordan went on coast-to-coast drives to give Chicago a 15-10 lead and force Pat Riley to use a timeout.

Jordan continued his attack as he hit 5 of his first 7 shots from the field and scored 18 points in the 1st quarter.  He also would get in the face of Xavier McDaniel when the X-Man was being physical with Pippen.  MJ and the X-Man each drew a technical.

New York managed to stay within range at 30-25 at the end of the 1st quarter.

Although Ewing had 7 points in the 1st, it was noted how he wasn’t getting as much lift on his jumper.  He also had no rebounds until the 2nd quarter.  Both were signs that the ankle may have been a factor, although Ewing wouldn’t add any excuses.

The Knicks managed to continue staying in the game despite Jordan’s continued attack.  The Bulls would also get bench help from B.J. Armstrong and Craig Hodges, who each hit key jumpers in the 2nd quarter.

But Starks and Mason also provided a spark as New York didn’t let Chicago’s lead grow to more than 11.  They also finished the half on an 8-2 run to cut the Bulls lead to 56-51.  Jordan led the way with 29 points but no other Bull was in double figures.

While the Knicks were close, there was one big thing that differentiated this game from the rest.  The scoring was higher, meaning Chicago was playing at their tempo for the first time in these 7 games.

The Bulls would score the first 4 points of the 3rd quarter, but New York responded with the next 6 as they cut Chicago’s lead to 60-57 and forced Phil Jackson to use a timeout at the 9:01 mark.

But then Chicago’s defense stepped up to championship level as New York missed their next 6 shots and didn’t score a field goal for the next 5 minutes and 12 seconds.

Jordan, Pippen and Grant were flying all over the floor and Cartwright was making it tough on Ewing, even drawing an elbow for Ewing’s 4th foul.

The biggest defensive play has been shown on highlights ever since May 17, 1992.  After Jordan split two defenders and hit a double-pump banker, MJ stole the long inbounds pass.  But then Starks reached in and got it to McDaniel, who had a breakaway.  Jordan hustled back and knocked the ball away from the X-Man and out of bounds before a layup could happen.

After this sequence, B.J. Armstrong went 1-on-1 and hit a pull-up three at the end of the shot clock to give Chicago a 70-59 lead and force Riley to use a timeout at the 4:04 mark.

Jordan would score 7 points in the 3rd, including a left-handed reverse after a quick baseline spin in the post, to bring his total to 36.

Armstrong would hit one more pull-up at the end of the shot clock and also found Stacey King on a 2-on-1 break for a three-point play.  Chicago grabbed a 79-64 lead at the end of the 3rd and didn’t look back.

Jordan had another spin and the post and a lefty layup finish while bumping into Ewing, for no call.  Pippen also completed a banker while driving into Ewing.

The closest the Knicks got was 13 points and missed some key shots that they had made in previous games that could have helped cut into the lead.

But Chicago kept their foot on the gas pedal and seemed bent on humiliating the Knicks, almost to a point that went too far.

Pippen stayed in the game until the end and finished with a triple-double.  Stacey King nailed a three in the final 10 seconds when Chicago could have (and perhaps should have) run out the clock.  Cliff Levingston then stole the inbounds pass and took a jumper while Mark Jackson fouled him.  He made a free throw as Chicago scored 4 points in the last 10 seconds that they didn’t need.

But the Bulls would be in for a tough series with the Cleveland Cavaliers, who would blow them out twice including a 107-81 drubbing in Game 2 at Chicago Stadium.

The Bulls would also see more of the New York Knicks, although only two starters would return for Pat Riley in 1993.

New York starters (points scored)

Xavier McDaniel (14) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (4) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (22) – Center

Mark Jackson (10) – Point Guard

Gerald Wilkins (7) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

John Starks (18)

Anthony Mason (4)

Greg Anthony (0)

Kennard Winchester (2)

New York Coach: Pat Riley

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (17) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (14) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (5) – Center

John Paxson (2) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (42) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (12)

Craig Hodges (7)

Stacey King (8)

Scott Williams (2)

Cliff Levingston (1)

Will Perdue (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

jordan mcdaniel

A lasting image of Game 7 and the Bulls/Knicks series from 1992 was Michael Jordan getting in the face of Xavier McDaniel *photo courtesy of YouTube

May 22, 1992 – Western Finals, Game 3: Portland Blazers 89 @Utah Jazz 97

Terry Porter was scalding hot for the first 2 games as Portland blew out the Utah Jazz, who were making their first appearance in the Western Conference Finals.

Porter was 8-for-12 in Game 1, including 6-for-8 from three-point land.  He bettered it in Game 2 with a 12-for-14 performance, including 4-for-5 on threes.

That, along with Portland holding down Karl Malone, was the key catalyst in Portland winning the first two games with two impressive performances.

But now was the key test as Portland was 1-and-12 in their last 13 Game 3’s.  They were also going to the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, where it could be argued that the Utah fans were the loudest of that era.  But, more importantly, the Jazz had the best home record in the NBA during the season at 37-4 and were 6-0 in the playoffs.

The Jazz had their holdover stars, but Karl Malone and John Stockton were starting to get criticized for early playoff exits.  This was Utah’s 3rd ever Division title and they had won 1 playoff series in the first two seasons they won the Midwest Division.

Since 1987, they had lost 3 series in which they had home court advantage.  Twice, this included the 5th and deciding game of the 1st round in which the Jazz lost to Golden State in ’87 and to Phoenix in ’90 in Utah.  But 1989 was their most embarrassing as they followed a division title by getting swept by Golden State.

In 1991, they put that label behind them a bit when they defeated Phoenix in the 1st round without home court advantage.  But they lost to Portland 4-1 in the Semifinals.

Utah had some more holdovers other than Malone, Stockton, and coach Jerry Sloan.  7’4″ Mark Eaton had been there since 1982 and forward Thurl Bailey had been around since 1983.  Dr. Dunkenstein, Darrell Griffith, had been there since 1980.

But, at age 32, Griffith lost most of his playing time in the back court to Jeff Malone, who had been an underrated star in Washington and now was Utah’s 2nd leading scorer.  Griffith would be released near the end of October and never played another NBA game.

Bailey would be traded to Minnesota early in the season for Tyrone Corbin.  Corbin’s versatility and hustle on both ends helped the Jazz out and won him over with the fans as he had traded for a popular player.

Third year forward Blue Edwards started along with Stockton, both Malones and Eaton for the regular season as Utah finished at 55-27.  But 6’8″ 220 lb free agent rookie David Benoit came on against the Clippers and was a huge factor in the 5th and deciding game in Utah (the first time the Jazz won a deciding game since 1985).

Sloan decided to start Benoit instead of the 6’4″ 200 lb Edwards against a big, athletic Seattle team in the next round.  It worked as Utah defeated the Sonics 4-1 but Edwards was inconsistent off the bench as it took awhile to get used to his new role.  Edwards would be re-thrusted into the starting lineup later in the Portland series.

But for now, Edwards was on the bench along with Corbin, Mike Brown (a big man who hustled and did all the dirty work), and unheralded point guard Delaney Rudd (who would be a hero later in the series).

The teams went back and forth in the 1st quarter as the Mailman got 10 points for Utah and Clyde Drexler had 8 for Portland.  The Trailblazers led 25-22 at the end of the quarter but something was different and apparent.

The game tempo had slowed down from the first 2 games and this favored Utah, who ran a quintessential half-court offense anchored by the Stockton-Malone pick-and-roll, as well as Malone flashing to the post after a shooting guard or forward set a screen down low and Stockton finding the Mailman for a layup.

Portland, in particular Porter, wasn’t shooting as well either.  Porter had three nice drives but couldn’t hit an outside shot.  But a Utah drought early in the 2nd quarter helped Portland gain a 39-31 lead halfway through the quarter.

The Blazers were able to hold off a Utah run to lead 51-43 at the half.  Jerome Kersey had 14 points, including 10 in the 2nd quarter.  Drexler and Karl Malone also had 14 each.  But Stockton was held to 3 assists in the 1st half.

Kersey and Drexler then led the Trailblazers to a 57-47 lead with 9:46 left in the 3rd when Sloan used a Utah timeout.  During this break, analyst Doug Collins praised the Blazers for their poised play so far on the road.

Could it be that a Portland team that was known to self-destruct pull off an impressive road win while playing Utah’s tempo against a Jazz team that had lost only 4 games so far in Utah that season?  Not so fast.

Malone kicked out to Corbin for an elbow jumper.  Then Stockton found Malone off a screen-down cut for a layup.  The Mailman then found Eaton on a cut for a layup.  Stockton followed by finding Malone for a baseline jumper.

In a span of less than 2 minutes, Utah had gone on an 8-0 run and Rick Adelman had to use a Portland timeout.  Just like that, the Blazers were back to the impatient team that had a noticeable lack of poise.  It didn’t get better for the rest of the game.

Karl Malone got Buck Williams and Mark Bryant into foul trouble and scored at will.  The Mailman had 13 points in the 3rd quarter, including a three-point play with 2:49 left that gave the Jazz their first lead since the 1st quarter.

The Jazz led 71-69 at the end of the 3rd quarter.  Portland managed to tie it at 73 when Drexler found Cliff Robinson for a cutting tip-in on a lob pass.

But then Malone hit two free throws and followed by finding Blue Edwards with a long pass for a slam.  Malone then kicked out to Mike Brown for a wing jumper as Utah took a 79-73 lead and Portland called timeout with 7:57 left.

Malone would score 6 points over the next 2 1/2 minutes to bring his total to 37 at that point.  But the Jazz could not put Portland away.

The Blazers pulled to within 91-87 with just over 2 minutes left when Kevin Duckworth hit a hook shot in the lane.

But, on a cut, Stockton found Malone for a lefty layup for the Mailman’s 39th point, including 25 in the 2nd half.  Portland could not score as Kersey ran into Mark Eaton on a drive and missed badly.  Kersey then fouled Eaton on the rebound and big Mark, a 60% foul shooter in 1992, made two from the line to give Utah a 95-87 lead.

Then after Portland inbounded the ball, Drexler dribbled it off his foot.  Corbin followed with a wing jumper to put the game away and get Utah back into the series.

The Jazz would tie the series by winning Game 4 at Portland’s tempo, 121-112.  But, more urgently, Portland further lost their composure by the end.  They had 5 technicals called against them and Clyde Drexler was ejected with 1:30 to go in a still winnable game with his second technical.

For Utah, Karl and Jeff Malone had 33 and 28, respectively.  Stockton had 18 and 15 assists (after finishing Game 3 with 10 dimes) while Blue Edwards got more used to his new role and scored 16 after a good effort in Game 3.

But the Jazz would have to deal with some unfortunate circumstances (that were not self-inflicted, like Portland’s unfortunate circumstances in Game 4) when they returned to Portland for Game 5.

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (26) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (2) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (8) – Center

Terry Porter (13) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (26) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (8)

Danny Ainge (6)

Mark Bryant (0)

Robert Pack (0)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

Utah starters (points scored)

David Benoit (2) – Small Forward

Karl Malone (39) – Power Forward

Mark Eaton (5) – Center

John Stockton (14) – Point Guard

Jeff Malone (11) – Shooting Guard

Utah bench (points scored)

Blue Edwards (7)

Tyrone Corbin (8)

Mike Brown (11)

Utah Coach: Jerry Sloan

May 26, 1992 – Western Finals, Game 5: Utah Jazz 121 @Portland Blazers 127 (OT)

The Utah Jazz would be dealt a blow before Game 5 when David Benoit went back home following the death of his father.  Benoit was 6’8″ and would be missed in matchups against Jerome Kersey and Cliff Robinson.

The two teams played evenly for the first few minutes with Blue Edwards in Benoit’s spot in the starting lineup.  But then Portland ran off a 10-0 run to go up 18-8.  All 5 Blazer starters hit field goals and Portland was hustling to several offensive boards.  The Blazers were also aggressive defensively in keeping John Stockton from penetrating.

The big man, usually Buck Williams, jumped out and trapped Stockton on every pick-and-roll and took away his space and sight.

The Blazers led by as many as 12 in the 1st quarter and were ahead 32-22 at the end of the quarter.

Portland continued to lead through the 2nd quarter and stretched its advantage to as much as 14.  But Utah got a spark from its shortened bench as Tyrone Corbin scored 17 points in the 1st half to keep the Jazz in range.

Stockton was eventually able to penetrate and find people for 10 1st half assists.  Utah went on a 13-2 run to cut the lead to 46-43 before Terry Porter hit two jumpers.

The Blazers would lead 60-52 at the half but disaster struck Utah in the last second.  Clyde Drexler was driving the length of the court for the last shot of the half.  As he went up, the ball was stripped from him.  But in his follow through, Drexler accidentally struck Stockton in the eye.

Stockton was down on the court for several minutes and had to be helped to the locker room.  The report after halftime was that the muscles around the eye and the ones controlling the eyes opening and movement were swelling and there was some close-range double vision.  Not surprisingly, Stockton was out for the rest of the game.

Portland kept its lead at the same margin for the first half of the 3rd quarter.  Kersey led the way with 19 points while Kevin Duckworth had 16.

The Blazers led 73-64 when Utah made its move.  Corbin lobbed to Karl Malone for a three-point play and then Karl got a breakaway slam.  Corbin followed with another jumper and the Mailman got another three-point play to cut the Blazers lead to 75-74.

While it seemed like a clear advantage to Portland without Stockton, they perhaps took too much of an advantage and relaxed on defense.  The aggressiveness they had come out with in the 1st quarter was not there while Utah, with Delaney Rudd out there, had increased its aggressiveness.

Rudd was a 4th round pick of Utah out of Wake Forest in 1985.  But Delaney didn’t play his first game with the Jazz until November 8, 1989.  Between those times, Rudd played in the CBA and in Greece.  But he found a role as John Stockton’s backup.  But now he was thrust out there in the biggest game of Utah’s franchise history to that point.

Portland stemmed Utah’s initial tide as Porter and Drexler nailed threes.  But an 8-2 Utah run to finish the 3rd quarter ended up tying the game at 84 heading into the 4th.

The Jazz then took a 90-86 lead in the first 2 1/2 minutes of the 4th.  Karl Malone had 16 points in the 3rd quarter and looked a helluva lot more aggressive without Stockton.

Portland quickly tied it and then took a 94-92 lead on Kersey’s 23rd point.  The teams went back and forth as the Mailman got 6 early points in the 4th.  Portland was starting to experience its trouble at the foul line as Porter went 1-for-4 during a short stretch.

Utah took a 102-99 lead on a wing jumper by Jeff Malone.  But Kersey came right back with a runner and Porter hit a wing jumper to give Portland the lead with 2:14 left.

Kersey later hit two big free throws for a three-point lead.  While Portland went on this run, a sight that would become familiar to Utah fans as the decade went on happened on their offensive end.  Karl Malone had lost his 3rd quarter aggressiveness and was settling for jumpers.  He missed several during this key stretch.

A jumper by Corbin cut Portland’s lead to 105-104 but the Jazz had a 24-second violation with 19.4 seconds left on the clock.  Rudd fouled Porter with 13 seconds left and, this time, Terry made two free throws.

Utah did not use a timeout and Rudd dribbled up court, came off a Karl Malone screen, and nailed a three from the right wing to tie the game with 5.5 seconds left.  Rudd was an unsung hero for the moment and even impressed Portland enough that they signed him in January of 1993 for the rest of the season, his last in the NBA.

Portland was able to get a seemingly good shot as Duckworth’s attempt from the top went in-and-out.  But the officials ruled the shot came after the buzzer and wouldn’t have counted.

Portland took a quick lead in overtime as Karl Malone continued to miss key shots.  Drexler took control over the last 3 minutes to put the game away.

First, he drove down the lane for a score at the end of the shot clock.  He then found Duckworth for a baseline jumper.  Finally, he found Buck Williams for a slam at the end of the shot clock.

Williams got another slam off a Kersey feed to give the Blazers a 121-114 lead.  The Jazz made a late run as Malone finally hit some shots but 6 free throws by Danny Ainge put the game away.

Portland was 8-0 at home in the playoffs and would out-score Utah by 12 in the 2nd half of Game 6 to give the Jazz their first home playoff loss of 1992, as well as eliminate the Jazz.

Incredibly, Utah shot 9-for-40 in the 2nd half of Game 6 and were held to 38 points in losing 105-97.  Stockton was back and played 45 minutes but shot 5-for-19 from the field and 1-for-8 on threes.

Portland was one series away from either silencing its critics who criticized their late game composure, or from never living it down with their greatest meltdown during their reign on top of the West.

Utah starters (points scored)

Blue Edwards (8) – Small Forward

Karl Malone (38) – Power Forward

Mark Eaton (4) – Center

John Stockton (6) – Point Guard

Jeff Malone (23) – Shooting Guard

Utah bench (points scored)

Tyrone Corbin (28)

Mike Brown (6)

Delaney Rudd (8)

Bob Thornton (0)

Utah Coach: Jerry Sloan

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (29) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (11) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (24) – Center

Terry Porter (24) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (24) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (6)

Danny Ainge (9)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

kersey vs utahJerome Kersey led the way for Portland in their Game 5 victory over Utah with 29 points.  The Jazz players looking on are John Stockton (#12), Tyrone Corbin (#23) and Jeff Malone (cut off on right side) *photo courtesy of Getty Images

May 29, 1992 – Eastern Finals, Game 6: Chicago Bulls 99 @Cleveland Cavaliers 94

This series had been very competitive in a way for the first 5 games.  But it seemed like whoever grabbed a lead held it and blew out the other team.

When the Cavs re-took a lead against the Bulls with 3:04 remaining in the 2nd quarter of Game 6, it was noted as the latest time a lead change had happened in any game throughout the series.

Chicago had blown out Cleveland in Games 1 & 3, but the Cavs came back with big efforts and blew out the Bulls in Games 2 & 4.  Game 5 looked like it might be the first close game when Cleveland cut Chicago’s lead to 73-71 entering the 4th quarter.  But the Bulls started the final quarter on a 15-0 run and by the time Cleveland scored their first field goal of the quarter, the Bulls led 99-74 on their way to a 112-89 victory.

Brad Daugherty had hurt the middle finger on his shooting hand in Game 5 and was 1-for-10 from the field.  Mark Price was playing through a sprained ankle while Michael Jordan was playing through a sprained wrist on his shooting hand.

Daugherty and Larry Nance, who was 4-for-12 in Game 5, came back strong early in Game 6.  They combined to score Cleveland’s first 10 points and Nance was 5-for-5 for the quarter.

But Scottie Pippen had a strong start for the Bulls with 12 1st quarter points as well as several blocks and steals.  Chicago led 26-21 after the 1st quarter as a result.

Almost surprisingly with Cleveland’s big front line, Chicago had out-rebounded the Cavs 225-to-192 in the first 5 games, including 80-to-57 on the offensive boards.  It continued as Pippen and Horace Grant got the Bulls some second shots.

But the Cavs stayed in the game with a strong effort on the glass as they out-rebounded Chicago for the first time all series.  Nance and Daugherty continued their strong play while Mark Price got going a bit as well.

Grant kept the Bulls ahead for most of the quarter with 10 2nd quarter points.  He and Pippen had 14 at halftime while Nance had 15 and Daugherty 11.  The game was tied at 45.

The biggest note though was Michael Jordan, who was 3-for-13 in the 1st half and didn’t look all that aggressive.

Pippen was aggressive and continued to start the 3rd quarter.  He hit a pull-up in transition and then got a breakaway slam after a steal.  The Bulls scored the first 6 points and Lenny Wilkens had to use a timeout with 10:08 left in the 3rd.

But Cleveland would come back and tie it at 55 when Nance got his 19th point on a tip-in.  Phil Jackson now had to use a timeout with 7:11 left.

The Cavs continued their momentum and built a 64-59 lead when Nance found Craig Ehlo on a cut for a layup.  The Richfield Coliseum was rocking at this point and most coaches would’ve used a timeout.  But Phil Jackson didn’t and the Bulls got a basket when Bill Cartwright hit a turnaround from the baseline.

Jordan then hit a jumper for his first field goal and points since early in the 2nd quarter.  Jordan followed with a drive past Ehlo for a layup and a foul, MJ’s first free throw attempt of the game.

The Bulls tied it at 72 on the last tenth of a second of the 3rd quarter.  Pippen hit a tough turnaround jumper from the foul line over Mike Sanders after Sanders reached-in and looked like he had forced Pippen to double-dribble.  Wilkens argued vehemently but it was ruled Sanders got a piece of the ball on the reach-in.

The Cavs responded by scoring the first 7 points of the 4th quarter.  Nance put back a miss.  Daugherty kicked out to Ehlo for a three.  Sanders drove down the lane for a layup.

Jordan and Pippen, naturally, kept Chicago in the game.  MJ had another three-point play on a baseline spin vs. Terrell Brandon and then a double-pump finish while drawing the foul.

Hot Rod Williams scored 6 straight Cavs points to put Cleveland up 87-83 with 4:24 left.  Jordan went coast-to-coast for a layup and then after an offensive rebound by MJ, John Paxson hit a wing jumper and the game was tied at 87.

Nance followed by driving down the lane and hitting Daugherty for a layup and Pippen’s 5th foul.  That three-point play made it 90-87, but Jordan drove by Ehlo on the baseline for a score.

On the following possession, Jordan was in the post.  Naturally, he was doubled and kicked out to Pippen for a jumper from the top to give Chicago a 91-90 lead with 2 minutes left.

Jordan hit two more free throws and the Bulls had a chance of putting it away after the Cavs missed two shots from the field.  But Daugherty rebounded a Pippen miss and Price pushed it up the floor.

Price pulled up from the top and nailed a three to tie it up at 93 with 47.8 seconds left.  Again, the Bulls didn’t use a timeout and went right to Jordan.

MJ got into the lane, was bumped on the drive, and connected on a twisting runner off the glass with 37.8 seconds left.  The three-point play gave the Bulls a 96-93 advantage.

The Cavs didn’t use a timeout and tried to bring Price off a screen.  Grant jumped out and knocked the ball out of bounds off of Price.  Pippen hit a free throw for a 4-point lead but Price drew a foul from Jordan with 17.5 seconds left.

Price made the first free throw to cut it to 97-94 but may have tried to be too much of a hero on the second attempt.  He missed intentionally and almost chased down his own rebound.  But when he got the ball he was falling out of bounds and tried to knock it off Grant.  But Horace controlled it and MJ was fouled with 11.2 seconds left.

Jordan knocked down the clinching free throws for his 16th point of the 4th quarter.

The Bulls had toughed out a road win to finish off a game Cleveland Cavaliers team.  Cleveland would have one more run at it in 1993 before it all fell apart.

Chicago would get 5 days off before taking on Portland in the NBA Finals.  Jordan would prove that those 5 days, and some motivation, would be all he needed to right himself and give a performance for the memory book.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (29) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (20) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (10) – Center

John Paxson (4) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (29) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (4)

Cliff Levingston (3)

Scott Williams (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Cleveland starters (points scored)

Mike Sanders (6) – Small Forward

Larry Nance (25) – Power Forward

Brad Daugherty (18) – Center

Mark Price (14) – Point Guard

Craig Ehlo (11) – Shooting Guard

Cleveland bench (points scored)

Hot Rod Williams (16)

John Battle (4)

Terrell Brandon (0)

Cleveland Coach: Lenny Wilkens

jordan vs battle

Michael Jordan, posting up here against John Battle, scored 16 of his 29 points in the 4th quarter of Game 6 to put the Cavaliers away *photo courtesy of Inside Hoops

June 3, 1992 – NBA Finals, Game 1: Portland Blazers 89 @Chicago Bulls 122

On paper, it looked like a good matchup.  Portland and Chicago had been the dominant team in their conference over the last 3 years.  Each team possessed the best shooting guard in their conference as well.

Michael Jordan vs. Clyde Drexler had been building throughout the week.  But their matchup on March 1 may have been a prelude in more ways than just the game.  Phil Jackson had said pregame that Portland was talented but had a tendency to self-destruct (something that happened in their first matchup of the year in November, the 2nd game on this blog).

Jordan even said postgame that the Blazers had more talent than the Bulls.  Now Portland had to answer throughout the rest of the season and through the playoffs whether they could finish off close games, despite winning most of their games.

Now the Blazers were where they needed to be and they could answer a lot of questions by beating the champion Bulls.  But Michael Jordan, through extra motivation of people comparing him to Clyde Drexler, wasn’t going to let it happen in Game 1.

Portland started off brilliantly in Game 1 at Chicago Stadium.  Kevin Duckworth hit a turnaround from the baseline while drawing a foul on Bill Cartwright.  Drexler got a banker in transition and, later, a flying slam over a standing Jordan on a 3-on-2 break.

Terry Porter continued his hot hand from the Western Conference Finals and nailed two jumpers.  When Cliff Robinson hit a jumper from the top, Portland was 7-for-7 from the field while Chicago was 2-for-10.  Despite that, Portland only led 15-7.

Jordan would connect on a three-pointer from the wing after missing his first two attempts from outside the arc.  This cut the lead to 17-12.  Then MJ hit a fall-away from the post over Drexler and drew a foul.  He then hit his only free throw attempt of the game.

Porter then hit two more jumpers and was 4-for-4 from the field with 10 points as Portland regained a 25-17 lead.  Scottie Pippen then penetrated and hit Jordan for a corner three at the end of the shot clock.  Pippen later pushed the ball in transition to find Jordan for his 3rd three-pointer of the quarter to cut the lead to 25-23.

Jordan hit two more jumpers from inside the arc, including a pull-up after getting around Cliff Robinson with a behind-the-back dribble, to give him 18 1st quarter points.  The Bulls gained a 33-30 lead at the end of the 1st quarter.

MJ would rest to start the 2nd quarter and his break lasted nearly 6 minutes, which would make his 2nd quarter totals even more amazing.

The Bulls would keep the lead as the bench of B.J. Armstrong, Scott Williams, and Bobby Hansen provided a spark.  But Portland stayed within 45-44 as Robinson and Danny Ainge gave them a spark off the bench.  Jordan came back in with 6:34 left.

He started with a fall-away from the mid-post against Drexler and would later hit his 4th three-pointer after Armstrong penetrated and kicked out to him.  Rick Adelman used a timeout with 4:37 left after this three with the Blazers trailing 52-45.

It didn’t help as Jordan stole an entry pass to Drexler and nearly went coast-to-coast before pulling up and hitting a wing jumper.  MJ hit another pull-up from the elbow before connecting on his 5th three from the top after Chicago secured an offensive rebound.

This trey made it 61-49 with just over 2 minutes left and Adelman used another timeout.  It still didn’t help as Pippen stole a Drexler pass but missed a breakaway layup between two people.  But who was there but MJ to slam home the miss to bring his 2nd quarter total to 14 points and his 1st half total to 32 points.

Drexler came right back and airballed a three-point attempt.  The Bulls came back down on their possession and, after some ball movement, Jordan was open again behind the three-point line at the top for a split second.  Although Cliff Robinson came out to challenge, MJ nailed his 6th straight three-pointer with under a minute and a half to go in the 1st half.

This gave Chicago a 66-49 lead, gave Jordan an NBA Finals record 35 1st half points (the previous record was 33 by Elgin Baylor in a half on the night he set the Finals record of 61 points in 1962), and tied MJ for the record 6 threes in an NBA Finals game.  After his 6th three, the cameras caught MJ looking at Magic Johnson, broadcasting the game for NBC, and shrugging.

The Bulls led 66-51 at the half and effectively put it away in the 3rd as Scottie Pippen quietly scored 16 points in the quarter to being his total to 24.  Pippen was one rebound short of a triple-double but didn’t play in the 4th quarter.

Chicago increased its lead and were never headed for the rest of the game.  But Portland would make a series of it, coming back to win 2 of the next 3 games.  Chicago, though, blew the Blazers out twice in Portland (the Blazers first home playoff losses of 1992) to take it back to Chicago for Game 6 up 3-2.

Portland, once and for all, would live up to their hype.

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (7) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (3) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (7) – Center

Terry Porter (13) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (16) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (16)

Danny Ainge (8)

Mark Bryant (10)

Robert Pack (4)

Alaa Abdelnaby (1)

Ennis Whatley (4)

Wayne Cooper (0)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (24) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (11) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (5) – Center

John Paxson (4) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (39) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (11)

Scott Williams (12)

Cliff Levingston (8)

Bobby Hansen (5)

Stacey King (1)

Will Perdue (2)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

June 14, 1992 – NBA Finals, Game 6: Portland Blazers 93 @Chicago Bulls 97

For most of the series, it didn’t look like Portland could match Chicago.  The Trailblazers were blown out twice on their home court in Games 3 & 5, and blown out at Chicago Stadium in Game 1.

The Blazers were close to being blown out in Game 4, but they made a strong 4th quarter comeback thanks to foul trouble on Scottie Pippen, which in essence tired Michael Jordan out, and a small, three-guard lineup that worked beautifully.

It was said by some that Chicago blew Game 4, having as much as a 7-point lead in the 4th quarter.  Others said Portland took it.  There was the same talk after Game 2 in which Portland may have played their best game of the series overall, at Chicago Stadium.

The Blazers had a 9-point lead at halftime before being out-scored by 16 in the 3rd.  The Blazers trailed 92-82 with 4:36 left when Clyde Drexler fouled out.  But then the momentum turned Portland’s way as Jordan was called for a technical 11 seconds later.  The Blazers out-scored Chicago 15-5 over the last 4:36 and sent the game into overtime as Jordan missed a pull-up from the elbow at the buzzer.

Then, led by Danny Ainge, the Trailblazers out-scored the Bulls 18-7 in overtime to steal the game.

The Blazers had shown heart in their two wins but almost no heart in their 3 losses, which led to talk that those two wins were more about the Bulls blowing the games.  This upset Portland, and especially coach Rick Adelman, deeply.

But after Game 5’s 119-106 loss, which Jordan had 46 points and Pippen was an assist away from a triple-double, nobody thought Portland would have a chance in the Chicago Stadium.

Instead, what happened for three quarters was that Portland played its best game of the series by far.  Then the Blazers, unfortunately, more than lived up to their recent reputation of losing winnable games by not showing poise.  This particular Blazer team never recovered from this loss.

Portland came out aggressive but cold to start.  They missed their first 7 shots before Jerome Kersey, who had come on in the last two games in Portland, tipped in his own miss for their first field goal.

Despite starting 3-for-13 from the field, Portland led Chicago 8-6 after 5 minutes.  The dragged 1st quarter had the teams tied at 19 with around a minute to go.  Then Portland made its move led by Kersey.

First, he drove down the lane for a score.  Then, after Cliff Robinson blocked a shot, Terry Porter fed Kersey for a layup on a breakaway.  Ainge followed with a steal on the inbounds pass.  Kersey then fed Drexler, who missed, but Kersey tipped it in for his 12th point of the 1st quarter.  With that run, Portland led 25-19 at the end of the quarter.

The Blazers led by as much as 9 early in the 2nd quarter before Chicago cut it to 32-28 with Michael Jordan on the bench, this wouldn’t be the last time in this game Chicago made a run with the greatest player ever on the bench.

Once Jordan came back in though, Portland went on an 11-0 run, culminating with a Buck Williams three-point play to give the Trailblazers a 43-28 lead.

MJ did help Chicago cut into that lead with two three-pointers and another jumper from the top.  But Portland still led 50-44 at the half.

Kersey had 14 points, Drexler 11 (although he was struggling from the field), and Porter 10.

Jordan had 14 points at the half but was having trouble finishing on his drives to the rim, this continued a bit in the 3rd quarter as Chicago came out cold.

Drexler deflected an entry pass intended for Jordan to Porter.  Drexler then found Kersey on the ensuing fast break for a monster slam.

This sparked Portland as Porter and Kersey continued to lead their aggressive attack on offense.  On defense, Portland’s athleticism was showing off.  Drexler, despite picking up his 4th foul, continued to deflect balls and even blocked a breakaway attempt by Jordan.

Kersey, Porter, and Drexler had 23 of Portland’s 29 points in the 3rd quarter.  The Blazers led by as much as 17 late in the quarter and took a 79-64 advantage heading into the 4th.

With Jordan playing the entire 3rd quarter, and Pippen resting late in the quarter, Phil Jackson decided to rest MJ to start the 4th quarter as usual, despite the deficit.

Pippen came back in (Jackson rarely had a lineup on the floor without either Pippen or Jordan, this was manifested a bit when Jordan played for a good portion of the 4th quarter in a Game 1 blowout and then had to play 44 minutes in Game 4 with Pippen in foul trouble, tiring out MJ down the stretch to the point that he didn’t score in the final 10:28 of Game 4).

Scottie would be flanked by B.J. Armstrong, Scott Williams (who had come on in the last two series to take Will Perdue’s playing time at backup center), and little used Stacey King and Bobby Hansen, who would retire following the season.

Hansen connected on a corner three after Pippen penetrated and kicked out to B.J. who swung the ball.  Hansen followed by stripping Jerome Kersey on a potential layup at the other end.  Stacey King was then bodied hard by Kersey as he went for a layup.  A flagrant foul was called on Kersey.

King hit a free throw, the Bulls got the ball back, and Pippen posted up Drexler and hit on a banker.  It was now 79-70.  Cliff Robinson hit a runner but then Kevin Duckworth picked up his 5th foul against King with 10:20 left in the game.  Stacey made both free throws.

Pippen followed with another turnaround banker from the post.  Armstrong hit a corner jumper after recovering a deflected pass.  Then King banged into Buck Williams (who tried to draw the offensive foul with a flop, he probably would’ve gotten the call these days) and hit on a banker from the post.

Portland then used the first of their 3 timeouts in the 4th quarter as Chicago had cut it to 81-78 with 8:36 left.  The Blazers had 4 turnovers on their 6 4th quarter possessions.  Jordan came back in at this point and, naturally, Chicago didn’t score on their next few possessions.

Portland did as Robinson found Drexler for a layup.  But the Blazers missed on other chances to increase the lead.  Finally, Pippen went coast-to-coast for a layup and Jordan hit on a running jumper to cut the lead to 83-82.  Portland used their second timeout with 5:57 left.

After Porter hit two free throws, Pippen nailed a long three from the wing at the end of the shot clock to tie it at 85.  Porter followed with a pull-up from the top.  Jordan hit another running jumper.

Then after Scott Williams blocked a Drexler layup.  The Bulls almost squandered their chance to take the lead for the first time since the 1st quarter when a backdoor pass was deflected and stolen by Buck Williams.

But as Buck looked for an outlet, Jordan punched the ball out and stole it.  MJ then immediately slammed it down to give Chicago that lead at 89-87.

Kersey fed Drexler for another layup to tie the game.  Both teams followed by missing on their next few possessions.  Finally, Pippen hit a pull-up from the foul line to put the Bulls up 91-89.

John Paxson then stripped the ball from Porter as Terry was attempting a jumper and knocked the ball out of bounds off Porter.  Jordan hit a fall-away in the lane at the end of the shot clock for a 93-89 lead with 1:39 left.  Portland used their last timeout.

Drexler hit two free throws and then rebounded a Scott Williams miss with 58 seconds left (Williams would be the only Bulls reserve that started the 4th quarter who played the entire quarter).

Drexler then drove into Williams and missed on a scoop.  Horace Grant and Buck Williams battled for a rebound and forced a jump ball with 49 seconds left.  Williams tipped it out of bounds.

Chicago gave it to Jordan, who drove by Drexler for a layup and a 95-91 Chicago lead.  Drexler missed a three but Pippen fouled Kersey on the rebound with 27 seconds left.

Kersey made both free throws.  The one thing Portland didn’t choke on in this game was at the foul line.  The Blazers set a Finals record with the most free throws made in a game without a miss as they went 21-for-21.  It was little consolation.

Porter fouled Jordan with 11.8 seconds left after Portland was unable to get a steal.  Jordan made the two clinching free throws and the Bulls had their 2nd straight championship.

Chicago had had a much longer journey to win than they had in 1991.  They played 22 playoff games (as opposed to 17 in 1991) and had to survive a 7-game series with New York and two hard fought 6-game series vs. Cleveland and Portland.

But they had also won this championship at Chicago Stadium (the first time a Chicago team won a championship in Chicago since the 1963 Bears and the first time a Chicago team won a championship in Chicago Stadium since the 1938 Blackhawks).

The Bulls received their championship trophy from the commissioner, David Stern, in their locker room, which was customary for the NBA at the time.  But the Bulls brought it back out to the court to celebrate with the fans.  With that, every time a team clinched a championship on their home court from thereon (and sometimes on the other teams’ court), they would receive the trophy at mid-court.

Chicago celebrated long after June 14, 1992, and Pippen and Jordan would now be headed to the Olympics.  The Bulls next task would be to try and do something no NBA team had done since 1966.  It would prove to be a harder journey and may have helped drive one from the game for a few years.

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (24) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (7) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (4) – Center

Terry Porter (22) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (24) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (10)

Danny Ainge (2)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (26) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (2) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (4) – Center

John Paxson (13) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (33) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (6)

Scott Williams (4)

Stacey King (5)

Bobby Hansen (3)

Cliff Levingston (1)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

pippen_jordan_111206jordan trophygame6_120621

Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen celebrate their 2nd straight championship before heading off to Barcelona for the Olympics, while Chicago Stadium was a madhouse during and after the game *photos courtesy of nba.com, Getty Images, and Real GM

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1992 College Basketball Season – The Perfect Game

SI nov 25 1991

#1 Duke was the favorite to repeat in 1992 *photo courtesy of Getty Images

With the Duke Blue Devils having their main stars of Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, and company returning, they were #1 in the polls and odds on favorite to repeat as National Champions.

In the early season (before December 21, the date of our first games), Duke took on two ranked opponents.  First was #7 St. John’sat the Greensboro Coliseum.  With 15 minutes left in the game, a score that was not expected was being shown.

St. John’s would actually make the final score respectable at 91-81 but would get another chance at a top opponent when they took on Indiana two weeks later in our first game featured (on the date of December 21, which incidentally was the 100 year anniversary of basketball being invented.. so a pretty special date).

Meanwhile, Duke (in a game that’s turned pretty famous) would travel to Ann Arbor, Michigan and get their first look at the Fab Five.  After a 14-15 season in 1991, Steve Fisher and the Michigan Wolverines recruited 5 top notch high school players.  Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, and Jalen Rose started immediately.  Jimmy King and Ray Jackson did not.  But they still ram-rodded Detroit Mercy and Cleveland State in their first two games.

They got their first test and national exposure against Duke.  The Wolverines trailed by 17 but made a run in the 2nd half and had chances to win.  But Duke held on 88-85 in overtime and survived their first test in defending their national championship.  As it turned out, it would be one of their few tests until February 5.  Michigan, meanwhile, would be 8-1 entering the Big Ten season but 3-3 in the Big Ten when they traveled to East Lansing to play their in-state rival Michigan State.

Duke and St. John’s bracketed the pre-season top 10 (Duke was #1 and St. John’s #10), while Michigan started at #20 but were #25 when they played their first game.

Rounding out the top 10 was Indiana at #2, Arkansas at #3, Kentucky at #4, Arizona at #5, LSU at #6, Ohio State at #7, North Carolina at #8, and Seton Hall at #9.

UCLA was ranked #11 in the pre-season but springed to #4 after defeating #2 Indiana 87-72 in the Tip-Off Classic.  UCLA started the season at 14-0, including an 89-87 victory at Arizona, but their toughest opponent may have been their cross-town rivals.  Indiana would also get another shot at them eventually.

#4 Kentucky would be the favorite at the Pre-Season NIT.  But they never made it to New York as Pitt bounced them in Rupp Arena 85-67 in the 2nd round.  Oklahoma State, who started the season at #13 in the polls, won the Pre-Season NIT with victories over Pitt and Georgia Tech at Madison Square Garden.  Kentucky rebounded by defeating Indiana in Indianapolis, but lost to Georgia Tech 81-80 in Atlanta.  Still though, with probation off their backs, Kentucky would make noise again.

#3 Arkansas started off their first season in the SEC in Maui, where they climbed to #2 but lost in the finals of the Maui Invitational to unranked Michigan State.  The Spartans would climb into the rankings with their 86-71 victory and not leave after winning their first 10 games.  Arkansas lost again to Missouri but would eventually round into another stellar season in a different conference and some key pieces returning.

But Arkansas’ big early season win did come against #2 Arizona on this December 21st date.  It would be the Wildcats’ only loss in their first 11 games.  Arizona’s most impressive win in their early season came when they stomped LSU 87-67.  But it perhaps became less impressive with LSU’s shaky start.  The Tigers had to scramble to defeat Louisiana-Monroe in the last seconds and then were killed by probation-ridden UNLV and Arizona.  They would try to right themselves by hosting Louisville on this December 21st date.

Ohio State won their first 6 games while playing against cupcakes.  But they got their first test on this December 21st date.  North Carolina and Seton Hall played each other in the early season.  North Carolina won big in New Jersey, 83-54.  Despite the drubbing, the Pirates started the season at 6-1.  North Carolina would get a rude awakening from ACC newcomer Florida State.  The Seminoles beat the Tarheels 86-74 in Chapel Hill and made noise about the quietness of the Dean Dome.

All of the teams I’ve listed so far except Detroit-Mercy, Cleveland State, Pitt, Missouri, and Louisiana-Monroe (So the teams listed other than those 5 are Duke, St. John’s, Michigan, Indiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, Arizona, LSU, Ohio State, North Carolina, Seton Hall, UCLA, USC, Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech, Michigan State, and Florida State) will be highlighted in a game.  Seton Hall, Arizona, and Kentucky won’t be highlighted until the NCAA tournament.

And in case you were wondering about Detroit-Mercy, Cleveland State, Pitt, Missouri, and Louisiana-Monroe, only Missouri and Louisiana-Monroe made the NCAA tournament.  Monroe was a 15th seed in the Midwest after winning the Southland Conference but were killed by USC 84-54.  Missouri finished 3rd in the Big 8 and had senior Anthony Peeler on the All-America 2nd team.  They were the #5 seed in the East and lost in the 2nd round.  Pitt finished 7th in the Big East and lost in the 2nd round of the NIT.  Detroit-Mercy and Cleveland State did not recover from being Fab 5 fodder and finished at the bottom of their conferences.

Now we’ve hit that December 21st date.  #19 Arkansas beat #2 Arizona 65-59.  But in the three matchups featured, #14 Indiana took on #10 St. John’s, #25 Louisville traveled to unranked LSU, and #4 Ohio State went west to take on soon-to-be-ranked Southern California.

December 21, 1991 – (#14)Indiana Hoosiers 82 @(#10)St. John’s Red Men 77

Going into this matchup, both teams had not beaten a ranked opponent so far in the season.  St. John’s was 4-1 but had only played Duke in their matchups against the top 25.

The biggest thing with the Johnnies so far was that senior Malik Sealy was playing brilliantly but getting little help.  Fellow seniors Robert Werdann, Jason Buchanan, and Chucky Sproling were under-performing after having a breakthrough NCAA tournament in 1991.  St. John’s and coach Lou Carnesecca, who was in his last season coaching, was also not getting contributions from the forward slot opposite Sealy.  Billy Singleton had graduated and sophomore Shawnelle Scott, along with newcomers Lamont Middleton and Mitchell Foster, were failing to step up.

Indiana had been more disappointing however.  After finishing 1991 at 29-5, although coach Bob Knight thought that was deceiving because of a “down year” in the Big Ten, the Hoosiers were 5-2 with essentially the same team.

Junior Calbert Cheaney had rounded into a star.  Seniors Eric Anderson and Jamal Meeks were returning, along with juniors Greg Graham, Chris Reynolds, and Matt Nover and sophomore Damon Bailey.  Added to the group was prized freshman big man Alan Henderson.  Henderson was a McDonald’s All-American in 1991 and was already in Knight’s starting lineup at center.

Cheaney, however, had disappeared in Indiana’s two losses to UCLA and Kentucky.  In a big matchup against Sealy, who played the same position, it was time for Cheaney to step up.  In fact, it was time for both teams to step up.

Chucky Sproling seemed to be stepping up and going out of his shooting slump early on as he nailed two three-pointers to give St. John’s an early 8-4 lead.  But St. John’s returned to Sealy versus the other team and shot poorly, missing a lot of layups.

Meanwhile, Cheaney and Anderson did step up to put Indiana ahead.  A three from Bailey gave the Hoosiers a 20-12 lead at the 11:44 mark.  Then Cheaney nailed two triples to put Indiana ahead 26-12 and force Carnesecca to use a timeout with 10:18 left in the half.

Although the Red Men made a run, Indiana would take their biggest lead at 36-21 at the 3:47 mark after another three by Anderson and five points from usual non-scorer Matt Nover.  But the Hoosiers took their foot off the gas pedal.

Sealy hit a turnaround and Buchanan contributed his first two field goals of the game.  St. John’s cut it to 39-32 at the break but it could have been closer.  Just before the buzzer, Sealy got a steal in the back-court.  But instead of trying to get a shot off before the buzzer, Sealy went coast-to-coast for a slam, which happened long after time ran out.

However, the Johnnies did come out strong to start the 2nd half.  Werdann got his first field goal and then had a tipped pass to Sproling for a breakaway layup.  St. John’s cut it to 41-39 before Cheaney quelled the run with a turnaround jumper from the post.

Cheaney and Sealy had each led their team with 10 1st half points.  Cheaney held off the Red Men with Indiana’s first 11 points of the 2nd half.  But the absent Werdann and Buchanan kept it close.  Werdann had 7 points early in the 2nd half while Buchanan nailed two threes.

Indiana’s lead was down to 55-53 when Cheaney picked up his 4th foul.  St. John’s had made their run in the 1st half when Knight decided to rest Cheaney.

St. John’s tied it at 59 when Middleton hit a turnaround jumper from the post.  They took the lead at 64-63 when Sealy hit a three from the top, but the Red Men did not hit another field goal over the next few minutes.

Meanwhile, Henderson hit four free throws and Meeks hit three to give Indiana a 72-66 lead with Cheaney still on the bench.  Henderson then got two layups off feeds from Reynolds and Meeks.

Although, St. John’s made a run and cut it to 78-75 with 30.5 seconds left, it was too little too late and Indiana had a big road win.

For the Hoosiers, this would be win #4 in what turned into a 13-game winning streak.  This streak included dominating victories over Cincinnati, Ohio State, and Michigan.  Ohio State and Michigan were ranked and Cincinnati would become a Final Four team in 1992.

St. John’s went downhill after the loss and they sat at 10-7 before a 7-game winning streak saved their season.  They would finish the regular season at 19-10 and finish 3rd in the Big East.  St. John’s was a #7 seed in the Southeast Regional but lost in the 1st round to Tulane 61-57.

Carnesecca then retired after 24 seasons as coach and St. John’s would, for the most part, not be the same as a basketball program to this day.

Indiana starters (points scored)

Calbert Cheaney (25) – Small Forward

Eric Anderson (18) – Power Forward

Alan Henderson (10) – Center

Chris Reynolds (2) – Point Guard

Greg Graham (4) – Shooting Guard

Indiana bench (points scored)

Jamal Meeks (9)

Matt Nover (7)

Damon Bailey (7)

Indiana Coach: Bob Knight

St. John’s starters (points scored)

Malik Sealy (25) – Small Forward

Shawnelle Scott (2) – Power Forward

Robert Werdann (15) – Center

Jason Buchanan (17) – Point Guard

Chucky Sproling (8) – Shooting Guard

St. John’s bench (points scored)

Lamont Middleton (10)

Mitchell Foster (0)

David Cain (0)

Terrence Mullin (0)

St. John’s Coach: Lou Carnesecca

December 21, 1991 – (#4)Ohio State Buckeyes 77 @USC Trojans 79 (OT)

When George Raveling moved from Iowa to USC as coach in 1986, he didn’t inherit much.  In his first 4 seasons, USC won 38 total games.  But Raveling was starting to get some talent.

For his 4th season, guard Robert Pack came from Community College in Tyler, Texas.  He also got local product Harold Miner, who was being called “Baby Jordan” by the time he was a junior.  Raveling had Ronnie Coleman, who was USC’s all-time leading scorer until Miner passed him.  For the 1991 season, Duane Cooper came back after a red-shirt season but struggled in his return from a broken foot.  Big men Yamen Sanders and Mark Boyd came aboard, as well as guards Phil Glenn and Rodney Chatman.

With this roster, USC made their first NCAA tournament since 1985.  It was clearly a new experience as Miner threw up a dud 7-for-27 performance in a close loss to Florida State in the 1st round.

Coleman and Pack graduated but freshman big man Lorenzo Orr and JC transfer Dwayne Hackett came aboard.  But the worry without Coleman and Pack was that Miner would become a one-man team.  But still, USC had its best team in years and the Los Angeles Sports Arena was starting to become a home-court advantage.  USC had won 7 in a row at home and 15 of their last 17.  The Trojans were 6-1 with their only loss being in the opening game at Nebraska.

Ohio State would be the Trojans’ first test since that Nebraska loss.  The Buckeyes played their first 5 games at home against less-than-stellar competition and killed them.  But then they traveled out west to UC-Santa Barbara and won a close game in a tough environment.  But USC would be Ohio State’s toughest test so far.

The Buckeyes had lost Perry Carter and Treg Lee to graduation.  Both were big, strong interior players.  But Ohio State did have an All-American coming back in Jim Jackson.  Jackson, like Miner, was a junior and would become a 1st-team All-American in 1992.  Coach Randy Ayers also had senior guards Mark Baker and Jamaal Brown returning to the starting lineup.  Seniors Chris Jent and Bill Robinson moved into the lineup.

Ayers also had a coup coming.  Transfer Lawrence Funderburke was on his way from Indiana but he was ineligible for the first semester.  Funderburke was part of Indiana’s big recruiting year that included Calbert Cheaney.  But Lawrence was gone after one season because he couldn’t get along with Bob Knight, not the first or last time that happened.  Although he hadn’t exactly proven himself on the college level, Funderburke had a lot of potential.

For this game, USC got off to the hot start it needed.  Duane Cooper nailed a three off the opening tip and then Miner nailed a turnaround jumper from the foul line.  Yamen Sanders got a few hoops and then found Mark Boyd for a breakaway slam.  USC was 5-for-5 from the field and led 13-7 at the 15:59 mark.

But then USC went into a drought and Jamaal Brown nailed two threes and Chris Jent hit another.  The Buckeyes now led 17-15 at the 11:22 mark.  But USC countered with their own three-point marksmanship after a timeout.  Cooper hit one and Rodney Chatman two more.  USC re-took a 26-18 lead.

Although Ohio State cut the lead to 36-34 at the half, Jim Jackson struggled through a 1-for-8 start.  Brown led the Buckeyes with 11 points while Miner and Sanders each had 11 for USC.

The Buckeyes tied it early in the 2nd half before Miner hit back-to-back field goals.  But then, with 16:04 left, Miner picked up his 3rd foul.  He stayed in the game but Ohio State went on a 9-1 run to take a 47-45 lead.  Bill Robinson was a big factor early on with 6 points but he fouled out with 12:51 remaining.

Jim Jackson got going and the Buckeyes took their biggest lead at 56-52 when Brown tipped in a miss.  Miner then got aggressive again and nailed a three-pointer, although it looked like his foot was on the line.

Miner’s output would be matched by Jackson.  Jackson made a living by going 1-on-1 at the top of the key and nailing pull-up jumpers from the foul line area.  Both Miner and Jackson also got to the foul line late in the game.  All in all, it led to a 66-all tie with 1:20 left.

The Buckeyes would then take a big advantage with under a minute to go when Jackson found Brown for a corner three.  Raveling used a timeout with 43.1 seconds left.

They tried to free Miner off of many screens.  But Harold couldn’t break free from Jackson.  So Duane Cooper pulled up off a screen from Mark Boyd and nailed a three to tie the game with 20 seconds left.  Ohio State didn’t use a timeout and Jackson went 1-on-1 again.  But this time, Miner knocked the ball away and forced a held ball with 3.8 seconds left.  The arrow was pointing towards USC.

The Trojans actually got a good shot off their inbounds play from three-quarter court.  Miner broke free and had a pull-up jumper from the right wing that looked to be dead on.  But it came up short and the game was headed into overtime.

Miner and Jackson continued their duel in the extra session but USC took a lead when Cooper nailed a three and kept it despite Miner going out of the game for a minute after picking up his 4th foul.

But Jackson hit back-to-back field goals after going 1-on-1 at the top to give Ohio State a 77-75 lead with 1:53 to go.  Jackson had made his last 7 field goals after his 1-for-8 start.

But Miner got to the line again after Brown was called for his 5th foul (a weak call) with 1:10 left.  Miner hit two free throws to tie the game and finished 14-for-17 from the line.

USC then surprised Ohio State with the press and Cooper got a steal with under a minute to go.  The Trojans ran down the shot clock but had a long, forced shot blocked out of bounds with 1 second on the shot clock and 10.1 seconds left.

From under Ohio State’s basket, Cooper threw a lob pass to a cutting Miner at the rim.  Miner rose above good defense from Ohio State backup big man Tom Brandewie and laid it in at the shot clock buzzer to give the Trojans the lead.

Ohio State, again, decided not to use a timeout.  Jackson took it the length of the court but was long on his pull-up jumper at the buzzer, a shot that he had nailed the entire 2nd half.

USC had not beaten a top 4 ranked team since upsetting eventual champion UCLA in 1970.  The Trojans most successful season since the 1970’s would continue with a victory over 2nd rated UCLA at the end of January.  Ohio State also continued their successful season but would have trouble with a Big Ten foe.

Ohio State starters (points scored)

Jim Jackson (28) – Small Forward

Chris Jent (10) – Power Forward

Bill Robinson (7) – Center

Mark Baker (5) – Point Guard

Jamaal Brown (23) – Shooting Guard

Ohio State bench (points scored)

Steve Hall (0)

Tom Brandewie (3)

Rickey Dudley (1)

Alex Davis (0)

Ohio State Coach: Randy Ayers

USC starters (points scored)

Harold Miner (31) – Small Forward

Mark Boyd (5) – Power Forward

Yamen Sanders (13) – Center

Duane Cooper (18) – Point Guard

Phil Glenn (0) – Shooting Guard

USC bench (points scored)

Lorenzo Orr (2)

Rodney Chatman (10)

Dwayne Hackett (0)

Tremaine Anchrum (0)

Tim Vanitvelt (0)

USC Coach: George Raveling

December 21, 1991 – (#25)Louisville Cardinals 93 @LSU Tigers 92

After accumulating an outstanding record in his first 19 seasons at Louisville, Denny Crum suffered his first losing season in 1991.  The Cardinals went 14-16 and finished 8th in the Metro Conference after dominating it for years.

Now Crum was without LaBradford Smith, who was a senior in 1991 at guard.  But Crum did have some talent returning.  There were seniors Everick Sullivan and Cornelius Holden at forward as well as juniors James Brewer and Troy Smith.  Crum was also getting some Prop 48 players who probably would have helped in 1991.  They were guards Greg Minor and Dwayne Morton and center Brian Hopgood.  The point guard was a freshman in Keith LeGree.

With this talent and a home-heavy schedule (the only road game so far was at Notre Dame), Louisville was off to a 5-0 start in 1992 and moved up to #25 in the polls.

The same could not be said of LSU at the start of the season.  Junior superstar Shaquille O’Neal was further learning that he could not carry a team on his own and that the college game was not going to get any less physical.  Shaq’s team started out #6 in the polls but were out by the time they took on Louisville.

Dale Brown’s 3-2 LSU team featured forwards Vernel Singleton and Clarence Ceasar, guards Justin Anderson, T.J. Pugh, Mike Hansen, Maurice Williamson and Jamie Brandon.  Williamson and Brandon were returning after being academically ineligible for the 1991 season (Brandon was another Prop 48 casualty).  Shaq’s backup was 7-foot Dutchman Geert Hammink, who would also be Shaq’s backup for a few cups of coffee in Orlando.  Hammink would be the only of Shaq’s current teammates who would play an NBA game.

Both teams wanted to push the ball and create a fast tempo, but LSU had been run out of the gym in their first two losses as Brown tried to put together a back-court combination that would work.  On this day, the starting combination was Brandon and Anderson with Brandon at the controls.

LSU did not solve any chemistry woes early on as they committed 3 turnovers in the first few minutes.  Meanwhile, Sullivan got a steal and pull-up banker while guards LeGree and Minor hit shots over Shaq.  O’Neal did get two blocks and LSU’s 8-0 run gave them a 10-7 lead.

But Sullivan had the answer with 9 early points to keep Louisville within a 21-all tie.  Then the Cardinals bench gave them the lead as Brewer nailed a three and Smith hit a jumper from the top.  But then Shaq threw down his 2nd alley-oop to kick off an 11-0 Tigers run that gave them a 32-26 lead despite 9 turnovers.

But Sullivan answered again as he scored 7 points late in the half to bring his total to 16.  Lousiville took a 37-36 lead before Ceasar nailed a three and Shaq rebound-slammed a miss to bring his total to 10 points.  LSU led 41-37 at the break.

The Tigers continued their run with a 6-0 start to the 2nd half to take a 10-point lead.  Louisville crept back to within 51-47 before Shaq drew his 3rd foul.  Brewer then made a subsequent free throw and then nailed a three to tie the game.

Despite the foul trouble, O’Neal had gotten going in the 2nd half and kept LSU ahead with 10 points.  But with about 13 minutes left, Morton scored on a layup and drew Shaq’s 4th foul.  Morton’s three-point play tied the game at 59 and O’Neal went to the bench.

LSU took a lead as they tried to prove they weren’t a one man team.  But a 7-0 Louisville run, led by their big man Troy Smith, gave the Cardinals a 70-66 lead.  Shaq had to come back in after a three-point play by Smith on an offensive rebound.  O’Neal immediately scored with 3 guys on him, and then he blocked a shot that led to a breakaway layup by Williamson to tie the game at 70.

With under 8 minutes to go, Sullivan went on a personal 7-0 run to give Louisville a 79-72 advantage.  Louisville had been pushing the tempo with a small lineup all day.  For Sullivan, these were his only 7 points of the 2nd half.  Two three-pointers from the freshman Ceasar cut the lead to 80-78 before disaster struck.

With 4:42 left, Holden pump faked Shaq and drew his 5th foul.  O’Neal left the game with 22 points, 15 rebounds, and 6 blocks.  Although Shaq was gone, LSU continued to try to defy the one-man team talk (either that or Louisville relaxed).  Jamie Brandon got two steals that led to layups and then he banked one in to put the Tigers up 86-81 with under 2 minutes left.

Louisville looked about done when Maurice Williamson put back his own missed free throw to give LSU an 88-82 lead with under a minute and a half to go.

But LeGree fed Morton for a layup and then Louisville sent LSU to the line.  Ceasar split a pair of free throws.  LeGree went coast-to-coast for a pull-up jumper and then Brandon split a pair of free throws.  LSU now led 90-86 with 36 seconds left.  Holden put back a miss by LeGree and drew a foul at the 24-second mark.  Holden’s three-point play cut the lead to 90-89.

Brandon nailed both free throws this time but Louisville could still tie it with a three.  They got two chances on the next possession but LeGree and Sullivan missed their attempts.  But after the Sullivan miss, Williamson pushed off on Holden and was called for a foul with 8 seconds left.  Holden missed the first free throw but made the second.

Morton then fouled Williamson with 7 seconds left.  Maurice had missed two free throws earlier and bricked two more, giving Louisville a chance to tie with a two-pointer and win with a three.

Morton grabbed Williamson’s second miss and did not call a timeout.  Instead, he gave it ahead to Holden.  Cornelius pushed it up the floor but was kind of hesitating on what to do.  He eventually gave it back to the freshman Keith LeGree.  LeGree pulled up for a long three-pointer and nailed it at the buzzer to give the Cardinals the win.

LeGree’s three gave Louisville a 6-0 record on the season.  They would come back down to earth with a loss at Kentucky and then an 0-2 start in the Metro Conference.  But they would get another road test at Kansas.

This loss may have shook LSU up a bit as they won their next two games by scores of 159-86 and 123-61.  They won 4 in a row before suffering another home loss, this time to Arkansas in their conference home opener.  LSU then had to travel to Alabama for their version of a road test.

Louisville starters (points scored)

Greg Minor (2) – Small Forward

Everick Sullivan (23) – Power Forward

Cornelius Holden (11) – Center

Keith LeGree (10) – Point Guard

Dwayne Morton (16) – Shooting Guard

Louisville bench (points scored)

James Brewer (16)

Troy Smith (13)

Tremaine Wingfield (0)

Kip Stone (0)

Derwin Webb (2)

Louisville Coach: Denny Crum

LSU starters (points scored)

Clarence Ceasar (15) – Small Forward

Vernel Singleton (11) – Power Forward

Shaquille O’Neal (22) – Center

Jamie Brandon (16) – Point Guard

Justin Anderson (5) – Shooting Guard

LSU bench (points scored)

Maurice Williamson (15)

Harold Boudreaux (2)

T.J. Pugh (4)

Mike Hansen (0)

Geert Hammink (2)

LSU Coach: Dale Brown

January 4, 1992 – (#5)Connecticut Huskies 70 @Illinois Fighting Illini 66

The Connecticut Huskies had been a cinderella story and had come oh-so-close to the Final Four in 1990 and 1991.  But now, they were vying for serious legitimacy.  They had experience coming back in seniors Chris Smith, Rod Sellers, and Dan Cyrulik and juniors Scott Burrell and Toraino Walker.

They had also recruited some prized freshmen.  The biggest prize was 6’9″ McDonald’s All-American Donyell Marshall from Reading, Pennsylvania.  Jim Calhoun also got Donny Marshall (not related to Donyell) from Washington D.C., Kevin Ollie from Los Angeles, and Brian Fair from Phoenix.

With this lineup, the Huskies were off to a 9-0 start, although all but one game was played at home.

Illinois was now on the downturn after being put on probation in 1990.  Lou Henson’s only legitimate star was sophomore center Deon Thomas.  Andy Kaufmann, who averaged 21.3 points per game in 1991, was supposed to join Thomas as the star, but Kaufmann would be red-shirted for the 1992 season due to academic problems.

Without Kaufmann or the ability to fully recruit potential stars, Henson and Thomas did not have much of a supporting cast.  Rennie Clemons played the point and had shooters T.J. Wheeler, Brooks Taylor, Tom Michael, and Scott Pierce flanking him on the outside.  The best freshman that Henson could get with the probationary restraints was Robert Bennett from Julian High School in Chicago.  Bennett would not blow anybody away with his numbers over the next 4 years.

Illinois was off to a 6-3 start but had gotten waxed by the only good teams they played, Temple and Missouri.

On paper, this looked like a mis-match.  But Connecticut had only played one game away from Gampel Pavilion and Illinois would play a bit out of their minds.

The tone was set by Thomas as he rejected two UConn shots early on.  He then led the Illini to an early lead with 9 points.  But the biggest key was how the Illinois guards handled the vaunted UConn press.

Clemons and Wheeler were able to break it and find Thomas for layups and fouls on UConn.  Sellers and Burrell each got into early foul trouble.

A 6-0 Illini run (Burrell committed his 3rd foul during this spurt, taking UConn’s 2nd leading scorer out of the lineup with no points) put the home team ahead 22-15.

They continued to grow the lead by breaking UConn’s press for easy baskets and getting on the offensive boards.  With 15 minutes gone by in the 1st half, Bennett found Tom Michael for a layup to put the Illini up 34-22.

For UConn, Burrell was scoreless and the prized freshmen were playing like inexperienced freshmen.  But the Huskies would show off their big star power as Chris Smith took over through the rest of the 1st half.

First, Smith hit a long jumper and then a reverse scoop shot.  Then Smith got a steal off the press and scored on a layup.  Illinois went scoreless during this stretch and Smith continued to attack as he pushed the ball to Sellers for a layup.  Chris capped his personal, unanswered run with a pull-up three from the top.  This cut Illinois’ lead to 34-33.

Tom Michael stemmed the tide with a three but Smith came right back with another to bring his 1st half point total to 17, 12 in the last 5 minutes.  UConn, however, was not able to grab the lead at halftime as the Illini held a 37-36 advantage.

Illinois got back going early in the 2nd half as Thomas got a three-point play and Michael hit his 3rd three-pointer.  But Burrell finally got involved as he found Donyell Marshall with a touch-pass for a slam and then hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 43.

The game went back-and-forth for the next several minutes.  Illinois continued to get on the boards, they would out-rebound Connecticut 52-33 in this game.

But Smith would continue to attack.  His 27th point came on a breakaway layup to put UConn up 55-52 with 8 minutes left.

Connecticut would hold the lead for the next 4 minutes despite not scoring a field goal, but their advantage was a tenuous 58-56 after a layup by Thomas.

But Sellers penetrated and kicked out to Burrell for a big three-pointer from the wing.  Thomas responded with a turnaround jumper but Illinois would not score again until there was less than a minute remaining.

Meanwhile UConn, although they didn’t quite look smooth, put the game away for the most part.  Sellers put back a miss by Marshall and then Smith hit a turnaround in the lane to reach a career-high in points.  Smith’s two free throws then put UConn up 67-58 with 52.6 seconds left.

Illinois would make a bit of a push after Pierce and Michael hit three-pointers to cut the lead to 68-64 with 28 seconds left.  Clemons then got a steal in the back court but Pierce and walk-on freshman Will Tuttle missed their jumpers and Connecticut was finally able to put the game away.

The Huskies had survived their first road test and seemed to be on smooth sailing through the first part of their Big East schedule.  UConn sat at 16-1 through the end of January but then the tough part of their schedule came.

Illinois’ momentum from their effort against UConn would not continue as they got off to an inauspicious 2-7 start in the Big Ten.  But they would have a chance to get their only road win in their Big Ten season in mid-February against a team missing their best player.

Connecticut starters (points scored)

Donyell Marshall (8) – Small Forward

Toraino Walker (8) – Power Forward

Rod Sellers (11) – Center

Chris Smith (33) – Point Guard

Scott Burrell (7) – Shooting Guard

Connecticut bench (points scored)

Dan Cyrulik (2)

Brian Fair (1)

Kevin Ollie (0)

Donny Marshall (0)

Connecticut Coach: Jim Calhoun

Illinois starters (points scored)

Tom Michael (19) – Small Forward

Scott Pierce (9) – Power Forward

Deon Thomas (26) – Center

Rennie Clemons (4) – Point Guard

T.J. Wheeler (0) – Shooting Guard

Illinois bench (points scored)

Brooks Taylor (2)

Robert Bennett (6)

Will Tuttle (0)

Mike Duis (0)

Marc Davidson (0)

Illinois Coach: Lou Henson

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Senior Chris Smith almost single-handedly led UConn to a victory at Illinois with a career-high 33 points *photo courtesy of Sportz Edge

January 11, 1992 – Louisville Cardinals 85 @(#4)Kansas Jayhawks 78

Ever since upsetting Shaq and LSU (it looks more like an upset in hindsight than it probably actually was), the Louisville Cardinals had lost 3 out of 4 games.  One loss came at Kentucky and the others were the opening two games of the Metro Conference season, including a home loss to Tulane.

Kansas had started the season 11-0 but their schedule wasn’t exactly the strongest.  So Roy Williams, in his more-or-less typical manner, figured that his team could have a tough time with Louisville, even though they were at Allen Fieldhouse, if they weren’t ready to play.

The Jayhawks had a 24-game winning streak going at Allen Fieldhouse and had won 30 straight non-conference games at home.

Kansas had lost Mark Randall, Mike Maddox and Terry Brown from the starting lineup of a team that went to the 1991 National Championship Game.  They had also lost 6th man Sean Tunstall.

But junior point guard Adonis Jordan and powerful 6’6″ senior forward Alonzo Jamison were back.  Sophomore forward Richard Scott joined them in the starting lineup after having a strong NCAA tournament as a freshman.

Williams’ other starters were incoming transfers.  Shooting guard Rex Walters came from Northwestern and shooting big man Eric Pauley from Cypress College.  Both were juniors but Pauley wouldn’t start consistently until later in the year.

For now, the starting center was freshman Ben Davis from Oak Hill Academy.  He came in along with 7’2″ Greg Ostertag from Duncanville, Texas.  Other reserves included sophomore guards Steve Woodberry and Patrick Richey, who were big contributors in 1991 as well.

But Kansas started off how Williams feared.  They played raggedly and fell behind 6-0 and then 10-2.  Dwayne Morton started off with 6 of those 10 points for Louisville, but then he picked up his 2nd foul and sat for the rest of the half.

Louisville still went on top 13-4 when Greg Minor made a jumper from the deep wing.  But then Kansas’ bench came in to spark them.  Richey nailed a three at the end of the shot clock and then Ostertag put back a miss while he drew a foul.  Those two baskets got the Rock Chalk, Jayhawk crowd into the game for the first time.

But then both teams followed with a 5-minute stretch in which only one basket was scored, by Louisville’s Derwin Webb.  The Cardinals held the lead throughout the first half as Kansas’ only spark was coming from two three-pointers by Richey and 7 points from Ostertag.

Meanwhile, Louisville’s bench of Webb and Kip Stone provided a spark while Cornelius Holden led the way with 8 points.  But Holden picked up his 3rd foul with 6.9 seconds left in the half and Louisville only held a 36-32 lead at the break.

Holden’s replacement at center, Troy Smith, would pick up his 3rd foul early in the 2nd half.  Kansas would then get going as Walters and Jamison hit field goals and Jordan hit two free throws to give the Jayhawks their first lead of the game.

The Jayhawks would stretch their lead to as much as five a few times as Walters and Jamison put the points on the board.  But Louisville stayed in it as Minor got two putbacks and Morton scored 7 points to cut the lead to 52-51.

Then Everick Sullivan, Louisville’s leading scorer who had struggled so far in this game, nailed a three to give the Cardinals the lead again.  Holden hit two free throws before Morton picked up his 4th foul and Kansas tied it at 56 after Walters hit two free throws and Jamison drove down the lane for a reverse layup.

For this game, Denny Crum’s unsung hero would be Kip Stone, who came in for Morton.  Stone scored the next 7 points of the game to put Louisville up 63-56.  It would take awhile, and most of Kansas’ energy, to make up that deficit.

Louisville kept fending off the Jayhawks with big buckets.  Kansas cut the lead to 2 points on four separate occasions but would not get a chance to tie it until Holden split a pair of free throws to put Louisville up 76-73.

With 2:45 to go, Woodberry found Walters at the wing.  Rex launched and connected on the game-tying three-pointer as the crowd sensed the comeback kill.

But Morton, who had helped fend off Kansas’ earlier runs with a baseline turnaround and then two free throws, nailed the biggest and perhaps toughest shot in the game.  Morton pump faked Jamison, who didn’t go for it, in the corner and dribbled to the elbow area.  Morton launched over Jamison and nailed the jumper.

Kansas could not answer.  First, they had a turnover and then Pauley missed a tip-in after Walters couldn’t connect on a driving shot.  Morton was fouled on the drive but split his free throws to keep it a one-possession game at 79-76.  Jordan couldn’t connect on a tying three-point attempt.

Although Louisville missed some free throws late, they were still able to put the game away as Kansas’ only field goal after Walters’ tying three-pointer came with 0.6 seconds left.

This big win by Louisville kicked off a 4-game winning streak.  But that would be their longest winning streak for the rest of the season.  Louisville finished 4th in the Metro Conference and lost to VCU in the 1st round of their conference tournament.  With an 18-10 record, Louisville was named a #8 seed in the West Regional.  They killed Wake Forest before being killed by top-seeded UCLA in the 2nd round.

Kansas would also become a top-seed after finishing the regular season at 26-4 and winning the Big 12 regular season and tournament championship.  This would actually be Kansas’ only home loss of the season.  But they ran into some trouble in the early rounds of the NCAA tournament.

Louisville starters (points scored)

Greg Minor (12) – Small Forward

Everick Sullivan (15) – Power Forward

Cornelius Holden (12) – Center

Keith LeGree (3) – Point Guard

Dwayne Morton (20) – Shooting Guard

Louisville bench (points scored)

Kip Stone (12)

Derwin Webb (7)

Troy Smith (0)

Tremaine Wingfield (4)

Brian Hopgood (0)

Louisville Coach: Denny Crum

Kansas starters (points scored)

Alonzo Jamison (14) – Small Forward

Richard Scott (4) – Power Forward

Ben Davis (3) – Center

Adonis Jordan (13) – Point Guard

Rex Walters (16) – Shooting Guard

Kansas bench (points scored)

Steve Woodberry (6)

Eric Pauley (3)

Patrick Richey (6)

Greg Ostertag (12)

Malcolm Nash (1)

Kansas Coach: Roy Williams

January 14, 1992 – LSU Tigers 89 @(#9)Alabama Crimson Tide 81

The LSU Tigers had rebounded from a 3-3 start to win 4 games in a row.  But they could not welcome Arkansas to the SEC with a loss.  The Razorbacks’ press defense (commonly known as 40 minutes of hell) took LSU out of their game in Baton Rouge and the Tigers took the loss 101-90.

LSU was now traveling to Tuscaloosa to take on 9th ranked Alabama without guard Jamie Brandon, who was sitting out with an ankle injury.

While football is, and always will be, king in Tuscaloosa, Wimp Sanderson had brought basketball to a prominent place.  Sanderson had won 5 SEC tournament championships (and one regular season title) including 4 of the last 5 seasons.  Sanderson had also brought in talent that starred in the NBA; like Ennis Whatley, Buck Johnson, Derrick McKey, Jim Farmer, Keith Askins, and David Benoit.

Now Sanderson’s talent included senior forward/center Robert Horry (who would have to guard future Los Angeles Lakers’ teammate Shaquille O’Neal in this contest) and senior JC transfer forward Latrell Sprewell.  There were also junior guard James Robinson, who had some decent years in the NBA, and junior forward Andre Perry.  Freshman forward Jason Caffey would also have some decent NBA years, and be on the right team at the right time for a bit.

But Sanderson’s biggest hurdle was the Sweet 16.  Wimp was 0-6 in the Regional Semifinal and Alabama had never advanced past that round in their basketball history.

The Tide was 14-1 to start the 1992 season with Robinson, Sprewell and Horry averaging in double figures.

But, for this contest, they ran into a re-focused LSU team that took the early lead at 16-7 with Clarence Ceasar scoring 8 points, including two three-pointers.

A third LSU three-pointer, this one from Justin Anderson, gave the Tigers a 21-11 lead.  It would eventually grow to 37-24 with about 6 minutes left in the 1st half.  Shaq was dominating but getting help from the guard combination of Anderson and Mike Hansen, who were reigning three-pointers.

Meanwhile, Robinson and Horry combined for 2 points in the 1st half.  But Alabama got a big lift from Perry, who scored 17 1st half points and drew 3 fouls on Shaq.  Sprewell would also contribute as Alabama cut LSU’s lead to 42-35 at halftime.

The momentum continued at the start of the 2nd half for Alabama as Robinson got going with 6 points to help the Tide tie the game at 46 and force Dale Brown to use a timeout at the 17:24 mark.

A steal and breakaway slam by Sprewell gave the Tide the lead, but Sanderson picked up a technical after he thought Shaq should have been called for his 4th foul when he blocked a shot.

LSU would then re-open the flood gates with the game tied at 52.  Anderson, Hansen, and Ceasar hit consecutive three-pointers to put the Tigers up by 9 and quiet the crowd.

Alabama cut into the lead but could not get back even.  The closest the Tide got was 75-73 before Shaq drew Horry’s 5th foul.

O’Neal dominated with 29 points while Horry only scored 4 points.  Shaq even hit two free throws to give his team the 4-point lead.  Anderson would then throw the big dagger with 2:55 to go.  He hit a three from the corner to put LSU up 80-73.

Alabama would not be helped by the free throw line as Robinson and Sprewell each missed the front end of 1-and-1’s.  Reserve Cedric Moore missed two more after drawing Shaq’s 4th foul.  These misses hindered any chance Alabama had of coming back in the last 3 minutes.

For the Tide, this loss kicked off a 3-game losing streak.  They still finished 10-6 in the SEC (which was 3rd in the West behind Arkansas and LSU) and 4th overall.  Alabama made one final run to the SEC tournament championship game, but were walloped by Kentucky 80-54.

Sanderson’s team would not make the Sweet 16 this season.  As a #5 seed in the Southeast Regional, they lost to 4th seeded North Carolina 64-55 as they shot 29% from the field in what turned out to be Wimp Sanderson’s last season of coaching in Tuscaloosa (he would spend 5 seasons at Arkansas-Little Rock from 1994-1999).

For LSU, this win kicked off a 7-game winning streak that took them right to their home matchup against Duke.  LSU would be battling Arkansas for the SEC West regular season title right down to the final week.

LSU starters (points scored)

Clarence Ceasar (16) – Small Forward

Vernel Singleton (7) – Power Forward

Shaquille O’Neal (29) – Center

T.J. Pugh (0) – Point Guard

Justin Anderson (19) – Shooting Guard

LSU bench (points scored)

Mike Hansen (11)

Maurice Williamson (5)

Harold Boudreaux (2)

Geert Hammink (0)

LSU Coach: Dale Brown

Alabama starters (points scored)

Latrell Sprewell (22) – Small Forward

Andre Perry (25) – Power Forward

Robert Horry (4) – Center

Elliot Washington (3) – Point Guard

James Robinson (17) – Shooting Guard

Alabama bench (points scored)

Dennis Miller (3)

Jason Caffey (0)

Cedric Moore (4)

Kenny Rice (3)

Alabama Coach: Wimp Sanderson

January 29, 1992 – (#15)Michigan Wolverines 89 @(#13)Michigan State Spartans 79 (OT)

So far, the Fab Five’s best win of the season was probably at Iowa.  They were 0-2 against ranked teams having lost to Duke and at Indiana.

With that being said, the Fab Five was probably what you’d expect from a previous freshman class.  Michigan was a better team and had a better record than they did in 1991, but it probably looked at that point like they were at least a year away.

Steve Fisher was still only starting 3 of the Fab Five; Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, and Jalen Rose.  Jimmy King and Ray Jackson were key contributors off the bench.  But the Fab Five would start to turn some heads in East Lansing, Michigan against their rival.

Jud Heathcote and the Michigan State Spartans had recovered from Steve Smith leaving to go 13-2 so far in 1992.  The Spartans had a red-shirt freshman in Smith’s spot in Shawn Respert.  Respert was a strong shooter and was determined to prove that Michigan didn’t have the best freshmen in the state.

Respert, in fact, led the Spartans in scoring in 1992 with a 15.8 per game average.

He joined the lineup with seniors Mark Montgomery and Matt Steigenga, juniors Dwayne Stephens and Mike Peplowski, sophomore Kris Wechinsky, and fellow freshman Anthony Miller (who would later acquire the, perhaps, affectionate nickname of “Pig”).  Fellow starters Steigenga, Stephens, and Peplowski all averaged double figures.

The Spartans had just lost on the road at Minnesota but had beaten Purdue in West Lafayette without Steigenga, who was out with a sprained ankle.  Steigenga would be back for this game but not quite himself.

The Wolverines got off to a 9-3 lead before Stephens nailed a three and Miller hit a turnaround from the post.  The run continued after the first media timeout.  Stephens hit another three and Peplowski hit two shots from inside.  Weshinsky followed with a pull-up from the foul line and Montgomery went coast-to-coast for a layup.

Michigan State was now on a 16-0 run and led 19-9.  For the rest of the half, the Spartans would be carried by Respert, who had 10 points in the final 11 minutes.  But they would also be carried by 63% shooting from the field.

Michigan stayed within striking range because of junior reserve Eric Riley.  The 7’0″ Riley put back two misses in the final two minutes and hit a turnaround jumper from inside.  Riley led the Wolverines with 8 points but Michigan State led 42-30 at the half.

More of the same would continue in the 2nd half despite some Fab Five members showing up.  Webber got loose inside for three baskets and Rose hit a big three when Michigan State was threatening to run away with it.

But Michigan State’s balanced attack continued to rule the day.  Peplowski grabbed up several Michigan misses and had double figure rebounds not too far into the 2nd half.  He also forced Webber to pick up his 3rd foul.

Michigan started to make some noise again halfway through the 2nd half.  Jackson hit a key jumper to cut the lead to 11.  Webber found Rose with a behind-the-back pass for a three-point play on the break.  Howard then hit a turnaround from inside.

The Michigan problem though was that they could not stop the Spartans.  Each Michigan basket was countered by a Michigan State basket and the lead stayed at 62-50 with 7:46 to go.

But then the Wolverines got a break.  Respert, who already had 17 points, came off a screen and hit another jumper.  But the official deemed the screen by Dwayne Stephens illegal.

Rose came right back with a baseline jumper and then King hit a banker in transition.  The lead was now under double figures for the first time in awhile.

Fisher brought in junior Rob Pelinka to go with the freshman lineup of Webber, Howard, Rose, and King.  Pelinka nailed a huge three and Webber slammed back a miss.

Later, Webber nailed a three and then Pelinka found King for a breakaway layup.  The lead was now down to 68-64 with 4:35 left and Michigan State had gone cold.

Webber hit another three and Rose put back his own miss against three guys to cut the lead to 70-69.  Then with 1:46 left, Webber found Howard in the lane for a hook shot to give Michigan their first lead since 9-8.

The freshmen had come back but now needed to finish it (like they hadn’t against Duke).  Webber picked up his 4th foul and Peplowski tied the game at 71 with a free throw.  Webber was then sent to the line after Peplowski picked up his 4th foul.

C-Webb bricked them both but got his own rebound with 45 seconds left.  But Michigan turned it over at the 35.6 second mark.

After a timeout, the Spartans looked for Respert (the only one who hadn’t seemed to cool off during the bad Spartan stretch).  Respert missed his first shot attempt but Stephens grabbed the rebound.

Now Respert went 1-on-1 against King with a clock running out.  He drove into the lane and tried a pull-up jumper but King blocked his shot.  Montgomery then missed a desperation heeve at the buzzer and the game was headed to overtime.

That was about all a tired Michigan State team could muster.  Pelinka nailed a three, Webber hit a hook shot from the post and Rose Hit two free throws.  Suddenly, it was 78-71 Michigan.

Only Respert hit any field goals for Michigan State until the final 20 seconds.  This did not allow the Spartans to get back into the game as Michigan finished it from the line and their fans became heard.

The final Wolverine punctuation was a breakaway slam by Rose after an overhead pass by King in the final seconds.

This was a big win for Michigan (and they celebrated like it) but the momentum would not continue as they lost a home game to 10th ranked Ohio State.

Finally, on February 9 against Notre Dame, Steve Fisher started all five freshmen.  They won at Notre Dame 74-65 and went 7-3 down the stretch with the Fab Five starting all but one of those final 10 games, which included a win versus Indiana.

Michigan State would get their revenge against Michigan in Ann Arbor, 70-59.  But the Spartans had a so-so finish to the Big Ten season and ended up tied with Michigan for 3rd at 11-7.

The Spartans would be a #5 seed in the Midwest Regional but lost in the 2nd round to Cincinnati 77-65.  That would be their highest tournament seeding until 1995, which was when Shawn Respert was a senior.  By the time he was into his NBA career, less people were comparing him to Steve Smith.

Michigan starters (points scored)

James Voskuil (2) – Small Forward

Chris Webber (21) – Power Forward

Juwan Howard (13) – Center

Jalen Rose (24) – Point Guard

Michael Talley (0) – Shooting Guard

Michigan bench (points scored)

Jimmy King (8)

Eric Riley (8)

Ray Jackson (4)

Rob Pelinka (9)

Michigan Coach: Steve Fisher

Michigan State starters (points scored)

Matt Steigenga (5) – Small Forward

Dwayne Stephens (8) – Power Forward

Mike Peplowski (18) – Center

Mark Montgomery (5) – Point Guard

Shawn Respert (26) – Shooting Guard

Michigan State bench (points scored)

Anthony Miller (8)

Kris Weshinsky (7)

Jon Zulauf (2)

Michigan State Coach: Jud Heathcote

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Michigan’s Fab Five.  Bottom Row (left to right): Jalen Rose, Jimmy King, Chris Webber.  Top Row (left to right): Juwan Howard, Steve Fisher, and Ray Jackson *photo courtesy of en.paperblog

January 30, 1992 – (#1)Duke Blue Devils 75 @(#23)Florida State Seminoles 62

So far in their 15-0 season, the Duke Blue Devils had really only been challenged twice.  They survived their first encounter with the Fab Five of Michigan in overtime and then held off Virginia on the road 68-62.

Although the first look of the final score of this game may not indicate it, this was another challenging game against a surprisingly talented opponent.

Florida State had been building in the first 5 years under Pat Kennedy in the Metro Conference.  They had made 3 NCAA tournament appearances, had been ranked as high as #7 in the nation in 1989, and had won the 1991 Metro Tournament.

But the Seminoles were not expected to challenge as the new team in the ACC.  Their first ACC game was at Chapel Hill, North Carolina against the Tarheels on December 15.  Florida State made some noise with a shocking 86-74 victory and then made noise about the lack of noise at the Dean Dome, something that would be disputed when North Carolina took on Duke a week after this game.

Florida State opened 5-2 in the ACC, good for 2nd place behind 7-0 Duke.  The Blue Devils had beaten Florida State 86-70 in their first encounter at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The Seminoles had some new talent to go with veterans who were starting to figure it out.  Volatile guard Sam Cassell had come from San Jacinto Junior College and led Florida State in scoring at 18.6 points per game.  Cassell was the most volatile about North Carolina’s crowd, but the Tarheels would get their revenge in the ACC tournament and, in a most memorable way, next season.

Cassell was joined by junior Doug Edwards, who was regarded as the 2nd best high school player in the nation behind Kenny Anderson in 1989.  But Edwards had not lived up to the expectations despite only being held under double figures in one game so far this season.  Edwards and fellow junior Rodney Dobard manned the paint with sophomore Andre Reid coming off the bench.

Cassell was joined in the back court by talented freshman Bob Sura and soon-to-be-quarterback on the FSU football team Charlie Ward.  Ward, a sophomore, had been moved to the starting point guard spot after their first loss to Duke.  Since then, Florida State had won 6 games in a row.  Chuck Graham and his 40″ vertical leap came off the bench now that Ward was in the lineup.

Duke had only lost Greg Koubek and Billy McCaffrey from their 1991 National Championship team.  But Mike Krzyzewski still had a solid, for college basketball, 8-man rotation.  The newbies were sophomore Marty Clark getting actual non-garbage-time playing time and freshman big man Cherokee Parks.  The rest of the lineup was familiar by now as Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, and Brian Davis started up front with Bobby Hurley and Thomas Hill in the back court.  Sophomore Antonio Lang was coming off the bench for the moment but would be starting later in the year.

This lineup got off to a very slow start at Florida State as the Seminoles took it right to the #1 team.  Edwards looked like the 2nd best high schooler in the nation in the first 4 minutes as he dominated inside and got 7 quick points.

Florida State took the ball to the basket and found teammates, Edwards being the main beneficiary, for layups and dunks.  Through the first 4 minutes, the Seminoles had an 11-4 lead and made Duke’s defense look like their football team’s defense.

But then their defense looked like they were defending a National Championship and Florida State went into a complete drought in which they didn’t score for over 6 minutes.  It also didn’t help that Cassell and Dobard each picked up their 2nd fouls.

Meanwhile; Laettner, Hurley, and Grant Hill led the Dukies on a 14-0 run to take an 18-11 lead with under 10 minutes left.  Duke increased their advantage to 28-19 after Laettner nailed a three for his 13th point.  The Seminoles were also without Edwards, who picked up his 3rd foul with 8:42 remaining in the 1st half.

The Blue Devils had their biggest lead at 30-20 when Thomas Hill banked one in after a feed from Grant Hill.  But Florida State started to hustle their way back into the game and got a big contribution from Chuck Graham off the bench.

Graham nailed a big three on a cross-court pass by Cassell and, later, showed off his vertical by rebound-slamming in a miss by Dobard.  Dobard had 6 points in the Seminoles’ 13-4 run that cut the lead to 34-33.

In the last minute of the half, Hurley’s third three-pointer put Duke up by four.  But then Cassell went 1-on-1 against Davis and hit a pull-up from the foul line to cut the Blue Devil’s lead to 39-37 at the half.

Duke ran out to a 50-43 advantage in the first 5 minutes of the 2nd half despite Grant Hill picking up his 3rd foul.  Hill’s replacement, Antonio Lang, scored 5 points during that stretch.

But Florida State hung around as their passing continued to get them layups.  Dobard would still be the main beneficiary while Cassell created shots for himself and others.  The Seminoles cut the lead to 56-54 with around 10 minutes left before Dobard picked up his 4th foul.

But for the next 7 minutes, Duke would go into a major drought and miss 9 of their next 10 shots.  While Florida State wasn’t burning the nets either, they would finally take the lead at 60-59 when Ward found Edwards for a slam on the break.  For Edwards, this was his first two points since scoring 7 early when he looked dominant.

Edwards would pick up his 4th foul with 3:19 remaining and Laettner hit a free throw to tie the game at 62.

After a media timeout, Pat Kennedy decided to slow the ball a little but and take time off the clock.  Florida State missed a shot near the end of the shot clock and Grant Hill drove down the lane for a banker to put Duke up 64-62.

Florida State slowed it down on their next possession as well.  This time, Duke stole it and Cassell picked up his 4th foul on Laettner.  Although Christian split his free throws, Grant Hill got another steal on the next possession and took it down for a layup.  Duke now led 67-62.

The Seminoles next chance would be snuffed out when Thomas Hill blocked a putback attempt by Dobard.  Cassell then picked up his 5th foul on Grant Hill with 1:05 left.  Hill’s two free throws, along with Cassell fouling out, pretty much decided the outcome of the game.

But Duke wasn’t done putting icing on the cake, or salt in the wound from Florida State’s point of view.  In the final minute when all they needed to do was run out the clock, Hurley fed Thomas Hill for a slam and then Grant Hill for a reverse layup.

This put the final margin at 13 points and made the game look like another blowout.  They would not get their next chance at the Blue Devils until next season.

Florida State would end up finishing 2nd in the ACC at 11-5.  They destroyed North Carolina in their final game 110-94 and then would get two weeks off before the ACC tournament, something that might have hurt their chances of taking on Duke for a third time in 1992.

Duke would get its biggest challenge when they traveled to Chapel Hill a week after their encounter with Florida State.

Duke starters (points scored)

Brian Davis (7) – Small Forward

Grant Hill (20) – Power Forward

Christian Laettner (20) – Center

Bobby Hurley (11) – Point Guard

Thomas Hill (7) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Antonio Lang (8)

Cherokee Parks (2)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Florida State starters (points scored)

Bob Sura (6) – Small Forward

Doug Edwards (9) – Power Forward

Rodney Dobard (12) – Center

Charlie Ward (4) – Point Guard

Sam Cassell (15) – Shooting Guard

Florida State bench (points scored)

Chuck Graham (12)

Andre Reid (4)

Florida State Coach: Pat Kennedy

February 3, 1992 – (#10)Connecticut Huskies 83 @(#13)Syracuse Orangemen 84

The Connecticut Huskies suffered their first major setback in 1992 when St. John’s drubbed them 90-57 at Madison Square Garden.  Near the end of that game, talented freshman Donyell Marshall pulled up lame with a knee injury.  It was a re-injury from a problem Marshall had in high school, but he would not start against Syracuse and they didn’t think he could play at all.

But Connecticut was still sitting pretty at 16-2 and tops in the Big East at 7-2.  But a 1/2 game behind them at 7-3 was Syracuse.

The Orangemen were star-less for the first time in a decade.  Gone were the likes of Pearl Washington, Derrick Coleman, and Billy Owens (who would have been a senior in 1992 but declared early for the NBA draft).

Leading the way for Jim Boeheim was senior forward Dave Johnson and freshman guard Lawrence Moten.  Moten, from New Hampshire, was not a McDonald’s All-American but he came into Syracuse making an impact at 18.4 points per game in Big East competition, less than a point per game behind Johnson.

Sophomore Adrian Autry also averaged double figures and led the team in assists from the point position.  The rest of the lineup were role players.  Juniors Conrad McRae and Dave Siock were the big men.  Junior Mike Hopkins contributed at forward.  Junior Michael Edwards came off the bench with Moten now in the lineup.  There was also freshman Glen Sekunda, who didn’t hesitate to shoot.

Syracuse started the season at 10-0 and were still 15-3 and had a 19-game home winning streak.  But all was not well.  The NCAA and Syracuse University itself were in the middle of an investigation that would lead to the NCAA putting Syracuse on probation in October, 1992.  As part of it, Conrad McRae was suspended 4 games by the NCAA for his dealings with a booster.  McRae later sued the NCAA for over $1 million for mental anguish from the suspension.  It was later ruled that McRae did not have the legal standing to press his claim.

UConn got off to a great start at the Carrier Dome due to a surprise starter.  With Marshall coming off the bench, freshman Brian Fair got a start at guard.  Fair wore #34 two years before Ray Allen came on campus.  Fair looked like Ray Allen in the 1st half.

Fair scored UConn’s first 7 points and had 13, including 3 three-pointers, before the half-way mark of the 1st half.  With that production leading the way, UConn grabbed the lead.

Although the game started with each team missing a basket on the fast break, this wasn’t like a typical Big East game from the past.  Both teams were able to score.

Connecticut averaged 79 points per game in 1992 and looked like it in the 1st half as they shot 63% from the field.  Fair led the way with 15 points but Rod Sellers, who would score his 1,000th career point on a hook shot in the lane, had 10 points while Scott Burrell and Chris Smith each contributed 8.

But with that, UConn seemed to be only holding a small halftime lead at 45-36.  Syracuse had shot 39% and Dave Johnson was the only Orangemen player in double figures at 12 points.

But like with their previous home game against Seton Hall (who would go on to tie for the Big East regular season championship), Syracuse had hung around and stole the ball game at the end, 70-67.

It looked more of the same in the 2nd half as Johnson sparked Syracuse with a rebound-slam and then a long pull-up three-pointer at the end of the shot clock.  A three-point play by McRae cut the lead to 52-51, the closest Syracuse had been since the start of the ball game.

From there, both teams did an un-Big East-like thing and traded baskets.  UConn kept the lead for the moment as Chris Smith hit on a double-pump banker and Burrell connected from downtown.

During a 9-4 run, Smith scored 6 of those points for UConn.  He then found Marshall on the break for a three-point play that gave UConn a 64-55 advantage.

But back came Syracuse as McRae and Johnson led the way.  McRae dominated the boards against a bigger UConn team and scored 5 points during a 11-1 Orangemen run that gave them the lead.  A reverse layup by Johnson off a feed from Autry gave Syracuse its advantage at 66-65 and gave Johnson 21 points.

A three from Moten put Syracuse up 69-66.  What followed was a back and forth duel that the likes of the Big East have probably never seen, yea I gotta keep saying it.. the Big East is known for their defensive struggles.

A three-point play on a running banker in the lane by Smith tied the game at 71.  Glen Sekunda, not afraid to shoot despite being a freshman, nailed a three from the top that even surprised Boeheim.

Sellers then rebounded a missed three by Fair and kicked out to Smith, who nailed a three from the top.  Syracuse swung the ball around and found Johnson for another trey at the wing.  Smith responded by just simply pulling up at the top and nailing a trifecta over Autry to tie the game again at 77 as the announcers and crowd were hyperventilating.

Uconn regained the lead as Sellers nailed two free throws with 3:59 left.  Sellers later found Fair on a cut for a layup to put the Huskies up 81-77.  With 2:37 to go, Sellers fouled McRae, who made two free throws.

After a turnover by each team, Fair made two more free throws to put UConn ahead 83-79 with 2:21 left.  All the Huskies now had to do to perhaps put the game away was grab a defensive rebound.  They did not as Syracuse got 4 shots before Johnson connected to cut the lead to 83-81.

Smith then tried to drive against Moten.  Johnson helped out and knocked the ball away.  Moten took it coast-to-coast for a slam to tie the game with just over a minute left.

After a timeout, UConn ran down most of the 45-second shot clock.  But they did not get a good shot (at least it wasn’t a good shot until Steph Curry started making them over 20 years later) as Smith forced up and missed a long three.  Sellers knocked the ball out of bounds and Syracuse got a timeout with 11.8 seconds left.

The Orangemen got the ball to the freshman Moten, who went 1-on-1 in the corner.  Moten missed a pull-up and as Johnson, McRae, and UConn’s Toraino Walker were going after a rebound, a foul was called.  It was whistled on Walker against evidently McRae with 3 seconds left, although it looked like it was against Johnson.

Either way, both McRae and Johnson came away from the scramble limping.  It was to be McRae, a 57% foul shooter, that would be sent to the line.  But in college basketball at the time there was a rule that if a player was “too injured” to shoot the free throw, the same team could pick someone that was sitting on their bench to come in and shoot the free throws.

To be clear, it couldn’t be one of the other four players in the game.  The player had to be on the bench at the time.  And this was opposed to the, still going, NBA rule where if a player was too injured, the other team got to choose the shooter off the bench and that “injured” player could not come back into the game.  Just imagine the Hack-a-Shaq strategy had the NBA had the college rule.

McRae went to the bench and Mike Hopkins, a 63% foul shooter but the best one Boeheim had on his bench, came in.  Hopkins nailed the first free throw to give Syracuse the lead and received a peck on the face from Lawrence Moten.  Perhaps nerved by that, Hopkins airballed the second free throw.

But Hopkins had given Syracuse the lead and, as it turned out, the win as UConn could not get a shot off in the final 3 seconds.  Smith’s pass through a triple-team was deflected (and, in case you were wondering, McRae was back in the game for that defensive sequence).

Despite the win for Syracuse, this would turn out to be a bad stretch for both teams. Connecticut would lose their next 2 games to bring their losing streak to 4.  The last of these losses came at home to Georgetown.  The Huskies got a week off before traveling to Georgetown to take on the Hoyas.

The Orangemen would go on a 4-game losing streak and would have a 2-6 finish to the regular season.  This included Notre Dame breaking Syracuse’s home winning streak and close losses at St. John’s, at home to Georgetown, and at UConn.  But the final blow looked like a death notice.  On the final day of the season, Syracuse was drubbed at home by Villanova 76-56.  The Wildcats passed Syracuse in the Big East standings as a result.  Villanova was 4th at 11-7 and Syracuse was 5th at 10-8.

But then Boeheim’s star-less group rose up in the Big East tournament.  They beat Villanova in a rematch 55-52, defeated top-seeded Seton Hall 70-66 in the Semis, and then took out Georgetown 56-54 to win the Big East tournament.

With that, the Orangemen would be named a #6 seed in the East Regional.

Connecticut starters (points scored)

Scott Burrell (14) – Small Forward

Toraino Walker (3) – Power Forward

Rod Sellers (15) – Center

Chris Smith (25) – Point Guard

Brian Fair (19) – Shooting Guard

Connecticut bench (points scored)

Donyell Marshall (7)

Kevin Ollie (0)

Donny Marshall (0)

Dan Cyrulik (0)

Connecticut Coach: Jim Calhoun

Syracuse starters (points scored)

Mike Hopkins (5) – Small Forward

Dave Johnson (26) – Power Forward

Dave Siock (0) – Center

Adrian Autry (12) – Point Guard

Lawrence Moten (23) – Shooting Guard

Syracuse bench (points scored)

Conrad McRae (13)

Glen Sekunda (5)

Michael Edwards (0)

Syracuse Coach: Jim Boeheim

mike hopkins

Mike Hopkins (who would be named as Boeheim’s eventual successor in 2015) hit the key free throw to give Syracuse an 84-83 win over UConn *photo courtesy of Syracuse.com

February 5, 1992 – (#1)Duke Blue Devils 73 @(#9)North Carolina Tarheels 75

A memorable game between Duke and North Carolina that’s stood the test of time.  The world got to know the likes of Eric Montross, Kevin Salvadori, Brian Reese, and Derrick Phelps for, really, the first time.

Montross, Reese and Phelps were part of Carolina’s great class for 1990-91.  But each had been inconsistent and really hadn’t stepped up to this point.  North Carolina as a whole had been Jekyl and Hyde-y all season.

The Tarheels started out ranked #8 after losing Rick Fox, Pete Chilcutt, King Rice, and Clifford Rozier (who transferred to Louisville).  Dean Smith brought back senior guard and best all-around player Hubert Davis, physical junior George Lynch along with reserves Matt Wenstrom and Henrik Rodl, the group of sophomores that also included Pat Sullivan, and freshman guard Donald Williams.

In their 5th game of the season, North Carolina destroyed #6 Seton Hall 83-54.  Two weeks later, they lost their ACC home opener to Florida State.  The Seminoles, who were without Doug Edwards on that day, then proceeded to call the UNC crowd a “wine and cheese” crowd at the Dean Dome.

North Carolina followed that loss with 4 straight wins before losing wire-to-wire to Notre Dame.  After another three-game winning streak, UNC took a tumble at N.C. State.  The Tarheels had now won two straight to bring their record to 15-3.  But now was the test for the Tarheels and the so-called wine and cheese crowd.

Duke was coming in at 17-0 and had won 23 straight ball games.  But the last team to beat them was North Carolina in the 1991 ACC Championship Game.

Carolina hustled at the start, but it didn’t always bring positive results.  Brian Reese nailed a three to put the Tarheels up 5-2 but then committed his 3rd foul in the first 3 minutes and sat for the rest of the half.

Carolina grabbed leads of 9-4 and then 11-7 before going into a drought with 5 minutes gone by.  Just like when they fell behind early against Florida State, Duke made a major run to take the lead.

Christian Laettner hit a face-up jumper from the baseline and, later, kicked out to Thomas Hill for a three.  Grant Hill then hit a baseline pull-up before Bobby Hurley came up with a steal and found Thomas Hill on a 2-on-1 for a layup.  Duke was on a 9-0 run and was ahead 16-11.

But just before the second media timeout, Hurley drove down the lane.  He had the ball stripped and landed awkwardly.  After committing a foul at the other end, Hurley went out and had his foot looked at.  He returned and played the rest of the game but a stress fracture was later discovered that put Hurley out for 3 1/2 weeks and 5 games.

As Carolina went on a 9-3 run to get back into the game, a trend was starting to develop.  7-footers Eric Montross and Kevin Salvadori were starting to give UNC second chances and were finishing inside.  They were also gaining confidence on the offensive end against Laettner.

A three-point play by Donald Williams on a lefty under-handed reverse shot while avoiding the defense put the Tarheels ahead 25-24.  The game went back and forth for the rest of the half as Hurley led Duke with 11 and Hubert Davis had 10 for North Carolina.

The Blue Devils led 39-38 at the break but two big factors went against them.  Carolina had gotten to the free throw line for often and Laettner and Grant Hill were held to 4 points.

The Tarheels had stayed with the #1 team, who was figured not to lose unless someone played a perfect game against them.  Now Carolina would come out flying in the 2nd half and give Duke their largest deficit of the season.

Montross hit Phelps on a cut for a layup.  Reese hit a runner from the baseline after up-faking Grant Hill and then Reese came right back with a pull-up after George Lynch came up with a steal.  Mike Krzyzewski had to use a timeout with 17:41 left but the run continued.

Lynch put back a miss by Phelps and Davis hit two free throws after a steal.  UNC now led 48-39 but two factors led to Duke coming back.  First, Lynch picked up his 4th foul and went out of the game with 6 rebounds.

Then, on a rebound scramble, Montross was elbowed below the eye and came up bleeding.  The refs had to stop the game as Dean Smith was incensed a foul wasn’t called.  Montross went out of the game and to the locker room to get his cut stitched up.  Eric had been winning his matchup against Laettner and it didn’t look like Laettner liked that.  Christian is credited for elbowing Montross and giving him the cut.

Then after Grant Hill hit a pull-up to cut the lead to 50-43, Dean Smith got a technical for coming out of the coaching box.  Smith was arguing Laettner knocking the ball away after it came through the hoop and not getting called.

Although Hurley missed both technical free throws, he fed Brian Davis for a layup.  Then on the next possession, Hurley penetrated and kicked out to Grant Hill.  Hill subsequently penetrated and crossed the ball out to Thomas Hill for a three.  The Carolina lead was down to 50-48 but they immediately responded.

Instead of calling a timeout, Reese took the ball right back at the Blue Devils and hit a finger roll in the lane.  Reese later found Salvadori for a slam to give UNC a 56-50 lead and force Coach K to use another timeout with 11:57 left.

After the timeout, Montross was back in.  Phelps tried to throw a lob to Montross but the ball actually went in the basket and Phelps was credited with a three.  Salvadori hit a turnaround from the baseline and Montross stepped in for a hook shot in the lane against Laettner.

But Duke stayed within striking distance as Thomas Hill hit some big shots.  Laettner would hit a step-back three and Grant Hill a pull-up in the lane but Duke still trailed.

Montross hit two free throws with dried blood streamed down from his right eye (a famous picture from this game) and Salvadori also hit two free throws.  North Carolina led 67-61 with around 8 minutes left.

But the Tarheels would have to avoid or withstand the final Duke run that Florida State was not able to contend with.  UNC went cold and took some bad shots.

Two breakaway layups by Brian Davis, as well as some offensive boardwork pulled Duke to within 67-66.  But Davis missed a key shot when Duke had a chance to lead.

Carolina hit 6-of-8 free throws, which included when Laettner picked up his 4th foul, to lead 73-67 with 2:32 left.  However, Duke made a furious rally as they got on the offensive boards and took advantage of bad shots being taken by Carolina when they could have run more time off the clock.

A putback by Brian Davis cut the lead to four, but he missed a free throw after drawing a foul on the play.  Duke had another chance at a three-point play after Phelps turned the ball over.  Grant Hill drove for a finer roll, but he missed the subsequent free throw.

However, Laettner back-tapped the rebound to Thomas Hill and Duke had a chance to tie.  They did exactly that with 1:01 to go when Laettner rebounded a Thomas Hill airball and put it back in.

Carolina came right back down and Phelps went 1-on-1 against Hurley.  Phelps (and perhaps Hurley’s injury) had held Hurley scoreless in the 2nd half while forcing 6 turnovers.  This time, he got Bobby in the air on a pump fake and drew a foul with 44.5 seconds left.  Phelps made his mark by sinking two free throws.

Duke didn’t use a timeout and Thomas Hill found Laettner on a cut for a seemingly easy basket.  But Christian was short on his banker and Montross rebounded.  Duke scrambled defensively and almost gave up a breakaway to Carolina.  But Hurley got back to cut off Reese, who missed his layup attempt.  Montross missed the follow-up and then tipped it to the corner where Laettner chased it down with 13 seconds left.

Duke, again, didn’t use a timeout and Laettner got the ball up top.  He drove into the lane but his pull-up jumper hit the back of the rim and then the front of the rim before falling out.  Phelps rebounded with 3 seconds left and ran out the clock.  The victory set off a wild celebration at the Dean Dome that put to rest any wine and cheese claims.

North Carolina had literally survived the hard way.  They did not score a field goal for the last 9:52 of the game but stayed alive with boardwork and free throws.  The big catalysts were the big men.  Montross had 12 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 blocks.  Salvadori had 12 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks.  They had each out-played Laettner.

Carolina got to follow up almost immediately with a home game against Wake Forest that they also had to grind through.

Duke would have to travel to LSU without Bobby Hurley.  But they showed why they were still the #1 team in the nation with a great effort by everyone on the team in a 77-67 victory at a hostile environment.

Duke starters (points scored)

Brian Davis (17) – Small Forward

Grant Hill (10) – Power Forward

Christian Laettner (12) – Center

Bobby Hurley (11) – Point Guard

Thomas Hill (16) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Marty Clark (0)

Cherokee Parks (4)

Antonio Lang (3)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

North Carolina starters (points scored)

Brian Reese (10) – Small Forward

George Lynch (5) – Power Forward

Eric Montross (12) – Center

Derrick Phelps (9) – Point Guard

Hubert Davis (16) – Shooting Guard

North Carolina bench (points scored)

Kevin Salvadori (12)

Pat Sullivan (6)

Donald Williams (3)

Henrik Rodl (2)

Matt Wenstrom (0)

North Carolina Coach: Dean Smith

montross

The famous picture of this 1992 game, Eric Montross shooting a free throw with blood (although dried at this point) coming down his face *photo courtesy of USA Today

February 8, 1992 – Wake Forest Demon Deacons 78 @(#9)North Carolina Tarheels 80

Three days after their big win over Duke, the North Carolina Tarheels may have still been feeling the effects.

First off, Eric Montross had not practiced the past few days.  After a cut under his eye, as well as another one on the side of his head, Montross received a tetanus shot and had a negative reaction to it.  Montross had the chills the previous day and UNC wasn’t sure if he was going to play.  Kevin Salvadori started in Montross’ place but Eric did play.

Wake Forest had surprised in 1991 by climbing to 3rd place in the conference.  Dave Odom’s Demon Deacons had 4 senior starters returning as well as budding superstar Rodney Rogers.  The seniors were swingmen Chris King and Anthony Tucker, point guard Derrick McQueen, and center Phil Medlin.  Sophomore big man Trelonnie Owens came off the bench, but he would not be joined by classmate Randolph Childress.  Childress tore his ACL over the summer but would return in a big way after being red-shirted in 1992.

The loss of Childress was a big factor as Wake Forest’s only true guard that got much time was McQueen.  Tucker played back there but did not have the quickness to compete with the league’s two-guards.

Without Childress, Wake Forest got off to a slow start in the ACC and were 0-4 so far against the top tier teams of Duke, Florida State, and North Carolina.  UNC had won the first matchup decisively 90-79 as George Lynch had a dominant 26-point performance.  At the time of their second matchup with UNC, Wake Forest was 12-6 overall but 4-5 in the ACC, good for 5th place.

But the Deacs did not play like it in the 1st half.  Rogers started off the game with a steal and coast-to-coast slam.  Brian Reese responded for North Carolina with a three but the Tarheels would be done scoring field goals until around the 10-minute mark.  UNC missed 11 of their first 12 shots from the field.

Meanwhile, the quartet of Rogers, King, McQueen, and especially Tucker got Wake Forest out to a huge lead.  Tucker hit for 10 points early on, while King had 6, McQueen 5 and Rogers 4.  All of this led to a 28-8 Wake Forest lead as their offense looked about as efficient as an offense could be and their defense was flying around and creating havoc.

Hubert Davis finally got Carolina’s 2nd field goal but back-to-back baskets by Owens gave the Deacons their biggest lead at 32-10.

North Carolina made their biggest run of the 1st half with a 9-point surge to cut the lead to 32-19.  But from there, Wake Forest had an answer to keep the lead in double figures.  Tucker led the way with 14 points while Trelonnie Owens contributed 9 off the bench.  The Demon Deacons shot 61% from the field in the half.

The closest UNC got was 11 points just before the half.  But a blocked shot from Rogers prevented the Tarheels from cutting it closer.  King got a breakaway after that block.  Two more free throws from Tucker with 3.6 seconds left in the half put Wake Forest up 48-33 at the break.

North Carolina came out strong in the 2nd half and looked to establish themselves defensively.  They cut the lead back to 11 over the first few minutes, but McQueen knocked down a three to halt the first run.  Two power moves by Rogers inside increased the lead and then a second three from McQueen put Wake Forest up 60-42 with 15:23 left.

Rogers hit two more free throws to increase the lead to 20.  But then Carolina switched to the zone on defense and Hubert Davis got going on offense.  Davis got open for a three-pointer and then penetrated for two pull-up jumpers, the second one was made over Rogers while Rodney fouled him.  The 8-0 run by Davis cut the lead to 62-50 and the crowd was alive.

But Tucker responded with two straight jumpers to put the lead back at 16.  Tucker would hit a third straight jumper to give Wake Forest a 68-54 lead with about 10 minutes left.

Davis got going again over the next two minutes.  He scored all 7 points on a 7-2 Carolina run that cut the lead under double figures for the first time since Wake Forest’s big run to start the game.  The score was 70-61 Wake Forest with 7:51 left.

The Deacons continued to respond though.  Owens tipped in a miss by Rogers.  McQueen followed a three-pointer by Lynch with a trey of his own.  But finally, the momentum turned against Wake Forest on a seemingly accidental play.

They tried to alley-oop the ball to Trelonnie Owens but the lob was deflected.  Owens still grabbed the rim on his way by and was called for a technical.  By the letter of the rule, the technical was deserved because you couldn’t grab the rim unless you were in danger while airborne.  But there were many times that the “violation” was let go and its not like Owens grabbed it to gain an advantage.

Either way, it was a big technical against Wake Forest and Davis’ two free throws were part of a string of 6 straight Carolina foul shots to cut the lead to 75-70.  Davis then connected on a pull-up jumper from the wing for his 30th point (23rd in the 2nd half) to cut the lead to 75-72 with 4:04 left and force a Wake Forest timeout.

Kevin Salvadori hit a turnaround from the post to cut the lead to one.  But a big three-point play by King put the Deacons up 78-74 with 3:07 to go.  There still looked to be plenty of time for North Carolina as Reese cut the lead back to two points with a slam.  But the Tarheels could not get that tying field goal and had to resort to fouling.

Lynch committed his 5th foul on Rogers but Rodney missed the front end of the 1-and-1 (Wake Forest was not in the double bonus so they got 1-and-1’s for non-shooting fouls committed by UNC).  On Wake’s next possession, King missed an ill-advised shot against a double-team with 1:11 left.

But King came back to block a jump shot attempt by freshman Donald Williams and Williams committed a foul against Tucker.  Tucker missed the front end of the 1-and-1 and McQueen committed his 5th foul against Carolina reserve Pat Sullivan with 38.6 seconds to go.

Sullivan hit two clutch free throws to finally tie the game for North Carolina.  Wake Forest ran the clock down and called a timeout with 21.3 seconds left, going for the last shot.  Tucker lobbed the ball to King in the post on the inbounds, but Reese knocked the ball away to Derrick Phelps and now Carolina had the chance for the last shot.  Dean Smith used a timeout with 10.9 seconds left.

After not going to Davis on the last few possessions, North Carolina didn’t go to Davis again.  But it worked out as Reese penetrated and missed a pull-up in the lane.  But the ball bounced off the front rim right back to Reese, who connected on a pull-up from the right of the lane with 3 seconds left.  The clock ran out from there and North Carolina had another improbable victory.

The Tarheels had a week off after this whirlwind of a week with their victories over Duke and Wake Forest.  They won at Clemson before taking it on the chin at Virginia.  But they returned home two weeks after this game with a chance to avenge an earlier loss to N.C. State.

Meanwhile, Wake Forest had 4 straight home games following this choke-job (to say the least).  They seemed to rebound with victories in the first 3 games against Clemson, Virginia, and Davidson.  But their big test would come a day after UNC hosted N.C. State when the Duke Blue Devils came to Winston-Salem.

Wake Forest starters (points scored)

Chris King (13) – Small Forward

Rodney Rogers (12) – Power Forward

Phil Medlin (0) – Center

Derrick McQueen (16) – Point Guard

Anthony Tucker (20) – Shooting Guard

Wake Forest bench (points scored)

Trelonnie Owens (11)

Derrick Hicks (4)

Robert Doggett (2)

Wake Forest Coach: Dave Odom

North Carolina starters (points scored)

Brian Reese (9) – Small Forward

George Lynch (12) – Power Forward

Kevin Salvadori (8) – Center

Derrick Phelps (2) – Point Guard

Hubert Davis (30) – Shooting Guard

North Carolina bench (points scored)

Eric Montross (11)

Pat Sullivan (2)

Henrik Rodl (4)

Donald Williams (2)

Matt Wenstrom (0)

North Carolina Coach: Dean Smith

February 9, 1992 – (#24)Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 67 @Maryland Terrapins 65

Despite losing Kenny Anderson the previous year, Bobby Cremins and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets were back at it with some NBA talent.  All 5 starters averaged double figures and there was no talk of a one-man team like there was in 1991.

Seniors Matt Geiger and Jon Barry led the way, along with junior Malcolm Mackey.  Barry averaged 16.8 points per game while Mackey was at 16 even.  Geiger was off to a good start but was now in a funk after learning that his twin brother was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease.  Geiger would start to play better in a few weeks after going home to visit his brother during a break in the schedule.

Cremins would also bring in some talented freshmen.  Point guard Travis Best came from Springfield, Massachusetts and took the position vacated by Kenny Anderson.  Tech also got a local McDonald’s All-American in James Forrest.  Forrest, Mackey, and Geiger were a powerful front line.

But, as usual, Tech didn’t have much depth.  Bryan Hill averaged 4.2 points per game off the bench to be Tech’s leading reserve scorer.  There was also sophomores Ivano Newbill and Fred Vinson.

Georgia Tech got off to a 12-2 start, including a win over Kentucky.  But then the ACC schedule got going and Tech lost 5 of their next 6 ACC games and were on a 4-game conference losing streak.  But Maryland seemed like a break in the schedule.

Gary Williams took over his alma mater in 1989 but the Terrapins would soon go on probation.  But an All-American stayed despite that, and now senior Walt Williams was basically a one-man team.  But the country was taking notice of The Wizard after Maryland was barred from any television game in 1991.  Williams averaged 26.4 points per game and had scored over 30 in 8 straight games.

The Terps had some good players around Williams but not much NBA level talent.  Junior Evers Burns was a powerful player who averaged 15.6 points per game and 7.0 rebounds per game.  Junior point guard Kevin McLinton also averaged double figures and led the team in assists.  Senior and former walk-on Vince Broadnax and rail thin junior center Chris Kerwin rounded out the lineup.  Like Tech, Maryland had no bench.

Maryland came into this game at 9-10 and were 2-7 in the ACC.  This would turn out to be Williams’ only losing season at Maryland.

The Terps did get off to a good start in this one as they forced 4 early Georgia Tech turnovers.  The Wizard nailed a three and Burns put back a miss for a quick 5-2 lead.

The game would go back and forth for the first 12 minutes or so.  Williams hit three early field goals before going cold.  Geiger led the way for Tech with 8 points.

The teams battled to a 21-all tie at the third media timeout with 7:47 left.  But then Tech went on a quick roll as Best found Newbill for a layup.  Barry then hit a runner in the lane before finding Best for a wing jumper.  The 6-0 run carried the Yellow Jackets to a 34-28 halftime lead.

But with Williams only shooting 3-for-12 in the 1st half, the 6-point lead was probably too small for Tech.  Maryland got going with a 13-4 run to start the 2nd half, culminating with a steal and reverse jam from the Wizard.  Cremins had to use a timeout at the 14:54 mark with his team now down 41-38.

But Georgia Tech would stay with them as Forrest scored 7 points, mostly at the free throw line.  Forrest drew Williams’ 4th foul with the game tied at 47.  But Maryland would try to prove they weren’t a one-man team.

The other 4 starters each got field goals over the next 6 minutes as the Terps ran off to a 60-53 lead with about 6 minutes left.  But then they went cold over the following 3 minutes despite Williams re-entering the game.

Tech meanwhile went on a 10-1 run as Best nailed a three, Mackey hit a turnaround from the post, Barry connected from deep, and then Forrest got a steal and slam for his 20th point.  Tech now led 63-61 with 3:14 left.

Kerwin finally ended Maryland’s drought with a tip-in to tie the game.  Burns then came up with a steal and fed it to Williams on a 2-on-1 break.  But the Wizard tried too hard to live up to his nickname and threw an ill-advised behind-the-back pass then went out of bounds.

Best came back with a pull-up jumper from the elbow.  Williams then hit two free throws to tie the game again with 1:35 left.  Both teams would then run down the clock and trade misses before Tech had possession and a chance for the last shot.

After a timeout with 10.8 seconds left, they went to Forrest inside.  His shot was blocked by Williams and knocked out of bounds by Maryland with 0.2 seconds left.

It was a rule in the NBA that you could not catch and shoot with under 0.3 seconds left on the clock, but this fact hadn’t reached the NCAA yet.  Barry lobbed an inbounds pass to Forrest in the middle of the lane.  In one motion, Forrest caught the ball, shot it, and made it to send Georgia Tech off with a win.

Looking at replay, there seemed to be no way Forrest got the ball off in time.  But this was in the days before instant replay in basketball (and, as a result, the final 2 minutes of the game were infinitely shorter and nobody got a free time out), so the basket was good.

This would not turn out to be Forrest’s biggest shot of the season.  Tech would lose their next two games to Duke and Florida State, but they won 4 of their final 5 games of the regular season to climb to 4th place in the ACC standings.  They would lose to Duke in the ACC Semifinals and be named a #7 seed in the Southeast Regional.

Maryland continued to be tough and took Duke to the wire at Cameron Indoor Stadium, losing 91-89.  The Terps would turn out to be a tough challenge for North Carolina late in the season.  That matchup was close to being more heart-breaking for Williams and his team than this loss.

Georgia Tech starters (points scored)

James Forrest (22) – Small Forward

Malcolm Mackey (6) – Power Forward

Matt Geiger (13) – Center

Travis Best (11) – Point Guard

Jon Barry (13) – Shooting Guard

Georgia Tech bench (points scored)

Bryan Hill (0)

Ivano Newbill (2)

Georgia Tech Coach: Bobby Cremins

Maryland starters (points scored)

Vince Broadnax (9) – Small Forward

Evers Burns (13) – Power Forward

Chris Kerwin (10) – Center

Kevin McLinton (12) – Point Guard

Walt Williams (21) – Shooting Guard

Maryland bench (points scored)

John Walsh (0)

Matt Downing (0)

Kurtis Shultz (0)

Maryland Coach: Gary Williams

February 11, 1992 – Illinois Fighting Illini 76 @Purdue Boilermakers 71 (OT)

Illinois had really struggled since the Big Ten season started.  Their only two wins (in 9 games) were at home against Purdue in overtime and Wisconsin.  But, like their loss to UConn, they were in several games but lost some heartbreakers.

They lost by two at Michigan State, by one at Minnesota, by two versus Ohio State, and by three at Northwestern.  Illinois had won one road game all year and were 8-11.  Now was a chance for another.

Purdue was 12-9 and still had an outside chance of an NCAA tournament berth.  Like Illinois with Deon Thomas, Purdue was a one-man show.  Senior guard Woody Austin, who missed the second half of the 1991 season with academic difficulties, averaged 18.5 points per game.  Fellow senior big man Craig Riley came on to average 11.0, but they were the only two players in double figures.

The rest of the lineup included sophomores Ian Stanback and Travis Trice (who would transfer to Butler following the season) and freshman forward Matt Waddell.  Off the bench came freshmen Cuonzo Martin (the only future NBA player on the team for the season) and Brandon Brantley, sophomores Cornelius McNary and Linc Darner and junior (and future head coach) Matt Painter.

Purdue’s best player though was ineligible for the 1992 season because of Prop 48.  Glenn Robinson, from Gary, Indiana, would be a future Player of the Year at Purdue but Gene Keady was without him for now.

Despite that, the Boilermakers got off to a great start in this ballgame.  Their two inside people, Riley and Stanback, got their first 9 points from the paint.  Then Austin nailed a three to put Purdue up 12-3.

They would increase that lead to 23-10 at the 8:11 mark as Illinois hit 1 of their first 13 field goal attempts.  But then the Illini did a 180 and turned the game around.  They went inside to Deon Thomas (who scored, got to the line, and drew 3 fouls from Riley) and also got a big three from Tom Michael.

Purdue would go on a 7-minute field goal drought and a three-point play by Michael cut the lead to 28-26.  The Boilermakers still held a 32-28 halftime lead as Austin led the way with 9 and Riley had 8.  Thomas led Illinois with 9 and Michael had 8.

Purdue grew its lead back to 8 early in the 2nd half before Illinois point guard Rennie Clemons, who had struggled for the most part this season, got going with two buckets and a lead pass to T.J. Wheeler for a jumper.  Clemons would show aggressiveness in the 2nd half as he penetrated and either scored or found people for layups.

Thomas also continued to dominate inside as he drew the 4th fouls from Stanback and Riley.  But Purdue kept its lead and would increase it back to 54-46 with about 7 minutes left.

The Boilermakers would go into another field goal drought as Riley fouled out continuing to try and guard Thomas.  Deon’s three-point play cut the lead to 57-55.  Then with 2 minutes left, a turnaround banker by Thomas tied the game at 59.  Illinois then took a 61-59 lead when Wheeler lobbed to Thomas for a layup.

Purdue used a timeout with 41.8 seconds left as they were behind for the first time all game and their crowd was stunned.  Keady put the ball in Austin’s hands.  He missed a baseline jumper but chased down his miss at the foul line.  Austin then made the jumper from there to tie the game at 61.

Lou Henson used a timeout with 16.2 seconds left.  Illinois tried to get the ball inside to Thomas but couldn’t.  Clemons had to force a long shot at the buzzer and hit nothing but backboard.  This would be the 2nd game between these two teams on the season that went into overtime.

Stanback fouled out early in overtime after hitting a turnaround jumper from the post.  This would turn out to be Purdue’s only field goal until it was too little too late.  Clemons found Thomas for a layup to put Illinois up 64-63.  That would turn out to be Illinois’ only overtime field goal.

But they hit 12 of their final 14 free throws.  And even the two that were missed by walk-on freshman Will Tuttle were rebounded by T.J. Wheeler.  This happened in a crucial situation with Illinois only up three with 25.2 seconds left.  Austin had committed his 5th foul on Tuttle but Purdue would have had a chance to tie it had they rebounded.

Meanwhile, the Boilermakers missed some clutch free throws as freshman Matt Waddell missed two that would’ve given Purdue a 67-66 lead.  Clemons then hit two free throws and Illinois’ only time they were challenged from there on was when Wheeler had to rebound Tuttle’s second miss.  Wheeler then went 4-for-4 in the final seconds.

This loss all but assured Purdue would not be in the NCAA tournament.  But they did knock in-state rival Indiana off on the final day of the season and cost the Hoosiers a share of the Big Ten title.  Purdue lost in the 3rd game of the NIT to Florida.

And while Illinois would not lose at home for the rest of the season, this included a win over Michigan State, they could not win another road game and finished the season at 13-15.  It would be Lou Henson’s only losing season in his final 18 at Illinois.

Both teams would be back in the NCAA tournament next season and Purdue would soon return to the high rankings that they enjoyed in the late 80’s.

Illinois starters (points scored)

Tom Michael (13) – Small Forward

Robert Bennett (2) – Power Forward

Deon Thomas (32) – Center

Rennie Clemons (10) – Point Guard

T.J. Wheeler (13) – Shooting Guard

Illinois bench (points scored)

Scott Pierce (2)

Brooks Taylor (2)

Marc Davidson (2)

Will Tuttle (0)

Illinois Coach: Lou Henson

Purdue starters (points scored)

Matt Waddell (10) – Small Forward

Ian Stanback (11) – Power Forward

Craig Riley (11) – Center

Travis Trice (6) – Point Guard

Woody Austin (22) – Shooting Guard\

Purdue bench (points scored)

Cuonzo Martin (9)

Cornelius McNary (2)

Matt Painter (0)

Linc Darner (0)

Brandon Brantley (0)

Purdue Coach: Gene Keady

February 16, 1992 – (#1)Duke Blue Devils 71 @N.C. State Wolfpack 63

As they say, its not unreasonable when you’re the best of the best to get the best shot from every opponent.  Even struggling teams like North Carolina State on their home court, where Duke hadn’t won since 1986.

Les Robinson and the Wolfpack realized how tough life would be without the backcourt combination of Chris Corchiani and Rodney Monroe.  Tom Gugliotta returned and had a senior season in which he averaged 22.5 points per game and 9.8 rebounds per game.  Gugliotta’s play rose his stock enough to have him be the #6 pick in the NBA draft.

But Gugliotta had little help.  Bryant Feggins tore his ACL in the pre-season and would be red-shirted.  That meant every starter except Gugliotta and junior center Kevin Thompson was new.  This included two freshmen.

But swingman Mark Davis and point guard Curtis Marshall were not quite the answer.  Neither was JC transfer Donnie Seale, the 5th starter.  The 6th man was sophomore shooter Migjen Bakalli.  Davis did average double figures, but he, Gugliotta and Thompson were the only ones.

N.C. State came into the game with a 9-14 record and had lost 8 in a row.  They had been off to a decent 9-6 start after they beat North Carolina at home.  But they hadn’t won since.

Duke was 2-0 without Bobby Hurley after beating LSU and Georgia Tech on the road.  Grant Hill had moved to the point guard and Duke had a freakishly athletic team with Grant and Thomas Hill, Brian Davis, and Antonio Lang in the starting lineup with Christian Laettner.  But the bench was even thinner and one figured they wouldn’t be able to win a National Championship without Hurley.

The Wolfpack played inspired early on.  Davis dove on the floor and then found Marshall for a breakaway.  Marshall drove for a layup at the end of the shot clock.  Davis put back a miss by Gugliotta.  Gugliotta nailed a three and then a free throw.  N.C. State led 10-5 six minutes into the game.

Duke’s pressure defense started to take effect when Thomas Hill got a steal.  Grant Hill then showed off his athleticism by jumping over Davis and slamming one down while drawing a foul.  Hill’s elbows were over the rim.

But N.C. State held a steady lead at 18-14 after Gugliotta nailed his second three-pointer.  But Gugliotta picked up his 2nd foul and Duke went on a 6-0 run keyed by their pressure.

Grant Hill got a breakaway after Brian Davis came up with a steal.  Then Thomas Hill got a steal and layup.  The Wolfpack stayed in the game but weren’t being helped when they missed several of their layup attempts.

Gugliotta then was called for an offensive foul for his 3rd.  A Laettner steal and Thomas Hill breakaway put Duke up 26-20.  But the Wolfpack hung tough without Gugliotta and cut it to 30-29 with around 2 minutes to go in the 1st half.

However, Laettner threw some daggers.  He hit a three and drew a foul, although he missed the free throw.  Then in the final seconds of the half, Grant Hill penetrated and kicked out to Laettner for another three from the top that put Duke up 36-31 at halftime.

N.C. State would stay within range for the first few minutes of the 2nd half despite a slam and a three-pointer from Thomas Hill.  But with Duke up 43-36 and 16:22 to go, Gugliotta picked up his 4th foul and had to sit.

The game was effectively over after that.  Laettner got a three-point play and Brian Davis got a breakaway after a steal by Lang.

Gugliotta would come back into the game and do his best to save the Wolfpack.  He hit two three-pointers to cut a 14-point lead to 53-44.  He was then fouled by Lang on a third three-point attempt.  But in a big spot, Gugliotta hit only 1 of the 3 free throws.

Duke would continue to get out on the break with Davis being the main beneficiary in the last 10 minutes with two slams.  Although Duke never gained more than a 14-point lead, the Wolfpack never got closer than the final margin.

But Duke would find life tougher without Hurley over the next few games.  They survived a scare from Maryland at Cameron Indoor Stadium, 91-89, and then traveled to Wake Forest for another tough game.

N.C. State would get 5 days off before traveling to Chapel Hill, North Carolina to take on the Tarheels and try to break their 9-game losing streak.

Duke starters (points scored)

Brian Davis (8) – Small Forward

Antonio Lang (6) – Power Forward

Christian Laettner (16) – Center

Grant Hill (20) – Point Guard

Thomas Hill (16) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Marty Clark (5)

Cherokee Parks (0)

Kenny Blakeney (0)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

N.C. State starters (points scored)

Mark Davis (10) – Small Forward

Tom Gugliotta (23) – Power Forward

Kevin Thompson (12) – Center

Curtis Marshall (6) – Point Guard

Donnie Seale (6) – Shooting Guard

N.C. State bench (points scored)

Migjen Bakalli (6)

Lakista McCuller (0)

Jamie Knox (0)

Marc Lewis (0)

N.C. State Coach: Les Robinson

February 19, 1992 – (#21)Connecticut Huskies 58 @(#25)Georgetown Hoyas 60

The difficult stretch continued for Connecticut as they lost two home games to Seton Hall and Georgetown.  But they had a week off to think about their 4-game losing streak before going at it against the Hoyas again.

For John Thompson and Georgetown, the star was senior center Alonzo Mourning.  Mourning benefited from the departure of Dikembe Mutombo by averaging 21.3 points per game, 10.7 rebounds per game, and 5.0 blocked shots per game.  Mourning was well on his way to being the #3 pick in the NBA draft.

But, as was the case for the twin towers the previous season, Mourning had little help.  The only other Hoya to get credit for averaging double figures was Charlie Harrison, who transferred to Wake Forest after 12 games for reasons that he wasn’t letting the public know about.  With Harrison gone, freshman Irvin Church stepped in to be the starter.

Church, along with sophomores Robert Churchwell and Joey Brown, averaged between 9.5 and 9.7 points per game.  Senior Brian Kelly was the 5th starter after freshman Don Reid started 10 games early on.  Reid would become a solid player at Georgetown and carved out an 8-year NBA career.

Along with Reid and Church, there were freshmen John Jacques, Kevin Millen, and Lonnie Harrell.  All played in this contest while veterans like Lamont Morgan, Pascal Fleury, and Ronnie Thompson (the coach’s son) didn’t.

The game described between Syracuse and Connecticut would not be the same that happened here.  The Big East that we know and love was back.

Connecticut slumped back into a zone to defend Mourning.  But Georgetown still gained an early lead thanks to offensive rebounds and the Church boys.

Robert Churchwell and Irvin Church had big games against UConn the previous week.  They kept it going early for the 15-6 Hoyas by scoring 9 of Georgetown’s first 12 points.  Meanwhile, Connecticut’s seniors, Chris Smith and Rod Sellers, were scoreless for the first 9 minutes.

Mourning broke free for a hook shot in the lane for his first field goal.  Then baskets by freshmen reserves Jacques and Millen put Georgetown up 18-11 before Sellers got his first basket on a hook shot in the lane.

Sellers later hit two free throws and then had a strong effort with three shots against Mourning before putting one down to cut Georgetown’s lead to 24-21.  Then a three-point play on a running banker by Smith gave him his first points and tied the game at 24 with 3:20 left.

Mourning and Jacques got baskets before Smith initiated a 6-0 run to give UConn the lead late in the half.  Smith hit two buckets and found Scott Burrell for a breakaway.  But a turnaround jumper in the lane by Churchwell with 9 seconds left tied the game at 30 for halftime.

Georgetown then came out flying in the 2nd half.  Church nailed a three, Mourning hit a hook from the baseline, then Alonzo blocked a shot which led to a 2-on-1 break in which Brown found Churchwell for a slam.  Jim Calhoun had to use a timeout with 2 minutes and 39 seconds gone by.

But the run continued.  Church nailed another three and Mourning found Kelly on a cut for a layup.  It was now 42-30 Georgetown and it took UConn 3 minutes and 48 seconds to put the ball in the hoop.

However, just when you thought John Thompson and Georgetown couldn’t be stopped, the Hoyas went for the next 11 minutes without a field goal.

It took all of that time for UConn to pull to a 48-all tie on two free throws by Donyell Marshall.  Church finally broke the ice with a baseline jumper.  Harrell then nailed a three for a 5-point Hoyas lead.

UConn followed with an 8-0 run as Smith and Marshall each scored 4 points.  Mourning hit two free throws with 2:46 left to cut the lead to 56-55.  Smith responded with a baseline jumper over Mourning.  But Irvin Church tied the game with his 4th three-pointer with under 2:00 left.

The teams traded misses before UConn got the ball for the last shot.  They ran the clock down to 13.8 seconds and called a timeout.

The Huskies had a chance to end their 4-game losing streak if they could put the ball in the hole.  What happened instead would be a cold, hard slap in the face.

UConn got the ball to Smith who was trapped in the back court.  He forwarded the ball to Burrell, who would also be trapped at the wing.  Burrell crossed the ball to freshman Brian Fair, who was open.  The pass went off Fair’s hands and face (I wasn’t referring to this as the cold slap in the face) and deflected right to Joey Brown.

Brown went coast-to-coast with only Smith to beat.  Brown got the ball past a reaching Smith and laid it in with his right hand from the left side of the basket at the buzzer.  The Capital Centre (which was criticized as not being a “college atmosphere”) went crazy and Connecticut’s losing streak reached 5 games.

They would not fully recover to save their season.  Although they defeated Providence to end their losing streak, UConn lost some more key Big East games and finished tied with Syracuse for 5th with a 10-8 conference record.  UConn was seeded 6th in the Big East tournament and lost to 3rd seeded St. John’s in overtime, 64-59, in the Quarterfinals.  The Huskies were then named a #9 seed in the Southeast Regional.  They drubbed Nebraska in the 1st round before being drubbed by top-seeded Ohio State 78-55 in the 2nd round.

Meanwhile, Georgetown would tie for the Big East regular season title at 12-4.  But they lost a key game to Seton Hall and were a #2 seed behind the Pirates as a result in the Big East Tournament.  No matter, the Hoyas beat Miami, Florida (in their first Big East season) and St. John’s to reach the title game, where they were upset by Syracuse.  Georgetown would be named a #6 seed in the West Regional.  They defeated South Florida before sending Alonzo Mourning out with a loss to 3rd seeded Florida State, 78-68, after leading 32-23 at halftime.

Georgetown would not fully be back until Allen Iverson showed up in 1994.

Connecticut starters (points scored)

Scott Burrell (9) – Small Forward

Donyell Marshall (15) – Power Forward

Rod Sellers (12) – Center

Chris Smith (15) – Point Guard

Brian Fair (3) – Shooting Guard

Connecticut bench (points scored)

Donny Marshall (2)

Gilad Katz (2)

Dan Cyrulik (0)

Connecticut Coach: Jim Calhoun

Georgetown starters (points scored)

Robert Churchwell (14) – Small Forward

Brian Kelly (2) – Power Forward

Alonzo Mourning (12) – Center

Joey Brown (5) – Point Guard

Irvin Church (16) – Shooting Guard

Georgetown bench (points scored)

Lonnie Harrell (3)

John Jacques (4)

Kevin Millen (2)

Don Reid (2)

Georgetown Coach: John Thompson

alonzo mourning

Alonzo Mourning hits his hook shot over Rod Sellers in a season that saw Mourning become an All-American but Georgetown failed to reach the Sweet 16 for the 3rd straight season *photo courtesy of Pinterest

February 22, 1992 – N.C. State Wolfpack 99 @(#4)North Carolina Tarheels 94

I’m sure Mark Davis and Kevin Thompson of North Carolina State have had better days in their life than February 22, 1992 (perhaps in their basketball life too, after high school), but this sure would be a memorable one for both.

With a 9-game losing streak for the Wolfpack, their in-state rival North Carolina had the distinct honor of being the last team to lose to N.C. State.

Tom Gugliotta scored 36 points, including 8 three-pointers, to lead the Wolfpack to a 99-88 win at home.  But now the rematch was in Chapel Hill against a Tarheel team trying to recover from an 86-73 loss at Virginia.

The Tarheels got off to a great start as they looked to have the advantage down low.  Eric Montross scored 6 points early on as he continued to play with the confidence he picked up during the Duke game.

Hubert Davis also helped with 6 more to give UNC a 19-12 lead.  Hubert then connected from three-point range to give UNC a 10-point lead.  The Tarheels would eventually increase it to 30-19 before Mark Davis started launching threes.

Davis hit three treys over the next few minutes but North Carolina held steady to a 42-32 lead with 4 minutes to go in a fast-paced 1st half that would normally favor the Tarheels.

But N.C. State was playing as if they had nothing to lose.  Curtis Marshall and Davis connected on threes for N.C. State.  Thompson hit two free throws and then Marshall connected on another three.  Within the span of a minute, N.C. State had taken a 43-42 lead.

The Wolfpack would hold a 47-46 lead at halftime as Davis and Thompson each had 12 and Gugliotta had 11.  Hubert Davis led UNC with 11 but Montross had been held to 2 points over the last 16 minutes of the half.

The fast pace continued as the teams battled to a 54-all tie over the first 3 minutes of the 2nd half.  UNC then went on its run as Derrick Phelps went coast-to-coast after a steal, George Lynch tipped in a miss by Hubert Davis, Davis hit two free throws, and Pat Sullivan nailed a three for a 63-54 Tarheels advantage.

Later, a four-point play by Hubert Davis put the Tarheels up 69-59.  But the Wolfpack stayed with them as Kevin Thompson, despite playing with 3 fouls, started to dominate down low.  Thompson scored 11 points over the next 6 minutes to lead the Wolfpack back to a 77-all tie.

But Thompson picked up his 4th foul with 7:13 to go and the Wolfpack down 79-77.  Les Robinson took Thompson out and went with a small lineup that had Gugliotta at center.  This created matchup problems for Dean Smith’s Tarheels and, especially, Eric Montross.  Montross was in the lane looking for a perimeter guy to guard as N.C. State swung the ball.

Marshall got open as Montross rushed out to him.  But the freshman nailed the three for an 80-79 Wolfpack lead.  Gugliotta followed with a three on the next possession and Smith had to use a timeout with 6:14 left.

North Carolina came back to tie it and Thompson came back in and scored after penetration by Donnie Seale.  Seale then drove baseline on the next possession and slammed one down over the 7-foot Kevin Salvadori while drawing a foul.  The three-point play put N.C. State up 88-84.

But Hubert Davis answered with a three and North Carolina still trailed by only one with around 2 minutes to go.  Davis connected on another three to put the Tarheels up 92-90 and give Hubert 30 points.

Mark Davis followed by missing a three.  But Seale got the offensive rebound and Davis got open again.  This time, Mark connected on his 7th three-pointer of the game to give N.C. State a 93-92 lead.

North Carolina had three shots on their next possession but couldn’t score.  Gugliotta finally pulled down a defensive rebound and was fouled by George Lynch with 1:09 to go.

Gugliotta made both free throws but Brian Reese hit a pull-up jumper in the lane to cut the lead back to 95-94.  Hubert Davis then drew an offensive foul call on Seale with 49.2 seconds left.

But Davis couldn’t connect on a jumper and Lynch knocked the ball out of bounds with 33.4 seconds left.  Phelps fouled Marshall 4 seconds later and Curtis made both free throws.

Lynch and Davis each missed a three-point attempt that could have tied the game.  Gugliotta rebounded Davis’ miss and was fouled by Lynch with 12.1 seconds left.  That foul was Lynch’s 5th.  He had contributed a double-double.

N.C. State finished it off from the foul line and had swept North Carolina in a season series for the first time since 1974, when they had a much much better team.  Davis, Thompson, and Gugliotta each had over 20 points as the Wolfpack handed the 4th ranked Tarheels their second straight loss.

The losing streak reached 3 for UNC after they were drubbed at Florida State 110-94.  Their next game was at Maryland, usually a good place to end a losing streak.

For N.C. State, this would probably be their best win for a few years.  They didn’t beat a ranked opponent again until 1994 and they didn’t beat an opponent in the top 10 until 1995, when they upset top ranked North Carolina again but this time at Reynolds Coliseum.

The Wolfpack finished 7th in the ACC in 1992 and avoided the new play-in game between the 8th and 9th seeds for the ACC tournament (added with the addition of Florida State).  But over the last 4 seasons under Les Robinson, N.C. State would participate in the play-in game each season.  As a result, the game became known in ACC country as the Les Robinson Invitational.

Robinson’s team didn’t win the play-in game until 1996 and in 1997, under new coach Herb Sendek, N.C. State won the play-in game and then made it all the way to the ACC Championship Game.

N.C. State starters (points scored)

Mark Davis (25) – Small Forward

Tom Gugliotta (24) – Power Forward

Kevin Thompson (29) – Center

Curtis Marshall (12) – Point Guard

Donnie Seale (7) – Shooting Guard

N.C. State bench (points scored)

Migjen Bakalli (0)

Lakista McCuller (2)

N.C. State Coach: Les Robinson

North Carolina starters (points scored)

Henrik Rodl (3) – Small Forward

George Lynch (13) – Power Forward

Eric Montross (15) – Center

Derrick Phelps (8) – Point Guard

Hubert Davis (30) – Shooting Guard

North Carolina bench (points scored)

Brian Reese (12)

Kevin Salvadori (4)

Pat Sullivan (7)

Donald Williams (2)

Matt Wenstrom (0)

North Carolina Coach: Dean Smith

tom gugliotta

Tom Gugliotta had an outstanding senior season in 1992 despite the struggles of his team *photo courtesy of Getty Images

February 23, 1992 – (#7)Indiana Hoosiers 86 @(#6)Ohio State Buckeyes 80

Ever since the last time we saw both of these teams (on that December 21, 1991 date), they’d pretty much been dominating the competition.

Indiana was 19-4 with a 10-2 Big Ten mark while Ohio State was 17-4 with a 9-2 Big Ten record.  Indiana had won the first matchup between these two teams in Bloomington 91-83 despite Jim Jackson’s career high of 31 points.

That and a close loss at Minnesota were the only squeakers Indiana would play in since the St. John’s game on that December 21, 1991 date.  The Buckeyes would have a few more with close home wins against Iowa and Minnesota and a two-point win at Illinois.  They also lost by four at Seton Hall and took it on the chin at Iowa in their previous game as Jackson struggled.

But the Buckeyes hadn’t lost at home since February 10, 1990 versus Michigan State, a streak of 30 consecutive home wins.

One of those wins came in double overtime against the Hoosiers the previous season.  That was a game that Indiana probably felt they should have won but Jim Jackson would not let the Buckeyes lose.  He would try for a similar finish in their 1992 matchup in Columbus.

The biggest difference with the Buckeyes was that former Hoosier Lawrence Funderburke was now eligible after not playing in a Division 1 game for over 2 years and was the starting center for Randy Ayers.  Funderburke came in the same class as Calbert Cheaney and the rest but left Indiana after 6 games.  He proved to be a big, athletic shot-blocking presence in this ball game as he finished with 7 blocks and a near triple-double.

Indiana got off to the good start though as Alan Henderson, who didn’t play in the first matchup (or in the previous year’s classic being that he was a freshman in 1992), scored 6 points to give the Hoosiers an 8-4 lead.  But then Jamaal Brown hit a running banker in the lane and two free throws to tie the game.  Mark Baker took over from there.

Baker went coast-to-coast for a layup after Funderburke got a blocked shot.  Then on the next transition break, Chris Jent found Baker with a behind-the-back pass for a layup.  Bob Knight had to use a timeout with 15:14 left.

But it didn’t help initially as Baker scored 12 points over the first 12 minutes to give Ohio State the lead.  Meanwhile, Indiana’s starting back court of Damon Bailey and Greg Graham were scoreless during that stretch.  Ohio State took a 28-20 lead with about 8 minutes left.

But Indiana got back into it as Graham scored 6 points to help out Henderson and Calbert Cheaney.  The Hoosiers cut the lead down to 36-32 with 2:50 left.  Cheaney then hit a jumper from the baseline and threw down an alley-oop off a feed from Chris Reynolds to tie the game.

Damon Bailey then connected on his first field goal when he hit a three to give the Hoosiers a 39-36 lead.  Baker hit a pull-up from the top in the last 10 seconds for his 14th point of the 1st half.  But Indiana got it to Bailey, who dribbled it to about 4 feet beyond the three-point line at the top before launching a prayer.

It banked in and Indiana had a bushel of momentum going into the 2nd half with a 42-38 lead.  Cheaney had 16 points for the Hoosiers while Henderson had 12.  Jackson’s struggles from the Iowa game continued as he managed only 6 points in the 1st half.

Bailey’s banker did prove to be a momentum surge as the Hoosiers scored the first 7 points of the 2nd half.  Henderson hit a turnaround jumper from the baseline, Cheaney hit a three from the corner, and Bailey hit a jumper from the elbow.

The game then went back and forth as Indiana couldn’t pull away but Ohio State couldn’t catch up over the next few minutes.  But finally the Buckeyes went to their best offense; Jim Jackson going 1-on-1 at the top of the key and getting into the lane.

Jackson scored 6 Buckeye points in a row to cut the lead to 62-60.  Then Funderburke found reserve junior Tom Brandewie for a short banker to tie the game with about 10 minutes left.

But, just like that, the momentum did another 180.  Cheaney hit a hook shot in the lane and then connected on a three.  Bailey hit a pull-up jumper at the end of the shot clock.  Cheaney hit another jumper at the wing.  Bailey found reserve Matt Nover for a turnaround jumper in the lane.  Henderson capped an 11-2 run with a steal and slam.  Indiana led 75-64 as Ohio State had gone away from getting Jackson at the top of the floor.

The Buckeyes could not catch up from there as Indiana hit enough big free throws to hold them off.  The Hoosiers had the big win at Ohio State to break the Buckeyes’ home winning streak.

They had a game and a half lead in the Big Ten with two victories over the Buckeyes.  It seemed they had a cinch Big Ten title, but they had some tough road games remaining.

Ohio State didn’t make it easy either as they raked through the rest of their Big Ten schedule and won 6 in a row to finish the season.

Indiana starters (points scored)

Calbert Cheaney (28) – Small Forward

Eric Anderson (4) – Power Forward

Alan Henderson (24) – Center

Damon Bailey (17) – Point Guard

Greg Graham (7) – Shooting Guard

Indiana bench (points scored)

Chris Reynolds (3)

Matt Nover (3)

Jamal Meeks (0)

Indiana Coach: Bob Knight

Ohio State starters (points scored)

Jim Jackson (24) – Small Forward

Chris Jent (14) – Power Forward

Lawrence Funderburke (8) – Center

Mark Baker (22) – Point Guard

Jamaal Brown (6) – Shooting Guard

Ohio State bench (points scored)

Tom Brandewie (4)

Jamie Skelton (2)

Ohio State Coach: Randy Ayers

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

Despite Jim Jackson’s best efforts, the Hoosiers swept Ohio State in 1992.  From left to right is Calbert Cheaney (#40 in red), Jackson (scoring), Damon Bailey (#22), Alan Henderson (boxing out) and Lawrence Funderburke *photo courtesy of Getty Images

February 23, 1992 – (#1)Duke Blue Devils 68 @Wake Forest Demon Deacons 72

Part of Wake Forest’s resurgence into 3rd place in the ACC in 1991 was a home win over Duke.  And while they were off their 1991 pace, Wake Forest had won 3 games in a row, after blowing it at North Carolina, to get their ACC record back to 6-6.

But now they would get their biggest challenge.  Duke had not missed a beat without Bobby Hurley.  They were being cautious with Hurley and saying he probably wouldn’t return until the final 2 games of the regular season at the earliest.  After what would happen in the last 5 minutes of this game, it may not be surprising that Hurley was back for Duke’s next game.

The Blue Devils showed some chinks though as they survived a home game against Maryland, 91-89, when Antonio Lang put back a miss by Laettner and drew a foul.

But Duke stayed right with Wake Forest early on in this ballgame.  The Deacons did go on an 8-1 run to take a 16-11 lead but Duke got right back to tie it at 18.  Then Rodney Rogers, who had scored 6 points early on, picked up his 2nd foul and had to sit for a minute.

Thomas Hill hit a three and then a pull-up from baseline.  Grant Hill followed with a spin and a pull-up in the lane.  Duke led 25-20 and were shooting 11-for-15 from the field.  Wake Forest had connected on 10 of their first 14 field goals.

But then Anthony Tucker, who had a career-high 31 points in Wake’s win over Duke the previous season, got going.  He hit a pull-up in the lane and drew a foul on Thomas Hill.  Then after Rogers came back in and made a bucket, Tucker hit another pull-up and drew another foul, this one on Grant Hill.

Christian Laettner then picked up an “unsportsmanlike” technical foul.  Unsportsmanlike has to be acknowledged based on what would happen in the 2nd half.  But Tucker hit a free throw and then connected on another one-dribble pull-up jumper from the baseline.  Wake Forest now led 31-25 and Tucker had 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting.

But Wake Forest would follow with a 5 minute drought against Duke’s matchup zone defense.  While Duke didn’t burn the nets during that stretch, they did take a 35-31 lead when Grant Hill threw down an alley-oop pass from sophomore Marty Clark.  A tip-in by Trelonnie Owens just before the half broke Wake Forest’s dry spell and cut Duke’s lead to 35-33 at the break.

The Deacons tied the game at 39 through the first 2 minutes of the 2nd half before Duke went on another run.  Laettner connected on a corner three.  Thomas Hill hit a turnaround from the baseline.  Grant Hill tipped in his own miss and then found Brian Davis on the break for a three-point play.

After Laettner hit two more free throws, Duke led 51-45.  Thomas Hill connected on his 3rd three-pointer of the game to increase the lead to 9.

The Blue Devils would regain a nine-point lead when Thomas Hill blocked a shot that led to a break in which Grant Hill found Laettner for a slam.  Laettner appeared to be in an awkward position after slamming one down, so he hung on the rim.  But then he opened his mouth and stuck a leg in Rogers’ face.  For this, he was called for a technical.

This would be his 2nd technical of the game but he wasn’t ejected.  According to the announcers, only one of his technicals were “unsportsmanlike” so he could stay in the game as long as he didn’t pick up another technical, either unsportsmanlike or otherwise.

While this is very confusing for someone watching the game from a 21st century perspective.  This sentence from the Technical Foul Wikipedia page seems to explain it in terms of FIFA rules:

FIBA rules do not provide for ejection for any number of non-flagrant technicals (known as unsportsmanlike fouls under that body’s rules) against a player, except in 3×3, in which two unsportsmanlike fouls result in ejection.

With that being said, it didn’t seem like Wake Forest or their coach Dave Odom was too enraged about the fact that Laettner was still in the game.  So, perhaps better from a 1992 perspective, that rule seemed cut and dry.

Either way, Duke grew its lead to as much as 10 and Wake Forest could not get closer than 6 over the next few minutes.  When the game clock ticked under 7 minutes, Duke started to milk their possessions more.

It worked initially as Thomas Hill hit one baseline pull-up at the end of the shot clock.  Then on the next possession, Laettner found Hill for a baseline jumper and a foul.  This three-point play put Duke up 67-57 with around 5 minutes left.

But then Wake Forest started to gamble with not being in the foul penalty yet.  Over the next 2 minutes, Tucker hit a pull-up in the lane and Rogers kicked out to Derrick McQueen for a three.  The lead was down to 67-62 and Mike Krzyzewski had to use a timeout with 3:23 left.

Duke would continue to run down the shot clock but they weren’t being too aggressive.  Meanwhile, Wake Forest continued to gamble for steals and would continue to get them.

Owens knocked the ball away from Laettner and Tucker was fouled on a breakaway.  After Anthony hit two free throws, McQueen got a steal from Duke’s “point guard” Grant Hill.  McQueen then found Owens, who drew a foul on Hill and made the basket.  The three-point play tied the game at 67 with 2 minutes left and the crowd was alive.

Brian Davis drove and drew a foul on Chris King.  But Davis made 1 of 2 free throws.  Rogers then crossed the ball to Tucker, who connected on another baseline pull-up to give Wake Forest a 69-68 lead.

Grant Hill then drew a foul on Tucker with 1:08 left.  But Hill, who had greatly improved from the foul line as a sophomore, missed both free throws.  Wake Forest followed with a turnover but Duke could not grab the lead as Thomas Hill was called for traveling with 13.1 seconds left.

Davis fouled King with 11.8 to go.  King made the front end of the 1-and-1 but missed the second.  However, Wake Forest back-tapped and recovered the rebound and Thomas Hill had to foul Rogers with 5.2 seconds left.  But Rodney missed the front end of the 1-and-1, Grant Hill grabbed the rebound, and Duke used a timeout with 4.5 seconds left.

Then, in what became a prelude for a game later this season, Grant Hill threw a full-length inbounds pass to Christian Laettner.  Hill’s pass seemed to curve toward the left sideline.  Laettner caught it but his momentum took him briefly out of bounds before he could make his move.

After the turnover, Chris King put the game away with two free throws.

It was a shocking loss for Duke and it seemed like a consensus from the broadcasting team that Duke wouldn’t have lost that lead with Bobby Hurley in the lineup.  Hurley returned for their next game at Duke rebounded to beat Virginia at home.

But Hurley would be a bigger factor when Duke traveled to Westwood to take on 4th ranked UCLA.

After Wake Forest’s biggest win of the season, they seemed to treat it like they won the National Championship.  Wake lost at Georgia Tech and at N.C. State and dropped a home game to Maryland to finish out their ACC regular season at 7-9.

Wake then lost to North Carolina 80-65 in the ACC quarterfinals and, as a #9 seed in the West Regional, lost to 8th seeded Louisville in the 1st round 81-58.

Despite losing the likes of Anthony Tucker, Chris King, and Derrick McQueen, Wake would be back and stronger in 1993 with Rogers becoming an All-American and Randolph Childress returning in a big way.

Duke starters (points scored)

Brian Davis (12) – Small Forward

Antonio Lang (6) – Power Forward

Christian Laettner (18) – Center

Grant Hill (12) – Point Guard

Thomas Hill (20) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Cherokee Parks (0)

Kenny Blakeney (0)

Marty Clark (0)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Wake Forest starters (points scored)

Chris King (9) – Small Forward

Rodney Rogers (18) – Power Forward

Phil Medlin (2) – Center

Derrick McQueen (8) – Point Guard

Anthony Tucker (24) – Shooting Guard

Wake Forest bench (points scored)

Derrick Hicks (2)

Trelonnie Owens (7)

Robert Doggett (0)

David Rasmussen (2)

Wake Forest Coach: Dave Odom

February 27, 1992 – (#4)UCLA Bruins 79 @(#13)USC Trojans 83

While not much attention was being paid to them, the UCLA Bruins were rolling through the season as perhaps the second-best team.

UCLA had been ranked #2 in the polls for 8 weeks throughout the season and were 14-0 and 21-1 at one point.  That one loss came to their cross-town rivals, the USC Trojans, at Pauley Pavilion 86-82 on January 29.

The Bruins had beaten other ranked teams in Indiana, at Arizona, at Stanford, and at Louisville.  But they threw up a dud performance for perhaps the first time all year when they traveled to Notre Dame and lost 84-71.  UCLA just could not make a three-point shot.  But they would get another chance at USC in their next ballgame.

UCLA had strong senior leadership in big man Don MacLean and guards Gerald Madkins and Darrick Martin.  Coach Jim Harrick’s leading scorer was junior Tracy Murray at 21.6 points per game.  MacLean was right behind him at 21.0.  Murray and MacLean were the big men for UCLA but both preferred to play on the perimeter.

Sophomore guard Shon Tarver averaged 10.7 points per game to be the 3rd and final Bruin to average double figures.  Junior guard Mitchell Butler came on after getting a starting spot ahead of Martin.  Butler averaged 8.4 while Madkins, the defensive specialist, was at 7.5.

Despite his senior status, Martin would be relegated to the bench in 1992 after averaging over 11 points and over 6 assists in his previous two seasons.  The conclusion apparently came after UCLA was bounced in the 1st round in 1991 and Martin, as the point guard, had not given the ball to the scorers, Murray and MacLean, enough to have a chance to win that game.

Not only would Martin average 5.6 points and 3.9 assists, which still led the team, in 19.5 minutes per game, but a lot of his playing time was taken by freshman Tyus Edney.  Edney would become UCLA’s future star at point and would reward Harrick and UCLA in 1995.  But it wasn’t a good look in 1992 and lot of people weren’t fans of Harrick for reducing Martin’s playing time drastically.

UCLA’s other reserves included red-shirt freshman Ed O’Bannon.  O’Bannon was recovering from a torn ACL and meniscus and never really got going in 1992, averaging 3.3 points per game in 11.8 minutes in the 21 games he played.

Sophomore forward Rodney Zimmerman also contributed and was a starter for the early part of the season.

USC had gotten on the map with their win over Ohio State on that December 21, 1991 date.  Now, all of a sudden, they were winning close games and pulling victories out of a hat.  They had won at Arizona State, at Stanford, at Cal, and (most impressively) at UCLA.  They won a close home game against Washington and at Oregon.  Most of these games the Trojans were trailing late.

USC took it on the chin, 92-78, at Oregon State for their 4th loss of the year, but they rebounded to beat Cal and Stanford, another one-point decision, at home.  The Trojans were 18-4 and had cracked the rankings for the first time since 1978-79.  Now George Raveling, Harold Miner, and his crew got set to host UCLA in front of the largest crowd to see a USC basketball game at the Los Angeles Sports Arena; 15,517 fans.

UCLA took the early lead as Murray scored 12 points in the first 8 minutes.  But the trend that was starting to develop in USC’s favor was that they were getting multiple offensive rebounds and second shot opportunities.  Harold Miner got his first three baskets on putbacks.

The Bruins’ biggest lead was at 19-10 after Madkins nailed a three-pointer.  They were still up 28-20 when Miner nailed a three and then Madkins picked up his 2nd foul.

Without its best defender, UCLA started to give up penetration and were continuing to be beaten on the boards.  Miner hit a pull-up after a continuous between-the-legs crossover dribble to shake a defender.  This cut UCLA’s lead to 31-27 with 7:57 left in the 1st half.

Senior point guard Duane Cooper then pushed the tempo and got good shots for himself and others.  His coast-to-coast double-pump scoop gave USC their first lead at 35-34.

Miner then hit a fall-away from the baseline and followed with a steal on a lob pass.  Cooper then nailed a three and USC had a 40-34 lead with 3:29 left.

Reserve guards Rodney Chatman and Dwayne Hackett nailed three-pointers and Miner got a reverse slam after an offensive rebound.  This all happened during USC’s 28-13 run to finish the half.

The only thing that kept UCLA hanging around was the 19 1st half points from Tracy Murray.  Darrick Martin also nailed a long three from the left wing at the buzzer to cut the Trojans’ halftime advantage to 48-41.  USC had finished the half with 11 offensive rebounds and Miner finished with 15 points.

USC continued their momentum and ran off to a 59-45 lead with 15:08 left.  But then UCLA started to slow down the tempo just a little bit and got some baskets to fall.  MacLean made his first field goal in awhile to cut the lead to 61-51.  It was Don’s 4th field goal in 14 attempts so far.

Madkins nailed a three to reduce the advantage to 63-54.  He stayed in the game after picking up his 4th foul and would later nail another three to cut the lead to 66-61.

But during this good stretch for UCLA, Miner was continuing to rack up hoops for USC.  The highlight came after Madkins’ second three when “Baby Jordan” crossed over and then flew in the air for a vicious two-hand overhead slam.

Miner was so good that he even got away with not only hooking Gerald Madkins when he spun around him in the post, but the referees called a foul on Madkins; which fouled him out.

Miner hit the two free throws to bring his point total to 27.  Yamen Sanders followed with a steal and slam and, later, put back a miss by Miner.  USC would continue to hold the lead but couldn’t put the Bruins away.

After Cooper nailed a free throw with 2:01 left to put USC up 77-72, MacLean came right back down and nailed a three to cut the lead to two.

All UCLA needed was a stop and a rebound to have a chance to tie it.  They got the stop as Miner missed, but the defensive rebound had been eluding them for most of the night and it manifested when Mark Boyd tipped in Miner’s miss.

UCLA would get no closer.  Murray fouled out after he was stripped by Phil Glenn when attempting a shot.  He and MacLean had been the only Bruins to reach double figures and things wouldn’t get easier as Duke now came in to play the reeling Bruins.

USC won 3 of 4 games to finish the season, including a 1-point win against Arizona.  But the one loss would cost them a share of the Pac-10 title as they finished at 15-3, a game behind the Bruins.

But still, the Trojans would be named a #2 seed in the Midwest Regional.  But the team who had won several close games when they came from behind in the last few minutes would get to experience what it was like to be on the other side.

UCLA starters (points scored)

Mitchell Butler (2) – Small Forward

Tracy Murray (28) – Power Forward

Don MacLean (18) – Center

Gerald Madkins (9) – Point Guard

Shon Tarver (8) – Shooting Guard

UCLA bench (points scored)

Darrick Martin (8)

Ed O’Bannon (2)

Tyus Edney (4)

Rodney Zimmerman (0)

UCLA Coach: Jim Harrick

USC starters (points scored)

Harold Miner (29) – Small Forward

Yamen Sanders (11) – Power Forward

Mark Boyd (10) – Center

Duane Cooper (13) – Point Guard

Phil Glenn (5) – Shooting Guard

USC bench (points scored)

Rodney Chatman (12)

Lorenzo Orr (0)

Dwayne Hackett (3)

USC Coach: George Raveling

Image result for harold miner usc

Harold Miner and his fall-away jumper over Mitchell Butler would lead USC to their second sweep of UCLA in a season series in the last 50 years *photo courtesy of Inside Social

March 1, 1992 – (#10)North Carolina Tarheels 80 @Maryland Terrapins 82

The North Carolina Tarheels had lost 3 games in a row for only the 3rd time in the last 25 years.  They had not lost 4 in a row since 1965.

Although Maryland was in a down period, they were still very competitive.  They had beaten Florida State in Tallahassee and had taken Duke to the wire in Durham.  This was far-fetched from the team that had started the ACC season at 0-6, including a 20-point loss in Chapel Hill.

Gary Williams and his Terrapins got off to a quick start as their back-court got them going.  Kevin McLinton his a pull-up jumper from the foul line and then All-American Walt Williams connected on a three from the top.

Maryland hit 7 of their first 8 from the field as power man Evers Burns got going as well with 3 of the field goals.  The Terps took a 15-7 lead and kept going.

Williams hit his second field goal on a banker in the lane.  Reserve Matt Downing hit a three in transition.  McLinton then hit a pull-up from the baseline.  This 7-0 run gave the Terps a 25-10 advantage halfway through the 1st half.

North Carolina was unable to hit outside shots and, in most cases, unwilling to take the open shots as Maryland backed its zone to cut off the inside game.  The Tarheels were also not getting Hubert Davis the ball.

Davis finally got four straight points and was going for 6 on a wing jumper.  But athletic, former walk-on forward Vince Broadnax blocked Davis’ shot from behind.  Broadnax then flew over Davis for a big slam at the other end.  This kicked off a 6-0 Maryland run that gave them a 31-14 lead with 7:37 left in the 1st half.

Carolina eventually made its run of the 1st half as Davis and Brian Reese connected on threes.  A steal by George Lynch and a coast-to-coast runner cut the lead to 36-28 with 3:44 left.

But the Tarheels would not score another field goal for the rest of the half and went 1-for-4 from the foul line.  Dean Smith’s crew would also commit 13 turnovers in the 1st half.

Meanwhile, Maryland led by Williams, McLinton and Burns finished the half on a 15-1 run.  It was capped off when North Carolina’s Derrick Phelps took a shot too with 7 seconds left in the half.  Maryland pushed it and Downing found Burns for the half-capping layup.

Maryland led 51-29 at the break.  Burns led the way with 13 points while McLinton and Williams each had 12.

But as expected, North Carolina came out strong in the 2nd half.  Phelps found Lynch on a 3-on-2 break for a layup.  Then Phelps took it himself on a transition break.  Eric Montross hit a banker from the post and Phelps connected on a three.  Gary Williams had to use a timeout with 18:16 left as his team’s lead was cut to 52-38.

Carolina would steadily cut the lead from there but Walt Williams hit some big shots to stem the tide.  Williams had 8 points to keep Maryland ahead 65-54 before UNC went on a 7-0 run.  Davis scored his 7th point of the half (after only 7 in the 1st half) on a three-pointer and then Reese hit two free throws and a bucket.

But Williams hit his fourth big shot of the half as he connected on a tough fall-away three-pointer from the top.  Williams would later tip in a miss to further stem the tide but Carolina cut it to 70-66 with 7:44 left.

Williams’ tip-in was actually Maryland’s 4th rebound in the first 13 minutes of the half.  North Carolina had gotten 18 to that point in the 2nd half.  With that rebound advantage, it was fortunate for Gary Williams that Walt Williams was hot.

UNC cut it to 73-70 when Lynch tipped in a miss by Davis.  But Lynch missed a fast break layup that could have cut the lead to one.  It would not be North Carolina’s only missed opportunity.

They did cut it to one when Davis grabbed UNC’s 17th offensive rebound of the game and got the bounce on a baseline jumper.  But Burns hit a turnaround fall-away over Montross in the post and then got a layup on a 2-on-1 break to put Maryland back up 77-72.

Burns committed his 4th foul and Lynch hit two free throws with 1:32 left.  Maryland went into a slight delay before Williams penetrated and found Chris Kerwin for a slam.  But Davis came right back with a three to cut the lead to 79-77 with 43.3 seconds left.

North Carolina went into the trap off the timeout and forced a turnover with 33.6 seconds left as Williams over-threw a cross-court pass to McLinton.  Kevin caught it off-balanced and was forced to travel to re-gather his footing.

Dean Smith decided not to use his last timeout.  Phelps pushed it to Davis at the foul line.  Davis hung in the air and launched an awkward double-pump shot as he drew a foul.  The ball bounced around the rim and fell in with 18.5 seconds left to tie the game.  After Maryland took a timeout, Davis’ free throw gave UNC their first lead of the game.

For North Carolina, this would have been a more impressive comeback than their home rally against Wake Forest, according to Terry Holland, who was the analyst for both games.

North Carolina’s trap got Maryland scrambling again.  But Burns got open at the foul line and launched with 7 seconds left.  He missed and on the ensuing rebound scramble, the ball eventually found Walt Williams.  He rushed the first shot and missed but The Wizard tipped in that miss as time seemed to run out.

But North Carolina was able to get their last timeout called with 1.3 seconds left and the Maryland students had to clear the floor.

But the Tarheels would not get a final chance as Lynch over-threw the inbounds pass.  The Terps would add one more free throw as Phelps fouled Williams with 0.1 seconds left.

But Maryland had its biggest win and Walt Williams’ tip-in in the final seconds may have been the biggest basket of his career.  Williams would never get to make an NCAA tournament appearance as Maryland was on probation during his last two seasons, but his play would earn him a #7 pick in the NBA draft and would be credited for getting Gary Williams’ program re-started.

Although Maryland went 12-16 in 1993, they would receive a big prize from Norfolk, Virginia for the following season.  Joe Smith and a few talented sophomores would get the Terps to their first NCAA tournament since 1988.

North Carolina would break their losing streak in a 79-75 home win over Georgia Tech.  This turned out to be a big win as North Carolina finished one game ahead of the Yellow Jackets for 3rd place in the ACC standings.  But the Tarheels went into the ACC tournament having lost 5 of their final 6 games after Duke beat them in the rematch 89-77.

Dean Smith called it an impressive performance by Duke, he would get a more impressive performance a week later.  But first, North Carolina had to fend off a team they hadn’t beaten all season.

North Carolina starters (points scored)

Henrik Rodl (0) – Small Forward

George Lynch (10) – Power Forward

Eric Montross (17) – Center

Derrick Phelps (13) – Point Guard

Hubert Davis (24) – Shooting Guard

North Carolina bench (points scored)

Brian Reese (12)

Kevin Salvadori (4)

Pat Sullivan (0)

Donald Williams (0)

Matt Wenstrom (0)

North Carolina Coach: Dean Smith

Maryland starters (points scored)

Vince Broadnax (10) – Small Forward

Evers Burns (22) – Power Forward

Chris Kerwin (2) – Center

Kevin McLinton (12) – Point Guard

Walt Williams (28) – Shooting Guard

Maryland bench (points scored)

John Walsh (5)

Matt Downing (3)

Maryland Coach: Gary Williams

walt-williams

Walt Williams earned All-American honors in 1992 and is one of Maryland’s all-time greats *photo courtesy of WBAL

March 1, 1992 – (#1)Duke Blue Devils 75 @(#4)UCLA Bruins 65

Following the Wake Forest loss, Duke did get Bobby Hurley back for its win against Virginia.  But they lost Grant Hill to a sprained ankle in practice and Hill would miss 3 games, including this one.

But UCLA was reeling after two straight losses to Notre Dame and USC.  But those two were on the road and now the Bruins were back at Pauley Pavilion taking on a Duke team without a key player.

The 1st half was ugly to say the least.  Both teams had scoring droughts and Duke had 15 turnovers, which was their season average for an entire game.

Naturally though, there were some defensive highlights.  Thomas Hill got 4 blocked shots in the 1st half, two of them against Don MacLean (with one being on a breakaway).  Darrick Martin broke up a 4-on-1 Duke break by successfully taking a charge.

The biggest offensive highlight for UCLA came after Gerald Madkins came up with a steal.  Madkins successfully threw a behind-the-back pass to Tracy Murray for a slam on a 3-on-1 break.

Murray led the way for UCLA with 10 1st half points as UCLA held the lead for most of the half.  But with the Bruins up 29-21 and looking for the last shot of the 1st half, Ed O’Bannon took an ill-advised baseline jumper with 8 seconds left.

Christian Laettner rebounded, fed to Bobby Hurley, who quickly got the ball down to Brian Davis on a breakaway.  Davis converted with 3 seconds left and drew a foul.  The three-point play cut UCLA’s lead to 29-24 at the half and was a big momentum turning play.

Duke, amazingly, was trailing at the half for the first time all season.  Laettner had 9 points while Thomas Hill had 6.  But Hurley had only converted a free throw and looked rusty.

Duke, as a whole, looked bad.  Not only did they have 15 turnovers but they shot 7-for-21 from the field.  But UCLA’s shooting was even uglier.  The Bruins were 11-for-41 in the 1st half with no three-pointers.  UCLA had given up multiple second shots to USC, which turned out to be their undoing.  In this game, they had the lead pretty much only by getting more shot attempts.

Duke came out for the 2nd half and threw a 12-4 run at UCLA.  Laettner got 6 points during that stretch, including a putback of a missed free throw by Antonio Lang.

But back came UCLA led by Tyus Edney, who would soon get the starting job at the point.  Edney got a layup after MacLean crossed the ball to him.  Then O’Bannon found Murray on a cut for a slam.  Then Edney got a breakaway layup and drew a foul from Thomas Hill.

Edney fell hard on the floor and had to go out of the game for a bit with an injured tailbone.  Darrick Martin came into the game for him and completed the three-point play to cap a 7-0 Bruins run.  But Duke pulled back to a tie with Brian Davis leading the way.

MacLean would pick up his 4th foul with 13:05 to go and UCLA suddenly had a thin team without MacLean, Edney and Shon Tarver.  Tarver had sprained his ankle in the 1st half and looked to be out for the game.  He would return but his athleticism wouldn’t.

But the Bruins would grab a 54-50 lead with about 9 minutes left when Edney, who had just come back in, found Mitchell Butler for a wing jumper.  Then Madkins took it himself on a 2-on-1 break.

At this time, Bobby Hurley came to life and showed his importance.  Hurley drove down the lane for a lefty layup, nailed a three after Lang grabbed an offensive rebound, and then connected on another three to break a 56-all tie with 5 minutes left.

UCLA would come back to take a 61-59 lead with under 3 minutes to go.  Laettner tied it with two free throws and then Hurley found him on the wing for a big three.  Lang followed with a steal and breakaway which led to Jim Harrick using a timeout with 2:04 left and his team trailing 66-61.

MacLean came back with a banker but then Davis drove right by MacLean for a layup.  Duke would then finish it from the foul line as UCLA failed to connect on a three-pointer for the entire game.

UCLA had not put on a good show in back-to-back big games against good teams.  They rebounded with close wins at Washington State and Washington.  They then beat Arizona for the second time this season and, with a defeat of Arizona State at home, won the Pac-10 title by one game over USC with a 16-2 mark.

This earned them a #1 seed in the West Regional.  They didn’t have any problems in beating Robert Morris and Louisville in the 1st two rounds.  They showed some cracks in almost giving up a big lead to 12th seeded New Mexico State in the Sweet 16, but they survived 85-78.  However, their Final Four dreams ended in a resounding way to Indiana 106-79 in the Elite Eight, a score that kind of capped UCLA’s season.

The Bruins would lose MacLean, Murray, Martin and Madkins to the NBA, but they would have some young players step up in 1993 despite not having as good a season.  They almost made up for their disappointing 1992 finish by upsetting a powerhouse in the NCAA tournament.

Duke would survive an unexpected test at Clemson 98-97 in their next game.  Brian Davis took up the slack with Grant Hill still being out and scored 30 points.  Hill would return for their final regular season game against North Carolina.

Duke would not look back for their next 7 games, winning all but one by double digits and throwing two performances against North Carolina that even had Dean Smith gushing about how well they were playing.

It would almost all go for naught in a Regional Final classic that is still being talked about, and that we’ll get to later.

Duke starters (points scored)

Brian Davis (19) – Small Forward

Antonio Lang (5) – Power Forward

Christian Laettner (29) – Center

Bobby Hurley (11) – Point Guard

Thomas Hill (8) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Kenny Blakeney (3)

Cherokee Parks (0)

Marty Clark (0)

Erik Meek (0)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

UCLA starters (points scored)

Mitchell Butler (4) – Small Forward

Tracy Murray (22) – Power Forward

Don MacLean (20) – Center

Gerald Madkins (8) – Point Guard

Shon Tarver (1) – Shooting Guard

UCLA bench (points scored)

Tyus Edney (7)

Darrick Martin (3)

Ed O’Bannon (0)

Rodney Zimmerman (0)

UCLA Coach: Jim Harrick

March 3, 1992 – (#23)LSU Tigers 92 @(#7)Arkansas Razorbacks 106 (OT)

In the newly expanded SEC, there were now two divisions.  At the top of the eastern division was Kentucky at 11-3 and 22-5 overall.  At the top of the west was a battle.  LSU had won 4 games in a row and were 10-2 in their last 12 SEC games to get to 11-3.  Their 11-3 mark tied Arkansas, who had gotten senior Todd Day back for the start of the conference season.

Day had been suspended for the first two months of the season after two incidents.  One involved a woman who claimed to police Day and 3 teammates (Darrell Hawkins, Roosevelt Wallace and Elmer Martin) sexually assaulted her.  She never pressed charges but each player was suspended.  However, Day’s suspension would last longer when it was found out that he and other students had obtained answers to a biology exam during summer school.

Day returned in January but felt alienated off the court.  In Day’s 4th game back, Arkansas traveled to LSU to take on the Tigers.  At the time, the Razorbacks were coming off a loss at Alabama while LSU had won 4 in a row.  But Todd Day’s 43 points led Arkansas to a 101-90 victory and gave them the tiebreaking edge in the SEC West.

LSU had gotten 27 points and 16 rebounds from Shaquille O’Neal that day and had a good scoring day from a back court that would be inconsistent in 1992.  But Maurice Williamson and Jamie Brandon would have another quality day against Arkansas in their rematch.

LSU had gone 11-3 since that game as Shaq became a monster.  In previous seasons, you could tell that Shaq was good and sometimes dominating.  But, as a junior in 1992, he played like a man possessed and a man, as it turned out, ready for the NBA.

Arkansas though may have had the only man in the SEC that could think of handling Shaq.  6’9″ 280 lb (before his first meal of the day) senior Oliver Miller had led the NCAA in field goal percentage in 1991.  But, as a senior, the weight got the best of him and Miller’s play was a little bit down as he averaged 13.5 points per game on 60% field goal shooting after averaging 15.7 ppg on 70% FG shooting in 1991.  But in terms of going up against Shaq, Miller still had the best chance.

Miller and Day were joined by fellow senior star, point guard Lee Mayberry.  These three players were Arkansas’ stars and leaders.  They, along with fellow senior Isaiah Morris, averaged in double figures with Day leading the way at 22.7 points per game.

But the Razorbacks had lost some scrappers from their 1990 Final Four team and 1991 Elite 8 team.  This included Arlyn Bowers, Ernie Murry, and Ron Huery.  The loss of these guys cut down on Arkansas’ perimeter athleticism.

Darrell Hawkins and JC transfer Robert Shepherd helped out but junior shooter Warren Linn started along with Day, Miller, Mayberry, and Roosevelt Wallace.  Young swingmen Ken Biley and Clint McDaniel also helped out Nolan Richardson’s 40 minutes of hell.

Arkansas got off to a good start as Linn, Day, and Mayberry nailed threes while Miller and Wallace each got field goals as well.  Their biggest lead was 13-5 before LSU started bombing the threes.

Maurice Williamson nailed two while Clarence Ceasar also hit a triple.  Vernel Singleton got going as well for Dale Brown as LSU came back to take a 23-22 lead at the 11:47 mark when Williamson made his 3rd three for 11 points.

Shaq had only contributed a tip-in at this point but his teammates ran it up.  Jamie Brandon and Ceasar each had two field goals during LSU’s run.  O’Neal got his second field goal on an inbounds lob pass to put LSU up 32-24.

Shaq would then score 11 LSU points in a row to increase the lead to 41-29.  Brandon and Singleton would then finish the half strong for LSU as the Tigers ran to a 51-36 halftime lead.

Mayberry had kept Arkansas in it with 4 three-pointers.  But LSU had balance as Shaq had 13 points and 8 rebounds, Williamson had 12 and 3 fouls, Singleton and Brandon had 9, and Ceasar had 8 while holding Todd Day to 7 points.

But, as expected, Arkansas came out firing in the 2nd half.  Day tipped in a Wallace miss while Linn and Mayberry nailed threes to cut the lead to 54-44 and force Dale Brown to use a timeout at the 18:32 mark.

LSU was able to settle it down from there and regain a 14-point lead as O’Neal continued to dominate, this included slamming one down on three guys.  The Tigers advantage stayed in double figures over the next 6 minutes but Arkansas kept putting the pressure on them.

Finally, a three-point play by Hawkins on a cut sliced the lead to 67-58.  Then a three-point field goal by Mayberry, his 6th of the game, cut it to 69-63 and forced Brown to use another timeout with 10:09 left.

This one didn’t help as Arkansas’ pressure was relentless.  Day got a three-point play on a twisting banker in the post.  Day followed with a steal and found Hawkins for a layup.  LSU’s lead was down to 69-68.

Vernel Singleton would score 5 points to keep LSU ahead, but gave up an offensive tip-in and a foul against Day that put Arkansas ahead 76-74.

Singleton would continue to be a big factor offensively as he led the Tigers to an 84-82 lead.  But with 3:05 left, the refs fell for a flop by Day that drew the 5th foul on Singleton.  His loss would hurt LSU.

The Tigers remained up by a score of 87-84 before Lee Mayberry hit a step-back three (his 8th of the game) from the wing to tie it up.  But Mayberry missed his chance to give Arkansas the lead as he bricked a pull-up from the foul line on their next possession.

Ceasar rebounded and LSU called timeout with 27 seconds left, looking for the last shot.  The Tigers had not been looking inside to O’Neal down the stretch but they got it inside to him this time.  But Miller, with help from a weakside player who looked like he grabbed Shaq’s arm, blocked O’Neal’s shot and the game was headed to overtime.

The extra period would be no contest as LSU’s didn’t get the ball inside to Shaq once (amazing, isn’t it?).  Mayberry scored 4 quick points to reach a career high and Todd Day contributed the next 5, including a double-pump reverse of the fast break while Ceasar fouled him.

That three-point play put the Razorbacks up 98-89 with 1:25 left in overtime and it was all but over after that.

1992 would be Arkansas’ final season in Barnhill Arena, and, as it turned out, their final loss there was when they played #1 UNLV in 1991.  Arkansas sent Barnhill out on top with a 100-83 victory over Mississippi to claim the SEC West title (by a game over LSU) and a #1 seed in the SEC tournament.

There, they were upset by Alabama 90-89 in the Semifinals.  This might have helped Arkansas slip to a #3 seed in the Midwest Regional.  In the 2nd round, they would play a team that they had already lost to during the season.

LSU would finish as a #3 overall seed in the SEC and lost to Kentucky in the Semifinals.  With that, they earned a #7 seed in the West Regional and when all was said and done, it looked like Shaq was out there by himself.

LSU starters (points scored)

Clarence Ceasar (15) – Small Forward

Vernel Singleton (23) – Power Forward

Shaquille O’Neal (21) – Center

Jamie Brandon (12) – Point Guard

Maurice Williamson (17) – Shooting Guard

LSU bench (points scored)

Justin Anderson (4)

Paul Marshall (0)

Geert Hammink (0)

Harold Boudreaux (0)

Mike Hansen (0)

LSU Coach: Dale Brown

Arkansas starters (points scored)

Todd Day (27) – Small Forward

Roosevelt Wallace (8) – Power Forward

Oliver Miller (10) – Center

Lee Mayberry (35) – Point Guard

Warren Linn (13) – Shooting Guard

Arkansas bench (points scored)

Darrell Hawkins (11)

Isaiah Morris (2)

Ken Biley (0)

Robert Shepherd (0)

Clint McDaniel (0)

Arkansas Coach: Nolan Richardson

March 4, 1992 – (#2)Indiana Hoosiers 64 @Iowa Hawkeyes 60

What it came down to for Indiana was that they were a game ahead of Ohio State at the top of the Big Ten standings and were essentially another game ahead having swept the Buckeyes.

But Ohio State had gotten through its toughest road games to finish the season by winning at Purdue and at Michigan State.  They would coast and put pressure on the Hoosiers, who had 3 tough road games in March.  The first was at Iowa, the second was at Michigan, and the final game of the season was at in-state rival Purdue.

At the time that Indiana traveled to Iowa City, the Hawkeyes were tied with Michigan State for 3rd in the Big Ten at 8-6.

Iowa was rated #21 in the pre-season poll coming off a rebound of a 21-11 season.  But after starting out 6-0, Dr. Tom Davis’ Hawkeyes lost 4 of their next 6 and fell out of the polls for the season.

But still, Iowa had a steady 16-8 record and had only lost one game at home so far this season.  That loss was in the Big Ten opener against Michigan.  Since then, Iowa had beaten Michigan State and Ohio State when they had come in ranked.  But the Hawkeyes had not beaten a tough opponent on the road, with their biggest loss of the season coming at Indiana, 81-66.

The Hawkeyes were led by junior center Acie Earl, Iowa’s only future NBA player.  Earl averaged 19.5 points per game to lead the way.  Senior James Moses and a trio of sophomores; Chris Street, Val Barnes, and Kevin Smith each averaged double figures (or near double figures) and were in the starting lineup for most of the season.

Off the bench came seniors Rodell Davis and Troy Skinner, juniors Wade Lookingbill and Jay Webb and sophomore James Winters.  But all played as Tom Davis liked to use his bench because he preferred to play a fast pace and a pressure defense.  Although the constant substitutions wore teams down, Davis still didn’t have as much talent as he inherited in the late ’80’s and, as a result, wasn’t as successful with his style.

Iowa put the pressure on the Hoosiers early as James Moses scored 5 quick points, Val Barnes hit a three and Kevin Smith hit a pull-up in the lane in transition.  The Hawkeyes led 10-2 at this point but Calbert Cheaney and Eric Anderson brought Indiana back to within 10-8 before the first media timeout.

The Hawkeyes continued to hold the lead through most of the 1st half despite Cheaney taking advantage of his matchup with the smaller Moses and scoring at will when Indiana broke the press and moved the ball.

This didn’t happen as often as it should have as the Hoosiers took some quick shots by the wrong people (essentially everyone except Cheaney) and had to use a timeout 7 seconds after a media timeout because they couldn’t get the ball inbounds against the press.  For the most part, they handled the press in the back-court but they fell into the trap of playing a faster tempo than they were used to

A three-pointer by Smith put Iowa up 30-22 with under 7 minutes left in the half, but the momentum changed when Iowa started turning the ball over.

The Hoosiers went on an 11-0 run, with Cheaney scoring 7 of those points (including a technical free throw after the Iowa bench wasn’t happy with a foul call on Chris Street).  But Iowa finished the half on a 6-0 spurt and led 36-33 at the break.

Iowa held that lead through the first 8 minutes of the 2nd half despite Cheaney scoring the first 10 points.  Three-pointers by Moses and Barnes held off the Hoosiers until Greg Graham hit a three to tie it at 46 with 11:47 left.

Cheaney then hit a baseline jumper to bring his point total to 29 (29 of Indiana’s 48 at that point).  But Cheaney followed by committing his 4th foul and Bob Knight sat him down.

Naturally, Indiana struggled to score but they held Iowa in check as well.  Finally, Graham and Moses dueled each other for 2 minutes.  Graham scored 6 points while Moses had 7 to give Iowa a 55-54 advantage at the 6:21 mark.

But Iowa went back into a drought and Indiana took the lead when Alan Henderson connected on a baseline jumper.  Graham followed with a banker after a steal by Jamal Meeks.

The Hoosiers took a 62-57 lead after making 4-of-4 free throws and Graham was at the line with 1:38 left.  But Greg went 0-for-2 and Smith made a three-pointer to cut the lead to 62-60 with 1:19 to go.

Indiana ran down the shot clock and Damon Bailey drew a hand-check foul on Moses with less than 10 seconds left on the 45-second shot clock.  But Bailey only had a 1-and-1 and missed the front end.

Iowa attacked and Smith got a good shot from the corner to tie the game.  The ball went in-and-out.  Henderson rebounded and Street fouled him with 20 seconds left.  Henderson split his free throws and Iowa had a chance to tie it with a three-pointer.

Moses and Barnes each got good looks but each bounced off the rim.  Finally, Graham grabbed a rebound and was fouled with 2.8 seconds left.  His free throw put the icing on a tough Hoosier victory as they survived their first road test to end the season.  Graham had scored all 14 of his points in the final 13 minutes to help out Cheaney, who went scoreless after picking up his 4th foul.

But it would be the last road test the Hoosiers survived.  The free throw line cost them more in a loss at Michigan and then, with the Big Ten title on the line, the Hoosiers lost a slug fest at Purdue 61-59 and finished one game behind Ohio State in the Big Ten standings.

Indiana was still named a #2 seed in the West Regional and made a deep tournament run, but they wouldn’t be the most successful Big Ten team in the tournament either.

Iowa finished 5th in the Big Ten, one game behind Michigan and Michigan State, after losing to the Spartans in the final game of the season.

They were named a #9 seed in the East Regional and beat Texas in the 1st round when Earl, Moses, and Barnes each scored over 20 points.  But for the 2nd straight season, the Hawkeyes became a 2nd round victim to Duke.

Iowa would come back the next season as a better team, but they would have to play through something most teams couldn’t and didn’t have to endure.

Indiana starters (points scored)

Calbert Cheaney (29) – Small Forward

Eric Anderson (10) – Power Forward

Alan Henderson (9) – Center

Damon Bailey (2) – Point Guard

Greg Graham (14) – Shooting Guard

Indiana bench (points scored)

Chris Reynolds (0)

Jamal Meeks (0)

Matt Nover (0)

Indiana Coach: Bob Knight

Iowa starters (points scored)

James Moses (20) – Small Forward

Chris Street (4) – Power Forward

Acie Earl (12) – Center

Kevin Smith (10) – Point Guard

Val Barnes (8) – Shooting Guard

Iowa bench (points scored)

James Winters (0)

Wade Lookingbill (2)

Jay Webb (2)

Troy Skinner (2)

Rodell Davis (0)

Iowa Coach: Tom Davis

ccheaney

Calbert Cheaney was Indiana’s big and only scorer against Iowa until Greg Graham got going in the final 12 minutes *photo courtesy of Inside the Hall

March 14, 1992 – ACC Tournament Semifinals: (#20)North Carolina Tarheels 80 vs(#18)Florida State Seminoles 76

North Carolina had lost 5 of their last 6 regular season games.  But they recovered nicely in the ACC Quarterfinals by handling Wake Forest 80-65.

Florida State had book-ended their 2nd place finish in their first ACC season by defeating North Carolina twice.  They defeated the Tarheels 110-94 on February 27 and then didn’t play for two weeks.

The Seminoles didn’t miss a beat as they defeated N.C. State in the ACC Quarterfinals, but their star Sam Cassell missed some action due to cramps.  This may have been the best indication of not playing for a while.

Cassell wouldn’t have issues with cramps against North Carolina but Florida State seemed to play with less energy overall than they usually did.

Dean Smith helped out by changing defenses constantly and North Carolina also slowed down the tempo, and Florida State in a half-court game didn’t turn out to be pretty.

They did get out on the break on their first possession as Charlie Ward blocked a Derrick Phelps shot and then Ward found Rodney Dobard on a 3-on-2 break for a slam.  But that would be about it for the 1st half.

Ward and Cassell each nailed an early three but George Lynch kept North Carolina in it early on as he scored UNC’s first 7 points.  The Tarheels went on a 6-0 run to break a 12-all tie as Florida State went scoreless for 6 minutes.

Doug Edwards brought the Seminoles back to within two points but then North Carolina made their big run.  Kevin Salvadori took advantage of his size and got two easy baskets.  Hubert Davis got a transition layup to force Pat Kennedy to use a timeout with 6 1/2 minutes left and FSU trailing 24-16.

It didn’t help as Edwards committed his 3rd foul on an illegal screen on their first possession following the timeout.  Davis later hit a three-pointer and then hit a tough runner in transition while drawing contact from Dobard.  That three-point play gave the Tarheels a 32-18 lead with 4:48 left in the half.

But then Carolina went into a drought as Davis took a rest.  Florida State got back into the game but didn’t exactly burn the nets in doing so.  Chuck Graham scored 8 of their last 13 points of the half as the Seminoles cut UNC’s lead to 37-31 at the half.

The 2nd half would be more of the same.  North Carolina raced back to a 10-point lead as Florida State could never find a rhythm.  Davis and Lynch led the way for the Tarheels, but they could not put Florida State away.

The Seminoles cut the lead to 57-52 with 7:38 left despite shooting only 37% from the field, including 4-for-23 on threes.  While North Carolina wasn’t helping themselves by only shooting 42% from the field, they would get to the line continually and end the game like they did in their win against Duke.  They scored their last 14 points from the line in the last 5 minutes.

But first, Lynch hit a turnaround jumper from the baseline and Davis hit a regular jumper from the baseline as North Carolina regained a 62-52 lead.  Their last field goal came when Phelps broke the Florida State press and found Lynch for a layup to put the Tarheels up 66-54.  Lynch would finish with a double-double.

Florida State used their last timeout (remember that) with 3:16 left when Byron Wells got a layup to cut the lead to 69-59.  Despite a lot of time left, Florida State went to the fouling game and it almost worked.

Henrik Rodl missed two free throws and Charlie Ward followed with a three to cut the lead to 71-64.  Salvadori followed by missing two free throws but Lynch tipped out his second miss and North Carolina recovered the ball.  They smartly got it to Davis, who was fouled by Bob Sura with 1:56 left.

Davis, an 84% foul shooter, made his two shots but Cassell found Edwards for a layup and a foul.  The three-point play cut the lead to 73-67.  Florida State’s press then forced a turnover for one of the few times all game as Cassell knocked away a pass to Graham.  Cassell then nailed a three from the top after a kickout by Edwards and the lead was down to 73-70 with 1:29 left.

Florida State played straight up defense this time as North Carolina ran down the shot clock.  The Seminoles forced a tough shot and a miss by Phelps.  But Davis grabbed the rebound and Cassell was called for his 5th foul.

Davis split the free throws this time.  Florida State pushed the ball but Edwards missed a three.  Lynch rebounded and Davis was fouled with 23.3 seconds left.  Davis again split the free throws.

Florida State again had to push it without any timeouts.  This time, Ward nailed a three to cut the lead to 75-73.  But then Florida State signaled for a timeout to stop the clock.  A technical was called and, with 12.4 seconds left, Davis made both free throws this time to essentially put the game away.

This wouldn’t be the last time in the next year that a team tried to call an illegal timeout against North Carolina, but the next time would be in a much bigger game.

As for now, North Carolina was in the ACC Championship and was playing Duke for the second straight season, and 4th time in 5 seasons.

Like 1991, it would be no contest.  Unlike 1991, it would be Duke that ran off an 18-8 run to finish the 1st half ahead 44-36.  It was never close in the 2nd half as the Blue Devils cruised 94-74.  Dean Smith didn’t think the Dukies could play better than they did in the regular season finale, but, according to Smith, they did.

North Carolina would be named a #4 seed in the Southeast Regional.  They would make it to the Sweet 16 for the 12th straight season and take on top-seeded Ohio State.

Florida State would be named a #3 seed in the West Regional.  They defeated Montana and Georgetown, ending Alonzo Mourning’s career, by identical scores of 78-68 before succumbing to 2nd seeded Indiana in the Regional Semifinals, 85-74.

Florida State would be back with the same roster in 1993 after finishing their first season in the ACC at 22-10.

North Carolina starters (points scored)

Henrik Rodl (0) – Small Forward

George Lynch (21) – Power Forward

Eric Montross (8) – Center

Derrick Phelps (11) – Point Guard

Hubert Davis (28) – Shooting Guard

North Carolina bench (points scored)

Brian Reese (6)

Kevin Salvadori (4)

Pat Sullivan (2)

Matt Wenstrom (0)

North Carolina Coach: Dean Smith

Florida State starters (points scored)

Chuck Graham (14) – Small Forward

Doug Edwards (12) – Power Forward

Rodney Dobard (7) – Center

Charlie Ward (15) – Point Guard

Sam Cassell (14) – Shooting Guard

Florida State bench (points scored)

Bob Sura (10)

Andre Reid (2)

Byron Wells (2)

Ray Donald (0)

Florida State Coach: Pat Kennedy

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

At top, Charlie Ward drives for a reverse layup against Kevin Salvadori, Hubert Davis (#40), and George Lynch (jumping).  But, at bottom, Davis got the last laugh in this game with a breakaway layup as Sam Cassell turned away *photos courtesy of Getty Images (x2)

March 19, 1992 – East Regional 1st round: (#13)LaSalle Explorers 76, (#4)Seton Hall Pirates 78

It wasn’t like the LaSalle Explorers were going to duplicate their 30-2 season in 1990, but they had slipped.

After losing Lionel Simmons, Speedy Morris’s team went 19-10 in 1991 but lost in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC for future references) tournament semifinals to eventual champion Saint Peter’s (the MAAC’s only representative in the 1991 NCAA tournament).

Then the Explorers lost their other star in guard Doug Overton to graduation.  For 1992, they went 20-10 during the regular season and beat top-seeded Manhattan 79-78 in the MAAC title game to earn the conference’s only berth in the NCAA tournament.

Other than stalwarts Simmons, Overton and Bob Johnson, Morris had everyone else still remaining from the 1990 team.  Seniors Randy Woods and Jack Hurd led the high-powered offense.  Woods averaged 27.3 points per game and Hurd 18.0.  LaSalle, on average, shot 26.9 three-point attempts per game (with Woods and Hurd launching 20).

Inside, Morris had seniors Milko Lieverst and Bron Holland.  The point position was shared by junior Jeff Neubauer and freshman Paul Burke.  Burke was two weeks removed from an appendectomy, but he was playing nonetheless.  Other reserves included Blitz Wooten, Ray Schultz and Luteke Kalombo.

Their 1st round opponent had tied for 1st in the Big East regular season but were unable to win back-to-back tournaments.  P.J. Carlesimo and the Pirates had lost Anthony Avent and Oliver Taylor from the 1991 team that went to the Elite 8 and challenged unbeaten UNLV for a half.

But returning were juniors Terry Dehere and Jerry Walker, senior Gordon Winchester, and sophomores Arturas Kornishovas and Bryan Caver.  Newcomers included 7’2″ JC transfer Luther Wright and freshmen John Leahy and Danny Hurley (brother of Duke’s Bobby Hurley).

The Pirates went 21-8 during the regular season with Dehere leading the way at 19.3 points per game.  Walker also averaged in double figures at 13.8.  Winchester, Caver, and Kornishovas each averaged between 8.6 and 8.9, and freshman Leahy was at 7.2 while shooting 57% from three-point range.

Seton Hall had finished the season by winning 10 of their last 12 games but they struggled early on against LaSalle.  Winchester was the best defender that Carlesimo had and P.J. decided to put him on Hurd instead of Woods (although Woods probably had a quickness advantage over Winchester).

Woods responded by scoring 9 quick points (including two three-pointers) as LaSalle took an 11-4 lead in the first 4 minutes and 11 seconds.  But Woods went cold and so did LaSalle’s offense.

Seton Hall cut back into the lead over the next 4 minutes and even took a 16-15 advantage when Caver nailed his second trey of the game.  But then Hurd scored 5 points and Woods 4 more as Speedy Morris’s team re-took a 24-20 lead.

Trouble looked to be brewing though as Woods picked up his 3rd foul.  But Morris kept him in the game and Woods kept scoring without committing another foul.  He finished with 21 1st half points.

But Seton Hall stayed in it despite not shooting well.  The Pirates committed their 12th turnover just before the half however, and LaSalle took advantage as Neubauer nailed a corner three at the buzzer to give the Explorers a 36-31 halftime lead.

The scoring picked up in the 2nd half as Dehere got going for the Pirates.  Meanwhile, Holland scored 6 early points for LaSalle and Hurd nailed a three as the Explorers stayed ahead.

It wasn’t until mid-way through the 2nd half that Woods got his first field goal, and it started a run as LaSalle took as much as a 60-52 lead with 8 minutes left.  But Seton Hall got right back into the game as Caver hit a runner in the lane and Leahy connected on a three.

Freshman reserves more-or-less were squaring off in the 2nd half as Leahy and Burke nearly matched each other.  Burke hit a pull-up from the baseline to stem the tide after Morris used a timeout.  Burke later connected on a three to answer Leahy’s and put LaSalle up 67-62.

Woods followed by connecting on another three and Carlesimo had to use a timeout with 4:05 left and his team down 70-62.  Dehere hit a three after the timeout and Leahy connected a possession later.  But a cut by Burke and a feed from Hurd kept LaSalle ahead 74-68.  However, Leahy hit another trey and LaSalle used another timeout with 2:27 left.

It didn’t help as LaSalle missed some tough shots on their next few possessions.  Meanwhile, Walker got two layups (one on a putback) and Dehere hit a free throw with 1:12 left to give Seton Hall a 76-74 lead.

The Explorers then ran down the clock and got a layup as Lieverst fed Hurd on a cut to tie the game.  Seton Hall did not use a timeout and ran a motion game.

Dehere passed off to Caver and then went to the left corner with under 10 seconds left.  Caver fed Dehere for a long jumper from the wing that went down.  LaSalle got a timeout with 1.8 seconds left but could not do anything with their last attempt as long full-court inbounds pass went astray.

Dehere was the hero for the moment and Seton Hall survived a scare.  The Pirates would drill Missouri 88-71 in the 2nd round before losing to top-seeded Duke (and Danny’s brother Bobby) 81-69 in the Regional Semifinals.  But Seton Hall would be back next season.

Meanwhile, LaSalle would not be back into the NCAA tournament until 2013 (when they were a cinderella that lost to another cinderella).  Speedy Morris coached through 2001, but his last winning season was a 14-13 mark in 1993.

LaSalle starters (points scored)

Jack Hurd (13) – Small Forward

Bron Holland (8) – Power Forward

Milko Lieverst (4) – Center

Jeff Neubauer (3) – Point Guard

Randy Woods (33) – Shooting Guard

LaSalle bench (points scored)

Paul Burke (12)

Blitz Wooten (1)

Ray Schultz (2)

Luteke Kalombo (0)

LaSalle Coach: Speedy Morris

Seton Hall starters (points scored)

Gordon Winchester (6) – Small Forward

Arturas Karnishovas (7) – Power Forward

Jerry Walker (12) – Center

Bryan Caver (13) – Point Guard

Terry Dehere (24) – Shooting Guard

Seton Hall bench (points scored)

John Leahy (14)

Luther Wright (2)

Darrell Mims (0)

Danny Hurley (0)

Seton Hall Coach: P.J. Carlesimo

March 20, 1992 – West Regional 1st round: (#13)Southwest Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns 87, (#4)Oklahoma Sooners 83

Now called Louisiana-Lafayette, the Ragin’ Cajuns had a checkered history since entering Division 1 in 1971.  In 1972, they were 25-4 and in 1973, they were 24-5.  Each year, they lost in the Sweet 16 but they had an All-American guard in Dwight “Bo” Lamar.

But after an NCAA investigation, Southwestern Louisiana was found guilty of over 120 violations and was given a two-year death penalty.  Since then, they had only been in the rankings for two weeks and had no NCAA tournament victories.

But Marty Fletcher, who had previously been an assistant coach at N.C. State under Norm Sloan and Jim Valvano, started turning the program back around when he took over as head coach in 1986.  By 1990, the Ragin’ Cajuns were 20-9 but 4-6 in the American South Conference.  In 1991, they were 21-10 but only 6-6 in the ASC, losing for the second straight season in the conference tournament semifinals.

For 1992, Southwest Louisiana moved to the Sun Belt Conference.  They finished at 12-4 during the conference season and beat top-seeded Louisiana Tech in the championship to earn the Sun Belt’s NCAA berth.

Fletcher did have some talent but none of it would translate to any NBA games.  The Cajuns had 4 players average in double figures but the top scorer was junior swingman Todd Hill at 14.3 points per game.  Sophomore shooting guard Byron Starks averaged over 11, along with reserve sophomores Michael Allen and Tony Moore.

Senior big man Marcus Stokes averaged 9.7 but 11.7 rebounds per game.  JC transfer and big man Carroll Boudreaux was right behind him at 9.3 but way behind Stokes at 5.8 rebounds (2nd on the team).  Junior Cedric Mackyeon was the reserve big man.  The point guard was senior Eric Mouton who averaged 5.4 assists per game while attempting just under 4 shots per game.  That team went 20-10 and made their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1983.

Oklahoma did not make the NCAA’s in 1991 despite some talent in shooting guard Brent Price and big man Jeff Webster.  Price was now a senior and the 2nd leading scorer at 18.7 points per game for Billy Tubbs.  Webster was a sophomore who averaged 14.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.

The big factor for Oklahoma was the return of senior forward Damon Patterson, who averaged 20.6 points and 8.8 rebounds after missing the 1991 season due to academic issues.  The point guard was junior Terry Evans and the center was junior Bryan Sallier.  Sallier was out for this game though with an injury.

In his place stepped in another crop of JC transfers that Tubbs was known for grabbing.  Derrick Gallien would be a big factor against Southwest Louisiana.  He was joined by the likes of Joel Davis, Angelo Hamilton, and Bryatt Vann as incoming JC transfers.

Oklahoma went 21-8 in 1992 and finished 4th in the Big Eight with an 8-6 record.  But they went 2-5 against the 3 teams above them (Kansas, Oklahoma State, and Missouri) including an 85-67 drubbing at the hands of Kansas in the Big 8 Semifinals.

They got off to a slow start as Evans picked up two early fouls and the Ragin’ Cajuns took a 6-0 lead after two jumpers by Starks.  The lead did not relinquish quickly although Gallien kept Oklahoma in the game by drawing fouls on Boudreaux and getting to the line.

The Cajuns had their biggest lead at 22-13 when Moore came off the bench for 5 quick points.  Allen later hit a three to make it 25-17, but Evans responded with a trey and Gallien got a three-point play on a drop-step in the lane for his 11th point.  This cut the lead to 25-23 with 11:21 left in the 1st half.

The Sooners grabbed their first lead when Price made his first three-pointer of the game to make it 28-27.  The lead swung back-and-forth until Patterson got it going with 9 straight Oklahoma points.  The Sooners took their biggest lead at 41-34 with 3:57 left as Southwest Louisiana went into a 4+ minute field goal drought.

But back they came late in the half led by the bench.  Allen connected on a three, Moore on another jumper, and then Stokes fed Mackyeon at the end of the shot clock for a slam and a foul.

That three-point play cut the lead to 43-42 but Southwest seemed to miss out on their chance for a halftime lead when Stokes missed two free throws.  However, Mouton flopped and drew the 3rd foul from Evans on a charge with 6.2 seconds left.

Then Allen got the ball and pulled up from deep at the top of the key.  Allen’s long three went down at the buzzer and the Cajuns did have a halftime advantage at 45-43.

Gallien would pick up his 3rd and 4th fouls early in the 2nd half and sat for the rest of the game, which may have turned into a factor as the non-scoring Davis played in his spot down the stretch.

Boudreaux would also pick up his 3rd and 4th fouls but his replacement, Mackyeon, was much more effective.  The 2nd half was a high-scoring, back-and-forth affair for the first 11 minutes.

Then with the game tied at 64, Mackyeon tipped in a miss and Moore hit a jumper from the top.  SW Louisiana’s 4-point lead was the biggest for either team in the half.  They maintained it at 70-66 when Starks hit a jumper for his 10th point of the 2nd half and 21st of the game.

But a turnaround jumper by Webster in the post and then a pull-up by Patterson in the lane tied the game at 70 and forced Fletcher to use a timeout with 5:11 left.

The Cajuns then ran down the shot clock.  At the end, Allen crossed the ball to Moore, who connected on a three as the buzzer went off.  Moore then stole a pass and drew Price’s 4th foul.  A putback by Mackyeon gave the Cajuns a 75-70 lead.

But then Fletcher’s strategy to slow the game down backfired as Oklahoma came up with some turnovers that led to baskets.  Price would get the latest steal which was followed by two free throws to tie the game at 75 with 2:02 left.

After a timeout, Patterson fouled Hill (SW Louisiana’s leading scorer who was 2-for-10 on the day) on a jumper with 1:48 left.  Hill made both shots.  Then Mackyeon deflected a pass by Davis, who Mackyeon was backing off of because the non-scoring Davis wasn’t a threat to shoot, and Mouton came up with a steal.  Davis fouled Stokes at the other end and Marcus made both free throws with 1:22 left to give the Cajuns a 79-75 lead.

Mackyeon then rebounded an airball by Webster and drew a foul from Jeff.  It looked to be about put away as Mackyeon made both free throws for an 81-75 lead.  But Evans came right back with a three-pointer and Oklahoma used a timeout right after the basket at the 1:04 mark.

SW Louisiana then seemed to be trying their best to give the game away.  Price came up with a steal and was fouled by Mouton.  Price made the first free throw with 47.2 seconds left, but he missed the second.  However, Webster grabbed the rebound and kicked it out to Price, who missed a three that would’ve given Oklahoma the lead.

Mackyeon got the rebound this time but Price would come up with another steal later on the possession.  Price led a long pass to Hamilton who was called for traveling on his breakaway attempt to tie the game.

That would turn out to be Oklahoma’s last chance as Allen hit two free throws and the senior Mouton went 4-for-4 down the stretch to seal the deal.  The Ragin’ Cajuns had come up with the 2nd upset of the day after the previous day didn’t have one.  They would play 12th seeded New Mexico State (who had come up with the first upset of the day in beating #5 DePaul) in the 2nd round.

The run would end for the Cajuns 81-73 at the hands of the Aggies.  To this day, that remains the only NCAA tournament win for Southwest Louisiana (now Louisiana-Lafayette) that wasn’t vacated due to NCAA violations.  The Cajuns would get another two years probation for NCAA violations in 2006.

For Billy Tubbs, this would turn out to be his last NCAA tournament appearance with Oklahoma.

Southwest Louisiana starters (points scored)

Todd Hill (7) – Small Forward

Marcus Stokes (9) – Power Forward

Carroll Boudreaux (8) – Center

Eric Mouton (4) – Point Guard

Byron Starks (21) – Shooting Guard

Southwest Louisiana bench (points scored)

Tony Moore (15)

Michael Allen (13)

Cedric Mackyeon (10)

Southwest Louisiana Coach: Marty Fletcher

Oklahoma starters (points scored)

Damon Patterson (17) – Small Forward

Jeff Webster (23) – Power Forward

Derrick Gallien (13) – Center

Terry Evans (12) – Point Guard

Brent Price (12) – Shooting Guard

Oklahoma bench (points scored)

Joel Davis (4)

Angelo Hamilton (2)

Bryatt Vann (0)

Oklahoma Coach: Billy Tubbs

March 20, 1992 – Southeast Regional 1st round: (#11)Temple Owls 66, (#6)Michigan Wolverines 73

After a strong 8-3 finish to the regular season in which the Fab 5 started 9 of the last 10 games, the Michigan freshmen would now get to try their hand at the NCAA tournament.

They’d get pressure right off the bat from an experienced John Chaney coached Temple team that had gone to the Elite 8 the season before.  Some experience from that team was returning in senior forwards Mik Kilgore and Mark Strickland and junior point guard Vic Carstarphen.  Kilgore led the Owls by averaging 14.5 points per game while Strickland and Carstarphen averaged just under double figures.

But Chaney’s future NBA talent came mostly from a pair of sophomores who were academically ineligible in 1991.  Swingmen Aaron McKie and Eddie Jones made an impact by averaging in double figures in their first year of college ball.

Another future NBA player, as well as future starting point guard for Temple, was freshman Rick Brunson.  McKie, Jones, and Brunson would usher in a new Temple era after Mark Macon left his impact the previous 4 seasons.  But in this season of transition, Temple finished the regular season at 17-12 and lost to West Virginia in the Atlantic 10 Semifinals.

The Michigan freshmen would hit the tournament running as they grabbed an early 10-3 lead with Juwan Howard scoring 6 of those points inside against the under-sized Owls.

But Temple responded with an 8-0 run as Jones came off the bench to cap it with 4 points.  They went into a cold stretch halfway through the 1st half and Michigan took advantage.

Jimmy King and Jalen Rose hit threes.  Chris Webber got two layups (one on a putback).  Rose got a breakaway three-point play after Webber pushed the ball and hit Rose with a no-look pass.  A 19-5 run was capped when reserve (and non-freshman) James Voskuil nailed a three and the Wolverines led 32-18 with 6 minutes left.

However, it was the Wolverines turn to go cold and Vic Carstarphen’s turn to get hot on both ends.  Carstarphen first hit two three-pointers.  Then he drew a charge from Rose and started talking trash.  Rose would pick up a technical for an extra elbow and, since a technical counted as a personal in college, had 3 fouls.

A three-point play by McKie on a hustle putback cut the lead to 36-33 with under 2 minutes left.  But Michigan would finish on a 6-0 run as Howard scored 4 more points.  The Wolverines led 42-33 at the break.

Michigan started off strong in the 2nd half as well.  Webber hit a hook shot in the lane and Ray Jackson got two slams.  Two more threes from Carstarphen, who now had 16 points, was the only thing that kept Temple in the game as they trailed 49-39.

Temple would make their big run after they trailed 53-45.  McKie nailed a three and Strickland put back a miss.  Then, to help Temple matters, Howard picked up his 4th foul with 12:21 to go.  The game would be tied a minute later at 53.

Jones would then hit a three and Carstarphen a free throw as the Owls grabbed a 57-53 lead.  Temple was on a 12-0 run as Michigan went 5+ minutes without a point.

But Rose would show off his big shot chops just when it looked bad for Michigan.  Rose hit two pull-up bankers from the baseline to tie the game.  Strickland hit a turnaround banker in the lane with 6:55 left to give the Owls the lead again.

But it would be Temple’s turn to go into a drought following the media timeout and Howard’s re-emergence into the game.  Although Michigan wouldn’t exactly burn the nets over the final 7 minutes, they did better than Temple’s 0-for.

Webber found Howard for a hook shot in the lane and then King kicked out to Rose for a three.  Then with under 3 minutes to go, Rose fed Jackson for a layup on a cut.  The game would be officially put away with 1:45 left when Kilgore was called for an intentional foul.

Michigan would nail their free throws while Temple went 6+ minutes without scoring.  The Wolverines wouldn’t have as much of a challenge in their next game, thanks to an upset that happened following this game that I’ll write about next.  But then the Wolverines would have to deal with the top seeds of the Southeast Regional, including a conference opponent.

Temple starters (points scored)

Mik Kilgore (7) – Small Forward

Mark Strickland (10) – Power Forward

Frazier Johnson (0) – Center

Vic Carstarphen (17) – Point Guard

Aaron McKie (17) – Shooting Guard

Temple bench (points scored)

Eddie Jones (12)

Rick Brunson (1)

Johnnie Conic (2)

Temple Coach: John Chaney

Michigan starters (points scored)

Ray Jackson (6) – Small Forward

Chris Webber (11) – Power Forward

Juwan Howard (15) – Center

Jalen Rose (19) – Point Guard

Jimmy King (15) – Shooting Guard

Michigan bench (points scored)

Rob Pelinka (2)

Eric Riley (2)

James Voskuil (3)

Freddie Hunter (0)

Michigan Coach: Steve Fisher

March 20, 1992 – Southeast Regional 1st round: (#14)East Tennessee State Buccaneers 87, (#3)Arizona Wildcats 80

East Tennessee State was going to the NCAA tournament for the 4th straight season.  In 1989 as a 16th seed, they came oh so close to topping #1 Oklahoma.  They went 55-12 over the next two seasons with 5’7″ mighty mite Mr. Keith Jennings leading the way.  They were in the polls for the first (and last) time ever in 1991 and climbed to as high as 10, but they did not have an NCAA tournament win to go with it.

Although the Buccaneers lost Jennings to graduation, coach Alan LeForce and his team rebounded after a slow start in 1992.  East Tennessee State was 7-4 to start before a 16-2 finish and another Southern Conference championship.  The Bucs were coming in on an 8-game winning streak.

They were a senior dominated team who had Rodney English, Calvin Talford, Greg Dennis, and Jason Niblett (the only junior in the starting lineup) averaging double figures while Marty Story did the dirty work inside.  East Tennessee State was a perimeter team that shot a lot of threes.  This would create mismatches against big teams like Arizona.

Lute Olson and his Wildcats had not won the Pac-10 regular season title for the first time since 1987.  But Olson’s team was still a threat, especially inside with seniors Sean Rooks and Wayne Womack and junior Ed Stokes.  But the perimeter players weren’t bad either as Arizona trotted out junior forward Chris Mills, who was tied with Rooks as Arizona’s leading scorer at 16.2 points per game.  The guards were sophomore Khalid Reeves, senior Matt Othick, and freshman Damon Stoudamire.

Arizona was coming in at 24-6, but three of their losses came at the buzzer.  Darrick Martin of UCLA beat them at the buzzer in Arizona before Washington and USC (on the last game of the regular season) did the same thing.  As a result, Arizona finished behind UCLA and USC in the standings but were a dark horse pick to go all the way.

This game got off to a slow start as Arizona led 6-5 after 4 minutes.  But then it picked up as Niblett matched a three by Reeves and then Talford connected from behind the arc to give ETSU a 12-11 lead.

The Buccaneers would hit 7 threes over the first 12 minutes of the half, but Arizona’s power game was matching them and the game was tied at 26 at the 7:35 mark.  But then East Tennessee State kept making threes while Arizona went cold.

Niblett, English, and reserves Jerry Pelphrey (who’s brother, John, played at Kentucky) and Trazel Silvers each connected as ETSU went 11-for-17 on threes in the first half and finished the half with a 19-8 run.

The 2nd half didn’t get much better for Olson.  Rooks picked up his 3rd foul trying to guard ETSU’s perimeter center Greg Dennis.  He picked up his 4th foul on a charge a minute later and had to sit.

Then with 13:49 left, Talford got a layup and drew the 4th foul on Mills.  The three-point play put ETSU up 61-45 and Olson had to put Rooks back into the game to replace Mills.

Arizona didn’t let the lead grow as Womack got two three-point plays on putbacks.  But the Wildcats big run didn’t come until Dennis picked up his 4th foul with 11:45 left and ETSU up 66-53.

Mills came back in and hit a jumper after rebounding his own missed free throw.  Rooks put back a miss by Womack and Reeves hit two free throws to cut the lead to 66-60.  ETSU wasn’t helping themselves as they missed 6 straight free throws.  But Arizona could not take advantage and had their own field goal drought.

With around 5 minutes to go, Reeves fouled out for Arizona after shooting 2-for-8 from the field.  This put in Stoudamire, who would have the most success in penetrating ETSU’s defense and feeding the big men inside.  The problem with Reeves, Othick, and (to some degree) Mills was that they were taking outside shots instead of going inside to take advantage of Arizona’s power game.  Othick did not hit a field goal in his last college game.

With 3:39 left, Stoudamire fed Rooks for a layup to cut the lead to 75-70.  But Arizona’s field goals were few and too far between at this stretch.  The only points over the next 2 minutes came on 4 free throws by ETSU.

Arizona wouldn’t go quietly over the last minute as Rooks and Stoudamire connected on threes and two free throws by Stoudamire cut the lead to 83-80 with 22.9 seconds left.

But Rooks committed his 5th foul on Dennis and his career was over.  Dennis made two free throws and then rebounded an airballed three by Stoudamire to put the game away.

East Tennessee State finally had its NCAA tournament win, but the euphoria would be short-lived as they lost to Michigan 102-90 in the 2nd round.  Their next NCAA tournament appearance would come in 2003.

Arizona would come back strong the next season but, as it turned out, their loss to East Tennessee State wouldn’t be their most shocking tournament loss.

East Tennessee State starters (points scored)

Rodney English (21) – Small Forward

Marty Story (8) – Power Forward

Greg Dennis (8) – Center

Jason Niblett (13) – Point Guard

Calvin Talford (15) – Shooting Guard

East Tennessee State bench (points scored)

Trazel Silvers (12)

Jerry Pelphrey (5)

Eric Palmer (5)

Leslie Brunn (0)

East Tennessee State Coach: Alan LeForce

Arizona starters (points scored)

Chris Mills (17) – Small Forward

Wayne Womack (19) – Power Forward

Sean Rooks (17) – Center

Matt Othick (0) – Point Guard

Khalid Reeves (10) – Shooting Guard

Arizona bench (points scored)

Damon Stoudamire (15)

Ed Stokes (2)

Deron Johnson (0)

Ray Owes (0)

Arizona Coach: Lute Olson

March 21, 1992 – Midwest Regional 2nd round: (#6)Memphis State Tigers 82, (#3)Arkansas Razorbacks 80

Thanks to Larry Finch recruiting a bunch of new stars from the Memphis area, Memphis State University was on its way back.  The Tigers had not gotten out of the round of 32 since they made the Final Four in 1985.

The Tigers had missed the tournament the last two seasons but had two new stars who saw some time in the NBA.  The most famous was a Prop 48 sophomore with the nickname of Penny.  Anfernee Hardaway averaged 17.4 points per game, 7.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.5 steals and 1.5 blocks and won the player of the year award in the Great Midwest Conference, which included stars for Cincinnati, who we’ll get to later.

But the player who would prove to be more effective in their matchup with Arkansas was freshman power forward David Vaughn.  Vaughn averaged 13.4 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.  Finch’s new stars carried Memphis State to a 21-10 record coming into this game.

One of those 21 wins came at the hand of Arkansas in a high-scoring charged-up atmosphere in Memphis.  Big men Vaughn and Anthony Douglas each had over 20 points as the Tigers won 92-88.

Vaughn and Douglas were backed up by junior Kelvin Allen and senior Tim Duncan who wasn’t the Tim Duncan, who was still in the Virgin Islands at this time.

Finch had a plethora of guards to play along with Hardaway.  There were seniors Tony Madlock and Ernest Smith, junior Billy Smith, and freshman Marcus Nolan, who would find himself with the ball and time running out just after he came into the ball game for the first time.

The Arkansas Razorbacks had won 6 in a row before being upset by Alabama in the Semifinals of the SEC tournament.  They beat Popeye Jones and Murray State, who had given top seeded Michigan State a run for their money in 1990, in the 1st round 80-69.  Senior Todd Day struggled with 9 points but fellow seniors Oliver Miller and Lee Mayberry came through.

Day seemed determined to make up for the lack of production in the 1st round game as he came out shooting and hitting.  He immediately got a wing jumper after Miller controlled the opening tip and then proceeded to knock down three triples for 13 points in the first 5 minutes and a 19-6 Arkansas lead.

This would prove to be the biggest lead for Nolan Richardson and the Razorbacks as Day went cold and Memphis State crept their way back into the game.  Hardaway would make his first field goal on a three-pointer to cut the lead to 30-26 with just over 6 minutes left.

Hardaway finished the 1st half with 7 points while Vaughn had 10.  But Memphis State mostly struggled, especially over the last few minutes, with turnovers and getting back on defense.

Usually when a team is on offense and a shot goes up, whoever is up top (usually the point guard) will immediately get back on defense to cut off any breakaways.  Memphis State was not doing this and it led to several Arkansas breaks.

The latest of which came in the last few seconds as Miller rebounded a missed free throw and threw a perfect pass to a streaking Darrell Hawkins.  His layup put Arkansas ahead 44-36 at the break.  Day had only scored 1 point since his barrage in the first 5 minutes.

Hawkins and Isaiah Morris were also helping out with the Arkansas scoring and continued to do so early in the 2nd half.  They took a 50-38 lead before Day picked up his 3rd foul and a technical.

This lapse in judgement led to a Memphis State run.  A pull-up by Ernest Smith and a slam from Vaughn forced Richardson to use a timeout with 16:11 left.  But Hardaway hit a jumper, Douglas put back a missed free throw, and then Hardaway tied it at 52 with a three-pointer.

Arkansas regained a 57-52 lead despite Day picking up his 4th foul while continuing to go scoreless.  They increased that lead to 64-56 when Mayberry, who wasn’t shooting well, hit a runner on the baseline.

But then Billy Smith, who was scoreless to this point, hit a three and then got a steal and slam.  This forced Richardson to use another timeout with 8:11 left.  A few minutes later, Richardson lost Day, who fouled out after not scoring in the 2nd half and scoring 1 point after the first 5 minutes.  The streakiness would become a microcosm of Day’s NBA career.

After Day fouled out, Vaughn hit two free throws to cut the lead to 67-65 and then Billy Smith made his second three to give Memphis State their first lead of the game.

The Tigers would increase that lead to as much as 6 but their guards were getting in foul trouble.  Billy Smith had 4 fouls, Madlock fouled out with 4:53 remaining, and, most notably, Hardaway picked up his 4th foul when Hawkins hit a high-arcing runner in the lane.  The three-point play cut the lead to 76-73 with 3:46 left.

Miller and Vaughn traded baskets before Hardaway fouled out with 1:50 remaining when he touched Morris as he grabbed an offensive rebound.  Morris split the free throws but Hawkins grabbed his second miss and Mayberry tied it at 78 with a high-arcing runner on the baseline.

Ernest Smith tried to come right back and get one in transition.  He missed but Vaughn slammed it in with 1:08 left to give Memphis State an 80-78 lead.  Vaughn would then foul Hawkins on a drive and the unheralded junior, who was leading the way for Arkansas, hit both free throws to tie it.  Finch got a timeout with 41.6 seconds left.

There was still a 6-second difference between the shot clock and game clock but Finch told his team to run it down.  As the clock neared the end, freshman Marcus Nolan had the ball and it didn’t look like the Tigers were going to get anything off.

Nolan quickly got it to Vaughn, who launched a shot at the perimeter as Miller lunged at him and the shot clock was down to 1 second.  The shot missed but Vaughn followed up and out-jumped two teammates (while Arkansas, most notably the 300 lb+ Miller, stood and watched) for a putback to give the Tigers the lead again.

Arkansas got a timeout with 5.8 seconds left.  Richardson’s answer was to give the ball to Mayberry and have him try to go full court.  Mayberry made it just over half-court before launching a long three and coming up short at the buzzer.

The young Memphis Tigers were moving on and would have some more drama in the next round.  Meanwhile, Arkansas would lose several seniors (most notably: Day, Miller, and Mayberry) that had been a part of a Final Four team in 1990.  But Richardson would reload and be back with some talent that would go to more Final Fours and bring home some hardware with an Arkansas native who was now President watching.

Memphis State starters (points scored)

Anfernee Hardaway (14) – Small Forward

David Vaughn (26) – Power Forward

Anthony Douglas (12) – Center

Tony Madlock (7) – Point Guard

Billy Smith (10) – Shooting Guard

Memphis State bench (points scored)

Ernest Smith (9)

Kelvin Allen (4)

Tim Duncan (0)

Marcus Nolan (0)

Memphis State Coach: Larry Finch

Arkansas starters (points scored)

Todd Day (14) – Small Forward

Isaiah Morris (15) – Power Forward

Oliver Miller (14) – Center

Lee Mayberry (8) – Point Guard

Robert Shepherd (5) – Shooting Guard

Arkansas bench (points scored)

Darrell Hawkins (22)

Clint McDaniel (2)

Ken Biley (0)

Roosevelt Wallace (0)

Warren Linn (0)

Davor Rimac (0)

Shawn Davis (0)

Arkansas Coach: Nolan Richardson

david-vaughn

David Vaughn’s putback sent Arkansas home and Memphis State to the Sweet 16 *photo courtesy of comc.com

March 21, 1992 – West Regional 2nd round: (#7)LSU Tigers 79, (#2)Indiana Hoosiers 89

The question for LSU for the past few seasons was whether Shaquille O’Neal was going to get enough help.  In LSU’s 1st round defeat of Brigham Young, Maurice Williamson contributed 30 points to go along with Shaq’s 26 in a 94-83 win.

But with an experienced Indiana team up next, the question would resurface.  Another question was about Dale Brown as a coach.  The last time these two teams met in the NCAA tournament was 1987.  Indiana came from behind to win 77-76 on their way to the National Championship.  Apparently after the game, Bob Knight said something along the lines of knowing his team had a chance to come from behind with Dale Brown coaching on the other side.  Ouch!

Knight vehemently retracted (or denied) his statement in a press conference the previous day.  But two coaching moves left one to question Dale Brown in what turned out to be his second-to-last NCAA tournament game.

It started out well for the Tigers as Vernel Singleton hit three jumpers from the top.  Williamson connected on two more field goals (including a three) and when Shaq got a three-point play on a finger roll, LSU led 14-7 at the 15:38 mark.

The run continued as Clarence Ceasar scored 5 points, Singleton hit another jumper, and Shaq got two slams.  LSU was 12-for-15 from the field and led 27-13 at the 11:55 mark.

But Brown took O’Neal out of the game at that point and Knight brought in senior Jamal Meeks.  The two moves seemed to coincide with the game turning.  Meeks hit a three and then drew Williamson’s 2nd foul on a charge.

Shaq came back in but Calbert Cheaney challenged him for a reverse layup.  While LSU was bound not to stay as hot as they started, their zone defense was exploited by Indiana.  Namely, the Hoosiers big men of Alan Henderson, Eric Anderson, and Matt Nover stepped out for corner jumpers that were open because the zone wasn’t going to the corner.

They battled their way back and then took the lead on a 12-0 run.  Anderson had 7 points while Nover scored 8, Henderson 10, and Cheaney 13.  Meanwhile Shaq committed two fouls and had 9 points at the half as Indiana led 45-38.

But O’Neal came out and dominated the start of the 2nd half (it also did help that he got the ball inside from teammates).  Shaq scored all 9 points in a 9-2 LSU run to tie the game at 47.

But Damon Bailey and Eric Anderson would hit three-pointers to build Indiana’s lead back up again.  Cheaney would also get into the middle of the lane and hit some high arcing shots over Shaq.

O’Neal would continue to dominate offensively to keep LSU in the game.  But a three-point play by Henderson (on a baseline jumper that was open because LSU didn’t adjust their game plan) put the Hoosiers up 69-59.

The Tigers would make their final run with over 6 minutes left.  O’Neal got a three-point play for his 28th point (and 19th of the 2nd half).  Singleton then grabbed a defensive rebound and went coast-to-coast for a layup.  Ceasar hit a long two and then two free throws from O’Neal cut the lead to 73-70.

But then Bailey hit his second big three-pointer of the game and Cheaney got a three-point play on a banker in the lane.  LSU would be finished when Singleton fouled out with 2:34 left.

O’Neal would get some garbage points and finish his college career with an impressive stat line: 36 points, 12 rebounds, 5 blocks, 12-for-12 from the free throw line (wait, what?!?! Yep, Shaq was 12-for-12 from the line).

LSU would not be the same under Dale Brown after Shaq left for the NBA.  In fact, other than a 2006 Final Four appearance (and a shellacking from UCLA), LSU basketball would not be the same after Shaq.  Even when another #1 draft choice showed up 23 years later.

Meanwhile, Indiana followed up this performance with two impressive wins.  They beat back Florida State 85-74 in the Sweet 16 after starting the 2nd half on a 10-0 run.  Then the Hoosiers avenged an opening game loss to UCLA in a big way, 106-79, to reach the 5th Final Four for Indiana under Bob Knight.

LSU starters (points scored)

Clarence Ceasar (12) – Small Forward

Vernel Singleton (14) – Power Forward

Shaquille O’Neal (36) – Center

Jamie Brandon (0) – Point Guard

Maurice Williamson (11) – Shooting Guard

LSU bench (points scored)

Justin Anderson (3)

Harold Boudreaux (3)

T.J. Pugh (0)

Mike Hansen (0)

Geert Hammink (0)

Paul Marshall (0)

John Picou (0)

David Mascia (0)

LSU Coach: Dale Brown

Indiana starters (points scored)

Calbert Cheaney (30) – Small Forward

Alan Henderson (19) – Power Forward

Matt Nover (13) – Center

Chris Reynolds (0) – Point Guard

Damon Bailey (9) – Shooting Guard

Indiana bench (points scored)

Jamal Meeks (4)

Eric Anderson (12)

Greg Graham (2)

Indiana Coach: Bob Knight

College Basketball: NCAA Playoffs: LSU Shaquille O'Neal (32) in action vs Indiana Eric Anderson (32) at BSU Pavillion. Boise, ID 3/21/1992 CREDIT: John W. McDonough (Photo by John W. McDonough /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: X42640 )

College Basketball: NCAA Playoffs: LSU Shaquille O’Neal (32) in action vs Indiana Eric Anderson (32) at BSU Pavillion.
Boise, ID 3/21/1992
CREDIT: John W. McDonough (Photo by John W. McDonough /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)
(Set Number: X42640 )

March 21, 1992 – Midwest Regional 2nd round: (#7)Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 79, (#2)USC Trojans 78

The USC Trojans had climbed the ladder quickly in 1992 thanks to the brilliance of Harold Miner and a slew of come from behind, close-game victories.  Now they were on the verge of their first Sweet 16 appearance since 1961.

Georgia Tech was probably still the team that people watched and said, “Who are these guys? They aren’t Kenny Anderson.”  But Tech had finished 4th in the ACC and held off Houston in the 1st round as freshman Travis Best hit a big three-pointer in the late going.

That three by Best seemed to up his confidence to the point that he scored the Yellow Jacket’s first 7 points of this game and had 10 in the first 6 minutes.

Georgia Tech grabbed an early lead as senior Jon Barry helped out by hitting two threes, as well as holding Miner down in their individual matchup.  Baby Jordan would be held without a field goal for the first 19 minutes and 50 seconds of the game.

After three straight field goals by Malcolm Mackey, the only starter remaining from the 1990 Final Four team, Georgia Tech had a 26-14 lead halfway through the 1st half.

Senior Duane Cooper led USC back into the game at that point but they would make their big run over the final 4 minutes when reserve JC transfer Dwayne Hackett went crazy and nailed 4 three-pointers.

USC finished the 1st half on a 14-3 run and took a 39-38 lead in the last 10 seconds when Miner made a wing jumper for his first field goal.  The trend didn’t look good for Bobby Cremins and Georgia Tech as the Yellow Jackets shot 60% from the field and held Miner to a 1-for-6 half but trailed 39-38 at the break.

The bad trend came to fruition over the first 10 minutes of the 2nd half.  USC’s inside game of Mark Boyd and Yamen Sanders took control against Mackey and Matt Geiger and got several points and rebounds.

Miner also woke up a bit, hitting back-to-back three-pointers to put the Trojans up 60-49 with 12:50 to go in the game.  But Tech would make a quick run over the next minute as power freshman James Forrest scored 5 points and the lead was cut to 62-56 with 11:47 left.

USC would then be held to 1 field goal over the next 9 minutes as Geiger, Mackey, and Forrest re-established control of the inside game and Barry continued to do a solid job on Miner and nail three-pointers.

Tech tied it with 6:49 left and then took a 74-69 lead with under 3 minutes left.  During that stretch, Barry hit two three-pointers, Geiger had 6 points on 3 layups and Mackey hit 4 free throws.

But just when it looked like Tech had control of the game for good, Boyd grabbed an offensive rebound and put the ball back in.  Miner followed with a runner after a spin in the lane.  Then freshman Lorenzo Orr took a feed from Cooper and hit a runner with 1:16 left to give USC a 76-74 lead.  Bobby Cremins couldn’t exactly halt the run because he only had 1 timeout left.

Tech ran down the shot clock and Best found Barry for a runner in the lane to tie the game.  But USC had the ball and were close to running it down for the final shot.

George Raveling didn’t use a timeout.  Miner was bottled up so USC decided to go with the mismatch.  With Georgia Tech’s powerful front line, USC had countered with a three-guard lineup of three of their top four scorers; Miner, Cooper, and junior Rodney Chatman.

In this particular case, Chatman was guarded by James Forrest.  So the top was cleared out and Rodney went 1-on-1 to the right baseline.  He pulled up quickly as Forrest fell down and hit a 6-footer with 2.2 seconds to play.  USC led 78-76 and it looked like Rodney Chatman would join a long list of unsung NCAA tournament heroes.

Cremins used his last timeout but Georgia Tech would still have to go the length of the court (although it would be a tenth of a second more than Duke would have later in the tournament).

What followed was a few breaks, quite frankly, without even getting to the last shot.  The first inbounds play from the full-court got the ball to Barry running towards USC’s basket from halfcourt.  Barry dribbled and happened to dribble the ball out of bounds off the foot of his defender, Chatman, with 0.8 seconds on the clock.

Without dribbling the ball off of his defender, Barry would have had to launch a prayer from half-court.  Now Georgia Tech was getting the ball at half-court but the confusion continued.  Cremins was lobbying for more time on the clock but didn’t have a timeout to further lobby his point (and, remember kids, there was no replay review at the time).

Meanwhile, George Raveling seemed to be arguing that somebody on Georgia Tech was trying to call for a timeout.  This, obviously, would have ended the game and sent USC to the Sweet 16.

Amid the confusion, the referee handed the ball to Geiger to inbound and everyone seemed dazed.  For Tech; Mackey, Barry, and Best seemed to be trying to get open while James Forrest just stood in the near corner (it really looked like Forrest could have had a backdoor lane open to the basket if he took it).  For USC, they seemed to be a bit confused of what they were doing defensively (I’m sure if Raveling could have done it over or had more time, he may have used a timeout to set his defense).

But, anyway, Geiger looked for the open man for 4 seconds before whipping a pass to Forrest.  James turned and launched a three that perfectly swished in as Al McGuire went crazy and Georgia Tech ran off with a stunning win (and James Forrest joined a long list of unsung NCAA tournament heroes).

USC would compete in the NIT in 1993 and ’94 under Raveling.  But George retired from coaching following a car accident that happened a month before the 1995 season.  Raveling eventually recovered and has served in many basketball roles since his retirement.  USC has had brief moments of basketball prominence since 1992, but ’92 was the last season that they had a single-digit number of losses and had a single-digit ranking in the polls.

Georgia Tech would move on against another cinderella team in Memphis State.

Georgia Tech starters (points scored)

James Forrest (15) – Small Forward

Malcolm Mackey (16) – Power Forward

Matt Geiger (12) – Center

Travis Best (16) – Point Guard

Jon Barry (20) – Shooting Guard

Georgia Tech bench (points scored)

Bryan Hill (0)

Ivano Newbill (0)

Fred Vinson (0)

Georgia Tech Coach: Bobby Cremins

USC starters (points scored)

Harold Miner (18) – Small Forward

Mark Boyd (12) – Power Forward

Yamen Sanders (14) – Center

Duane Cooper (11) – Point Guard

Phil Glenn (0) – Shooting Guard

USC bench (points scored)

Dwayne Hackett (12)

Rodney Chatman (6)

Lorenzo Orr (5)

USC Coach: George Raveling

March 22, 1992 – Midwest Regional 2nd round: (#9)UTEP Miners 66, (#1)Kansas Jayhawks 60

The UTEP Miners won one of the most important NCAA Championships in 1966.  In the title game, Don Haskins trotted out five black starters.  They beat Kentucky’s all-white team to win the National Championship.

Haskins was still coaching the team 26 years later, but the Miners had not reached the Sweet 16 since the year after their National title in 1967.

But UTEP had a group of seniors who had been to the NCAA tournament before.  Their only player who would go on to play an NBA game was 6’8″ power man Marlon Maxey.  Maxey and shot-blocker David Van Dyke formed a dominant inside tandem and they were the top two scorers for Haskins.

The guard combination also averaged double figures but they were small as hell.  There was 5’11” senior Prince Stewart and 5’8″ JC transfer Eddie Rivera.  Rivera had come in and become a clutch player for the Miners in 1992.  He had hit the big shot in their 1st round win against Evansville.

Other key contributors were two 6’5″ swingmen in junior Johnny Melvin and sophomore Ralph Davis.  Both would have big games against Kansas, who wasn’t as athletic at the forward position.

The backup big man was Roy Howard and the backup guard was Gym Bice (apparently, Bice intentionally changed his name to “Gym,” pronounced the same as “Jim,” to flaunt his work ethic as a basketball player).  Both Howard and Bice would pass away from separate accidents in later years.

Not much was expected of UTEP in 1992, but they finished the regular season at 25-6 and 2nd in the WAC at 12-4.  They were this close to winning their conference tournament, but lost to top-seeded BYU 73-71 when Kevin Nixon made a prayer from over half-court.

Still the Miners were invited to the Big Dance and unlike BYU, who lost to LSU, UTEP won their 1st round game.

But now they ran into a 27-4 fast-paced Kansas team who had run Howard off the floor 100-67 in their 1st round game.  Kansas ran through the Big 12 in impressive fashion and looked like a much better team than they were when they went to the final game in 1991.

But Haskins had a strategy and it involved his guards slowing the tempo and taking time off the shot clock (not to the extent of Princeton, but still).  It worked early on despite Kansas grabbing a lead.

Van Dyke picked up 2 very early fouls but stayed in.  Rex Walters hit two early threes for Kansas and Roy Williams’ team went on an 8-0 run to take a 16-8 lead with 11:54 left.

But then the Jayhawks went cold and UTEP hit the offensive boards.  Four putbacks helped the Miners tie the game at 18 with 7:10 left despite Maxey picking up his 3rd foul.  Van Dyke would follow with his 3rd foul not too far later.

Kansas regained a lead but fell into a turnover lull that prevented them from increasing it.  UTEP would big up some big momentum just before the half as Howard, who also had 3 fouls, grabbed a defensive rebound when Walters shot the ball too early on the final possession.

Howard then threw a long outlet to Stewart who finished off a 2-on-1 breakaway just before the buzzer to tie the game at 27.  With the game as low as 27 at halftime, Haskins strategy was paying off.

The teams continued to trade barbs early in the 2nd half.  Maxie and Melvin were doing the job for UTEP while freshman Greg Ostertag made a big contribution for the Jayhawks.

Kansas went on a 5-0 run to take a 43-40 lead midway through the 2nd half.  They then tried to break open the game with a 1-3-1 trap.  UTEP was able to control the ball but didn’t seem like they were going anywhere for the duration of the 45-second shot clock.

But at the end, Rivera (who was struggling in shooting the ball but controlling the tempo nicely) penetrated and found Van Dyke for a baseline jumper as the shot clock expired.  This would prove to be a big hoop and UTEP re-took the lead when Stewart nailed a three with under 8 minutes to go.  Rivera followed with a steal and found Davis for a breakaway slam as the crowd was starting to get into it on UTEP’s side.

But with 5 1/2 to go, Van Dyke picked up his 4th and 5th fouls on consecutive possessions.  Alonzo Jamison tied it at 47 with two free throws.

However, things would start to unravel for Kansas as UTEP hit the offensive boards again.  Davis out-hustled Jamison to put back a Stewart airball and draw Jamison’s 4th foul.  Davis missed the free throw but Melvin grabbed the offensive rebound.

With the Miners up 51-47, they ran off more clock before Stewart missed a driving shot.  But Davis grabbed the rebound again and put it back in for his 6th consecutive point on UTEP’s 6-0 run.

Stewart then got a steal before Kansas could get it across half-court.  The clock was run down again before Rivera hit a pull-up from the top for his only field goal of the game.  UTEP now led 55-47 with 3:19 left.

But Kansas didn’t give in as the scoring picked up over the last 3 minutes.  Adonis Jordan found Jamison for a layup.  Walters then came up with a steal and Steve Woodberry nailed a three with 2:34 left.  Kansas was back to within 55-52.

Melvin followed by driving past Jamison for a layup as he charged into Richard Scott.  The basket counted for Melvin and Scott missed the back end of the ensuing 1-and-1.

But Kansas kept it to within 58-55 with just over a minute left and all they needed was a stop.  They didn’t get it.  UTEP ran down the shot clock and Melvin hit a driving double-pump scoop as time expired.

Jamison hit two free throws with 37.5 seconds left.  Stewart threw a long, dangerous pass to Davis at the other side of the court and Davis found Maxey for a slam.  Walters was then fouled by Rivera.  He split the free throws but Scott put back his miss to cut it to 62-60 with 16.3 seconds left.

But Johnny Melvin again wouldn’t give the Jayhawks a chance to tie it.  He was fouled by Scott with 13 seconds left and made both free throws.  Stewart then knocked the ball away and the Miners added icing when Davis nailed a jumper at the buzzer.

For UTEP, this would be their biggest NCAA tournament win since their National Championship and it would also be their last.  The Miners lost a close one to Cincinnati in the Sweet 16, 69-67.  Haskins retired in 1999 without another tournament appearance.  He passed away in 2008.

Kansas would lick their wounds and come back for a long tournament run in 1993.  But this wasn’t the last time that the Jayhawks lost before they should have in an NCAA tournament.

UTEP starters (points scored)

Johnny Melvin (18) – Small Forward

Marlon Maxey (14) – Power Forward

David Van Dyke (6) – Center

Eddie Rivera (2) – Point Guard

Prince Stewart (8) – Shooting Guard

UTEP bench (points scored)

Ralph Davis (12)

Roy Howard (6)

Gym Bice (0)

UTEP Coach: Don Haskins

Kansas starters (points scored)

Alonzo Jamison (10) – Small Forward

Richard Scott (12) – Power Forward

Eric Pauley (6) – Center

Adonis Jordan (2) – Point Guard

Rex Walters (14) – Shooting Guard

Kansas bench (points scored)

Steve Woodberry (6)

Ben Davis (4)

Greg Ostertag (6)

Patrick Richey (0)

Malcolm Nash (0)

David Johanning (0)

Kansas Coach: Roy Williams

melvin-utep

Johnny Melvin celebrates UTEP’s upset of Kansas in 1992 *photo courtesy of UTEP Athletics

March 22, 1992 – East Regional 2nd round: (#6)Syracuse Orangemen 71, (#3)UMass Minutemen 77 (OT)

The UMass Minutemen were making their 2nd ever NCAA tournament appearance and first in 30 years.  They also had a young coach who has become pretty well known by the name of John Calipari.

In 1992, Calipari was 32 years old and in his 4th season coaching UMass.  His team was starting to look like the mini-version of his Kentucky teams that basketball fans have come to know and love (is “love” the right word here? I’ll let you decide).

Of the players who regularly played for Calipari in 1992, nobody was taller than 6’7″.  But all were athletic and some had big bodies.  They pressed and played man-to-man all over the floor.  They hit the boards and threw down alley-oops.  The only main difference was Calipari’s 1992 UMass team only had one NBA player in freshman Lou Roe.

Calipari was getting under-appreciated talent and getting the best out of them.  Roe joined a starting lineup of all upper-classmen (Calipari with upper-classmen?!?! Yep, it was a different time).

The seniors included the guard combination of Anton Brown and leading scorer Jim McCoy (who looked like NBA talent until you realized he was 6’4″ 180lbs and didn’t hit a three-pointer all year).  The other was an athletic big body forward in Will Herndon.  Herndon was 6’3″ but a solid 220 and did the opening jump ball.

The juniors were Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Harper Williams.  Williams was their “big man” at 6’7″ 230 lbs but attacked the boards ferociously along with Herndon.  The 5th starter was Tony Barbee, who was UMass’s outside shooter long with Brown.  Each starter averaged in double figures with Roe contributing 7.8 off the bench.  Roe would be known on the team for playing better in TV games, like this one.

UMass went through the season at 28-4 and won the Atlantic 10 regular season and tournament title (in a conference that included Temple – UMass/Temple became a pretty nice rivalry that peaked in 1994).  But the Minutemen had played only 2 ranked teams all year (getting drilled by Kentucky and beating Oklahoma, both were ranked #14 at the time of the matchups), so it didn’t come without controversy that UMass was named a #3 seed.

The tournament and the fact that UMass was playing an opponent in close proximity that had become a basketball power in Syracuse gave Calipari and the Minutemen a chance to show how good they were.  It also helped that the game was in Worcester (not far at all from Amherst, Mass).

Syracuse had been free-falling before winning the Big East tournament.  They won a typical slow-down game with Princeton in the 1st round 51-43 despite leading scorer Dave Johnson going 1-for-10.  Freshman Lawrence Moten picked it up with 23 points.  But Johnson would need a better effort against a UMass team that drilled Fordham in the 1st round.

The Minutemen started off fast as McCoy got a driving basket off the opening tip.  But UMass missed its next 7 shots and Syracuse took an 8-4 lead despite Johnson picking up 2 fouls.  Johnson stayed in the game as Jim Boeheim switched to a 2-3 zone defense (the defense his team would live by in the 21st century).

UMass got it together and took a 17-12 lead when Roe came off the bench and scored 6 points.  But then the Minutemen went into a 6 minute drought and Johnson led Syracuse on a 9-0 run.  Despite the aggressive defense from Herndon, Johnson used his 6’7″ height to go down low and score 16 1st half points, which was more than making up for his 1st round performance.

But McCoy’s 10 points in the 1st half kept UMass within 32-30 at halftime.  The Minutemen were fortunate to be that close as they weren’t shooting well, especially close in.  Barbee had picked up his 3rd foul just before the half as well.

Over the first 3 minutes of the 2nd half, it continued even as the scoring picked up.  UMass took a 37-36 lead on a three-pointer by Brown.  But Moten came right back with a three that kicked off a 9-0 Syracuse run which wasn’t helped by Roe picking up his 3rd foul.

But back came UMass as the crowd got into it.  McCoy hit a pull-up from the wing, Harper Williams followed up two misses for a score, Roe hit a driving banker, and McCoy hit on a double-pump.  The Minutemen tied it at 50 when Barbee hit a wing jumper and then took the lead when Brown made a runner in transition.

They increased that lead to 56-50 when McCoy found Herndon on a 3-on-1 break for a layup, UMass was on a 19-5 run.  But Syracuse got back into it and cut the lead to 58-57 when reserve Michael Edwards nailed a three (this would be Edwards’ only points of the game, but he did out-score the man playing in front of him in Adrian Autry.. Autry finished with 10 rebounds and 10 assists, but was 0-for-11 from the field with 1 point).

The Minutemen held the lead but could not exactly put the game away at the free throw line.  A driving lefty layup by Moten cut the lead to 64-62 with 1:24 left.  UMass then ran down the shot clock with Barbee missing from the top at the buzzer.  Moten grabbed the rebound initially but Herndon stole it from him.

Now in UMass’s effort to avoid being fouled, McCoy slipped and was called for traveling with 36 seconds left.  After a timeout, Syracuse went to the weapon that had been working all day.  They got the ball to Johnson down low and he nailed a banker over Roe (who actually matched him in height) to tie the game at 64.  UMass used a timeout with 12.1 seconds left.

Calipari went to McCoy at the wing.  The senior drove for a shot but Autry made yet another non-scoring contribution as he blocked the shot and the buzzer sounded.  The heated game was headed to overtime.

In the extra period, UMass scored the first 4 points.  Syracuse then tied it at 68 before Autry fouled McCoy with 2:33 left.  McCoy hit two free throws and, after Moten missed a pull-up jumper, Brown found Barbee for a baseline drive and UMass led 72-68 with 1:30 left.

After a timeout, the Orangemen again went down low to Johnson.  He connected on a turnaround and drew a foul from Harper Williams.  The three-point play cut the lead to 72-71 with 1:15 to play.

UMass ran down the 45-second shot clock but didn’t look like they had anything going.  Syracuse knocked the ball out of bounds with 36 seconds left (and 6 on the shot clock if you’re doing the math).  But even on the inbounds, Herndon didn’t have any urgency as he took the inbounds and got the ball to Harper Williams up top.

Williams finally saw the clock and launched his 6th three-point attempt of the season.  Wouldn’t you know it, it swished in and UMass led 75-71 as the crowd and the UMass bench had an “Holy sh-t, WTF!?!” reaction.  It was Williams’ second make of a three that season and the last of his college career.

Syracuse must’ve been shocked too as they didn’t call a timeout and Moten tried to answer with a trey and came up with an airball.  The Orangemen then lacked the necessary urgency as they let 15 seconds go off the clock before committing a foul with 4.8 seconds left.  McCoy’s two free throws sealed the game.

UMass had its big win for its respectability and the legend of Calipari (that didn’t involve NCAA infractions) had begun.  The Minutemen would now take their hand at another basketball power in the Sweet 16 that Calipari would get to know in 17 years.

Syracuse starters (points scored)

Mike Hopkins (8) – Small Forward

Dave Johnson (26) – Power Forward

Conrad McRae (14) – Center

Adrian Autry (1) – Point Guard

Lawrence Moten (19) – Shooting Guard

Syracuse bench (points scored)

Michael Edwards (3)

Dave Siock (0)

Scott McCorkle (0)

Syracuse Coach: Jim Boeheim

UMass starters (points scored)

Tony Barbee (8) – Small Forward

Will Herndon (7) – Power Forward

Harper Williams (18) – Center

Anton Brown (10) – Point Guard

Jim McCoy (24) – Shooting Guard

UMass bench (points scored)

Lou Roe (10)

Mike Williams (0)

Kennard Robinson (0)

Jerome Malloy (0)

UMass Coach: John Calipari

March 26, 1992 – East Regional Semifinals: (#3)UMass Minutemen 77, (#2)Kentucky Wildcats 87

Despite being the #2 and #3 seed in the region, UMass and Kentucky were not supposed to be in this position, as one would say.  With its win over Syracuse, UMass became the second team in the country, behind Duke, to get to 30 wins.  UMass’s underdog status was explained in the latest game post.

Kentucky had been put on probation and nearly got the death penalty in 1989.  But Wildcat fans could probably thank the hire of the former Knicks coach for their quick return.  Bronx product Jamal Mashburn wanted to play for Rick Pitino, and hadn’t even visited Kentucky before making his choice.

Now a sophomore, Mashburn averaged 21.3 points per game and 7.8 rebounds per game to lead Kentucky in both categories by a wide margin.  Mashburn was, quite simply, the superstar who was playing with a bunch of role players.  But the Wildcats featured great ball movement and a full-court press that created extra baskets.  They also had some fine shooting.

Pitino had a group of seniors known as the Unforgettables who stuck with the program as it went through probation.  Forwards John Pelphrey and Deron Feldhaus and guards Sean Woods and Richie Farmer.  Pelphrey and Feldhaus averaged double figures while Pelphrey and point guard Woods racked up the assists.

Others from the group were younger guys as Pitino was starting to land some stars, although he’d get bigger stars as the decade went on.  There was junior guard and JC transfer Dale Brown, sophomore center Gimel Martinez and sophomore point guard transfer from Missouri Travis Ford, and there were freshmen big men Andre Riddick and Aminu Timberlake (who would become famous in the next Kentucky game for, let’s just say, being at the right place at the right time).

This group had been ranked all season but never topped its pre-season #4 ranking.  Kentucky was blown out by Pitt in its second game of the season at Rupp Arena.  They followed by winning 13 of their next 14 games with only a few of those games being close (a 2-point win vs. Indiana and a 1-point loss to Georgia Tech).  Then in a stretch at the end of January, Kentucky lost 3 of 4 games before finishing the regular season at an 8-1 clip and winning the SEC tournament.

They were 26-6 entering the NCAA tournament and blew out Old Dominion before having to hold off Iowa State 106-98.  One of Kentucky’s early season wins came against UMass as the Minutemen had no answer for Jamal Mashburn.

They still didn’t have an answer for Mashburn in the 1st half or for Kentucky in general.  The Wildcats hit their first 8 field goal attempts thanks to their passing and cutting that put Calipari’s team in a daze.

UMass’s offense was also in a daze as they missed some good shots but also took very quick ones.  The analysis from Len Elmore was that the Minutemen seemed to be letting the moment be bigger than they were, like they were happy and shocked to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

Mashburn had 8 early points, all from the paint or from the line, before nailing a three to put Kentucky up 17-10.  Feldhaus followed with a three as Kentucky was 8-for-8 from the field.  But even after their first miss, which was tipped in by Feldhaus, Kentucky continued to increase its lead.  It reached 28-11 after a driving banker by Woods.

Pelphrey later nailed a three with just over 8 minutes to go to make the score 35-16.  Pelphrey then found Mashburn for a layup to give the Wildcats their biggest lead at 37-16.  UMass followed with a 6-2 run before Pelphrey answered a Minutemen basket by driving for a three-point play.  After a rebound-slam by freshman Riddick, Kentucky led 44-24.

But UMass had already started playing out of their doldrums and, at this point, Calipari switched to the zone as UMass’s man-to-man couldn’t handle Kentucky.  It worked as UMass made a run.

Four free throws by Lou Roe started the rally.  Then Will Herndon stole a pass, Anton Brown pushed the ball and found Tony Barbee for a three-pointer as the crowd, which seemed mostly pro-UMass in the close proximity of Philadelphia, started to come alive.  Two free throws by Brown cut the lead to 44-33 with 3:20 left.

Mashburn answered with two baskets to bring his 1st half total to 17 points, but the Minutemen were in a stretch where they made 8 consecutive field goals and cut the lead to 50-39 just before halftime.

With 1.4 seconds left in the half, UMass inbounded the ball on the other side of the court from Kentucky’s basket.  They didn’t go long as Herndon casually tossed it in to Jim McCoy about 70 feet away from the basket.  McCoy threw up a prayer and it was answered with a swish.

UMass had cut Kentucky’s lead to 50-42 at halftime and had oodles of momentum.

It did carry over as UMass cut the lead to 52-48 despite Harper Williams picking up his 3rd foul.  Pelphrey also committed his 3rd foul after hitting a jumper to make it 54-48.  But Mashburn followed with a putback and Farmer drove down the lane for a lefty layup and the lead was back to 10.

But UMass answered quickly as Barbee hit a scoop shot after the Minutemen broke Kentucky’s press and drew a foul.  He missed the free throw but Williams put back the miss to cut it to 58-52.

Although Kentucky’s lead would eventually be cut to 60-58, UMass fell into a rash of turnovers from rushed plays that prevented them from tying and perhaps taking the lead in the game.  The Wildcats eventually regained a 66-58 advantage.

But back came UMass over the next 4 minutes as they cut the lead to 68-65 when Brown threw an alley-oop to Herndon in transition.  The lead would be cut back to 70-68 when Brown nailed a three with just over 6 minutes left.  With UMass perhaps on the verge of finally getting over the hump, the game turned quickly.

Feldhaus missed a three and the ball kicked back to the foul line where the point guards Anton Brown and Sean Woods went for it.  Woods got a hand on it from behind Brown and tapped it back to Pelphrey.  As Kentucky reset it offense, a whistle blew and a referee, Lenny Wirtz, could be seen running towards the UMass bench.

He had called a technical against Calipari at the 5:47 mark.  The initial explanation was that Calipari left the coaching box and the announcers thought he was shouting at his team to continue their stellar defense.  From that sense, it seemed like a horrible technical to call on the coach.  This was especially considering that Rick Pitino was notorious for leaving the coach’s box and was called out after the previous tournament game by Iowa State veteran coach Johnny Orr.

While replay showed Calipari did leave the box and had his arms up, another perspective eventually came out that Wirtz, the veteran ACC official who was 3 years from retirement, had grown sick of Calipari essentally arguing every call against his team and thought Calipari coming out of the box with his arms up meant he was vehemently saying that Woods had gone over the back of Brown to tap back the last rebound.

Either way, the technical was called.  Farmer hit the two free throws and Kentucky got the ball back.  Pelphrey then found a cutting Feldhaus for a layup.  Then after a UMass turnover, the two seniors did it again as Pelphrey found a cutting Feldhaus for a layup.  The lead was up to 76-68 with 3:51 left and UMass was essentially done.

Kentucky would coast from there and the attention stayed at the technical foul.  But Calipari eventually would learn how to “work the officials” without going too far.  The young coach who was getting some media attention for the first time had evidently gone too far in the eyes of Wirtz, who had been officiating games since before Calipari was born according to a postgame article.

Calipari and Pitino would meet in two Final Four games over the next 20 years, the first meeting would come 4 years later as the two coaches were still coaching the same two teams.  But before that, both teams (and coaches) would have to go through some NCAA tournament disappointments/heartbreaks, starting with Pitino two days later.

Massachusetts starters (points scored)

Tony Barbee (10) – Small Forward

Will Herndon (15) – Power Forward

Harper Williams (8) – Center

Anton Brown (14) – Point Guard

Jim McCoy (21) – Shooting Guard

Massachusetts bench (points scored)

Lou Roe (9)

Jerome Malloy (0)

Derek Kellogg (0)

Kennard Robinson (0)

Massachusetts Coach: John Calipari

Kentucky starters (points scored)

John Pelphrey (18) – Small Forward

Jamal Mashburn (30) – Power Forward

Gimel Martinez (0) – Center

Sean Woods (12) – Point Guard

Richie Farmer (7) – Shooting Guard

Kentucky bench (points scored)

Deron Feldhaus (11)

Dale Brown (5)

Travis Ford (0)

Junior Braddy (2)

Aminu Timberlake (0)

Andre Riddick (2)

Kentucky Coach: Rick Pitino

calipari-pitino

John Calipari (left) and Rick Pitino would be noted by 1992 media of how similar they were *photo courtesy of Deadspin

March 27, 1992 – Southeast Regional Semifinal: (#4)North Carolina Tarheels 73, (#1)Ohio State Buckeyes 80

Ohio State had snuck past Indiana for the Big Ten title and a #1 seed.  They seemed to solidify that ranking by blasting Mississippi Valley State and UConn by wide margins in the 1st two rounds.  But a troubling trend was developing in the performance of Jim Jackson.

Jackson’s stats looked good in Ohio State’s 78-55 win over UConn: 23 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 7-for-10 from the foul line, until you looked at field goals and realized that Jackson had missed his first 8 shot attempts and finished 7-for-26 from the field.

Jackson’s slow start had also put the Buckeyes down 28-16 early to UConn before rallying to take a 31-30 halftime lead and blow away the Huskies in the 2nd half.  But even so, Ohio State was a #1 seed in 1991 who was blown away by St. John’s in the Sweet 16.  The Buckeyes had yet to perform up to their capability for a consistent period of time in the NCAA tournament the last two years, perhaps a win vs. tradition-rich North Carolina would go a long way.

North Carolina survived a 1st round scare against Miami (Ohio) 68-63.  Eric Montross was dominant with 22 points on 11-for-13 shooting and George Lynch came up with a huge late steal to put it away.  But Hubert Davis, who had come into the NCAA tournament scalding hot, shot 2-for-17 from the field.  He improved to 6-for-15 in UNC’s 2nd round victory over Alabama in which defense dominated for the Tar Heels.  But Davis was struggling and Dean Smith had to play Derrick Phelps 79 of 80 minutes in the 1st two games with no discernible backup point guard.

With all of that being said, these were still two of the best teams in the country and the game played like it.  Jackson got involved early with a feed to Lawrence Funderburke for a slam and then a steal and slam to get on the board before missing 8 shots.

But Jackson later picked up his 2nd foul and was not as aggressive, although Randy Ayers kept him in the game.  Davis hit two jumpers early and North Carolina went on a 12-2 run to take a 22-13 lead as Ohio State missed 8 straight shots.

But a 9-point margin would be the biggest lead the Tarheels would get as Funderburke and reserve guard Jamie Skelton kept Ohio State within reach.  Funderburke proved to be a big factor in the 1st half in his matchup against Montross.  He had 12 points including 4 slams, most of which were set up by Mark Baker who was consistently beating his counterpart, a tired Derrick Phelps, off the dribble.

But other than Funderburke, Baker, and two field goals by Skelton, the other Buckeyes did not show up in the 1st half.  Montross and Davis each had 10 points to lead North Carolina to a 37-32 halftime lead.  But the margin could have been bigger as Carolina uncharacteristically rushed shots and possessions in certain stages.

Montross started the 2nd half with a hook shot to give the Tarheels a 7-point lead.  But then Jimmy Jackson got going.  He put back a miss by Jamaal Brown, got a slam after a steal by Brown, and then nailed a corner three to tie the game at 39.  Jackson, who was notably a 2nd half player, had gotten Ohio State going as well.

Chris Jent hit two three-pointers and followed up another miss and a reverse slam by Funderburke after a save by Brown and a feed by Baker put Ohio State up 50-44.

But Montross and Davis led the Tarheels back and North Carolina took a 55-54 lead halfway through the 2nd half.  The key almost at this point would be whether either could rest key players.  Ayers took out Funderburke for a few minutes and rested Jent, Baker, and Brown for longer stretches while Skelton, Alex Davis, and future NFL tight end Rickey Dudley filled in admirably.

Meanwhile, Dean Smith tried to give Montross some rest but could only take him out intermittently and went with a big lineup of 7-footers Montross and Kevin Salvadori, the lineup that gave Duke problems.  But the physical presence of Funderburke and especially Dudley, despite both being undersized, countered this lineup.  Also, Smith was not able to give any rest to Derrick Phelps again.

Skelton would prove to be an even bigger factor than he was in the 1st half.  He hit one jumper and then found Funderburke for a turnaround jumper in the lane.  Then Skelton nailed a three to give Ohio State a 63-61 lead.  Davis hit a pull-up from the wing to tie it at 63 with 7:15 left.

But then a tired North Carolina team went cold and Ohio State spread the ball out to make them play defense.  Jackson went 1-on-1 twice for baskets to put Ohio State up 67-63.  But even when the Buckeyes didn’t score, they hustled for offensive rebounds and took a lot of time off the clock.

Funderburke put back a miss by Skelton to bring his total to 21 points in what was his best game since joining Ohio State mid-season.  But Skelton, who stayed in the game even as starters returned, hit the two biggest shots.  A three-pointer from the top with just over 2 minutes left and then a driving layup with 1:19 to go to put Ohio State up 74-69.

The Tarheels scrambled to try and stay in the game, but their final dagger would be a missed driving layup by Phelps that would have cut the lead to 75-73 with 30 seconds left.  Ohio State sealed the game from the line and now had a chance to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1968.

North Carolina would add a little bit more depth in 1993 but were still very dependent on Phelps and would prove to be a very different team when he did not play.

North Carolina starters (points scored)

Brian Reese (8) – Small Forward

George Lynch (9) – Power Forward

Eric Montross (21) – Center

Derrick Phelps (6) – Point Guard

Hubert Davis (21) – Shooting Guard

North Carolina bench (points scored)

Henrik Rodl (4)

Kevin Salvadori (2)

Pat Sullivan (2)

Donald Williams (0)

Matt Wenstrom (0)

North Carolina Coach: Dean Smith

Ohio State starters (points scored)

Jim Jackson (18) – Small Forward

Chris Jent (15) – Power Forward

Lawrence Funderburke (21) – Center

Mark Baker (6) – Point Guard

Jamaal Brown (6) – Shooting Guard

Ohio State bench (points scored)

Jamie Skelton (14)

Rickey Dudley (0)

Alex Davis (0)

Bill Robinson (0)

Ohio State Coach: Randy Ayers

March 27, 1992 – Midwest Regional Semifinal: (#7)Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 79, (#6)Memphis State Tigers 83 (OT)

In a cinderella Midwest Regional, the top 3 seeds were out in the 2nd round.  Georgia Tech and Memphis State had gotten here by virtues of game-winners by James Forrest and David Vaughn.

It set up a matchup between Tech’s powerful frontcourt and slower tempo and Memphis’ three-guard lineup, led by Penny Hardaway, and up-tempo game.

The 1st half was at Memphis State’s tempo, but it didn’t necessarily reflect in the score.  The Tigers did take a 9-2 lead when Hardaway nailed a transition three, Anthony Douglas hit a turnaround banker from the post, Hardaway found Billy Smith on a 2-on-1 break for a slam, and Vaughn got a layup off an inbounds play.

But Tech came back to take an 11-10 lead with a 7-0 run capped by a Jon Barry three-pointer.  The teams went back-and-forth from there in what was a high-scoring 1st half.  In a 13-minute stretch which went until the final 2 minutes of the 1st half, Tech’s biggest lead was 4 while Memphis State’s was 5.

Barry led the way for Bobby Cremins with 13 points to that point and Travis Best had 8.  Anthony Douglas led the scoring for Larry Finch’s team with 10 points while Vaughn and Hardaway each had 6, but Penny’s only field goal was the first one of the game (see how unpredictable the game was; Memphis State’s frontcourt was out-playing Georgia Tech’s but the Yellow Jackets’ backcourt was out-playing Memphis State’s).

With under 2 minutes to go, a layup by Malcolm Mackey tied the game at 36.  Then Barry drove on Hardaway and drew a foul.  Penny thought it should have been a charge and batted the ball in frustration.  This resulted in a technical foul being called on Penny.

Barry went on to hit 4 free throws (2 on the technical and 2 on the regular foul) and then connected on a running jumper from the baseline just before the halftime buzzer to put Tech up 42-36 and give Barry 19 points.

This momentum carried over into the 2nd half as Barry hit another three and then got the bounce on a runner.  Despite Matt Geiger picking up his 3rd foul, the Yellow Jackets took a 50-40 lead after a slam by Forrest.

While Georgia Tech was doing this, they were slowing the tempo as well to combat the fact that Cremins did not have a deep bench.  But then Memphis State’s defense stepped up and, led by Hardaway, the Tigers went on a 14-4 run.

Penny had 10 of those 14 points, including the last 8, and hit the tying three-pointer with just under 13 minutes to go in regulation.  Georgia Tech answered with a 6-0 run as Forrest hit a lefty runner from the baseline and later got a steal and layup.

Over the next several minutes, one basket was scored by each team and Geiger had picked up his 4th foul.  With 6 minutes left, Finch took a timeout with his team trailing 63-56.

Following the timeout, Hardaway nailed a three and the scoring picked up again over the final 6 minutes.  Best found Forrest for a baseline jumper.  Billy Smith nailed a pull-up three.  Barry hit a pull-up in the lane for his 28th point.  Reserve Kelvin Allen put back a miss by Penny and Billy Smith followed with two free throws.

Memphis State had cut the lead to 67-66 with 3:21 left.  But they went cold again while Mackey got credit for a basket after Vaughn was called for goaltending and Best found Forrest for a slam.

The Tigers used another timeout with 2:01 left, trailing 71-66.  After Tim Duncan (as noted in the previous Memphis State game, not that Tim Duncan) grabbed an offensive rebound, Hardaway nailed a three to cut the lead to 71-69.

Georgia Tech ran down the shot clock but Best threw the ball away with 1:09 to go.  Following a Tigers miss and another Tech turnover, Hardaway drove and drew a foul from Mackey with 38.7 seconds left.

At this point in his career, Penny was a 65% free throw shooter and finished 7-for-12 on this day.  In this instance, Hardaway missed the first and made the second free throw.  Tech still led 71-70.

Barry then inbounded the ball and went long to Geiger.  Geiger scored on a breakaway and drew a foul.  The three-point play put Georgia Tech up 74-70 with 36.7 seconds left and seemed to be the nail in the coffin.  But the same Georgia Tech team had made an improbable comeback against USC, so it wasn’t over folks!

Douglas put back a missed three by Hardaway and Memphis State used their last timeout with 20.8 seconds left.  Duncan then fouled Geiger 3 seconds later and forced Matt into a 1-and-1.  This time, Geiger missed the front end and Hardaway rebounded.

Like few other than Penny could, Hardaway immediately pushed the ball and Memphis State had a transition opportunity.  Penny found Billy Smith, who pulled up and nailed a banker with 9.3 seconds left to tie the game.  Georgia Tech used its last timeout.

Having to inbound it full-court without timeouts.  Geiger had to get the ball to Mackey in the back-court.  Mackey was immediately trapped and held the ball for 5 seconds trying to find somebody.  Best finally got it but had to throw up a hook shot prayer from the other side of mid-court that went over the backboard.  The game was headed into overtime.

Interestingly on the replay, while Mackey was trapped and Best and Barry were moving to try and get the ball.  Forrest was standing at the same spot that he was standing in the final seconds against USC not moving and waiting for the ball.  Lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same spot.

In overtime, Tech took a 77-74 lead.  But Geiger fouled out with 2:05 left and Memphis State snapped out of its drought again, this time from the free throw line.  Douglas made two after Geiger’s foul and senior Tony Madlock made two more to give the Tigers the lead.

Then after Hardaway blocked a shot by Mackey, Madlock was fouled again with 32.3 seconds left (near the end of the shot clock).  He made two more to make it 80-77 Memphis State.

Georgia Tech got the ball to Barry, who was long on a tying three-point attempt.  Douglas rebounded the miss and got it to Madlock, who was fouled by Barry with 16.9 seconds left.

Madlock made his 5th and 6th consecutive free throw but Tech would get one last chance perhaps when Best drove and scored and then fouled Hardaway (the 65% foul shooter) with 8.3 seconds left.

But after missing the first, Penny made the second free throw to put the game away.  Memphis State had survived another thriller and was going to the Regional Finals to take on a familiar opponent.

Memphis State and Cincinnati were both in the Great Midwest Conference.  But the Bearcats had held the edge so far as they had beaten the Tigers three times so far.  The 4th time would most definitely not be the charm for Memphis State as Cincinnati ran away with it 88-57.

As it turned out, Cincinnati (who was coming from the cinderella regional) would not be the most cinderella team in the Final Four.

Georgia Tech starters (points scored)

James Forrest (16) – Small Forward

Malcolm Mackey (13) – Power Forward

Matt Geiger (5) – Center

Travis Best (13) – Point Guard

Jon Barry (29) – Shooting Guard

Georgia Tech bench (points scored)

Bryan Hill (3)

Ivano Newbill (0)

Fred Vinson (0)

Georgia Tech Coach: Bobby Cremins

Memphis State starters (points scored)

Anfernee Hardaway (24) – Small Forward

David Vaughn (8) – Power Forward

Anthony Douglas (16) – Center

Tony Madlock (10) – Point Guard

Billy Smith (15) – Shooting Guard

Memphis State bench (points scored)

Ernest Smith (8)

Kelvin Allen (2)

Tim Duncan (0)

Marcus Nolan (0)

Memphis State Coach: Larry Finch

penny_hardaway

Penny Hardaway burst onto the scene in 1992 as Memphis State made its tournament run *photo courtesy of Operation Sports

March 27, 1992 – Southeast Regional Semifinals: (#6)Michigan Wolverines 75, (#2)Oklahoma State Cowboys 72

Oklahoma State is Eddie Sutton’s alma mater and both were seeking some form of redemption when Sutton took over as coach in 1990.

Oklahoma State had been known as Oklahoma A&M when they dominated the college scene in the 1940’s.  They were also known as the Aggies at that time when they were coached by Hank Iba, one of the all-time greats.  They also had the game’s first big man in Bob Kurland.  Iba and Kurland led the Aggies to the NCAA Championships in 1945 & ’46 and each won two Olympic Gold Medals in separate Olympics.

Iba made two more Final Four appearances but in his last 16 seasons at the helm of Oklahoma State (Oklahoma A&M became Oklahoma State in 1957, when Eddie Sutton was playing for the Cowboys), they made two NCAA tournament appearances.  And since Iba retired in 1970, the only NCAA tournament appearance for the Cowboys was a 1st round exit in 1983.

So Oklahoma State was looking to regain some of their success from the past and they looked to Sutton, who’s name wasn’t highly thought of in 1990.

Sutton had been highly successful at the helm of Creighton, Arkansas (with a Final Four appearance in 1978), and in his first few seasons at Kentucky.  But his Kentucky tenure ended abruptly, while coaching his son Sean, when the Wildcats were placed on probation after outstanding NCAA violations.  Kentucky went on 3 years probation, which was ending in 1992, and Sutton was out of a job.

But Sutton did come into Oklahoma State looking at some talent who had finished above .500 the last two seasons.  Future (and in some cases, troubled) NBA talent did grace the court in Stillwater.  John Starks and Richard Dumas had been there before Sutton.  But the talent Sutton got was 6’5″ 250 lb “big man” Byron Houston and speedy guard Corey Williams.

Houston was reminding people of Charles Barkley with his height, weight, and low-post power game.  Houston had averaged a double-double the last two seasons and was a co-Big 8 Player of the Year in 1991.  His numbers fell off a bit as a senior in 1992, but Houston still averaged 20.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and was an All-American.  But his final game may have been his worst.

With Houston, Williams, and the transferred Sean Sutton leading the way, Oklahoma State finished 24-8 in 1991, tied for 1st in the Big 8, and a #3 seed in the East Regional.  They made it to the Sweet 16 but were upset by 10th seeded Temple.  Houston finished 6-for-18 in the 72-63 overtime loss.

The Cowboys came back in 1992 with seniors Houston, Williams, Sutton, and Darwyn Alexander combining with freshman big man Bryant “Big Country” Reeves.  They won their first 20 games and climbed as high as #2 in the nation (and may have been #1 had they not suffered their first loss at Nebraska the same day Duke suffered their first loss at North Carolina).

But then Oklahoma State lost 6 of their final 10 games of the regular season and fell to 2nd in the Big 8 at 8-6.  They then lost to Kansas in the Big 8 title game but were still named a #2 seed in the Southeast Regional.  They looked impressive in their first two games against Georgia Southern and Tulane.  In fact, in their 87-71 2nd round win against Tulane, the Cowboys set an NCAA tournament field goal percentage record by going 28-for-35 from the field (80%).

Also noteworthy was the fact that Sutton (both of them) were returning to Kentucky as the Southeast Regional was to be played at Rupp Arena.

But now they were taking on a team that was athletically superior, especially in the front court.  Bryant Reeves had trouble early on as Juwan Howard, Chris Webber, and Eric Riley ran circles around him.  Houston would have even more trouble against the taller Michigan front line.

Webber had a career-high 30 points and Howard added 23 in the Fab Five’s 2nd round victory over East Tennessee State.  They got off to a great start against Oklahoma State led by their front-court mismatches.  The Wolverines had a 27-17 lead with just over 8 minutes to go in the 1st half.

But Oklahoma State’s back-court switched the momentum by going with a full-court pressure and spreading the floor on offense.  Sutton hit a three and had a driving three-point play.  Williams followed with a three and later hit another trey while drawing a foul.  The four-point play put Oklahoma State up 30-29.

Furthermore, Sutton took out a scoreless Reeves and put in freshman Randy Davis (who would transfer following the season after becoming academically ineligible) who had much more quickness.  Davis’ contribution was drawing fouls #2 and 3 on Webber on consecutive possessions and hitting 3 of 4 free throws.

Oklahoma State led 35-33 at the half as Williams had 13 points and Sutton 10.  But Houston was held to 1-for-8 from the field.

However, things still looked good for Oklahoma State when Sutton got a steal early in the 2nd half and had a breakaway.  Webber chased him down and Sutton drew a cheap 4th foul on Webber with 17:54 to go.  Webber had to sit in favor of Eric Riley with plenty of time left.

With that change, Reeves and Houston both scored inside.  But Riley kept Michigan in it with a putback.  However, with 15:41 to go, Howard picked up his 4th foul and Steve Fisher had to go with senior and former walk-on Freddie Hunter.

Hunter played solid minutes and, most notably, drew Randy Davis’ 4th foul as well as continued to shut Houston down.  Reeves got going down low but Michigan’s back-court of Jalen Rose and Jimmy King, as well as Riley, kept Michigan ahead.

King had a driving three-point play to give Michigan a 43-41 lead and Rose scored 8 consecutive points.  Meanwhile, Riley proved to be a big factor down low.  But a three-pointer by Sutton cut the Wolverines lead to 55-54.

By this time, Webber was back in.  But with 7:13 left, Reeves drove on Chris and drew Webber’s 5th foul.  With Webber out, Reeves hit a free throw to tie the game at 55 with his 7th 2nd half point.

But the Cowboys could not take further advantage and Michigan ended up taking a 63-57 lead with 3:56 left when Rose made a three-pointer after a feed from Hunter.

Riley later tipped in a miss and hit two free throws as Riley finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds and Rose had 25 and 11.  Oklahoma State had 2 field goals in a 6 minute stretch and the game looked over when Michigan led 70-63 with 56 seconds left.

But 12 seconds later, Williams nailed a three and the Cowboys took their last timeout.  Then after Rose split a pair of free throws, Williams made another three to cut the lead to 71-69.  Williams fouled Howard with 23.8 seconds to go and the 67% foul shooter made both free throws.

But the Cowboys weren’t done as Sutton nailed a running, leaning three-pointer (that would have been called a two-pointer had replay been around at the time) to cut the lead to 73-72.  Oklahoma State almost stole the inbounds as Darwyn Alexander deflected the pass out of bounds with 8.7 seconds left.  Fisher took a timeout to calm his freshmen.

Rose was fouled with 7.3 seconds left and split the free throws.  Michigan used a timeout to set its defense and then Sutton took it the length of the court.  Sutton tried to find Williams on a backdoor cut but Jimmy King deflected it to Howard and Williams fouled him with 1 second left.

Howard put in the clinching free throw and the Fab Five was moving on to take on Big Ten rival (especially in football) Ohio State, who had beaten them twice this season.

Riley’s bench production more than matched Jamie Skelton’s for Ohio State against North Carolina.  Neither bench would be much of a factor in the Regional Final.

Sutton would continue to rebuild the program at Oklahoma State as Big Country led them for the next 3 seasons.  But Byron Houston had finished his college career with a pathetic 2-for-14 from the field.  Houston’s NBA career would prove to be just as bad but his personal shortcomings proved to be worse.

Michigan starters (points scored)

Ray Jackson (3) – Small Forward

Chris Webber (4) – Power Forward

Juwan Howard (13) – Center

Jalen Rose (25) – Point Guard

Jimmy King (15) – Shooting Guard

Michigan bench (points scored)

Eric Riley (15)

Freddie Hunter (0)

Rob Pelinka (0)

Michael Talley (0)

James Voskuil (0)

Michigan Coach: Steve Fisher

Oklahoma State starters (points scored)

Darwyn Alexander (13) – Small Forward

Byron Houston (4) – Power Forward

Bryant Reeves (9) – Center

Sean Sutton (18) – Point Guard

Corey Williams (25) – Shooting Guard

Oklahoma State bench (points scored)

Randy Davis (3)

Cornell Hatcher (0)

Milton Brown (0)

Terry Collins (0)

Oklahoma State Coach: Eddie Sutton

March 28, 1992 – East Regional Final: (#2)Kentucky Wildcats 103, (#1)Duke Blue Devils 104 (OT)

This is the game!  It is still referred to as the Greatest Game in NCAA history and is kept alive through any NCAA tournament history program/highlight and through I Hate Christian Laettner.

In a documentary chronicling the game, it was said that this may be the closest to the Rocky story (the fact that this game was played at the Spectrum in Philadelphia with the Rocky statue outside may have helped this premise).

Kentucky was once a power but now was searching for their self-respect after their scandal of 1989.  Now they were on the precipice of the Final Four and taking on the new basketball power.

Duke was looking to go to their 5th straight Final Four and 6th in 7 years.  They were also looking to become the first team since UCLA in 1973 to win back-to-back NCAA championships.

With all of that as the main backdrop, the game got underway.  John Pelphrey nailed two three-pointers and Mashburn hit another for Kentucky.  But three layups/dunks by Laettner on assists by Bobby Hurley cut Kentucky’s early lead to 11-10.  Pelphrey also picked up 2 fouls in that stretch.

But Kentucky’s press, which they needed to be effective, started forcing some turnovers and Kentucky went on a 9-2 run to take a 20-12 after a three-pointer by Gimel Martinez.

But Duke stormed back into it after they got out on the break.  They went on an 8-0 run that culminated in a three-point play by Grant Hill off an assist from Hurley in transition.

But despite the Blue Devils eventually taking the lead, they did commit a high amount of turnovers against the Wildcats pressure defense.

This allowed Kentucky to stay in the game despite Pelphrey picking up his 3rd foul not too far after coming back into the game.  Duke’s biggest lead was 7 points as Grant Hill had 11 off the bench and Laettner 10.

Duke led 50-45 at the half.  Mashburn had a quiet 11 points in the 1st half as Kentucky wasn’t looking to him as much as they were against UMass (and Laettner was a better matchup against Mashburn than anyone UMass had).  Pelphrey was effective when he was in the game with 9 points.

However, the Wildcats started slowly in the 2nd half.  Martinez and Pelphrey each picked up their 4th fouls.  Duke ran off to a 64-55 lead with 11:53 left.  Not too far after, Martinez fouled out.  This left freshman Aminu Timberlake with an extended chance against Laettner (remember that).

A three-pointer by Hurley gave Duke their biggest lead at 67-55 and Kentucky used a timeout.

Rick Pitino was able to get his team a bucket as Sean Woods fed Dale Brown on a backdoor cut.  Then they set up the press and Deron Feldhaus got a steal.  Woods then found Mashburn for a three from the top and Coach K had to use a timeout with 10:25 to go.

It didn’t help immediately as Kentucky got another steal and Mashburn nailed another three to cut the lead to 67-63.

Hurley would respond with his 4th three-pointer of the game but Mashburn came right back with a turnaround from the baseline.  As that shot was going in, Laettner (who was in rebounding position) was shoved out of bounds by Feldhaus with Timberlake standing right there.

Laettner mentioned in the 30 for 30 linked at the top of this post that he took note of that push and thought it was Timberlake.

Meanwhile, Hurley would get his 10th assist of the game when he found Thomas Hill for a slam and a foul in transition.  But Hurley also had 8 turnovers.  Dale Brown responded with a three for Kentucky to cut the lead to 73-68.

Then Laettner posted up against Timberlake, backed in and drew a foul while Timberlake fell to the ground.  While he was on the ground, Laettner held a foot over him and then stepped on Timberlake’s stomach intentionally.

Laettner just received a technical but could very well have been thrown out of the game, which obviously would have become a factor.

But Laettner stayed in and his two free throws with 7:40 left gave Duke a 79-69 lead.  But then Mashburn found Brown on a cut for a big three-point play.

Kentucky’s press then became effective again as Duke kept committing turnovers (they had 19 at this point of the game).  Finally, a three-pointer by Woods tied the game at 81 with 5 1/2 minutes remaining.

From there, the teams went back-and-forth but Kentucky didn’t grab a lead until Brown nailed a three to put them up 89-87.  Brian Davis came right back with a breakaway layup for Duke.

The Blue Devils regained the lead at 93-91 when Thomas Hill hit a runner at the end of the shot clock with 1:03 to go.  But Feldhaus recovered a Grant Hill block on Pelphrey and put in a banker to tie the game again.

Duke did not take a timeout and ran down the clock.  Hurley then went 1-on-1 but missed a running jumper.  Kentucky rebounded and got a timeout with 0.8 seconds left (although they probably would have been given more time had replay existed then).  But the Wildcats couldn’t get a shot off as their inbounds pass was deflected and the game was headed to overtime.

Pephrey nailed a three to give Kentucky the early lead.  Then Davis committed his 5th foul on an offensive foul.  Kentucky ran down the shot clock but Thomas Hill came up with a steal.

Duke ran the ball down in transition and gave Hurley a look from three-point range.  He missed but Grant Hill grabbed the rebound and gave Hurley another chance from the top.  This time Bobby made it to tie the game at 96.

Pelphrey then drove against Grant Hill and made a banker in between Hill and Laettner.  Laettner tied the game with two free throws after Mashburn committed his 4th foul.

Laettner then rebounded a miss by Woods and Duke took a timeout with 54.5 seconds left.  They ran down the shot clock and then, off an out of bounds play, Laettner made a tough turnaround double-pump banker from the post with Mashburn in his face.  Duke led 100-98.

Kentucky didn’t use a timeout and were able to get Mashburn open off a pick-and-roll.  Pelphrey fed Mashburn for a layup and a foul.  The three-point play gave Kentucky a 101-100 lead with 19.6 seconds left.

Duke didn’t use a timeout and Kentucky went to their press.  Hurley fed the ball to Laettner on a long pass.  Laettner drove against Mashburn and Jamal reached in and was called for a foul with 14.1 seconds to go.  It was Mashburn’s 5th.

Laettner hit two free throws and Kentucky ran the ball down and called a timeout with 7.8 seconds left.  With Mashburn out of the game, the ball would be in the hands of the Unforgettables.

Sean Woods took the inbounds pass and Pelphrey set a screen which knocked off Hurley.  Woods drove as Laettner switched on to him.  As Feldhaus stood wide open at the baseline, Woods and Laettner got into the air and Woods launched a runner with Laettner’s arms out-stretched.  It banked in with 2.1 seconds left and looked like it would be one of the most unbelievable game-winners in NCAA tournament history.

Duke used a timeout but had to go the full-length of the floor.  The previous time they had to do this against Wake Forest, Grant Hill threw a long curveball to Christian Laettner and Laettner had to gather himself and stepped out of bounds.

But this time, Kentucky didn’t play a man on the inbounds passer as Pitino decided to put Pelphrey as free safety.

So Grant Hill took his time and threw the long pass to Laettner.  Laettner caught it at the top of the key with Feldhaus and Pelphrey right there.  Christian dribbled and turned to his right.  He then launched just before the buzzer sounded and it swished in.

The Duke team celebrated while Thomas Hill had his famous reaction of putting his hands on his head and crying (an amazing reaction for it being so immediate).

Duke had won the most incredible game in NCAA history and now were on to the Final Four.  Christian Laettner also had a memorable game without counting the game-winner.  Laettner was 10-for-10 from the field and 10-f0r-10 from the line.  Hard to get more perfect than perfect.  The perfect game.

For Kentucky, this game was credited with helping get them back on the map.  Kentucky has, for the most part, been at the top of its perch since that game and has had Duke right up there with them.

A rivalry had started because of this incredible game from Philadelphia in 1992.

Kentucky starters (points scored)

John Pelphrey (16) – Small Forward

Jamal Mashburn (28) – Power Forward

Gimel Martinez (5) – Center

Sean Woods (21) – Point Guard

Richie Farmer (9) – Shooting Guard

Kentucky bench (points scored)

Dale Brown (18)

Deron Feldhaus (5)

Travis Ford (0)

Aminu Timberlake (1)

Andre Riddick (0)

Junior Braddy (0)

Kentucky Coach: Rick Pitino

Duke starters (points scored)

Brian Davis (13) – Small Forward

Antonio Lang (4) – Power Forward

Christian Laettner (31) – Center

Bobby Hurley (22) – Point Guard

Thomas Hill (19) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Grant Hill (11)

Cherokee Parks (4)

Marty Clark (0)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Christian Laettner’s game-winner from close-up, far-away, and reaction *photos courtesy of NY Daily News, Big Blue History, and Masslive

March 29, 1992 – Southeast Regional Final: (#6)Michigan Wolverines 75, (#1)Ohio State Buckeyes 71 (OT)

Compared to the Duke/Kentucky classic, this may have not seemed as much.  But the only thing different between this game and the all-time great game from the previous night was that Duke/Kentucky was higher scoring.

Michigan and Ohio State are perhaps the greatest football rivalry and seemingly, every few seasons, one team has a chance to deny the other a chance for the National Championship.  Now for the first time in basketball, one rival could eliminate the other.

Michigan’s Fab Five were already icons, but their run was adding to the aura.  They had beaten Temple and East Tennessee State before upsetting Oklahoma State despite Chris Webber fouling out.  Non-freshman Eric Riley had come off the bench to lead the Wolverines, along with Jalen Rose, to its victory against Oklahoma State.

Meanwhile, Ohio State was the top seed, but it wasn’t until the 2nd half against North Carolina that their All-American Jim Jackson got it going.  Still, the Buckeyes needed a career-game from Lawrence Funderburke and a big spark off the bench from Jamie Skelton to hold off the Tar Heels in the Sweet 16.

Now Ohio State was on the verge of their first Final Four in 24 years.  They had beaten Michigan twice that season as their experience had taken over at various points.  In the first matchup in Ann Arbor, the Buckeyes held Michigan to 13 1st half points and no three-pointers in a 68-58 victory.  In the 2nd matchup in Columbus, Ohio State finished the game on a 23-10 run in the last 5 minutes to win 77-66.

But now Michigan, who had said Ohio State was a better team than Indiana, had more experience and was eager for a third chance at the Buckeyes.

The game started out quickly as Jim Jackson, normally a 2nd half player, hit two buckets to match Michigan baskets.  Webber connected on a turnaround banker from the post and two free throws but Jamaal Brown hit a three and Mark Baker drove for a bucket.  After 4 minutes, Ohio State led 9-8.

The game got chippy as the scoring continued.  Juwan Howard and Chris Jent bumped each other near the sideline and Jent even head-butted Howard (it seemed like the referees missed that since each player received a technical).

Bill Robinson came off the Ohio State bench and was a factor with 4 points and several hustle plays.  But Michigan was able to stay within 17-16 at the 11:57 mark.  Each team had also committed 6 early turnovers and Webber was proving to be a much bigger factor then he was against Oklahoma State as he drew 2 quick fouls on Funderburke before the under 8 minute timeout.

After that break, Jim Jackson drove baseline for his 6th point and a 24-22 Ohio State lead.  That would be the Buckeyes last lead for awhile.  Howard lobbed to Webber for a slam and his 8th point.  Rose hit a pull-up from the foul line and Howard hit a hook in the lane as Michigan took a 28-24 lead into the last media timeout of the 1st half.

The Wolverines built that into a 37-31 halftime lead after Howard hit a turnaround from the post in the last 5 seconds.

Webber led the Wolverines with 10 points while Howard and Rose each had 8.  Jim Jackson led Ohio State with 9 while Jamaal Brown had 7.

Brown and Jent opened the 2nd half with threes to tie the game at 37.  Then after two free throws by Webber, Funderburke recovered a loose ball and slammed one down to tie the game again.

But Funderburke was not nearly the factor that he had been against North Carolina as Webber was dominating the paint.  C-Webb put back a miss by Howard and later had a thunderous slam after a lob pass by Jimmy King.

Then after Howard got a layup after a touch-pass by Webber on the break, Randy Ayers had to use a timeout about 4 minutes into the 2nd half with his team trailing 45-39.

Michigan would take as much as an 8-point lead but Ohio State stayed in it as the game started to turn into a low-scoring crawl that many of the football games between these programs were known for.

The Wolverines maintained a 57-50 lead when King tipped in a miss by Pelinka with under 10 minutes to go.  But then, like the 2nd matchup, Ohio State’s defense and experience took over.

Although an 11-0 run over the period of 6 1/2 minutes qualifies as a spurt, it didn’t feel like one as much as just a normal flow in which Michigan went cold.

Jim Jackson started it with a spin and a runner in the lane.  Then Skelton hit a running jumper as he and Alex Davis were relieving the starting Buckeye guards at that moment.  Davis tied it at 57 at the 7:46 mark with 3 free throws after Rose fouled him on a shot behind the three-point line.

There were only 4 points scored in the next 3 1/2 minutes, all by Ohio State.  Funderburke split Howard and Webber in the post for a slam and then Jimmy Jackson hit a runner in the lane at the end of the shot clock.

With Michigan desperately needing some answers, Rose (who had emerged as their leader of sorts) hit a pull-up in the lane to end Michigan’s drought.  Then after Webber blocked a driving layup by Baker, King lobbed to C-Webb for a slam to tie the game at 61 with under 2 minutes to go.

Ohio State ran down the 45-second shot clock and Jamaal Brown hit a pull-up from the top as the clock expired after pump-faking Rose.  Ohio State led 63-61 and Michigan took a timeout with 44.2 seconds left.

The Wolverines went back to Rose.  He drove and missed but Webber tipped it in with 30 seconds left.  Ohio State didn’t use a timeout and got it to Jim Jackson at the top of the key to go 1-on-1.

As Jackson drove, Michigan collapsed and deflected his pass to Funderburke.  Jent picked up the ball and had a seemingly easy shot from the baseline.  But he rushed it and missed.  Michigan back-tapped the ball out as the buzzer sounded and everyone tried to catch their breath before the overtime.

The first few minutes of overtime were as much of a defensive battle as the 2nd half.  Over the first two minutes, each team had a basket.  Rose had hit a pull-up from the top at the end of the shot clock.  Jackson had gotten a breakaway slam after Funderburke deflected a pass to Jent.

But then Rose found Jimmy King for a three from the top to put Michigan up 68-65.  Rose followed with two free throws at the 2-minute mark for a five-point lead.

Ohio State got a basket from Jackson at the 1:43 mark to cut the lead to 70-67.  The Buckeyes set up the press after a timeout but Howard would break it and get the ball to Webber, who was way outside guarded by Jent.

After Webber passed the ball to Ray Jackson, he cut to the basket as Jent fell asleep for a second.  Webber got a return pass, scored, and was fouled by a beaten Jent with 1:23 left.  That three-point play would turn out to be the difference as Michigan grabbed a 6-point lead.

Two free throws from Rose would eventually make it 75-67.  Ohio State scrambled back and had a chance to cut the lead to 75-72 with a timeout remaining and the clock running out.  But Jent, who was not having the best ending to the game, missed the three (karma for the head-butt?).  Brown followed up his miss with 3 seconds remaining but it was too-little too-late as it remained a two-possession game.

The Fab Five were on to the Final Four as their magical run continued.  But at Ohio State, the Jim Jackson era was over.  And the program would not recover under Randy Ayers.  The Buckeyes next Tournament appearance would be under Jim O’Brien (and more than a cloud of scrutiny) in 1999.

Michigan would now play another cinderella in Cincinnati, while powerhouses Indiana and Duke matched up in the other National Semifinal.

Michigan starters (points scored)

Ray Jackson (5) – Small Forward

Chris Webber (23) – Power Forward

Juwan Howard (10) – Center

Jalen Rose (20) – Point Guard

Jimmy King (15) – Shooting Guard

Michigan bench (points scored)

Eric Riley (2)

Rob Pelinka (0)

James Voskuil (0)

Freddie Hunter (0)

Michigan Coach: Steve Fisher

Ohio State starters (points scored)

Jim Jackson (20) – Small Forward

Chris Jent (6) – Power Forward

Lawrence Funderburke (12) – Center

Mark Baker (8) – Point Guard

Jamaal Brown (16) – Shooting Guard

Ohio State bench (points scored)

Bill Robinson (4)

Jamie Skelton (2)

Alex Davis (3)

Rickey Dudley (0)

Ohio State Coach: Randy Ayers

jim-jackson-vs-michigan

The Jim Jackson era at Ohio State ended with a Regional Final loss to Jimmy King (background) and rival Michigan *photo courtesy of Getty Images

April 4, 1992 – National Semifinal: (#6)Michigan Wolverines 76, (#4)Cincinnati Bearcats 72

For a six-year stretch from 1958-63, the Cincinnati Bearcats were a basketball powerhouse.

They made 5 consecutive Final Fours, 3 consecutive National Championship Games, and won 2 consecutive National titles.  They also had one of the greatest players ever in Oscar Robertson.

But, other than a brief revival in the mid-70’s with Gale Catlett (who would go on to coach West Virginia for 24 seasons) as head coach, the Bearcats basketball program had been pretty dormant. They went 14 consecutive seasons without making the NCAA tournament.

In 1989, Cincinnati hired Bob Huggins as coach.  Huggins had had a successful run at nearby Akron.  Huggins decided he needed to quickly rebuild the program and started going after Junior College talent.  By 1992, he had 10 transfer, including 8 from the JuCo ranks.

But he had talent.  Herb Jones and Corie Blount were JuCo players of the year in 1990 and ’91, respectively.  Now they were in Cincinnati’s frontcourt along with Terry Nelson.

Jones, a senior, was the leading scorer at 18.2 points per game.  Blount, a junior, averaged 8.4 and 6.3 rebounds, 2nd on the team behind Jones.  Nelson was an undersized physical presence and not much of a scorer.

Huggins’ talented back court included one of his former Akron players in senior Anthony Buford.  The other was, along with Blount, Cincinnati’s only NBA talent.  That was junior Nick Van Exel.

Van Exel gained the starting spot at the point midway through the season and Cincinnati was 18-1 since.  He averaged 12 points per game during the season but stepped it up in the Great Midwest Conference Tournament and NCAA Tournament, averaging 15.7 while shooting 67.4% from the field.

The bench consisted of former starting point guard Allen Jackson, swingman Erik Martin, and former starting center Jeff Scott.  Jackson and Scott were replaced by Nelson and Van Exel after Cincinnati lost to DePaul to fall to 12-3.

They went 18-1 since and beat Penny Hardaway and Memphis State 4 times during that stretch, including an 88-57 drubbing in the Regional Finals.

But Cincinnati and its JuCo stars were still an unknown commodity and had nowhere near garnered the attention of the Fab Five of Michigan.  Michigan had openly talked about wanting to play Duke in the Title Game and, as Anthony Buford had said during the week, it looked like Michigan might be overlooking the 29-4 Bearcats who were a #4 seed in the Midwest Regional.

There wasn’t a shortage of trash-talking throughout the week and even into the pregame.  But the talking ceased a bit and each team got off to a good start.

Chris Webber hit two hooks from down low and Jimmy King hit two threes while Nick Van Exel picked up where he left off with 7 quick points.  Through the first 4 minutes, Michigan was 5-for-5 from the field and Cincinnati was 4-for-5.

The Bearcats were, however, forcing some turnovers due to their press, which they could unleash at any point (whereas most teams can only set up their press after a made basket or on an out-of-bounds play).

The pressure defense turned around the game after Cincinnati’s big men, Blount and Scott, got into foul trouble and Michigan went on a 9-0 run to take a 25-18 lead halfway through the 1st half.

Michigan had the inside advantage but could not take control because the Wolverine guards didn’t have the time to get it inside.  A three-pointer by Buford started an 11-2 run to give the Bearcats a 29-27 lead.

Erik Martin proved to be a spark off the bench despite being under-sized.  He scored 4 points and got some key defensive boards.

Van Exel also found people for scores off steals and penetration as Cincinnati took a 41-34 lead while Michigan went on a 4 1/2 minute field goal drought.

But Eric Riley followed up two misses to break the drought and Webber got a slam off a long pass from Jalen Rose in the final seconds of the half to cut Cincinnati’s lead to 41-38 at the break.

The Bearcats continued to hold the lead into the 2nd half as their press kept Michigan off-balance.  The main problem for the Wolverines was that they were not able to get the ball to either Jalen Rose at the top or inside to Webber or Howard.

Cincinnati took as much as a 50-43 lead before King nailed his 3rd three-pointer of the game and Howard followed up a miss.

The game became a defensive struggle over the next several minutes as Cincinnati kept forcing turnovers and disrupting Michigan’s offense, but the Bearcats could not buy a basket at the other end.  The game would be tied at 56 with 7:45 left.

Michigan then took its first lead in a while when Howard recovered a loose ball and scored on a layup.  The Wolverines then got a spark from a player who was a starter before the Fab Five took hold.

Forward James Voskuil injected his team with some life and scored one of his two big baskets, a driving banker while drawing a foul, down the stretch to give Michigan a 61-58 lead.  This three-point play also drew the 4th foul from Van Exel.

Rose then pushed the ball and found Webber for a slam to put Michigan up 63-58 at the 5:06 mark.  That lead would be increased to 7 before Herb Jones nailed a three and then Buford got a steal and breakaway.  Michigan used a timeout at the 3:29 mark with their lead cut to 65-63.

But on the Wolverines next possession, Howard found Voskuil wide open at the top of the key.  The junior raised up and nailed a three to give the Maize in Blue a 68-63 advantage.

This looked to be a dagger as Cincinnati stayed in it but could not make some key shots/plays.  Michigan took a 74-67 lead when Webber found King for a slam on the break and that looked to be the game.

But Michigan had to survive one more scare.  With 14.1 seconds left, Van Exel hit a double-pump three-pointer from the top (it should have been a two-pointer but there was no replay in 1992) and drew a foul from Voskuil.

The three-pointer cut the lead to 76-72 with Van Exel on the line.  Van Exel missed the free throw to cap his 5-for-10 performance from the line (each team missed 7 free throws but Michigan attempted 8 more).  But the ball was back-tapped to Van Exel and Cincinnati still had a timeout to use.

Van Exel pulled up for three that if it went in, Cincinnati could have used their last timeout to stop the clock trailing by one point.  However, Nick the quick could not nail the three and Michigan held on.

The Fab Five were now one game away from an improbable dream (at least for five freshmen in 1992).

Cincinnati’s run to the Final Four started a run of excellence (even if it wasn’t close to the best run program) for the Bearcats under Bob Huggins over the next decade.

Michigan starters (points scored)

Ray Jackson (3) – Small Forward

Chris Webber (16) – Power Forward

Juwan Howard (12) – Center

Jalen Rose (13) – Point Guard

Jimmy King (17) – Shooting Guard

Michigan bench (points scored)

James Voskuil (9)

Michael Talley (4)

Eric Riley (2)

Michigan Coach: Steve Fisher

Cincinnati starters (points scored)

Herb Jones (14) – Small Forward

Terry Nelson (4) – Power Forward

Corie Blount (1) – Center

Nick Van Exel (21) – Point Guard

Anthony Buford (18) – Shooting Guard

Cincinnati bench (points scored)

Erik Martin (10)

Tarrance Gibson (4)

Jeff Scott (0)

Allen Jackson (0)

Cincinnati Coach: Bob Huggins

webber

Chris Webber looks excited when going up for a big slam as Anthony Buford looked on in the background *photo courtesy of Pinterest

April 4, 1992 – National Semifinal: (#2) Indiana Hoosiers 78, (#1)Duke Blue Devils 81

This matchup had a tremendous amount of hype, although most of it had to do with the coaches.

Mike Krzyzewski had played under Bob Knight at Army and was an Assistant Coach under Knight at Indiana before getting his first coaching job at Army in 1975.

So it was student vs. teacher with two very successful coaches and two very successful programs.

But Duke was still coming off the high of beating Kentucky at the last second.  For most of this game, especially the 1st half, Christian Laettner looked emotionally spent.

Indiana had mainly gotten to the Final Four with its torrid shooting during the NCAA tournament.  They shot 62% against Eastern Illinois, 55% against LSU, 50% against Florida State, and, most impressively, 58% against UCLA in the Regional Final.

They started out the same way against Duke by hitting 8 of their first 10 shots.  Alan Henderson led the way with 9 points early on on 4-for-4 shooting.

But he got help from Damon Bailey, Calbert Cheaney, Jamal Meeks, Matt Nover and Eric Anderson, who each hit a field goal during that early stretch to give Indiana a 21-14 lead.

But Duke stayed in the game thanks to Bobby Hurley.  Hurley hit three early three-pointers and 11 points as Duke cut the lead down to 29-25 with under 8 minutes to go in the 1st half.

But Indiana was still hot from the field and Hurley wasn’t getting much help as, most notably, Laettner was 1-for-6 in the 1st half and 2-for-4 from the foul line for 4 points.

Mike Krzyzewski switched to a zone for a few possessions in which Indiana beat it by driving down the lane for scores.  Indiana regained as much as a 39-27 lead before Hurley hit his 4th and biggest three of the game to stem the tide.

Duke finally got its defense going a little bit and held Indiana to three points over the final 3 minutes of the half.  Hurley finished the half with 18 points and a big three-point play by Thomas Hill with 18.9 seconds left cut Duke halftime deficit to 42-37.

The 2nd half started out worse for Indiana as Cheaney committed his 3rd foul on a charge in which his basket was taken away.  Bailey then committed his 4th foul and, a possession later, Knight picked up a technical.

Meanwhile, Duke’s defense went up another notch and they grabbed a 43-42 lead when Hurley penetrated and found Grant Hill for a layup in traffic.  Duke then went down low to Laettner, who scored and drew a foul.

He missed the free throw but Duke had taken a 45-42 lead and it looked like Laettner was back.  But Christian would not get another field goal attempt for the rest of the game, part of the reason was Indiana’s sagging defense and the other part was Duke not getting him the ball.

Hurley hit his 5th three over Henderson to give Duke a 48-42 lead but the Blue Devils missed several chances to increase it right there.  But their defense held strong and Cheaney committed his 4th foul on a charge.

Finally, a three-pointer by Greg Graham got Indiana their first points of the 2nd half but they were still ice cold.  Meanwhile, Cherokee Parks and Grant Hill followed up misses to give Duke a 55-45 lead.

Then with about 10 1/2 minutes to go, Hill penetrated and found Parks for a slam.  As the freshman slammed one down, Bailey reached in for his 5th foul.  The three-point play gave Duke its biggest lead at 58-45.

Indiana finally got going a bit as Cheaney hit two field goals to stem Hurley’s 6th three-pointer.  Graham then got two field goals to cut the lead to 63-55 with 3:46 left.  Although Indiana was cutting into the lead and Duke was looking tired, the Hoosiers weren’t exactly putting together points at a pace to overcome the deficit before time ran out.

Alan Henderson fouled out on a charge after only 4 2nd half points.  But the Hoosiers got a break with 1:44 left when Grant Hill fouled Graham on a three-point attempt and fouled out.

Duke had already lost Brian Davis to a sprained ankle and their bench was already thin.  So Krzyzewski brought in sophomore guard Marty Clark to help handle the ball.  Graham hit his three free throws to cut the lead to 69-64.  Then Chris Reynolds stole the ball from Hurley on the pressure defense.

The Hoosiers worked it around to Cheaney, who drove baseline and did a 360 but airballed a very tough shot.  Clark rebounded and Graham, who led Indiana with 18 points, fouled out with 1:27 left (even though there was 1:27 left, the final 2 minutes took about half an hour, not a great game to plan anything after).

Clark coolly hit two free throws.  Thomas Hill got a steal and Cheaney committed his 5th foul and became the 4th Hoosier to foul out with 1:16 left.  Indiana now had to try and come back without its top 4 scorers on the season, it looked daunting.

Indiana brought in sophomore and former walk-on Todd Leary.  Hurley hit two free throws and Duke led by nine.  But with under a minute to go, Leary got open off an inbounds and nailed a three from the corner.

No matter, Thomas Hill hit two more free throws and Duke led 75-67 with 45.6 seconds left.  But then Jamal Meeks found Leary for another corner three.  Uh-oh!

Reynolds fouled Clark with 35.1 seconds left and Marty coolly knocked in two more.  Now Indiana went to Leary to make a move.  He got open at the top and nailed his third straight three-pointer to cut the lead to 77-73 with 26.8 seconds left.  Leary was doing much better than he would 18 years later.

Clark was fouled again but this time he missed the second free throw and Laettner fouled Nover on the rebound.  Nover hit two free throws with 24.6 seconds left to cut Duke’s lead to 78-75.

Now Laettner motioned Hurley to come get the ball.  Hurley sprinted to the baseline and got a handoff inbounds pass from Laettner.  Right after Hurley got it, his toes touched the out of bounds line.  Turnover Duke.  Indiana had a chance to tie it with 23.1 seconds left.

Without their top 4 scorers, Indiana’s shooters were Eric Anderson, who struggled after hitting his first shot in this game, and Leary.  Now Duke put Thomas Hill on Leary and didn’t let him get open.

He did for a second as Chris Reynolds penetrated.  But Reynolds went to the other side to Jamal Meeks.  Meeks was a senior that was known as a notoriously poor shooter.  But he was open for a tying three.

Not surprisingly, he clanked it short off the side of the rim.  After a rebound scramble, Antonio Lang was able to come up with the ball and was fouled.  Indiana’s comeback attempt would die and Duke was moving on.

What followed was a post-game awkwardness.  Knight and Krzyzewski kind of shook hands but there was no extended conversation or hugs.  Krzyzewski then got fed up in the post-game about all the questions about Knight and essentially said he was his own man and this was about the players more than the coaches.

Later, when Knight passed the Duke team in the hallway.  He reportedly talked to players but ignored Krzyzewski.  The two didn’t talk until 2001 when Krzyzewski went into the Basketball Hall-of-Fame and Knight presented him.

The two rekindled their friendship thereafter, but between 1992 and 2001, Indiana and Duke matched up twice more with the two coaches on the sideline.  They would also have a memorable NCAA tournament game in 2002.  But all of that was a long way away.

Indiana starters (points scored)

Calbert Cheaney (11) – Small Forward

Alan Henderson (15) – Power Forward

Matt Nover (9) – Center

Chris Reynolds (2) – Point Guard

Damon Bailey (9) – Shooting Guard

Indiana bench (points scored)

Greg Graham (18)

Eric Anderson (2)

Jamal Meeks (3)

Todd Leary (9)

Todd Lindeman (0)

Indiana Coach: Bob Knight

Duke starters (points scored)

Brian Davis (5) – Small Forward

Antonio Lang (4) – Power Forward

Christian Laettner (8) – Center

Bobby Hurley (26) – Point Guard

Thomas Hill (11) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Grant Hill (14)

Cherokee Parks (8)

Marty Clark (5)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

bobby-hurley

Bobby Hurley kept Duke alive with 18 1st half points and was a main catalyst in their 2nd half run *photo courtesy of Getty Images

April 6, 1992 – National Championship Game: (#6)Michigan Wolverines 51, (#1)Duke Blue Devils 71

The final score may not look like it but this was actually a pretty good game most of the way through, if not an ugly low-scoring affair.

Michigan was a game away from freshmen carrying a team to a National Championship 20 years before it actually happened (and it was a million times more un-heard of in 1992).

Duke was a game away from becoming the first team in 19 seasons to win back-to-back National Championships.

With all of that on the line, both teams got off to a slow start.  There was no scoring for over 2 minutes before Thomas Hill tipped in a Bobby Hurley miss.  Jimmy King then responded with a three.

But in those first 2 minutes, Christian Laettner committed 2 turnovers.  He committed 2 more after both teams had scored and was bench for Cherokee Parks.

Meanwhile, Chris Webber rebounded a miss by Juwan Howard and slammed it back in.  Hurley responded with a three and the game was tied at 5 at the 15:15 mark.

Laettner came back in but didn’t play much better, although he cut down his turnover-per-minute ratio significantly.  He also drew an offensive foul from Webber, which was Chris’ 2nd.

Thomas Hill followed with a three but Michigan responded with a 7-0 run, capped by a steal and layup by Jalen Rose after Laettner threw a kickout pass right to him.

Laettner finally hit a field goal to stem the tide but then he threw another pass that Rose stole and threw to King for a fast break alley-oop slam.  Michigan now led 14-10 and Laettner had 6 turnovers.

But Duke went on an 11-4 run over the next 4 minutes to take the lead as everyone seemed to be picking up fouls.

Michigan then regained the momentum as Rose found Webber with a long pass for a slam.  Jalen followed by hitting Howard on a 3-on-2 break for a short banker.

Then Webber orchestrated Michigan’s most impressive play of the game when he took the ball in transition, dribbling around several defenders, and hit Rob Pelinka with a behind-the-back bounce pass (which would sometimes be disastrous when Webber tried it in key NBA games).  Pelinka then did a 360 and laid it in to give the Wolverines a 24-22 lead.

Grant Hill would score 6 points late in the half to keep Duke within 31-30 at halftime.  But, like the Indiana game, Duke was fortunate to be that close.  Laettner, in particular, was not looking like himself.  Other than the 6 turnovers, Laettner was 2-for-8 from the field and, at times, was just not hustling and got benched for it.

As the story goes, Bobby Hurley gave his teammates a rousing speech at halftime and everything turned around.

It started when Thomas Hill came up with a steal and Hurley pushed the ball.  He quickly found Laettner for a layup to get him going.  A possession later, Hurley found Laettner for a three-pointer from the top and Christian already had as many points in the 2nd half as he had in the 1st.

Thomas Hill then went 1-on-1 with Rose and made a pull-up from the baseline to make Duke 3-for-3 from the field in the 2nd half.  The Blue Devils then hit two of their next 18 from the field and let Michigan hang around despite the Wolverines’ struggles from the field.

Rose and Webber would each pick up their 4th fouls in the 2nd half while Hurley did the same for Duke.  But after Rose got a breakaway layup following an outlet from Webber which cut Duke’s lead to 48-45, Krzyzewski used a timeout with 6:51 left.

After 33 minutes and 9 seconds, Duke was hanging on by a thread and looked mentally drained, although Laettner had 10 2nd half points so far including two three-pointers.

Coach K had been milking the shot clock over the past few minutes to try and get his team some rest.  The Blue Devils were also short-handed as Brian Davis was ineffective with his sprained ankle that he got against Indiana.  Grant Hill started in his place but Davis and Parks would be Duke’s only subs until the final minute of the game.

But, like the champion they were soon to become, Duke summoned the energy and scored on all but one possession in the final 6:51.

It started off the timeout when Laettner drove baseline, lost the ball on the dribble, but recovered it and hit on a reverse layup.  On their next possession, Duke again milked the shot clock before Grant Hill drove baseline for a reverse layup.

It wouldn’t be Hill’s most impressive play of the last 6:51.  On a subsequent possession, Hill drove past Webber on the baseline, went to the other side of the basket, and did a 180 slam that got the Duke crowd going and put the Blue Devils up 58-47.

Hill later tipped in a miss by the other Hill, Thomas, at the end of the shot clock and found Antonio Lang for a slam that broke Michigan’s press and broke their back with 1:45 to go.

Grant Hill would finish the game with two breakaways that made the final margin what it was.  It would simply be a prelude of what was to come for Grant Hill while he still had good feet.

Meanwhile, Duke’s defense had held Michigan to 20 2nd half points and a season-low of 51.  The Fab Five had come farther than anyone thought they could and would now have to live with the pressure in 1993.

Duke had been ranked #1 all season and finally finished the job.  They did something that hadn’t been done in close to 20 years and would only be done once in the next 20 years.

This back-to-back championships had also culminated a run of 5 straight Final Fours and 6 in 7 years, which was as close as one could come to UCLA’s dynasty of the ’60’s and ’70’s.

Duke would make one more run to a Final Four before encountering their share of problems for the first time in seemingly a while.

Michigan starters (points scored)

Ray Jackson (0) – Small Forward

Chris Webber (14) – Power Forward

Juwan Howard (9) – Center

Jalen Rose (11) – Point Guard

Jimmy King (7) – Shooting Guard

Michigan bench (points scored)

Eric Riley (4)

James Voskuil (4)

Rob Pelinka (2)

Freddie Hunter (0)

Michael Talley (0)

Jason Bossard (0)

Chip Armer (0)

Chris Seter (0)

Michigan Coach: Steve Fisher

Duke starters (points scored)

Grant Hill (18) – Small Forward

Antonio Lang (5) – Power Forward

Christian Laettner (19) – Center

Bobby Hurley (9) – Point Guard

Thomas Hill (16) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Cherokee Parks (4)

Brian Davis (0)

Christian Ast (0)

Kenny Blakeney (0)

Ron Burt (0)

Marty Clark (0)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

laettner-vs-webberhill-vs-rosebobby-hurley-laettnerduke-92

At top and second from top, Christian Laettner and Grant Hill go against the defense of Chris Webber and Jalen Rose.  Second from bottom and at bottom: Bobby Hurley, Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, Coach K and others celebrate Duke’s 2nd straight National Championship.. photos courtesy of Stuff About Minneapolis tumblr, The Players Tribune, USA Today, and Pinterest

1992 would be a top-heavy star-studded NBA draft.  LSU’s Shaquille O’Neal went #1 to the Orlando Magic.  Georgetown’s Alonzo Mourning went #2 to the Charlotte Hornets.  Duke’s Christian Laettner went #3 to the Minnesota Timberwolves.  Ohio State’s Jim Jackson went #4 to the Dallas Mavericks.  N.C. State’s Tom Gugliotta went #6 to the Washington Bullets.  Maryland’s Walt Williams went #7 to the Sacramento Kings.  Arkansas’ Todd Day went #8 to the Milwaukee Bucks.  Alabama’s Robert Horry went #11 to the Houston Rockets.  USC’s Harold Miner went #12 to the Miami Heat.  St. John’s Malik Sealy went #14 to the Indiana Pacers.  LaSalle’s Randy Woods went #16 to the Los Angeles Clippers.  UCLA’s Tracy Murray and Don MacLean went 18 and 19 to the San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons.  North Carolina’s Hubert Davis went #20 to the New York Knicks.  Georgia Tech’s Jon Barry went #21 to the Boston Celtics.  Arkansas’ Oliver Miller and Lee Mayberry went 22 and 23 to the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks.  Alabama’s Latrell Sprewell went #24 to the Golden State Warriors.  Syracuse’s Dave Johnson went #26 to the Portland Trailblazers and Oklahoma State’s Byron Houston was the last pick of the 1st round to the Chicago Bulls.

2nd round picks included UTEP’s Marlon Maxey going to Minnesota, Arizona’s Sean Rooks going to Dallas, Oklahoma’s Brent Price going to Washington, Oklahoma State’s Corey Williams going to Chicago, Connecticut’s Chris Smith going to Minnesota, USC’s Duane Cooper going to the L.A. Lakers, Arkansas’ Isaiah Morris and Georgia Tech’s Matt Geiger going to Miami, Wake Forest’s Chris King going to Seattle, St. John’s’ Robert Werdann going to Denver, Duke’s Brian Davis going to Phoenix, and Michigan State’s Matt Steigenga going to the Bulls.

1992 draft picks only seen in past College Basketball posts included Stanford’s Adam Keefe (from 1989 College Basketball post) going #10 to the Atlanta Hawks, Virginia’s Bryant Stith (last seen in 1991 College Basketball post) going #13 to the Denver Nuggets, Missouri’s Anthony Peeler (last seen playing in 1990 College Basketball post) going #15 to the Los Angeles Lakers, UNLV’s Elmore Spencer (1991) going #25 to the Los Angeles Clippers, and Richmond’s Curtis Blair (1991) going in the 2nd round to the Houston Rockets.

UCLA’s Gerald Madkins and Darrick Martin would go undrafted but eventually get chances in the NBA.

1991 NBA Season – Learning to Fly

MJ '90

 

The Sports Illustrated cover from December, 1990 wondering what we all were *photo courtesy of Sole Collector

Can Michael Jordan and Chicago finally make it to the top?  The Bulls had been rising for 3 years but had run into Detroit and lost each time.  But Chicago wasn’t the only “up-and-coming” team.  The Portland Trailblazers had made a surprise run to the NBA Finals and started out the 1991 season at 19-1.  The Bulls would get off to a slower start that’ll be covered in a bit.

Other changes was that the NBA now had a new major network.  NBC more than tripled the amount that CBS was paying the NBA, and now the NBA on NBC was off and running, setting the stage for this opening.

Everybody from my generation that watched could play the tune in his/her head.  It was, quite simply, the best opening in NBA television history (yep, I said it).

The first NBA on NBC game was actually on the second day of the season when the Lakers traveled to San Antonio and got trounced by the Spurs.  On the league’s opening night, everybody played except for the aforementioned Lakers and Spurs, and Seattle (with 27 teams at the time, there was never an even number of teams with a night off).

One of those games, that was otherwise just a mundane matchup on the marquee, ended up setting a record that still stands after the 2015 season.  It ended up being the highest scoring regulation game in NBA history.

November 2, 1990 – Golden State Warriors 162 @Denver Nuggets 158

For this game to be the highest scoring regulation game in NBA history, there was a pretty lethal combination.  Not only were Denver and Golden State the two highest scoring teams for the 1991 season but they also gave up the most points per game.  Denver, in fact, would set a record by giving up 130.8 points per game during the 1991 season.

The Nuggets had been a run-and-gun show under Doug Moe throughout the 1980’s, but the new run-and-gun style under former Loyola Marymount coach Paul Westhead (who did, in fact, have an NBA championship from 1980 with the Lakers) made the 80’s Nuggets’ defense look like the ’85 Bears.

Westhead brought his Loyola Marymount style of the point guard pushing the ball quickly after a make (or miss, sometimes) and having the shooting guard and small forward head to the baselines and the big guys were the trailers.  It didn’t quite work in the NBA.

Not only had Denver lost Moe as a coach, but stars Alex English and Fat Lever went to Dallas.  The top returning player was 5’10” point guard Michael Adams.  The Nuggets had drafted LSU’s Chris Jackson and had traded conditional draft picks to the Lakers for Orlando Woolridge.  Jackson was not available for this opening game because of side effects for the medication he was taking for turrets.

36-year-old Walter Davis was back as a reserve after turning down a chance to sign with fellow UNC alum, Michael Jordan and the Bulls.  Blair Rasmussen was a good shooting center.  But most of the rest of Denver’s roster was filled with college stars who never quite made it in the pros.  Players like Todd Lichti, Jerome Lane, Joe Wolf, Marcus Liberty and Anthony Cook.  Denver also signed a former LMU star for Westhead, Corey Gaines.

Although he got lots of playing time late in this game in place of Michael Adams, Gaines would be cut 2 1/2 weeks later and spent the next two seasons mostly in the CBA.  The Nuggets also had a young point guard named Avery Johnson, who would be released along with veteran Nugget T.R. Dunn on December 24.  Johnson would sign with the Spurs for the first of three times in January.

For Golden State, head coach Don Nelson had always been an up-tempo, unorthodox coach.  But he had a good, young superstar trio.  Chris Mullin, Mitch Richmond and Tim Hardaway became known as Run TMC and were the leaders of an entertaining club.  Each averaged over 22 points per game with Mullin leading the way at 25.7.

Beyond that, the only other double figure scorer was Lithuanian Sarunas Marciulionis.  Golden State had big men Rod Higgins and Tom Tolbert and had a healthy Alton Lister at center.  Lister had missed most of the 1990 season with an achilles injury.  They had also drafted Xavier’s Tyrone Hill with the 11th pick and Les Jepsen and Kevin Pritchard in the 2nd round.  Jepsen didn’t make his debut on this night but he would be part of the trade that broke up Run TMC.

The tempo was off-and-running as Golden State led 43-41… after the 1st quarter.  Mullin had scored 10 points, despite spraining his ankle.  He would return and not show much ill-effects.  Orlando Woolridge got going for Denver as he scored 7 points early in the 2nd quarter to bring his total to 16.

Denver led 61-60 with 6:46 to go in the 2nd quarter, but the style may have been taking its effects as Joe Wolf and Todd Lichti each picked up their 4th fouls.

But the scoring continued and the game was looking like a recent NBA All-Star Game (2014, for example).  Neither team stopped the other from pushing the ball or driving the lane and the jumpers were wide open.  It seemed the only thing that slowed both teams down was the tempo (perhaps helped by the altitude of Denver).  The Nuggets were even trying to press, but not getting much success out of it.

Mitch Richmond got going later in the 2nd quarter and finished the half with 21 points, including a pull-up from the elbow with 3 seconds left that gave the Warriors an 87-83 halftime lead (a good chunk of games nowadays have lower FINAL SCORES than 87-83).  Woolridge led Denver with 24 points as he repeatedly drove past Golden State big guys and drew fouls.  Walter Davis had also shown well with 16 points.

Lister had held up in the 1st half, a big key for Golden State coming off his injury, but he barely played in the 2nd half as Nellie went small.  Hardaway started out the 3rd quarter with 5 points as Golden State took a 96-87 lead.  Hardaway had mainly been dishing out the assists, he finished with 18 in this game but had 14 at halftime.

The Warriors led through most of the 3rd quarter, but Denver slowly ran up enough points to inch the margin closer.  They finally took the lead at 115-114 on two free throws by Woolridge.  The scoring went back-and-forth from there, culminating in Tim Hardaway answering a Todd Lichti three with one of his own to put Golden State ahead 123-122.

Hardaway then finished the quarter by penetrating and finding Tyrone Hill for a slam with 0.1 seconds left.  The Warriors continued to lead in the 4th quarter by as much as 138-130 with 8:54 to go.

But it was Corey Gaines and Todd Lichti that led Denver back to within one despite Rasmussen fouling out.  But Hardaway found Tom Tolbert for a layup, Richmond put back his own miss and Mullin scored and drew a foul.  Chris missed the free throw but Golden State still led 150-143.  But Marciulionis fouled out with 4:05 to go (neither Rasmussen or Marciulionis had a particularly good scoring day perhaps because of the foul trouble).

But the big foul out came with Woolridge with under 4:00 to go.  Orlando had scored 37 points and that left Davis as the only scoring option playing with Lichti, T.R. Dunn, Joe Wolf (and Anthony Cook after Wolf fouled out), and Corey Gaines (who, as I mentioned before, was playing instead of Michael Adams in crunch time, probably not a popular or particularly wise move).

Despite this, the 36-year-old Davis brought Denver back into a 152-all tie with a turnaround jumper in the post.  But before you could say “tie game,” Hardaway pushed it back at Denver and found Mullin.  Lichti blocked Chris’s first shot but Mullin recovered, scored, and was fouled.  The three-point play gave the Warriors the lead for good, although Denver surprisingly wouldn’t make it easy.

I say surprisingly for the simple fact that the Nuggets cut it to one when T.R. Dunn, of all people, hit a turnaround in the lane.  Dunn had never averaged over 8.2 points per game in his NBA career and his 12 points on this night would be the only game Dunn would score in double figures before Denver cut him and his NBA career ended in December.

Richmond hit two free throws with 1:48 left to give Golden State a 157-154 lead.  Gaines came back with a driving layup but Hardaway came right back and crossed Gaines over before hitting a runner.  Gaines then found Dunn for a baseline jumper to keep Denver in it.  But then T.R. fouled Hardaway on the press with 57.3 seconds to go.  Tim split the free throws and the Nuggets had a chance to tie it.

Forced into a halfcourt offense for one of the few times on this night, the Nuggets could not find an open Davis.  So Lichti took a jumper from the elbow that bounced three times but didn’t go in.  Golden State knocked the ball out of bounds to give Denver another chance.

This time it would be Corey Gaines who was left open at the top.  He bricked and Mullin rebounded.  Rod Higgins finished the scoring with two free throws.

Denver finished last in the league at 20-62.  They got the 4th pick of the 1991 draft and selected Dikembe Mutombo.  Mutombo’s defense helped Denver only give up 108.6 points per game in 1992 under Westhead’s system.  But the Nuggets scoring dropped to last in the league at 100.7 points per game (imagine, an NBA team averaged 100.7 points per game and finished last.. the good ole days) as Mutombo was the 2nd-leading scorer on the team (not good).  They finished at 24-58 and Westhead was fired.

Denver then drafted LaPhonso Ellis and Bryant Stith in 1992.  Chris Jackson changed his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and came into his own after struggling under Westhead.  Denver hired their former hero Dan Issel as coach and slowly became the team that would have the biggest upset in NBA playoff history for awhile as its claim to fame.

But nobody who played in this opening game in which the highest number of points was scored without an overtime was around by the time this playoff upset happened.

Golden State starters (points scored)

Chris Mullin (38) – Small Forward

Tom Tolbert (18) – Power Forward

Alton Lister (1) – Center

Tim Hardaway (32) – Point Guard

Mitch Richmond (29) – Shooting Guard

Golden State bench (points scored)

Sarunas Marciulionis (9)

Rod Higgins (17)

Tyrone Hill (5)

Kevin Pritchard (6)

Steve Johnson (7)

Golden State Coach: Don Nelson

Denver starters (points scored)

T.R. Dunn (12) – Small Forward

Orlando Woolridge (37) – Power Forward

Blair Rasmussen (10) – Center

Michael Adams (18) – Point Guard

Todd Lichti (19) – Shooting Guard

Denver bench (points scored)

Walter Davis (33)

Corey Gaines (8)

Jerome Lane (11)

Joe Wolf (4)

Marcus Liberty (2)

Anthony Cook (0)

Avery Johnson (4)

Denver Coach: Paul Westhead

November 6, 1990 – Boston Celtics 110 @Chicago Bulls 108

In a season with championship aspirations, one of the best things to help your confidence is getting off to a fast start.  In 1990-91, the Chicago Bulls did not.

In the opening game at Chicago Stadium, the Philadelphia 76ers took a 19-point halftime lead and won 124-116.  The next night in Washington, Bernard King burned them with 44 points as the Bullets overcame a 9-point halftime deficit to win 103-102.  So the Bulls were now 0-2.

Not much had changed with Chicago from 1990, Phil Jackson had the same starting lineup (Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Bill Cartwright, John Paxson, and Michael Jordan).  Most of the reserves (Stacey King, Craig Hodges, B.J. Armstrong, Will Perdue) were back.  The changes were trading three draft picks to New Jersey for 6’5″ guard Dennis Hopson, signing undrafted rookie Scott Williams as a free agent, and then signing veteran forward Cliff Levingston as a free agent after losing Ed Nealy to Phoenix and not being able to sign Walter Davis.

Boston, meanwhile, had won their first two games against Cleveland and then at New York.  The Celtics looked like an old team in 1990, but for the beginning of 1991, they looked much younger.  Dennis Johnson and Jim Paxson had retired.  But 6’6″ point guard Brian Shaw rejoined the Celtics after a contract lawsuit between Shaw, the Celtics and the Italian team Shaw signed for in 1990.  Boston had also drafted Dee Brown with the 19th pick.

The trio of Shaw, Brown and Reggie Lewis made the Boston backcourt much quicker.  6’5″ swingman Kevin Gamble also helped in that speed department.  With those four teaming along with big guys Ed Pinckney and Joe Kleine, one could say that the only old players on Boston were the big three from the 1980’s; Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish.  The Celtics also had a new coach, although Chris Ford had played for Boston in the early 80’s and had been an assistant coach ever since.

Boston got off to a good start in the 3rd game of the season for both teams.  Pinckney hit two baskets, Bird drove to the lane for a finger roll, and Lewis hit a jumper to put Boston up 8-4 and force Phil Jackson to call a timeout less than 3 minutes into the game.

Boston continued to hold the lead through much of the 1st quarter.  Lewis was challenging MJ and Bird was taking it to Pippen in the post.  Boston was also breaking Chicago’s press and getting out in transition.  The Celtics took a 22-15 lead 8 minutes into the game.

But then the contest went a full 180 degrees and the Bulls started looking like championship contenders.  Pippen, who had struggled in the first two games, started taking it to Bird on offense and got to the line.  Pippen also stepped up on defense as the Bulls got out in transition.  Chicago took a 25-24 lead when Pippen put in his 10th point with an elbow jumper.

The Bulls defense continued to turn it on as Boston went scoreless for the final 3 minutes of the 1st quarter.  Their defense set up breakaway opportunities as Armstrong found Grant for a slam and then Pippen would get two more buckets to finish the 1st quarter with 14 points.  Chicago led 32-24 heading into the 2nd quarter.

A driving layup by Jordan gave the Bulls their biggest lead to that point at 37-25.  Jordan also had a nifty reverse slam in transition later on, but Boston’s bench started to lead them back after Pippen picked up his 3rd foul and Jackson had to go to his bench.

Kevin McHale and Kevin Gamble led the way.  Gamble hit a pull-up at the end of the shot clock.  McHale used an up-and-under move to hit a hook shot from the post and draw a foul.  Then Gamble found Lewis in transition for a layup to cut Chicago’s lead to 39-35.

Chicago’s bench played well enough to hold the lead until Bird hit back-to-back jumpers to tie the game at 51.  Stacey King responded with a turnaround banker from the post for Chicago to give the Bulls a 53-51 halftime lead.

The 3rd quarter started out back-and-forth as Bird continued to hit for Boston (including a driving left-handed flip shot) while Pippen and Jordan led the way for the home team.  But Boston started running into a bad trend as the quarter went on.  Their turnovers went up at a fast rate.  They finished with 24 and 1/3 of them came from Bird.

Despite this, Boston was able to stay with Chicago for awhile.  But then Grant and Paxson hit field goals and then Horace found Jordan for a reverse.  This 6-0 run put the Bulls up 76-69 and forced Ford to call a timeout with 4:25 left in the quarter.  Lewis then picked up his 4th foul and Chicago grabbed a 9-point lead.

It grew to 84-73 with 2:15 left when Pippen got a steal and Jordan got a breakaway slam.  It then grew to 88-75 when Pippen put back his own miss.  But then Scottie picked up his 4th foul and Boston was able to cut the lead to 90-79 heading into the 4th quarter.

Despite Chicago’s run, Bird had made his last 8 field goal attempts.  But the Bulls starters, with Paxson contributing 10 points in the quarter, were looking like a well-gelled unit.

But the bench hadn’t quite gotten there for Phil Jackson and they slowly squandered the lead as the 4th quarter went on.  Boston cut down their turnovers and were able to cut it to 96-90 on two free throws from Shaw.  Then McHale hit a swinging hook shot in the lane while drawing a foul.  That three-point play cut the lead in half and the next three-point play, on a runner from Gamble, tied the game 4 minutes into the quarter.

Jordan responded by going coast-to-coast for a slam after a defensive rebound and then hitting a pull-up banker.  But then Shaw hit a jumper and went coast-to-coast past Jordan for a layup to tie the game.  McHale then hit two free throws and Gamble put back his own miss at the end of the shot clock to force a Chicago timeout with 4:21 remaining and the Bulls down 104-100.

The scoring slowed over the next two minutes as Boston missed a few chances to increase their lead (most notably when McHale missed two free throws).  A turnaround jumper by Grant in the lane cut the Celtics led to 106-104.  Then Parish committed an offensive foul with under 2:00 remaining.  Pippen then hit a pull-up from the foul line to tie the game with 1:40 remaining.

Bird hit a wing jumper for his 9th consecutive field goal (Bird sat out for most of the 4th quarter and Lewis sat out the entire quarter as Dee Brown, in his 3rd NBA game, played in the back court with Shaw).  But Jordan responded by hitting a pull-up from the elbow after a Grant handoff.

After two jump balls, Chicago regained possession with a chance to take the lead.  But Jordan was just long on a pull-up from the wing and Shaw rebounded.  Boston went for the last shot originally without taking a timeout, but Pippen almost made the disastrous by deflecting a pass to Bird out of bounds.  Ford used a timeout with 6.9 seconds remaining.

The Celtics had their veteran big three on the court with Shaw and Brown.  McHale inbounded but couldn’t find anybody other than Parish out beyond the three-point line.  Parish drove to the foul line and pulled up over Cartwright but threw an airball.  But Brian Shaw boxed out Jordan nicely and was able to grab the ball out of the air and put it back in at the buzzer to give the Celtics a stunning win.

Despite losing by 20 to the Bulls in Boston Garden 3 days later, the Celtics would break off two 8-game winning streaks and then a 6-gamer to bring their record to 29-5 on January 11 and help Chris Ford become the All-Star Game coach for the East.  However, things would come back to earth when Bird missed a month with his recurring back injury and McHale was out 14 games with torn ligaments in his ankle.

For the Bulls, this would be the last time they would lose 3 games in a row while Michael Jordan was in a Chicago uniform.  They recovered by winning 3 in a row before traveling to Utah a week after this game.

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (24) – Small Forward

Ed Pinckney (7) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (8) – Center

Brian Shaw (20) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (13) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Kevin McHale (19)

Kevin Gamble (15)

Dee Brown (4)

Joe Kleine (0)

Boston Coach: Chris Ford

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (23) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (8) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (10) – Center

John Paxson (13) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (33) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (3)

Stacey King (10)

Craig Hodges (2)

Dennis Hopson (4)

Will Perdue (2)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

brian shaw

Brian Shaw’s game-winning putback gave the Celtics a victory in Chicago *photo courtesy of Trading Card Database

November 13, 1990 – Chicago Bulls 84 @Utah Jazz 82

A week after suffering a heart-breaking loss at the buzzer, Chicago would deliver the same from a not-so-unexpected source.

The Bulls had rebounded from their 0-3 start by winning their last three games.  The Utah Jazz were off to a 2-2 start and had made only one major change in their roster from the previous season.  The Jazz traded veteran two-guard Bobby Hansen, Eric Leckner and three draft picks (including a 1990 1st rounder) to Sacramento as part of a three-team deal with Washington.  The Jazz got back scoring guard Jeff Malone from the Bullets.

Malone teamed with his fellow name-sake Karl Malone, John Stockton, Thurl Bailey and Mark Eaton in Jerry Sloan’s starting lineup.  Off the bench came 2nd year man Blue Edwards, 11-year veteran Darrell Griffith (who was in his final season), point guard Delaney Rudd and big man Mike Brown.

Nobody would mistake this game for Golden State/Denver (and perhaps it gave a little preview to the games these two teams would play in the NBA Finals in ’97 and ’98).  It was a grind-it-out game where nobody shot well.  Both teams showed off their great defense in this one as each held the other to 38% from the field.

The Bulls started out by hitting one of their first eight from the field.  Karl Malone scored 8 early points to give Utah a 10-4 lead and force Phil Jackson to call a timeout at the 6:45 mark.  If you didn’t believe my previous paragraph, only a 10-4 score (and an 84-82 final) in the first 5 minutes and 15 seconds.

Jordan finally got going to bring the Bulls back into it.  He got a steal and a breakaway layup after a behind-the-back dribble to get away from Thurl Bailey.  Later, MJ hit on a scoop shot to tie the game at 18 late in the quarter.

With 4.3 seconds remaining, Blue Edwards hit two free throws that looked to be giving the Jazz a 20-18 lead going into the 2nd quarter.  But then Will Perdue fired a long pass down to Jordan, who touch-passed it to Stacey King for a layup with 1.6 remaining.  But MJ wasn’t done.  Jordan then stole Stockton’s long inbounds pass to half court and pulled up for a 30-foot three-pointer and nailed it at the buzzer.

Jordan’s heroics gave Chicago a 23-20 lead at the quarter break and gave him 13 points to counteract the Mailman’s 12.  Almost unbelievably, that would be Chicago’s only three-point attempt of the game.

The Bulls kept the lead in the 2nd quarter as King started out with two more buckets.  STACEY G. BUCKETS!!! THE G STANDS FOR GETS, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!! sorry, had to (only people who listen to Stacey King as a Bulls broadcaster will understand that reference).

But the Bulls could never run away and hide.  Their poor shooting and the Jazz bench, led by Edwards, kept them in the game, along with the offensive contributions of John Stockton and Thurl Bailey.  B.J. Armstrong, who had been a big key in the Bulls three previous victories, contributed with back-to-back baskets.  John Paxson also hit two jumpers.

The Bulls would get 1 point combined from Pippen and Jordan in the 2nd quarter but managed to hold a 46-42 halftime lead when Horace Grant found Bill Cartwright for a baseline jumper with 2.9 seconds remaining.

The 3rd quarter started out badly for the Bulls.  Paxson picked up his 4th foul and Chicago missed their first 8 shots.  Meanwhile, Stockton hit two free throws after the Paxson foul and then found Jeff Malone for a breakaway and Karl for a jumper from the top.  A baseline jumper by Jeff Malone after Karl found him on an inbounds pass gave Utah a 50-46 lead and forced a Phil Jackson timeout with 9:47 to go.

But then Utah missed their next 10 shots and Jordan scored 8 points in a row after Cartwright initially broke Chicago’s drought with a jumper from the foul line.  Sloan was forced to use a timeout at the 6:03 mark of the quarter with the Bulls up 56-50.  Karl Malone then closed the quarter with 9 points to bring his total to 23 and bring Utah back into a 64-all tie entering the 4th quarter.

Utah would then take the lead as Darrell Griffith hit back-to-back buckets.  It increased to as much as 77-72 when Stockton hit a pull-up from the top.  But Pippen found Jordan for a baseline jumper and then MJ found Grant for a transition layup.  Jordan finally tied the game at 80 with a pull-up from the foul line with 3:13 to go.

The Jazz responded as Mark Eaton rebounded a Karl Malone airball and slammed it back in.  The Jazz had a few chances to increase that lead but never could.  Pippen found Paxson for a pull-up in transition to tie it at 82 with 1:35 remaining.

Karl Malone then missed a long wing jumper at the end of the shot clock.  Pippen then had his jumper blocked by Eaton, which concluded a 2-for-15 shooting day from Scottie Pippen (it would be one of only five times that Pippen didn’t score in double figures during the season).

Then with under 30 seconds remaining, Stockton dropped a pass down to Karl Malone on their usual pick and roll.  But Malone missed a driving hook against three guys and Chicago rebounded.  Jackson used a timeout with 15.9 seconds remaining.

The Bulls had advanced the ball before their timeout call so they had to inbound in the back court.  It turned out to be no problem as Paxson brought it up against Stockton and found Grant at the top.  Horace found Pippen at the left wing while superman (MJ) was getting free in the post.

Pippen dropped the ball into Jordan against Jeff Malone.  Bailey immediately doubled but Michael ran away from both of them and got off a fadeaway jumper from the wing that fell through at the buzzer.  Michael Jordan had saved the day for Chicago again and now the Bulls were over .500 for the first time all season.

The Bulls would eventually get going with a 7-game winning streak after a 5-6 start.  They had another 7-game winning streak in January that pulled them into a game lead over Detroit in the Central Division.  The Bulls had gotten killed in Detroit on December 19 (as Pippen had a worse game than he did in Utah, shooting 2-for-16) but managed to beat the Pistons on Christmas Day in Chicago.

But as the Bulls pulled into Detroit on February 7 (just before the All-Star break), they trailed the Pistons by a game and a half and hadn’t won in the Motor City since Game 1 of the 1989 Eastern Conference Finals.

For Utah, this was the 2nd loss of what turned into a 4-game losing streak.  Sloan moved Blue Edwards into the starting lineup in Thurl Bailey’s place (Bailey would be traded to Minnesota in November, 1991 for Tyrone Corbin).  The Jazz then got going with a couple of 6-game winning streaks and battled San Antonio for the Midwest Division crown for the 2nd straight season.

But for the 2nd straight season, Utah would finish a game behind the Spurs as the Jazz concluded at 54-28.  Then, for the 2nd straight season, Utah took on Phoenix in the 1st round and this time the Suns had home court advantage.  But the Jazz won Game 1 in Phoenix by a whopping score of 129-90 and went on to win the series in 4 games.  They lost in the next round to top-seeded Portland 4-1.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (5) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (8) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (8) – Center

John Paxson (8) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (29) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (10)

Stacey King (6)

Dennis Hopson (4)

Will Perdue (2)

Cliff Levingston (4)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Utah starters (points scored)

Thurl Bailey (7) – Small Forward

Karl Malone (28) – Power Forward

Mark Eaton (2) – Center

John Stockton (13) – Point Guard

Jeff Malone (8) – Shooting Guard

Utah bench (points scored)

Blue Edwards (10)

Darrell Griffith (10)

Mike Brown (0)

Delaney Rudd (4)

Utah Coach: Jerry Sloan

November 13, 1990 – Phoenix Suns 112 @Los Angeles Lakers 111

The Bulls weren’t the only future ’91 Finalist to get off to a slow start.  The Los Angeles Lakers, under their new coach Mike Dunleavy, had lost in the NBA on NBC opener in San Antonio and had suffered two home losses to Portland in overtime and to New York.  Their only victory was against the Sacramento Kings.

Dunleavy came in looking to transition the Lakers to the half-court game.  The key would be post ups for Magic Johnson and James Worthy, and getting Byron Scott open off screens.  It was a slow transition to this point as the Lakers looked stagnant on offense and were inconsistent, at best.

The Lakers had lost Michael Cooper to the Italian League.  Orlando Woolridge and Mark McNamara were traded away for conditional draft picks.  But Sam Perkins was signed as a free agent and Terry Teagle was acquired from Golden State for a 1991 1st round pick.  Perkins and Teagle had some good games in the first few but had not quite found their niche.

Mychal Thompson, who was in his last season, was now coming off the bench and 2nd year Serb Vlade Divac was starting in the middle to go with Magic, Scott, Worthy and A.C. Green.  Larry Drew was now Magic’s backup at point and 1st round pick Elden Campbell and 2nd round pick Tony Smith would get some key playing time as the season went on.

While the Lakers were off to a slow start, Portland was already well on their way to overtaking the division title.  But another team from the Pacific Division was trying to do the same.  The Phoenix Suns had beaten the Lakers in the playoffs the previous season and now were trying to show off how much they had grown.

Phoenix’s main scorers came from the perimeter in Kevin Johnson, Jeff Hornacek and Tom Chambers.  Hornacek had been injured earlier in the season and was coming off the bench until he fully returned to form.  3rd year defensive ace Dan Majerle was starting in his place.  Mark West still manned the middle with great defense and some unexpected offense.  Former Laker Kurt Rambis was still the Suns starting power forward, but not for long.

The bench, along with Hornacek, featured 1989 6th man of the year Eddie Johnson, but not for long.  Rookies Cedric Ceballos and Negele Knight (both 2nd round picks) and 2nd year man Kenny Battle were contributing along with 3rd year players Andrew Lang and Tim Perry.  Ed Nealy was signed away from the Bulls to add depth in the middle.

For this game, James Worthy was determined to get off to a fast start.  He hit a jumper from the foul line, put back a Divac miss, and then went coast-to-coast for a swooping breakaway dunk.  His 6-0 run put the Lakers up 10-6 and forced Cotton Fitzsimmons to use a Phoenix timeout.

The Lakers ended up taking as much as an 8-point lead as Worthy had 11 1st quarter points.  But Phoenix managed to stay in it despite 12 1st quarter turnovers.  A corner three from Hornacek cut the Lakers lead to 28-23 at the end of the quarter.

Cedric Ceballos and Kenny Battle made contributions off the bench to help bring Phoenix back.  A breakaway three-point play from K.J. (Kevin Johnson) after a steal cut the lead to 34-32.  But Worthy would keep L.A. ahead with 11 more points in the 2nd quarter, including a three.

L.A. retook a 52-44 lead when Magic found Teagle for a turnaround jumper from the baseline.  This was Magic’s 9,000th career assist and he got an ovation for it at the next timeout.

But the momentum didn’t sustain as Ceballos led Phoenix back with 6 points to cut the Lakers halftime lead to 56-54.

The lead changed hands in the 3rd quarter before Phoenix ran off 8 straight points to take a 74-69 lead, done with a three from Hornacek, a transition three-point play by K.J. and a slam from West on the break on a Chambers assist.

Chambers and Hornacek then led the way for the rest of the 3rd quarter, with K.J. contributing a pull-up jumper with 1 seconds remaining, as Phoenix took an 88-84 lead heading into the 4th.

But then with the game heading towards winnin’ time, Magic took control to bring the Lakers back.  He answered a field goal by Chambers by putting back his own miss and then going coast-to-coast with a running hook to give L.A. a 94-92 lead.  He later connected on a pull-up from the wing at the end of the shot clock.

The Lakers took a 4-point lead but K.J. brought the Suns back by morphing into K.J. from the 1990 playoffs.  He hit two big jumpers to keep the Suns in range but his biggest contribution came after the Lakers retook a 104-102 lead and Chambers and Hornacek each had 5 fouls.

K.J. penetrated and found West for a layup to tie the game and then he found Hornacek in transition for a pull-up jumper to give Phoenix the lead with 3:01 left.  He later found Hornacek for another jumper to put the Suns ahead 108-104.  But then Worthy tipped in a missed three from Scott for his 35th point and then Phoenix had a 24-second violation with 1:40 left.

Scott then connected on a pull-up jumper in the lane to tie the game at 108 with 1:23 left.  Fitzsimmons called a timeout and went to Chambers, who connected on a driving banker to give Phoenix the lead again.  Then after Scott missed a jumper, K.J. got out for a breakaway layup and a 112-108 Suns lead.

Dunleavy used a timeout with 41.3 seconds remaining.  He went to Magic, naturally, and he penetrated and found Divac for a layup and a foul.  But Vlade missed the free throw and Phoenix rebounded.  However, there was still a 6-second differential between the shot clock and the game clock, so the Lakers decided to play it out defensively.  It ended up working better than expected when Majerle took a jumper with still 6 seconds on the shot clock.  He missed, Divac rebounded and the Lakers called a timeout with 9.6 seconds left.

On this final possession, the Lakers disfluency on offense came to a head.  There was no movement and they seemed unsure what to do.  Finally, Worthy went 1-on-1 against his former teammate Rambis, and drew a foul when Rambis reached in with 1.1 seconds left.

Big Game James had uncharacteristically struggled from the foul line in the early season.  He was 6-for-9 on the game going into these two attempts, after going 9-for-14 in the first 4 games.  He made the first but he missed the second.  Majerle rebounded and the game ended just like that.

The Lakers had the most heartbreaking of their 4 losses in 5 games.  They would get off to a 2-5 start before winning 8 games in a row (including a victory at Phoenix).  But their big streak came just before the All-Star break as the Lakers won 16 games in a row.  At the All-Star break, they were 35-11, good for 2nd best record in the league behind the 39-9 Portland Trailblazers.  Phoenix was 30-16 at the break and would have to play catch-up again.

There was no bad losing streak or anything for Phoenix but they couldn’t match the Lakers 16-game winning streak.  There were some bad losses as the Suns lost to the Clippers one night after this great win over the Lakers.  Kurt Rambis was taken out of the starting lineup after that loss and replaced by Kenny Battle.

Battle could not contribute as a starter as much as he did off the bench and was released in January.  Rambis moved back into the lineup before the Suns made a move to try and add some muscle and scoring inside.  On December 7, Eddie Johnson and two future draft picks were traded to Seattle for Xavier McDaniel.

McDaniel, Chambers, Hornacek and K.J. gave the Suns some scoring punch but not much defense.  It all came to a head in the 1st round of the playoffs against Utah (after a 55-27 season) when the Suns 4 stars played inconsistently on offense and gave up 15 and 12 points to Utah’s backup big man Mike Brown (a career 5 points per game scorer) in the last two games in which Phoenix lost the series 3-1.

McDaniel would be traded to New York before the start of the 1992 season and Phoenix would have to wait another season to get its inside scoring, muscle and toughness.  But when they got it, they were off and running.

Phoenix starters (points scored)

Tom Chambers (20) – Small Forward

Kurt Rambis (2) – Power Forward

Mark West (16) – Center

Kevin Johnson (24) – Point Guard

Dan Majerle (10) – Shooting Guard

Phoenix bench (points scored)

Jeff Hornacek (18)

Eddie Johnson (2)

Cedric Ceballos (10)

Kenny Battle (8)

Tim Perry (2)

Phoenix Coach: Cotton Fitzsimmons

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (36) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (7) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (15) – Center

Magic Johnson (20) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (17) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Sam Perkins (8)

Terry Teagle (8)

Larry Drew (0)

Elden Campbell (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

February 7, 1991 – Chicago Bulls 95 @Detroit Pistons 93

So now the All-Star break was just about here and the Chicago Bulls were once again behind the Detroit Pistons in the standings of the Central Division.  Detroit was 34-14 going into this game and Chicago was 31-14.

After a 13-2 start, Chuck Daly’s club had a stretch where they lost 7 of 8 games.  But then Chicago came up on the schedule for the first time that season and the site was where the Pistons had beaten the Bulls decisively in Game 7 in 1990, the Palace at Auburn Hills.  Detroit and Chicago gave a repeat performance as the Pistons won handily 105-84.  Scottie Pippen, who had the infamous migraine headache in Game 7, was 2-for-16 from the floor and Jordan was the only Bulls player in double figures.

The teams matched up again on Christmas Day in Chicago and Jordan’s 37 points carried the Bulls to a 98-86 win as they pulled away in the 2nd half.  Detroit followed up that loss with 11 straight wins and an 18-3 stretch heading into this Bulls game.  But in late January, their star was felled by the injury bug.  Isiah Thomas had, perhaps, been playing with torn ligaments in his wrist for awhile but finally had to settle for surgery and wouldn’t be back until April.

This meant that Joe Dumars moved to the point and Vinnie Johnson moved into the starting lineup (Vinnie was not shooting well that season).  Detroit signed veteran John Long to be the third guard.  Other than that, Detroit remained the same from 1990.  Dennis Rodman, James Edwards and Bill Laimbeer were still the starters up front, with Mark Aguirre and John Salley coming off the bench.

Detroit’s offense suffered without Isiah but its defense held opponents to 94.9 points per game at mid-season, which at the time was among the tops in league history since the advent of the shot clock.

Chicago now had its opportunity to take control in the Central Divsion.  They had 5 and 7-game winning streaks in December and January but needed that extra boost.  A win in Detroit would certainly do that.  The Bulls were 0-6 at the Palace all-time in the regular season (the building had opened before the 1989 season) and were 1-12 including the playoffs.

Scottie Pippen certainly seemed to have more confidence then he had in, at least, his last two appearances at the Palace.  He got a coast-to-coast flying slam in transition early on.  But Detroit, as usual, was up to the task as Vinnie Johnson scored 10 early points and the Pistons made 6 straight field goals at one stretch to take a 20-15 lead.

Back-to-back jumpers by Horace Grant cut into that lead and Chicago cut Detroit’s advantage to 26-25 at the end of the 1st quarter.  Pippen had 9 points for the Bulls and Jordan had 8.

The 2nd quarter was a struggle-fest offensively as each team’s bench got into the game.  Aguirre did score 11 of Detroit’s 15 points in the quarter, including the last 10 (the Pistons bench had all 15).  The Bulls bench hadn’t quite come together and Phil Jackson had to keep Pippen and Jordan in the game (usually, either Pippen or Jordan was in the game for the entire 48 minutes).

The two stars put the Bulls ahead late in the quarter and they held a 44-41 halftime lead.  Pippen had 13 points and Jordan 12.

For the 2nd half, Detroit got James Edwards and Dennis Rodman involved offensively early on.  Neither scored a field goal in the 1st half but Edwards got a driving scoop shot in the lane and Rodman got two transition layups.  Bill Laimbeer also got going with 5 points.

Despite that, the Bulls stayed with the Pistons and Edwards was forced to the bench after committing his 4th foul.  A pivotal moment came with 6:28 remaining in the 3rd.  Bill Cartwright was setting up for low post position when he was called for an offensive foul against Laimbeer and it looked like Bill was hit in the face with an elbow.  Cartwright argued the call and got ejected (strangely Detroit got 1 free throw out of it, you’d think they’d get two if Cartwright was ejected for two technicals).

Cartwright had been known for “inadvertently” hitting opponents (and teammates) with rogue elbows.  But upon looking at the replay, Cartwright’s elbows never contacted Laimbeer (but perhaps his head did).  Billy had gotten away with another flop (Laimbeer wore a nose protector for most of that season, could we really be sure that Laimbeer’s nose was broken?).

Although Cartwright wasn’t much of a scorer, the Bulls felt his loss and one particular important aspect of the game.  Defensive rebounding.  Laimbeer and Rodman gave the Pistons an ample amount of second shots as both finished with double figure rebounds.

Laimbeer also contributed 10 points in the quarter as Detroit took a 70-69 lead heading into the 4th.  Early in the 4th, a putback and then two free throws from Laimbeer put the Pistons up 80-76.

Detroit would gain as much as a 5-point lead three times as it looked to be slipping away from the Bulls.  But a member of Chicago’s maligned bench did step up and would continue to grow to the point of becoming a starter two years later.  B.J. Armstrong hit two big jumpers during that stretch and was in the game down the stretch along with another player who would become a key cog but was still a rookie this season, Scott Williams.

The Bulls managed to cut it back to 87-85 as Edwards and Aguirre each picked up their 5th fouls.  Laimbeer hit two free throws and then it became Michael Jordan time.

Jordan drove baseline and double-pumped a shot while he was fouled.  Incredibly (because, you know, Michael Jordan was never lucky on a basketball court), Jordan had the ball knocked away from him but managed to more-or-less fist it into the basket for a three-point play.  It was 89-88 with 2:10 left.

Then after Edwards missed a jumper, Aguirre went over the back of Jordan for his 6th foul.  MJ hit two free throws to give the Bulls the lead.  After an exchange of turnovers, Laimbeer’s corner jumper to give Detroit the advantage back went in-and-out and Grant rebounded.

Dumars was then called for a foul on Jordan away from the ball and Michael made two more free throws with 55.5 seconds left.  Vinnie Johnson came right back with a pull-up from the foul line but Jordan responded by beating the trap for a jumper from the left wing.  The Bulls led 94-91 with 37.1 seconds to go.

Edwards hit a turnaround from the baseline after rebounding a miss from Vinnie.  There was 28.2 seconds remaining and Detroit decided to play straight up defense and not foul.  But after Chicago called a timeout with 14.7 left, Dumars fouled Jordan on the inbounds pass.

Michael missed the first free throw but made the second.  After a Detroit timeout, Laimbeer got free for a three from the corner.  He back-rimmed it as Pippen challenged but the rebound was tipped to Dumars.  Joe D front-rimmed a high-arcing jumper.  Detroit got one more shot as Vinnie got the ball but his shot was back-rimmed.  Rodman got one more tip at the ball but the buzzer had finally sounded and the Bulls had escaped with a win.

For Chicago, this would be the 2nd win of what turned into an 11-game winning streak and a 20-1 stretch to not only take control of the Central Division but the Eastern Conference.

Detroit would find life tough without Isiah Thomas as they lost 5 in a row in late February and had only one stretch during the second half of the season in which they would win more than two games in a row.  Detroit finished 3rd in the East with a 50-32 record but did have Isiah back for the playoffs.

The Pistons also beat the Bulls at the Palace late in the year.  But could the teams get back to the Eastern Conference Finals to face each other?

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (20) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (9) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (4) – Center

John Paxson (8) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (30) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (12)

Stacey King (4)

Dennis Hopson (4)

Will Perdue (0)

Cliff Levingston (4)

Scott Williams (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Detroit starters (points scored)

Dennis Rodman (11) – Small Forward

James Edwards (7) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (25) – Center

Joe Dumars (11) – Point Guard

Vinnie Johnson (12) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (19)

John Salley (6)

John Long (2)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

February 10, 1991 – NBA All-Star Game @ Charlotte: East 116, West 114

It was time for a second expansion city to host All-Star Weekend.  The Charlotte Hornets were in their 3rd year in the league and didn’t have the likes of Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning yet, so they didn’t have any all-stars.

But Michael Jordan was making a return to his home state and, in essence, became the “hometown favorite,” although James Worthy and Brad Daugherty were also from North Carolina and went to UNC.

The highlight of All-Star Saturday may have been this:

Or if you like the Dunk Contest, you had this:

All in all, Saturday may have been the most exciting part of the weekend as the crowd was pretty subdued for the actual All-Star Game on Sunday.  The play was pretty sloppy most of the time but you can’t expect players who don’t play together often to look like a well-drilled machine (although I suppose you could go by today’s standards and let the offense do whatever it pleases).

It was a special comeback story for Bernard King, who was starting with Larry Bird injured.  King was a more than worthy candidate as he was averaging 28.4 points per game for the Washington Bullets.  It was his highest average since before he had torn ligaments in his knee in 1985.

With Isiah Thomas also injured, his teammate Joe Dumars took his starting spot.  But Dumars only played 15 minutes and was the East’s only true point guard.  Jordan assumed the role of point guard most of the time and had 10 turnovers to go with his 5 assists.

But the East was bigger than the West and Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing took advantage by out-rebounding the West thoroughly.  Barkley actually received the MVP award based on his rebounding performance.

Barkley had originally not wanted to play because of a minor fracture in his ankle, but Barkley had played in Philadelphia’s last 4 games and the NBA told him he needed to be in Charlotte.

Barkley got going with a baseline jumper and then a putback of a Bernard King miss to give the East a 12-6 lead.  Jordan tried his best to excite the crowd as he drove to the line, extended his right arm up in the air with the ball and then pulled it back for a double-pump runner.  Barkley also found Jordan for a slam but Magic Johnson kept the West in it with a lefty banker over Ewing and then a three-pointer from the wing.

Barkley then showed off his skills by going coast-to-coast for an over-the-head two-handed slam.  The East held the lead until Dominique Wilkins came up short on a breakaway windmill slam.

Tom Chambers drove for a layup and James Worthy followed with a steal and pull-up jumper with 4.4 seconds remaining to put the West ahead 23-22 after 1 quarter.  For an All-Star Game, that was a low scoring quarter, and it was due to the sloppiness.

Each team’s bench became a factor early on in the 2nd quarter as the teams matched each other.  Kevin McHale, Kevin Duckworth, Ricky Pierce, Alvin Robertson, Worthy, Wilkins, Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, Tim Hardaway and Brad Daugherty got involved in the scoring column.

The West took a bit of a lead midway through the quarter when Magic hit a three, Hardaway found David Robinson for an alley-oop slam, and then Robinson put back a miss to make the score 49-43.

But then Jordan came right back, drove down the lane, hung in the air, and finished a double-pump reverse while drawing Robinson’s 4th foul.  The Admiral (who had a chance, he felt, of getting called to the Persian Gulf.. who knows if it may have happened had Operation Dessert Storm gone on longer) had to sit down and the West lost what little size they had (Hakeem Olajuwon was out for two months with an eye injury).

The teams went back and forth until the last two minutes of the half with the West up 58-56.  Barkley put back a miss to get his double-double in the 1st half and then he split a pair of free throws (he finished the 1st half with 11 points and 11 rebounds).

Hersey Hawkins went coast-to-coast from half-court to finish a breakaway layup.  Then Jordan took over with two free throws, a flying slam and then a pull-up jumper from the wing with 6.8 seconds remaining to give the East a 67-58 halftime lead.  Jordan finished with 19 points.

The 3rd quarter became a little bit more of a foul fest as each team shot a bunch of free throws.  The West did come back and cut the lead to 94-92 after 3 quarters.

The 4th quarter was also a defensive struggle.  Jumpers from Chambers and Hardaway gave the West the lead and were the only field goals scored in the first two minutes of the quarter.

Clyde Drexler put back a miss and then John Stockton found Chambers for a slam on a 4-on-2 break.  The West now had a 100-95 lead.  But Patrick Ewing rebounded a Wilkins miss and scored.  Then Jordan found Barkley on the break for a layup.  A turnaround jumper by Ewing over Chambers, who was now playing center for the West, gave the East the lead.  Then Jordan went coast-to-coast past three guys for a layup.

The East eventually took a 112-107 lead with 2:46 to go before Kevin Johnson hit a free throw.  K.J. missed the second shot but Robinson rebounded and scored to cut the lead to two.  Jordan then drove down the lane off a Barkley pick and scored.  K.J. came back with a pull-up jumper.  Ewing hit a baseline jumper.  Chris Mullin hit two free throws with a minute and a half to go.  The East led 116-114.

The East ran down the shot clock but couldn’t get a good shot.  Barkley finally got the ball, pump faked three times, and had his shot blocked by K.J.  Johnson then saved the ball from going out of bounds as the shot clock went off, but he saved it back to the East.

However, it appeared to be West’s ball because of the shot clock violation.  The officials ruled though that the East would get possession, in essence saying that K.J. had possession when he blocked the shot and then saved the ball.  It was a bad call but it didn’t end up costing the West.

Mullin rebounded a miss from Ricky Pierce (who would only be on the Milwaukee Bucks for 5 more days before being traded to Seattle for Dale Ellis).

Robinson then turned the ball over but gave the West a chance to get it back when he tied up Barkley.  The West won the jump ball and called a timeout with 15.5 seconds remaining.

Portland coach Rick Adelman called for a two-man play between Magic Johnson and David Robinson.  The pick-and-roll was botched and Robinson kicked back out to Magic, who found K.J. at the right wing.  K.J. launched a three for the win that looked good but would be touched by Karl Malone before hitting the front rim (the ball actually was probably short and the Mailman mis-timed his jump, Mailman don’t deliver on Sundays).

Malone was called for an offensive goaltending with 2.9 seconds remaining and it finished off the game as Jordan took the inbounds and ran out the clock.

The East had escaped and Barkley had his All-Star MVP with 17 points and 22 rebounds (the most in an All-Star Game since Wilt Chamberlain in 1967).

The second half of the season started with the 1st place Celtics taking on the 2nd place Lakers.  It would turn out to have a special meaning in retrospect.

West starters (teams) and point totals

Chris Mullin (Golden State Warriors) 13 – Small Forward

Karl Malone (Utah Jazz) 16 – Power Forward

David Robinson (San Antonio Spurs) 16 – Center

Magic Johnson (Los Angeles Lakers) 16 – Point Guard

Kevin Johnson (Phoenix Suns) 5 – Shooting Guard

West bench (teams) and point totals

Kevin Duckworth (Portland Blazers) 6

Clyde Drexler (Portland Blazers) 12

James Worthy (Los Angeles Lakers) 9

Terry Porter (Portland Blazers) 4

Tom Chambers (Phoenix Suns) 8

John Stockton (Utah Jazz) 4

Tim Hardaway (Golden State Warriors) 5

West Coach: Rick Adelman (Portland Blazers)

East starters (teams) and point totals

Bernard King (Washington Bullets) 8 – Small Forward

Charles Barkley (Philadelphia 76ers) 17 – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (New York Knicks) 18 – Center

Joe Dumars (Detroit Pistons) 2 – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (Chicago Bulls) 26 – Shooting Guard

East bench (teams) and point totals

Alvin Robertson (Milwaukee Bucks) 6

Dominique Wilkins (Atlanta Hawks) 12

Robert Parish (Boston Celtics) 2

Kevin McHale (Boston Celtics) 2

Ricky Pierce (Milwaukee Bucks) 9

Brad Daugherty (Cleveland Cavaliers) 8

Hersey Hawkins (Philadelphia 76ers) 6

East Coach: Chris Ford (Boston Celtics)

1991-All-Star-Game-Fleer barkley MVP

The five starters for the East squad in 1991 (from left to right: Michael Jordan, Joe Dumars, Patrick Ewing, Bernard King, and Charles Barkley).  It was the guy on the right end that ended up getting the MVP *photos courtesy of basketballchannel.fr and Pinterest

February 15, 1991 – Boston Celtics 98 @Los Angeles Lakers 85

At this moment during the NBA season, it was almost like it was the’80’s all over again.  The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers had two of the three best records in the league.  Boston was 37-12 and the Lakers were 36-12.

For Boston, Larry Bird had returned from his back injury that kept him out a month on February 6.  The Celtics were 3-0 with Bird back in the lineup and on a 5-game winning streak.  However, Kevin McHale was now out for a few weeks with a sprained ankle.  Still, Boston had won their last two games at Seattle and Golden State.  They would get set for perhaps their best performance of the year.

The Lakers had gotten back to the top of the standings with a 16-game winning streak that went from January 9 until the All-Star break (this included a blowout win over the Larry Bird-less Celtics at Boston Garden).  They lost their first game after the break at Phoenix but rebounded with a win against Minnesota.

But they ran into trouble early on against Boston when Robert Parish got going offensively, with help from some great passes from Bird.  Bird had a casual drop-off feed to Parish for a layup to give Boston a 4-0 lead.  The Lakers came back with 6 points in a row but then Brian Shaw found Parish twice for layups (one of which resulted in a three-point play).  Then Bird hit a jumper and found Shaw on a 4-on-2 break for a layup.  Boston led 13-6 halfway through the 1st quarter.

The 37-year-old Parish just kept it going from there as he scored 9 field goals and 21 points in the 1st quarter.  This included a slam after a baseline drop-step, as well as a number of turnaround fadeaway jumpers from the post.  Nearly single-handedly, Parish gave Boston a 35-27 lead at the end of the 1st quarter.

The Lakers scored the first 6 points of the 2nd quarter and forced Chris Ford to call a timeout 2 minutes in.  Terry Teagle came off the bench to score 6 points and Sam Perkins, who was normally in the starting lineup but not in this game, hit a hook shot from the post to tie the game at 39.  Parish played most of the 2nd quarter before taking an extended break, so it wouldn’t Parish this time that would carry the Celtics.

Reggie Lewis and Kevin Gamble took advantage of their matchups and got open shots from the lane, as well as out in transition.  They scored all of the Celtics points on their 11-0 run to take a 50-39 lead, and the Celtics finished the 1st half ahead 58-47 when Lewis made a fall-away from the baseline at the buzzer.  Gamble had scored 10 2nd quarter points and Lewis had 9.

Again the Lakers started out strong in the 2nd half and cut the Celtics lead to five several times, but it was Parish and Lewis that made several baskets to hold them off.  Parish scored 6 points and Lewis had 9 more as the quarter got to its late stages.

An A.C. Green tip-in cut the Celtics lead to 75-72 with under a minute and a half to go.  But then Lewis hit two pull-up jumpers to being his total to 22 points (all of which came after the 1st quarter).  Gamble then hit two free throws with 0.5 seconds remaining in the quarter to put Boston ahead 81-72 going into the 4th.

Bird would seem more or less lost in the shuffle of some of his teammates performance.  But Larry finished with a triple-double despite not shooting well.  The Lakers could not make a sustained run in the 4th quarter as they started 3-for-13 from the field and only scored 13 points.

The closest they got was 85-79 when Terry Teagle hit back-to-back baskets.  But a lefty layup from Gamble and a high-arcing turnaround by Parish, for his 29th point, kept the Lakers at bay.  Bird would then stick a big nail in the coffin with a three to put the Celtics up 92-81.

The Lakers wouldn’t recover in this game but they would beat Portland two days later to get closer to the Blazers in the standings.  The teams would face off again at the Forum in late March, with the Lakers still a game and a half behind.

The Celtics would take their winning streak to 7 games and played very well over the next month.  But they would be passed in the standings by the scalding hot Chicago Bulls, who won 20 of 21 games.  Those two teams would face off in a classic on the final day of March with Boston now 2 and a half games behind Chicago in the standings.

But this particular game between Boston and L.A. would end up taking some underlying significance.  It would be the last time that Larry Bird and Magic Johnson faced each other in an NBA game, and perhaps in any game anywhere.

Boston starters (points scored)

Kevin Gamble (14) – Small Forward

Larry Bird (11) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (29) – Center

Brian Shaw (10) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (26) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Dee Brown (2)

Ed Pinckney (4)

Michael Smith (2)

Joe Kleine (0)

Boston Coach: Chris Ford

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (23) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (8) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (10) – Center

Magic Johnson (21) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (4) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Sam Perkins (7)

Terry Teagle (12)

Mychal Thompson (0)

Tony Smith (0)

Elden Campbell (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

bird magic

At the Great Western Forum on February 15, 1991, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson faced off for the final time in their careers *photo courtesy of Vox

March 12, 1991 – Philadelphia 76ers 133 @Atlanta Hawks 129 (2OT)

The Atlanta Hawks were getting pretty tired of the Philadelphia 76ers.  Not only had Philly beaten them three times, but Atlanta had blown two games against them.  At the end of this game, the Hawks would be petrified.

In the standings, the Hawks were one game ahead of Philly at 35-27, while the 76ers were 33-27.  The Hawks had finished at 41-41 in 1990 and missed the playoffs by a game.  Mike Fratello resigned as coach and was replaced a month later by Bob Weiss.

The Hawks still had the core of Dominique Wilkins, Kevin Willis, and Doc Rivers as their main stars.  Spud Webb, John Battle, and Jon Koncak were still around.  Moses Malone had turned 35 at the tail end of the 1990 season and was starting to fade.  He wasn’t an all-star for the first time since 1977.

But the team around those guys that made three straight Eastern Conference semifinal appearances from 1986-88 was going away.  Randy Wittman, Tree Rollins, and Scott Hastings had left after the 1988 season.  Antoine Carr was traded to Sacramento in February, 1990.  Cliff Levingston signed with the Bulls prior to the 1991 season.

The Hawks didn’t have much new blood to replace them.  Tim McCormick had been acquired from Houston in a trade.  Sidney Moncrief came out of retirement for one last go-around.  Players like Duane Ferrell, Rumeal Robinson and Sean Higgins had been drafted but hadn’t helped out much.  But the Hawks were back in the playoff race.

Philadelphia had won the Atlantic Division in 1990 but were 12 games behind Boston at the moment.  Head Coach Jim Lynam’s big loss had come earlier in the season when point guard Johnny Dawkins tore ligaments in his knee and was lost for the season.  The 76ers had signed Rickey Green at the beginning of the season as a backup, but he became a starter and averaged 10 points per game (his highest average since 1985-86) despite turning 36 over the summer.  Andre Turner was signed as a backup after the Dawkins injury.

Charles Barkley was still at his All-Star level as he won the MVP of the All-Star Game, although he had been struggling with injuries throughout the season, most notably a foot injury that had been lingering since January and almost kept him out of the All-Star Game.  Hersey Hawkins had joined him in the game as the 3rd year guard averaged 22.1 points per game.  Rick Mahorn was still the enforcer down low.

To add more scoring, the 76ers acquired Armen Gilliam from Charlotte in exchange for Mike Gminski.  Gilliam and 6th man Ron Anderson provided some punch at the forward position.  Philly also had 7’7″ Manute Bol as perhaps a little more than a novelty.

Lynam’s team had won 7 games in a row after going 6-16 from the end of December until the middle of February.  But they had now lost 3 out of 4 games.

They got off to an early 6-2 lead against the Hawks before Atlanta scored 6 in a row.  Philly retook a 12-10 advantage halfway through after Barkley got two slams, including a double-pump breakaway dunk.  Green then hit two jumpers but Doc Rivers got the Hawks back into it with two three-pointers.

It stayed back and forth as Atlanta took a 27-26 lead into the 2nd quarter.

The benches then became a factor as John Battle got 4 points early in the 2nd quarter.  Then a three-point play by Moses Malone on a turnaround jumper gave the Hawks a 34-28 lead.  But then Ron Anderson hit two jumpers, rookie Brian Oliver (who, being a Georgia Tech alum, got a nice hand from the crowd when he entered the game) went coast-to-coast for a layup.  Turner then found Gilliam for a layup to give Philly a 36-34 lead.  It would be their last advantage for awhile.

Battle and Moncrief drove for layups.  Kevin Willis tipped in a miss and then hit a short jumper.  Battle then drove coast-to-coast for a layup to put Atlanta ahead 44-38 and force Lynam to call a timeout with 5:07 left.

The Hawks continued their momentum and took as much as a 15-point lead.  But a reverse slam from Barkley and then a pull-up jumper from Hawkins (his first two points of the game) with 6.8 seconds remaining cut Atlanta’s halftime lead to 60-49.

Atlanta’s balance had counteracted Philly’s attack, which was mainly Barkley.  But the 3rd quarter was different.

Gilliam hit a turnaround from the post and Hawkins hit a three.  Then Mahorn and Gilliam hit jumpers to cut the lead to 62-58.  But Atlanta ran off 6 in a row and would continue to hold onto the lead.

But Hawkins got going a little bit and big field goals by Green and Anderson had cut Atlanta’s lead to 77-76 heading into the 4th quarter.

Atlanta increased its lead again as Moncrief hit two field goals, including a three, and Doc Rivers scored 8 points.  Atlanta took a 94-86 lead halfway through the 4th quarter.

Barkley then slammed on Moncrief and drew a foul.  Gilliam got a layup to cut the lead to three but Moncrief and Wilkins responded with jumpers.  Battle then hit four free throws to put Atlanta ahead 102-93 with 3 minutes left.

But a significant portion of the last three minutes were mishandled by the Hawks.  Their only points for most of it were two free throws from Wilkins.  But Dominique did not help the cause by committing two big turnovers.

Hawkins drove and finished with the left hand against Malone.  Gilliam scored the other 7 points, culminating with a running hook across the lane, on Philly’s 9-2 run to cut the lead to 104-102 with 36.2 seconds remaining.

Atlanta ran down the shot clock and Battle went 1-on-1 against Hawkins.  He spun in the lane, double-pumped in the air, and got the roll on a tough shot that seemed to finish Philly off with 18.5 remaining.  But they couldn’t get a rebound after Green missed a three and the Hawks ended up knocking the ball out of bounds with 8 seconds left.

Anderson then inbounded to Barkley, who launched a long three-pointer and nailed it with 5.4 remaining.  Oliver then fouled Wilkins after a timeout and Dominique nailed both with 4.4 to go.  Philadelphia used a timeout.

Anderson inbounded to Moses this time.  But before Atlanta could foul him, he returned the ball to Anderson for an open three from the right wing.  Ron nailed it with 1.5 left to tie the game.

Weiss designed a seemingly brilliant play in the Hawks timeout as they lobbed it to Wilkins near the basket.  But he missed a turnaround and the game was heading into overtime.  Atlanta had blown another opportunity to beat Philadelphia.

The teams battled to a 112-all tie before Battle nailed back-to-back jumpers to put the Hawks ahead again with 1:41 left.  Atlanta had a chance to increase that lead after Gilliam was called for a travel.  They ran down the shot clock and Doc Rivers missed a three.

At the other end, Barkley nailed another triple to cut it to 116-115 with 33.3 seconds left.  The 76ers then played straight up defense and rebounded a miss by Rivers.  Wilkins then stole the ball but missed a driving shot instead of holding it to run out the clock and/or get fouled.  Mahorn then controlled that rebound and called a timeout with 5.9 left.

They went to Barkley up top against Wilkins.  Charles pump faked Dominique into the air and drew a foul with 2.2 left.  But Barkley missed the first and could only tie the game as he made the second free throw.  Weiss then designed the same play but this one, more than the last one, should have worked.

Wilkins got a perfect lob facing the basket but missed a layup.  Atlanta had blown another chance to beat Philadelphia in 1991 but they could still win the second overtime.

They got off to a good start again and took a 126-122 lead with just over a minute remaining when Spud Webb drove the lane for a banker.  But Philadelphia came right back at the Hawks and Hawkins was grabbed by Battle on a breakaway with 1:02 remaining.  It was called a flagrant foul on Battle, which meant two shots for Hawkins and the ball to Philadelphia.

Hawkins made both of his shots and then Barkley connected on a pull-up from the baseline to tie the game at 126.  Battle penetrated and hit a pull-up banker from the elbow and forced a Philly timeout with 33.8 to play.

Barkley got it in the post and was doubled.  He kicked out to Green who swung the ball to Anderson in the corner beyond the three-point line.  Anderson nailed it with 22 seconds left to give the 76ers their first lead since 36-34.

Atlanta called a timeout and then Barkley gave Philly’s foul to give and made the Hawks inbound it again.  Hawkins then stole Webb’s inbounds pass to Wilkins.  Anderson was fouled with 8.3 to go and made both free throws.

After another Atlanta timeout, Philly went with the strategy that the Hawks had failed at at the end of regulation and fouled Moncrief before he could launch a game-tying three.  With 5.3 seconds left, Moncrief made the first and missed the second on purpose.  But Anderson grabbed the rebound and finished off the game with two free throws.

Atlanta, after being swept by Philadelphia in the season series, finished one game behind the 76ers in the standings at 43-39, good for 6th in the East.  They took Detroit to 5 games before getting throttled 113-81 in the 5th game.

The Hawks would then go through some changes in the back court before the 1992 season.

Philadelphia starters (points scored)

Armen Gilliam (25) – Small Forward

Charles Barkley (34) – Power Forward

Rick Mahorn (10) – Center

Rickey Green (14) – Point Guard

Hersey Hawkins (16) – Shooting Guard

Philadelphia bench (points scored)

Ron Anderson (27)

Andre Turner (3)

Brian Oliver (2)

Manute Bol (2)

Philadelphia Coach: Jim Lynam

Atlanta starters (points scored)

Dominique Wilkins (29) – Small Forward

Kevin Willis (17) – Power Forward

Tim McCormick (10) – Center

Spud Webb (12) – Point Guard

Doc Rivers (16) – Shooting Guard

Atlanta bench (points scored)

John Battle (26)

Moses Malone (9)

Sidney Moncrief (10)

Duane Ferrell (0)

Jon Koncak (0)

Atlanta Coach: Bob Weiss

March 13, 1991 – Chicago Bulls 102 @Milwaukee Bucks 101

The Bulls were in the midst of a 20-1 stretch in which they were routinely blowing teams out.  This was one of the few times they were threatened in this streak.

Chicago was now 45-15 and 1/2 a game behind Boston for the best record in the East.  Detroit was now 7 1/2 games behind the Bulls and Milwaukee was 8 1/2 games back.

The Bucks had just come off a 96-85 win over the reeling Pistons in the Palace.  For Del Harris’ team, it snapped a 2-game losing streak.  But that was far from their worst streak of the season.  On a 20-day stretch in January, the Bucks were 2-10.  This halted them after a 25-8 start, which put them 1st in the Central Division.

Milwaukee’s strength for most of the season was their trio of guards.  There was point guard Jay Humphries, shooting guard Alvin Robertson and 1990 6th man of the year Ricky Pierce.  Despite coming off the bench, Pierce was the Bucks’ leading scorer at 22.5 points per game.  But he wanted to renegotiate his contract and the Bucks refused.

As the trade deadline approached, rumors were flying rampant that Pierce would be traded.  He finally was on February 15 when he was dealt to Seattle for Dale Ellis.  Ellis had averaged over 20 points per game in 4 seasons with the Sonics, but was only at 15 ppg in 1991 as he missed 17 games with a foot injury.

Ellis would now become the 6th man for Milwaukee behind Humphries and defensive ace Robertson, who was acquired from San Antonio in 1989 for Terry Cummings.

The front court looked a lot different in Milwaukee than before.  Fred Roberts and Jack Sikma were still there, they were 2 of 7 players to average in double figures for Milwaukee.  But gone were Randy Breuer and Paul Mokeski.  Breuer was traded to Minnesota for Brad Lohaus in 1990 and Mokeski had signed with Cleveland in 1989 as a free agent.

Larry Krystkowiak was still recovering from his knee injury that he suffered in the 1989 playoffs.  He played briefly at the end of the 1990 season but was lost for the entirety of 1991.  To help fill the void, Milwaukee drafted Michigan’s Terry Mills with the 16th pick in the 1990 NBA draft.

But Mills would be traded in August to Denver for Danny Schayes.  On that same day, veteran Paul Pressey would be traded to San Antonio for Frank Brickowski.  Just like that, Milwaukee had its big people for 1991.  Schayes, Brickowski, Roberts, Sikma, and Lohaus would be the white-wash frontcourt in Milwaukee for the next few seasons (minus Sikma, who would retire following the 1991 season).

Milwaukee’s shooting gave them the early lead over the Bulls in this game.  Robertson hit two three-pointers and Roberts hit another to put the Bucks up 13-8.  Later, two driving layups by Jay Humphries put the Bucks up 19-12.

Michael Jordan and Horace Grant were the main scorers for the Bulls.  Jordan had 12 1st quarter points and led the Bulls back into a 27-24 lead after an 8-0 run.

But Jeff Grayer, Milwaukee’s 1st round pick in 1988 who hadn’t panned out, hit a baseline jumper and then Lester Conner, a backup guard acquired from New Jersey earlier in the year, found Ellis for a layup with 2.8 seconds left to give Milwaukee a 28-27 lead heading into the 2nd quarter.

An 8-0 Bulls run put them up 40-32 and forced Del Harris to call a timeout with 7:55 left in the 2nd quarter.  The Bulls grew that lead to as much as 10.  Jordan, Grant and Scottie Pippen led the way.  Jordan had 19 points at halftime and Grant had 16.

But Milwaukee cut it back to 55-50 at halftime as Schayes led the way with 14 points.  Humphries also had two more driving layups to finish with 8 points.

The Bulls went cold in the 3rd as Jordan had to score 9 of the first 11 points to keep Chicago afloat.  Brickowksi and Schayes each got two field goals inside, Robertson hit a three, and Fred Roberts scored 5 points, including a three-point play to give Milwaukee a 68-66 lead.  Humphries then drove down the lane for a lefty layup to force Phil Jackson to use a timeout at the 3:50 mark.

The Bulls were able to right themselves and pull back into a 78-all tie entering the 4th quarter.

Milwaukee surged ahead again helped by a technical on Will Perdue.  Two free throws from Dale Ellis made it 85-80.  Then a three-point play by Ellis thwarted a Bulls rally and put the Bucks ahead 88-84.

While Milwaukee was able to hold off the Bulls for awhile, they couldn’t put the game away.  Their best chance came with under 3 minutes to go and the Bucks leading 97-92.  Milwaukee had the ball but Fred Roberts missed a runner from the baseline.  Pippen hit a free throw to cut it to four.

Then Grant got a steal and Pippen pushed it ahead to John Paxson.  Paxson nailed a pull-up three from the right wing to cut the lead to 97-96 with 1:18 left.

After a timeout, Roberts tipped in a Schayes miss to make it 99-96.  Robertson then committed a foul on Jordan in the post with 55.2 seconds left.  MJ made only 1 of 2 as he was 9-for-14 from the line that night.  Schayes rebounded the missed second free throw and Milwaukee used a timeout with 45.5 seconds to go.

But the Bulls defense forced a 5-second inbounds violation.  With a chance to tie it, Pippen drove the lane but committed an offensive foul with 37.4 left.

With a chance to, again, put the game away, Milwaukee ran down the shot clock and Humphries drove.  He threw up an airball on a runner and Pippen rebounded.  He got the ball ahead to Paxson who, again, nailed a pull-up three (this time from the left wing) to give Chicago a 100-99 lead with 16.7 seconds left.  Milwaukee used their last timeout.

The Bucks worked the ball to Schayes at the foul line but Jordan came up with a steal.  MJ was fouled by Humphries with 5.4 left and made the two free throws this time.  Milwaukee had to go quickly without any timeouts.

Roberts got the ball ahead to Frank Brickowski, who nailed a pull-up jumper from the wing at the buzzer that looked to be the tying three-pointer.  However, replay showed that Brickowski had both toes on the three-point line.

The referees conferred (at the time, they couldn’t look at the replay) and made the right ruling.  The shot was called a two-pointer and the Bucks lost by one.  This was obviously a very unpopular call in Milwaukee, although there were also a lot of Bulls fans there.

Milwaukee would finish at 48-34, two games behind Detroit for 2nd in the Central and 3rd in the East.  But they would be at a disadvantage for the playoffs.  Dale Ellis had suffered an injury during this game with the Bulls when he appeared to come down awkwardly after going up for a driving shot that was blocked.

It didn’t look serious at the time and Ellis played for two more weeks.  But it ended up being a herniated disk in his lower back that had caused weakness and numbness in his leg muscles.  It finished him for the season and required surgery over the summer.

The Bucks signed Adrian Dantley at the tail end of his career to try and fill the void for the playoffs, but he couldn’t.  The Bucks were swept by Philadelphia in the 1st round.

Milwaukee would not make the playoffs again until 1999.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (14) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (22) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (3) – Center

John Paxson (10) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (39) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (4)

Craig Hodges (2)

Will Perdue (8)

Dennis Hopson (0)

Cliff Levingston (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Milwaukee starters (points scored)

Fred Roberts (18) – Small Forward

Frank Brickowski (10) – Power Forward

Danny Schayes (19) – Center

Jay Humphries (12) – Point Guard

Alvin Robertson (11) – Shooting Guard

Milwaukee bench (points scored)

Dale Ellis (17)

Jack Sikma (3)

Brad Lohaus (5)

Jeff Grayer (6)

Lester Conner (0)

Milwaukee Coach: Del Harris

March 17, 1991 – Philadelphia 76ers 105 @Boston Celtics 110

Less than a week after polishing off the Atlanta Hawks in double overtime, Philadelphia had passed them in the standings and were now in 5th place in the East.

But they were 12 games behind Boston in the Atlantic Division and, before the game, Boston’s magic number to clinch the division was 7.  But the Celtics had been passed in the East standings by the Bulls, who was now a game ahead of Boston.

The Celtics had won 6 of their last 7 games despite not having Kevin McHale for a portion of them.  McHale was still out for this game with a sprained ankle.  Boston had tried to help their depth by signing former 76er Derek Smith.  But Smith still hadn’t played that season after knee surgery.  He would get some time later and made a big impact in a big playoff game.

But for now, Boston went with Ed Pinckney and Joe Kleine as the backups.  Neither had been getting playing time or giving production lately.  But still, Boston’s starters were intact with Larry Bird back from his back injury.

Bird hit three straight jumpers after missing his first few shots to give Boston an early lead.  But Charles Barkley and Hersey Hawkins led Philadelphia back.

The 76ers’ All-stars hit back-to-back threes to give Philly a 20-16 lead.  Barkley then lobbed a ball to Armen Gilliam for a layup.  Soon, after Barkley and Hawkins hit field goals, Philadelphia had a 26-18 lead with just over 2 minutes left in the 1st quarter.

But then Boston got on a roll with their ball movement.  Kevin Gamble got a layup after Reggie Lewis, Robert Parish and Brian Shaw each threw a pass without a dribble.  Shaw later found Gamble with a behind-the-back pass for a baseline jumper.

Dee Brown got into the act off the bench with a jumper, Parish hit two free throws and then Shaw hit a hook shot as Boston finished the quarter on a 10-0 run and took a 28-26 lead into the 2nd quarter.

The Celtics then took an 8-point lead three minutes into the 2nd quarter as Gamble hit two jumpers and then found Brown for another.  But Philadelphia’s bench came alive as Ron Anderson scored 6 points and Andre Turner did the same with two three-pointers.  They tied the game at 44 before the Celtics went inside.

The 76ers really didn’t have anybody to match Robert Parish down low.  Bird found him for a hook and then a turnaround jumper from the post.  Parish then put back a Lewis miss and, finally, the 37-year-old got out on the break and scored on a lead pass from Brown.

The Celtics were also helped when Barkley committed his 3rd foul just before the half.  All of this contributed to a 56-48 halftime lead for Boston.

Parish got two more field goals to start the 3rd.  Kevin Gamble hit three more from the floor, but Philly was able to within range and cut it to 68-63 when Gilliam blocked a shot and then finished on the break.

But Boston pushed it right back to 75-65 when Bird made a three from the top.  Barkley committed his 4th foul late in the 3rd but stayed in the game.  Boston took their biggest lead to that point when Brown made a three to make the score 82-69.  The 76ers cut it back to 84-74 going into the 4th quarter.

The Celtics then executed their offense to near perfection early on in the 4th quarter.  Lewis hit a jumper in the lane.  Brown found Shaw on a cut for a layup.  Parish hit a running hook in the lane.  Bird hit a three after a Parish handoff and then Shaw found Parish for a layup on a pick-and-roll.

Boston took their biggest lead at 98-82 when Bird nailed his third three-pointer.  It looked to be the nail in the coffin.  But Philly wasn’t like they are 25 years later, they didn’t give up.

Gilliam started the run with a turnaround fall-away jumper from the baseline.  Barkley then put back an Anderson airball and drew Gamble’s 5th foul.  Hawkins would later foul Gamble out with a double-pump runner from the baseline.  This cut Boston’s lead to 100-91 with about 3 1/2 minutes left.

But then Parish hit a high-arcing fall-away jumper in the lane.  Brown followed by getting a steal and going coast-to-coast on a 2-on-1.  Still, Barkley hit two jumpers to cut it back to nine with under 2:00 left.

Then Hawkins hit two free throws, got a steal, and fed Gilliam for a breakaway.  Chris Ford had to use a Boston timeout with 1:16 left and the lead down to 104-99.

But Boston got a big basket from their young star, Reggie Lewis, to stem the tide at the end of the shot clock.  That and an offensive rebound by Shaw on the next possession followed by free throws helped hold off Philly for this ball game.

Philadelphia would end up finishing with a 44-38 record, good for 5th in the East.  They swept a depleted Milwaukee Bucks team before taking on the Bulls in the 2nd round.

Boston could not keep pace with Chicago as they lost 3 of their next 4 games.  But they would host the Bulls two weeks later, still trailing by only 2.5 games.

Philadelphia starters (points scored)

Armen Gilliam (12) – Small Forward

Charles Barkley (38) – Power Forward

Rick Mahorn (2) – Center

Rickey Green (11) – Point Guard

Hersey Hawkins (23) – Shooting Guard

Philadelphia bench (points scored)

Ron Anderson (9)

Andre Turner (10)

Kenny Payne (0)

Manute Bol (0)

Philadelphia Coach: Jim Lynam

Boston starters (points scored)

Kevin Gamble (16) – Small Forward

Larry Bird (23) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (28) – Center

Brian Shaw (10) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (14) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Dee Brown (15)

Ed Pinckney (2)

Joe Kleine (2)

Boston Coach: Chris Ford

March 29, 1991 – Portland Blazers 109 @Los Angeles Lakers 105 (OT)

Every season since 1981, the Pacific Division champion had been the Los Angeles Lakers.  But now they were 1 1/2 games behind the Portland Blazers with just 4 weeks left.

The Blazers had started the season 19-1 and held the best record in the league for the entire campaign.  They were suddenly the new team on the block after getting to the Finals against Detroit in 1990.  Rick Adelman’s Blazers had returned everybody and even added some pieces.

The starting lineup of Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter in the backcourt, Jerome Kersey and Buck Williams at the forwards and Kevin Duckworth in the middle remained intact.  Cliff Robinson had made major strides in his second season.  Guards Danny Young and Drazen Petrovic were retained but their playing time diminished because of an off-season addition.  Wayne Cooper and Mark Bryant remained from the front court.

But Portland’s big addition came when they traded 1989 1st round pick Byron Irvin and two future picks to the Sacramento Kings for veteran guard Danny Ainge.  Ainge provided championship experience from his days in Boston.  But it took away playing time from a young star in Drazen Petrovic.  Petro would be traded to New Jersey in January in part of a 3-team deal that brought Walter Davis to Portland.

With all of that, the Blazers felt they were set.  Although they had a 3-8 stretch from the end of February until mid-March, the Blazers kept their lead tenuously.  But then they ripped off 4 straight, including a win at Seattle in which they were down 24 points in the 3rd quarter.  Their comeback ability would be tested again.

The Lakers had beaten Portland in 2 of their 3 matchups so far during the season.  But the Lakers had seen only 10 minutes of Jerome Kersey in those three games.  Kersey got a field goal early on in this one but the Portland offense was carried by Porter, as he scored 9 quick points to give the Blazers an 11-4 lead.  Mike Dunleavy had to use a Laker timeout with just 3 1/2 minutes gone by.

But then L.A. got it together led, as usual, by Magic Johnson and James Worthy.  Magic scored 8 points, including a three-pointer, and had at least 4 assists on feeds to Worthy and Byron Scott.  Worthy had 10 points to lead the way and a Lakers 9-0 run late in the quarter helped put them ahead 28-22 going into the 2nd quarter.

The going was slow for the Trailblazers as they didn’t score a field goal in the first 7 minutes of the 2nd quarter.  They didn’t get on the boards, a very big key to their success, and just looked sluggish overall, not an uncommon thing in the dog days of an NBA season.

L.A. increased its lead to double digits as Worthy kept his attack going and the Lakers got help from their bench, most notably in rookie Tony Smith.  L.A. went on a 7-0 run late in the half as Scott got two breakaway layups and then Worthy hit a three for his 20th point and a 53-34 Lakers lead.  A layup by Kersey with 2.8 seconds left in the half cut it to 53-36 at halftime.

The Lakers kept the attack going for the first 3 minutes of the 3rd quarter and had a 65-44 lead when Sam Perkins hit a turnaround jumper from the post.  Magic had a chance to increase that advantage but missed a layup.

Portland had not been able to get out on the break, their strength, because of a lack of rebounding and effort defensively.  They had also not gotten Kevin Duckworth, an All-Star in 1991, involved down low.

But then Duck hit his first field goal on a lefty runner to cut it to 65-46.  Then Portland got out on a 4-on-1 break and Porter found Duckworth for a slam.  The Blazers energy picked up and they got stops defensively.  A big key to this was switching Buck Williams onto James Worthy to neutralize his low post game.

Williams also contributed offensively with a three-point play on a running banker, after Portland recovered a loose ball at half-court, to cut it to 65-53.  Kersey and Drexler got steals on the next few possessions, leading to layups by Porter and Kersey, respectively.  Dunleavy had to use a Lakers timeout with 4:23 left, and that may have been a possession or two too late.  Portland trailed 65-57.

Drexler penetrated and found Kersey at the top for a jumper.  Drexler then drove down the lane for a finger roll and the lead was four.  A lefty layup by Magic stopped the 17-0 run but didn’t switch the momentum.  Kersey hit another jumper and Porter went coast-to-coast for a layup and the score was 67-66 L.A.

Drexler then nailed a pull-up three from the top to give Portland the lead in the same quarter in which they were trailing by 21.  The Blazers did not make a substitution until the final minute of the quarter.  They took a 71-69 lead into the 4th when Drexler drove coast-to-coast for a layup in the matter of 4 seconds to end the period.

The Blazers had the momentum but Worthy kept L.A. in it with two jumpers on feeds from Tony Smith.  Smith and L.A.’s bench helped give the Lakers the advantage again.  This time, Terry Teagle was the main cog with 7 points to give the Lakers an 84-80 lead.  Teagle later came up with a steal and drew Jerome Kersey’s 5th foul.

Magic would hit four straight free throws to give the Lakers a 92-84 lead with under 4 minutes to go.  But Portland turned the switch on again (or the Lakers turned their switch off) and suddenly, Cliff Robinson hit a turnaround jumper from the post and Porter hit a step-back jumper from the corner.

The Blazers would also show off their hustle again as they recovered another loose ball before Porter penetrated and found Duckworth for a slam and a foul.  Duckworth would follow that with a hook shot from the baseline to give Portland a 93-92 lead.  Magic came back with a driving layup and Porter hit a free throw to tie the game at 94 with a minute to go.

The Blazers recovered Porter’s missed second free throw but couldn’t get a good shot as Porter airballed a driving shot.  But then Worthy threw a swing pass to the wing out of bounds when a teammate wasn’t where he may (or may not) have been supposed to be (Worthy also threw that pass before looking).

The Blazers used a timeout with 24.4 seconds left.  Drexler missed a pull-up jumper and Byron Scott rebounded.  The Lakers had no timeouts so Scott had to dribble the length of the floor and just barely missed a long three at the buzzer.  The game was headed to overtime.

The teams would then trade baskets for most of it.  Drexler found Porter for a jumper.  Magic hit Perkins on a cut for a three-point play to foul out Cliff Robinson.  Kersey hit two free throws.  Perkins hit two more with 3 minutes left after drawing Duckworth’s 6th foul.  Danny Ainge nailed a corner three.  Byron Scott connected on a three from the top.  Drexler banged into Perkins and hit a finger roll in the lane.

Magic responded by hitting a runner in the post after a baseline spin and drawing the foul.  The three-point play gave the Lakers a 105-103 lead.  But Porter hit a pull-up from the baseline to tie it with 35.5 seconds left.  It was, literally, who will blink first.

The Lakers would thanks to a blocked shot from Terry Porter.  Magic got past Ainge in the post and seemed to be in for another layup when Porter came over and blocked his shot like a big man.

The Blazers then went on the transition and Drexler found Williams for a layup and a foul.  Buck missed the free throw and Worthy rebounded and called timeout with 19.5 seconds left.

L.A. went to Worthy in the post.  He found a cutting Perkins for a seemingly easy shot, but Sam missed the layup.  The rebound was up for grabs and there was a scramble for it before Buck Williams dove on it and got it ahead to Drexler for the game-sealing breakaway slam with 3.3 seconds left.

It also turned out to be a Division-sealing win.  For Portland, this was win number 4 in what would become a 16-game winning streak.  They finished at 63-19, good for the best record in the league.  L.A. would have the 2nd best record in the West at 58-24 but would be relegated to the 3rd seed and a date with the 52-win Houston Rockets.

But, as it turned out, Portland didn’t have things as rosy as it seemed and L.A. would get another chance at the team who overtook their Pacific Division title streak.

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (25) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (12) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (9) – Center

Terry Porter (26) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (22) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (10)

Danny Ainge (3)

Danny Young (2)

Wayne Cooper (0)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (26) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (12) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (6) – Center

Magic Johnson (23) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (17) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Terry Teagle (7)

A.C. Green (4)

Mychal Thompson (6)

Tony Smith (4)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

March 31, 1991 – Chicago Bulls 132 @Boston Celtics 135 (2OT)

It was a regular season Sunday afternoon classic.  The Chicago Bulls were 2.5 games ahead of the Celtics for the best record in the East, and with 3 weeks remaining in the season, Boston had to make their final move to try and take the top spot.

The Bulls had finally comeback to earth a bit after winning 20 of 21 games.  They were 3-2 in their last five games and their long home court winning streak had come to an end at the hands of Houston.  But the Bulls still had a 9 game lead in the Central Division with 12 left to play.

Boston had clinched the Atlantic Division two days earlier when Robert Parish hit a game-winner to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers.  The Celtics would even have an answer for Michael Jordan early on as Reggie Lewis blocked two of his jump shots.

Lewis was an inch taller than Jordan, even if he was a little thinner, and had the same athletic ability.  But it turned out to be a big moment in his short career as he ended up blocking 4 shots of Jordan’s.

Michael finished the 1st half 3-for-11 from the field and only 7 points as Boston led 53-47 at the half.  Lewis was a big factor offensively as well.  He hit a step-back jumper from the wing at the buzzer to end the 1st quarter with the game tied at 28.

Boston was also welcoming back Kevin McHale for the first time in 16 days.  McHale had been out with a sprained ankle and played a little bit in the first half but became a difference maker down the stretch.

Boston held the lead through much of the 2nd and 3rd quarters but their biggest advantage was 8 points.  Dee Brown was a major factor off the bench along with Lewis and Larry Bird.  Kevin Gamble, Robert Parish, and Brian Shaw all played steadily as well.

Jordan got it going in the 3rd as he scored 10 points to bring his total to 17.  Scottie Pippen led the Bulls with 19 at that point, but there wasn’t much contribution from anyone else and the Bulls trailed 86-78 heading into the 4th quarter.

Boston’s lead would then increase.  Brown got a three-point play to bring his point total to 17.  McHale then got a layup off a feed from Ed Pinckney to put Boston up 91-80 and force Phil Jackson to use a timeout with 10:29 left.

Later, McHale got the bounce on a three-pointer that put Boston up 96-82 and led Marv Albert to comment that it just might not be the Bulls day.  But this game was far from over and craziness was just beginning.

Bird committed his 4th foul and Jordan and Pippen led the Bulls on an 8-0 run.  Bird halted it briefly with a three to bring his point total to 23.  The teams then traded baskets for the next few minutes before a banker from Pippen got it to 105-101.  Bird answered with a turnaround fall-away from the post and Chicago used another timeout with 4:04 to go.

But Boston would be held scoreless for almost the rest of regulation.  Meanwhile, Cartwright put back a Jordan miss.  Pippen nailed a three from the wing and then hit two free throws after drawing Parish’s 5th foul.  Pippen now had 30 points.  Jordan later hit two free throws to put the Bulls up 110-107.

The Bulls twice had a chance to increase that lead and put the game away but they couldn’t.  Finally, Bird got a chance to tie the game with a three.  He missed long but Brian Shaw got the rebound and kicked out to Reggie Lewis.  Lewis rose up and connected on his only three-pointer of the season (!) and tied the game with 19.4 seconds left.

Lewis then defensed Jordan on the next possession and the Bulls threw the ball away with 3 seconds left trying to find MJ.  Lewis had given Boston a chance to win it and Bird came oh so close to doing so.

Bird inbounded to McHale after a timeout.  McHale was then doubled by Bird’s man, Pippen, but was able to give Larry a return pass for an open three.  The ball hit the back rim, bounced high and hit nearly the top of the backboard, it then hit the front rim and bounced away.  The crowd let out a huge groan while Pippen, amongst all of Chicago, gave a big sigh of relief.  The Bulls were playing their first overtime game of the season.

Robert Parish was the big factor in the first 4 minutes of overtime as he hit three jumpers from the post to give Boston a 118-113 lead.  But then he fouled out with 1 minute to go and Jordan hit two free throws to cut the lead to three.

Jordan then stripped Lewis on the drive and Pippen took the loose ball away from McHale and pushed it.  Pippen settled and then found John Paxson behind him for a game-tying three-pointer from the left wing with 32.4 seconds left.

Boston used a timeout and went to Bird inside.  He would be doubled by Pippen and Grant, each blocked an attempt from Bird before Chicago controlled it with 10 seconds left.  Phil Jackson signaled to Jordan to push the ball and not use a timeout.  Michael came up short on a pull-up jumper and Bird rebounded.  Boston called timeout with 1.1 seconds left.

Chris Ford decided to go with a lob play for the high jumping Dee Brown.  But Pippen and Grant saw it coming and defended it.  Grant ended up with the interception and called timeout with 0.4 seconds left.

This would give the Bulls one last chance at a catch-and-shoot.  They almost pulled it off.  Pippen inbounded to Jordan at the right baseline.  Michael went up with a long turnaround jumper from the baseline with Lewis in his face.

As Jordan released the shot, referee Mike Mathis was indicating that the attempt came too late.  This would turn out to be a heart-breaker for the Bulls as Jordan nailed the fall-away and the Bulls were celebrating for a second before realizing that Mathis was frantically blowing his whistle waving off the basket.

The replays seemed to me to confirm that Jordan just took a little too much time in turning around and releasing the ball.  The call was correct and they didn’t even need replay.

With that adding to the craziness of Bird’s miss at the end of regulation (5:34 of same video), one wasn’t quite sure what to expect in the 2nd overtime, or how it will end.

Bird hit two turnaround jumpers from the mid-post area and then Brown nailed a baseline jumper to give Boston a 124-120 lead with 3:08 left.  Bird then got the bounce on another fall-away after drawing a foul.  The three-point play put Boston up 127-122.

But the Celtics’ chance to increase the lead went by the wayside as Lewis missed two free throws.  Jordan then answered Bird’s three-point play by essentially doing the same thing.  He pump faked a man from the elbow, drew a foul, and got the bounce on a field goal.

But then Shaw found Bird for a baseline jumper and then Brown drove down the lane off a Bird screen for a layup.  Boston was up 131-125 with just about a minute to go and Chicago used a timeout.

The craziness continued.  Pippen handed off to Paxson while setting a screen on John’s man.  Paxson launched a three while Pippen’s man, Lewis, went out to challenge.  The three went in and Lewis was called for a foul.  The four-point play cut the lead back to 131-129.

Brian Shaw answered with a wing jumper and then Ed Pinckney rebounded a Jordan miss.  But Lewis couldn’t put it away at the foul line as he split a pair.  Pippen then connected on a three to make it 134-132 Boston.  Lewis again couldn’t put it away as he split a pair of free throws.

Chicago used its last timeout with 15 seconds left.  But they couldn’t add to this crazy game as Jordan missed two game-tying three-point attempts and Boston held on.  Jordan finished a 12-for-36 from the field, but was 13-for-13 from the line.  The Bulls had a 35 to 19 advantage in free throw attempts and a 32 to 12 advantage in makes.  All in all, it didn’t matter.

Chicago went on a rare two-game home losing streak a week later.  They would look to end it against the New York Knicks, the team they would match up against in the 1st round.  The Bulls held a 1-game lead against the Celtics at that moment.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (35) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (15) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (5) – Center

John Paxson (28) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (37) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (8)

Craig Hodges (0)

Will Perdue (2)

Cliff Levingston (2)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Boston starters (points scored)

Kevin Gamble (12) – Small Forward

Larry Bird (34) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (15) – Center

Brian Shaw (11) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (25) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Dee Brown (21)

Kevin McHale (10)

Ed Pinckney (7)

Stojko Vrankovic (0)

Boston Coach: Chris Ford

Reggie-Lewis-Michael-Jordan

On this day at least, Reggie Lewis got the better of Michael Jordan (Bill Cartwright and Robert Parish look on) *photo courtesy of In All Airness

April 9, 1991 – New York Knicks 106 @Chicago Bulls 108

With a little less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Chicago Bulls were hanging onto the top spot in the East by one game over Boston.  The Celtics had nearly caught up to the Bulls because Chicago had lost back-to-back home games, including an overtime decision to a Charles Barkley-less Philadelphia team.

Meanwhile, New York was one game behind the Indiana Pacers for the 7th spot in the East.  The Knicks had won an Atlantic Division title in 1989 but they fell off in the 2nd half of the 1990 season before rebounding to beat Boston in the 1st round.

They fell off more in 1991 and fired head coach Stu Jackson after a 7-8 start.  Jackson was replaced by veteran coach John MacLeod, who was in his last NBA head coaching duty (he would go on to coach at Notre Dame).

New York had lost Johnny Newman in the off-season to free agency but filled that void by signing John Starks.  Starks had played in the CBA and WBL the previous season after 36 games with Golden State in 1989.  He would take advantage of his opportunity with the Knicks.

The 25-year-old Starks would come off the bench along with Trent Tucker and Mark Jackson in the back court as veteran Maurice Cheeks and Gerald Wilkins started.  Jackson’s play had not quite recovered after getting benched at the end of the 1990 season.  He would never fully regain his confidence in New York after an all-star 1989 season.

The back court was solid but the weakness may have been in the front court for New York behind the starters of Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley and Kiki Vandeweghe.  Kenny Walker’s minutes and play went down considerably in what would be his last season in New York.  1st round pick Jerrod Mustaf would not make it.  Brian Quinnett could shoot and had some good games as a result.

Despite being stabilized by MacLeod, who did a good job despite players not being happy that Jackson was fired, the Knicks could never get any streak together.  Their longest win streak was 5 and their longest losing streak was 4.  They teetered around the .500 mark the entire year but were guaranteed a playoff spot with Cleveland, the closest team to New York in the standings, being 8 games behind them.

But would they face the Bulls who were going for their 4th win in 4 games against New York in 1991, or Boston who they beat in 1990.

Either way, they weren’t healthy at this moment.  Gerald Wilkins had gone on the injured list at the end of March with a severely sprained ankle.  He would miss the rest of the regular season but be back for the playoffs.  Charles Oakley was also out for this game with a knee injury that put him on the pine for the better part of two weeks.  Tucker and Walker would be in the starting lineup for them.

Despite Walker picking up two early fouls, New York pulled to an early 8-8 tie.  But then Scottie Pippen kicked out to Michael Jordan for a three from the wing.  Pippen followed with two slams, one on an offensive rebound and the other in transition.  MacLeod had to use a timeout with 7:24 left in the 1st quarter.

The Bulls increased that lead to 9 when Bill Cartwright got a steal and fed Jordan in transition for a slam.  MacLeod had to call another timeout 2 minutes after calling the first one.  But then he brought in Starks who scored 7 quick points.  This sparked a 9-0 run that tied the game at 21.

But Jordan hit five free throws and then a pull-up jumper after fending off Starks.  Cartwright also added two buckets and Chicago increased their lead back to 33-23 at the end of the 1st quarter.

But then the Bulls bench came in and were out-played.  Starks, Quinnett, Jackson, and Eddie Lee Wilkins all scored field goals to bring New York to within 33-31 and force Phil Jackson to use a timeout with 9:34 left.

Six points from Pippen put the lead back briefly at 43-33 before Kiki Vandeweghe led a Knicks run to tie the game at 45.  Vandeweghe was usually a spot-up shooter but, in this game, he was driving to the hole and finishing.  Kiki finished the 1st half with 11 points to lead New York along with Starks and Quinnett.

But Jordan took over at the end of the 2nd quarter with a hanging bank shot in the lane and then a drive and score with 0.9 seconds left to put the Bulls up 57-54 at the half.  Jordan had 22 and Pippen 13.

Pippen would lead the way in the 3rd quarter with 11 points.  Late in the quarter, B.J. Armstrong found Scottie for a corner three that put the Bulls up 79-74 and gave Pippen his 10th field goal in 10 attempts.  He would miss his next two but Scottie was showing how much he had come on after a slow start to the regular season.

A tip-slam by Cartwright on a Jordan miss with 5.2 seconds left in the 3rd put Chicago up 84-76 heading into the 4th quarter.

The Bulls bench would help increase that lead to as much as 13 in the first 5 minutes of the quarter.  Jackson even took Jordan out with the Bulls announcers hoping they wouldn’t have to see Michael for the rest of the game.

But the Knicks turned up their intensity with a three-guard lineup.  Mark Jackson led the way with 6 points as the Knicks rattled off an 8-1 run that made Jackson put Jordan back in.

The Knicks doubled MJ every time he got the ball and Jordan was content to pass it out and rely on teammates.  Jordan only scored 6 points in the 2nd half and 2 in the 4th quarter.

A banker by Ewing cut the Bulls lead to 101-97 and then, after a steal, Jackson was fouled with 2:35 left.  He split the free throws but the Bulls announcers were being reminded of the game Chicago blew to Philly two days earlier in which the Bulls had the lead throughout.

But Pippen would ease the reminder for a minute as he nailed a big three from the top after Cartwright swung the ball out to him.  Walker put back a miss with under 2 minutes left but then John Paxson, who had hit some clutch shots in 1991 (but the best was yet to come), nailed a pull-up at the end of the shot clock.

Chicago led 106-100 with 1:32 left but Ewing hit two free throws after a Cartwright foul.  New York then got a steal and Jackson found Ewing for a short jumper in the lane.  The Bulls tried to go to Jordan, but he was doubled and passed outside.  Paxson this time missed a pull-up at the end of the shot clock and Horace Grant fouled Walker on the rebound.

Kenny tied the game at 106 with two free throws at the 42.5 second mark.  The Bulls were forced to use a timeout as their killer instinct lacked.

Jordan again got the ball and was doubled.  So he kicked out to Pippen at the top.  Scottie looked like he was going to launch a three but spotted Paxson at the baseline and gave him the ball.  Paxson faked a lunging Walker and then nailed a pull-up with 22.2 seconds left.

Cartwright then came up big defensively as he first knocked the ball away from Ewing as Patrick was going up for a shot in the lane and then stole a pass to seal the game.

The unsung tandem of Paxson and Cartwright may have ended up saving the top seed in the East for the Bulls.  This win kicked off a 6-1 finish to the season for Chicago.  Their record was 61-21 and they would match up with the 39-43 Knicks in the 1st round, and New York would rue the day.

The Bulls would also be helped by Boston finishing the season at 2-6 as Larry Bird sat out all but one of those games with back problems.  Boston would finish at 56-26 and had a much tougher time with Indiana then the Bulls had with New York.

New York starters (points scored)

Kiki Vandeweghe (19) – Small Forward

Kenny Walker (6) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (21) – Center

Maurice Cheeks (8) – Point Guard

Trent Tucker (6) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

Mark Jackson (15)

John Starks (13)

Brian Quinnett (11)

Jerrod Mustaf (3)

Eddie Lee Wilkins (4)

Greg Grant (0)

New York Coach: John MacLeod

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (27) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (10) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (11) – Center

John Paxson (13) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (28) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (5)

Stacey King (0)

Craig Hodges (4)

Will Perdue (6)

Cliff Levingston (4)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

April 25, 1991 – West Quarterfinals, Game 1: Houston Rockets 92 @Los Angeles Lakers 94

Nothing like kicking off the NBA playoffs with some controversy.  For the first time since 1981, the Los Angeles Lakers did not win the Pacific Division.  This meant they got a chance to play a decent 52-30 Houston Rockets team.

The Rockets had been a so-so 41-41 team in 1990.  They started off the season as a so-so team but a peculiar thing got them going.  On January 3, in a game against the Chicago Bulls, superstar center Hakeem Olajuwon was elbowed in the face by Bill Cartwright.  The blow broke the orbital bone around Olajuwon’s right eye and forced him to miss about 2 months.

Without their superstar, Don Chaney’s Rockets seemed to be in trouble.  They were 20-20 on January 22 but then won 7 of their next 8 games.  They went 9-3 in February and then, once Olajuwon came back, had a 13-game winning streak in March.

The difference was that they upped their intensity on defense and shared the ball on offense, as opposed to looking for one guy.  The Rockets still had cornerstones in Otis Thorpe, Vernon Maxwell, Buck Johnson and Sleepy Floyd.  But they had made some moves to improve.  Kenny Smith was acquired from Atlanta for two players and a draft pick.

Smith and Maxwell were the key catalysts from the backcourt who spearheaded Chaney’s team.  They, along with Thorpe, averaged over 17 points per game to help the offense without Olajuwon.  Hakeem still averaged 21.2 points per game but took less shots once he came back and everyone was involved.

Even with 52 wins, the Rockets still finished 6th in a strong Western Conference.  But many figured they’d challenge the Lakers, they were the only team in the West to beat L.A. in a playoff series in the 1980’s.

However, Houston’s reliance on the jump shot hurt them early in Game 1 as they got off to a slow start.  Meanwhile, Byron Scott was hitting his jump shot.  He hit three of them in the first 4 minutes to give L.A. a 9-4 lead.

Then it was James Worthy and Sam Perkins who got going to give the Lakers a 9-point lead.  L.A. was up 25-18 at the end of the 1st quarter as Scott led the way with 9 points.

The Lakers took as much as an 11-point lead in the 2nd quarter as Don Chaney searched for anyone who could get it going.  He finally found a guy in rookie Dave Jamerson.  Jamerson was a 6’5″ guard from Ohio University who would only play in 3 NBA seasons.

But in the 2nd quarter of this game, he got attention for two reasons.  First, he sparked the team by hitting a jump shot and then putting back a miss.  Second, he drew two punches from Lakers reserve Terry Teagle that cost Los Angeles his services for the rest of this game and Game 2.

Suddenly, Jamerson was the target to L.A. boos and he didn’t flinch.  He hit three more free throws to cut the Lakers lead to 35-31 before Sam Perkins nailed a three.

But the Rockets were sparked (pun absolutely intended) and, for the rest of the 1st half, played like the team that had come together in February and March.  Floyd, Thorpe, Smith, Johnson, and Maxwell all got involved (Hakeem only scored 2 points in the quarter) and Houston came back to take a 50-49 lead on a putback from Thorpe.

But then Magic penetrated and found Perkins for a layup with 3.6 seconds left in the half to take a 51-50 lead to the locker room.

The good things did not continue for Houston as they became a jump shooting team in the 3rd quarter, and not the kind that was making the jumpers.  But L.A. could not take full advantage as nobody seemed to be picking up the spark.

The Lakers held a lead throughout the quarter and went into the 4th ahead 71-66.  Byron Scott still led the way with 16 points, including 7 in the 3rd quarter.

The benches sparked the teams early on in the 4th quarter.  Jamerson scored 5 more points, including a technical free throw after an L.A. illegal defense, and took a lot of playing time from an uneven Vernon Maxwell (uneven in terms of shooting the ball, this time) in the late going.  Larry Drew contributed big for the Lakers a Teagle’s absence.

The Lakers continued to lead until Scott picked up his 5th foul and Kenny Smith made two free throws to tie the game at 80.  A Worthy touch-pass found Perkins for a slam and then a Perkins steal led to a break opportunity that ended with a three-point play from Magic.  This put L.A. ahead 85-81 as Houston was mounting up missed opportunities.

But back they came with under 5 minutes to go.  Smith penetrated and found Thorpe for a baseline jumper.  Then Hakeem kicked out to Kenny Smith for a jumper from the top to tie the game.

Magic gave L.A. the lead again when he put back his own miss.  But Houston would hustle its own offensive rebound and Olajuwon hit a turnaround jumper in the lane and drew a foul.  The three-point play put the Rockets up 88-87 with 3 minutes left.

But Houston would go scoreless for the next 2 1/2 minutes.  L.A. couldn’t fully take advantage but had a 91-88 lead after two free throws from Vlade Divac and then a layup from Divac off a Worthy feed.

The Lakers had the ball too with under a minute to go but Magic missed a driving shot.  Maxwell then got a breakaway basket on a goaltend from Divac to cut it to 91-90 with 28.8 seconds left.

With the 4 second difference between the shot clock and the game clock, Houston decided to play straight up defense.  It almost worked and perhaps should have.

Magic backed in and then kicked out to Byron Scott with the shot clock running down.  Scott pump faked, dribbled into the elbow area on the right side, and made a jumper over two guys with 3.5 seconds left.

Originally, it was called a shot clock violation.  But then after the officials discussed the play, they gave Scott the basket.  Houston argued vehemently but the officials weren’t allowed to look at replay yet in the NBA.  The replay was also inconclusive as they graphic shot clock showed 0 with the ball still in Scott’s hands but there was no definitive red light on the basket at that time in the NBA.

With it still being the dark ages, the basket counted and the Lakers had a 93-90 lead with 3.5 seconds left.  It would hold as Houston threw their inbounds pass out of bounds.

The Lakers had survived and would win Game 2 without Teagle.  But the Lakers, and Teagle, would have to deal with a Houston crowd in Game 3.

Houston starters (points scored)

Buck Johnson (8) – Small Forward

Otis Thorpe (10) – Power Forward

Hakeem Olajuwon (22) – Center

Kenny Smith (15) – Point Guard

Vernon Maxwell (12) – Shooting Guard

Houston bench (points scored)

Dave Jamerson (12)

Sleepy Floyd (8)

David Wood (5)

Larry Smith (0)

Houston Coach: Don Chaney

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (14) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (17) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (17) – Center

Magic Johnson (17) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (20) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Larry Drew (8)

Terry Teagle (1)

A.C. Green (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

teagle

Terry Teagle had to be restrained by Houston’s “Mr. Mean” Larry Smith after throwing two punches at Dave Jamerson for, what seemed like, no good reason *photo courtesy of itunes

April 26, 1991 – West Quarterfinals, Game 1: Seattle Sonics 102 @Portland Blazers 110

The Portland Trailblazers had stormed into the playoffs by winning 16 of their final 17 games of the regular season.  They looked to be the prohibitive favorite to win it all.  They had set a franchise record with 63 wins after a Finals appearance the year before.

The Seattle Supersonics had missed the playoffs in 1990 and now had almost a whole new look to their team.  Bernie Bickerstaff left to become the general manager of the Denver Nuggets.  K.C. Jones was brought out of retirement to coach the Sonics.

They drafted Oregon State’s Gary Payton with the 2nd pick to add to the young nucleus of Dana Barros and Shawn Kemp (who were back-to-back 1st round picks in 1989).  When he was drafted, Kemp had actually not played basketball since graduating high school in 1988.  He had committed to Kentucky but had a low SAT score and would be ineligible for his freshman year.  He left the team in November 1988 after he was accused of pawning two gold chains that had been reported stolen from his teammate Sean Sutton, the son of then Kentucky head coach Eddie Sutton.  Sean Sutton did not press charges, but Kemp transferred to Trinity Valley Community College in Texas.  After a semester at TVCC, where he did not play, 19-year-old Shawn Kemp declared himself eligible for the 1989 NBA draft.

After averaging only 6.5 points per game as a rookie, Kemp upped it to 15 in 1991, along with 8.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks.  Kemp would average a double-double over the next 6 seasons.

While Kemp and Payton were stars in the making, they were not quite there in 1991.  The Sonics did some wheeling and dealing to try and further their development.  Xavier McDaniel was traded to Phoenix for Eddie Johnson.  Dale Ellis was shipped to Milwaukee for Ricky Pierce.  Olden Polynice was traded to the Clippers for Benoit Benjamin.

Kemp, Payton, Johnson and Benjamin would be starters along with Sedale Threatt over the last half of the year.  Pierce came off the bench along with Barros, Derrick McKey, Michael Cage and Nate McMillan.

The play was inconsistent throughout the year as the new players were still getting used to each other.  But a 5-game winning streak in April clinched a playoff spot for Seattle.  They finished at 41-41, which was the same record they had in 1990.

They then would show their metal against Portland despite not being given a chance.  Kemp started the scoring with a three-point play and then Payton found him for a slam in transition.

But Portland’s starters played like a well-gelled unit and took the lead.  Jerome Kersey and Clyde Drexler led the way, with Buck Williams and Kevin Duckworth contributing.  Terry Porter didn’t quite get into the act as he scored his only field goal of the game on a reverse layup with just over 3 minutes left in the quarter.

But Portland still steadily grew their lead with Kersey leading the way.  Jerome scored 12 points in the 1st quarter and gave the Blazers their biggest lead at 29-19 with a slam on a 4-on-1 break.  But two jumpers from Ricky Pierce cut the lead to 31-23 at the end of the 1st quarter.

The 2nd quarter was a helluva lot more sloppy as neither bench came in and contributed much.  Kersey would bring his 1st half point total to 18 with two free throws to give the Blazers a 50-43 halftime lead.

Portland kept their lead in the 3rd as Shawn Kemp helped with a technical after pushing a Blazers player.  But Seattle made a run led by Eddie Johnson.  E.J. scored 10 straight Seattle points to cut the lead to 62-61.

But the Sonics could never grab the lead as Portland answered with baskets when Seattle cut their lead to one point.  Drexler would hit three big baskets in that stretch to eventually put Portland ahead 73-68.  Then Clyde got a steal and fed Kersey for a slam on a 4-on-2 break.

Kersey finished the quarter with 28 points and Portland was further helped when Ricky Pierce was called for a technical after arguing a call.  But even with all of that, Portland led only by 6 at 78-72 going into the 4th quarter.

The Sonics player that had helped Eddie Johnson the most in the 3rd quarter was Payton.  The rookie scored 6 points to keep Seattle in the game and was actually doing a stellar job on Drexler at the defensive end.  Meanwhile, Porter was being shut down by Sedale Threatt.

Despite Payton’s stellar game, he would be benched in the 4th quarter in favor of Ricky Pierce.  A logical move going in but it exploded in K.C. Jones’ face.  Pierce could not get going offensively but, more importantly, Drexler exploded on his offensive end.

Portland’s bench would finally get some buckets as Cliff Robinson and Danny Ainge started the 4th quarter with field goals.  But six points from Eddie Johnson cut the lead to 85-82.

Drexler then started a Portland run by hitting a three from the top.  Later, Clyde back cut Pierce for a layup off a Buck Williams feed.  Drexler would then feed Danny Ainge on a cut for a layup.  This put Portland up 93-85 with 6:09 to go and forced a Seattle timeout.

But Seattle would not go away.  After committing his 5th foul, E.J. nailed a three from the top to cut the lead to 96-92.  But Drexler hit two free throws and, with under 2 minutes left, hit a driving banker after switching to his left hand.

That shot gave Portland a 100-96 lead.  Then with under a minute left when Kersey nailed a pull-up jumper from the top to give Portland a 104-98 lead.  Kersey later found Drexler for a layup with 32.4 seconds left.

The icing on the cake would be thrown in when Ainge threw a long pass to Drexler for a breakaway slam.  This gave Portland a 108-102 lead.  Drexler finished the 4th quarter with 19 points and finished the game with 39.

Game 2 would prove to be more of the same.  Seven Blazers finished in double figures but needed a 4th quarter run to put the game away 115-106.  The same thing was happening in Game 3 as well.  But a different result would be had.

Seattle starters (points scored)

Eddie Johnson (33) – Small Forward

Shawn Kemp (10) – Power Forward

Benoit Benjamin (12) – Center

Gary Payton (6) – Point Guard

Sedale Threatt (15) – Shooting Guard

Seattle bench (points scored)

Ricky Pierce (17)

Derrick McKey (6)

Michael Cage (2)

Dana Barros (0)

Nate McMillan (1)

Seattle Coach: K.C. Jones

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (31) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (10) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (12) – Center

Terry Porter (7) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (39) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (3)

Danny Ainge (6)

Walter Davis (2)

Mark Bryant (0)

Danny Young (0)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

drexler_payton

Gary Payton had done a credible job on Clyde Drexler in Game 1 of the playoffs, but Drexler scored 19 points in the 4th quarter to lead Portland to a win while Payton was on the bench *photo courtesy of Sonics Rising

April 27, 1991 – West Quarterfinals, Game 2: Golden State Warriors 111 @San Antonio Spurs 98

We’ve now come to the peak time of Run TMC.  They would be together for only 2 seasons and this was their only playoff appearance.

The Golden State Warriors finished the season at 44-38 (their best record since 1982, a year they didn’t make the playoffs) and won their last 5 games to hold off Seattle and grab the 7th spot in the West.

Their final regular season victory came over the Utah Jazz.  This would give the Midwest Division championship to the San Antonio Spurs for the second straight year (and, for the second straight year, they finished one game ahead of Utah).

The Spurs followed up their 56 win 1990 season by going 55-27 in 1991.  They had the same coach in Larry Brown and the same starters in Rod Strickland and Willie Anderson at guard, Sean Elliott and Terry Cummings at forward, and superstar center David Robinson.  But they were much harder hit by injuries.

This led to a bit more inconsistency in their regular season, but the Spurs finished it out by winning 14 of their final 19 games, all with those five starters in tact.

The bench would be a bit different for Brown.  Paul Pressey was acquired from Milwaukee for Frank Brickowski.  Sidney Green would be acquired from Orlando.  Avery Johnson would be signed at mid-season after being let go by Denver.  David Wingate would be the only main bench player who remained from 1990, and he was slowed by a hamstring injury.

Golden State also made some small alterations to their bench during the season.  Steve Johnson was let go.  Paul Mokeski and Mario Elie were signed.  Vincent Askew would then be added late in the year.

Don Nelson pulled a surprise when he started the less known of those three guys in Game 2.  Mokeski had been a fixture (for better or worse) in Milwaukee through the ’80’s and Vincent Askew was, at least, familiar to college basketball fans who remember him from Memphis State.

Mario Elie had gone to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s high school in New York and actually played a year with Chris Mullin.  Elie then went to American International before being a 7th round pick of Don Nelson’s Bucks in 1985.  He didn’t make the team and played in Ireland, Argentina, Portugal, the USBL and the CBA before finally getting his chance with the Philadelphia 76ers on December 28, 1990.

That was when Elie signed a 10-day contract with Philly.  He didn’t get a second 10-day contract.  But he did get a second chance with the Warriors on February 23.  He would sign for the rest of the season on March 5.

Elie was a 6’5″ bull of a forward who would develop into an outstanding shooter.  But for now he was a driver and defensive player, perhaps the reason he moved up the depth chart in Golden State.

He would get the chance to start Game 2 after the Warriors were torched in Game 1.  Although the final score was only 130-121, it wasn’t that close.  Willie Anderson led the way with 38 points.  Rod Strickland added 30 and severely out-played Tim Hardaway.  David Robinson also added 30.

The Warriors had tried to be physical with Robinson, almost setting off two altercations, but that had not been effective.

The Spurs looked to do the same thing in Game 2 as they hit their first 5 shots.  Cummings hit a turnaround from the baseline.  Anderson fed Robinson on a cut for a three-point play (those two shots happened before the Warriors even attempted a field goal).

Anderson then stuck a three and Cummings drop-stepped to the baseline for a layup.  The Spurs led 10-2 with 9:34 left and Don Nelson used a timeout.

Mitch Richmond then got the Warriors going with two jumpers.  Tim Hardaway followed with two more as the Warriors climbed back into it.  Richmond put back a Hardaway miss on the break and then Sarunas Marciulionis tied it at 18 with a driving layup past Sean Elliott.

The Spurs re-took a 5-point lead after Richmond picked up his 3rd foul.  But then an 8-0 run by the Warriors put them ahead where they stayed.  Golden State led 27-26 at the end of the 1st quarter.

Marciulionis scored 6 points early in the 2nd quarter and then a Tim Hardaway three put Golden State up 36-29 and forced a Larry Brown timeout with 7:35 left.  Brown would soon lose Elliott to a broken nose for the rest of the game.

The first timeout didn’t help either as Brown had to call another after back-to-back field goals from Tyrone Hill.  The Warriors then took a 42-31 lead after Mullin blocked an Anderson shot and Hardaway found Marciulionis for a transition layup.

The Spurs made some noise late in the 2nd quarter with a 10-0 run to cut the lead back to 46-45.  A three from Hardaway versus two defenders put Golden State up 51-47 and kicked off the run that ended up finishing the Spurs.

The half ended with Marciulionis scoring his 12th point on a driving layup and then Jim Petersen (Golden State’s “center” for the day) hitting a running hook against Robinson.

In Game 1, the 4 Warriors “centers” had put up 0 points against Robinson.  In this game, Hill and Petersen already contributed with Tom Tolbert’s to come in the 2nd half.  This helped the Warriors gain a 55-47 halftime lead.

Golden State used its speed and quickness to get off to a good 2nd half start as well.  Hardaway hit a wing jumper.  Mullin found Richmond for a layup on a 4-on-1 break.  Elie penetrated and found Petersen on a cut for a layup against Robinson.  Richmond then hit two free throws and got a slam off great passing.

The Warriors now led 65-47 and were on a 17-0 run.  Robinson finally broke it with a tip-in but the Admiral’s problem was that he wasn’t getting the ball enough.  Strickland and Anderson struggled in the 2nd half while trying to get their shots (Strickland struggled all game while Anderson had 14 points in the 1st half).  Cummings was effective as well, but he and Robinson didn’t see the ball nearly enough to take advantage of the smaller Warriors.

Golden State would hold that advantage for the rest of the 3rd as Mullin got going after hitting 1 of his first 8 shots from the field.  The Warriors led 84-67 heading into the 4th.

Nellie had gone away from his fast-moving free-wheeling game a bit toward the end of the 3rd quarter and started playing the clock.  At first, it didn’t matter as the Warriors were hitting their jumpers, led by Tom Tolbert.

San Antonio went on a 7-2 run to cut the lead to 90-78.  But then Elie hit a tough runner against Cummings and Tolbert nailed his second and third jumper of the period.  A corner three by Mullin after penetration from Hardaway put the Warriors ahead 99-81.

But then they went cold and San Antonio made their run of the 2nd half.  It wouldn’t turn out to be much of one as they went on a 10-0 run over the span of about 4 minutes.  The closest they got was 101-93 with around 3 minutes left.

But then Elie hit two free throws and the Spurs committed back-to-back turnovers to end their cause.  Golden State had gotten their split with the favored Spurs and now San Antonio had to deal with the prospect of going to Oakland and dealing with the raucous Golden State fans.

Golden State starters (points scored)

Mario Elie (6) – Small Forward

Chris Mullin (27) – Power Forward

Jim Petersen (5) – Center

Tim Hardaway (20) – Point Guard

Mitch Richmond (16) – Shooting Guard

Golden State bench (points scored)

Sarunas Marciulionis (16)

Rod Higgins (6)

Tom Tolbert (6)

Tyrone Hill (9)

Vincent Askew (0)

Golden State Coach: Don Nelson

San Antonio starters (points scored)

Sean Elliott (1) – Small Forward

Terry Cummings (26) – Power Forward

David Robinson (28) – Center

Rod Strickland (8) – Point Guard

Willie Anderson (19) – Shooting Guard

San Antonio bench (points scored)

Paul Pressey (12)

Sidney Green (4)

David Wingate (0)

Avery Johnson (0)

Sean Higgins (0)

San Antonio Coach: Larry Brown

April 30, 1991 – East Quarterfinals, Game 3: Chicago Bulls 103 @New York Knicks 94

It turned out that the new top dog in the Eastern Conference came into the playoffs on a mission.  In Game 1, the Bulls held Patrick Ewing to 6 points and destroyed the Knicks 126-85.  The Bulls then used a 4th quarter run to pull away in Game 2 89-79.

The Knicks had Gerald Wilkins returning for the playoffs and had Charles Oakley back.  But their overall structure was still lacking and, while they played well for a bit, they weren’t much of a match for the Bulls.

Wilkins had struggled in the first two games but came out strong in Game 3.  He hit a three-pointer from the top and then got a breakaway slam that forced Phil Jackson to use an early timeout.

Scottie Pippen would be the early factor for the Bulls as he scored 9 points to help Chicago come back and tie it at 19.  But then Kiki Vandeweghe scored his 8th point on a drive down the lane.  Ewing put back a miss by Wilkins.  Wilkins then scored on a finger roll in transition that forced another Jackson timeout with 3:33 left and New York ahead 25-19.

Wilkins and Pippen each had 11 points in the 1st quarter as New York went ahead 31-25 at the period break.

The Knicks bench then got going in the 2nd as Trent Tucker and Jerrod Mustaf, who were each playing their final games in a Knicks uniform, provided a spark.

The Bulls only answer seemed to be Pippen as New York ran to a 45-33 lead on Vandeweghe’s three-pointer.

But then things turned around as the Bulls hustled two offensive rebounds before Michael Jordan hit a jumper in the lane.  Jordan followed with a steal and B.J. Armstrong got a breakaway layup.  Then Armstrong came up with a steal and Craig Hodges got a breakaway layup.

After a Vandeweghe free throw was taken away by a lane violation, Pippen drove down the lane and, with the left hand, slammed one down on Ewing (it wouldn’t be the best dunk on Ewing in this game and it wouldn’t be Pippen’s best dunk on Ewing in their careers, poor Patrick).  John Paxson then got a breakaway layup to cut the lead to 46-43 and force John MacLeod to use a timeout with 3:24 left.

The Bulls would stay within four before Jordan unleashed his dunking ferocity on Ewing.  Michael originally drove baseline but was cut off by Oakley.  But MJ pivoted and then quickly spun baseline.  Ewing was there to help with no avail (poor Patrick, he was one of the best rim protectors in NBA history).  Jordan dunked on him and drew a foul.

The three-point play cut the Knicks lead to 54-53 at the half.  Pippen finished with 17 points while Jordan had 13.

The teams continued to trade baskets for the first 3 minutes of the 3rd quarter before the Bulls started to take control.  Jordan drove down the lane for a layup to put Chicago up 61-60.  Then MJ found Pippen for a transition slam to force a Knicks timeout.

Jordan then connected on a fall-away from the mid post after driving and reverse pivoting.  Later, MJ stole a rebound from Oakley and hit a jumper to put the Bulls ahead 67-63.

Jordan later nailed another pull-up from the elbow and then Paxson made a jumper at the end of the shot clock to put the Bulls up 71-67.  Jordan, later, hit a turnaround fall-away jumper from the post and then drove baseline for a score to make it 76-69 Bulls.

Jordan would finish the 3rd quarter with 15 points.  Will Perdue ended the quarter with 5 points on two offensive rebounds.  His latest tip-in put Chicago ahead 83-71 going into the 4th quarter.

The Knicks disorganization on offense came out at this time.  Instead of getting Ewing the ball, they settled for jumpers and not very good ones.  But when Ewing did get the ball, he couldn’t deliver either.

The closest New York got in the quarter was 8 points.  But they would be held off by the 6 offensive rebounds and 16 points from Will Perdue, who was playing so well that Bill Cartwright didn’t come back into the game after picking up his 4th foul in the 3rd quarter.

Chicago would move on to play the Philadelphia 76ers for the second straight season in the playoffs.  It was the first time in the Michael Jordan era that the Bulls swept a playoff series.

For New York, John MacLeod would be fired 2 days later and eventually replaced by former Lakers coach Pat Riley.  With that and a few trades and signings, a new identity would take shape in New York.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (21) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (9) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (4) – Center

John Paxson (14) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (33) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Will Perdue (16)

B.J. Armstrong (2)

Craig Hodges (2)

Stacey King (2)

Cliff Levingston (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

New York starters (points scored)

Kiki Vandeweghe (20) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (8) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (20) – Center

Maurice Cheeks (11) – Point Guard

Gerald Wilkins (15) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

Trent Tucker (12)

Jerrod Mustaf (8)

Mark Jackson (0)

John Starks (0)

Brian Quinnett (0)

Kenny Walker (0)

New York Coach: John MacLeod

April 30, 1991 – West Quarterfinals, Game 3: Los Angeles Lakers 94 @Houston Rockets 90

The jump shooting Rockets were dying by the jump shot in the first two games.  They were also dying with Lakers such as Vlade Divac and Byron Scott killing them, along with Magic and Worthy.

Meanwhile, Houston’s role players were not coming through.  The biggest examples were the struggles of Buck Johnson and Sleepy Floyd off the bench.

But now on their home court, the Rockets figured to come with their biggest charge.  Houston was not the most welcoming place for James Worthy after he had gotten arrested there earlier in the season for attempting to solicit prostitutes.  It would also not be the most welcoming place for Terry Teagle, who was booed after punching Dave Jamerson in Game 1.  Teagle was 0-for-4 and a non-factor.

Houston did come out with energy early on as they forced 3 Laker turnovers and Otis Thorpe, who had not been in the offense enough, got two buckets.  Buck Johnson also hit an early wing jumper after Hakeem Olajuwon kicked the ball out of a double team.

The Lakers though were able to stay with them as Magic and Worthy led the way.  But the supporting cast wasn’t getting off for L.A. unlike the first two games.

Otis Thorpe led the way with 12 points as Houston took a 24-23 advantage going into the 2nd quarter.

Thorpe then started the 2nd quarter by going coast-to-coast for a layup and then he kicked out to Kenny Smith for a jumper to put the Rockets up 30-23.

Later, Olajuwon hit two turnaround jumpers and then Vernon Maxwell connected on a three to put Houston up 39-29 and force a Lakers timeout with 5:07 left in the half.

The Lakers wouldn’t let the lead grow any bigger as Worthy finished the half with 16 points while Magic had 14.  Houston held a 46-39 lead at the break.

Magic got started quickly in the 2nd half with two field goals and a feed to Worthy for a layup.  Magic kept going as he was realizing that he needed to score to keep L.A. in it.  He went coast-to-coast twice for layups to give the Lakers a 55-54 lead.

The teams traded baskets for the rest of the quarter.  Most of the Lakers baskets came from Magic, who had 16 points in the 3rd quarter.  His latest was a drive for a three-point play that put L.A. up 66-65 going into the 4th quarter.

Houston regained momentum and took a 74-70 lead when Kenny Smith nailed a three-pointer on a kickout from Olajuwon.  But Magic scored twice from the post and then Byron Scott got going with a runner in transition to tie the game at 76 with 6:46 left.

The Lakers then took a three-point lead and Houston looked done after Byron Scott stole a bad outlet pass and Magic hit on a scoop.  But Magic turned the ball over on the next possession and the Rockets got a 3-on-1 break.

It was more like a fast break that would be run today.  Instead of everyone going toward the basket, Maxwell camped at the three-point line and got a pass from Thorpe.  He settled for the three and nailed it to tie the game at 84.  Today, we see people run to the three-point line often on a 3-on-1 break.  In 1991, it was absolutely blasphemous but it got the Houston crowd going after they had been relatively quiet for most of the game.

Then after another turnover from Magic, Kenny Smith hit a pull-up jumper with 1:35 left to give Houston a lead.  But then after a Lakers timeout, Sam Perkins hit a pull-up from the wing after Magic kicked out from the post.

Olajuwon responded with a fall-away in the lane but then Byron Scott nailed another big jumper after Magic kicked out of another double-team in the post.

The Rockets could not answer on their next possession as Kenny Smith barely missed a jumper from the top.  Perkins rebounded and L.A. used a timeout with 30.8 seconds left.

Again, the Lakers went down low to Magic Johnson.  He was doubled and kicked out to Worthy.  James then swung the ball to Scott on the baseline.  Byron connected on another jumper and L.A. led 90-88 with 16.9 seconds left.

After a Houston timeout, Don Chaney had Otis Thorpe throw the ball inbounds.  Thorpe couldn’t find anybody and tried to call a timeout.  Instead, he was called for a 5-second violation (I think the count was a bit quick) and the Lakers got the ball.

The game pretty much ended there as Perkins and then Divac hit a pair of free throws and the sweep was a reality.

Houston had overachieved in many people’s eyes in 1991.  In 1992, they came back down to earth as they finished at 42-40 and missed the playoffs.  Don Chaney was fired at mid-season and replaced by Rudy Tomjanovich.  Hakeem Olajuwon repeatedly requested to be traded up until the early part of the 1993 season.  But all would soon be fixed in Houston.

For the Lakers, it was old hat… on to the next round.

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (22) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (16) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (8) – Center

Magic Johnson (38) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (8) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

A.C. Green (4)

Terry Teagle (0)

Larry Drew (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

Houston starters (points scored)

Buck Johnson (12) – Small Forward

Otis Thorpe (21) – Power Forward

Hakeem Olajuwon (21) – Center

Kenny Smith (12) – Point Guard

Vernon Maxwell (13) – Shooting Guard

Houston bench (points scored)

Larry Smith (4)

Dave Jamerson (4)

Sleepy Floyd (2)

David Wood (1)

Houston Coach: Don Chaney

May 2, 1991 – West Quarterfinals, Game 4: Portland Blazers 89 @Seattle Sonics 101

In the first two games in Portland, Seattle had hung around but could not overtake the Blazers in close games.  It would be different in Game 3 as Seattle only trailed by two with 10 seconds left.

Sedale Threatt then hit a tough three from the top to give the Sonics the lead.  Gary Payton then stole the inbounds pass and Seattle had forced a Game 4.  Now the Sonics were looking to do something that no #8 seed had done since the NBA went to an 8-team per conference format.  They were looking to force an all-or-nothing Game 5.

The Sonics had gotten big performances from Eddie Johnson in Games 1 & 2.  He was 3-for-11 in Game 3 but Threatt and Benoit Benjamin, who became a factor for the first time all series, scored 29 and 26 points, respectively.  Derrick McKey had also contributed off the bench with 13 points and 7 rebounds.

Johnson came back to life in Game 4 as he scored 6 points in the first 5 minutes to give Seattle a 14-9 lead.  The other Sonics starters had gotten into the scoring column at that point as well.  That balance made Seattle look like Portland.

The Blazers starters had been pretty consistent throughout the series.  Other than Terry Porter’s 7 points in Game 1, all five starters had scored in double figures in all three games.  Cliff Robinson also contributed double figures in Games 2 & 3.

But Eddie Johnson continued to pull away from the pack as he nailed a three to put the Sonics up 17-11.  Threatt followed with a pull-up jumper in transition to give Seattle an 8-point lead.

Shawn Kemp then scored 8 of Seattle’s final 10 points of the 1st quarter.  This helped hold off Portland, who cut the lead to 29-27 at the end of the quarter.  Jerome Kersey led the way with 13 points.

McKey would start his contribution in this game with a three-point play that put the Sonics up 36-29 early in the 2nd quarter.  But 5 straight points from Cliff Robinson cut the lead back to two.

Seattle then surged as McKey scored 3 points, Eddie Johnson got a three-point play and Benoit Benjamin got a layup off a feed from Nate McMillan.  This put Seattle up 44-34.  Porter then scored 7 straight Blazer points but Seattle still held a 50-43 lead at the half.  Eddie Johnson led the way with 16 points.

Portland started the 3rd quarter on an 8-2 run and cut the lead to 54-52.  But a problem was starting to arise for the visiting Trailblazers, and it manifested in the 3rd and 4th quarters.

Portland was really struggling from the foul line and this, in essence, would keep them behind on the scoreboard.  They would finish the game at 20-for-39 from the foul line.  In a game that they lost by 12, they would have a great chance had they shot a halfway decent percentage.

The contribution of Eddie Johnson also helped hold off the Blazers as he scored 10 points in the 3rd quarter, including 6 in a row when Portland had cut the lead to 66-64.

But the Blazers were still charging and hanging around, only trailing 76-72 entering the 4th quarter.

They would then tie the game at 76 when Cliff Robinson got a layup with 2 1/2 gone by.  Danny Young then hit a driving banker at the end of the shot clock to give Portland their first lead since 5-4.

The Blazers had a chance to increase that lead but Benjamin blocked a shot by Robinson.  McKey then tied it with two free throws.  Portland would take two more leads on the next few possessions but Seattle would come right back.

A pull-up by Threatt gave Seattle an 84-82 lead.  Clyde Drexler tied it with a wing jumper.  But then Nate McMillan gave Seattle a lead by putting back his own miss with 4:49 to go.

McKey then scored back-to-back baskets as Portland continued to miss free throws.  Then, with 2:38 left, Threatt hit a high-arcing pull-up jumper from the wing at the end of the shot clock to put Seattle ahead 92-85.

Kevin Duckworth, who was a non-factor for Portland, then missed two free throws as the pressure from the Seattle crowd was amped.  Eddie Johnson would get two breakaway layups and Threatt hit another three at the end of the shot clock that put the game away.

What also hadn’t helped Portland in this game was 20 turnovers and then 17 offensive rebounds by Seattle.  As a result, the Trailblazers would be the first #1 seed to be pushed to a Game 5 by a #8 seed.

But they would not be the first #1 seed to lose to a #8 (Seattle would later be involved in that).  The Trailblazers won Game 5 119-107, as 6 players finished in double figures and helped Portland to a 20-point halftime lead.

The Trailblazers would have an easier time with Utah in the 2nd round, despite most of the games being close.  Portland beat the Jazz in 5 games and then awaited a Pacific Division rival in the Western Finals.

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (20) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (8) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (5) – Center

Terry Porter (17) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (19) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (13)

Danny Ainge (1)

Danny Young (6)

Mark Bryant (0)

Walter Davis (0)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

Seattle starters (points scored)

Eddie Johnson (34) – Small Forward

Shawn Kemp (12) – Power Forward

Benoit Benjamin (14) – Center

Gary Payton (6) – Point Guard

Sedale Threatt (15) – Shooting Guard

Seattle bench (points scored)

Derrick McKey (15)

Ricky Pierce (2)

Michael Cage (1)

Nate McMillan (2)

Seattle Coach: K.C. Jones

May 3, 1991 – East Quarterfinals, Game 4: Boston Celtics 113 @Indiana Pacers 116

The Indiana Pacers came into this series having won only one playoff game in their NBA history.  But after losing a close Game 1 in Boston Garden, Chuck Person personally delivered their first ever NBA road playoff win in Game 2.

The “Rifleman” nailed a then-playoff record 7 three-pointers and scored 39 points.  Included in this output was a lot of trash-talk that made him popular with the Boston crowd (especially since most of his gyrations were directed at Larry Bird).  All in all, it contributed to a 130-118 Pacers win.

But, with all that momentum, the Pacers came home and laid an egg.  Person scored 6 points and took only 8 shots.  Indiana had to make a comeback to cut their defeat to 112-105.

Boston had 5 guys average in double figures so far (Bird, Parish, Lewis, Shaw, and McHale off the bench).  Indiana had been getting a contribution from their young back court of Michael Williams and Reggie Miller and from the 6th man of the year in Detlef Schrempf.

Players like Person, Miller, Rik Smits, and Vern Fleming had been drafted by Indiana in the 80’s.  Schrempf and big man LaSalle Thompson had been acquired in 1989 trade deadline deals.  Williams and veteran forward Mike Sanders had been signed as free agents.

All except Williams had contributed to a playoff team in 1990.  That team had been swept by eventual champion Detroit.  But things weren’t going as smoothly in 1991 under coach Dick Versace.  On December 20, Versace was replaced by Bob Hill.  Hill eventually turned around the defense and Indiana got back into it with a 6-game winning streak in February (including a win over Boston).

They finished at 41-41, two games ahead of the Knicks for the final playoff spot.  But, on the verge of being eliminated, Reggie Miller came out aggressive in the 1st quarter after getting off to slow starts in the first 3 games.

Miller hit three of his first four shots, but Boston was up to the challenge early on.  Brian Shaw and Kevin Gamble hit two field goals and Bird also hit his first jumper.  The Celtics took an 18-12 lead before Miller led Indiana back.

Indiana then raced to a 29-23 lead despite their big men of LaSalle Thompson, Rik Smits and Greg Dreiling getting into early foul trouble.  But then Boston came back to tie it at 36 at the end of the 1st quarter.

The quick pace continued in the 2nd quarter.  Dee Brown and Kevin McHale contributed off the Celtics bench to help Boston grab a 53-46 lead 5 minutes into the quarter.

But Miller and Person brought the Pacers back.  Miller had 23 points at halftime, which included no three-pointers.  But Boston’s big 3 from the last 11 seasons also had big halves.  McHale had 16 off the bench, Parish had 14 and Bird added 12.  All of this helped Boston take a 69-64 halftime lead.

In the 3rd quarter, Reggie Lewis joined the party.  Lewis went right at Reggie Miller and drew his 3rd and 4th fouls, forcing him to the bench.  He also scored 9 points in the first 5 minutes to help Boston build an 84-71 lead.

Although they couldn’t keep up that pace, the Celtics maintained a lead and had it at 95-85 after Bird nailed a turnaround fall-away in the post.  Indiana then went for the last shot of the quarter.

They almost didn’t get it off but, just before the buzzer, Mike Sanders, not your typical three-point shooter, nailed a trey from the corner to cut the lead to 95-88.  That shot seemed to get the Pacers going.

Michael Williams attacked the basket early on in the 4th quarter and either got buckets for himself or a teammate or got to the foul line.  Williams, who would set the NBA record for most consecutive free throws made at 97 in 1993, made four straight that cut the lead to 103-100.

From there, Chuck Person and his mouth took over.  He scored 7 straight points to give Indiana a 107-105 lead with 3:38 left.  With the lineup Indiana had on the floor, Larry Bird had to guard Person.  And while Person didn’t go to the basket (Chuck topped out at 3.8 free throw attempts per game during his best season, so he didn’t get to the line often at all), he nailed three straight jumpers including a three with Larry playing off of him.

Lewis hit a step-back jumper from the baseline over Miller to tie the game at 107.  Person then got the ball back guarded by McHale, who was coming off foot injuries all season.  Person hit a pull-up from the top over Kevin and continued to talk.  But McHale came back with a turnaround in the lane for his 24th point to lead Boston.

Person was guarded by Parish on the next possession but didn’t end up scoring.  Boston got the ball back but gave it up on a turnover.  Person then pulled up and nailed a deep three for a 112-109 Pacers lead.

Indiana then got the ball back and ran down the shot clock.  Vern Fleming then found LaSalle Thompson for a deep corner jumper at the buzzer to put Indiana up by 5 with 1:24 to go.  It seemed like Indiana couldn’t miss and the game looked over.

But Boston cut it back to 116-113 when Bird nailed a runner with 28.7 seconds left.  With a 4-second differential between shot clock and game clock, Boston decided not to foul and played straight up defense.

Then Person did something he hadn’t done in awhile, he missed a jumper.  Following was a rebound scramble, there was a jump ball between Schrempf and Lewis with 5.9 seconds left.  Lewis and Boston controlled and called a timeout at 4.1.

With Bird and McHale, and his improved three-point weapon, on the floor, the inbounds went to rookie Dee Brown.  Brown couldn’t find anyone and ended up launching a three that went in-and-out.

The Pacers had forced the older Celtics to a do-or-die Game 5 and were making an impact in the NBA playoffs for the first time in their history.  But they would have to deal with pride, mystique, and history in Boston Garden, where Larry Bird put on one of his last impact performances on the big stage.

Boston starters (points scored)

Kevin Gamble (6) – Small Forward

Larry Bird (18) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (18) – Center

Brian Shaw (9) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (22) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Kevin McHale (24)

Dee Brown (14)

Ed Pinckney (2)

Derek Smith (0)

Boston Coach: Chris Ford

Indiana starters (points scored)

Chuck Person (30) – Small Forward

LaSalle Thompson (10) – Power Forward

Greg Dreiling (1) – Center

Michael Williams (18) – Point Guard

Reggie Miller (27) – Shooting Guard

Indiana bench (points scored)

Detlef Schrempf (11)

Vern Fleming (10)

Rik Smits (2)

Mike Sanders (7)