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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)

Kenny Williams (0)

Indiana Coach: Bob Hill

bird person

One of the subplots of this 1st round series was the open trash talk between Larry Bird and Chuck Person, and it was only beginning before Game 5 *photo courtesy of Amazon

May 3, 1991 – West Quarterfinals, Game 4: San Antonio Spurs 97 @Golden State Warriors 110

Unlike Indiana, when Golden State got a split on the road, they took advantage.  The Warriors hit 20 of their first 25 shots in Game 3 and shot 57% from the field for the game.  But they had to hold off a late San Antonio rally to win 109-106.

This put the Warriors in position to become the 3rd #7 seed to defeat a #2 seed in the 1st round, and this would be the second time Golden State could pull it off after sweeping Utah in 1989.

The strategy that had worked against the Jazz was working again.  Don Nelson pulled his center from the basket and had him play “point” center in an effort to draw David Robinson away from the basket.  From there, Nelson employed a modern strategy with the drive-and-kick game with Run TMC leading the way.

At the other end, Nelson had three big guys (Jim Petersen, Tyrone Hill, and Tom Tolbert) to bang and try to tire out Robinson.  The Admiral had three good games so far but wasn’t getting any consistent help.  None of the other starters had had three good games so far (it didn’t help that Sean Elliott was playing through a broken nose).

But things looked different at the start of Game 4.  Four of the five Spurs starters (all except Willie Anderson) came out aggressively and were scoring while Golden State was ice cold from the field.  Petersen and Mario Elie picked up two early fouls for the Warriors and San Antonio had a 22-13 lead 8 minutes into the game.

But then perhaps the biggest Warriors advantage in the series came on, their bench.  Rod Higgins and Sarunas Marciulionis came into the game while San Antonio also had to go to their bench, who had lacked for production.

Tim Hardaway got the Warriors going with two field goals and then a feed to Mitch Richmond for a pull-up in transition.  Golden State went on an 8-0 run while San Antonio didn’t get the ball to David Robinson down low.

San Antonio still held a 28-25 lead at the end of the 1st quarter as Elliott scored 4 of his 9 points in the last few minutes.

But Golden State was just starting to get their game going.  Higgins drove and kicked out to Hardaway for a three to tie the game at 30.  Then Hardaway hit a fall-away from the baseline while drawing a foul from Paul Pressey.  The three-point play put Golden State up 33-32 and gave Hardaway 14 points.

Hardaway then nailed a step-back jumper from the wing before Chris Mullin got a three-point play on a double pump shot from the baseline.  But, all the while, San Antonio stayed in it with Elliott and Rod Strickland hitting jumpers or going to the basket.

But the Spurs still weren’t getting it inside to Robinson nearly enough, which would end up costing them once the jumpers stopped falling.  Meanwhile, Mullin snuck inside of his man on a missed free throw from Tom Tolbert and put it back in.  Marciulionis then drove and kicked out to Rod Higgins for a three.

Richmond and Mullin then kept Golden State ahead until they put on a late run before halftime.  The key was Rod Higgins, who hit a jumper from the foul line, swung the ball to Mullin for an open jumper, took a touch pass from Mullin as he cut by Robinson for a layup, and then nailed a three to put the Warriors ahead 62-53.

A slam by Robinson cut the lead to 62-55 at the half but that was only David’s 6th field goal attempt so far.

Robinson and Terry Cummings had 11 points while Elliott and Strickland had 13.  But Willie Anderson, who had 38 points in Game 1, was scoreless.  Meanwhile, Hardaway had 16, Mullin 15, Richmond 11, and Rod Higgins had 12 off the bench.

The 2nd half would be more of the same.  San Antonio’s offense went south, with Robinson not getting a field goal attempt until over halfway through the 3rd quarter.  Golden State’s continued on led by Hardaway.

Tim got a lot of shots from ball movement and then in transition as he hit several pull-up jumpers as defenders backed off fearing the killer crossover.  The Warriors took as much as an 80-64 when on a three-point play from Marciulionis.

But the Spurs made a late run and cut the lead to 82-73 heading into the 4th quarter.  The Spurs continued that run as Golden State slowed down their pace a bit.

Two field goals by Anderson cut the lead to 84-79 with 9:33 left and forced Nelson to use a timeout.  But then, in the next 30 seconds, Richmond hit a jumper from the foul line and then Hardaway hit a pull-up three in transition.  This forced Larry Brown to use a timeout.

The Spurs stayed within striking distance but could never get its offense going consistently.  They would also be stymied by two Warrior daggers at the end of the shot clock.  First, Hardaway hit another three and then Marciulionis connected from the deep wing while he was fouled.

San Antonio got to within 95-89 but couldn’t get any closer and, eventually, had to play the foul game.  The Warriors nailed all but one of their free throws down the stretch and the final daggers were put in by a driving layup from Mullin and then a Hardaway feed to Tolbert for a slam.

The Warriors had upset the 55-win Spurs and now were on to play the Lakers.  Little did Warrior fans know at the time, but this would be their last playoff series win for 16 seasons and this would be the pinnacle of Run TMC.

San Antonio starters (points scored)

Sean Elliott (23) – Small Forward

Terry Cummings (11) – Power Forward

David Robinson (18) – Center

Rod Strickland (21) – Point Guard

Willie Anderson (8) – Shooting Guard

San Antonio bench (points scored)

Paul Pressey (6)

David Wingate (10)

Sean Higgins (0)

San Antonio Coach: Larry Brown

Golden State starters (points scored)

Mario Elie (4) – Small Forward

Chris Mullin (23) – Power Forward

Jim Petersen (2) – Center

Tim Hardaway (32) – Point Guard

Mitch Richmond (17) – Shooting Guard

Golden State bench (points scored)

Sarunas Marciulionis (14)

Rod Higgins (14)

Tom Tolbert (4)

Tyrone Hill (0)

Golden State Coach: Don Nelson

OAKLAND, CA - 1989: (L) Tim Hardaway #10, (C) Mitch Richmond #23 and (R) Chris Mullin #17 of the Golden State Warriors sit on the bench during a game played in 1989 at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum in Oakland, California. 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 1989 NBAE (Photo by NBA Photos/NBAE via Getty Images)

OAKLAND, CA – 1989: (L) Tim Hardaway #10, (C) Mitch Richmond #23 and (R) Chris Mullin #17 of the Golden State Warriors sit on the bench during a game played in 1989 at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum in Oakland, California. 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 1989 NBAE (Photo by NBA Photos/NBAE via Getty Images)

May 5, 1991 – East Quarterfinals, Game 5: Indiana Pacers 121 @Boston Celtics 124

The Indiana Pacers had come back against the Boston Celtics in Game 4 by their pressure defense and their fast tempo.  While Boston did have a younger roster in 1991, their key factors were still the older guys in Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale.

Each’s production had dropped in the 2nd half in Game 4 after good 1st halves.  Larry Bird, in fact, went scoreless in the 4th quarter.  Each also had to deal with Chuck Person when Indiana went to its small lineup with Person and Detlef Schrempf at forward.  Person scored 12 straight points down the stretch and was guarded at certain points by Bird, McHale, and Parish.

But Larry Bird was still the legend, and he got the Celtics off quickly in the first 2 1/2 minutes of Game 5.  He got fouled on a drive to the basket and hit two free throws.  He started a fast break with a long outlet pass that ended with Kevin Gamble finding Reggie Lewis for a dunk.  He then hit a pull-up jumper from the top in transition to give Boston a 10-4 lead.

Bird and Person had been a big subject with their trash-talking throughout the series.  After Bird hit his jumper, he got back to guard Person.  Person was set to call a timeout but Bird was talking to him before he did that.

But “The Rifleman,” as he was called, responded in kind.  Person hit a turnaround fall-away from the post.  He then hit on a driving scoop shot.  Finally, Chuck hit his first three-pointer of the game to give Indiana an 11-10 lead and force Chris Ford to use a timeout with 7:42 left.

Ford had an answer for Person sitting on his bench.  Veteran Derek Smith had been signed by Boston in mid-season but had been unable to play up until the final weeks of the season as he was rehabbing his knee, trying for one more run in the NBA.  Smith had starred at Louisville and was a budding star for the Clippers when he injured a knee and never fully recovered.

But, on this day, Smith would be perhaps the biggest factor in a Celtics victory.  He came off the bench during that timeout and shut down Person, who did not score for the rest of the quarter.

Smith also contributed offensively with 10 points and got the Boston crowd into the game, mostly by shutting down Person who was a target of the boobirds.

Smith’s contribution helped the Celtics grab a 35-25 lead at the end of the 1st quarter.  But the drawback of Smith’s production was that he picked up 3 fouls in guarding Person (and was also not used to extended minutes).

Boston held a lead through the early part of the 2nd quarter but could not increase it from 10.  A three-point play by Person cut the lead to 41-36 and started an Indiana run.  Michael Williams had a three-point play and Reggie Miller nailed a three.  But Indiana was held off from taking the lead by Bird, who hit three field goals in that stretch.

But after the Pacers had cut it to 48-46, Bird was out-top and had the ball knocked away from him by Mike Sanders.  Larry dove after the ball and ended up tipping it away but on his dive, Bird’s cheek-bone hit the floor hard and Larry was down for several seconds before being able to get up and walk off the floor to the locker room.

With Larry out for the final 4 minutes of the 1st half, the Pacers did force a 58-all tie at halftime.  Bird had led the way with 15 points but it was unclear whether he would be able to play in the 2nd half.

Bird had a bruise on his cheekbone and was told that he probably had a concussion (this was the days before any talk of “concussion protocol”).  He did not come out onto the floor with his teammates to start the 2nd half as he continued with headaches.

Boston and Indiana traded hoops at the start of the 2nd half.  They were doing it at a fast pace, much to Indiana’s liking.

Then mid-way through the quarter, Bird jogged back out of the locker room and got an eruption from the Garden.  Bird re-entered the game as Michael Williams was shooting two free throws to tie the game at 73.

At first, the psychological effect didn’t touch the Pacers as Person nailed a step-back three from the wing to put Indiana ahead 78-75 and did his biggest boasting after that shot.

But Bird later got a defensive rebound and threw a perfect outlet pass to Reggie Lewis for a slam.  Indiana could not grab more than a three-point lead and Bird hit his first jumper since returning to put Boston up 83-82.  From there, the psychological advantage was in Boston’s favor.

It also helped that Bird, somehow, continued his stellar play.  He hit Lewis on an outlet for another breakaway slam.  He connected on a runner from the baseline.  Then Bird got past Detlef Schrempf (never really known for his defense) to the baseline and hit on a reverse while drawing the foul.  The three-point play gave Boston a 90-86 lead.

Derek Smith would go out with 5 fouls over the next few minutes and Indiana cut it back to 92-89 on a Reggie Miller jumper.  But then Bird posted up Mike Sanders.  He tried to spin baseline but got knocked off-balance.  While the foul was called, Larry threw up a high-arcing fall-away that hit nothing but net.

The three-point play helped Boston surge to a 100-91 lead at the end of the 3rd quarter and Larry had scored 12 points since re-entering the game.

The 4th quarter started with Lewis and Parish hitting field goals and forcing Bob Hill to use a timeout with a minute and a half gone by and Boston having their biggest lead at 104-91.

Bird would get a breakaway layup and Parish got another field goal after a baseline spin.  Then with about 7 minutes left, Lewis hit two free throws after Miller picked up his 5th foul to give Boston a 112-96 lead.

But then Indiana’s pressure that had brought them back in Game 4 started to affect the Celtics again.  Bird went to the bench and Boston went into a drought.  A three-pointer by Person cut it to 114-102 with 5:29 left and forced a Boston timeout.

Boston had to call another timeout with 4:12 left after 5 straight points from Vern Fleming cut the lead to 116-107.  Bird came back into the game and stemmed the tide briefly with a jumper from the top.

But then the Pacers made their big run.  Miller got a breakaway layup to cut the lead to 118-111 with under 3 minutes to go.  Person followed with a steal and feed to Michael Williams for a breakaway.  Then Schrempf hit a runner in the lane with 1:42 left to cut the lead to 118-115.

Despite Indiana cutting into the lead, they only had one timeout left.  This would be a factor.  Bird rebounded a miss by Dee Brown at the end of the shot clock and drew a foul from Williams.  But Larry split his free throws and Miller found Schrempf for a reverse to cut the lead to 119-117 with 1:03 left.

Brian Shaw drove and drew a foul from Michael Williams with 43 seconds left.  Shaw split his free throws and Indiana decided that this was the time to use their last timeout.

Lewis was called for a loose ball foul on Schrempf after a knock-away.  But Detlef split his free throws and only cut the lead to 120-118.  But then Indiana’s pressure forced the biggest turnover of the game as Kevin McHale was called for an over-and-back violation at half court.

With no timeouts and 22.3 seconds left, the ball was sure to go to Person.  But how.  Chuck posted up at first with Smith on him but Vern Fleming, guarded by a much slower Larry Bird, couldn’t get Person the ball (Bird also used his savvy to drop back and cut off the passing angle, but it was said after the game that Fleming should have attacked Bird 1-on-1).

So Chuck stepped out to the three-point line and took an off-balanced trey with Bird and Smith lunging at him.  The shot was short and took a bad bounce to where Fleming couldn’t get the offensive rebound.  Shaw got it instead and drew a foul on Williams with 6.6 seconds left.

Shaw, this time, made two free throws that seemed to put the game out of reach at 122-118.  But then Person connected on a three-pointer from Lexington, Massachusetts (it was from somewhere in the neighborhood of 35-40 feet) to cut the lead to one.

Shaw was then fouled by Williams again as the Boston timekeeper, perhaps, got away with killing another second on the clock and getting it down to 1.5 (this is why you want home court advantage in the big games, kids! ..but then again, today they’d take 20 minutes looking at replay and re-adjusting the clock.  They’d get the time right, it would just take forever for them to do it and it would’ve given the Pacers a free timeout.. remember they don’t have any).

Shaw hit two free throws again and Schrempf came up short on a desperation fling.  Boston had survived and would play Detroit in the next round.  But this would prove to be Larry Bird’s last great playoff moment (although I will count Game 6 of the 1992 Semifinals.. we’ll get to that in the next NBA post).

Indiana starters (points scored)

Chuck Person (32) – Small Forward

LaSalle Thompson (8) – Power Forward

Greg Dreiling (0) – Center

Michael Williams (23) – Point Guard

Reggie Miller (22) – Shooting Guard

Indiana bench (points scored)

Detlef Schrempf (20)

Vern Fleming (6)

Rik Smits (6)

Mike Sanders (4)

Indiana Coach: Bob Hill

Boston starters (points scored)

Kevin Gamble (2) – Small Forward

Larry Bird (32) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (21) – Center

Brian Shaw (13) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (22) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Kevin McHale (13)

Derek Smith (12)

Dee Brown (4)

Ed Pinckney (5)

Boston Coach: Chris Ford

May 8, 1991 – West Semifinals, Game 2: Golden State Warriors 125 @Los Angeles Lakers 124

One could also argue that this was the peak of Run TMC.  This game was up-and-down, thoroughly entertaining, and Golden State pulled a win out of their ass.

Game 1 was much to the Warriors disadvantage as Chris Mullin sat with a sprained knee.  The Lakers won 126-116 and weren’t as affected by the matchup problems the Warriors presented as the Spurs were.

The Lakers had four post-up options in their starting lineup and, especially if the Warriors went small, they could take advantage down low.

To start out Game 2, Chris Mullin was on Magic Johnson.  Mullin was never known for his foot quickness but he had quick hands and was a big body that Magic couldn’t back in and post up.  While it took a quarter for Magic to adjust to this, the Lakers stayed in it as James Worthy took advantage of his matchups against the inexperienced Mario Elie and the shorter Mitch Richmond.

Worthy had 14 1st quarter points and Sam Perkins, despite mostly being played by Alton Lister, was right behind him with 10.  But with Mullin back on the floor, Golden State was able to open up the offense and go back to the drive and kick game that had not worked as well in Game 1.

Tim Hardaway got going early on with 9 points in the first 8 minutes.  Hardaway was also getting his teammates involved as Mullin had 7 points, Richmond 6, and Rod Higgins had a big three-point play on a Hardaway assist that gave Golden State a 35-32 lead entering the 2nd quarter.

For the 2nd quarter, Magic Johnson adjusted against Mullin and concentrated on beating him off the dribble from the top as opposed to posting up.  With that, Magic scored 13 of his 15 1st half points in the quarter to help L.A. gain a 67-58 halftime lead.  Worthy led the way with 20 points.  Mullin had 16 and Richmond 14 to lead Golden State.

The 3rd quarter, at least the end of it, would be the Mullin and Magic show.  Golden State started a 12-6 run through the first 3 1/2 minutes with a three from Mullin.  Hardaway, Richmond, and Higgins contributed as well to cut the lead to 73-70.

From there, the teams traded blows.  L.A. maintained a lead for a while as Magic led the way.  But Run TMC brought Golden State back and into an 83-81 lead on a wing jumper from Mullin.  Continued field goals and free throws from Hardaway and Richmond kept Golden State ahead until Richmond picked up his 4th foul.

From there, Magic hit two free throws and then a runner on the baseline to give L.A. a 93-89 lead and give the Magic man 30 points.  But then Mullin hit a pull-up jumper from the elbow while being fouled by Byron Scott.  Magic countered with a scoop shot from the post.

Mullin and Magic then traded free throws before Mullin pulled up for a deep three from the wing that tied the game at 97 and oohed and ahhed the crowd and announcers.  Mullin then finished the quarter with a breakaway layup to give Golden State a 99-97 lead heading into the 4th quarter.

Golden State had 41 3rd quarter points, Mullin had 17 of those.  The Lakers had 30 3rd quarter points and Magic had 19 of those.

For the start of the 4th quarter, Mike Dunleavy brought in rookie big man Elden Campbell for the first time.  He wanted Campbell in to take care of the boards and provide shot-blocking.  He also scored 6 points as L.A. started the quarter on an 8-2 run.

But as Golden State got back into it, they were thwarted from taking the lead after Campbell blocked a Hardaway shot.  Richmond then committed his 5th foul on the rebound.

But the duel continued as Mullin hit a pull-up jumper to tie the game at 106.  Magic then drove past Mullin and slammed one down while he was fouled.  But Mullin responded with another jumper and then ended up tying the game at 109 on a free throw after Dunleavy picked up a technical.

Mullin then followed with a steal, and Hardaway found Mario Elie for a breakaway layup.  This forced L.A. to use a timeout with 7:11 left and the Warriors up 111-109.

After the timeout, Richmond was seen guarding Perkins.  So the Lakers went down low to Sam, who drew Richmond’s 6th foul.  Perkins split the free throws but later had a three-point play to give L.A. a 113-111 advantage.  Mullin tied it with another pull-up jumper for his 40th point.  It would be his last field goal, but he finished 16-for-21 from the field and 4-for-4 on three-pointers.

Worthy hit a turnaround in the lane and Magic hit a free throw.  But after Mullin committed his 5th foul on a charge, the Lakers could not gain more than a three point lead nor could they foul Mullin out.  The Warriors eventually came back to tie it at 116 with 2:56 left.

Worthy then kicked out to Perkins for a jumper from the top to give the Lakers the lead again.  Hardaway came back with a killer crossover to get by Scott and then a double-pump reverse layup against two guys.  But Perkins got another jumper from the top, this time Magic kicked out of a double-team in the post to him, to put L.A. up 120-118.

Hardaway was then fouled but couldn’t tie the game as he split his free throws.  Magic then drew a foul on Elie and hit his two charity tosses to put the Lakers up 122-119.  Magic then picked up his 5th foul on a Hardaway drive with 51.5 seconds left.  But again, Tim split the free throws.

Magic then drove and drew a foul on Tom Tolbert (albeit, after Mullin cleanly blocked his shot).  Magic hit two more free throws to bring his total to 44 points, a career playoff high, on 20-for-22 free throws.  At this point, Golden State looked like they had let a tremendous opportunity get away.

They tried to drive and kick for a shot, but it ended with Tom Tolbert shooting a three.  He missed but Rod Higgins snuck his way to the boards, rebounded the miss, put it back in, and drew a foul from rookie Elden Campbell.  His three-point play cut the lead to 124-123 with 28.7 seconds left.

Don Nelson decided to have his team play straight up defense and hope to get one more chance at the end of the shot clock.  It worked, and then some.  Worthy missed a jumper as the shot clock ran out.  The rebound ended up going to Elie and Campbell committed another huge rookie mistake.  He grabbed Elie trying to get to the rebound and was called for the foul with 3.1 seconds left.

Elie, who was in his first full season in the NBA, had missed his first free throw of the playoffs earlier in this game.  But, with the Laker crowd hoarsely screaming at him, Elie rolled the first free throw in and then cleanly nailed the second to give the Warriors a lead.

Elie then deflected the inbounds pass by the Lakers and Hardaway stole it (his 8th steal of the game) to finish it off.  Golden State had now done what they had to the Spurs, split the first two games on the road, and were set to go back to the raucous Oakland Coliseum.

Meanwhile, L.A. had to be thinking of a recent playoff memory as they were kicking themselves for blowing this game.  Their 1990 loss to Phoenix had started with a split at the Forum before the Lakers lost twice in Phoenix and then Game 5 at home to lose the series.

Golden State starters (points scored)

Mario Elie (9) – Small Forward

Chris Mullin (41) – Power Forward

Alton Lister (4) – Center

Tim Hardaway (28) – Point Guard

Mitch Richmond (22) – Shooting Guard

Golden State bench (points scored)

Sarunas Marciulionis (5)

Rod Higgins (11)

Tom Tolbert (0)

Tyrone Hill (3)

Vincent Askew (0)

Jim Petersen (2)

Golden State Coach: Don Nelson

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (23) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (24) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (4) – Center

Magic Johnson (44) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (5) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Terry Teagle (7)

A.C. Green (11)

Larry Drew (0)

Elden Campbell (6)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

May 10, 1991 – East Semifinals, Game 3: Chicago Bulls 97 @Philadelphia 76ers 99

In another example of how matchups in the regular season really don’t matter, Philadelphia had beaten Chicago in 3 of 4 meetings in 1991.  It was all turned around as the Bulls won the first two games easily at Chicago Stadium.

Everybody except Charles Barkley struggled in Game 1 and Jim Lynam had a combined 6 points from two of his starters in the first two games, Rick Mahorn and Rickey Green.  Chicago’s defense was in its best stretch of the season and all of the starters, minus John Paxson in Game 1, scored in double figures, leading to 105 and 112 points and double digit victories.

Game 3 seemed to follow the same script, except that the Chicago offense wasn’t quite clicking like it had in Chicago.  Rickey Green put in 5 early points to give the 76ers a 13-8 lead.  Barkley later got the crowd going with two slams, including a coast-to-coast forray after a steal.

But the biggest contribution to the 76ers’ early lead was Armen Gilliam.  Gilliam had 8 1st quarter points as he was able to hit open shots off feeds from Barkley.  A baseline jumper from Gilliam gave Philly their biggest lead at 23-16 with 3:22 left in the quarter.

But Michael Jordan and his 10 1st quarter points led Chicago back to a 26-all tie by quarter’s end.

The game stayed close through most of the 2nd quarter.  However, Philly seemed to be leaving points at the door with 12 1st half turnovers leading to 14 fast break points for Chicago.  The 76ers were also bickering with the refs.  Most notably, Rick Mahorn picked up a technical after getting called for throwing an elbow at Grant upon getting a rebound.  Later, Barkley made a shot but was looking at the official with the, “I was fouled!!!” look and his man, Pippen, quickly scored at the other end.

Jordan hit 5 shots in a row and scored 12 points in the quarter to give the Bulls as big as a 51-45 lead but two free throws from Barkley cut it to 51-47 at the half.

For as bad as the arguing looked in the 2nd quarter, something must have worked as Philly got 28 free throw attempts in the 2nd half, Chicago got 19 for the game.

The Bulls did stretch their lead to as much as 10 points early in the 3rd quarter before Hersey Hawkins, who had been quiet with 5 1st half points, got going by getting to the line.  Then Gilliam drew Pippen’s 4th foul and forced him to the bench.

Jordan kept hitting as he scored 12 more points in the 3rd quarter, but nobody else was scoring for Chicago.  Meanwhile, Philly stayed right with them as Hawkins scored 6 points toward the end of the quarter.  Andre Turner also made a big contribution off the Philly bench and stayed in for the rest of the game.

Two free throws from Turner and then a drive down the lane cut the Bulls lead to 76-75 heading into the 4th quarter.  Hawkins then scored the first 11 points for Philly in the 4th quarter, culminating with a three to give the 76ers their first lead since the 2nd quarter, at 86-85 with 5:23 left.

Pippen then picked up his 5th foul after giving the Bulls the lead again.  The teams then went back and forth.  Jordan was ready to give Chicago the advantage when he drove the lane and finished against 7’7″ Manute Bol and drew a foul.  But MJ missed the free throw and the Bulls had to settle for a 93-all tie with 2 minutes left.

But Jordan did the same thing on the next possession to give the Bulls the lead again.  He drove past Hawkins, challenged Bol, scored, and drew a foul.  Then Bol would draw a technical and get thrown out of the game.  MJ hit the technical free throw but then missed the subsequent shot to give Chicago a four-point lead.

Barkley would then kick out to Turner for a jumper from the top to cut the lead to 96-95 with 43.2 seconds left.  Chicago ran down the shot clock and Pippen missed.  But the rebound went out of bounds off of Philadelphia with 15.7 seconds to go.

So the Bulls got it in to Jordan, who was fouled by Hawkins.  Jordan was short on the first free throw, his 3rd miss in the last two minutes, but hit the second for his 46th point.

Then after a Philly timeout with 14.9 seconds left, they got it in to Barkley.  Charles penetrated against Pippen and forced Jordan to slump off of Hawkins in the corner.  That would be a mistake as Barkley kicked out to Hersey for a corner three to give the 76ers the lead with 10.3 seconds to go.

After their timeout, the ball ended up in the hands of Pippen as Jordan couldn’t get free.  Scottie hit nothing but backboard on a shot from the top against two people.  Gilliam rebounded and was fouled by Bill Cartwright with 1.8 seconds left.  He split the free throws and Chicago got another chance with 1.5 to go.

The inbounds pass intended for Jordan would be deflected by Barkley to run out the clock.  The 76ers had gotten back into the series, but it would be their final playoff win until 1999.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (22) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (10) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (9) – Center

John Paxson (2) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (46) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Craig Hodges (5)

Will Perdue (3)

B.J. Armstrong (0)

Stacey King (0)

Cliff Levingston (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Philadelphia starters (points scored)

Armen Gilliam (25) – Small Forward

Charles Barkley (19) – Power Forward

Rick Mahorn (2) – Center

Rickey Green (9) – Point Guard

Hersey Hawkins (29) – Shooting Guard

Philadelphia bench (points scored)

Andre Turner (8)

Ron Anderson (5)

Manute Bol (2)

Philadelphia Coach: Jim Lynam

PHILADELPHIA, PA - CIRCA 1990: Hersey Hawkins #33 of the Philadelphia 76ers lays the ball up over Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls during an NBA basketball game circa 1990 at The Spectrum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hawkins played for the 76ers from 1988-93. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

PHILADELPHIA, PA – CIRCA 1990: Hersey Hawkins #33 of the Philadelphia 76ers lays the ball up over Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls during an NBA basketball game circa 1990 at The Spectrum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Hawkins played for the 76ers from 1988-93. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

May 10, 1991 – West Semifinals, Game 3: Los Angeles Lakers 115 @Golden State Warriors 112

The wild, wild west had another one going for them on this night.  Although the shooting wasn’t as good as it was in Game 2, the Warriors/Lakers game was just as exciting.

The Lakers were kicking themselves after giving up Game 2, and it looked like it spurred the Warriors confidence sky high early in Game 3.  Tim Hardaway scored 6 quick points and Chris Mullin got another transition three.

But L.A. got going as well by getting the ball to two veteran playoff performers not named Magic Johnson.  James Worthy and Byron Scott hit some early shots, culminating with Worthy throwing in a desperation banker from the wing at the end of the shot clock to give L.A. a 16-10 lead.

The Lakers took a 22-12 advantage when Sam Perkins hit after an up-and-under move in the post.  The Lakers had made some defensive adjustments, most notably they were crowding Mullin all over the floor when he got the ball.  Worthy was the primary defender against Mullin who stayed with him, but the other four Lakers seemed to know where Chris was as well.  They were also backing off of Tim Hardaway and trying not to allow him to penetrate and dish.  After their initial good start, Golden State went cold from the field for a good stretch of the 1st quarter.

Mitch Richmond provided a spark as he fed Jim Petersen twice for slams and then hit a fall-away in the lane to cut the lead to 24-18 with 3 minutes left in the quarter.  But Sam Perkins dominated the last 3 minutes as he drew fouls and scored 8 points to give the Lakers as much as a 13-point lead.  A scoop shot by Tom Tolbert with 0.4 seconds left cut the lead to 35-24 going into the 2nd quarter.

But neither Tolbert or Petersen was in the game for Don Nelson to start the 2nd quarter.  Nellie went to an ultra small lineup of Hardaway, Richmond, Mario Elie, Sarunas Marciulionis and Mullin (the only non-guard).  It worked for the first 2 minutes of the 2nd quarter.  Hardaway got three assists as he found Marciulionis, Richmond, and Mullin for buckets.  This forced Mike Dunleavy to use a timeout with 10:08 left.

The Lakers did counter with 6 consecutive points, but Golden State’s slightly bigger lineup (with Rod Higgins in) then ran off a 10-0 spurt.  Marciulionis was the key man as he drove for another score and then found Richmond for a three.  But the Warriors could never take the lead or even tie the game in the 2nd quarter.

Magic Johnson came back in after the 10-0 run and stabilized the Lakers by getting the ball to Worthy.  Worthy led the way with 16 1st half points, including 10 in the 2nd quarter.  Byron Scott and Sam Perkins were right behind him with 12 points.

The Lakers grabbed a 57-50 lead at the half with Magic Johnson only attempting two shots.  But the Lakers historically were much more effective when Magic was spreading the ball around, as opposed to scoring like he did in Game 2.

Nellie had another wrinkle to start the 3rd quarter as Jim Petersen and Rod Higgins started along with Run TMC.  It worked out as Petersen hit a running hook and then a baseline jumper.  Higgins followed with a three and Dunleavy had to use another timeout with less than 2 minutes gone in a quarter.

But then Petersen picked up his 4th and 5th fouls and L.A. continued to hold off the Warriors as Magic found Worthy and Scott for jumpers and hit his own three-pointer, along with two free throws, over the next 3 minutes.  Golden State tied it though when Hardaway found Alton Lister on a pick-and-roll for a three-point play.

Hardaway later got his 11th assist when he found Higgins for a three to give Golden State a 67-66 lead.  The teams then traded hoops as L.A. was determined to do something that they didn’t do in the 2nd half of Game 2, continue to get Worthy the ball.  Big Game James added 10 more points in the 3rd quarter.

The Lakers used a 7-0 run late in the 3rd quarter to take an 81-78 lead into the 4th.

The final quarter didn’t start off well for L.A. though as Perkins picked up his 5th foul.  But the Lakers bench of Terry Teagle and A.C. Green, along with Worthy, made some big buckets to keep L.A. ahead.

Mitch Richmond kept the Warriors alive during this stretch with 9 points.  But neither he, Hardaway, or especially Mullin shot well in this game.  Mullin was particularly ineffective as he finished 4-for-14 from the field and forced a few shots.

The Lakers went on an 8-0 run to take a 101-89 lead with about 5 minutes to go in the game.  Nellie then tried to junk up the game again by going with 4 guards and Mullin (the same lineup that started the 2nd quarter) and by pressing and trapping all over the floor.

It got them going offensively as Hardaway scored 5 quick points.  But the Lakers also beat the trap and got two buckets by Worthy and Green to keep their lead at 107-98 with 3:24 left.

But then on a particular play, the Lakers had trouble getting the ball inbounds and had to use a key timeout, which left them with 1 timeout left.  This would be key as the trap started to force some L.A. turnovers.

Elie got the first steal and Marciulionis went coast-to-coast for a three-point play.  The Warriors, even with their small lineup, also proved effective of getting on the boards.  Elie put back a miss by Richmond to cut the lead to 108-103.  Then Richmond got a steal and Mullin a breakaway to cut it to three with 2 1/2 minutes left.

The Lakers could not use a timeout to silence the crowd, but their veteran experience came through on the next possession.  Perkins was double teamed down low (as he was initially guarded by Richmond).  He kicked out to Scott, who swung the ball to Worthy.  Worthy nailed a wing jumper as the Warriors rotation was late.

But Hardaway came right back with a pull-up three to cut it to 110-108 with 1:52 left.  The Lakers again ran down the shot clock.  While this offensive attack wasn’t as fluid, it proved to be more effective.

Magic had to try and penetrate down low but wasn’t getting anywhere.  So he kicked out to Scott behind the three-point line as the clock was about to run out.  With Hardaway right in his face, Byron rose up and nailed the three to silence the crowd and throw a little dagger at the Warriors.

But Golden State didn’t go quietly.  Richmond hit a tough baseline jumper and then the Warriors scrambled the Lakers and were effective, this time, in forcing a 24-second shot clock violation with 54.6 seconds left.

The Warriors went for the quick two-pointer but were denied twice by Perkins.  However, after an inbounds pass, Marciulionis was able to score on a stop-and-go dribble to cut the lead to 113-112 with 37.1 seconds on the clock.

This time, the Lakers didn’t focus on running down the shot clock.  They just took and hit the first good shot.  Green got the ball out of a trap to Worthy, who found Scott for a 6-foot baseline jumper to put the Lakers up by three with 20.5 seconds left.

But Golden State still had a chance to tie.  They brought in Higgins and Paul Mokeski to go with Run TMC as the all three-point shooting lineup.  They initially couldn’t get a good shot and Hardaway had to pull up with Magic Johnson in his face.

He bricked badly but Mokeski tipped it out to Mullin.  Mullin was double teamed by Worthy and Magic but managed to get it back to Hardaway.  Tim had a cleaner look as Magic lunged back towards him.  But Hardaway’s customary knuckle-ball went in and out.  There was an ensuing scramble on the rebound but nothing came of it other than the buzzer sounding.

L.A. had escaped this time with Worthy leading the way, and not disappearing as he did in the 2nd half of Game 2 and in the Phoenix series of 1990.  It became a bigger win when L.A. won Game 4 going away 123-107.  Worthy held Mullin to 9 points this time on 4-for-13 shooting and three Lakers had over 20 points, Perkins leading the way with 27.

But, like the Bulls against Philly, the Lakers would trouble putting their opponent away at home.

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (36) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (15) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (7) – Center

Magic Johnson (15) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (23) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Terry Teagle (12)

A.C. Green (6)

Larry Drew (0)

Elden Campbell (1)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

Golden State starters (points scored)

Mario Elie (8) – Small Forward

Chris Mullin (13) – Power Forward

Alton Lister (3) – Center

Tim Hardaway (24) – Point Guard

Mitch Richmond (24) – Shooting Guard

Golden State bench (points scored)

Sarunas Marciulionis (13)

Rod Higgins (12)

Tom Tolbert (5)

Tyrone Hill (2)

Jim Petersen (8)

Paul Mokeski (0)

Golden State Coach: Don Nelson

hardaway

Despite 24 points and 12 assists from Hardaway, the Lakers won Game 3 (and eventually Game 4) at the raucous Oakland Coliseum *photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated tumblr

May 14, 1991 – East Semifinals, Game 5: Philadelphia 76ers 95 @Chicago Bulls 100

After their Game 3 win, Philly laid an egg in Game 4.  Everybody except Charles Barkley was out of it and the Bulls pounced.  Chicago won 101-85 and was never really challenged.  Everybody expected that that would be the last playoff game of the season (and, as it turned out, all time) at the Spectrum.

The 76ers would put up a fight in Game 5 though.  In the 1st quarter, 90% of the fight was from Barkley.  The 76ers had been known as a physical team, led by Rick Mahorn, that didn’t give up layups.

But, for the 1st half of Game 5, Mahorn and others were letting Scottie Pippen go to the basket unmolested.  This was a far, far cry from the Rick Mahorn that was on the Bad Boy Pistons in 1989.  He had had some back troubles but he sure didn’t look the same, as if he had checked out (Mahorn put up a grand total of 13 points in this 5-game series).  Mahorn would be released by Philly over the summer and played in Italy in 1992.

Pippen and Barkley and a mano y mano offensive duel in the 1st quarter.  Pippen was 7-for-7 from the field for 14 points.  Most of them came on straight drives down the lane (including a two-handed reverse slam).  Barkley kept Philly in it with 16 points, as he drove right back at the Chicago defense.  The Bulls led 30-29 after one quarter.

Pippen’s great 1st quarter earned him extended time in the 2nd, and earned Michael Jordan (who was battling knee tendinitis) an extended rest.  Scottie would hit two more field goals (including a lefty slam over 7’7″ Manute Bol) before missing his first shot.  But he followed up that miss for a score and was 10-for-11 from the field.

The Bulls extended out their advantage as Pippen finished the 1st half at 11-for-12 from the field, including a three-pointer that gave Chicago their biggest lead at 52-41.  Jordan came back and scored 7 of his 13 1st half points in the latter half of the 2nd quarter.

But the 76ers stayed within striking distance.  Rickey Green hit a three-pointer and Armen Gilliam hit two free throws to cut the Bulls lead to 58-51 at the half.

But Chicago kept flying in the 3rd quarter and looked to put the game away.  Pippen hit a pull-up from the wing for his 26th point and Jordan hit three field goals, including an alley-oop dunk from John Paxson on the break.

Pippen hit another jumper for 28 points while Jordan hit two free throws for 21 points and Chicago took a 74-61 lead halfway through the 3rd quarter.

But then Pippen picked up his 4th foul and went to the bench.  The Bulls then got a little lackadaisical and surrendered an 8-0 run to Philly, culminating with a coast-to-coast slam from Barkley in which he managed to dribble the ball past Jordan.

MJ’s coast-to-coast three-point play put Chicago back ahead 81-71 at the end of the 3rd quarter.

The 76ers then went on another 6-0 run to start the 4th quarter.  Hersey Hawkins, who was playing through a thigh injury, got a layup after Andre Turner came up with a steal.  Later, Turner got a breakaway after Philly controlled a jump ball and it was 81-77.

Paxson nailed a three at the end of the shot clock to stem the tide but then Philadelphia responded with an 8-2 run.  Gilliam had gotten a lot more aggressive in the 2nd half and was scoring and drawing fouls down low.  Gilliam and the 76ers were also closing down the lane and taking away layups again (Mahorn was not in the game).

It was down to 86-85 before Paxson hit another big shot, a pull-up jumper in the lane.  Jordan then connected on a pull-up banker with 5:15 left and Jim Lynam was forced to use a 76ers timeout.

Rickey Green hit a wing jumper.  Jordan drove baseline for a reverse layup.  Green connected on a three after Barkley kicked the ball out to him.  Then, with 3:09 left, Gilliam tied the game at 92 with two free throws.

The 76ers had reached the summit but would not make it over.

Jordan drove the lane, was fouled, and hit two free throws.  MJ then got a piece of a turnaround jumper from Gilliam in the post as he came over to help out and forced Armen to put a higher arc on it.  Michael then followed that act by driving down the lane for a layup after recovering a loose ball and forcing Philly to use another timeout with 2:15 left.

The score remained the same as the game went under a minute.  Barkley and Ron Anderson had missed jumpers on previous possessions but Hawkins connected on a corner three to cut the lead to 96-95.

But momma, there goes that man again!  MJ came right back with a baseline drive and score with 42.7 seconds left.  Jordan then rebounded a missed two-point jumper from Rickey Green for his 19th board of the game.  He then clinched the game and the series with two free throws.

Jordan had scored Chicago’s last 12 points of the game to move them on to the Eastern Conference Finals for the 3rd straight year.  But what was different this time around was that Chicago wouldn’t be 100% sure that they’d play Detroit.  The Pistons were locked in a 2-2 series with Boston and Game 5 was the following day at the Garden.

As for the 76ers, it was even clear during this season that they were going downhill.  Charles Barkley had “quietly” demanded being traded to a championship contender.  Those demands became louder in 1992 as Philly suffered a 7-game losing streak in late November and never really recovered.  They finished at 35-47 and 3 games out of the playoffs.

Barkley then got his wish as he was traded to Phoenix in June, 1992 for Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang, and Tim Perry.  Jim Lynam was also let go as coach after the season.  Hawkins, Gilliam, and Ron Anderson would be gone after the 1993 season.  Gilliam and Anderson were released and Hawkins was traded to Charlotte for Dana Barros, Greg Graham, and Sidney Green.

The 76ers record declined and their low point was an 18-64 season in 1996.  But then the franchise would be revitalized for a time by The Answer.

Philadelphia starters (points scored)

Armen Gilliam (21) – Small Forward

Charles Barkley (30) – Power Forward

Rick Mahorn (2) – Center

Rickey Green (16) – Point Guard

Hersey Hawkins (15) – Shooting Guard

Philadelphia bench (points scored)

Ron Anderson (4)

Andre Turner (2)

Manute Bol (1)

Robert Reid (4)

Philadelphia Coach: Jim Lynam

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (28) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (9) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (8) – Center

John Paxson (5) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (38) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (2)

Will Perdue (8)

Cliff Levingston (2)

Stacey King (0)

Craig Hodges (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

May 14, 1991 – West Semifinals, Game 5: Golden State Warriors 119 @Los Angeles Lakers 124 (OT)

After winning back-to-back games in Oakland, it looked for a while as if the Lakers were going to give up their second game of the series in Los Angeles.  That would’ve spelled doom in the eyes of Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn, who was characteristically criticizing the Lakers play all night, because he didn’t think they could win a third game at Golden State.

While this game was going on, Portland had eliminated Utah and was set to take on the winner.  This gave the Lakers, if they were scoreboard watching, extra motivation to finish off this series now.

But they didn’t have that motivation early on and Golden State came out playing like their backs were against the wall.  Rod Higgins got the starting call in place of Mario Elie and became a bigger defender against James Worthy, especially down low.

Worthy had also gotten credit for holding down Chris Mullin in the two games at Oakland, the knee injury that kept Mullin out of Game 1 probably didn’t help either.  But Mullin hit his first three shots to help Golden State grab a lead.

Tim Hardaway was dropping dimes like a meter maid in the first few minutes as he found Higgins, Mullin, and Mitch Richmond for several baskets.  Hardaway finished the 1st quarter with 9 assists.  Vlade Divac kept the Lakers in it early on with 6 points, but he was battling the flu and had to sit down (he didn’t average many minutes in the series anyway).

A 10-3 Warriors run, with the last 6 points coming from Higgins, put them up 22-11 with 2:14 left in the 1st quarter.  At that point, the Lakers were 4-for-21 from the field and the boobirds were making an appearance at the Great Western Forum.  L.A. did manage to weasel it back to 27-19 by quarter’s end.

The Lakers showed more life early in the 2nd quarter as reserves Terry Teagle and Elden Campbell came into the game to spark them.  They each hit a field goal.  Then Magic Johnson hit a three-pointer for his first field goal of the game, in 10 attempts, and followed it up with two free throws.

What followed was a sequence in which both Teagle and Campbell blocked a shot, a sequence that got the crowd going.  Teagle subsequently hit a turnaround jumper from the post to cut the lead to 32-30.  The former Warrior then connected on another turnaround jumper to tie the game and force Don Nelson to use a timeout with about 5 minutes gone by.

Teagle and Campbell continued to help L.A. battle Golden State to a 42-all tie.  But as the Lakers starters trickled back in, they didn’t help the L.A. cause.

Hardaway nailed a step-back three from the top and then got a breakaway layup after a steal by Sarunas Marciulionis.  Marciulionis later hit two free throws and Tyrone Hill put back a miss.  The only thing that prevented Golden State from grabbing a bigger lead was Teagle, who hit a baseline jumper and then two free throws.

But the Warriors did get a 53-46 halftime lead when Mullin got his 17th point on a running jumper from the top at the buzzer.  Whether or not Mullin was feeling better, the Lakers defense was definitely not as concentrated on him as it had been in Golden State.  This was evidenced by the fact that he basically ran free for this last shot and was not challenged.

James Worthy came out strong to start the 2nd half after only 4 points in the 1st.  He scored 6 early on but Run TMC got the Warriors off to a better start.  Hardaway found Richmond for a jumper from the foul line and then Tim hit a pull-up from the wing.  Later, Richmond hit a runner over Divac and Mullin hit a pull-up jumper over Sam Perkins.

Hardaway then went coast-to-coast on a stutter step drive to put the Warriors ahead 63-52 and force Mike Dunleavy to use a timeout with 3 minutes gone by in the 3rd quarter.  The Warriors would grab as big as a 13-point lead in the quarter but Magic got going after only one 1st half field goal.

Magic hit two shots from the post and got credit for another field goal on a goaltending.  Magic then culminated a 15-8 run by nailing a three after a kickout from Taegle to cut the lead to 71-67.  But Hardaway drove right back and kicked out to Higgins for an answering three.  Hardaway then found Richmond for a jumper from the top on the next possession to put the Warriors up nine with 3:19 to go.

The Warriors held that nine-point lead at 84-75 as the 3rd quarter reached an end.  Richmond led the way with 12 of his 20 points in that 3rd quarter.

A three-point play by Perkins started L.A. off on the right foot in the 4th.  But then Golden State took the momentum right back away and built a 90-78 lead at about the 10 minute mark.  Elden Campbell had just picked up his 5th foul but he started a run by putting back a miss by Byron Scott.  Magic then hit a banker from the post after an up-and-under move to force Nellie to use a timeout at the 8:59 mark.

Campbell later rebound-slammed a miss but the Warriors maintained a 94-86 lead when Richmond hit on a scoop with about 6:49 left in the game.

But then, finally, the Lakers consistently came alive at both ends of the court (I suppose it was at about this time that they saw the Blazers wrapping up their series.. if they were scoreboard watching).  The jump shooting Warriors went cold and then were called for an illegal defense.  The Lakers run started with a technical free throw from Magic.

Campbell then rebounded a wild miss from Magic, after a good defensive possession from Golden State, and hit a hook shot in the lane.  Magic then found Byron Scott for a corner three in transition (his 3rd field goal of the game, all since late in the 3rd quarter) to cut the lead to 94-92.

The Warriors used a timeout with 5:06 left but it didn’t help their scoring drought over the next minute and a half.  Worthy hit two free throws and then Perkins and Worthy hit from the post to put L.A. up 98-94 with 3:21 to go.  Nellie had to use his 3rd timeout of the quarter.  Golden State had surrendered a 12-0 run over the last 3 1/2 minutes.

But they managed to stay in it as Mullin hit two free throws.  The Warriors then went to their press and forced two turnovers and two Laker fouls.  One was the 6th on Campbell and the other was the 5th on Perkins.  Hardaway hit three of four free throws to give Golden State a 99-98 lead.

Magic then drove by Richmond in the post for a score.  But Hardaway pushed it right back and found Mullin, who’s three-pointer from the top rolled around the rim before rolling in.  Hardaway then got a steal and fed Richmond for a seemingly easy breakaway, at least Richmond took it easy.

But Worthy hustled back and blocked Richmond’s shot.  Unfortunately for L.A., Worthy was the only one who hustled back.  Mullin followed it up and scored while drawing a foul with 1:44 left.  Mullin could’ve put the Warriors up by five but missed the free throw.  Still, it was 104-100 with under 2 minutes left.  But the game was far from over.

Magic was fouled and hit two free throws.  The Lakers defense then forced a 24-second violation.  Perkins then tipped in his own miss to tie the game.  But the blows over the last minute had just started.

Hardaway hit a pull-up from the top against Magic with 35.5 seconds left to give the Warriors a 106-104 lead.  But Magic did what he did best and found Worthy for a hook that crawled into the basket with 21.1 seconds to go.  Nellie used a timeout.

Hardaway had it again at the top of the floor against Magic.  Sensing the mismatch, Scott ran off of Richmond to double team.  Hardaway dribbled away from the double team before finding Richmond at the top of the key for an easy 17-footer.  Richmond connected with 6.3 left and Dunleavy used a timeout.

Golden State may be criticized for shooting too soon and giving the Lakers time on the clock to respond.  My counter is that Richmond had a good shot.  Probably a better shot than he was going to get at 2 seconds left, and if you have a good shot, you take it no matter the time.

L.A. had to use another timeout as they couldn’t get the ball in-bounds on their initial play.  They almost couldn’t on their next play but Teagle got it in to Perkins at the top of the key.

Perkins turned toward the basket and the lane opened up.  So Sam drove in and got the roll on a finger roll with 2.4 seconds left (leaving the Warriors some time but, by the same logic as two paragraphs ago, Perkins had an open drive and a good shot).  Nelson used a timeout but the Warriors didn’t seem to execute his play as Richmond was forced to throw up a prayer against a double team that hit nothing but backboard.

The Lakers were now playing in their first overtime playoff game in 7 years, hard to believe.

The teams traded baskets and free throws some more for the first 4 minutes of overtime.  Rod Higgins split a pair of charity tosses at the 1:08 mark to tie the game at 117.

On the Lakers’ subsequent possession, Magic rebounded a miss by Scott and later, penetrated and kicked out to Worthy for a wing jumper with 38.7 seconds left.  Hardaway tried to respond, but missed a steap-back fall-away from the baseline.  Worthy eventually came up with the loose ball on the rebound and was fouled by Marciulionis.

After hitting the first free throw, James missed the second.  Mullin rebounded and Golden State used a timeout with 25.8 seconds left, only down 120-117.  The Warriors initially went for and got the quick two as Hardaway drove down the lane.  But it took them 10 seconds to foul before Hardaway got Scott at the 11.7 second mark.  Byron hit two free throws and Golden State used a timeout.

Mullin inbounded to Richmond in the corner.  But Mitch didn’t draw iron on a tough three-point attempt over Teagle.  Scott rebounded and was fouled by Marciulionis.  With 5.4 seconds left, Scott put the finishing touches on the Warriors and this entertaining Semifinal series.

The Lakers would now move on to Portland, as they had to travel on the road for Game 1 of a Western Conference Final for the first time since 1971.

For Golden State, this would be about as good as it got for a number of years.  The decline started with a trade early in training camp for the next season that broke up Run TMC and set them back.

Golden State starters (points scored)

Chris Mullin (26) – Small Forward

Rod Higgins (17) – Power Forward

Alton Lister (4) – Center

Tim Hardaway (27) – Point Guard

Mitch Richmond (26) – Shooting Guard

Golden State bench (points scored)

Sarunas Marciulionis (4)

Jim Petersen (9)

Tom Tolbert (2)

Tyrone Hill (4)

Mario Elie (0)

Golden State Coach: Don Nelson

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (25) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (19) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (6) – Center

Magic Johnson (28) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (13) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Terry Teagle (17)

Elden Campbell (11)

A.C. Green (4)

Larry Drew (1)

Tony Smith (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

magic

Magic Johnson eventually led the Lakers to a series win against a tough Warriors team *photo courtesy of nba.com

May 17, 1991 – East Semifinals, Game 6: Boston Celtics 113 @Detroit Pistons 117 (OT)

In this series between late-80’s rivals, it almost came down to who was healthier.  Larry Bird was out for Game 1 at the Boston Garden while resting his ailing back and Detroit shut down the Celtics to win 86-75.

But Isiah Thomas sprained his foot late in the game and missed Game 2.  Bird returned and responded to lead the Celtics to a late victory 109-103.  Thomas returned for Game 3 but Detroit couldn’t do anything right and were blown out 115-83.

Isiah sat out again in Game 4.  But Joe Dumars and Mark Aguirre responded to lead the Pistons to a 104-97 win.  For Game 5, Isiah was back but came off the bench and didn’t score.  Dumars had 32 while Vinnie Johnson and Bill Laimbeer contributed 24.  Detroit ran to a big lead and had an 88-75 advantage heading into the 4th.  During the game, the Celtics lost Robert Parish to a sprained ankle.

But Boston made a run led by Dee Brown and Larry Bird and tied the game late.  But a big jumper by Laimbeer put the game away and brought Detroit to the brink of eliminating Boston 116-111.

The Celtics most consistent performer was Reggie Lewis, who had broken 20 points in every game so far.  But Bird had mostly struggled and Boston had trouble scoring at times.

Parish would be out for Game 6 while Isiah would continue to come off the bench.  Detroit grabbed a quick 7-0 lead while Boston missed their first 7 shots.  Three Boston starters (Kevin Gamble, Brian Shaw, and Joe Kleine, who was in for Parish) would combine for 10 points in this game.

Meanwhile, Joe Dumars would become scalding hot.  He made his first 4 shots, including two threes and would finish the 1st quarter at 7-for-9 with 16 points.  Dumars’ assault gave Detroit as much as an 11-point lead in the 1st quarter.

But Boston cut into it as they started filtering in their bench.  Kevin McHale and Dee Brown hit some big shots, while Reggie Lewis hit two pull-ups from the elbow.  Boston cut the lead to 29-23 at the end of the quarter.

But Lewis would go scoreless until the 4th quarter.  Isiah saw his first action of the game at the start of the 2nd quarter and his contribution would be a few assists to Dumars, as he continued to shoot lights out.  Thomas would also make a few jumpers.

Detroit continued to lead but Boston stayed in it as McHale scored 15 of his 18 1st half points in the 2nd quarter.  McHale continually scored and drew fouls on, mainly, John Salley.  Salley had 4 fouls by halftime and almost got into a fracas with McHale.  Dee Brown also contributed 10 points, 8 in the 2nd quarter.

Detroit out-rebounded Boston 25-15 in the 1st half, highlighting the loss of Parish, with Dennis Rodman grabbing 11.  Dumars had 25 points by halftime.  But even with all of that, Boston still trailed only 56-50 at the break.

But Detroit ran it up in the 3rd as the Pistons got James Edwards involved in the offense down low.  Edwards, Dumars and Laimbeer helped increase the lead to as much as 80-63 with under 4 minutes to go in the 3rd.

But then Detroit went cold.  Boston brought in Ed Pinckney, who helped stabilize their rebounding.  For most of the rest of the game, Chris Ford had a lineup of Pinckney, McHale, Brown, Lewis and Bird.  While this lineup brought Boston back, it also contributed to fatigue (especially for McHale) in the late going.

The Celtics closed the quarter on a 12-2 run as McHale was now up to 27 points.

Dee Brown got the Celtics going in the 4th as he scored 5 quick points.  A turnaround banker by Lewis cut the lead to 84-82.  But then Mark Aguirre drove down the lane for a scoop shot and Isiah found Salley for a slam in transition.

Another field goal by Aguirre and then an alley-oop dunk from Isiah to Salley forced Ford to use a timeout at the 8:11 mark with the Pistons back ahead 92-84.

Boston got back into it as McHale scored 5 more points, including a corner three.  Bird then went to the post for the first time all game and hit a turnaround jumper to cut the lead to 97-94.

Then with the lead still at three a minute later, Boston got their defensive play of the game that sparked them.  Isiah cut to the hoop past Dee Brown for a seemingly wide open layup.  But Brown showed off his athleticism that won the dunk contest and blocked the shot.  At the other end, Bird hit a fall-away in the lane over Rodman to cut the lead to 99-98.

The Celtics then took their first lead of the game when Bird made two free throws.  Edwards came back with two from the line but then McHale fed Lewis for a turnaround banker from the post while he was fouled.  The three-point play gave Boston a 103-101 lead with 1:39 left.  Dumars tied it with a double-pump banker in the lane.

Then, with under a minute to go, Lewis drove and missed.  McHale tipped it in but was called for offensive goaltending.  This was an egregiously bad call as the replay clearly showed the ball out of the cylinder.  But the Celtics’ protests went for naught.

Brown was then called for a foul on Edwards with 43.4 seconds to go and James made two more free throws.  The Celtics went to Bird as they did many times before.  But he missed a fall-away from the post and Dumars rebounded.  Joe D was fouled by Lewis with 21.4 seconds left.

But for once, Joe D was not Joe Cool and he missed both free throws.  The Celtics called a timeout and went to Reggie Lewis this time.  He missed a pull-up but got the ball back on a back-tap and connected on a hook shot to tie the game with 7.8 seconds left.

The Pistons went to Isiah after a timeout.  But he lost the ball when he ran into Bird on a drive and the game was headed into overtime.  Isiah would redeem himself in the extra session.

But first, Boston took control when Brown found Lewis for an elbow jumper.  Then Pinckney rebounded a miss by Lewis and reverse slammed it to give Boston a 109-105 lead with 3:21 left and force Chuck Daly to use a timeout.

The Pistons came back with a baseline jumper from Edwards.  Then on their next possession, Isiah ended up with the ball as the shot clock was running out.  He pulled up and banked in a three to give Detroit a 110-109 lead with 2:25 left.

Thomas then responded to a jumper from Brown by nailing another pull-up jumper from the top.  Detroit would then grab a 114-111 lead with under a minute to go.

The Celtics, who had gone with the same lineup forever, were tired and Brown was called for traveling with 43 seconds left.  With a chance to go for the kill, Isiah went 1-on-1 against Brown.  He dribbled between his legs a few times while Dee was on his heels.  Then Thomas stepped back and nailed it from the deep wing to make it 116-111 with 25 seconds left.

With that, Boston’s season was effectively over.  They squandered their last chance to get back into the game when Lewis barely missed a three.

The talk as the game ended was if this would be Larry Bird’s last appearance.  It sure looked like it as he was going to have back surgery over the summer.  Although he had a few fleeting moments of greatness (like Game 5 versus Indiana), Bird had looked injured and ineffective while Magic Johnson was on the top of his game in some respects.  Guess which one wouldn’t be back next season except for an All-Star game.

Detroit was battered but was moving on to their 5th consecutive Eastern Conference Final.  This would, in essence, be the last great moment of the Pistons led by Isiah Thomas and Chuck Daly.  Their leaving of the stage would be unceremonious 10 days later.

Boston starters (points scored)

Kevin Gamble (0) – Small Forward

Larry Bird (12) – Power Forward

Joe Kleine (2) – Center

Brian Shaw (8) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (23) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Kevin McHale (34)

Dee Brown (21)

Ed Pinckney (13)

Michael Smith (0)

Boston Coach: Chris Ford

Detroit starters (points scored)

Dennis Rodman (4) – Small Forward

James Edwards (17) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (15) – Center

Joe Dumars (32) – Point Guard

Vinnie Johnson (10) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Isiah Thomas (17)

Mark Aguirre (10)

John Salley (12)

Scott Hastings (0)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

AUBURN HILLS, MI - 1987: Kevin McHale #32 of the Boston Celtics dribbles against The Detroit Pistons circa 1987 at the Palace in Auburn Hills, Michigan. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Kevin McHale

AUBURN HILLS, MI – 1987: Kevin McHale #32 of the Boston Celtics dribbles against The Detroit Pistons circa 1987 at the Palace in Auburn Hills, Michigan. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Kevin McHale

May 18, 1991 – Western Finals, Game 1: Los Angeles Lakers 111 @Portland Blazers 106

For the Lakers, this would be the first time since 1971 that they didn’t host a Western Conference Final (this was their 13th appearance since 1971).

But even with the Lakers being the “underdog,” one still had to get through them in the West to earn their turf.  That would definitely be the case for Portland, even though they had the best record in the league and had made it to the Finals the previous season.  But in 1990, they didn’t beat the Lakers on their playoff run.

The Lakers were the team that wanted to set it up in their halfcourt offense (a bit of a far cry from Showtime) while Portland wanted to run it up and down.

But the Lakers got off to a good start by taking some fast break chances.  James Worthy would be the key with 9 points in the first 5 minutes.  7 of them came in transition with Magic Johnson leading the break.

Magic also got Byron Scott involved as he scored 8 points in the 1st quarter, 6 of them in transition.  A steal and slam by Worthy, for his 11th point, gave the Lakers their biggest lead at 27-17 with 3:37 left in the 1st quarter.

But it was then that Portland started to get aggressive.  Drexler continually drove to the hole, despite battling a turf toe, and scored 11 1st quarter points.  Cliff Robinson also provided a spark off the bench with two field goals as Portland cut L.A.’s lead to 33-27 at the end of the quarter.

The Trailblazers then started the 2nd quarter with an 8-0 run as Jerome Kersey led the way.  Kersey scored 7 points early on in the quarter.  Terry Porter also scored 7 points before picking up his 3rd foul.

But Terry Teagle kept L.A. in the game during that stretch with 10 2nd quarter points.  Elden Campbell and A.C. Green also contributed.

But Portland was intent on proving that they had the bench advantage.  Robinson and Danny Ainge each led the way in the late going.  Robinson’s elbow jumper with 0.6 seconds left on the clock put the Blazers ahead 62-55 at the half.

Kersey led the way with 13 points while Robinson and Drexler each had 12.  Ainge contributed 10 points.  For the Lakers, Worthy led their attack with 17 points while Teagle and Scott contributed 10.  Magic had been held to no field goals and 5 free throws.

Portland kept their lead through the 3rd quarter as, per usual with the Blazers, everyone contributed.  An offensive rebound and slam by Clyde Drexler put Portland up 86-74.  Back-to-back field goals by Kersey and Kevin Duckworth gave the Blazers their biggest lead at 92-78.

Portland held a 92-80 lead heading into the 4th quarter.  Their starters had played most of the 3rd, which wasn’t usually a factor for Portland since they had a strong bench.

But, in this case, the bench did not help in the 4th quarter as the Blazers started out in a major drought, although L.A.’s defense also had something to do with that.

On offense, Vlade Divac led the way with 6 points early in the 4th quarter as the Lakers scored the first 10.  Then Magic kicked out to Byron Scott for a three to put L.A. ahead 93-92 and complete a 15-0 run.

Drexler briefly saved the Blazers with a big three-point play on a driving scoop shot.  Portland then re-took a 99-95 lead when Kersey nailed a baseline jumper.  But Worthy connected on a fall-away in the lane and then Magic tied it with two free throws.  Although Magic only scored two field goals, he finished with 21 assists.

Drexler and Perkins exchanged baskets.  Drexler hit three free throws for a three-point lead, but L.A. re-took it at 105-104 when Scott found Magic on a cut for a layup.

Portland had 4 chances on their next possession to gain the advantage again but couldn’t do it.  Worthy then drew a 5th foul on Drexler, on a questionable call, and made two free throws with 1:23 left.

Porter found Duckworth for a jumper in the lane.  But Magic kicked out to Scott for a wing jumper with 49.8 seconds left.  L.A. led 109-106.

Porter went for the tie but was short on a three-pointer.  But Perkins fouled Buck Williams on the rebound and sent him to the line with 33.2 seconds left.  But Buck highlighted one of Portland’s major weaknesses (especially in their losses in the playoffs) and missed both free throws.

Magic rebounded and the Lakers ran down the shot clock.  At the end, L.A.’s ball movement from Magic to Worthy produced a slam duck by Perkins with 8.6 seconds left.  This effectively finished off the ball game as L.A. stole the home-court advantage.

The home advantage would prove to be a factor as the next 4 games were blowout wins for the home team.  But Portland now needed to win in L.A. to stay alive and they would get their chance in Game 6.

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (28) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (18) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (12) – Center

Magic Johnson (15) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (19) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Terry Teagle (14)

A.C. Green (2)

Elden Campbell (3)

Mychal Thompson (0)

Larry Drew (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (21) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (6) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (14) – Center

Terry Porter (9) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (28) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (14)

Danny Ainge (12)

Walter Davis (0)

Mark Bryant (2)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

May 25, 1991 – Eastern Finals, Game 3: Chicago Bulls 113 @Detroit Pistons 107

For the first time in their 4 consecutive years of matching up with the Pistons in the playoffs, the Bulls had home court advantage.  They took care of business at the Chicago Stadium in the first two games.

In Game 1, the Bulls bench of B.J. Armstrong, Craig Hodges, Will Perdue and Cliff Levingston scored 30 points, only 7 behind Detroit’s starting five.  They led a 4th quarter run that gave Chicago a 94-83 win, despite Jordan not quite being himself as he was still recovering from knee tendinitis.  Jordan came back with 35 in Game 2 and the bench contributed some more (although not quite to the tune of 30 points).  The Bulls won 105-97 to take a 2-0 series lead.

While Detroit was battling injuries, they only got consistent play from Vinnie Johnson and Mark Aguirre off the bench in the first two games.  The biggest problem was that the starting frontcourt of Dennis Rodman, James Edwards and Bill Laimbeer had combined for 10 points in Game 2, after only 17 in Game 1.

From the scoring end, the biggest disappointment was Edwards.  James was counted on for low post scoring but had contributed 10 points in two games and was benched in the second half of Game 2.  Laimbeer was battling a knee injury while Rodman, who wasn’t a scorer, was getting torched by Scottie Pippen.  Pippen got credit for growing up in this series, but his biggest contribution thus far came in Game 3.

Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars were also battling injuries.  Isiah was 7-for-18 from the field in the first two games while Dumars did throw up 24 points in Game 2 after going 3-for-10 in Game 1.

But all of that would seem to change as the series shifted to the Palace at Auburn Hills.  Chicago was 1-6 in the playoffs there over the last two seasons and this would be the biggest test to see how far they had come.

They answered it pretty swiftly in the first 9 minutes of Game 3.  Jordan, Pippen, and Bill Cartwright nailed jumpers before Detroit got on the board.  Pippen later hit a running hook in the lane and Jordan nailed a turnaround from the elbow.  A Jordan steal and John Paxson jumper put the Bulls up 15-6 and forced Chuck Daly to use a timeout with 6:51 left.

But it only got worse from there for the Pistons.  The Bulls increased their lead to 21-8.  Edwards picked up his 2nd foul without scoring.  Aguirre came in for him and tried to get physical.  First, he bumped Jordan away from the ball on a Chicago possession.  But MJ got it and fed Pippen for a baseline jumper at the end of the shot clock.

Aguirre then got doubled in the post on Detroit’s next possession, tried to bully his way through it and forced up a bad shot, and, after a Detroit foul on the rebound, slapped the ball away from Horace Grant in frustration.  Then Aguirre pushed Grant on the following Chicago possession and was called for a technical.  Jordan hit the free throw to put the Bulls up 24-8.

But then Vinnie Johnson came in and sparked the Pistons offensively.  He hit two field goals, one following a steal by Dumars.  Dumars’ steal from Pippen helped spark the crowd and Detroit’s defense.  John Salley, who had also contributed nothing except fouls in the first two games, got another steal and Vinnie found Aguirre for a layup.

Johnson then hit a turnaround jumper from the post area with 11.4 seconds left to cut the Bulls lead to 24-16 at the end of the 1st quarter.  Detroit had gone on an 8-0 run in the final 3 minutes and 25 seconds to cut the lead in half.

Detroit’s bench continued to spark them in the 2nd quarter.  Aguirre and Johnson got field goals.  Then Dumars penetrated and found Salley for a slam and a foul.  The three-point play cut the lead to 26-23.

While Chicago’s bench wasn’t quite at the form of the first two games, they did make some key plays to keep the Bulls ahead.  Hodges hit two jumpers and Perdue had a tip-in.  But the Pistons bench would briefly bring them into a 38-36 lead when Salley faked Cartwright in the post and then drove by him for a slam.

But as both teams’ starters filtered back in, Chicago took the momentum right back.  They went on an 8-0 run to re-take a 44-38 lead.  The Bulls stretched it to 51-43 at the half when Jordan connected on a pull-up banker with 3.6 seconds left.  Jordan and Cartwright each had 11 points at the half, but Pippen led the way with 15.

Scottie continued to put pressure on Detroit’s front court as Rodman and Edwards picked up their 3rd fouls early in the 2nd half and sat on the bench.  Pippen drew it from Rodman while he put back his own miss.  He later connected on a driving scoop shot and then a driving banker while drawing another foul.  After two free throws from Jordan, the Bulls led 65-49.

The game would become a foul fest over the next few minutes with Chicago continuing to hold its double digit lead.  But late in the quarter, Isiah sparked the Pistons by winning a jump ball against Will Perdue.

He also put back two misses and drove baseline for a double-pump three-point play (while drawing a flagrant foul from rookie Scott Williams) to cut the lead to 78-73.  But then Dumars picked up his 4th foul and Williams made two free throws.  Armstrong then nailed a pull-up banker with 1.2 seconds left in the 3rd to give Chicago an 82-74 lead heading into the 4th quarter.

Jordan would thwart off Detroit in the early part of the 4th quarter with three jumpers and two feeds to Grant for layups to give the Bulls a 92-80 lead.  Detroit hustled and scrapped their way back on the boards and recovering loose balls.  They cut the advantage to 96-91 when Vinnie found Laimbeer for a baseline jumper.

But B.J. Armstrong nailed the biggest shot of his NBA career thus far when he made a three at the end of the shot clock on a kickout from Grant.  Aguirre responded with a three but two bank shots from Jordan kept the Pistons at bay.

But Detroit did have a chance to cut the lead to 103-100 with under 2 minutes left when Dumars got a steal and Johnson looked to have a breakaway.  But Jordan hustled back and forced the ball back to Dumars.  Jordan then recovered to Dumars, forced a wild shot (although Joe D looked like he could have thrown a return pass to Vinnie or hit the trailer for a layup), and then rebounded the miss.

Pippen buried a jumper following that defensive play and Chicago led 105-98.  That whole sequence would end up finishing off Detroit in Game 3.  Their frustration showed some more as Rodman picked up a technical for a hard foul on John Paxson.

The Bulls had come far in their growth as they held off Detroit in a tough environment.  It seemed unthinkable that they could sweep Detroit, but now it seemed very likely.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (26) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (17) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (13) – Center

John Paxson (6) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (33) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (7)

Craig Hodges (6)

Will Perdue (2)

Cliff Levingston (0)

Scott Williams (3)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Detroit starters (points scored)

Dennis Rodman (0) – Small Forward

James Edwards (2) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (10) – Center

Isiah Thomas (29) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (11) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Vinnie Johnson (25)

Mark Aguirre (17)

John Salley (13)

Gerald Henderson (0)

Tree Rollins (0)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

May 27, 1991 – Eastern Finals, Game 4: Chicago Bulls 115 @Detroit Pistons 94

With the Bulls on the verge of a sweep, the talk was about how good it was that the Pistons and their cheapshot style of play was going out.  Michael Jordan in particular was critical of getting Detroit’s rough style out of basketball.

The Pistons were vehemently defending themselves while taking shots at Chicago.  They were saying that they were just hard-nosed and not playing dirty.  Most of the league defended Chicago, but Detroit’s perception of how they were being viewed when they were down and almost out may have contributed a lot to the end of this game.

Looking to get a better offensive start in Game 4, Chuck Daly put Mark Aguirre in the starting lineup in place of Dennis Rodman.  The Pistons also set to get James Edwards going.  Edwards and Aguirre did get some buckets and Bill Laimbeer was playing with the most energy that he had the entire series.  Detroit got off to its best start in the 4 games.

But now the problem with Aguirre in the lineup over Rodman was defending Scottie Pippen.  Pippen was aggressive as he scored or assisted on Chicago’s first 8 points.  The Bulls took Detroit’s best early shot and stayed with them.  This would turn out to be particularly frustrating for Detroit as their offense started to sputter against Chicago’s pressure.

On a play late in the 1st quarter, Isiah fouled Paxson on a drive to the basket.  After the foul was called, Laimbeer came over and gave Paxson a forearm to the face.  They had to be seperated and each received a technical foul.

Then with 1:50 left, James Edwards was called for an offensive foul.  Nobody on Detroit (or in the crowd) liked it.  It was almost the bitter end of a string of calls or non-calls that was perceived to go against Detroit.  But evidently, according to referee Joey Crawford, the biggest gripe came from Detroit assistant coach Brendan Suhr.  Crawford hit him with a technical.

This further angered Detroit as the bench continued to argue.  With Daly now angry, Crawford became angry and gave Daly a technical (Joey Crawford perhaps over-reacting?? NO WAY!!!).

Paxson connected on the technical free throws and hit three jumpers late in the 1st quarter to push Chicago to a 32-26 lead at quarter’s end.

Chicago pushed their lead to as much as 10 early in the 2nd quarter.  Dennis Rodman came in and he was perhaps frustrated at being benched or (as it turned out) he would be the most defensive about how Detroit was perceived in the media.  It showed as he repeatedly tried to get Scottie Pippen into an altercation.

The biggest cheapshot came after he fouled Pippen on a drive to the basket.  As Scottie was falling, Rodman pushed him into the crowd.  He was called for a flagrant foul.  Pippen hit 1-of-2 free throws and then Cliff Levingston tip-slammed a miss by Craig Hodges and Chicago led 45-34.  Rodman would later pick up a technical.  He didn’t contribute in 7 minutes of the 2nd quarter.

But perhaps the physical play did rattle the Bulls a little bit (which was most of its intent).  Detroit made a run and cut it to 49-44 on a baseline jumper from Vinnie Johnson.

But then Jordan connected on a wing jumper after Horace Grant got an offensive rebound.  Later, MJ found Pippen for a breakaway slam.  But the Pistons stayed within 57-50 at halftime after Edwards made a wing jumper with a second left.

Edwards led Detroit with 10 points (far and away his best offensive output of the series) while Pippen had 14 for Chicago.

There would be no more on-the-court incidents in this game, even as Chicago was pulling away in the 3rd quarter.  Pippen would be the catalyst again as he pushed the ball, attacked the defense, and either drew fouls, scored, or found teammates for baskets.  Pippen finished with 10 assists while Jordan had 8.

Jordan’s 11 3rd quarter points, naturally, also put Detroit down.  Two of his jump shots bounced in off the front rim and MJ also got a few breakaway slams.  The Pistons offense also didn’t seem to have an answer for the Bulls’ defense.  The champs had run out of gas.

Chicago led 87-70 at the end of the 3rd quarter and were never challenged in the 4th.  Isiah, Laimbeer, Dumars and Aguirre were taken out halfway through the 4th quarter and got a rousing ovation from the crowd.  Isiah was repeatedly seen laughing on the bench, not something you think would be typical of a competitor who’s season and who’s teams’ championship reign was about to end (but hindsight in 20-20).

Finally, garbage time played out and there was a stoppage of play with 7.9 seconds left and the Bulls up 112-94.  Even before that stoppage, the Pistons bench had started to get up.  Then they were seen walking by the Chicago bench without shaking the Bulls’ hands before going to the locker room and hugging general manager Jack McCloskey.

Now there have been several instances where a losing team has not shaken the hands of a winning team after a game or series (in a way, I can understand that because I don’t like fake sportsmanship.. either you genuinely wish the other team good luck and tell them great series or you don’t talk to them, but hey even fake sportsmanship looks good for the cameras).

The thing that probably stood out for Detroit’s walk-out was that they did it with time left on the clock and looked to be making a big deal of it.  They didn’t wait until after the game when the floor was filled and it wasn’t just the team walking across it.

Either way, it painted a picture of them and their real attitude (according to the people who hated them) as their championship era was officially closed.

But the “changing of the guard” was not totally complete.  The Bulls still had one more series to win before they could call themselves champions.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (23) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (16) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (6) – Center

John Paxson (12) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (29) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (4)

Stacey King (4)

Craig Hodges (4)

Dennis Hopson (1)

Will Perdue (1)

Cliff Levingston (10)

Scott Williams (5)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Detroit starters (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (9) – Small Forward

James Edwards (14) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (11) – Center

Isiah Thomas (16) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (6) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Vinnie Johnson (9)

Dennis Rodman (6)

John Salley (12)

Gerald Henderson (2)

William Bedford (4)

Scott Hastings (5)

Tree Rollins (0)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

pistons-bulls

a glimpse of Bill Laimbeer and Isiah Thomas walking by the Bulls bench with still 7.9 seconds left *photo courtesy of Detroit Athletic Company

May 30, 1991 – Western Finals, Game 6: Portland Blazers 90 @Los Angeles Lakers 91

The Blazers had not yet been able to recover since blowing Game 1 in the 4th quarter.  They were able to win Game 2 handily with a 4th quarter surge at home.  But then at the Forum for Games 3 & 4, the Blazers were beaten soundly both times as all five Laker starters finished in double figures in both games.

But then Game 5 may have turned the series in more than a Blazers win.  Portland did hold L.A. to 34 2nd half points as Buck Williams grabbed 16 rebounds in 46 minutes.  But in the 1st quarter, James Worthy sprained his ankle and played sporadically for the rest of the game.  It was uncertain whether Worthy would play in Game 6.  He would after going through a warm-up.

Even with Portland’s win, only Williams, Jerome Kersey, and Cliff Robinson were playing well.  Terry Porter, Clyde Drexler and Danny Ainge weren’t shooting well over the past few games and Kevin Duckworth was really struggling.  Duckworth sat in the 2nd half of Game 5 as Portland made its big run.

The shooting didn’t improve early on in Game 6.  Both teams had 4 points in the first 4 minutes.  Worthy hit his first jump shot from outside but was not as big a factor as L.A. did not go to him nearly as much down low.  The Lakers used Magic and Perkins in the post as their primary offense.

Both teams picked it up a little bit as L.A. led 15-14 with 3:18 remaining.  The big thing L.A. was doing was making an effort to match Portland on the boards.  The Blazers out-rebounded the Lakers handily in their two wins.

Byron Scott got the Lakers going as he hit two jump shots, including a three, off double-teams down low.  Portland remained cold as Duckworth was 0-for-4 with good shots down low.  A tip-in by Perkins with 6.3 seconds left gave L.A. a 25-16 lead.

But veteran A.C. Green made a mistake and fouled Drexler in the back court with 4.3 seconds left.  Drexler made the first but was called for a lane violation on the second as he quickly attempted to rebound his miss.

This gave the Lakers the ball on the side and gave A.C. Green a chance to atone for his mistake.  Perkins gave him a return pass and Green pulled up and nailed a three from the top at the buzzer to give the Lakers some adrenaline and a 28-17 lead at the end of the 1st quarter.

Green continued to spark L.A. as he got two breakaway layups in the 2nd quarter on his way to 10 1st half points.  The Lakers gained a 15-point lead early on but got no offense from anyone other than Perkins and Magic, after Green’s spark early in the quarter.  Worthy was struggling through his ankle and L.A.’s offense stalled.

Portland would never get to the point of burning the net either but they got some big contributions late in the half to cut the lead to 50-43 at the break.  Drexler had 10 points while Porter and Williams had 9.  Duckworth also hit three field goals in the quarter to help.  Magic had 13 and Perkins 12 for the Lakers.

Perkins made his main contribution in the 3rd quarter as he scored twice in the post, including a three-point play which drew Duckworth’s 4th foul, to put the Lakers back up by 12.  Perkins later nailed a step-back three from the wing at the end of the shot clock to contribute to his 11 3rd quarter points.

But the Lakers got almost no offense outside of Perkins and Portland was able to stay within 70-65 at the end of the 3rd quarter despite Drexler picking up his 4th foul.

The Lakers continued to hold strenuously to the lead early in the 4th quarter but there were no surges.  Portland stayed alive despite Kersey and Duckworth picking up their 5th fouls.  Terry Porter nailed two big jump shots, including a three, to bring him out of his slump.  Meanwhile, Drexler was doing the same and his coast-to-coast drive cut the Lakers lead to 81-79 with 5:34 left.

After a Lakers timeout, Magic hit a hook shot from the post at the end of the shot clock.  But Drexler came right back as he put in a miss by Robinson and then went coast-to-coast again for a driving layup.  This would tie the game at 83 but Duckworth committed his 6th foul with 3:23 left.  However, Perkins split the free throws.

Portland had a chance to lead but Porter missed a short jumper.  Magic rebounded and was fouled by Robinson.  But he split his free throws as well.  Kersey then tipped in a Porter miss to tie it at 85.

The Lakers then ran down the shot clock and Portland seemed to double Magic at the perfect time as he was in the post with the clock running down.  But Vlade Divac cut at the perfect time and Magic found him through a double-team for a layup with 2 minutes left.

Drexler was called for traveling at the other end and then committed his 5th foul going for a steal on a pass to Magic.  Magic made two free throws for a four-point lead.  But Portland’s gambling defense would give them more chances.

Drexler split a pair of free throws as Portland was, once again, not helping themselves from the line.  But then Clyde the Glide stole a Worthy return pass to Magic and went coast-to-coast for a slam to cut the lead to 89-88.  The Blazers then deflected a pass from Magic out of the post and had a 3-on-1 break.

Porter hit Kersey in the middle, who found Robinson for a seemingly easy slam and a Portland lead.  But before you can dunk it, you have to catch it and Robinson mis-handled the ball and lost it out of bounds with 56.6 seconds left.

After a Lakers timeout, Magic penetrated and found a cutting Divac again.  Vlade was fouled by Buck Williams and made two clutch free throws with 43.3 seconds left (a bit of a far cry from his later days in Sacramento).

Portland used a timeout and Porter connected on a banker from the foul line with 35.4 seconds left to cut the lead back to 91-90.  Magic ran down the shot clock again and tried to find a cutting Divac.  But this time, Kersey blocked Vlade’s shot and the Lakers were called for a 24-second violation with 12.5 seconds left.

After another timeout, the Blazers got it to Drexler.  Clyde tried to penetrate but the lane was closed off by the L.A. defense.  But he kicked it to Porter for a pretty good shot from the corner.  Porter’s jumper came up short and Magic rebounded.

Before he could be fouled, Magic threw the ball over the shoulder to the other end of the court where nobody was.  The ball continued to roll on the court as the clock ticked off precious seconds in Portland’s season.  Finally, it rolled out of bounds with 0.1 seconds left.

It was a brilliant play by Magic and has been attempted without the same success in later years.  And, of course, when someone attempted to just get rid of the ball and take off time and it hasn’t worked to the degree of success that Magic’s fling worked, they were criticized for it.

This once again proves that we are a results based society and it isn’t the thought that counts.  If Magic’s fling had gone out of bounds with more time on the clock and Portland scored for the win, Magic probably would have been roundly criticized (although, its Magic, no who knows).  As it stood though, it was a brilliant play.

Portland had to go full-length of the court with 0.1 seconds left and, not surprisingly, couldn’t get off a shot.  The Lakers were headed to the Finals again and would get a new opponent in Chicago.

For this Portland team, this may have been their best chance at a championship with home-court advantage and their confidence riding high.  They would come back strong the next year but they would hear rumblings all season about how they couldn’t get it done in big games.

Winning this game and then Game 7, not a guarantee but perhaps likelier with Worthy hobbled and Game 7 in Portland, would have put the Blazers in a prime position with home-court advantage against Michael Jordan and the Bulls, who hadn’t tasted a championship and the confidence that comes with it yet.

As it was, Portland’s growing reputation in big games would hit its primest in their final game of the 1992 season.

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (10) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (14) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (8) – Center

Terry Porter (24) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (23) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (11)

Danny Ainge (0)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (8) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (26) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (8) – Center

Magic Johnson (25) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (9) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

A.C. Green (15)

Terry Teagle (0)

Mychal Thompson (0)

Larry Drew (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

magic vs portland

Magic Johnson led the Lakers to their 9th NBA Finals appearance in 12 seasons *photo courtesy of Getty Images

June 2, 1991 – NBA Finals, Game 1: Los Angeles Lakers 93 @Chicago Bulls 91

Even before the Portland/L.A. series ended, NBC let it be known how much it would love to have Magic Johnson vs. Michael Jordan in the NBA Finals.

When it finally became official (actually, even beforehand), Game 1 took up the Sunday afternoon slot in NBC’s first year of covering the NBA since the 1960’s.

There was a big contrast in experience as the Bulls were making their first ever Finals appearance (and, in fact, none of their active roster had ever played an NBA Finals game).  Meanwhile, the Lakers were making their 9th Finals appearance in the last 12 seasons.  And the fact that a lot of their key players had experience may have showed at times in Game 1.

The other factor for the Bulls was the fact that they hadn’t played in 6 days.  Nervousness combined with rust showed early on.

James Worthy also looked a bit healthier on his ankle and scored 8 points as the Lakers took a 6-point lead early on.  But Michael Jordan took on the game by himself and brought the Bulls back.

After missing two of his first three jumpers, Jordan repeatedly took the ball to the basket for slams and also got out on the break.  Jordan’s takeover allowed Chicago to exchange leads with the Lakers at the end of the 1st quarter.

It finished with Sam Perkins’ second three-pointer, on a kickout from Magic, to put L.A. up 29-28 with 6.3 seconds left.  But Jordan came right back and found Horace Grant with a bullet pass to put the Bulls up 30-29 at quarter’s end.  Jordan had 15 points and 5 assists in a typically incredible 1st quarter performance.

But three more field goals from Worthy against Chicago’s bench gave L.A. a 41-34 lead with less than 5 minutes gone by.  However, like it had for most of the playoffs, Chicago’s bench rose to the challenge.  The Bulls went on a 10-0 run with the reserves scoring 8 of those points.

It was not only scoring that was doing the job off the Bulls’ bench.  Cliff Levingston came in and was a factor without even taking a shot.  Levingston denied Worthy position down low and also blocked some of James’ shots when he did get the ball.

This bogged down L.A.’s offense as Jordan and Pippen held Magic to no field goals in the 1st half.  Chicago gained a 53-51 halftime lead when Pippen nailed two free throws with 2.7 seconds left.  Jordan had 18 and Pippen 11 for the Bulls.

But the Bulls starters, like the 1st quarter, could not get it going in the 3rd.  Chicago made 2 of their first 10 field goals in the quarter but still trailed only 61-59.  The Lakers were being forced to use the shot clock and could not get any offense going again.

But a story-line was developing.  Jordan asked for a rest for a few minutes of the 3rd quarter as he had only 8 points since the 1st quarter.  Magic was proving to be a tough matchup, even for Michael, and may have been wearing on his energy.

Magic twice went to the post late in the quarter and kicked out of double teams to Worthy for jumpers from the top.  But the hay-makers came in the last 30 seconds from Magic.  First, he pulled up for a three after Pippen backed off of him and connected to put the Lakers ahead 72-68 with 29.9 seconds left in the 3rd.

Then on the next possession, Magic pulled up and nailed a long three-pointer (while an airhorn went off from the crowd) with 0.6 seconds to go to make it 75-68 Los Angeles at the end of 3.  Chicago was 6-for-22 from the field in that 3rd quarter.

Things looked even worse for the Bulls early in the 4th when Pippen picked up his 4th and 5th fouls and had to sit.  Chicago went back to their bench to go with Jordan and Magic got a rest for L.A.

Naturally, this worked in Chicago’s favor.  Jordan hit a lefty runner in the lane and then found Levingston for a layup.  MJ then led B.J. Armstrong for a breakaway layup to force a Lakers timeout with 9:47 left.  However, Jordan completed Chicago’s second 10-0 run of the game with two pull-ups from the elbow to make it 78-75 Bulls.

Magic came back in and attacked to basket to give L.A. a lead again.  While Johnson had not scored from the field until the 3rd quarter, he would finish with a triple-double.  Magic would also eventually draw a 5th foul from Jordan and made two free throws to put the Lakers up 84-80.

But MJ wasn’t fazed (they couldn’t foul him out in his first NBA Finals game, could they?).  He penetrated and found Grant for a slam.  Then Jordan went 1-on-1 against his primary defender all game (Byron Scott), backed him into the lane, scored and drew a foul.  The three-point play put Chicago up 85-84 and gave Michael 34 points.

The Bulls defensively doubled Magic on the perimeter and forced him to give the ball up before he could go to the post against Jordan.  This stagnated the Lakers offense some more.  But L.A. did the same thing to Jordan and, for once, the Bulls supporting cast could not answer the call.

Chicago gained only a three-point lead at 89-86 when Pippen nailed a pull-up from the foul line with 2:33 to go.  Pippen had a decent game but didn’t shoot well.  Nobody else in the Bulls starting lineup showed up at all, other than Jordan (of course).

L.A. had gotten big contributions from Perkins and Vlade Divac down low as the Bulls were only doubling Magic and Worthy in the post.  Scott was pre-occupied with guarding Jordan and the Lakers bench wasn’t a factor.

Perkins hit a turnaround jumper in the lane at the end of the shot clock and then tied it at 89 with a free throw.  Pippen hit two free throws with 1:02 left to give the Bulls a 91-89 lead.

Chicago double-teamed Magic at the perimeter again and the scramble forced Divac to take a corner shot that he missed.  Grant rebounded and the Bulls had a chance to put it away.

Jordan went 1-on-1 against Scott again but, this time, missed a turnaround banker.  Perkins rebounded and L.A. called timeout with 22.9 seconds left.

Mike Dunleavy got the ball to Magic again.  This time, Jordan played him straight up and Magic backed him down to the post.  The Bulls rotated to double Magic but left Sam Perkins open for a split second at the three-point line.

Magic kicked out to him and, from the right wing, Perkins nailed the trey to give L.A. a 92-91 lead with 14.0 seconds left.  The Bulls used a timeout and then another with 9 seconds to go after L.A. deflected the ball out of bounds.

Pippen got it into Jordan at the last second.  Jordan crossed over and took his customary pull-up jumper from the wing.  It rattled in-and-out.  Byron Scott eventually got the rebound after a scramble and was fouled by Paxson with 2.7 seconds left.  Lost in the history of that rebound scramble was L.A.’s A.C. Green trying to call timeout.  The Lakers were out of timeouts.  So were the Bulls in fact.

Scott missed the first but made the second.  Without a timeout, all Pippen could do was throw up a half-court fling that went off the back of the rim.  The Lakers had stolen Game 1 from the Bulls, like they had from Portland, and Chicago looked to be in a very ominous position.

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (22) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (22) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (16) – Center

Magic Johnson (19) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (9) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Terry Teagle (2)

A.C. Green (3)

Larry Drew (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (19) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (6) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (6) – Center

John Paxson (6) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (36) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (6)

Craig Hodges (4)

Will Perdue (6)

Cliff Levingston (2)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

michael-jordan-career-photos

Magic vs Michael drew the headlines, but Magic had put 5 fouls on Jordan and had tired him out in a Game 1 victory *photo courtesy of New York Daily News

June 5, 1991 – NBA Finals, Game 2: Los Angeles Lakers 86 @Chicago Bulls 107

The Bulls had looked nervous and tentative in Game 1, and as a result of their loss were now in almost desperate straights.  Chicago could not go back to Los Angeles trailing 2-0 or else their next game in Chicago Stadium would probably be at the start of the 1992 season.

There were two big offensive adjustments to start.  First, the Bulls were going to go aggressively to the basket and, second, they were going to get their role players involved.

John Paxson got credit for the first field goal when he drove the lane and had his shot goaltended by Vlade Divac.  Bill Cartwright got four 1st quarter layups off feeds from Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan, as well as an offensive rebound.  But Horace Grant would be the main beneficiary.

Grant was back in his goggles (and would start to wear them full time) after not wearing them for a few weeks.  But, more importantly, Grant finished strong at the basket whenever Jordan or Pippen found him or whenever he grabbed an offensive rebound.  Grant had, in some ways, been the most tentative in Game 1 but his aggressiveness set a tone in Game 2.  Horace had 10 1st quarter points.

The Lakers stayed in it early on as Vlade Divac got a few layups off feeds from Magic Johnson.  James Worthy, Byron Scott, and A.C. Green also hit key three-pointers in the 1st quarter.  Magic also drew 2 early fouls on Jordan.

That was when Scottie Pippen was switched exclusively to Magic on defense.  Cliff Levingston came in to play Worthy and was a spark again for Chicago.  But Pippen bumped Magic at the perimeter, denied him from posting up, but made Magic back his way around (with his back to the action, in other words) instead of standing forward and looking ahead.

This slowed down the Lakers offense and forced Magic into some tough shots on drives.  Johnson thought he was fouled on several drives but didn’t get the calls.

But guarding Magic may have affected Pippen offensively to start as he hit 1 of his first 6 shots from the field.  But late in the 2nd quarter, Jordan started to become aggressive offensively after taking only 3 shots (and hitting one).

MJ’s driving lefty layup gave the Bulls the lead for good at 38-37, he followed with a breakaway slam after a steal by Pippen.  Jordan then hit a fall-away in the lane and a banker from the post.

Chicago grabbed a 48-43 halftime lead as Grant helped with 14 points and Paxson was 4-for-4 from the field.  Grant and Paxson kept it going early on in the 3rd and Chicago grabbed a 58-51 lead when Jordan hit a wing jumper.

Then on a breakaway, Byron Scott was called for a flagrant foul (a bad call) against Pippen.  Pippen hit the two free throws and then on the subsequent possession, Paxson found Cartwright for a slam with 7:48 left.  This sequence would end up starting the Bulls momentum that blew the game open.

Jordan hit his next three baskets and found Paxson for his 6th field goal in 6 attempts.  Then, after picking up his 4th foul, Jordan backed Scott into the lane and hit a turnaround double-pump while he was fouled.  The three-point play put the Bulls up 73-59 and Jordan had connected on 9 straight field goals.

MJ went out at the next break but the Bulls run continued.  Pippen found Paxson for a corner jumper and then found rookie Scott Williams for a jumper from the foul line.  Scottie then stole a jump ball between Divac and Paxson and got a breakaway slam.  The Bulls now led 79-61 with 2:56 left in the 3rd.

Jordan came back in and didn’t miss a beat.  He scored on another driving layup and found Paxson and Pippen for jumpers.  Chicago led 86-69 going into the 4th quarter.  Paxson finished 8-for-8 from the field.  Believe it or not, this wasn’t his biggest game of the series.

But MJ wasn’t done, to say the least.  He hit a high arcing step-back jumper from the wing and then a pull-up from the baseline.  He then found Pippen on a half-court alley-oop pass for a layup and then found Scottie for a wing jumper.

But just when you thought the show was done, MJ’s final act was perhaps better then the rest combined.  Jordan got a return pass from Cliff Levingston at the foul line.  He drove down the lane for what looked to be a thunderous slam.  But, at the last minute, Jordan brought the ball down, switched the his left hand, and hit a scoop reverse while he was completely under the backboard.

Needless to say, the crowd was in hysterics and even the faces of some of his Bulls teammates told the story.  Marv Albert called it a SPEC-TAC-U-LAR MOVE on his live broadcast on NBC.  It is still one of the most frequent highlights when one does a reel of MJ’s career.  Oh yeah, and it was the 13th consecutive field goal he had made in this game.

This “move” gave the Bulls a 97-71 lead.  Garbage time didn’t take effect until the Bulls were up 105-80 with about 4 minutes left.

The Bulls had tied the series, but the fun was just beginning.

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (24) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (11) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (16) – Center

Magic Johnson (14) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (5) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Terry Teagle (6)

A.C. Green (6)

Mychal Thompson (0)

Larry Drew (4)

Elden Campbell (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (20) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (20) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (12) – Center

John Paxson (16) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (33) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Craig Hodges (2)

Will Perdue (2)

Scott Williams (2)

B.J. Armstrong (0)

Cliff Levingston (0)

Stacey King (0)

Dennis Hopson (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

June 7, 1991 – NBA Finals, Game 3: Chicago Bulls 104 @Los Angeles Lakers 96 (OT)

As the scene shifted to Los Angeles, one wondered if the Bulls could take their poise and confidence to enemy territory who had seen many opponents come and go.  The L.A. crowd didn’t even seem to get into this game until the 3rd quarter.  It was supposed to be foregone.

The Lakers had, in their most recent example, blown out Portland in two games at the Forum after splitting the first two games on the road.  But Chicago would prove one thing clearly, they weren’t Portland.  But nobody knew that they were the 90’s Bulls yet either.

Chicago had gone into Detroit and taken care of business, but that was after two wins at home.

Both teams would not be fazed offensively early on.  The Lakers hit their first 7 shots and were 11-for-15 from the field in the 1st quarter.  But Chicago shot well enough to force a 25-all tie going into the 2nd quarter.

Michael Jordan came out with 11 points in the quarter, including a fade-away from the baseline at the end of the shot clock.  The Lakers adjusted by having Byron Scott bring the ball up and get the ball to Magic down low, as opposed to Johnson dribbling to his low post position.

It worked as Magic got going with points and feeds to Vlade Divac and James Worthy.  It didn’t quite work for Scott as he finished 0-for-8 and 0-for-2 on free throws.  But Worthy had 10 1st quarter points and Magic 8.

The same thing continued in the 2nd quarter as both teams shot well.  Magic went outside and hit two jumpers.  Jordan’s scoring pace went down but he got Horace Grant, John Paxson and Cliff Levingston involved.  Grant, in particular, had the same aggression that he had in Game 2 with 14 1st half points.

Jordan and Worthy led their teams with 15 while Magic had 13.  The Bulls led 48-47 at the half.

The Bulls got off to a good start in the 2nd half as Jordan hustled down his own breakaway miss and slammed one home to put Chicago up 52-49 with just over a minute gone by.

But then the Lakers defense stepped up and scrambled Chicago’s offense.  Three times, Magic found Divac for layups to give L.A. a lead.  The Bulls switched Pippen to Magic again, but this time it turned into a disadvantage.

With the defensive matchups now scrambled, Jordan had to guard Divac down low.  This time, the Lakers patiently got the ball inside to Vlade.  Divac would either score himself or find people for layups or fouls.

L.A. went on a 12-2 run and Phil Jackson had to use his second timeout of the quarter with his team down 61-54 with 6:54 left.

But the Lakers continued their momentum as Perkins produced down low.  They gained a 67-54 lead when Magic found Divac with a no-look pass (right by the slow hands of the now rarely used Stacey King) for a layup.  Jackson called another timeout with 4:46 left.  The Bulls had missed 9 straight from the field.

Paxson broke that drought with a driving layup and, later, hit a key jump shot to cut the lead to 10.  The Lakers momentum finally cooled when Divac picked up his 4th foul and had to sit.

Scottie Pippen ended the quarter with a driving layup after a crossover to cut the lead to 72-66 going into the 4th.

The Bulls bench then stepped up early on in the 4th.  Scott Williams hit two free throws.  Craig Hodges hit a wing jumper.  Then Levingston got a key block on Perkins, which triggered a fast break in which Jordan found Pippen with a no-look pass to tie the game at 74.

Unlike the Lakers in Game 2, the Bulls had withstood the home team’s 3rd quarter run and were back to a tie game.

But the same story-line as Game 1 was developing.  Jordan had struggled in the 2nd half to this point and had barely gotten any rest.  The Bulls bench continued to help, especially Levingston.  Cliff rebound-slammed a missed layup by Jordan to put the Bulls up 84-80.  Levingston was also controlling the defensive boards after L.A. had gotten several second chance shots in the 3rd quarter.

But two jumpers by Worthy tied the game at 84 with 4:18 left.  Phil Jackson then gambled and gave MJ a rest.  It worked, somehow, as Pippen drove down the lane for a layup and Levingston tipped in a miss by Grant to put Chicago back up 88-84.

Jordan then had to come back in a minute later when Pippen picked up his 5th foul.  The Bulls would maintain a 90-89 lead with 39.1 seconds left and they had the ball.

The similarity to Game 1 would become eerie.  Jordan missed a banker over Scott and Divac rebounded.  L.A. did not use a timeout.

Magic had the ball against Jordan and tried to get a pass to a cutting Divac.  Vlade fumbled the pass but recovered after getting by two Bulls.  He went into the lane, banged into Pippen, scored on a banker, drew Scottie’s 6th foul and had perhaps the most awkward reaction to a potential game-winning shot in NBA history (0:42).

The three-point play gave the Lakers a 92-90 lead with 10.9 seconds left.  The Bulls used their last timeout, and decided to inbound the ball at the other end of the court.

Imagine being in MJ’s shoes for a second.  This is your first Finals and you’re so close to reaching the top of the mountain.  While you know you are going to get the ball, you are 0-for-3 in potential game-winning or game-clinching shots in this series.  It probably didn’t bother Michael since he has supreme confidence.  But tell me you or me wouldn’t be thinking about that.  But that’s why I’m writing or you’re reading while MJ is the Greatest of All Time (I am NOT using the acronym G.O.A.T, I HATE it!!).

Jordan got the inbounds pass as Scott was guarding him full court.  MJ got by Scott and elevated while Divac came out to challenge.  But Jordan got it off and nailed it to tie the game with 3.4 seconds left.  Who knew it, MJ’s still clutch.

Jordan then knocked the ball away from Divac on L.A.’s final attempt to win and the game was headed to overtime.

Jordan had only hit two field goals in the 2nd half.  He, Magic, and Perkins would all go over 50 minutes in this game.  Fatigue would now become a factor for the Lakers.

They tried to stymie it a little bit by bringing Elden Campbell into the game for the first time.  Campbell won the jump ball and got a layup.  But Paxson hit a pull-up after a Jordan steal.  Then Jordan drove down the lane for a twisting reverse.

MJ would be re-energized in overtime.  He spun baseline from the post and hit on another driving reverse to put the Bulls up for good at 98-96 with under 2 minutes left.

Jordan then rebounded a miss by Perkins and found Grant for a layup.  Perkins then missed another jumper and Divac fouled out on the rebound with 1:07 to play.  Jordan later made two free throws and rebounded an airballed three from Magic.

The Lakers had run out of gas and Grant put on the finishing touch by getting the roll on a wing jumper.  The Bulls had broken through at the Forum and Magic did not look happy (although he was probably tired) as he walked off the court.

He would continue to not be happy as Chicago’s defensive pressure and offensive onslaught continued in Game 4.  The Bulls won 97-82 as all five starters finished in double figures and they held Sam Perkins to 1-for-15 from the field.  Chicago was now set to go for the kill and their first championship.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (19) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (22) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (6) – Center

John Paxson (10) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (29) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Cliff Levingston (10)

Scott Williams (4)

Craig Hodges (2)

B.J. Armstrong (0)

Stacey King (2)

Will Perdue (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (19) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (25) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (24) – Center

Magic Johnson (22) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (0) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Terry Teagle (2)

A.C. Green (2)

Elden Campbell (2)

Larry Drew (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

June 12, 1991 – NBA Finals, Game 5: Chicago Bulls 108 @Los Angeles Lakers 101

The Bulls had exposed the Lakers so badly, almost, in the last 3 games that it seemed pretty clear to everybody that Chicago was probably taking the title on one of the next three games.

It also didn’t help that in Game 4, James Worthy re-sprained his ankle and Byron Scott sprained his shoulder.  Both would be out for Game 5, so the L.A. bench that hadn’t produced would now be seen in a leading role.

Magic Johnson, Vlade Divac, and Sam Perkins (until his 1-for-15 in Game 4) had had a good series (although Magic was clearly affected at times by being pressured by Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan).

Meanwhile, the Bulls balanced offense and suffocating defense had ruled the day, especially in Game 4 when they held the Lakers to their lowest point total in a Finals game since the advent of the shot clock.

The Lakers pride did show in Game 5.  New starters A.C. Green and Terry Teagle were effective for the first time all series.  Teagle started the game with a turnaround jumper from the baseline and L.A. took a 7-2 lead.

Vlade Divac helped maintain the Lakers’ 5-point lead midway through the quarter with 8 points.  But the Bulls got back into it when their big men crashed the offensive boards.  A steal and breakaway slam by Jordan cut the lead to 20-19.

Chicago would later use an 8-0 run to grab a 27-25 advantage at the end of the 1st quarter.

Although the Bulls maintained their lead through most of the 2nd quarter, L.A.’s rookies off the bench provided a big spark.  Elden Campbell scored 13 points by mainly being the beneficiary of teammates’ feeds.  But Campbell missed only one shot and guard Tony Smith was 3-for-3, including a pull-up from the foul line to give the Lakers a 49-48 halftime lead.

Jordan had 12 for Chicago and Pippen 11.  But Scottie would break through in the 3rd quarter as Chicago took an early 56-51 lead.  L.A. got back into the game with a 6-0 run but two breakaways from Pippen gave Chicago a 64-60 lead with 7:27 left.

But the Lakers wouldn’t go away.  The rookies continued to play well and A.C. Green seemed to be getting layup after layup on feeds from Magic Johnson.

But Pippen scored 12 points in the 3rd quarter and Jordan finished by throwing down an alley-oop pass from Pippen and then hitting a lefty finger roll.  The teams played to an 80-all tie entering the 4th quarter.

The teams continued to play even but Chicago picked up 5 team fouls before L.A. was called for one.  Even with that, the Bulls had a chance to grab the game by the throats.  Jordan tried but was not getting it done.  He missed a few tough jumpers and then had a turnover trying to force the action with 6:47 left.

The Bulls called a timeout trailing 91-90 and Phil Jackson brought John Paxson back in.  Evidently, whether it was this timeout or the next one with 5:08 left, Jackson had to tell Jordan that Paxson was open.

The Lakers went up 93-90 an a Magic alley-oop to Campbell.  But Jordan (on a possession that he looked much more patient) kicked the ball across the court out to Pippen for a tying three-pointer.

The teams went a few minutes without scoring until Paxson broke the ice with a baseline jumper.  Then Jordan penetrated and kicked out to Paxson for another jumper to put the Bulls up 97-93 with 3:24 left.  Paxson then got a breakaway layup, Jordan a driving layup, and Paxson another jumper from the top.

But, again, L.A. wouldn’t go away.  They went almost exclusively to Sam Perkins at the perimeter and he tried to make his move into the paint with Bill Cartwright guarding outside.

Perkins scored L.A.’s last 8 points, including a three-point play that cut Chicago’s lead to 103-101 with 1:13 left.  On the next possession, Jordan penetrated again and was shut off.  But Paxson was open at the wing again and knocked down another jumper for a four-point lead.

The Lakers would not challenge again as they went to the desperation three route and the Bulls finished them off.

Chicago had learned its lessons well from taking their lumps from Detroit and applied it throughout the series against a 1980’s dynasty from the West.  They had gotten contributions throughout their playoff wins from all five starters (not just Jordan and Pippen, contrary to popular belief) and had gotten big sparks from the bench.

Chicago celebrated its first title and perhaps became the feel good story of finally getting over the hurdle (especially for Jordan).  But, as they say, it was just the beginning.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (32) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (11) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (8) – Center

John Paxson (20) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (30) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (2)

Craig Hodges (5)

Cliff Levingston (0)

Will Perdue (0)

Scott Williams (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

A.C. Green (13) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (22) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (8) – Center

Magic Johnson (16) – Point Guard

Terry Teagle (9) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Elden Campbell (21)

Tony Smith (12)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

finals1991_100922 pippen_mj_1991 jordan trophy

Michael Jordan celebrating with the other four starters (picture 1: from left to right: John Paxson, Bill Cartwright, Scottie Pippen, and Horace Grant), Scottie Pippen (picture 2) and the famous photo (which has not become a meme, let’s not change that) of him crying with the trophy *photos courtesy of nba.com, Inside Hoops, and CNN

1991 College Basketball Season – Always a Bridesmaid, Finally a Bride

unlv running rebels

 

The five starters for defending champion and #1 ranked UNLV.  From front to back: Anderson Hunt, Greg Anthony, Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, George Ackles *photo courtesy of Idiots on Sports

The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels had four starters returning from their 1990 NCAA Championship team and there seemed to be no stopping them.  They topped the pre-season polls with #2 Arkansas, #3 Arizona, #4 Michigan State, #5 North Carolina, #6 Duke, #7 Alabama, #8 Indiana, #9 Georgetown, #10 Ohio State.

UNLV and Arkansas would face off in February when they were still #1 and #2 in the nation.  Arkansas lost to Arizona in the Pre-Season NIT Championship and Arizona moved up to #2 before taking on LSU in the deaf dome.  Michigan State was ranked that high with 2nd team All-American Steve Smith coming back.  But they lost to Nebraska and Bowling Green before getting it handed to them by UNLV.  The Runnin’ Rebels would not have anything near a challenge before the Arkansas matchup.

It turned out that Michigan State’s biggest accomplishment that season was giving the 17-0 Ohio State Buckeyes their first loss of the season.  But that would pretty much be it as the Spartans finished 3rd in the Big Ten at 11-7 and 19-11 overall after losing to Utah in the 2nd round of the West Regional.

As for the other Big Ten teams in the top 10, Indiana and Ohio State would face off in a classic in February.  North Carolina and Duke would, of course, be at each others throats.  Alabama, after winning two straight SEC Championships, would get off to a slow start by losing to Southern Mississippi, Wichita State and then getting drilled by UNC.  The Crimson Tide, led by Robert Horry and Latrell Sprewell, finished 4th in the conference but managed to win their 3rd consecutive tournament title after top-seeded Kentucky was made ineligible because they were still on probation from 1989 and LSU was upset by Auburn in the 1st round.  Alabama then lost to Arkansas in the Sweet 16.

Georgetown got off to a good start with a big win over Duke in the last year of the ACC-Big East challenge.  But then they lost to UTEP and Ohio State and never could seem to get it together in the Big East.  The Big East would, in fact, be full of surprises.  The biggest of which would be the top 3 seeds going out in the 1st round of the Big East tournament, which probably helped the NCAA tournament committee to invite 7 teams to the dance.

As the season got to two weeks old, Syracuse and UCLA moved into the top 10.  Syracuse’s big win was against Indiana in the Maui Classic Championship (soon to be the Maui Invitational).  UCLA was off to an 8-0 start with a win over Virginia to its credit.  Minus Michigan State and Alabama (who were moved out of the top 10 in favor of Syracuse and UCLA), all of the teams mentioned above will be covered.

December 8, 1990 – (#2)Arizona Wildcats 82 @(#18)LSU Tigers 92

As mentioned, Arizona moved up to #2 in the nation after defeating Arkansas in the Pre-Season NIT Final.  Lute Olson’s Wildcats had a load of NBA talent and had gotten a big-time newcomer in Chris Mills.  Mills had transferred from Kentucky after the NCAA barred him from playing there because of money his family had received from an assistant coach that helped lead UK to their probation.

Mills was joined in the front court by Brian Williams (the future Bison Dele) and Sean Rooks, who were a strong inside tandem.  Junior Wayne Womack and sophomore Ed Stokes were their backups but could be starting almost anywhere else.  The back court had veterans Matt Othick and Matt Muehlebach with McDonald’s All-American Khalid Reeves set to join them.

But as strong a tandem as Williams and Rooks were, they would get their test in Shaquille O’Neal.  O’Neal had lost most of his star teammates for the year as Chris Jackson went to the NBA and Stanley Roberts and Maurice Williamson were academically ineligible, Roberts went to play in Europe instead of waiting out the semester.

O’Neal would be joined by senior Wayne Sims, junior Vernel Singleton and sophomore Shawn Griggs at the forwards.  Dutch center Geert Hammink was back after a red-shirt season.  The only back court man returning of note was junior Harold Boudreaux.  Dale Brown’s starters were transfers T.J. Pugh and Mike Hansen.  Hansen had actually scored 40 against LSU a few years earlier while playing for Tennessee-Martin.

LSU had opened with a loss to Villanova but had drilled Southeastern Louisiana and Texas.  But now they would get a test in 7-0 Arizona.  The Wildcats took an early lead before O’Neal threw down a lob pass from Singleton for his first field goal 6 minutes into the game.  A periodic problem for LSU during O’Neal’s career was not getting the ball to Shaq enough, or at all.

Ed Stokes came off the bench and hit two turnaround jumpers from the post to give Arizona a 13-7 lead.  But LSU followed with a 7-0 run as O’Neal got going a little bit.  But Shaq sat out a bit in the 1st half because of what was being said as a pulled stomach muscle (I know you’re smart and know the stomach isn’t a muscle, although it sets up the “Shaq eats a lot” jokes).

Wayne Sims came off the bench and scored 7 quick points to give the Tigers a 23-17 lead.  Boudreaux followed with a three and Hansen got a breakaway as LSU took their biggest lead at 28-19.  But Womack and Stokes brought Arizona back and they cut it to 38-35 at halftime.

The second half saw both teams trading baskets for a long time.  LSU had a balanced attack, although Shaq probably still wasn’t getting the ball enough.  Meanwhile, Arizona was led by Brian Williams and their other big people.  They took it to Shaq and drew his 4th foul midway through the 2nd half.

After Shaq went to the bench, Williams and Rooks got easy layups to put Arizona ahead 59-56.  But then Geert Hammink came in and turned around the momentum.  He hit a turnaround jumper in the lane and then put back his own miss.  Singleton followed with a slam and then Hansen got a transition three to put LSU up 65-59.

But the Tigers couldn’t keep their momentum going and Shaq came back in with 6:44 left and LSU still up 65-63.  The big man started his assault by throwing down an alley-oop pass and drawing a foul.  O’Neal then hit a hook after a drop-step on the baseline.  He would later rebound-slam a miss with only his right hand as he reached back, grabbed it, and threw it down.

Even with Shaq now fully involved, Arizona cut it to 74-73 with under 3 1/2 to go.  But Hansen hit a big three after Griggs crossed the ball to him.  Griggs would later lob a pass to O’Neal for a layup and a foul.  Shaq, naturally, missed the free throw but after Hansen penetrated and found Griggs, Shawn alley-ooped it to Shaq, who dunked on Rooks’ head.  LSU now led 81-74.

Arizona made a final run as LSU took some bad shots and turned the ball over.  Two free throws from Othick cut the lead to 83-82 with 56 seconds left.  But even with still a differential of the shot clock and game clock (the NCAA had a 45-second shot clock at the time), Othick fouled Singleton.  Vernel made both free throws.

O’Neal then stole the ball from Rooks and Hansen was fouled with 32 seconds left.  Hansen made both free throws.  Shaq then got a chance to finish off the Wildcats at both ends of the floor.  He blocked Rooks’ shot and then a follow-up by Mills.  Then Pugh found him for a big slam and a foul with 7 seconds to go.  O’Neal would finish with 29 points, 16 rebounds and 6 blocks.

Arizona and LSU would get into the meat of their conference schedules with a few losses under their belt.  Arizona lost three road games at Washington, California and USC.  Following their USC loss was perhaps their toughest road game in the Pac-10, at UCLA.

LSU lost at Illinois and then at Kentucky.  They lost at Tennessee and then had back-to-back losses at home against Mississippi State and then at Vanderbilt.  They came into an early February matchup against Kentucky 5th in the SEC.

Arizona starters (points scored)

Chris Mills (17) – Small Forward

Brian Williams (14) – Power Forward

Sean Rooks (18) – Center

Matt Othick (4) – Point Guard

Matt Muehlebach (6) – Shooting Guard

Arizona bench (points scored)

Wayne Womack (12)

Ed Stokes (9)

Deron Johnson (0)

Khalid Reeves (2)

Arizona Coach: Lute Olson

LSU starters (points scored)

Vernel Singleton (16) – Small Forward

Shawn Griggs (9) – Power Forward

Shaquille O’Neal (29) – Center

T.J. Pugh (4) – Point Guard

Mike Hansen (12) – Shooting Guard

LSU bench (points scored)

Harold Boudreaux (9)

Wayne Sims (9)

Geert Hammink (4)

Danny Moscovitz (0)

Lenear Burns (0)

LSU Coach: Dale Brown

December 10, 1990 – (#18)Kentucky Wildcats 81 @(#9)North Carolina Tarheels 84

This matchup had some historical proportions as both teams came into this game with 1,438 all time wins, tops in college basketball.  So, in essence, this became a tie-breaker for the moment but both programs were in different situations at this point.

Kentucky had been rocked by its scandal in which the death penalty was discussed.  Instead, Kentucky got no post-season appearances in 1990 and 1991, no national TV appearances in 1990 and three new scholarships over those two seasons.

With all of that being said, Rick Pitino came in for the 1990 season without the stars that Kentucky usually had.  But he had good players who stayed at Kentucky despite the turmoil.  The closest thing to a star was 6’8″ (to put it nicely) Reggie Hanson.  Hanson was Kentucky’s center but was more of a swingman.  He would be a senior in 1991.  Pitino would give him his NBA opportunity with Boston in 1998.

The other good players that would stick with Kentucky would come to be known as the Unforgettables.  They were forwards John Pelphrey and Deron Feldhaus, and guards Richie Farmer and Sean Woods.  All four would be the in the senior class of 1992 that led Kentucky back to prominence.  But for 1990, they all finished at 14-14 (10-8 in the SEC).

Pitino would show that we was going to lead Kentucky back when he produced a gem in the recruiting class of 1990.  Although Jamal Mashburn, from the Bronx, wasn’t a McDonald’s All-American, he would prove to be the superstar that led Kentucky to the next level.  Mashburn would finish behind Pelphrey and Hanson in the Kentucky scoring column in 1991 but he would become a legit superstar.

The Wildcats were off to a 4-0 start, including a victory over Kansas.  The Jayhawks had defeated the Wildcats by a score of 150-95 in 1990, so it was a big game on the minds of Kentucky.  But now they were to travel to Chapel Hill, North Carolina for their biggest test so far.

While Mashburn had been a big recruit for Kentucky, despite not being on the All-American list, Dean Smith had grabbed four players off that list to come play at UNC.  They were center Eric Montross from Indianapolis, point guard Derrick Phelps and forward Brian Reese from New York, and forward Clifford Rozier from Florida.  Also picked up by Smith was center Kevin Salvadori and forward Pat Sullivan.  This class drew waves but also presented a problem.

Those 6 players joined the likes of seniors Rick Fox, Pete Chilcutt, King Rice; junior Hubert Davis, and sophomores George Lynch, Henrik Rodl, Kenny Harris and Matt Wenstrom.  All in all, there were 14 guys who felt that they deserved to see the court and part of Carolina’s “struggle” so far that season was trying to find consistent playing time for people so that they could grab a rhythm.  All 14 guys played in this game, but most of the bench didn’t get enough time to establish their flow.

At the end of the day, the younger guys got less minutes but only two players left the program and transferred after the 1991 season, Kenny Harris went to VCU and Clifford Rozier went to Louisville.

Carolina had a 4-1 record to start the season.  Their only loss came against a surprising South Carolina team that got off to a 9-1 start and were ranked as high as 12th before fizzling out and missing the NCAA tournament.  The big win so far had come against UConn.

But Carolina’s play was, more or less, sloppy as they committed 18 first half turnovers.  Kentucky hung in with the Tarheels as a result and then made a run.  Pelphrey nailed a three for his 10th point to give the Wildcats a 30-28 lead.  Then after Pelphrey hit two free throws, Richie Farmer got hot and connected on three triples to put Kentucky ahead 41-30 late in the half.  Three UNC free throws, including the only two points from Rick Fox in the 1st half, cut Kentucky’s halftime lead to 41-33.

The 2nd half was played much better as UNC got their game going when Smith didn’t play his reserves as much and stuck with the upper-classmen.  Kentucky continued their hot shooting and held the lead for awhile.

Chilcutt, Rice and Lynch got into the scoring column early and then Fox got his first field goal after 8 misses.  But threes by Jeff Brassow, Pelphrey and Mashburn kept the Wildcats lead near double digits.  Mashburn had shown off his multi-dimensional game with 9 points early in the half from both inside and outside as well as good defense and rebounding.

Kentucky took their biggest lead at 63-51 when Pelphrey nailed his 4th three-pointer for his 18th point.  But Hanson picked up his 4th foul and Kentucky suddenly went cold, which may tend to happen when you rely on the jump shot.

After the under 12 minute media timeout, Montross hit a turnaround jumper in the post to cut it to 63-54.  Fox then found Rice for a transition layup and, later, Chilcutt connected on a banker while drawing a foul.  This cut the lead to 66-59.  Brassow stemmed the tide for a moment with a three but then Fox drove baseline for a layup and Mashburn’s 4th foul.

Carolina kept inching closer as Fox outletted to Lynch for a breakaway layup and then Fox drove baseline for an easy score of his own.  This cut the lead to 74-70 and forced Pitino to use a timeout at the 4:52 mark.

It didn’t help much as Kentucky was still cold.  Woods, as the floor leader, tried to take over and get some offense going.  He did hit a running banker but took some other bad shots.  Carolina cut it to 76-75 as Chilcutt put back a miss and then Hubert Davis hit a pull-up jumper in transition.  Pitino had to use his last timeout with 2:47 left.

It did work this time as Hanson drove baseline for a layup.  Then after Lynch hit a turnaround jumper in the post, Pelphrey drove baseline for a runner and a foul.  The three-point play gave Kentucky an 81-77 lead with 1:38 left.

But then Fox, who had missed his first 8 shots, nailed a three from the top to cut it to one with 1:23 to play.  Woods missed a jumper, Pelphrey got the rebound but had the ball knocked away from him.  The ensuing scramble made it out to half-court before Rice dove on it and produced one of those UNC baskets.

Rice found Lynch at half-court, who found a streaking Chilcutt for a breakaway slam to give the Tarheels the lead with 1:01 to go.  Kentucky went to its senior Hanson, but without a timeout Pitino couldn’t set a play (or tell his team that if UNC rebounded, they needed to foul).  Hanson missed a banker and Lynch rebounded.

Carolina then ran out almost the entire clock before Rice was fouled with 1 second left.  Partial credit should be given to Carolina’s ability to spread the floor and play keep away but Kentucky not fouling showed that they were still a young team that had a ways to go.

Luckily (I guess) for the Wildcats, they would get more challenges in 1991 without having to worry about the post-season and all the expectations that come from that.  They would lose a close game to Indiana a week later but then went on a 10-game winning streak that included 4 road wins (three in the SEC and the other at rival Louisville).

Carolina would top that by winning 11 in a row, with this Kentucky game and a double overtime road win at Virginia being the only wins in that streak that were decided in single digits.

Kentucky starters (points scored)

Jamal Mashburn (15) – Small Forward

John Pelphrey (24) – Power Forward

Reggie Hanson (10) – Center

Sean Woods (6) – Point Guard

Jeff Brassow (8) – Shooting Guard

Kentucky bench (points scored)

Richie Farmer (9)

Deron Feldhaus (8)

Gimel Martinez (0)

Jody Thompson (0)

Junior Braddy (0)

Henry Thomas (0)

Johnathon Davis (1)

Kentucky Coach: Rick Pitino

North Carolina starters (points scored)

George Lynch (13) – Small Forward

Pete Chilcutt (14) – Power Forward

Eric Montross (2) – Center

King Rice (14) – Point Guard

Rick Fox (14) – Shooting Guard

North Carolina bench (points scored)

Hubert Davis (13)

Henrik Rodl (5)

Derrick Phelps (4)

Clifford Rozier (1)

Brian Reese (2)

Pat Sullivan (2)

Kenny Harris (0)

Kevin Salvadori (0)

Matt Wenstrom (0)

North Carolina Coach: Dean Smith

December 15, 1990 – Loyola (Marymount) Lions 112 @(#13)Oklahoma Sooners 172

There is almost nothing like a cold slap in the face to remind you that its not 1990 anymore.  Loyola Marymount was off to a 1-4 start, which included a beat-down by UCLA 149-98.  But that would be nothing compared to Oklahoma.

The Lions had lost their three leading scorers from 1990; Bo Kimble, Jeff Fryer, and Hank Gathers.  Per Stumer did not return for his senior season as he was playing for the Swedish National team.  Tony Walker would be out for the season with a broken wrist.  That covered all five starters for most of the season.  Paul Westhead was also replaced as coach by Jay Hillock, who had been Westhead’s assistant since coming over from Gonzaga in 1985.

The Lions bench from 1990 did return and were expected to step into starring roles.  Terrell Lowery led the way, averaging 28.9 points per game.  But Chris Knight was a disappointment as he averaged 8.3 points per game in his final two seasons after taking Gathers’ spot in the starting lineup in 1990.  Other returning players; Tom Peabody, John O’Connell, and Chris Scott never were or became scorers.

Marymount did have a good freshman big man in Richard Petruska.  Petruska hailed from Slovakia and averaged 17 points per game.  He had a good left-handed shooting touch and could stretch the floor.  But he had originally wanted to go to UCLA and followed through by transferring across Los Angeles after this season.

Oklahoma was off to a 7-1 start but their only quality win was at Texas (who would soon become Oklahoma’s conference rival).  The Sooners had gotten killed by Arkansas but they had no starters returning from the end of the 1990 season.

Skeeter Henry and William Davis left as seniors, along with reserve Tony Martin.  Jackie Jones was academically ineligible for the fall semester of 1990 and left for Spain instead of trying to regain eligibility.  Damon Patterson and Smokey McCovery were also ineligible.  Patterson returned for the 1992 season while McCovery transferred to Oklahoma City College.

But Oklahoma did have some returning players who stepped up, as well as newcomers who made an impact.  The biggest newcomer was guard Brent Price, brother of former Georgia Tech star Mark Price.  Price spent two seasons at South Carolina before craving an up-tempo game.  Price would take full advantage against Loyola Marymount.

The other newcomer was freshman Jeff Webster, who would lead Oklahoma in scoring in three of his four seasons in Norman (including his freshman season of ’91).  The returning players was senior (and the only player left from the ’88 Final Four team) Terrence Mullins, big man Kermit Holmes, and sophomore point guard Terry Evans.

Oklahoma was coming into this game with a 50-game winning streak at home (and 74 wins in a row against non-conference opponents).  Neither streak would be challenged on this night, but both would be put to the test a week later against Duke.

OU more than showed off its up-tempo game against a Lions team that, as mentioned above, was coming to the realization that this wasn’t 1990 anymore.  In fact, Hillock more or less slowed down the tempo as the season went on.  The Lions averaged 101.9 points per game, which was still tops in the NCAA but down from 122.4 points per game in 1990.  In 1992, Hillock’s team averaged 91.8 points per game.

After seeing this display of defense, one couldn’t blame Hillock and also had to realize how mad a scientist Paul Westhead was.  After every basket, or miss, from Loyola, Evans pushed it down the court and usually found Price for an open jumper (or driving layup), or Holmes and Webster inside.

Price had 21 1st half points, Webster had 20 and Holmes had 14.  Even reserve big man Roland Ware contributed 11 points.  This helped the Sooners to a 79-55 halftime lead as Lowery was the only Lion contributing with 22 points.  Loyola wasn’t helping themselves with 18 turnovers against OU’s press.  Loyola’s pressing defense may as well have come with white flags.

The 2nd half was more of a travesty (the announcers were even like, “this game’s over, but stick around to see how many points Oklahoma can put up.”).  Price started bombing away three-pointers and nailing them.  Mullins got into the act by nailing threes.  Holmes looked like Shaquille O’Neal playing against high-schoolers inside.

The biggest run came after the under 16 minute timeout when Oklahoma led 102-67.  Price made a three from the wing.  Evans found Price for another jumper.  Price got a steal and layup.  Webster hit a banker from inside.  Webster got a putback after Price got another steal.  Then Evans got a steal off the press and Webster found Bryan Sallier for a layup and a foul.

This forced Hillock to call a timeout with 13:46 to go, exactly two minutes after the media timeout.  From there, Oklahoma didn’t call off the dogs and beat Loyola like a bastard step-child.

Price finished with 56 points on 11 three-pointers and also contributed 9 assists.  Price’s total was 5 points short of Wayman Tisdale’s Oklahoma single-game scoring record.  Kermit Holmes finished with 34 points and 21 rebounds and added salt to the wound by hitting one of his two three-pointers on the season in the final seconds to make the margin 60.

Oklahoma would get an actual test of its home winning streak when they took on Duke a week later.

Loyola Marymount would lose two more high scoring games to LSU and Georgia Tech.  They would be 4-13 toward the end of January when they turned it around and won their final 10 games of the regular season and finished 2nd in the West Coast Conference.  But they missed any chance of an NCAA tournament appearance when they lost to San Francisco in the 1st round of their conference tournament.

Loyola Marymount has yet to make an NCAA tournament appearance since their remarkable run of 1990.

Loyola Marymount starters (points scored)

Chris Knight (8) – Small Forward

Richard Petruska (8) – Power Forward

Chris Scott (6) – Center

Terrell Lowery (41) – Point Guard

Craig Holt (15) – Shooting Guard

Loyola Marymount bench (points scored)

Tom Peabody (11)

John O’Connell (10)

Brian McClowsky (2)

Greg Evans (0)

Greg Walker (4)

Marcus Slater (4)

Ross Richardson (3)

Loyola Marymount Coach: Jay Hillock

Oklahoma starters (points scored)

Terrence Mullins (6) – Small Forward

Jeff Webster (28) – Power Forward

Kermit Holmes (34) – Center

Terry Evans (10) – Point Guard

Brent Price (56) – Shooting Guard

Oklahoma bench (points scored)

Bryan Sallier (8)

Roland Ware (17)

Martin Keane (9)

Keke Hicks (4)

Tommy French (0)

Oklahoma Coach: Billy Tubbs

brent price

Brent Price had a game for the ages against Loyola Marymount in 1990 *photo courtesy of CSTV

December 19, 1990 – Missouri Tigers 81, Illinois Fighting Illini 84

In the annual Braggin’ Rights game between Missouri and Illinois, the Illini had dominated recently.  Missouri’s last win was in 1982.

While this may have been the weakest Illini team that Missouri had played in the last few seasons, Missouri wasn’t the same team they were in the last 4 years.  Anthony Peeler was academically ineligible for the first semester.  This left Missouri without their 2nd leading scorer and the Tigers had next to no offensive help for senior big man Doug Smith.

Smith, an All-American candidate, was flanked by junior shooting guard Jamal Coleman, sophomore Jeff Warren, and talented freshmen point guards Melvin Booker and Reggie Smith and freshman big man Jevon Crudup.  Booker had to take over at point guard when Travis Ford transferred to Kentucky.

Illinois had only one starter returning from the 1990 team.  That was junior shooting forward Andy Kaufmann, who was off to a hot start with two 40-point games so far.  Redshirt freshman Deon Thomas, a subject of controversy that ended up landing Illinois in hot water, was making an impact along with senior guard Larry Smith, who had been red-shirted in 1990.

The other key players for Illinois were senior big man Andy Kpedi (the “K” in silent, so it is pronounced “peddy”) and freshmen Rennie Clemons, Tom Michael and T.J. Wheeler.

This year’s Braggin’ Rights Game had a huge storm cloud (or elephant in the room, whichever you prefer) over it.  Both teams were ineligible for the NCAA tournament.  Handed out on back-to-back days in early November, both schools were cited for lack of institutional control.

The Illinois case started when the NCAA investigated recordings from Iowa assistant Bruce Pearl that Illinois offered amenities to star recruit Deon Thomas.  There was a lack of evidence in that case, but the NCAA found minor violations at Illinois and handed out their penalty on November 8.

The Missouri case started in 1989, when a conversation between Missouri assistant coach Bob Sundvold and the mother of former Missouri player, P.J. Mays, became public.  That conversation included that Sundvold had purchased a round-trip plane ticket for Mays.  It eventually became found that Missouri had given Mays a semester’s worth of scholarship money even though he was ineligible.  The NCAA came down on Missouri on November 9 with its penalty.

With all of that being said, Illinois was off to a solid 7-3 start while Missouri was struggling at 3-3 without Peeler.  But there was still an electric atmosphere at the St. Louis Arena for this game.  It was mainly the Andy Kaufmann/Doug Smith show, with supporting roles from Deon Thomas and Jamal Coleman.

Kaufmann hit a three to put the Illini up 5-0 but a turnaround jumper by Smith and then a pull-up after a steal triggered an 8-0 Missouri run.  But after Illinois regained the lead, Kaufmann hit two more threes to put them up 15-8.  Coleman and Smith led the Tigers back to take a 19-17 lead.

It went on and on like that until the last three minutes of the 1st half with the game tied at 31.  Smith had actually been shut down over the past few minutes as Andy Kpedi had played great denial defense.  But Smith came alive for 6 points as the Tigers finished the half on a 10-3 run to take a 41-34 halftime lead.

Smith finished with 13 points while Kaufmann led the Illini with 14.  A pull-up jumper by Jevon Crudup gave Missouri a 9-point lead, but then Kaufmann hit two field goals in the lane and Deon Thomas started getting to the line.

Thomas had been held to 5 points in the first half but had had a few rejections that showed off his athleticism.  But he became more aggressive early on and got to the line 8 times in the half before the under 16 media timeout.  Thomas had hit only 5 of those shots but had managed to pull Illinois back into a tie.

Then after the media timeout, Larry Smith threw up an alley-oop for Thomas to finish.  This gave Illinois a 47-45 lead.  The teams went back and forth from there as Doug Smith and Coleman continued their effective games and Melvin Booker got involved for Missouri after a scoreless 1st half.  Illinois countered with its two-some of Kaufmann and Thomas.

Kaufmann would hit 7 three-pointers to set an Illini record.  Thomas got to the line 15 times and had 18 2nd half points.  But Doug Smith was getting to the line too as he finished the game 16-for-18 from the stripe.  Smith’s fall-away from the post gave Missouri a 67-65 lead at the 7:19 mark.

Kaufmann tied it with a runner in the lane and then the Illini took a lead when sophomore guard Tim Geers nailed a three for his only points of the game.  Illinois then took a four-point lead when Tom Michael hit a free throw with 4:21 remaining.

Smith twice cut the Illini lead to two with a pair of free throws.  But Illinois regained four-point leads first when Larry Smith drove right by Booker for a finger roll in the lane and second when Thomas put back a miss by Michael.  Kaufmann followed the Thomas basket with a steal and Deon found Larry Smith for a breakaway layup to put the Illini ahead 79-73.

After Norm Stewart used a timeout at the 2:24 mark, Coleman nailed a three to cut the lead in half.  Illinois used a timeout at the 1:28 mark, still holding a three-point lead.  After Lou Henson set strategy, Kaufmann was able to find a cutting Thomas for a slam and a foul.  Deon missed the free throw and Coleman found Doug Smith for a layup.  Illinois took a timeout at 59 seconds.  Missouri took their last timeout 4 seconds later when they deflected a ball out of bounds.

That timeout worked in Missouri’s favor as they forced freshman Tom Michael to throw the ball out of bounds.  Missouri could now tie it with a three and Coleman went for that tie but missed.  Thomas rebounded and found Kaufmann.  Coleman had to foul Andy with 32 seconds to go and Kaufmann made both free throws.

Coleman then nailed a three to cut Illinois’ lead to 83-81.  Another Missouri freshman Lamont Frazier then committed on foul on Tom Michael with 15 seconds to go.  Michael was a 40% foul shooter coming into this game but got an advantage with a new rule in college basketball for 1991.

After a team commits its 10th team foul, the other team gets an automatic two shots instead of a 1-and-1.  This helped Illinois when Michael missed the first free throw.  He made the second for a three-point lead.  Missouri was out of timeouts.

Frazier, who had seen his first action of the game in the final minute, missed an open three.  Coleman rebounded and fired a tying three at the buzzer that was no good.  Illinois had won their 8th straight game over Missouri.  The Tigers would break that string when they killed the Illini 61-44 the next season.

Both teams would end up finishing respectively in their conferences.  Illinois was 21-10 overall and 11-7 in the Big Ten, good for 3rd place.  Missouri would win 7 games in a row after this loss as Peeler came back for their next game against Grambling.  The Tigers were 17-10 to finish the regular season and 8-6 in the Big 8, good for 4th place.

But for some reason, Missouri was allowed to compete in the Big 8 conference tournament.  They took advantage by beating top-seeded Oklahoma State in the Semifinals and 3rd seeded Nebraska in the Finals to win the tournament.  In what turned out to be an embarrassment for the Big 8, Missouri won the tournament and wasn’t allowed to go to the NCAA tournament.

It was a bit of the same for Illinois (the Big Ten didn’t have a conference tournament at the time) as three teams that finished below the Illini in the standings (Michigan State, Iowa, and Purdue) were invited to the NCAA tournament while Illinois had to stay home.

A dark cloud over this game indeed.

Missouri starters (points scored)

Jeff Warren (7) – Small Forward

Jevon Crudup (8) – Power Forward

Doug Smith (30) – Center

Melvin Booker (6) – Point Guard

Jamal Coleman (20) – Shooting Guard

Missouri bench (points scored)

Reggie Smith (8)

Jim Horton (2)

Chris Heller (0)

Lamont Frazier (0)

Missouri Coach: Norm Stewart

Illinois starters (points scored)

Andy Kaufmann (33) – Small Forward

Deon Thomas (23) – Power Forward

Andy Kpedi (6) – Center

Rennie Clemons (4) – Point Guard

Larry Smith (8) – Shooting Guard

Illinois bench (points scored)

Tom Michael (7)

Tim Geers (3)

Scott Pierce (0)

Brooks Taylor (0)

T.J. Wheeler (0)

Illinois Coach: Lou Henson

December 22, 1990 – (#9)Duke Blue Devils 90 @(#11)Oklahoma Sooners 85

The Duke Blue Devils were trying to recover from being demolished in the 1990 NCAA Championship Game.  It was the conclusion of their 4th Final Four in 5 seasons, but with no championships.

Mike Krzyzewski briefly considered an offer to coach the Boston Celtics that summer but returned to Duke.  Krzyzewski had lost seniors Alaa Abdelnaby, Phil Henderson, and Robert Brickey from the previous season.  But he had a new star in McDonald’s All-American Grant Hill, son of former NFL running back Calvin Hill.  Hill came in as a freshman along with athletic big man Antonio Lang.

Hill and Lang joined a team with one senior in Greg Koubek.  But they had two improving players in junior big man Christian Laettner and point guard Bobby Hurley.  Hurley, in particular, had an awful game against UNLV in the previous year’s final and was determined to show he was a better player.  The Blue Devils also had junior Brian Davis and sophomores Thomas Hill and Billy McCaffrey returning.

The Blue Devils were off to their typical good start at 7-2, the losses being to Arkansas in the Pre-Season NIT Semis and against Georgetown.  But they had yet to go into a hostile environment and show how much they had grown, if at all.

They got their chance with the team that had not lost at home since the final game of the 1987 season.  Oklahoma had a 51-game winning streak at the Lloyd Noble Center (and 74 straight wins versus non-conference opponents) and had just beaten Loyola Marymount by 60 points there.

But Duke was not Loyola Marymount and got the first basket when Grant Hill hit a pull-up jumper after controlling the opening tip.  Duke stayed with Oklahoma initially despite the Sooners nailing 7 of their first 8 shots, including 3 three-pointers from Terry Evans.

But the big difference with Oklahoma against Duke rather than Loyola Marymount was Thomas Hill.  Hill was tasked with checking Brent Price, who had just come off a 56-point game against the Lions.  Hill stayed right on Price and didn’t allow him to get many shots off.

Price, to his credit, didn’t force shots and the Oklahoma team ball was serving them well in the first half as they maintained the lead.  The biggest lead actually came when Price hit his only three to put the Sooners up 36-26.

Evans was the hot man for the Sooners with 5 threes.  Jeff Webster and Kermit Holmes also got involved.  Billy Tubbs’ defense was also getting the job done as Bobby Hurley scored only 1 point in the first half and had several turnovers by trying to force the action.  It was a different Bobby Hurley from 1990 in the sense that Hurley was usually passive as a freshman, but in either case, he didn’t let the game come to him.

Oklahoma went to a calculated gamble late in the first half when they switched to the zone.  Grant Hill took advantage by hitting four mid-range jumpers.  Thomas Hill also got into the offensive act with a slam (that briefly pulled the rim loose from its hinges) and then a tip-in of a Grant Hill miss.  Duke was able to cut it to 50-45 at the half.

Hurley’s 2nd half didn’t start off well as he committed his 3rd foul.  But then he had almost a complete 180.  It started when he finished a transition layup while drawing a foul on Price.  Then Hurley got a breakaway after a Laettner steal to cut the Sooners lead to 54-53.  Grant Hill gave the Blue Devils the lead when Laettner got another steal and fed him on the break.

The score went back and forth for a few minutes as Jeff Webster became the scoring machine for Oklahoma on the inside.  Webster scored the Sooners’ next 8 points.  But Hurley had helped counter by finding Laettner for a slam and hitting a pull-up from the foul line.  Antonio Lang was also making a strong contribution off the bench with offensive rebounds and points.

But with under 12 minutes left, Kermit Holmes recovered a free ball and found Terry Evans for a layup.  Oklahoma took a 66-65 lead at that point going into the media timeout.  But Oklahoma went mostly cold from there.

Hurley nailed a corner three and then found Lang on a 3-on-1 break for a layup.  Later, Hurley penetrated and kicked out to Laettner for a three from the top.  Grant Hill then got a three-point play after an up-and-under from the post against the taller Webster.  Duke led 76-68 at that point.

They were able to keep that lead until about the 3-minute mark when Terrence Mullins got a slam after an Evans steal.  Evans followed with a steal and the Sooners found Webster for a turnaround jumper in the post that cut the lead to 83-79 and gave Webster 30 points.

But Brian Davis hit a pull-up from the foul line with 2 1/2 remaining to put Duke back up by 6.  The teams then exchanged a bevy of turnovers before Duke put it away when Laettner found Thomas Hill for a slam with 47 seconds to go.  Oklahoma went 0-for-9 on threes in the 2nd half.

Oklahoma’s home winning streak had come to an end.  But with the way their season went, it would have ended sooner or later.  The Sooners did follow the loss by winning 5 in a row to take their record to 14-3.  But then the injuries and subsequently the losing started.  Terrence Mullins and Kermit Holmes missed time with knee injuries.  Terry Evans missed time with a deep thigh bruise.  As a result, Oklahoma had a 3-12 finish to the season and were NIT bound, where they lost to Stanford in the Championship Game.

Duke starters (points scored)

Grant Hill (19) – Small Forward

Christian Laettner (19) – Power Forward

Crawford Palmer (1) – Center

Bobby Hurley (13) – Point Guard

Thomas Hill (16) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Antonio Lang (11)

Billy McCaffrey (4)

Brian Davis (7)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Oklahoma starters (points scored)

Terrence Mullins (8) – Small Forward

Jeff Webster (32) – Power Forward

Kermit Holmes (10) – Center

Terry Evans (17) – Point Guard

Brent Price (11) – Shooting Guard

Oklahoma bench (points scored)

Bryan Sallier (2)

Roland Ware (4)

Martin Keane (1)

Oklahoma Coach: Billy Tubbs

January 14, 1991 – (#3)Indiana Hoosiers 65 @Purdue Boilermakers 62

In 1990, Gene Keady and his Purdue Boilermakers made a surprise run to a 21-7 regular season, finishing 2nd in the Big Ten at 13-5.  Keady had seniors Steve Scheffler, Tony Jones and Ryan Berning; juniors Jimmy Oliver and Chuckie White; and sophomores Woody Austin and Loren Clyburn.

But by the time the Big Ten season got very old in 1991, only Oliver and White (now seniors) were remaining.  Austin, the team’s leading scorer, and Clyburn were academically ineligible for the 2nd semester.  The Boilermakers were 10-3 and should have won the only Big Ten game that they had lost so far as they led Illinois 59-52 with 2:00 left but lost 63-61.

Oliver would become Purdue’s only future NBA player in 1991.  He and White were teamed with senior point guard Dave Barrett, junior center Craig Riley, sophomore guard (and future head coach) Matt Painter, and then freshmen Ian Stanback, Linc Darner, Cornelius McNary and Travis Trice (father of former Michigan State guard Travis Trice).

Bob Knight and Indiana had an amazingly young team in 1990 as there were key freshmen Calbert Cheaney, Matt Nover, Pat Graham, Greg Graham, Chris Reynolds and Chris Lawson.  They finished 9-9 in the Big Ten and made a surprising NCAA tournament appearance.

Now these sophomores were teamed with senior guard Lyndon Jones, juniors Eric Anderson and Jamal Meeks, and 1990 McDonald’s High School All-American Damon Bailey (said to be one of the best high schoolers of all time in Indiana, although he had some great games for the Hoosiers, including one later in this post, he turned out to be another over-rated Indiana white boy who wasn’t that quick, like Steve Alford).

Cheaney and Anderson were the big scorers (only them and Bailey averaged in double figures).  Cheaney was developing into one of the best forwards in the nation.  The Hoosiers were 14-1, with their only loss being to Syracuse in the Maui Classic.

Indiana was on a 12-game winning streak and many of those games weren’t close.  It looked to be the same early on in the rivalry game of the state of Indiana.  Knight started three guards (Meeks, Jones, and Bailey) along with Cheaney and Anderson, and their small lineup worked.

Meeks found Jones for a three.  Meeks penetrated and found Anderson for a layup and a foul.  Meeks penetrated and found Cheaney for three.  Bailey found Jones in transition for another three.  With everybody involved, Indiana was up 12-2 and Chuckie White had two fouls for the Boilermakers.

Four straight points by Anderson gave the Hoosiers a 16-4 lead at 15:22.  Then after Purdue finally put together consecutive baskets, Cheaney came back with a pull-up on the baseline after a spin move.  Then Cheaney followed with a monster slam on a baseline drive.  Reynolds fed Pat Graham for a layup and the blowout was on as Indiana led 22-8.

But then Indiana suddenly couldn’t put the ball in the ocean while riding a speedboat.  White got a three-point play just before the second media timeout.  The next few minutes were a free throw shooting contest, and the contest was who could miss the most.  There were three field goals over the next 8 minutes, all by Purdue, and both teams struggled at the line.

It didn’t help Knight when Anderson and then Cheaney committed their 3rd fouls and had to sit.  Purdue cut it to 28-24 with 3:51 to go before Greg Graham broke an 8:46 drought without a field goal.  Graham followed with a steal and layup.  Indiana was still able to hold a 37-31 halftime lead.

Jimmy Oliver, who had put up 35 points in Purdue’s previous game against Michigan, was held to 6 points in the 1st half as nobody scored in double figures.  Cheaney and Anderson led Indiana with 7 and Ian Stanback had 8 for Purdue.

Purdue got going a little bit to start the 2nd half but their momentum was stymied by a Cheaney three.  But with the Hoosiers up 41-35, Anderson committed his 4th foul and went to the bench.  Stanback continued Purdue’s troubles at the foul line by bricking two but then Oliver came back with a three to cut the lead in half.

Then on the next possession, Cheaney committed an offensive foul for his 4th.  Chuckie White then cut Indiana’s lead to one with an offensive rebound and a slam.

Chris Reynolds briefly saved the Hoosiers when he got a three-point play on a cut.  Reynolds followed with a steal and Pat Graham hit on a driving layup.  But then Indiana went on another drought without their two leading scorers (plus Bailey putting up only 1 point and not playing much in the 2nd half).

Purdue wasn’t exactly burning the nets either but they cut it to 48-47 when White hit on a reverse and drew a foul.  Stanback later hit a jumper in the lane to give Purdue the lead with over 11 minutes to go.  Now Knight had to bring Anderson and Cheaney back in.

A layup by White against Cheaney in the post put Purdue up 52-48.  But Anderson showed his value by hitting a big jumper from the foul line.  Anderson then followed a Purdue field goal with a pull-up jumper from the elbow.

Craig Riley then got involved for Keady as he hit a banker from the post against Anderson.  But this time it was Cheaney who responded with a baseline jumper.  Riley later hit a hook against Anderson in the post, but Cheaney answered with a pull-up from the baseline.

Anderson and Cheaney had kept Indiana to within two and then the Hoosiers took the lead when Jamal Meeks drove down the lane for a layup and a foul.  It was 59-58 Hoosiers with 5 1/2 minutes to play.

Both teams then traded misses and turnovers over the next two minutes before Cheaney fed Anderson on a cut for a layup and a three-point Indiana advantage.  Stanback broke a long Purdue drought by hitting a turnaround jumper in the lane.  But then Reynolds penetrated and kicked out to Anderson for a jumper from the top.

Even with that assist, Reynolds’ big contribution (and the strongest part of his game) was on defense and he shut down Oliver in the 2nd half as he didn’t score over the last 14 minutes or so.  Reynolds forced Oliver to double dribble with 1:33 to go.  But Purdue got another chance after Cheaney missed.

The Boilermakers couldn’t get the good shot for their stars though and Matt Painter had to force one up at 31 seconds, actually he had plenty of time on the shot clock but forced one up.  Pat Graham seemed to put the game away with two free throws.

But after Painter scored, Purdue called a timeout with 8.2 seconds to play.  They then fouled Meeks two seconds later.  Meeks was a 72% foul shooter in 1991 but only went to the line 51 times.  He missed the first.  Purdue iced him by calling their last timeout.  It worked, sort of, as Meeks nearly airballed the 2nd free throw.

White rebounded but it took him a few seconds to find Trice, who was in the game at point guard after Barrett (the senior) fouled out.  Trice fell down and lost the dribble off his foot as he approached the front court and time ran out.

Indiana’s biggest test would come a week later as they hosted 15-0 Ohio State.  The Buckeyes ended the Hoosiers’ 14-game winning streak as they won 93-85.  Indiana and Ohio State would lose a combined one time between that game and their next matchup on February 17.

Purdue would fall into a tailspin as they lost 5 games in a row in late January and early February (including the rematch against Indiana in Bloomington, 81-63).  But Keady would rally his troops for a 6-1 finish and a long-shot NCAA tournament berth as a #7 seed in the East.

They got demolished in the 1st round by Temple 80-63.  Purdue finished their season 17-12 (9-9 in the Big Ten) and would have to sweat out the 1992 season without their big recruit in the 1991 High School class, Glenn Robinson.

Indiana starters (points scored)

Damon Bailey (1) – Small Forward

Calbert Cheaney (14) – Power Forward

Eric Anderson (15) – Center

Jamal Meeks (4) – Point Guard

Lyndon Jones (6) – Shooting Guard

Indiana bench (points scored)

Pat Graham (10)

Chris Reynolds (9)

Matt Nover (0)

Greg Graham (4)

Chris Lawson (2)

Indiana Coach: Bob Knight

Purdue starters (points scored)

Jimmy Oliver (11) – Small Forward

Chuckie White (17) – Power Forward

Craig Riley (10) – Center

Dave Barrett (5) – Point Guard

Linc Darner (0) – Shooting Guard

Purdue bench (points scored)

Ian Stanback (12)

Travis Trice (2)

Matt Painter (5)

Cornelius McNary (0)

Purdue Coach: Gene Keady

calbert cheaney

Calbert Cheaney drives against Chuckie White in Indiana’s rematch against Purdue in Bloomington *photo courtesy of Indianapolis Star

January 16, 1991 – (#13)Connecticut Huskies 79 @(#8)Syracuse Orangemen 81 (OT)

The Connecticut Huskies were the surprise team of the Big East in 1990.  They seemed to be continuing their momentum as they got off to a 12-1 start, including victories in their first 3 Big East games.

But then the challenging part of their schedule came when they had to play St. John’s twice and Syracuse twice (plus a game at Seton Hall) in a 2 1/2 week stretch before the end of January.  It didn’t start out well as they took a home loss to St. John’s 72-59.  Now, 4 days later, they were to travel to the Carrier Dome.

The only senior that Jim Calhoun and the Huskies lost from 1990 was point guard Tate George.  But Nadav Henefeld also didn’t return after the Israeli National team wanted him to play professionally.  But UConn did get another player from Israel, Gilad Katz, who stuck around for two seasons.

Katz joined junior Chris Smith, the Huskies leading scorer, and seniors John Gwynn and Steve Pikiell in the back court.  Up front, junior Rod Sellers and sophomores Scott Burrell and Toraino Walker were starting in this game with seniors Murray Williams and Lyman DePriest and junior Dan Cyrulik coming off the bench.  The starting lineup fluctuated throughout the year as Smith, Sellers and Burrell were the only players to start in all the games.

Syracuse had lost Derrick Coleman and Stephen Thompson from 1990.  But they rebounded by landing the top high school player in guard Adrian Autry.  Autry was a good penetrating guard who led the team in assists and was their 4th leading scorer.  He was strong defensively and got his fair share of rebounds.  But Autry was a weak perimeter shooter, which was Syracuse’s problem.

Autry teamed in the back court with Michael Edwards, who was struggling after having a reasonably strong freshman season in 1990.  But Jim Boeheim’s strength was in the front court.  Billy Owens had become a bonafide superstar, averaging 23.3 points per game to lead the team.  Dave Johnson averaged 19.4 points per game after a 6.5 average as a sophomore in 1990.  Senior LeRon Ellis rounded out by averaging 11.1 and 7.7 rebounds after a slow start to the season.

Syracuse’s bench consisted of sophomores Conrad McRae and Mike Hopkins, and freshman Scott McCorkle.  McRae was the backup big man while Hopkins and McCorkle were shooters.  Boeheim’s bench might have been deeper but Rich Manning transferred to the University of Washington and Tony Scott left for Texas A&M but never got a chance to play there.

Syracuse came out of the gates strongly as they won the Maui Classic by beating Indiana.  They vaulted as high as #3 in the polls after a 13-0 start, including their Big East opener against St. John’s.  But then the Orangemen lost to a team that they had trouble with for whatever reason in Villanova.  This was the Wildcats second straight win at the Carrier Dome.  Syracuse followed by losing to Pitt on the road but rebounded with a win at Seton Hall.

It was apparent in the 1st half that both teams liked to run and struggled when having to set up in the half court.  Connecticut took advantage of Syracuse’s lack of shooting by playing a zone.

After Owens completed a Syracuse 6-0 run by throwing down an alley-oop, the Orangeman went 6 minutes without scoring.  But UConn could only grab a 16-10 lead after a 9-0 run.  Their biggest lead was at 23-15 before Scott McCorkle came in and scored 7 points to bring Syracuse back.

The teams battled to a 39-all tie at halftime as only Smith, with 11, and Owens, 10, were in double figures.

Syracuse got off strong in the 2nd half as Dave Johnson, who had come into the game having scored 20+ points in the previous 6 games but only had 4 in the 1st half, got a steal and layup.  Autry then hit a runner in the lane and Owens got a transition layup from Johnson.  The Orangemen built a 46-39 lead before Burrell hit a three and then a banker in the lane.

The teams played much better offensively in the 2nd half and the game went back and forth.  Smith, Burrell and Walker were the main scorers for UConn while Owens and Scott McCorkle kept the momentum going for Syracuse.  But it seemed that everybody was involved for both teams.

Dave Johnson connected on consecutive threes in the late going to give the Orangemen a 65-62 lead.  But then Rod Sellers scored consecutive baskets before Owens hit a baseline turnaround with 3:43 to go.  UConn then took a 68-67 lead when Sellers got his third straight layup on a Walker feed.

They had a chance to increase that lead with under 2:00 to go but the inexperienced Gilad Katz turned the ball over when he was double-teamed.  After Boeheim called a timeout, Syracuse went to Owens in the middle of the lane.  Billy found an open McCorkle for a corner three.  He missed but Ellis put it back in with 1:12 to play to give Syracuse the lead.

Katz then committed his second straight turnover as Ellis stole his pass.  Katz fouled Owens with 42.9 seconds to play.  UConn was not quite at 10 team fouls however, so Owens got a 1-and-1.  He missed the front end.  UConn rebounded and ran it down to 20.2 before Calhoun used a timeout.

UConn went to their big gun in Chris Smith.  He had the ball at the top as Walker came out to set a screen.  After coming off the pick, Smith pulled up from behind the three-point line and nailed it with 10.5 to go.  UConn led 71-69 and Syracuse had to go full court.

They got it to Johnson, who almost succeeded in taking it coast-to-coast.  However, he missed his layup.  But the ball came off right to LeRon Ellis who dunked it in at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.  With that, Syracuse seemed to have the momentum.

Owens started off the overtime by hitting four free throws.  But then John Gwynn hit a pull-up jumper from the wing to keep UConn in it.  But Syracuse was able to maintain its lead and took a 78-74 advantage with 44.7 seconds to go when Ellis hit his 2nd free throw of the game in 7 attempts.

Chris Smith then broke a 3 minute UConn field goal drought by hitting a pull-up in the lane.  Connecticut players then attempted to call a timeout after the basket but it wasn’t recognized by the officials.  Syracuse took advantage as Ellis snuck down the court and Edwards found him with a long pass for a slam.

Katz came back to nail a three to cut it to 80-79 and this time, UConn’s last timeout was recognized with 20.2 to go.  Smith then fouled Owens with 17.7 left.  Owens missed both free throws and Smith rebounded.  Smith took it up the court and gave it to Gwynn, who took an ill-advised three from the wing and missed.

The rebound was tipped out to Autry, who was fouled by Smith with 4.1 to play.  Autry missed the first free throw but with UConn being in the penalty, he got a second shot and hit it.

Without a timeout, Smith just had to take it the length of the court.  He didn’t end up getting a shot off in time and Syracuse survived.

The Orangemen would beat the Huskies by two points again 12 days later.  The loss would give UConn 6 straight losses that brought them out of the top 25.  They were 0-4 against the two teams that would finish above them in the Big East (St. John’s and Syracuse), and would need to have some big wins in February to stay near the top in the race.

Connecticut starters (points scored)

Scott Burrell (17) – Small Forward

Toraino Walker (10) – Power Forward

Rod Sellers (11) – Center

Gilad Katz (8) – Point Guard

Chris Smith (20) – Shooting Guard

Connecticut bench (points scored)

Steve Pikiell (0)

Dan Cyrulik (2)

John Gwynn (7)

Murray Williams (4)

Lyman DePriest (0)

Connecticut Coach: Jim Calhoun

Syracuse starters (points scored)

Dave Johnson (14) – Small Forward

Billy Owens (19) – Power Forward

LeRon Ellis (16) – Center

Michael Edwards (8) – Point Guard

Adrian Autry (11) – Shooting Guard

Syracuse bench (points scored)

Scott McCorkle (12)

Conrad McRae (2)

Mike Hopkins (0)

Syracuse Coach: Jim Boeheim

billy-owens

All-American Billy Owens was the leader for Syracuse in 1991 *photo courtesy of Autographs for Sale

January 23, 1991 – (#9)Duke Blue Devils 89 @N.C. State Wolfpack 95

Duke seemed to have turned a corner when they broke Oklahoma’s long winning streak at home.  But then in their ACC opener in Virginia, they were demolished 81-64.

Mike Krzyzewski wasn’t happy and held a late practice after they returned to Durham.  It was intense to the point that freshman Antonio Lang accidentally broke fellow freshman Grant Hill’s nose in a collision.

But the after midnight practice did serve as a wake up call.  Duke beat Georgia Tech 98-57, Maryland 94-78, Wake Forest 89-67, The Citadel 83-50 and, most importantly, North Carolina 74-60 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Riding high off of that momentum, Duke prepared for three straight ACC road games starting at N.C. State.

The Wolfpack had a new coach in Les Robinson, who had come back to his alma mater from East Tennessee State.  The Buccaneers had a 28-5 season in 1991 after consecutive NCAA tournament appearances under Robinson.  They had an All-American in point guard Keith Jennings.  One of their wins had come against N.C. State.  But East Tennessee State would miss out on their chance to upset Duke when they lost to Iowa 76-73 in the 1st round of the NCAA tournament.

The Wolfpack were no longer on probation and had senior guards Chris Corchiani and Rodney Monroe coming back.  They had an improving junior in Tom Gugliotta, who was becoming a star.  They also had some talented sophomore big guys in Bryant Feggins and Kevin Thompson.

Robinson had no bench however and barely used it.  This may have been a factor in some close losses at East Tennessee State, Syracuse and Kansas.  The 4th N.C. State loss was a blowout at Wake Forest.  But the Wolfpack were 8-0 at home and with the way the crowd was in it against Duke, that home crowd could carry you when you’re tired (although I’m sure the crowd wasn’t always that lively, Duke just brings out the liveliness in opposing crowds).

The crowd did usher a good start for the Wolfpack as Thompson and Feggins each hit two free throws.  Then Thompson put back a Gugliotta miss and Corchiani found Monroe for a three from the top.  Gugliotta then put back a miss before Corchiani found Monroe with a touch pass for a breakaway layup.  Corchiani then found Feggins with a long pass, who immediately hit Thompson for a layup.

But Duke was still within 15-10 as Christian Laettner and Billy McCaffrey were off to good starts offensively.  But Krzyzewski did put four starters on the bench for their defensive effort early on.

NC State increased its lead as Monroe, who had scored 48 points against Georgia Tech a week earlier, was scoring in his typical fashion and Feggins was playing out of his mind.  Feggins’ baseline drive put the Wolfpack up 25-13.

Duke responded with 7 straight points before Monroe hit a double-pump banker on the drive and Gugliotta nailed two three-pointers.  The lead was now 33-20.

Bobby Hurley started a Duke run with two three-pointers as they steadily pulled back to within 40-36.  But they could get no closer in the 1st half and the Wolfpack increased their halftime lead to 47-41 when Monroe found Thompson for a layup with 3 seconds to go.

Both Hurley and Corchiani had 7 assists in the 1st half of a very fast paced game, which is how Les Robinson and Mike Krzyzewski liked it.  And unlike most Big East games, it was a fun game to watch as a fan.

Duke started off the 2nd half well after Monroe hit a pull-up from the baseline for his 19th point.  Antonio Lang hit two free throws and then Hurley found him for a slam.  Laettner then hit a jumper from the wing to cut it to 49-47.  Corchiani broke the mini-run with a double-pump lefty banker on the drive.  But Duke then tied it when Thomas Hill hit a runner in the lane and then McCaffrey went coast-to-coast for a layup.

Bryant Feggins broke the tie with a wing jumper and then a transition layup on a Corchiani assist.  Corchiani later found Kevin Thompson for a layup and then Gugliotta for a three.  After Corchiani hit another running banker and Gugliotta nailed another three, N.C. State’s lead was back to 67-57.

It would keep going from there as Corchiani kept finding people and the other four starters kept scoring, led by Monroe (even the one reserve who played for the Wolfpack on this night, freshman Migjen Bakalli, got a breakaway layup on a Corchiani assist).

Even Gugliotta committing his 4th foul and repeated threes from Hurley and field goals from Laettner and McCaffrey couldn’t get Duke back into the game.  Corchiani and Monroe just kept controlling the game.  Monroe even unleashed his Jordan impersonation when he hung in the air while going for a jumper in the lane and managed to just guide it in around the defender with his right hand.

Duke cut it to 84-77 with 3:50 to go but managed to get one possession over the next two minutes as N.C. State forced Duke to commit 5 fouls to get into the penalty.  Feggins then made both ends of the 1-and-1.

Duke would scramble to cut it down to as low as four but were never really a threat as N.C. State held them off to tie North Carolina for the lead in the ACC with a 3-1 record.  Corchiani finished with 14 assists.

Duke would continue its road trip while NC State was about set to start a 3-game ACC road trip.  It didn’t start off well as they lost to Maryland 104-100 and then got blown out by Virginia 104-72.  They couldn’t wait to return home and take on their other in-state rival at the top of the league, North Carolina.

Duke starters (points scored)

Thomas Hill (6) – Small Forward

Antonio Lang (6) – Power Forward

Christian Laettner (23) – Center

Bobby Hurley (18) – Point Guard

Billy McCaffrey (17) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Brian Davis (4)

Greg Koubek (4)

Grant Hill (9)

Crawford Palmer (2)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

N.C. State starters (points scored)

Bryant Feggins (17) – Small Forward

Tom Gugliotta (14) – Power Forward

Kevin Thompson (16) – Center

Chris Corchiani (11) – Point Guard

Rodney Monroe (35) – Shooting Guard

NC State bench (points scored)

Migjen Bakalli (2)

NC State Coach: Les Robinson

January 30, 1991 – (#7)Duke Blue Devils 77 @(#23)Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 75

For years, North Carolina had been the team in the ACC that was (for a lack of a better phrase) pulling wins out of their ass.  But it was around this time that Duke was starting to pull off that phenomenon and became a power (and more disliked).  This win was an example.

Although Duke’s execution in the last 40 seconds was great, the fact that they were put in position for a final shot was a break that gave them a chance (and that had nothing to do with the refs or even Georgia Tech failing).

Duke had rebounded from its loss at N.C. State with a resounding 99-70 win over a struggling Clemson team at Clemson.  Now they would head as south as you could go for an ACC game (which was about to change when Florida State was admitted for 1992) and take on a superstar.

Kenny Anderson was the only member of lethal weapon 3 that was back for the 1991 season at Georgia Tech.  Bobby Cremins had to re-tool with a couple of transfers.  Shooter Jon Barry (son of Rick Barry) came from Pacific and center Matt Geiger from Auburn.  Along with them, sophomore big man Malcolm Mackey stepped up and averaged a double-double.

Those four guys were teamed with freshmen Bryan Hill and Ivano Newbill.  But, as per usual with Cremins, he didn’t go very deep into the bench.  Georgia Tech got off to a so-so 3-3 start (the three losses by a combined 5 points) as Kenny Anderson was taking matters into his own hands because he had yet to trust his new teammates.

But then Tech won 6 in a row before traveling to Duke.  They got a wakeup call at Cameron Indoor as they lost 98-57.  They lost at N.C. State 4 days later.  But Tech pulled its biggest surprise after two home wins.  They traveled to Chapel Hill, North Carolina and beat the Tarheels 88-86.  Mackey had the big three-point play to decide that game.  Tech was now a 1/2 game behind Duke at the top of the ACC.

Duke got off to a better start than they had against NC State.  Grant Hill, who was not wearing his nose protector for the first time since breaking it, had a slam on a Bobby Hurley feed and then tipped in a Christian Laettner miss.  Hill then found Billy McCaffrey for a three.  But three-point plays by Mackey and Anderson kept Tech in it through the first media timeout.

Mackey personally kept Georgia Tech even with 7 early points.  The Jackets actually took a 17-15 lead when Anderson found Barry for a breakaway slam.

But then Thomas Hill, who was coming off the bench for this game, got going and scored 10 consecutive points as Duke took a 25-17 lead.  Things got worse for Georgia Tech when Geiger committed his 3rd foul on a charge and Tech was called for a technical when a fan threw something onto the court (the referee had apparently already warned Cremins after debris was thrown previously, but no announcement was made).  The Devils took a 10-point lead when McCaffrey made both technical free throws.

But over the last 8 minutes of the half, Kenny Anderson steadily led the Jackets back.  He scored 10 points during that time to help cut Duke’s halftime lead to 39-35.

Christian Laettner, who was held to 2 points in the 1st half, got going with two quick buckets.  But he also got two quick fouls to bring his total to 4 and had to go to the bench.  Krzyzewski’s only backup big man, Crawford Palmer, picked up his 4th foul not too far after that.

With Duke’s big guys off the court, Geiger and Mackey started to dominate inside on both ends.  Mackey blocked several Duke shots inside and Geiger had consecutive putbacks to give Georgia Tech a 51-50 lead.

Anderson then took over with 6 straight Tech points that concluded on a highlight break.  Anderson got a steal and was 1-on-1 against Hurley in transition.  Anderson went either behind his back or through his legs on a dribble three times while standing right in front of Hurley.  Then Anderson broke to the lane and hit a little floater.  The whole sequence had Dick Vitale going crazy.

It gave Georgia Tech a 58-54 lead but Thomas Hill came right back with a spin and a running banker from the wing.  Duke would then switch to a zone and tie the game at 60 with 8:31 left.

Barry then got the bounce on a corner three and Laettner came back in.  Christian hit a turnaround jumper from the baseline and then Brian Davis tipped in a Grant Hill miss to give Duke the lead.

The game went back and forth before Barry hit another three to give Tech a 70-68 lead.  Billy McCaffrey tied it with a wing jumper.  Mackey put back a Geiger miss and then Geiger fouled out as Laettner drew a foul on him.  Laettner tied it at 72 with two free throws.

Hurley gave Duke a lead with a free throw but Kenny Anderson hit a jumper from the elbow after Mackey gave him a return pass with 1:02 to go.  Anderson then deflected the ball away from Grant Hill and forced a jump ball.  The possession arrow pointed toward Georgia Tech.

After a timeout, Hurley fouled Anderson on the inbounds pass.  Kenny made the front end of the 1-and-1 but missed the second shot.  Tech only led 75-73.

Hurley then found Thomas Hill inside.  Hill’s first shot was blocked by Ivano Newbill but Thomas recovered and threw in a banker while drawing a foul with 31 seconds left.  Hill missed the free throw but here’s where Duke’s “break” came.

Laettner got a piece of the rebound and back-tapped it.  Senior Greg Koubek then dove on the floor and recovered the ball and voila, Duke could set up for a last shot.

Hurley dribbled up top and then penetrated with 4 seconds left.  As he penetrated, Thomas Hill broke free in the post and Hurley gave him a bounce pass.  The ball left Hill’s hands at 1 second and banked into the basket at the buzzer.  Duke had pulled a victory out of their ass and were 2-1 on the 3-game road trip.

Duke would continue its momentum as they went 6-1 over the next 3 weeks and were in their usual position at the top of the ACC and in the top 10 of the polls.

Georgia Tech would briefly rebound with a home win over Maryland before losing to NC State at home, and then at Wake Forest and Maryland.  Despite a victory over Arizona to end that streak, Tech could not fully recover and finished 5th in the ACC with a 6-8 mark.  They lost to NC State for the third time that season in the ACC quarterfinals.  But the NCAA tournament gives one a chance at a revival and Tech would get its chance against a top seed before Kenny Anderson left for the NBA.

Duke starters (points scored)

Grant Hill (14) – Small Forward

Antonio Lang (0) – Power Forward

Christian Laettner (12) – Center

Bobby Hurley (5) – Point Guard

Billy McCaffrey (15) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Thomas Hill (20)

Crawford Palmer (4)

Brian Davis (4)

Greg Koubek (3)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Georgia Tech starters (points scored)

Jon Barry (15) – Small Forward

Malcolm Mackey (13) – Power Forward

Matt Geiger (10) – Center

Kenny Anderson (32) – Point Guard

Bryan Hill (5) – Shooting Guard

Georgia Tech bench (points scored)

Ivano Newbill (0)

Brian Domalik (0)

Georgia Tech Coach: Bobby Cremins

kenny anderson

Kenny Anderson would become a 1st-team All-American in 1991 *photo courtesy of Got ‘Em Coach

February 5, 1991 – (#10)Kentucky Wildcats 88 @(#19)LSU Tigers 107

The Kentucky Wildcats had won 10 in a row, including a victory at Rupp Arena over LSU, before losing on the road to Alabama.  They rebounded with wins at Auburn and then against Georgia.  All was for the experience as Kentucky’s season would end once the regular season ended.

LSU was at least playing for something more, but they had fallen on hard times.  The Tigers had lost 3 of their last 4 and had fallen to 6-4 in the SEC, good for 5th place (although technically they were 4th since Kentucky couldn’t win the regular season championship).  Shaquille O’Neal, mainly his father, was starting to make noise about the fouls that were being committed against him and was threatening to go to the NBA.

But LSU and Kentucky had been rivals for the last decade in basketball and at times, they nearly came to blows.  But the Wildcats had nobody that could even think of checking Shaq.  Early on, Jamal Mashburn, the tallest Wildcat player, was put on Shaq.  Mashburn started 1-for-7 from the field as a result.  O’Neal started a little better.

Shaq got three slams to start his night while drawing two fouls.  He later threw down an alley-oop, got a layup after a drop-step, got another layup on an inbounds lob and then rebound-slammed two misses.  O’Neal’s first field goal that wasn’t a layup or a dunk came when he hit a turnaround banker from the post over Mashburn and drew a foul.  By that point, O’Neal had 20 points and was 9-for-9 from the field.

But LSU’s 15 first half turnovers kept Kentucky within striking distance.  Kentucky was also able to nail some threes, but their leading scorer, John Pelphrey, was being shut down by LSU’s defensive ace Shawn Griggs, who transferred to Louisiana-Lafayette after the season.

But Deron Feldhaus made a contribution off the bench to pick up the slack.  Feldhaus scored 5 quick points and Jeff Brassow nailed his third three-pointer of the half to give Kentucky a 35-34 lead.

LSU would run off 8 straight points but still had to hold off the Wildcats in the 1st half when Richie Farmer scored 5 quick points off the bench.  Wayne Sims, a senior who was returning from a month’s suspension for a DUI, hit a jumper from the top with 1 second left to give LSU a 50-46 halftime lead.

Mashburn and Reggie Hanson had committed only 2 fouls while playing Shaq in the 1st half.  Shaq had sat down periodically and had only scored 3 points since his 20 point explosion in the first 12 minutes.

LSU ran out to a 61-53 lead at the first media timeout of the 2nd half, but Shaq had picked up his 3rd foul and sat down again.  But then Mashburn and Hanson picked up their 4th fouls within a minute.  That took out two of Kentucky’s three top scorers and the third, Pelphrey, never really got going.

But LSU was missing free throws and couldn’t put Kentucky away until Harold Boudreaux came off the bench and scored his career-high 19 points.  Boudreaux’s three-point play put LSU up 65-55.  Then after Mike Hansen hit a three, Boudreaux stole a pass at half court and slammed one down to put the Tigers up 70-55.

Boudreaux would make two more dagger jumpers over the next few minutes.  Shaq came back in and had some baskets that put Kentucky away as well.  Hansen and T.J. Pugh had good 2nd halves as well from the back court.  LSU was out of the doldrums, it seemed, as they handled Kentucky easily.

That win started a 7-1 streak heading into the final regular season game at Mississippi State.  Although Kentucky finished at the top of the standings, they couldn’t win the regular season title.  So the winner of the LSU/Mississippi State game would take a top seed into the SEC tournament.

The Bulldogs won 76-73 but, even as the top seed, they lost in the SEC quarterfinals to Tennessee.  But LSU couldn’t take advantage as they lost to Auburn 92-77 in the quarterfinals.

Alabama would win their 3rd straight SEC championship and would be the only team in the conference to advance beyond the 1st round of the NCAA tournament.  LSU was a#6 seed in the Midwest Regional but lost to UConn 79-62 in the 1st round.  Shaq had 27 points and 16 rebounds against the Huskies.  Nobody else was near double figures in either category.

Kentucky starters (points scored)

Jamal Mashburn (19) – Small Forward

John Pelphrey (13) – Power Forward

Reggie Hanson (6) – Center

Sean Woods (8) – Point Guard

Jeff Brassow (13) – Shooting Guard

Kentucky bench (points scored)

Deron Feldhaus (18)

Junior Braddy (3)

Richie Farmer (5)

Gimel Martinez (3)

Johnathon Davis (0)

Kentucky Coach: Rick Pitino

LSU starters (points scored)

Vernel Singleton (7) – Small Forward

Shawn Griggs (5) – Power Forward

Shaquille O’Neal (33) – Center

T.J. Pugh (10) – Point Guard

Mike Hansen (17) – Shooting Guard

LSU bench (points scored)

Harold Boudreaux (19)

Wayne Sims (10)

Geert Hammink (4)

John Picou (0)

Lenear Burns (0)

Danny Moscovitz (0)

Richard Krajewski (2)

LSU Coach: Dale Brown

shaquille-oneal-lsu

Shaquille O’Neal was a one-man gang at LSU, but he dominated Kentucky with 20 points in the first 12 minutes *photo courtesy of Sports List of the Day

February 6, 1991 – (#9)North Carolina Tarheels 91 @N.C. State Wolfpack 97

North Carolina had a 13-1 record and an 11-game winning streak when they traveled to Durham, North Carolina to take on rival Duke.  Their streak came to an end as Duke pulled away in the 2nd half to win 74-60.

North Carolina then suffered a home loss to Georgia Tech a week later and now were down to 3rd in the ACC behind Duke and Virginia.  The North Carolina State Wolfpack had fallen on some hard times (mainly because they played three games away from home) as well.

They had lost at Maryland and gotten killed at Virginia before rebounding to win at Georgia Tech 79-73.  But now they were returning home, where they were undefeated.  They stood a half-game behind the Tarheels for 3rd place.

This was also the start of a first for the ACC as UNC and N.C. State were getting set to play a home-and-home series in back-to-back days for the first (and probably last) time in ACC history.

For the first matchup, UNC got off to a 6-0 start after a three-pointer from Rick Fox and a three-point play from George Lynch.  But the Wolfpack scored the next 7 points as Bryant Feggins hit a banker on a baseline drive, Rodney Monroe nailed a three and Tom Gugliotta got a fast-break slam.

The teams battled back-and-forth and were tied at 22 at the 2nd media timeout (with 11:20 to go).  But then N.C. State took advantage of their inspired home crowd and went on a spurt.  Monroe hit a pull-up from the baseline.  Chris Corchiani got a steal and fed Kevin Thompson for a layup.  Monroe hit a three and Corchiani followed with a steal and layup.

The run would continue despite Lynch scoring to cut the lead to 31-24.  Monroe hit an up-and-under scoop after Corchiani got another steal and then Rodney connected from downtown again.  Migjen Bakalli (N.C. State’s only sub) hit two free throws and then Feggins followed up a miss on the break.  The Wolfpack suddenly led 40-24.

North Carolina scored 5 straight points to respond but Corchiani found Feggins for a layup for his 6th assist so far.  Then Gugliotta nailed a three to put the lead back at 16.  But the three-point shot quickly went in favor of North Carolina as Rick Fox nailed three of them over the next few minutes to cut the lead to 46-40.

Then Carolina appeared to have cut their halftime deficit to five when King Rice penetrated and kicked out to Lynch for a three with less than 5 seconds to go.  But N.C. State got it ahead to Bakalli, who found Gugliotta for a three from the deep wing at the buzzer.  This concluded a half where N.C. State shot 61.7% from the field and connected on 8-of-11 threes.  With that being said, UNC was pretty fortunate to be down only 53-45 at the half.

The 2nd half for N.C. State saw a little less balance as it more-or-less became the Rodney Monroe/Tom Gugliotta show.  North Carolina was able to cut it to 64-61 with 7 minutes gone by as Hubert Davis scored 11 points after a scoreless 1st half.

But then Monroe went 1-on-1 against Davis and hit a pull-up on the baseline after stopping on a dime.  Corchiani then drove past Carolina freshman Derrick Phelps for a runner in the lane.

Carolina missed a golden opportunity when Pete Chilcutt missed an alley-oop slam.  Corchiani then pushed the ball and found Gugliotta for a corner three and a 72-64 State lead.  Gugliotta then followed up a Monroe miss for his 25th point and a 10-point lead.

A three from Monroe later increased it to 13 but then UNC started bombing away and hitting with under 4 minutes to go.  Fox hit the first three and then Carolina got a rare five-point play after Chilcutt nailed a three and Eric Montross was fouled underneath.  Montross was given a 1-and-1 (as per rules at the time, the officials ruled that the foul was after the shot so it was as if the shot didn’t go in).  He made both free throws to cut it to 84-79.

Corchiani then drove and kicked out to Monroe for a three from the wing to briefly stem the tide.  But Chilcutt came back with another three and then, after two Corchiani free throws, Davis hit a trey and it was 89-85 with 1:40 left.  Dean Smith used his last timeout at that point.

UNC pressed and N.C. State got the ball to Monroe.  Rodney went coast-to-coast on a drive and managed to get the roll on a little scoop while drawing a foul.  The three-point play would be countered by a three from King Rice though.

After Kevin Thompson missed two free throws for State, Davis cut it to 92-91 with UNC’s 6th trey in the last 3 minutes.  But then, for some reason, Davis fouled Monroe (with 54 seconds left, there was still more time on the game clock than the shot clock, you would think UNC would just try to get a stop).

Monroe made both free throws.  Then Corchiani reached in on Fox and knocked the ball away from him.  The ensuing loose ball resulted in a jump ball and the possession arrow was pointing towards N.C. State.  Phelps fouled Corchiani with 27.1 remaining and Corchiani split the free throws.

But N.C. State put it away after Davis and Fox couldn’t keep the three-point magic going and missed three combined attempts.

North Carolina would destroy State the next night, 92-70 and had a 7-game winning streak going into the final regular season game against Duke.  Naturally, first place was on the line in that matchup.

N.C. State would be battling for third the rest of the season.  Their only losses over the next few weeks would be at Carolina and then at Duke.  Their undefeated home record stayed alive and they had an impressive road win at Connecticut.  But they would be in for a big game against Virginia as the season wound down.

North Carolina starters (points scored)

Rick Fox (22) – Small Forward

George Lynch (13) – Power Forward

Pete Chilcutt (19) – Center

King Rice (8) – Point Guard

Hubert Davis (17) – Shooting Guard

North Carolina bench (points scored)

Henrik Rodl (4)

Eric Montross (4)

Clifford Rozier (0)

Derrick Phelps (2)

Kenny Harris (0)

Brian Reese (2)

Kevin Salvadori (0)

Matt Wenstrom (0)

Pat Sullivan (0)

North Carolina Coach: Dean Smith

N.C. State starters (points scored)

Bryant Feggins (9) – Small Forward

Tom Gugliotta (28) – Power Forward

Kevin Thompson (9) – Center

Chris Corchiani (10) – Point Guard

Rodney Monroe (37) – Shooting Guard

N.C. State bench (points scored)

Migjen Bakalli (4)

N.C. State Coach: Les Robinson

February 10, 1991 – (#1)UNLV Runnin’ Rebels 112 @(#2)Arkansas Razorbacks 105

‘Twas the matchup that everyone had been looking forward to since the college basketball season became a few weeks old.  UNLV was the pre-season #1 and Arkansas #2, and neither team had disappointed so far with just one combined loss.

UNLV almost didn’t get a chance to defend its national championship when the NCAA infractions committee ruled them to be ineligible for post-season play in 1991 during the summer because of recruiting violations that stemmed back to 1977.  UNLV appealed the ruling and eventually got a compromise just before the season opened.  UNLV would be allowed to participate in the 1991 NCAA tournament, but would be banned from post-season in 1992 and barred from any television appearances.  The compromise also stated that UNLV would no longer fight the NCAA in court.  With all of that, the UNLV players took out their frustrations on their opponents in record-setting style.

UNLV was 19-0 and had now won 30 games in a row.  They were not only beating teams, but demolishing, bulldozing, ram-rodding (and all the synonyms you could think of, combined) the competition.  Their average margin of victory was around 30 points per game.  The closest margin they had so far was a 12-point win at Louisville.  In fact, the last time they had a single-digit margin of victory (the 1990 National Semifinal against Georgia Tech) was the last time that they trailed at the half.  The Runnin’ Rebels biggest deficit in any game all season was 5 points.

But if anybody could put a dent in all of that, it was Arkansas in their own pit.  Barnhill Arena was to the point of delirium for this game, even though it was on a Sunday morning.  Yes, to accommodate television, this game started at noon eastern time, which meant 11 AM in Fayatteville, Arkansas and 9 AM to the body and mind of the UNLV players.

UNLV only lost David Butler from the starting lineup, which meant arguably their best 4 players returned from their National Championship team.  Forwards Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon were 1st- and 2nd-team All-Americans (respectively).  And guards Greg Anthony and Anderson Hunt were among the best in the nation.  Red-shirt senior George Ackles manned the middle after missing the 1990 season with a broken wrist.  Off the bench were talented but inexperienced, compared to the starters, junior Elmore Spencer and sophomore Evric Gray.

Jerry Tarkanian’s team was almost put on probation for the 1991 season.  But it held off for another year, giving Tarkanian a chance to coach what was being billed as perhaps the best college basketball team of all time.

Arkansas, too, was coming off a Final Four appearance.  They were 23-1 (their only loss being to Arizona in the Pre-Season NIT championship) and had talent too.  Junior center Oliver Miller led the nation in field goal percentage.  Fellow juniors Todd Day and Lee Mayberry also averaged double figures.  Day led the way with 21.2 points per game and Mayberry was at 13 along with 5.6 assists per game.

Arkansas also had seniors Arlyn Bowers, Ron Huery and walk-on Ernie Murry who contributed.  Isaiah Morris and Roosevelt Wallace, both JC transfer juniors, helped Miller contribute some beef down low.  But Nolan Richardson’s Razorbacks were a weak rebounding team that was mostly perimeter oriented.  That would cost them against big teams, like UNLV.

After about a two-minute period, the scoring got going between the 3rd and 4th highest scoring teams in the nation.  Johnson fed Augmon for a slam.  Day and Hunt matched three-pointers.  Mayberry pushed the ball to Morris for a jumper and then Miller outletted to Bowers for a breakaway three-point play on a bad goaltending call on Hunt.

UNLV seemed to get a number of breakaways after breaking Arkansas’ press or after steals.  This gave Augmon, among others, numerous chances to show off his athleticism.

The Rebels held a steady lead through the first 12 minutes before Arkansas grabbed a 36-30 advantage with an 11-0 run.  Day, Miller, and Huery were the key contributors in that spurt.  But Augmon and Hunt quickly led UNLV back and into the lead.  Augmon finished the 1st half with 19 points.

Tarkanian had made the rare decision in the last 8 minutes of the half to go to the zone.  This turned out to be a calculated mistake as Arkansas’ perimeter game kept them in it.  And over the last few minutes of the half, three-pointers from Day, Bowers, and Mayberry (who threw in a prayer at the end of the shot clock) gave Arkansas a 50-46 halftime lead.

So for the first time all season, UNLV trailed by more than 5 points in a game and trailed at the half.

But what UNLV had become known for over the last year (and especially in the 1990 National Championship Game) was their spurts.  Spurts that broke the game wide open and usually decided the outcome.

Over the first two minutes of the 2nd half, UNLV went back to man-to-man.  Ackles hit a jumper and Anthony fed Johnson for a layup.  Augmon hit two free throws.  Anthony blocked a Mayberry jumper and then scored at the other end.  Then Greg Anthony penetrated and found Ackles for a slam.  Arkansas had to use a timeout at the 18:02 mark after a 10-0 Rebels run.

The timeout allowed Miller a chance to put the Razorbacks on the board in the 2nd half, but didn’t really halt the momentum.  Johnson tipped in his own miss and then got a layup after penetration from Augmon.  Augmon then followed up a miss on the break and, later, banked one in while facing sideways to the basket.

Six points in a row from Augmon kept UNLV ahead 68-61, then came another spurt.  Anthony found Johnson on a 3-on-1 break for a big slam and a foul.  Then Anderson Hunt got two breakaway layups after two steals from Elmore Spencer.  Nolan Richardson had to use another timeout at the 12:52 mark with his team trailing 75-61.

A minute later, Arkansas had to use another timeout when they couldn’t get the ball inbounds.  They were now out of timeouts, trailing by a wide margin, and tired.  Oliver Miller hit his first 7 shots from the field but was clearly getting more and more gassed as the 2nd half wore on.

Arkansas made some small spurts but they were thwarted by a big shot from UNLV.  The Rebels kept their double digit lead and increased it to as much as 98-75 when Larry Johnson scored on a 4-on-2 break.

As UNLV was building their lead, they were woofing about it to Arkansas as well.  This helped build up frustrations as the game nearly reached its conclusion, especially from Todd Day.

Day drew a technical from Augmon when Stacey gave him a double forearm shiver.  Then with 2 1/2 left and Arkansas making its last desperate attempt having cut the lead to 104-91, Day missed a three and went after the rebound that was grabbed by Johnson.

They ended up getting tangled and swinging at each other (Day’s push connected with a referee trying to separate them).  Both would be ejected but not suspended (per rules at the time: if a player was ejected for fighting, they were automatically suspended for a game – the officials leniently ruled that Day and Johnson were ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct).

Arkansas made the final margin closer when Murry hit two threes in the last 12 seconds.  This allowed Arkansas the distinction of being the first team all season that UNLV defeated by single digits, but they were hardly celebratory about it.

UNLV would end up being a #1 seed in the West and went on to the Final Four at 34-0.  Only one more of their victories would be by single digits (it happened in the tournament and will be featured later in the blog).

Arkansas would suffer a loss at Texas to conclude the regular season.  But they entered the NCAA tournament as a #1 seed in the Southeast Regional and were 30-3 after getting their revenge on Texas 120-89 in the Southwest Conference Tournament Championship Game.

They would be one game away from their 2nd straight Final Four appearance as well but would have some trouble with Kansas.

UNLV starters (points scored)

Stacey Augmon (31) – Small Forward

Larry Johnson (25) – Power Forward

George Ackles (17) – Center

Greg Anthony (8) – Point Guard

Anderson Hunt (26) – Shooting Guard

UNLV bench (points scored)

Emore Spencer (2)

Travis Bice (2)

Evric Gray (1)

UNLV Coach: Jerry Tarkanian

Arkansas starters (points scored)

Todd Day (26) – Small Forward

Isaiah Morris (6) – Power Forward

Oliver Miller (22) – Center

Lee Mayberry (11) – Point Guard

Arlyn Bowers (8) – Shooting Guard

Arkansas bench (points scored)

Ernie Murry (16)

Ron Huery (12)

Roosevelt Wallace (4)

Clyde Fletcher (0)

Arkansas Coach: Nolan Richardson

augmon

Stacey Augmon out-jumps Todd Day, as Greg Anthony (#50), Oliver Miller (#25), Larry Johnson (#4) and Roosevelt Wallace look on *photo courtesy of Getty Images

February 10, 1991 – (#5)Arizona Wildcats 105 @(#14)UCLA Bruins 94 (OT)

For most of the Pac-10’s basketball existence, UCLA had dominated the conference.  They had 13 conference championships in the 22 year history of the Pac-10.

But over the last few seasons since Lute Olson got going at Arizona, the Wildcats were starting to take over.  Arizona had won the last three Pac-10 titles and 4 of the previous 5.

The Wildcats were off and running again in 1991, leading the conference with a 7-3 record heading into the UCLA game.  Their losses had been on the road at Washington, Cal, and Southern Cal.  The USC loss happened three days before the UCLA game.  Olson’s team stayed in Los Angeles, where Brian Williams and Chris Mills were from and prepped for another tough road game.

UCLA had had down periods through the 80’s but seemed to be on their way back under Jim Harrick.  They had gone to the Sweet 16 in 1990 and had some talent in junior Don MacLean and sophomore Tracy Murray.  They were the big guys for UCLA who were better on the perimeter (and couldn’t match the bulk of Williams, Ed Stokes, Sean Rooks, and Wayne Womack for Arizona).

UCLA was arguably stronger on the perimeter with junior guards Darrick Martin and Gerald Madkins.  Martin had embraced his role as point guard and was shooting less (he would get even less shots as a senior when Tyus Edney came in as point guard).  Madkins was two years removed from multiple fractures in the pelvis, an injury that took him out for the 1989 season and one in which he was fortunate to walk again.

Harrick also had sophomore Mitchell Butler, senior and former walk-on Keith Owens and sophomore Zan Mason.  But the big prize was to be freshman Ed O’Bannon.  O’Bannon and Shon Tarver had verbally committed to UNLV, but were de-committed when the program was originally placed on probation.  Both then went to UCLA.

But before official fall practice could get underway, O’Bannon tore his ACL and meniscus in a scrimmage and was obviously out for the season.  He would return and have 3 great seasons at UCLA, after struggling as a red-shirt freshman in 1992.  But he would never fully recover and would not make an impact in the NBA.

Even without O’Bannon, UCLA still did very well at 17-5 going into their matchup with Arizona.  The Wildcats had beaten UCLA in a close game a month earlier in Tucson.  The Bruins were tied for 3rd at this moment with a 5-4 conference record.

Two three-pointers from Arizona guards Matt Muehlebach and Matt Othick helped give the Wildcats an early 10-4 lead.  But just over 3 minutes into the half, Chris Mills picked up his 2nd foul and sat for the rest of the 1st half.  He would make his impact later though.

UCLA got back into it but were mainly held off by Brian Williams, who was feasting on MacLean down low with a bunch of turnaround jumpers.  Williams had 12 points in the first 10 minutes as Arizona took their biggest lead at 31-23.

But MacLean and Murray led UCLA back and the Bruins took a 37-35 lead when Darrick Martin got a breakaway layup.  MacLean finished the 1st half with 15 points, including 10-for-10 on free throws, and Murray had 12.

But even without Williams contributing, Arizona was able to whittle their halftime deficit to 47-46 when Sean Rooks, who was getting less playing time because of a lack of effort on defense and on the boards, put back his own miss at the buzzer.

Williams got going again to start the 2nd half as he scored Arizona’s first 8 points to give them a 54-49 lead.  The Wildcats eventually increased their lead to 63-55 when Mills hit a three for his first points of the game.  Williams then scored his 22nd point on a drive to give Arizona a 10-point lead.  Not only had Williams scored 22 points but he was 9-for-9 from the field (albeit all shots were from 5 feet and in, but still dominating down low) and had 11 rebounds.

But Williams picked up his 4th foul when he fouled Madkins while Gerald nailed a runner.  The three-point play cut the Arizona lead to 67-61.  Murray hit a double-pump banker from the baseline to cut the lead to 69-65.  Then Madkins found Butler on a perfect bounce pass for a breakaway slam to cut the lead to two and get the crowd going.

After Mills threw down an alley-oop slam to make it 73-69 Arizona, Murray nailed a three and MacLean hit two free throws to give his team the lead.  The sometimes temperamental MacLean had been having a helluva game so far.  But almost all of it would be wasted by a bush-league move.

With the game tied at 75, Mitchell Butler drove baseline and slammed on top of Brian Williams’ head, knocking him down.  MacLean, perhaps adding insult to injury, threw the ball back at Williams while he was on the ground and it ended up hitting Brian in the nuts.

MacLean was called for a technical and although Muehlebach split the free throws (it was a two-shot technical for all technicals at the time in college basketball), the point may have been the difference between overtime and a UCLA win and Arizona seemed a bit more riled up over the next few minutes.

Rooks hit a turnaround jumper, Williams and Wayne Womack followed with slams (Williams trashed talked back to UCLA after his stuff), and then Williams hit a turnaround jumper with 2:00 to go for his 11th field goal in 11 attempts.  Arizona now led 84-81 and had a chance to increase that lead when Rooks rebounded a missed three from Murray.

But then Williams took a jumper from farther out in the lane and had his first miss.  Madkins then found MacLean for a wing jumper to cut the lead to 84-83 with 35 seconds left.  UCLA committed a foul that it had to give but then, with the Bruins now in the penalty, Williams had the ball stolen from him by Gerald Madkins, who slammed it down to give UCLA the lead with 18 seconds left.

After an Arizona timeout, Olson went to Rooks in the post.  He missed a turnaround and Butler rebounded.  He was fouled by Muehlebach with 6 seconds left.  Butler missed the first but made the second.  UCLA led 86-84.  Arizona had to go full court.

Freshman Khalid Reeves got the ball and pushed it.  He tried to find Rooks inside but Sean fumbled away the pass.  Fortunately for Arizona, the loose ball went right to Chris Mills, who nailed a baseline jumper at the buzzer to send the game into overtime and send the crowd into a shock.

It might have killed UCLA emotionally but they stayed with it, trailing 96-94 with 1:33 to go after Martin hit a driving banker.  But Arizona ran down the shot clock and the ball went to Mills again, this time deliberately.

Mills drove baseline and hit a banker while drawing a foul.  The three-point play gave Arizona a 99-94 lead with 45 seconds left and, this time, UCLA didn’t recover.  Othick and Muehlebach finished the game with free throws.

Arizona would lose only one more Pac-10 game, at Oregon, and won their 4th straight title with a 14-4 conference record (the Pac-10 had a tournament from 1987-1990 but didn’t have one from 1991-2001).  But the Wildcats had some tough non-conference games to finish out the season.  They lost to Georgia Tech in a neutral setting and then got set to host Duke two weeks after this game.  The Wildcats had a home court winning streak to keep alive.

UCLA lost at USC four days later and their conference record went to 5-6.  But they won 6 of their last 7 games to finish 2nd in the Pac-10.  They were named a #4 seed in the East Regional but couldn’t duplicate their 1990 success as they were upset by 13th seeded Penn State 74-69 in the 1st round.  But they would be back and strong in 1992.

Arizona starters (points scored)

Chris Mills (12) – Small Forward

Brian Williams (32) – Power Forward

Ed Stokes (8) – Center

Matt Othick (11) – Point Guard

Matt Muehlebach (12) – Shooting Guard

Arizona bench (points scored)

Wayne Womack (8)

Sean Rooks (11)

Khalid Reeves (6)

Deron Johnson (2)

Case Schmidt (3)

Arizona Coach: Lute Olson

UCLA starters (points scored)

Mitchell Butler (11) – Small Forward

Tracy Murray (23) – Power Forward

Don MacLean (28) – Center

Darrick Martin (4) – Point Guard

Gerald Madkins (18) – Shooting Guard

UCLA bench (points scored)

Keith Owens (6)

Shon Tarver (2)

Zan Mason (2)

Rodney Zimmerman (0)

UCLA Coach: Jim Harrick

brian williams

Brian Williams, certainly the emotional leader of the Arizona Wildcats, had his best game against UCLA with 32 points (on 14-for-15 shooting) and 14 rebounds *photo courtesy of Tucson.com

February 11, 1991 – (#18)Georgetown Hoyas 55 @Connecticut Huskies 61

The Georgetown Hoyas had started the season ranked #9.  It was perhaps a bit too high, despite a victory over Duke.  Georgetown did have its twin towers in Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo.  But all the talent around them in 1990 was pretty much gone.

Mark Tillmon, Dwayne Bryant, Sam Jefferson, and Anthony Allen had finished out their careers as seniors.  But the players that were supposed to step in for them were gone too.  David Edwards transferred to Texas A&M, Michael Tate (or Michael Venson) went to James Madison University, and Milton Bell left for Richmond.  This left John Thompson starting three freshmen with Mourning and Mutombo.

Forward Robert Churchwell and guards Charles Harrison and Lamont Morgan came locally from D.C.  Point guard Joey Brown was from Louisiana.  Forward Brian Kelly was a JC transfer from Cincinnati.  Only Ronnie Thompson, the coaches son, got consistent playing time from the team that was there in 1990, other than Mourning and Mutombo.

Georgetown’s young guys had been impressive in grabbing a 16-point lead over Duke, but they also showed their inexperience as the Blue Devils cut it to 75-74 with 30 seconds left.  The Hoyas did hold them off but Mourning injured the arch of his foot late in the game.  He missed the next 9 games.  Georgetown lost 4 of those games, and then lost a two-point game versus Syracuse after Alonzo returned.  But then the Hoyas won 4 of their next 5 games and were suddenly tied with the Orangemen at the top of the Big East as they prepared to travel to Hartford, Connecticut.

UConn had either been scalding hot or freezing cold in their Big East play.  They won their first three conference games and then lost their next 6 (including two losses to Syracuse by a combined 4 points).  But they rebounded to beat Villanova and Boston College at home.  They were now tied with three other teams for 5th place in the Big East.  But they were only 1-5 against ranked teams and needed to prove that they could beat the best.

If it is possible for a Big East game to be uglier than normal, the 1st half of this game fit the bill.  There were a total of 33 free throws shot in the 1st half, and the team with the lead at halftime didn’t even reach 33 points.

A tone was set when Jim Calhoun and John Thompson were hit with technical fouls in the first 4 minutes.  Calhoun’s came after he thought a foul should have been called on Mutombo.  Thompson’s came after Mourning was called for a cheap 3rd foul.  Mourning, who was still rounding into form after his foot injury, sat for the rest of the 1st half and was scoreless.

Chris Smith seemed to be the only player on the floor who could score as he had 9 of UConn’s first 10 points, including a three, to give the Huskies a 10-5 lead.  But Georgetown went back into the lead as Mutombo controlled the defensive boards and the Hoyas hit enough free throws to take a 16-13 advantage.

Scott Burrell then tied it with a three and Smith followed with a steal and feed to John Gwynn for a layup.  UConn held the lead for the rest of the half (and the rest of the game, actually) and surged in the final 3 1/2 minutes.

Smith went coast-to-coast for a layup after a Burrell steal to give UConn a 26-20 lead.  Rod Sellers threw in a shot over his head.  Smith ended the half with a step-back jumper that was called a three-pointer, but replays showed his foot on the line.  Luckily for UConn, this was in the days before replay could be reviewed so it counted as a three.  Smith had 17 points and UConn had a 32-22 halftime lead.

Smith hit a leaner to give UConn a 12-point lead early in the 2nd half.  But then Georgetown went on an 8-0 brisk jog (one could hardly call it a run if it happened in a span of about 6 minutes).  UConn pulled back ahead 38-30 when Gwynn hit a banker and then went coast-to-coast after a steal.

A three-pointer from Gwynn and then another breakaway layup gave UConn a 47-36 lead with under 8 minutes to go.  Georgetown then made its run (or brisk jog) of the day.  Mourning hit 3 of 4 free throws (he did not have a field goal in this game).  Ronnie Thompson hit a jumper.  Robert Churchwell then concluded the run by following up a miss by Joey Brown to cut the lead to 47-43.

Mourning then committed his 4th foul and Burrell hit two free throws.  Thompson then finally released his only shooter and Charles Harrison made a three-pointer to cut the lead to 49-46.  Harrison had a chance to tie it with another three but missed from the corner.  Burrell rebounded and outletted to senior Lyman DePriest for a breakaway slam and a foul.

Although DePriest missed the free throw, that play put Georgetown away as Smith and Gwynn each hit a pair of free throws to make it 55-46 with 1:17 left.  Georgetown made it closer as Harrison hit two threes and then three free throws after being fouled on an attempt from behind the line.

But for the Hoyas, this loss started a bad streak that lasted until the Big East tournament.  They lost 4 of their final 5 games (their only win was against UConn) and fell to 6th place in the Big East at 8-8.

UConn would climb the 3rd place at 9-7 despite the loss to Georgetown.  But the Hoyas woke up in their 3rd meeting with the Huskies in the Big East Quarterfinals.  Georgetown destroyed them 68-49 and then beat Villanova 71-55 in the Semis.  Their run was cut short by Seton Hall in the Finals but may have saved them an NCAA tournament berth.

Unfortunately, as the 8th seed in the West Regional, a juggernaut was in their path.

Georgetown starters (points scored)

Robert Churchwell (4) – Small Forward

Alonzo Mourning (5) – Power Forward

Dikembe Mutombo (11) – Center

Joey Brown (7) – Point Guard

Charles Harrison (20) – Shooting Guard

Georgetown bench (points scored)

Brian Kelly (4)

Ronnie Thompson (2)

Lamont Morgan (2)

Georgetown Coach: John Thompson

Connecticut starters (points scored)

Scott Burrell (9) – Small Forward

Toraino Walker (1) – Power Forward

Rod Sellers (5) – Center

Steve Pikiell (2) – Point Guard

Chris Smith (27) – Shooting Guard

Connecticut bench (points scored)

John Gwynn (15)

Dan Cyrulik (0)

Lyman DePriest (2)

Connecticut Coach: Jim Calhoun

February 17, 1991 – (#4)Indiana Hoosiers 95 @(#2)Ohio State Buckeyes 97 (2OT)

For 1991, there was no question whatsoever about who the best teams in the Big Ten were.  Ohio State won their first 17 games before losing at Michigan State.  This included a win against Indiana in Bloomington.  Ohio State led by 19 at halftime, and by as much as 22 before holding off a Hoosier comeback 93-85.

The loss to Michigan State remained Ohio State’s only loss and they became #2 in the polls after Arkansas’ loss to UNLV.  The Buckeyes and coach Randy Ayers had a superstar in sophomore Jim Jackson.  Jackson became a 1st team All-American and Big Ten player of the year in 1991 after averaging 18.9 points per game, 5.5 rebounds per game, 4.3 assists per game and 1.8 steals per game.

The Buckeyes also had some senior big men in Perry Carter and Treg Lee and junior guards in Mark Baker and Jamaal Brown.  All five starters averaged double figures.  The bench consisted of junior big men Bill Robinson and Chris Jent, sophomore guard Alex Davis, and freshman swingman Jamie Skelton.

Indiana’s loss to Ohio State in the first game was still their only defeat during the Big Ten season.  Indiana had been pretty consistently blowing out teams while Ohio State had a few scares here and there (like winning 73-71 at Wisconsin three days before this Indiana game when Mark Baker penetrated and made a turnaround jumper in the lane).

Both teams got off to a slow start and seemed pretty jittery in the first 2 minutes.  But then Jackson found Treg Lee for a slam in transition, the crowd got going, and so did the teams.  Calbert Cheaney, Indiana’s sophomore star, scored 7 points over the next few minutes and Jackson nearly matched him with 5.

Indiana would hold a slight lead over the next several minutes as Damon Bailey (the freshman sensation who was starting to come into his own a little bit) helped Cheaney with the offense.  But Ohio State stayed with them but had a critical play halfway through the 1st half that would end up impacting their season.

Mark Baker penetrated to the lane and kicked out to Jamaal Brown, who nailed a long two-pointer.  But Baker was on the ground writing in pain after coming down on somebody’s foot.  Baker’s sprained ankle kept him out for most of the rest of the game (he tried to play on it early in the 2nd half).  Baker’s role as the point guard on both ends of the court could not be undermined.  He set up the offense, pushed the ball in transition, and was perhaps their best perimeter defender.  Ayers also didn’t have a backup point man, so Jim Jackson filled in.  Baker never really recovered for the rest of the ’91 season and it may have cost the Buckeyes.

Indiana would hold a 42-40 halftime lead and were playing with much more confidence, obviously, than they had in the first half of the first matchup.

The teams would continue to battle evenly throughout the 2nd half.  Jackson and Perry Carter were the catalysts for Ohio State, with contributions from Brown and Lee.  Cheaney, Eric Anderson and Bailey were the big guns for Bob Knight as they led the way offensively.

The main men though were Jackson and Cheaney and they traded baskets to create a 64-all tie with 8 minutes to go.  Then Brown nailed a three to give Ohio State the lead.  But Anderson came right back with three straight Hoosier field goals while the Buckeyes went into a drought and Carter picked up his 4th foul.

Cheaney, despite committing his 4th foul with 4:31 to go, gave Indiana a 76-71 lead with a leaning banker from the baseline.  The Hoosiers had several chances to increase that lead but couldn’t do it.  They had to settle for a 77-72 lead with a minute to go.

This was still good position to be in but Bailey committed a foul on Brown and Jamaal hit two free throws.  Then with Indiana trying to kill the clock, Lee stole the ball from Cheaney and Calbert fouled him on the ensuing breakaway situation with 20 seconds left.  This was Cheaney’s 5th foul and Lee made both free throws to cut the lead to one.

Jackson then fouled Bailey with 12 seconds left and the freshman made the first but missed the second, leaving Indiana with only a 78-76 lead.  Ayers used a timeout with 7 seconds left.

He then got the ball in the hands of Jimmy Jackson up on top.  Jackson went 1-on-1 against Indiana’s best defender, Jamal Meeks, who was giving up some height and weight to Jackson (Jackson and the entire Ohio State front line could have passed for the football team, they were chiseled, especially for college kids).

Jackson got past Meeks with a cross-over and got into the lane for a little runner that went down at the buzzer and sent the game into overtime.  Jackson had already become known for his clutch play at Ohio State, winning some games as a freshman the previous season.  But this would take the cake as it was being billed as Ohio State’s biggest game in about 30 years, since they had made three straight National Championship games from 1960-62.

Both teams lost some big men in overtime as Matt Nover fouled out for the Hoosiers and the Buckeyes lost Chris Jent.  The biggest loss still was Cheaney but Damon Bailey tried to make up for it.  He found Anderson for a jumper in the post and then nailed a three for his 25th point and an 85-81 Indiana lead.

But Lee and Carter led Ohio State back to an 87-all tie.  Lee’s turnaround jumper from the baseline squared the game with 45 seconds to go.  Indiana then went for the last shot but showed that they did miss Cheaney.  Bailey couldn’t get anything off and finally found Chris Reynolds, who airballed a prayer at the buzzer.  2nd overtime.

Ohio State found an unlikely hero in the 2nd overtime as Skelton nailed two three-pointers.  The freshman was now in the game as Baker’s replacement and had shown he wasn’t shy as he had taken (and missed) some jumpers in the tail end of regulation and the first overtime.  But now he made two big ones.

It wouldn’t put Indiana away though as Bailey and Anderson made key field goals.  The Hoosiers had the ball again with under a minute to go and the game tied at 95.  But this time they couldn’t run out the game clock and Anderson missed a turnaround jumper from the post with 6 seconds remaining on the shot clock.

Lee rebounded with 24 seconds to go and Ohio State didn’t use a timeout.  They knew where they were going with the ball, and so did Indiana.  Jackson isolated up top and then penetrated to the lane again.  This time Indiana collapsed but Treg Lee snuck behind Greg Graham to the open spot on the baseline.  Jackson found him and Lee nailed a runner with 2 seconds left to give Ohio State the lead.

Indiana used two timeouts to set up strategy but could not get a good shot as Bailey hit nothing but backboard on a long turnaround three at the buzzer.  Ohio State had kept their streak going in front of a rowdy packed house in Columbus.

The Buckeyes would end up winning the Big Ten as both them and Indiana finished at 15-3.  Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, Baker’s injury would be a big key in their late season slump when Ohio State lost at Purdue and Iowa to finish the Big Ten season.  Indiana lost their next game by one point to Iowa at home but won their final 5 games.

Indiana was named a #2 seed in the Southeast Regional.  They won easily over Coastal Carolina and Florida State but were demolished by 3rd seeded Kansas 83-65 in the Sweet 16.  Ohio State was named a #1 seed in the Midwest Regional but had a struggle with 16th seeded Towson before putting them away 97-86.  They would have another tough game with Georgia Tech in the 2nd round.

Indiana starters (points scored)

Calbert Cheaney (26) – Small Forward

Eric Anderson (20) – Power Forward

Matt Nover (10) – Center

Jamal Meeks (2) – Point Guard

Damon Bailey (32) – Shooting Guard

Indiana bench (points scored)

Chris Reynolds (1)

Greg Graham (4)

Pat Graham (0)

Chris Lawson (0)

Indiana Coach: Bob Knight

Ohio State starters (points scored)

Jim Jackson (30) – Small Forward

Treg Lee (14) – Power Forward

Perry Carter (22) – Center

Mark Baker (0) – Point Guard

Jamaal Brown (17) – Shooting Guard

Ohio State bench (points scored)

Bill Robinson (2)

Chris Jent (4)

Jamie Skelton (8)

Alex Davis (0)

Tom Brandewie (0)

Ohio State Coach: Randy Ayers

jim jackson osu

Jim Jackson was Ohio State’s All-American and made two clutch plays to help defeat Indiana on February 17, 1991 *photo courtesy of Eleven Warriors

February 20, 1991 – (#5)Syracuse Orangemen 72 @(#18)St. John’s Red Men 77

Lou Carnesecca’s last good team had been building for two years.  The starting lineup were all upper-classmen, but only one senior.  And they had risen to as high as 5th in the polls in 1991, it seemed like perhaps their chance.

The Red Men were led by junior forward Malik Sealy, who averaged 22.6 points per game, along with 7.7 rebounds.  Sealy was the clear star and the future NBA standout.  Senior Billy Singleton manned the forward spot along with Sealy.  Junior Robert Werdann was in the middle, and fellow juniors Jason Buchanan and Chucky Sproling in the back court.

St. John’s had freshman big man Shawnelle Scott and sophomore point guard David Cain coming off the bench to get most of the reserves’ playing time.  This team started off the season at 9-0 and then were 15-2 at the end of January and ranked #5.

The Red Men then went into a slump and lost 4 of their next 6 games (1-3 on the road) and fell back into the middle of the pack, and were three games behind Syracuse, who was at the top of the standings.  The Orangemen had given St. John’s their first loss of the season in overtime at the Carrier Dome.

Syracuse had won 10 of their last 11 games, but not all was totally well.  Syracuse was being investigated after some testimonials for the book, “Raw Recruits.”  The investigation made the program a little bit uptight, and ended up costing them an NCAA tournament appearance in 1993, as well as lost scholarships and the like.

For whatever reason, in this game, Syracuse started out lackadaisical.  St. John’s wasn’t burning the nets either but at least they were putting the ball in the basket.  Werdann tipped in a miss, Singleton got two layups, and Sproling got two layups after turnovers.  St. John’s had a 10-0 lead 5 minutes into the game.

It got worse.  A free throw from Sinlgeton, a banker by Sealy and then a steal and layup by Sproling made it 15-0.  Finally, a three by Dave Johnson put the Orangemen on the board.  But they would still trail 22-5 with 9:12 to go and had given up 18 points in the paint to the Red Men.

But then the game did a complete 180.  Johnson hit two more threes and Billy Owens, who had missed his first 8 shot attempts, hit two jumpers and then a lefty banker on the drive.  Johnson’s fourth three-pointer cut the lead to 24-20.

Two free throws by Buchanan put St. John’s up by 6 with 3:49 left.  But Johnson and Owens then scored the next 8 points to give Syracuse the lead.  St. John’s had gone completely cold and was giving up turnovers against the Syracuse pressure.

Carnesecca’s Red Men did manage to re-grab the lead with three free throws.  Then Malik Sealy raced down a long inbounds pass and nailed a corner three at the halftime buzzer to give St. John’s a 32-28 advantage at the break.

Owens had hit 6 of his last 7 field goals and had 12 points while Johnson had 14.  St. John’s had a more balanced attack as Sproling and Singleton each had 7, Buchanan 6, and Sealy 5.

It would be more of the same in the 2nd half.  Jim Boeheim could not get anybody going outside of Johnson and Owens.  LeRon Ellis was saddled by foul trouble.  Adrian Autry struggled upon his return to his home area.  He eventually fouled out without scoring a point.

St. John’s kept the lead as Sealy scored 6 points early in the 2nd half by getting on the offensive boards.  Sealy was also in double figures rebounding.  His three-point play gave the Red Men a 53-45 lead with under 8:00 to go.

St. John’s got their lead to as much as 13 before Syracuse started bombing away threes to finally get some offensive momentum going.  A three-point play by Owens followed by triples from Michael Edwards, Owens, and Johnson (twice) eventually cut the lead to 73-70 with under a minute to go.

St. John’s had made a habit out of splitting their pairs of free throws most of the time.  But Syracuse had lost three players to fouls and were out of timeouts.

Buchanan was fouled with 27 seconds to go.  He made two free throws to put the Red Men ahead 75-70.  Buchanan then stole the inbounds pass and laid it in to finish off the ball game.

Both teams finished the regular season by winning their final three games.  Syracuse won the Big East regular season title with a 12-4 record and St. John’s finished 2nd at 10-6.  So it seemed like they were on a collision course for a third matchup in the Big East title game.

It didn’t happen.  Both were upset in the Big East Quarterfinals.  Syracuse lost to 8th seeded Villanova 70-68 while St. John’s fell to 7th seeded Providence 72-64.

St. John’s rebounded after being named a #4 seed in the Midwest Regional.  They beat Northern Illinois and Texas in the first two rounds before upsetting top-seeded Ohio State in a big way, 91-74, in the Sweet 16.  But they lost to Duke 78-61 in the Regional Final.  Carnesecca retired following the 1992 season in which St. John’s underachieved by going 19-11 and losing to Tulane in the 1st round of the NCAA tournament.

Syracuse would not recover from its Big East tournament loss despite being named a #2 seed in the East Regional.  They would end up on the wrong side of history.

Syracuse starters (points scored)

Dave Johnson (25) – Small Forward

Billy Owens (28) – Power Forward

LeRon Ellis (4) – Center

Michael Edwards (13) – Point Guard

Adrian Autry (0) – Shooting Guard

Syracuse bench (points scored)

Conrad McRae (2)

Mike Hopkins (0)

Scott McCorkle (0)

Syracuse Coach: Jim Boeheim

St. John’s starters (points scored)

Malik Sealy (23) – Small Forward

Billy Singleton (12) – Power Forward

Robert Werdann (11) – Center

Jason Buchanan (12) – Point Guard

Chucky Sproling (14) – Shooting Guard

St. John’s bench (points scored)

Shawnelle Scott (5)

David Cain (0)

Sean Muto (0)

St. John’s Coach: Lou Carnesecca

malik sealy

Malik Sealy led Lou Carnesecca’s last good team past Syracuse and eventually to the Elite Eight in 1991 *photo courtesy of New York Daily News

February 23, 1991 – (#20)Virginia Cavaliers 76 @N.C. State Wolfpack 83

The Wolfpack still had not lost at home.  But then again they hadn’t played an ACC home game since beating North Carolina.  They did have an impressive 60-59 win over UConn.  In that game, Rodney Monroe became the all-time leading scorer at N.C. State.

But the Wolfpack fell back to 6-5 in the ACC after losing at Duke.  This tied them with Wake Forest for 3rd place.  Virginia was a half-game behind.

The Cavaliers, at one point, were 17-4 and as low as #11 in the polls.  But they got into the tougher part of their schedule with road games at Duke, North Carolina, and Wake Forest.  They went 0-3 in that stretch and then lost at home to Georgia Tech a week later.  Now they were 19-8, and looking to right the ship.

Virginia’s biggest change from 1990 was at coach.  Terry Holland retired and became the Athletic Director at Davidson.  Assistant and former player Jeff Jones took over.  The stars were junior forward Bryant Stith and senior point guard John Crotty.  Senior forward Kenny Turner also averaged double figures.  The other starters were sophomore center Ted Jeffries and junior guard Anthony Oliver, who did not start in this game because he was recovering from a broken hand.  Freshman Cornel Parker started in his place.  Other reserves included the football quarterback Matt Blundin, sophomore point guard Doug Smith and senior Dirk Katstra.

For the Wolfpack, Chris Corchiani came into the game 10 assists away from becoming the all-time leader in NCAA history.  But early on, Virginia’s defense forced him to score.  He had 9 points early on and N.C. State had a lead.  But Rodney Monroe could not get off, he didn’t even get many shot attempts.  Tom Gugliotta wasn’t scoring either.  This was a pending disaster waiting to happen.

Kenny Turner got open to score 13 points in the first 12 minutes.  Bryant Stith contributed 9 points, including 5 in a row that put Virginia up 30-23.  Their lead was about at that margin until the final 2 1/2 minutes, when they increased it.

Crotty hit a driving layup and then a three that put the Cavaliers ahead 43-32 and forced Les Robinson to use a timeout.  It didn’t help as N.C. State couldn’t score for the rest of the half.  Meanwhile, Blundin hit a baseline jumper and then Turner hit a banker from the post with 5.3 seconds left to make the halftime margin 47-32.

It got worse for the Wolfpack to start the 2nd half.  Corchiani picked up his 3rd foul.  Stith and Crotty hit field goals and it was now 52-32 Cavaliers.  But then it all changed.

Rodney Monroe connected on a three for his 5th point of the game.  Corchiani hit a pull-up jumper in transition.  Gugliotta tipped in a Monroe miss.  Corchiani drove for a layup and then found Monroe for a jumper from the top.  Suddenly, in four minutes, the lead was down to nine.

Then in three subsequent minutes, the lead was down to four.  Gugliotta hit a three from the top and Monroe got a three-point play.  Jeff Jones had to call a timeout with 13:13 to go and the lead down to 55-51.  It was estimated as the one of the fastest comebacks of all time, by amazed broadcasters.

But Virginia kept their lead for awhile despite Monroe continuing to score.  His three cut it to 67-65 with 6 minutes to go.  Crotty responded with a three but Monroe hit four consecutive free throws.  Then the Wolfpack finally took the lead when Rodney hit a jumper from the top.

Monroe then hit a banker from the wing after a spin move to give N.C. State a 75-72 lead.  Stith missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and Turner missed two shots in the lane.  Turner then fouled Kevin Thompson on the rebound and Thompson, a 53% foul shooter in 1991, made both free throws.

It was pretty much over from there as Corchiani and Monroe finished out the game with free throws.  Monroe had 30 points in the 2nd half while Corchiani only got 8 assists.  But he did eventually set the all-time assist record, which would be broken two years later by Bobby Hurley.

N.C. State, after its win and a subsequent win over Maryland, was all set up to be the 3rd seed going into the ACC tournament.  They took their undefeated home record against rival Wake Forest.  However, the Demon Deacons pulled out an 89-84 win and would get the #3 seed and host Virginia in the quarterfinals.

Virginia tied with Georgia Tech for 5th place by finishing at 6-8.  But Tech had swept them during the regular season and earned the higher seed.  This meant that they played the Wolfpack, who had tied with Wake for 3rd but had been swept in the season series.  N.C. State won that matchup 82-68 but got killed by Duke in the next round.

N.C. State earned a #6 seed in the East Regional and lost to 3rd seeded Oklahoma State 73-64 in the 2nd round.  It would be the Wolfpack’s last tournament appearance until 2000.

Virginia starters (points scored)

Bryant Stith (18) – Small Forward

Kenny Turner (25) – Power Forward

Ted Jeffries (2) – Center

John Crotty (19) – Point Guard

Cornel Parker (2) – Shooting Guard

Virginia bench (points scored)

Anthony Oliver (6)

Matt Blundin (2)

Doug Smith (2)

Dirk Katstra (0)

Virginia Coach: Jeff Jones

N.C. State starters (points scored)

Bryant Feggins (12) – Small Forward

Tom Gugliotta (9) – Power Forward

Kevin Thompson (10) – Center

Chris Corchiani (18) – Point Guard

Rodney Monroe (32) – Shooting Guard

N.C. State bench (points scored)

Migjen Bakalli (2)

N.C. State Coach: Les Robinson

corchiani and monroe

Rodney Monroe (left) and Chris Corchiani made up one of the all-time greatest backcourts in NCAA history. *photo courtesy of Rush the Court

February 24, 1991 – (#7)Duke Blue Devils 96 @(#9)Arizona Wildcats 103 (2OT)

The Duke Blue Devils had a 7-game winning streak going before dropping a game at Wake Forest.  They rebounded by beating N.C. State and holding Rodney Monroe to 4 second half points.  But there were still some chinks in the Blue Devil armor, mainly the free throw line and a lack of a big man behind Christian Laettner.

The latter would especially be a problem against the likes of Brian Williams, Ed Stokes, and Sean Rooks.  Duke was also battling the aura of the McKale Center in Tucson, Arizona.  The Wildcats had won 60 games in a row there coming into this game.  It was a streak that went back to the 1987 NCAA tournament.

Duke was 23-5 and Arizona was 21-5.  It was a big matchup for seeding and for confidence.  Despite Chris Mills scoring 6 early points, Duke stayed with Arizona and didn’t let their big men get off early on.  The Blue Devils trailed 14-13 eight minutes into the game.

But Duke was also missing some quality chances on seemingly easy field goal attempts.  They were also 10-for-17 from the foul line in the 1st half and couldn’t take advantage of 16 Arizona turnovers.

The Blue Devils had as much as a 28-21 lead after Williams committed his 3rd foul.  But Arizona came back to tie it at 31 at the half.  Laettner and Mills led their respective teams with 10 points.

The 2nd half was played much better.  Both teams took and delivered punches.  Brian Williams was much more effective inside after only 4 1st half points.

The biggest thing he did was that he kept drawing fouls on Duke.  Thomas Hill, who had 9 1st half points, and Grant Hill each picked up their 4th fouls.  But Arizona was now missing their free throw attempts and Duke hung around helped by their bench.

Billy McCaffrey and senior Greg Koubek hit three-pointers.  McCaffrey then hit another jumper to give Duke a 52-50 lead with 11:38 to go.  Laettner followed with a three-point play but Arizona crawled back in the next minute to tie the game at 55.

Koubek then got credit for a driving basket when goaltending was called on Wayne Womack.  Koubek hit a subsequent free throw to complete the three-point play and then Laettner hit a hook shot in the lane.  Brian Williams brought Arizona back into a 60-all tie with two field goals.

Matt Othick then committed his 4th foul for Arizona and Laettner hit two free throws for his 20th point.  Bobby Hurley followed with a three and Duke had its third five-point lead in the last 4 minutes.

But for the third straight time, Arizona tied it with a 5-0 run after Thomas Hill fouled out.  Freshman Khalid Reeves capped it with a driving layup against Hurley and Mike Krzyzewski called a timeout with 6:52 to go.

Laettner picked up his 4th foul 27 seconds later but Duke was able to maintain a 70-68 lead when Koubek hit his second three.  Sean Rooks then tied it with a layup after recovering a loose ball.

While Arizona had dominated inside, there was a mis-match that Duke could go to and they did in the late going.  Grant Hill, as the power forward, took Brian Williams outside and went 1-on-1 against him.  This produced two baskets and a 74-70 Duke lead.

Lute Olson used a timeout with 2:27 to go but Hurley got a steal and Mills committed his 4th foul.  But the Blue Devils missed their chance to take a 6-point lead in the late going when Brian Davis missed two free throws.

Mills hit a pull-up in the lane with 1:09 to go.  The teams exchanged turnovers before Wayne Womack fouled Grant Hill with 47.1 seconds to go.  Hill was a 64% foul shooter as a freshman but made these two for a 76-72 Duke lead.

Matt Muehlebach fed Brian Williams for a layup and Arizona used their last timeout with 33.1 seconds to go.  They put on their press and Muehlebach stole a Laettner feed to Hill.  Muehlebach then found Womack for a layup to tie the game at 76.  Duke called a timeout with 18.8 to go.

They went to Laettner, who drove and drew Williams’ 4th foul with 12.2 left.  Laettner, who had missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 1 second to go in a 77-75 loss to Arizona in 1989, calmly made both shots.

Arizona was without a timeout but Othick found Rooks inside for a spinning hook in the lane to tie it again.  Duke used a timeout with 1.6 to go but couldn’t get a shot off.

The first overtime would be more of the same.  Williams scored two baskets while Rooks got another layup.  Duke almost matched them as Koubek and Laettner hit field goals, but they still trailed 86-83 with under 1 1/2 to go.  But McCaffrey penetrated and found Hurley for an open three in the corner to tie the game.

Williams then missed two free throws and committed his 5th foul when Grant Hill went 1-on-1 against him again.  Williams had had another strong game but watched Hill hit two more free throws with 29.7 seconds to go.

Arizona could not get into a crisp offensive set and were lucky to have Duke deflect it out of bounds with 14 seconds remaining.  Muehlebach was then able to find a cutting Mills for a baseline runner on the inbounds to tie the game again.  Muehlebach then stole the ball from Hurley but his prayer shot wasn’t answered.

However, it was Muehlebach that got Arizona off to a strong start in the second overtime.  He hit a three and then two free throws with 3:42 to go to give Arizona a 95-88 lead.  Muehlebach then put in the dagger by penetrating and finding Sean Rooks for a slam that gave the Wildcats a 99-91 lead with 1:22 to go.

Arizona’s streak lived on and would for the rest of the season.  They won the Pac-10 and were a #2 seed in the West Regional.  They wouldn’t get a chance to play UNLV though as Seton Hall upset them 81-77 in the Sweet 16.  The Pirates, who are featured in the next game, made a late run in the Big East.

This loss didn’t cost Duke anything in the ACC, they went into the final game of the season against North Carolina tied for the top spot with the Tarheels at 10-3.  It would be another big game in this rivalry.

Duke starters (points scored)

Brian Davis (8) – Small Forward

Grant Hill (19) – Power Forward

Christian Laettner (26) – Center

Bobby Hurley (14) – Point Guard

Thomas Hill (11) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Billy McCaffrey (5)

Greg Koubek (11)

Crawford Palmer (2)

Clay Buckley (0)

Antonio Lang (0)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Arizona starters (points scored)

Chris Mills (19) – Small Forward

Brian Williams (26) – Power Forward

Ed Stokes (11) – Center

Matt Othick (7) – Point Guard

Matt Muehlebach (14) – Shooting Guard

Arizona bench (points scored)

Sean Rooks (16)

Khalid Reeves (7)

Wayne Womack (3)

Case Schmidt (0)

Deron Johnson (0)

Arizona Coach: Lute Olson

chris mills

After transferring from Kentucky, Chris Mills had some clutch heroics in his first season at Arizona *photo courtesy of ebay

February 27, 1991 – (#20)Seton Hall Pirates 60 @Connecticut Huskies 62 (OT)

On the same night that president George H.W. Bush announced that the Gulf War had ended, the two surprise teams from the Big East over the last two seasons competed in a huge late-season matchup (I know the events pale in comparison, but this is a basketball blog and this game just happened to fall on an important date in U.S. history.  So, yes, I will be talking about the least important event of the two because I’m more of an expert, nerd alert, in that).

The Connecticut Huskies had won 4 Big East games in a row following their 6 straight losses, but a defeat at Georgetown set them back to 7-7 and needing a win to secure an NCAA tournament bid (although the Big East ended up sending 7 teams, Villanova’s upset of Syracuse in the Big East tournament secured their bid as it was their second defeat of Syracuse that season).

Seton Hall at one point was 5-6 in the Big East and 13-7 overall.  But then they went on a 5-game winning streak (three against Big East teams) and were now tied for 4th place in the conference.

The Pirates only had one player remaining from their 1989 team that was seconds away from winning a national championship.  It happened to be their star in 1991.  Senior big man Anthony Avent averaged over 18 points per game and 10 rebounds in Big East competition.  Their leading scorer was sophomore guard Terry Dehere, who averaged over 20 points in Big East competition.  Avent and Dehere, along with coach P.J. Carlesimo, would be the only ones from Seton Hall who eventually saw an NBA game.

Senior point guard Oliver Taylor was the third and last Pirate who averaged in double figures.  The rest of the lineup included junior forward Gordon Winchester, sophomore forward Jerry Walker and freshmen Bryan Caver and Lithuanian Arturas Karnishovas.

As typical for a Big East game in this era, there wasn’t much scoring.  For UConn, Scott Burrell got an early steal and slam.  He then found Toraino Walker with a long pass for a slam and a quick 4-0 UConn lead.  But then the Huskies went scoreless for the next 9 minutes and 50 seconds.

Seton Hall responded as Avent put back a miss and then got a three-point play on an up-and-under move in the post.  But then Seton Hall scored 1 point over the next 8 minutes.

Senior John Gwynn (who, along with Lyman DePriest and Murray Williams, were celebrating senior night) hit a jumper from the elbow to break UConn’s drought.  Bryan Caver then hit a runner to break Seton Hall’s drought.  Chris Smith connected on a three (his first field goal in 9 attempts) to tie the game at 9 at the 7:54 mark.

But the scoring, kind of, opened up from there.  A slam from Burrell and a pull-up jumper from Gwynn put UConn up 15-11.  But Terry Dehere answered with a three and Avent hit a banker from the post to give Seton Hall the lead.

Avent and Dehere took care of the Pirate scoring for the rest of the half while Rod Sellers got going for UConn with 5 points.  Seton Hall led 27-24 at the break.

Sellers kept his momentum going with 9 points early in the 2nd half as UConn took the lead.  They stretched it to 41-34 when Burrell hit a running banker in the lane.  Then Smith, UConn’s leading scorer, connected on only his second field goal on a baseline jumper to stretch the lead to nine.

But the Huskies then went into another drought thanks to Seton Hall’s defense, which had been their biggest key in their 5-game winning streak.  Caver drove down the lane for a layup and then Dehere and Taylor connected on threes to cut the lead to 43-42 with 6:19 remaining.

UConn was able to keep the lead, despite missing several free throws, thanks to Sellers.  Rod had been out-played badly by Avent in the first matchup between these two teams (a 76-62 Seton Hall victory in January), but he out-scored Avent and nearly matched him on the boards as both players got double-doubles.

The Huskies took a 51-48 lead with a minute and a half to go and seemed poised to increase it when Smith got a steal and had Burrell on a breakaway.  But Dehere and Karnishovas got back.  Dehere cut off Burrell’s angle and Karnishovas flew in for the blocked shot that saved Seton Hall in regulation.

Dehere then tied it with a step-back three from the top at the 1:13 mark.  UConn called a timeout and ran down the clock.  Smith penetrated and found Sellers, who was fouled by Avent with 28.3 seconds remaining.  Sellers, a 56% foul shooter, managed to split a pair.

Seton Hall called a timeout but couldn’t find an open man.  So finally, Taylor drove against Gwynn and drew a foul from DePriest on a reach-in with 1.4 seconds left.  Taylor was an 86% foul shooter in Big East competition, but his first free throw went in-and-out, much to the delight of the UConn crowd at Gampel Pavilion.

Taylor made the second free throw to tie the game at 52.  DePriest airballed a prayer from half-court and the game was headed into overtime.

UConn struck first from the field as Burrell found DePriest inside.  Lyman laid a quick pass to Sellers for a layup and a foul.  The three-point play gave Sellers 21 points and gave UConn a 55-53 lead.  But Dehere answered with a three and Caver hit two free throws.  Seton Hall led 58-55 with over 3 minutes remaining.

Gwynn hit a jumper from the top.  Avent rebounded a miss and hit a hook shot for only his 6th point of the 2nd half.  Then Gwynn backed into the lane and hit a reverse flip shot while drawing a foul.  The three-point play tied the game at 60 with 2:27 to go.

The teams then went back to their scoreless ways.  Gwynn got a steal but Smith missed a breakaway layup.  Seton Hall missed a jumper but got the ball back after UConn deflected it out of bounds.  But then Burrell stole an entry pass to the post and UConn would hold for the last shot.  They called a timeout with 13.2 seconds remaining.

Despite the Huskies star, Chris Smith, going 3-for-17 from the field so far, Jim Calhoun went to him.  Smith penetrated into the lane but was short on a pull-up jumper.  Two Seton Hall players went after the rebound, and it looked like Avent had it.  But they lost the ball and Smith got it back.

Smith then put up a fall-away jumper from the wing in the last second and made it as the buzzer sounded.  UConn had a big win that had sealed an NCAA tournament bid, according to the “experts” at ESPN.

It did end up pushing UConn past Seton Hall in the standings as both teams finished at 9-7 in the Big East, tied for 3rd place with Pitt.  But UConn got the #3 seed in the tournament while Seton Hall was 4th.  The Huskies were drilled by Georgetown 68-49 in the quarterfinals and settled for a #11 seed in the Midwest Regional.

The Huskies beat Shaquille O’Neal and LSU 79-62 in the 1st round and then beat Xavier 66-50 in the 2nd round.  But they ran into a familiar opponent in the Sweet 16.

Despite the loss, Seton Hall kept their late-season momentum going as this would be their only defeat from February 5 until March 23.  The Pirates beat Pitt and Villanova in close games in the Big East tournament before downing Georgetown 74-62 in the championship.

They were then named a #3 seed in the West Regional.  The Pirates beat back Pepperdine and Creighton in the first two rounds before upsetting 2nd seeded Arizona 81-77 in the Sweet 16.  Their run ended in the Regional Finals when they lost to UNLV 77-65.

Seton Hall starters (points scored)

Gordon Winchester (0) – Small Forward

Arturas Karnishovas (3) – Power Forward

Anthony Avent (16) – Center

Oliver Taylor (15) – Point Guard

Terry Dehere (18) – Shooting Guard

Seton Hall bench (points scored)

Bryan Caver (8)

Jerry Walker (0)

Assaf Barnea (0)

Seton Hall Coach: P.J. Carlesimo

Connecticut starters (points scored)

Scott Burrell (13) – Small Forward

Toraino Walker (2) – Power Forward

Rod Sellers (21) – Center

Steve Pikiell (0) – Point Guard

Chris Smith (11) – Shooting Guard

Connecticut bench (points scored)

John Gwynn (11)

Lyman DePriest (4)

Dan Cyrulik (0)

Gilad Katz (0)

Connecticut Coach: Jim Calhoun

March 3, 1991 – (#8)Duke Blue Devils 83 @(#4)North Carolina Tarheels 77

Both rivals were 10-3 in the ACC, tied for the top going into the final game.  The last time this had happened was 1978, when Phil Ford led North Carolina to a close victory.

But for now, it was the senior day for Rick Fox, Pete Chilcutt, and King Rice.  North Carolina had won 7 in a row since their loss at N.C. State.  Duke had won 9 of 11 games since their loss at N.C. State in January.

The charged atmosphere at the Dean Dome saw King Rice get the first basket of the game with a spin and a banker in the lane.  It would be North Carolina’s last lead.

Grant Hill found Bobby Hurley for a baseline jumper and then Hill drove baseline for a slam.  A Hill feed to Brian Davis for a dunk and a foul put Duke up 8-2 early on and put 3 fouls on George Lynch.

Grant Hill got off to the quickest start for Duke with 7 points in the first 10 minutes to keep the Blue Devils ahead.  Hubert Davis came off the UNC bench and kept the Tarheels in the game during that stretch with 6 points.

But once Christian Laettner got involved, Duke ran up its lead.  Laettner scored his first basket on a baseline drive to put Duke up 23-16.  He later got two layups off feeds from Hurley and Hill.  Duke now led 29-18 with 7:45 remaining.

Rick Fox would get his first field goal to stem the tide and Chilcutt followed with his 4th point.  But this run would be thwarted by a Bobby Hurley cross-court alley-oop (from about 30 feet away) to Grant Hill.

Threes by Hurley and Greg Koubek made it a 39-26 Duke advantage with under 4 minutes to go.  Carolina was able to cut it to 46-36 at the half.

The lead was down to six early in the 2nd half but then Laettner penetrated and found Grant Hill for a slam.  Hurley then found Hill and Laettner for layups and the lead was back to 12.

Duke would steadily increase it as they beat Carolina’s trap for several three-point shots.  Hurley and Koubek each hit one.  Billy McCaffrey nailed a baseline jumper when a ball that was knocked away went right to him.  Hurley then nailed another three to put Duke up 67-48.

Hubert Davis would respond with North Carolina’s first three-pointer of the game.  Rice then got a three-point play on a runner off the glass.  Lynch then put back a miss after Carolina recovered several loose balls on that possession.  The lead was now down to 67-56 with 9:37 remaining.

A layup by Lynch after Davis saved a ball from going out of bounds cut the lead to 67-60 and the crowd was alive.  But Hurley silenced them with a pull-up from the elbow for his 18th point.  But he and Laettner committed their 4th fouls with under 7 minutes remaining.

But Duke slowed the tempo and Carolina could not make a run for a few minutes.  Finally, Davis got a three-point play after a steal and then Brian Reese got a steal and slam.  This cut the lead to 73-68.

Now back in the game, Laettner hit two free throws after being fouled in the back court.  Chilcutt answered with a three and the lead was down to 75-71 with 2:45 left.

Duke managed to hit 3-of-4 free throws over the next 25 seconds but Fox nailed a three and it was 78-74 with 2 minutes to go.  Duke ran down the shot clock and the ball ended up in the hands of Thomas Hill, who had been the clutch man for Duke so far this season.  Hill hit a pull-up from the baseline with 1:17 to go to put the Devils up six.

But then Hurley fouled Chilcutt on a three-point attempt with 1:08 remaining and Hurley fouled out.  Chilcutt made all three free throws.  It was a one possession game.  Carolina got a stop and had a chance to tie it with a three.

Chilcutt first bricked a trey from the top.  The Tarheels rebounded and had another chance.  But the open man ended up being freshman Derrick Phelps, who would never really become a strong shooter in his next three seasons at UNC.  Phelps airballed a three from the corner and Chilcutt fouled Koubek with 17 seconds left.  North Carolina ended up finishing 3-for-17 on three-pointers.

Koubek split his free throws but made it a two-possession game.  Thomas Hill then rebounded a missed three from Fox and hit his two free throws to seal the issue.

Duke would now be the #1 seed in the ACC tournament, which brought on unique circumstances in 1991 because Maryland was ineligible due to probation.  With still only 8 teams in the ACC (Florida State joined next season) and Maryland out, Duke got a 1st round bye while Carolina had to play Clemson.

The Tarheels got by the Tigers by only 8 points while Duke killed N.C. State in the Semifinals 93-72 to reach the championship game.  North Carolina would have to survive a tough semifinal to get its rematch with Duke.

Duke starters (points scored)

Brian Davis (5) – Small Forward

Grant Hill (16) – Power Forward

Christian Laettner (18) – Center

Bobby Hurley (18) – Point Guard

Thomas Hill (10) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Greg Koubek (10)

Billy McCaffrey (4)

Clay Buckley (2)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

North Carolina starters (points scored)

Rick Fox (14) – Small Forward

George Lynch (8) – Power Forward

Pete Chilcutt (18) – Center

King Rice (7) – Point Guard

Henrik Rodl (2) – Shooting Guard

North Carolina bench (points scored)

Hubert Davis (16)

Clifford Rozier (2)

Eric Montross (6)

Derrick Phelps (0)

Brian Reese (4)

Pat Sullivan (0)

Matt Wenstrom (0)

North Carolina Coach: Dean Smith

March 8, 1991 – ACC Quarterfinals: Virginia Cavaliers 70, Wake Forest Demon Deacons 66

On February 2, Virginia defeated Wake Forest at home 83-80.  At the time, Virginia was 5-2 in the ACC, a half a game behind Duke.  Wake Forest meanwhile was 3-4 and in 6th place.

But then things turned around for both teams.  In a stretch of 4 days, Virginia lost at Duke, North Carolina and Wake Forest.  That started a 3-6 skid to finish the season in 6th place in the ACC.

Wake Forest meanwhile steadily climbed the standings and had some big wins.  They beat Duke at home 86-77 as former Georgetown Hoya Anthony Tucker had a career-high 31 points.  Then in the final game of the season, with 3rd place on the line, Wake gave N.C. State their first home loss of the season 89-84.

Along with Tucker, 2nd year head coach Dave Odom had started to recruit some talent to Winston-Salem.  There was juniors Chris King and Derrick McQueen and senior guard Robert Siler, who was coming back from two reconstructive knee surgeries (on the same knee).

But the big recruit was a freshman and a 1990 McDonald’s All-American from Duke’s own backyard in Durham, 6’7″ 235 lb Rodney Rogers.  Rogers ended up being the ACC freshman of the year as he led Wake Forest at 16 points per game and 7.9 rebounds per game.

Wake Forest also had another freshman who would make a future impact in guard Randolph Childress.  Childress came off the bench to average 14.1 points per game (3rd on the team) and got most of point guard Derrick McQueen’s playing time in this game.  There was also big man Trelonnie Owens in the freshman class of Odom.

All had a big impact as Wake finished the ACC season at 8-6 and 18-9 overall.  But they didn’t seem to being that much buzz to Charlotte for the ACC tournament.

With this game being the last of the day (last of 3 games with Duke getting the bye), the crowd that was left was very subdued, even with the Demon Deacons being a school within the state.

This may have helped contribute to the game getting off to a slow start, but the game must continue.  Bryant Stith hit two field goals to give Virginia an 8-4 lead with over 6 minutes gone by.  But Wake came back with a 7-0 run started from a three-point play by Rogers.

This would be essentially how the game went as neither team could get too far away.  A three-point play by John Crotty capped a Virginia 5-0 run to put them up 22-17 and Rogers picked up his 2nd foul with 7:45 left in the 1st half.

But Rodney stayed in and scored 5 of Wake’s 7 points on their 7-0 run.  He later tip-slammed a miss by Siler with just his left hand.  But Virginia was able to grab a 33-30 lead when Crotty nailed a three for his 11th point.  The Cavaliers held on to a 33-32 lead at the break.

Virginia held the lead through the first 6 minutes of the 2nd half and then Rogers picked up his 4th foul and sat for 6 minutes.  It seemed like it would be an advantage to the Cavaliers but Childress hit a three to put Wake up 39-38.

Then Tucker and King made field goals and before you knew it, Wake Forest was up 46-42.  But then Bryant Stith showed up again with 5 straight points and then an assist to Crotty on a pull-up jumper to force a Wake Forest timeout.

Virginia kept its run going as Kenny Turner and Crotty made threes to increase the lead to seven.  The biggest was at 62-54 with under 4 minutes to go.  But then Rogers, who had been back in the game for several minutes, re-emerged as a scorer with a three and then a driving layup to cut the lead to 62-59.

But then with 2:43 left, Stith drove, scored and was fouled.  The three-point play made it 65-59.  But Childress nailed a three from the wing to cut it back to three with 2:29 to go.

Wake Forest would cut it to 65-64 a minute later when Tucker put back a missed turnaround jumper by Rogers.  But Virginia would get two chances after Turner offensive rebounded a quick miss by Crotty.  Crotty would then drive baseline for a layup after Virginia used the shot clock.

Wake Forest’s only attempt to tie it would be unsuccessful when Rogers missed a trey from the top.  Virginia would then salt the game away from the line and had its best win since defeating Wake Forest on February 2.

They would now take on North Carolina in the semifinals.  Wake Forest, meanwhile, would earn a #5 seed in the Southeast Regional.  They beat Louisiana Tech 71-65 before losing to 4th seeded Alabama 96-88 in the 2nd round.

But this would begin a string of 7 consecutive tournament appearances for Wake Forest, as well as lots of success in the ACC and lots of incoming talent.

Virginia starters (points scored)

Bryant Stith (14) – Small Forward

Kenny Turner (15) – Power Forward

Ted Jeffries (4) – Center

John Crotty (23) – Point Guard

Anthony Oliver (12) – Shooting Guard

Virginia bench (points scored)

Matt Blundin (2)

Cornel Parker (0)

Dirk Katstra (0)

Virginia Coach: Jeff Jones

Wake Forest starters (points scored)

Anthony Tucker (10) – Small Forward

Chris King (13) – Power Forward

Rodney Rogers (23) – Center

Derrick McQueen (4) – Point Guard

Robert Siler (0) – Shooting Guard

Wake Forest bench (points scored)

Randolph Childress (12)

Trelonnie Owens (4)

Wake Forest Coach: Dave Odom

March 9, 1991 – ACC Semifinals: Virginia Cavaliers 71, (#7)North Carolina Tarheels 76

North Carolina, after losing out on the ACC regular season title and a first round bye on the final day of the season, struggled and looked lethargic in their first round matchup against Clemson.

They won 67-59 but were hardly impressive and heard about it from coach Dean Smith.  In the first half of their semifinal game against Virginia, they looked like a top team in the nation.

Virginia had salvaged a 3-6 finish to the season by winning their quarterfinal game against Wake Forest, and perhaps locked up a tournament berth.  But they had made a run to the ACC finals in 1990 and were looking to repeat that in ’91.

They stayed with Carolina through the first 10 minutes as John Crotty scored 7 points and Bryant Stith had 6.  It was tied at 19 before North Carolina ripped off an 18-4 spurt.

The big advantages for the Tarheels were their bench (who led the spurt) and their rebound advantage (30-11 in the 1st half).  Ten of the 11 Tarheels who played, scored and all of that balance was on display during this run.  The Tarheels also held Virginia to 35% shooting in the 1st half.  Kenny Turner, the Cavaliers 3rd leading scorer, was 1-for-9.

The Tarheels took their biggest lead at 43-27 when George Lynch hit a pull-up from the baseline in transition with under a minute and a half to go in the 1st half.  A Bryant Stith field goal cut the lead to 43-29 at the half, but it ended up starting a Virginia run.

Both teams came out in the 2nd half looking different.  North Carolina looked lethargic again and Virginia got going with field goals from Stith, Anthony Oliver and Ted Jeffries.  Turner later put back a missed free throw from Crotty to cut the lead to 43-38 with over 5 minutes gone by.

The Tarheels finally got on the board after the first media timeout but then Turner did it again.  He followed up a missed free throw from Crotty to cut the lead to 45-41.  Lynch and Eric Montross each picked up their 4th fouls for the Tarheels.

North Carolina was able to keep their lead until the next media timeout but it looked to be in jeopardy after two bad calls went against them.  Before the media timeout, a foul was called on Clifford Rozier against Virginia backup Matt Blundin when they were battling on the boards.

Blundin shot 59% from the line during ACC competition.  But after coming back from the timeout, it was Stith (an 80% foul shooter) who stepped to the line.  The officials let it go despite vociferous protests from the Carolina bench (who had been called for a technical a few minutes before).  Stith made both free throws to cut the Carolina lead to 51-50.

Then a minute later, freshman Brian Reese hit a pull-up jumper in the lane and drew a foul.  But the refs called no basket as the foul was called before the shot (this was in the days before continuation in college basketball) and the Tarheels got the ball out of bounds.  However, looking at the replay, the foul definitely occurred when Reese was going up for the shot.  So it wasn’t even the bad continuation that we see today, it was a definite foul while the shooter was shooting.

Either way, Virginia missed on its one chance to grab the lead during that stretch and Carolina regained a 5-point lead when Pete Chilcutt found Eric Montross for a layup.  Virginia came back and tied the game at 61 when Stith put back a miss by Turner and drew a foul.

Stith had a chance to give Virginia the lead with a free throw but missed it.  Chilcutt then kicked out to Rick Fox for a three from the top and a 64-61 Tarheel lead.  Fox then found Lynch with a bullet feed for a layup.

UNC kept that lead and seemed to put the dagger into Virginia with under a minute to go when King Rice made a pull-up three from the top at the end of the shot clock.  This put the Heels up 72-63.  Crotty drove right back for a layup and Virginia called their last timeout with 36 seconds to go.

Lynch then turned the ball over when his inbounds bounce pass hit the out of bounds line.  Crotty then nailed a step-back three after Virginia rebounded a missed three from Stith.  Crotty fouled Rice with 18 seconds to go.

Rice made both ends of the 1-and-1 to put North Carolina up 74-68.  But then Crotty found Stith for a three to cut the lead in half.  Stith fouled Rice again with 9.1 seconds to go.  This time Rice missed the front end of the 1-and-1 and Virginia rebounded and had a chance to tie, but with no timeouts.

Crotty dribbled up the sideline into a Carolina trap and had the ball stolen from him by Rice.  Rice then found Fox for a breakaway layup at the buzzer to seal Carolina’s victory.  North Carolina would now get a rematch with Duke a week after the Blue Devils took the regular season title from UNC in Chapel Hill.

Revenge was sweet for the Tarheels.  After looking terrible against Clemson, UNC played perhaps their best game of the season against Duke and won 96-74.  The game was never close and lobsided victory helped North Carolina clinch a #1 seed in the East Regional while Duke was named a #2 seed in the Midwest.

Virginia was a #7 seed in the West Regional and lost in the 1st round to Shawn Bradley and BYU 61-48.  They would remain a relevant team over the next few seasons but couldn’t make a run in the ACC or NCAA until ’94 and ’95.

Virginia starters (points scored)

Bryant Stith (21) – Small Forward

Kenny Turner (14) – Power Forward

Ted Jeffries (4) – Center

John Crotty (23) – Point Guard

Anthony Oliver (6) – Shooting Guard

Virginia bench (points scored)

Matt Blundin (1)

Cornel Parker (2)

Doug Smith (0)

Virginia Coach: Jeff Jones

North Carolina starters (points scored)

Rick Fox (13) – Small Forward

George Lynch (10) – Power Forward

Pete Chilcutt (13) – Center

King Rice (7) – Point Guard

Hubert Davis (9) – Shooting Guard

North Carolina bench (points scored)

Eric Montross (7)

Clifford Rozier (8)

Brian Reese (2)

Derrick Phelps (5)

Henrik Rodl (2)

Pat Sullivan (0)

North Carolina Coach: Dean Smith

acc championship

Seniors King Rice and Pete Chilcutt hoist the ACC Championship trophy after UNC defeated Duke 96-74 in the ACC Final *photo courtesy of Pinterest

March 14, 1991 – East Regional 1st round: (#15)Richmond Spiders 73, (#2)Syracuse Orangemen 69

Since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, and #15 or #16 seed had never won a 1st round game.  But with Princeton almost beating Georgetown in 1989 and getting a lot of attention, one probably knew it would happen sooner or later (but you never want to be that one guy in your bracket pool that tries to predict it).

According to this 30 for 30 short, that Princeton/Georgetown game was the catalyst for CBS getting the rights to all of the NCAA tournament games.  In previous years, ESPN broadcast the 1st round games and then CBS picked up the 2nd round games on the weekend.  For 1991, that was no longer the case.

Richmond had pulled off tournament upsets before.  As a #12 seed in 1984, they defeated Charles Barkley and Auburn 72-71 in the 1st round.  As a #13 seed in 1988, they defeated defending champion Indiana 72-69 in the 1st round and Georgia Tech 59-55 in the 2nd round.

But this may have been a bit too daunting for head coach Dick Tarrant and the Spiders.  As a #14 seed in 1990, they were demolished by Duke 81-46 in the 1st round.  They still had some seniors from their 1988 team in Ken Atkinson and Scott Stapleton.

But for 1991, they were gone and nobody was left from that 1988 team.  Their only double figure scorers were junior guard Curtis Blair at 16.3 points per game and sophomore big man Kenny Wood at 14.6.

The only senior was transfer Terry Connolly, a center who had started most of the year but gave way to sophomore Tim Weathers when Tarrant needed more quickness in the starting lineup.  The two point guards were freshmen in Gerald Jarmon and Eugene Burroughs.

The 5th starter was usually Jim Springer, but after winning the MVP of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, Jim Shields earned a start against Syracuse.

The Spiders had gotten off to an unimpressive 6-7 start, including losing their first 3 CAA games.  But one of those wins was against Georgia Tech, easily their 2nd most impressive win of the season.  Richmond finished out the regular season at 12-2 and then won the CAA tournament over George Mason 81-78 with Shields leading the way with 26 points.

Syracuse perhaps had a chance to be the #1 seed in the East Regional.  But with a loss to Villanova in the Big East quarterfinals and then North Carolina dominating Duke for the ACC Championship, Syracuse had to settle for a #2 seed in North Carolina’s region.

In the pregame, Syracuse seemed perhaps a bit cocky (but how do you, as a #1 or #2 seed, guard against looking past your first opponent, who won’t look impressive on paper?).

But Richmond pulled off the first formula of an upset, they got off to a good start.  The Spiders hit 7 of their first 9 shots from the field (including 3-for-3 from Blair) and led 15-11 seven minutes into the game.

Richmond’s hot shooting would continue and they would keep the lead as a result.  Blair and Wood were leading the way as usual for Richmond, but reserves Connolly and Springer were also big factors inside.  Meanwhile, Syracuse’s lack of shooting was coming out to haunt them.

Jim Boeheim’s Orangemen did cut the lead to 31-29 when Michael Edwards hit two three-pointers.  But then Chris Fleming, Richmond’s three-point “specialist,” hit a three and, later, Connolly found Springer with a behind-the-back pass for a layup that got the crowd going.

The crowd was already in Richmond’s corner (the fact that the game was in College Park, Maryland, not too terribly far from Richmond, certainly helped too) but their play in the 1st half made it more so.  Connolly’s three-point play made it 41-32 Spiders and got the crowd going even more.

Fleming would hit his second three-pointer to make it 44-34 late in the half.  But Connolly committed his 3rd foul and Dave Johnson hit two free throws for Syracuse to cut their halftime deficit to 44-36.

Billy Owens had led the way with 9 points but the Orangemen couldn’t counter 62% 1st half shooting from Richmond.  But Syracuse picked it up to start the 2nd half as if they realized that they were in a ball game.

Adrian Autry fed LeRon Ellis for a layup that resulted in a three-point play.  Autry and Owens hit field goals to cut the lead to three.  But Richmond held them off for a few minutes and then went on another run.

Back-to-back field goals by Shields and Connolly made it 54-48 and then Dave Johnson committed his 4th foul with 11:49 left and Fleming hit two free throws.  Blair would follow with a three to make the score 59-50.

Connolly later nailed a three to put Richmond up 62-52 with under 9 minutes to go.  Richmond would then fall into a drought but Syracuse couldn’t take much of an advantage.

They only cut the lead to 64-59 when Edwards made a three with under 4 1/2 to go.  Blair then found Wood for a breakaway slam on the press break.  Owens would come back with a three but then Johnson fouled out on a reach-in with 3:51 left.

Connolly made two free throws to put the Spiders up 68-62.  At this point of the game, Syracuse almost panicked and launched terrible three-point attempts.  But Richmond couldn’t break away as Wood missed the front end of a 1-and-1.

Edwards nailed his 4th three and Owens drove for a lefty layup to cut it to 68-67 with 2:00 left.  Jarmon then missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and Syracuse had a chance for their first lead of the ballgame.

But after a timeout, Edwards missed a three and Connolly rebounded.  Eugene Burroughs, who had just come in for fellow freshman Gerald Jarmon, then found Shields for a breakaway layup with 1:09 to go.

Wood then rebounded a missed panicked three from Autry.  But Connolly made a mistake and shot a tough runner in transition instead of pulling the ball out.  Owens took advantage with a double-pump baseline jumper (a forced shot that went in) to cut the lead to 70-69.

But Syracuse had to foul as the game clock was now less than the shot clock.  They finally fouled Burroughs with 21 seconds left and the freshman made both free throws.

Owens then missed a forced three-point attempt.  Billy rebounded and Syracuse called a timeout with 8.9 seconds left.  With a chance for Boeheim to finally set a play, the Orangemen actually got a good shot.

But Edwards missed a tying three from the corner and Syracuse knocked it out of bounds as the crowd erupted.  Autry committed Syracuse’s final foul with 0.7 seconds left and Blair put the finishing touch on the first 15-seed to win an NCAA tournament game.

Syracuse would go on probation in 1992 and miss the 1993 NCAA tournament.  But within a few years, Boeheim had Syracuse’s program back on the map.

As for Richmond, they lost their 2nd round game to 10th seeded Temple 77-64.  Temple would go on to lose to top seeded North Carolina in the Regional Final as Dean Smith reached his first Final Four since 1982.

The Spiders had a better team coming back in 1992 as Connolly was the only senior in 1991.  They were 22-6 before being upset in the CAA semifinals by Old Dominion 62-58.  The Monarchs then upset James Madison in the Finals to get the CAA’s NCAA tournament bid.  As a #15 seed, they lost to Kentucky in the 1st round but would have their upset in 1995.  James Madison had to wait until 2006 but then they made their mark.

Tarrant retired following the 1993 season but Richmond would make the occasional appearance in the national spotlight.  This included an upset of Kansas in Lawrence in 2004, two weeks in the top-25 polls in 2010, and a Sweet 16 appearance in 2011.

Richmond starters (points scored)

Tim Weathers (0) – Small Forward

Kenny Wood (12) – Power Forward

Jim Shields (6) – Center

Gerald Jarmon (5) – Point Guard

Curtis Blair (18) – Shooting Guard

Richmond bench (points scored)

Terry Connolly (14)

Jim Springer (8)

Eugene Burroughs (2)

Chris Fleming (8)

Richmond Coach: Dick Tarrant

Syracuse starters (points scored)

Dave Johnson (13) – Small Forward

Billy Owens (22) – Power Forward

LeRon Ellis (12) – Center

Michael Edwards (12) – Point Guard

Adrian Autry (7) – Shooting Guard

Syracuse bench (points scored)

Conrad McRae (3)

Mike Hopkins (0)

Scott McCorkle (0)

Syracuse Coach: Jim Boeheim

keeny wood

Kenny Wood battles LeRon Ellis inside during 15 seeded Richmond’s big upset of 2 seeded Syracuse *photo courtesy of Syracuse blog

March 14, 1991 – Midwest Regional 1st round: (#14)Xavier Musketeers 89, (#3)Nebraska Cornhuskers 84

The Nebraska Cornhuskers have never been known as a basketball school.  Usually in March, spring football (or sometimes baseball) generates more interest.

But in 1991, under 5th year coach Danny Nee and a group of seniors, they rose to the occasion with a 14-game winning streak and a 3rd place finish in the Big Eight.  They also made the Final of the Big Eight Tournament and had a final ranking of 11th in the polls.

This was to be their 2nd NCAA tournament appearance and first as a higher seed.  But trouble had loomed for a #3 seed in previous NCAA tournaments.  Indiana and Notre Dame in 1986, Illinois in 1987, Stanford in 1989, and Missouri in 1990 had all lost 1st round games as 3 seeds.  It was commonplace if you were picking 1st round upsets in your bracket based on recent history that a 3 seed would lose, so why not pick the team with the least amount of NCAA experience (the other #3 seeds were Seton Hall, Kansas, and Oklahoma State – another team with no tournament experience except for their coach Eddie Sutton).

Nebraska was led in scoring by their 7’2″ 260 lb senior center Rich King.  King averaged 15.1 points per game.  He was joined up front by fellow senior Beau Reid, and juniors Tony Farmer and Carl Hayes (who was Nebraska’s leading scorer for awhile but was benched late in the year for lack of effort).

The back court had seniors Keith Moody and Clifford Scales (who looked creepily similar to Michael Jordan in everything except skin tone – similar down to the wrist band on the left elbow and calf band on the left leg).  There was also the Cornhuskers best NBA prospect in freshman Eric Piatkowski.

Xavier also had a few future NBA grinders in big men Brian Grant and Aaron Williams.  Grant was a freshman in 1991 and Williams a sophomore, so they weren’t quite on the top of Xavier’s scoring lists.

Pete Gillen and the Musketeers were led, in essence, by their three guards who started along with Grant and Williams.  Point guard Jamal Walker was the leader and gave off to shooters Jamie Gladden and Michael Davenport.  Walker and Davenport were seniors and Gladden was a sophomore.  There were also some young pieces coming off the bench in Dwayne Wilson, Maurice Brantley, and Erik Edwards.

Xavier had gone 21-9 during the season and won the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (which became the Horizon League in 2001) title.  Xavier had also pulled some recent upsets.  In 1987, as a 13-seed, they defeated Missouri in the 1st round.  Then in 1990, as a 6-seed, they defeated 3rd seeded Georgetown in the 2nd round.

After Nebraska got the first basket, Xavier ran off the next 8 points.  This culminated in a steal and three-point play by Walker.  Walker was the key factor early on as he scored 6 points and assisted on several more baskets by penetrating and kicking out to Gladden and Davenport.

His kickout to Gladden for three put the Musketeers up 17-8.  Nebraska scored the next 7 points as King had gotten free inside and scored a few buckets.  But another three from Gladden and then two field goals by Brantley off the bench put Xavier back up 25-17.

Xavier would take as much as a 12-point lead but King kept the Cornhuskers in the game and then Danny Nee switched to a zone that threw off the Musketeers offense.  Nebraska got back into it as King scored 14 1st half points.  Two free throws by Scales with 5.2 seconds left cut the Xavier halftime lead to 45-42.

While Nebraska stayed with Xavier and eventually tied it at 54 with just over 15 minutes left, they could never grab the lead for a long stretch.  Gladden and Wilson would hit big field goals to stem the tide despite Aaron Williams, Maurice Brantley, and Brian Grant picking up their 4th fouls.

But eventually, a tip-in by Hayes gave the Cornhuskers a 67-66 lead with 9:21 left.  But Walker would drive right back for a layup after a timeout, and later he found Davenport for a three to give Xavier a 74-72 lead.

They kept that lead despite Williams fouling out.  Another three by Davenport gave Xavier an 84-79 advantage with 1:54 left.  But it wasn’t quite the nail in the coffin.  Tony Farmer came back with a hook shot in the lane.

Then Davenport missed a tough driving shot against two people instead of pulling the ball back out.  With the chance to tie it on a three, Scales turned the ball over on an attempted lob.  Wilson split a pair of free throws with 47.9 seconds left.

Scales then committed another turnover and Xavier would finish the game at the free throw line.  The Musketeers moved on the play Connecticut, who had upset LSU in the 1st round.  But Xavier would fall to the Huskies 66-50.

Xavier would be a force over the next few seasons but couldn’t advance beyond the 2nd round.  Pete Gillen left for Providence after Grant’s senior season in 1994.  Xavier would then prove to be a stepping stone for their next few coaches as Skip Prosser, Thad Matta, and Sean Miller coached there before going off to big time programs.  But the Musketeers have made consistent NCAA tournament appearances over the last 30 years.

The same cannot be said for Nebraska.  The Cornhuskers still have yet to win an NCAA tournament game and their #3 seed in the 1991 tournament may have been the best accomplishment in the history of their basketball program.  But hey, they still have football… sometimes.

Xavier starters (points scored)

Jamie Gladden (20) – Small Forward

Brian Grant (15) – Power Forward

Aaron Williams (4) – Center

Jamal Walker (18) – Point Guard

Michael Davenport (17) – Shooting Guard

Xavier bench (points scored)

Dwayne Wilson (5)

Maurice Brantley (6)

Erik Edwards (2)

Colin Parker (2)

Xavier Coach: Pete Gillen

Nebraska starters (points scored)

Tony Farmer (15) – Small Forward

Beau Reid (6) – Power Forward

Rich King (25) – Center

Keith Moody (2) – Point Guard

Clifford Scales (12) – Shooting Guard

Nebraska bench (points scored)

Carl Hayes (15)

Eric Piatkowski (9)

Dapreis Owens (0)

Nebraska Coach: Danny Nee

March 16, 1991 – Midwest Regional 2nd round: (#7)Iowa Hawkeyes 70, (#2)Duke Blue Devils 85

In 1990, the Iowa Hawkeyes went 12-16 and Dr. Tom Davis was under the gun as one wondered whether or not he could recruit and develop his own players (as opposed to winning with George Raveling’s recruits his first 3 seasons).

He gave an answer in 1991 as the Hawkeyes got off to an 11-1 start.  But there wasn’t much competition and once the Big Ten season started, Iowa was up-and-down.  But they got some big wins late in the year to help their NCAA tournament case.  They beat Indiana 80-79 in Bloomington as junior guard James Moses tipped in a miss at the buzzer.  Then they finished out the season by beating a suddenly struggling Ohio State team 80-69.

Then in the 1st round of the NCAA tournament, the Hawkeyes beat a good East Tennessee State team that was coming at 28-4 but hadn’t played much competition.  Iowa had to come back against the Buccaneers and win 76-73 as Moses, Acie Earl and Troy Skinner led the way.

Moses and Skinner were the pair of back court juniors that led Davis’ offense.  Moses was the scorer, Skinner the point man.  Iowa’s only future NBA player was center Acie Earl.  Earl had been starting most of the season, but pled guilty to simple misdemeanor assault charges in February.  He was not suspended by Iowa, but he was “disciplined within the team framework” and lost his starting job.

Taking Earl’s spots in the starting lineup were a pair of freshmen in James Winters and Chris Street.  Alongside them in the front court was junior Rodell Davis, who had been playing well and was a big key in their win against East Tennessee State as well.

Another pair of freshmen in Val Barnes and Kevin Smith came off the bench in the back court.  Iowa had no seniors and were looking forward to a big 1992 season.  With that being said, it was possible that the Hawkeyes were content with getting to the 2nd round to play against Duke with a young team after their 1990 season.

The Blue Devils were trying to recover from a 96-74 shellacking at the hands of North Carolina in the ACC Championship Game.  The loss took Duke out of the East Regional for the first time since 1987 and took them out of a #1 seed.  They played sluggishly in the 1st half of their 1st round game against 15th seeded Louisiana-Monroe before turning it on in the 2nd half and making the game a rout.

They continued their strong play in the first 5 minutes against Iowa.  Thomas Hill got a steal and a breakaway three-point play to put Duke up 8-2.  Grant Hill followed with a pull-up jumper in the lane.

Later, after buckets by Christian Laettner and Billy McCaffrey to put Duke up 15-5, Davis called a timeout with 14:33 left.  The timeout seemed to help as Iowa got back into the game.

Rodell Davis had 9 points early on and Earl hit a hook shot in the lane to cut the lead to three.  The closest Iowa got was 22-20 after Kevin Smith got a steal and James Moses hit a pull-up jumper in transition.

But Iowa could never curtail Duke with their full-court trapping pressure defense.  The Blue Devils threw over the top of it and got fast break buckets.  On the other hand, Duke’s pressure forced 16 first half turnovers from the Hawkeyes.

Iowa closed to within 31-28 with just over 4 minutes left in the 1st half.  But then Duke broke the press and Grant Hill got a slam.  Brian Davis followed with a pull-up jumper on the baseline to force Dr. Tom Davis to use a timeout.

It didn’t help this time.  Duke broke the press again and Davis got a slam.  Grant Hill later got a layup on a 3-on-2 break.  Then to add the final icing on the cake for the 1st half, Duke’s only senior who got playing time, Greg Koubek, followed up his own miss at the buzzer to give the Blue Devils a 44-29 halftime advantage.

The 13-1 run to finish the half pretty much finished off Iowa.  Duke came out strong in the 2nd half and built their lead to as much as 20.  The closest the Hawkeyes could get was 12 after Laettner picked up his 4th foul with 8:17 left and Duke went to a really small lineup.

But Bobby Hurley scored his first two points of the game on a pull-up from the top to give Duke a 73-59 lead and they would coast for the rest of the way.  Although Hurley had struggled in shooting the ball, he handed out 8 assists.  Most of which came after breaking Iowa’s pressure defense and finding people for layups.

Duke had 4 people in double figures and Koubek and Davis had 9 and 8, respectively, to balance the Duke scoring.  They were playing well again after their loss to North Carolina.

They would now play UConn in the Sweet 16.  It was a rematch of their epic 1990 Regional Final clash, and emotions were certainly high at some points of this game.

Iowa starters (points scored)

Rodell Davis (11) – Small Forward

Chris Street (5) – Power Forward

James Winters (2) – Center

Troy Skinner (7) – Point Guard

James Moses (23) – Shooting Guard

Iowa bench (points scored)

Acie Earl (15)

Val Barnes (4)

Kevin Smith (1)

Jay Webb (2)

Iowa Coach: Dr. Tom Davis

Duke starters (points scored)

Greg Koubek (9) – Small Forward

Grant Hill (14) – Power Forward

Christian Laettner (19) – Center

Bobby Hurley (4) – Point Guard

Thomas Hill (17) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Billy McCaffrey (10)

Brian Davis (8)

Antonio Lang (1)

Crawford Palmer (2)

Marty Clark (1)

Christian Ast (0)

Clay Buckley (0)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

March 17, 1991 – Midwest Regional 2nd round: (#8)Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 61, (#1)Ohio State Buckeyes 65

Georgia Tech had concluded an up-and-down ACC season with three straight losses, including a defeat to N.C. State in the 1st round of the ACC tournament.  It was almost certain that Kenny Anderson would go to the NBA, and the pressure of carrying the Yellow Jackets (as well as having to dodge NBA questions throughout the season) was getting to him.  He had a bald spot in the back of his head.

But Anderson put it together with 31 points in an 87-70 win against DePaul in the 1st round of the Midwest Regional.  Jon Barry contributed with 22 points and the other three starters (Bryan Hill, Malcolm Mackey, and Matt Geiger) had also played well.

Ohio State had managed to hold on to the Big Ten title and a #1 seed despite losing their last two games of the regular season at Purdue and Iowa.  And with being the #1 seed, they got sent to nearby Dayton, where they defeated Towson 97-86 in the 1st round.

Mark Baker had continued to play through an ankle that he sprained against Indiana and was starting to come back to form.  But his big test would be against Kenny Anderson.

Georgia Tech started off quickly as Barry got a short runner after the opening tip was controlled by Tech.  Barry then found Anderson on a 3-on-2 break for a layup.  But Georgia Tech could not extend its lead despite the Buckeyes going scoreless for the first 3 minutes.  Finally, Treg Lee found Jim Jackson on a cut for a layup and Ohio State was on the board.

Georgia Tech led through the first 8 minutes but their biggest lead would be 13-7 after Mackey hit a turnaround jumper.  Jim Jackson’s tip-in on Ohio State’s 4th attempt of the possession gave the Buckeyes a 17-16 lead with over 11 minutes left.  Bryan Hill drove right back and was called for an offensive foul.

This was followed by a technical from Bobby Cremins and a Georgia Tech scoreless drought that didn’t end for 4 minutes.  Anderson was leading the way in the drought as he started 1-for-8 from the field.  But Ohio State could only grab a 24-16 advantage.

Anderson finally led Tech back by hitting three of his next four field goals to cut Ohio State’s lead to 27-26.  But then Chris Jent nailed a three and Jackson found Lee with a no-look pass for a slam.

The Buckeyes then picked up an extra two points at the end of the half when they got a stop with 5 seconds left and Jackson pushed the ball ahead to Baker for a breakaway layup at the buzzer.  This gave the Buckeyes a 36-28 halftime lead.

Ohio State’s main advantage had been inside, where Jackson, Lee and Perry Carter had been pounding away at the boards for a 11-2 offensive rebound advantage in the 1st half.  Their pressure defense had also forced the Georgia Tech drought and forced Anderson to hurry a lot of shots.

Anderson got a little help at the start of the 2nd half as Matt Geiger got two layups off feeds from Anderson and Barry.  Anderson then broke the press for a coast-to-coast three-point play to cut the lead to 38-35.  But then Geiger committed his 4th foul on an offensive foul and that help was gone.

Carter scored 6 straight Buckeye points, all off offensive rebounds.  Ohio State then took a 48-38 lead when freshman Jamie Skelton got a steal off the press and Jackson found Lee for a slam.

But the Buckeyes just couldn’t put Georgia Tech away.  They hung around until Anderson got hot again and scored 6 straight points.  Mackey then found Barry on a cut for a reverse layup to cut the lead to 57-55.  Baker hit a free throw to get the lead to three with just over 3 minutes left.

Nobody would score for the next 2 1/2 minutes as Anderson missed three straight jumpers and was now 8-for-27 from the field.  But Anderson got a 4th chance and was fouled on a forced shot with 32.4 seconds left.  But he split the free throws and the miss proved to be huge.

Anderson fouled Jamaal Brown, who hit two free throws to make the score 60-56.  Then after Barry drove down the lane for a layup and Tech used their last timeout, Jackson nailed two free throws.  Anderson then punctuated his afternoon with a final miss and Perry Carter, who was 1-for-6 on the line that day, hit two more free throws.

The final nail in the coffin came after Hill hit a three and Tech tried to call a timeout.  But they were out of them and Jackson hit a technical free throw with 0.8 seconds left to set the final margin.

Despite Ohio State’s win, one was a little worried with the manner in which they let Georgia Tech hang around (scoring only 10 points in a 12-minute stretch).

The little worry would rear its ugly head in the Regional Semifinals against St. John’s.  Although the Buckeyes never had any chance to put that game away as St. John’s led big throughout, the one thing Ohio State could count on was their defense and the Red Men tore it to shreds by shooting 63% from the field.

The biggest Ohio State culprit was St. John’s point guard Jason Buchanan, who had 14 points, 9 assists, 1 turnover, and 6 steals.  Ohio State would be back next year without Perry Carter and Treg Lee, but would get a better shot at the Final Four.

Kenny Anderson did end up going to the NBA but Georgia Tech would make an NCAA tournament run in 1992 (including a magic moment that is still replayed) and an ACC tournament run in 1993.

Georgia Tech starters (points scored)

Jon Barry (9) – Small Forward

Malcolm Mackey (10) – Power Forward

Matt Geiger (6) – Center

Kenny Anderson (25) – Point Guard

Bryan Hill (9) – Shooting Guard

Georgia Tech bench (points scored)

Ivano Newbill (2)

Brian Domalik (0)

Georgia Tech Coach: Bobby Cremins

Ohio State starters (points scored)

Jim Jackson (16) – Small Forward

Treg Lee (9) – Power Forward

Perry Carter (19) – Center

Mark Baker (6) – Point Guard

Jamaal Brown (4) – Shooting Guard

Ohio State bench (points scored)

Chris Jent (5)

Bill Robinson (4)

Jamie Skelton (2)

Tom Brandewie (0)

Ohio State Coach: Randy Ayers

March 17, 1991 – West Regional 2nd round: (#8)Georgetown Hoyas 54, (#1)UNLV Runnin’ Rebels 62

For UNLV, this was probably their biggest test of 1991 so far.  The 31-0 Rebels certainly would have been one of the top teams in the country anyway, but one did wonder if they’d still be undefeated had they consistently played conference opponents to the caliber of Georgetown.  On the other hand, they may be undefeated but wouldn’t be averaging a margin of victory around 30 points per game.

They continued to blow away the competition in the Big West and won their conference tournament.  They then defeated Montana 99-65 in the 1st round of the NCAA’s.  But center George Ackles sprained the top of his foot and was limited.  He would be limited against Georgetown as well but may have been limited healthy too.  UNLV had certainly not played the caliber of Georgetown’s twin towers in Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo in awhile.

It even took All-American Larry Johnson a few possessions to adjust as his first few shots were blocked.  Georgetown had rebounded from a near disastrous Big East season by making the finals of their conference tournament.  Georgetown led the country in field goal percentage defense but were not a good shooting team.  UNLV was in the top 5 in field goal percentage defense, and each team’s prowess at that end showed.

Georgetown actually got off to the better start, to the delight of many fans at McKale Center in Tucson, Arizona.  Freshman Charlie Harrison followed up a miss by fellow freshman Robert Churchwell.  Harrison then lobbed it to Mutombo for a slam in transition.

UNLV missed their first 4 shots before Greg Anthony connected on a corner jumper.  A slam by Mourning gave Georgetown their last lead at 8-6 before UNLV went on a 7-0 run and Mourning picked up 2 fouls.

Still, a reverse layup by Mutombo cut the lead to 13-11 before Larry Johnson got a three-point play on a third shot.  Then Greg Anthony took over on the court and in the trash-talking department.  Anthony hit a runner in transition and then drew a foul from Brian Kelly as Kelly was running up the floor.

Later, Anthony stole a pass and hit a finger roll to put the Rebels ahead 22-11.  Elmore Spencer, Ackles’ replacement, followed with one of his 6 blocked shots and Anderson Hunt finished on a breakaway.  Stacey Augmon then put back a Hunt miss to increase the UNLV lead to 26-11 with 6:23 left and make it look like every other UNLV game.

But then John Thompson switched to a zone on defense and slowed the game down considerably on offense.  Georgetown went on an 8-0 run over the next three minutes before Spencer hit a jumper from the foul line.  Then disaster struck for the Hoyas with 9 seconds left when Mourning picked up his 3rd foul on Augmon.  Stacey made a free throw to put UNLV ahead 29-19 at the half.

Georgetown came out quickly to start the 2nd half by scoring the first 6 points.  But Larry Johnson would twice answer Hoya buckets with fall-away jumpers in the lane.  Then Mourning committed his 4th foul on a charge and Johnson, his future teammate with the Charlotte Hornets, hit a corner three and then a finger roll.  UNLV was back up 38-27 with 15:41 left.

The Rebels would increase that lead to 44-29 when Anthony penetrated and found Johnson for a slam.  John Thompson had to use a timeout with 13:49 to go.  But Georgetown would make another run over the next 2 1/2 minutes.

Freshman Lamont Morgan hit a scoop shot in the lane.  Charlie Harrison followed with a three.  Mutombo followed up his own miss on the break and then Mourning hit a free throw.  It was back to 44-37 and Jerry Tarkanian had to use a timeout.

It didn’t help immediately as Mutombo hit a hook shot in the lane to cut the lead to 44-40.  The Hoyas had a chance to cut further into the lead but Churchwell, another Hoya freshman who would finish 1-for-10 from the field in this game, missed a layup.  Johnson then followed up a miss by Spencer to break the Rebels’ drought.

Hunt would later nail a three and then get a breakaway layup after a non-call of a foul after a UNLV defender jumped into Harrison as he pump faked.  Anthony would then find Augmon on a 3-on-2 break for a slam and UNLV led 53-42.

But Georgetown, again, would not go away as they cut it to 53-48 with 3:00 left on a banker by Morgan.  But then Mourning committed his 5th foul on a reach-in against Larry Johnson.  Johnson then taunted him and got called for a technical.

The score was 55-50 after Johnson made both ends of his 1-and-1 and then Harrison made both technical free throws.  Georgetown would then get the ball with under 2 minutes remaining.  But they turned it over as a pass went through Mutombo’s hands.

That would turn out to be the last chance for Georgetown as UNLV put it away from the line.  The Rebels had handled what was probably their biggest test so far.  They would go on to defeat Utah and Seton Hall by double digit margins in the Regional to go into their second straight Final Four undefeated at 34-0 against a familiar opponent.

Georgetown starters (points scored)

Robert Churchwell (2) – Small Forward

Alonzo Mourning (7) – Power Forward

Dikembe Mutombo (16) – Center

Joey Brown (7) – Point Guard

Charlie Harrison (9) – Shooting Guard

Georgetown bench (points scored)

Brian Kelly (1)

Ronnie Thompson (6)

Lamont Morgan (6)

Pascal Fleury (0)

Georgetown Coach: John Thompson

UNLV starters (points scored)

Stacey Augmon (9) – Small Forward

Larry Johnson (20) – Power Forward

George Ackles (2) – Center

Greg Anthony (15) – Point Guard

Anderson Hunt (14) – Shooting Guard

UNLV bench (points scored)

Elmore Spencer (2)

H Waldman (0)

Evric Gray (0)

UNLV Coach: Jerry Tarkanian

anderson hunt

Anderson Hunt and UNLV survived their biggest test so far against Georgetown and entered the Final Four at 34-0 *photo courtesy of Central Maine

March 22, 1991 – Midwest Regional Semifinals: (#11)Connecticut Huskies 67, (#2)Duke Blue Devils 81

These two teams faced off in a classic in the 1990 NCAA tournament.  There was perhaps still some bad blood at least from the UConn end from how that game ended.

Scott Burrell and Brian Davis almost got into a few scraps, and then Rod Sellers and Christian Laettner started to push each other and talk more and more.  Then this happened.

Sellers would not get a technical or personal foul for this play, but he would later receive a technical after committing his 5th foul and then trying to talk to Laettner while Christian turned away and didn’t respond.

This would end up being the highlight of their rematch in 1991 as the rest of the game was ultimately decided early.

UConn had upset LSU in the 1st round before beating back 14th seeded Xavier, both victories were blowouts.  UConn had effectively used their trapping defense in both wins, but backed off early on against Duke.  This didn’t turn out to be a wise strategy.

Thomas Hill hit two three-pointers and Greg Koubek hit another as Duke took an early 14-4 lead.  And although UConn went on an 8-0 run to cut the lead back to 16-15, you never really got the sense that the Huskies were as into the game as Duke was.

Koubek and Bobby Hurley hit threes, Hurley went coast-to-coast for a layup and, later, found Laettner on an inbounds pass for a layup and a foul.  The Huskies were ice cold in this stretch and scored 1 point in about 7 minutes of action.

Meanwhile, Hurley hit another three and then Koubek penetrated and kicked out to Thomas Hill for a wing jumper and a foul.  This put Duke ahead 38-20.

Hill and Koubek led the way for Duke with 11 points in the 1st half.  Koubek, in fact, had perhaps the best game in his Duke career as he scored 18 points, pulled down 5 rebounds and seemed to be everywhere defensively.

Duke led 44-27 at the half and would only be challenged slightly in the 2nd half.  John Gwynn scored 8 straight points to cut the Duke lead to 55-46.  But Koubek, who had hit a three-pointer to thwart off a UConn rally earlier in the 2nd half, drove the lane and hit a running banker while drawing a foul.

This put Duke up 60-47 and the margin stayed at about that point for the rest of the game as Sellers and Burrell fouled out for UConn.  Burrell’s undoing came after a steal and a breakaway that could have cut Duke’s lead to 10 with just over 4 minutes left.  But the officials called Burrell for a charge, much to the chagrin of Jim Calhoun and the UConn faithful.  That was the final straw.

The Huskies would look forward to 1992 with Chris Smith, Scott Burrell, Toraino Walker, and Rod Sellers coming back along with a recruiting class that included Donyell Marshall and Kevin Ollie.

Duke, meanwhile, would demolish St. John’s 78-61 in the Regional Final as Bobby Hurley, who had struggled shooting at the beginning of the tournament, led the way with 20 points.  It would be Lou Carnesecca’s last hurrah as he retired following the 1992 season.

Duke was in the Final Four for the 4th straight season and 5th time in 6 years.  They would get the rematch they had been waiting a year for, although nobody thought they could beat the undefeated UNLV Runnin’ Rebels.

Connecticut starters (points scored)

Scott Burrell (11) – Small Forward

Toraino Walker (5) – Power Forward

Rod Sellers (6) – Center

Steve Pikiell (3) – Point Guard

Chris Smith (16) – Shooting Guard

Connecticut bench (points scored)

John Gwynn (16)

Lyman DePriest (0)

Dan Cyrulik (7)

Marc Suhr (2)

Oliver Macklin (1)

Connecticut Coach: Jim Calhoun

Duke starters (points scored)

Greg Koubek (18) – Small Forward

Grant Hill (3) – Power Forward

Christian Laettner (19) – Center

Bobby Hurley (12) – Point Guard

Thomas Hill (13) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Billy McCaffrey (7)

Brian Davis (5)

Crawford Palmer (2)

Antonio Lang (0)

Marty Clark (2)

Clay Buckley (0)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

March 23, 1991 – Southeast Regional Finals: (#3)Kansas Jayhawks 93, (#1)Arkansas Razorbacks 81

Under third-year coach Roy Williams, the Kansas Jayhawks had come into the 1991 season unranked.  They had lost seniors Kevin Pritchard, Jeff Gueldner and Rick Calloway from their 1990 team and Pekka Markkanen decided to stay in Finland and not return for his senior season at KU.

This took out only 4 of the 5 starters for Williams.  Senior center Mark Randall was the only one returning.  Randall would be surrounded by a bunch of no-names, at least that’s how they were advertised pregame against Arkansas.

More specifically, it was a team of no stars but a bunch of good college players (no breakthrough NBA prospects).  Randall was flanked in the starting lineup by senior Mike Maddox (the only player remaining that played in their 1988 National Championship victory, Randall was red-shirted that year), junior Alonzo Jamison, and, in the backcourt, senior “Downtown” Terry Brown and sophomore Adonis Jordan.

Four of those guys, minus Maddox, all averaged in double figures with Brown leading the way at 16.4.  The bench consisted of a bunch of freshmen.  There was forwards Richard Scott and Patrick Richey, along with guard Steve Woodberry.  Junior center David Johanning backed up Randall and senior forward Kirk Wagner got some minutes inside as well.  Both were JC transfers.  The best guy off the bench, at least for the Regional, was troubled junior Sean Tunstall.

Tunstall had been academically ineligible for his first two seasons and then would be dismissed from the team before his senior season for violations of team and departmental policies.  He would plead guilty to one count of selling cocaine in 1993 and was shot and killed in a parking lot of a St. Louis Recreational Center in 1997.

But for a brief, shining moment (now it sounds like an old VH1 Behind the Music documentary) Tunstall had it all.  He was a big factor in Kansas’ Regional Semifinal upset of Indiana with 15 points off the bench.  He would contribute more against Arkansas.

Kansas started off 9-4 before going on a 10-game winning streak to get into the polls.  They would get as high as 8th before losing at Colorado.  The Jayhawks finished tied for 1st in the Big 8 and lost to Nebraska in the tournament semifinals.  But they got rewarded with a 3-seed in a tough Midwest Regional.  The top two seeds had been ranked in the top 10 all season and the top 5 for most of it in Arkansas and Indiana.

But after beating New Orleans and Pitt in the first two rounds, Kansas took care of Indiana in a big way, 83-65.  Terry Brown led the way with 23 points and 4 three-pointers, Tunstall was right behind him at 15 points and 2 threes.

Arkansas had only lost once since going down against UNLV in a #1 vs. #2 matchup.  That was on the final game of the regular season at Texas.  But they got their revenge in the SWC championship game with a 120-89 victory.  Arkansas had dominated the Southwest Conference and was getting ready to move to the SEC for next season.

The Razorbacks then polished off Georgia State, Arizona State and Alabama (the Arizona State was the only close-ish game).  They looked poised for their second straight Final Four and continued to look that way in the 1st half against KU.

Isaiah Morris, Arkansas’ 5th leading scorer in the starting lineup, hit the first 7 Razorback points before Todd Day nailed a three to give the Hogs a 10-2 lead.  Day would later hit another three but Kansas stayed in it thanks to the inside power of Alonzo Jamison.

This helped the Jayhawks come back and tie the game at 22 on a Maddox jumper with 8 minutes to go in the 1st half.  KU even took a 29-27 lead when Terry Brown nailed a three.  But Arkansas would use its “40 minutes of hell” pressure and strong offensive boardwork to take the advantage again.

Morris put back a miss and Day got a three-point play in transition after a steal.  This would kick off a 15-0 (and 18-2) Arkansas run, led by Day, who would finish the 1st half with 21 points.  The Razorbacks held a 47-35 halftime lead.

But pretty immediately in the 2nd half, Kansas looked like a different team.  Terry Brown scored on a backdoor cut and then a breakaway layup.  Jamison would hit a three to cut it to 47-43 and force Nolan Richardson to use a timeout with 17:47 left.

Kansas would keep its momentum going and eventually tie the game at 51 on two free throws from Tunstall.  Ernie Murry, a senior who started out as a walk-on for Arkansas, nailed a three but Mark Randall came back with a three-point play on a putback.

Arkansas still showed off its inside power to a point as Oliver Miller got two layups off lob passes.  Day then put back a miss to put Arkansas ahead 62-57 at the 11:51 mark.

But then Kansas went on an 8-0 run despite Brown and Randall picking up their 4th fouls and having to sit down.  Jamison led the way during that stretch as he scored 9 of KU’s next 13 points.  Miller kept Arkansas alive before he re-aggravated a previous groin injury going after a rebound and had to sit for a few minutes.

Kansas ended up getting the rebound where Miller was hurt and Jordan pushed it up and found Tunstall for a corner three that put the Jayhawks up 75-68 with 4:13 to go.

Miller would come back in and stem the tide for a minute with a layup but Kansas, who wasn’t a good foul-shooting team, kept being sent to the line and kept making their free throws.

This kept Arkansas from getting any closer, plus the Razorbacks had gone cold from the outside for a while and Miller couldn’t keep them in the game for the final few minutes.

The final straw would come when an intentional foul was called on Murry with 1:10 left.  Tunstall made those two free throws and Kansas would take as much as a 16-point lead in the final minute.  That meant the game had a 30-point turnaround.

Kansas would be the cinderella of the Final Four and Roy Williams would get a chance to take on his mentor in the first Semifinal Game as Kansas took on Dean Smith and North Carolina.

Kansas starters (points scored)

Alonzo Jamison (26) – Small Forward

Mike Maddox (8) – Power Forward

Mark Randall (10) – Center

Adonis Jordan (14) – Point Guard

Terry Brown (11) – Shooting Guard

Kansas bench (points scored)

Sean Tunstall (11)

Steve Woodberry (6)

Richard Scott (3)

Kirk Wagner (4)

Patrick Richey (0)

David Johanning (0)

Kansas Coach: Roy Williams

Arkansas starters (points scored)

Todd Day (26) – Small Forward

Isaiah Morris (11) – Power Forward

Oliver Miller (16) – Center

Lee Mayberry (7) – Point Guard

Arlyn Bowers (3) – Shooting Guard

Arkansas bench (points scored)

Ernie Murry (14)

Ron Huery (2)

Roosevelt Wallace (2)

Clyde Fletcher (0)

Arkansas Coach: Nolan Richardson

KU_Arkansas_1991_Randall2_t300

Mark Randall scores over Oliver Miller as Kansas upset Arkansas to make it to the 1991 Final Four *photo courtesy of KU sports

March 30, 1991 – National Semifinal: (#3)Kansas Jayhawks 79, (#1)North Carolina Tarheels 73

The Final Four was underway with a student vs. teacher matchup.  Kansas Coach Roy Williams had been Dean Smith’s assistant at North Carolina from 1978-1988 before he replaced Larry Brown at Kansas.

Williams had been on the staff the last time North Carolina reached a Final Four, when they won the National Championship in 1982.  Smith had been an player at Kansas when they won the 1952 National Championship, and was cheering for Kansas from the Air Force when these two teams played the greatest NCAA championship game in 1957, a 54-53 triple overtime UNC winner.

So each coach was coaching against their alma mater.  Williams got the Jayhawks off to a quicker start as Adonis Jordan hit a three and Alonzo Jamison, Mark Randall and Mike Maddox each got layups for a 9-4 Jayhawks lead.

But Hubert Davis ignited a Carolina run with a three-point play and then a breakaway slam to tie the game at 9.  The Tarheels then went to their big advantage in the inside game, freshman Eric Montross got two layups.  Fellow freshman Brian Reese then got a basket on a goaltending call on Jamison.

North Carolina was now on an 11-0 run but couldn’t increase it as each team went into a 2-minute drought.  Kansas then broke their 4 1/2 minute drought when Jordan found freshman Richard Scott for a layup.

Scott’s inside play kept Kansas in it for the next few minutes but then Rick Fox scored 7 straight points to put UNC up 24-15.  But Scottgot another layup and then two free throws to bring his total to 10 points.

Maddox’s banker from the post cut the Tarheels lead to 29-24.  Then Jamison got a layup after a baseline drop-step.  Maddox’s baseline jumper tied it at 29 and then Terry Brown’s three put the Jayhawks ahead for good.

Mark Randall then got going with two tip-ins and two free throws as Kansas took a 39-30 lead.  This run was helped by a technical called on Dean Smith after Pete Chilcutt picked up his 3rd foul.

Kansas would end up ahead 43-34 at halftime.

But North Carolina started out strong in the 2nd half as George Lynch scored 5 points and King Rice got a breakaway layup.  But Jamison and Randall kept Kansas ahead with their power game inside.  Scott then hit a banker to give Kansas a 53-43 lead.

But then Jamison picked up his 4th foul with about 15 minutes left and not only was Kansas without their strong man inside, but they were without their best defender who had held Rick Fox to 3 field goals so far.

Lynch and Davis led Carolina on a 10-2 run to cut the lead back to 55-53 with under 11 minutes left.  Carolina would, on three separate possessions, have a chance to tie it or take the lead.  But each time, jumpers from Fox would roll off the rim.  Even without Jamison guarding him, Rick Fox wouldn’t be able to buy a basket in the 2nd half.

Fox then committed his 4th foul with about 7 minutes left and Carolina still only trailing 58-57.  Jamison came back in.  Then Jordan rebounded his own missed three-pointer and kicked out to Sean Tunstall, a hero of the Regionals, for a big three from the top.  This trey killed any momentum Carolina had and the Jayhawks were off and running.

Randall found Scott for a layup and then Jordan got a layup after a steal from Jamison.  Smith had to use a timeout with about 5 1/2 minutes to go and Kansas now up 65-57.

It didn’t help as Jordan hit a double-pump runner in the lane to give Kansas their biggest lead at 10.  Carolina would try to make a run but missed several key free throws.  Freshmen Reese and Derrick Phelps missed three and King Rice split a pair.

Rice, Fox, and Chilcutt, North Carolina’s seniors, each had a bad day shooting from the field.  None worse than Rick Fox, who put up a 5-for-22 shooting afternoon and was 0-for-9 on threes.  Usually on stages where seniors come through, UNC’s did not.

The Tarheels were able to cut it back to 76-71 when Fox fouled out with 35 seconds to play.  The game’s end and, perhaps Kansas’ victory, would be marred by the following event.

Dean Smith walked Fox’s replacement, Kenny Harris, to the score’s table and accordingly asked referee Pete Pavia how much time he had to substitute the player.  Pavia hit Smith with a technical for leaving the coach’s box and Smith was ejected because this was his 2nd technical.

It was only the second time a coach had been thrown out of a Final Four game and the third time Smith had been ejected in his 30 years at UNC.  Although embarrassed, Smith shook hands with Williams and the entire Kansas bench before being escorted to the locker room.

It was a bitter end for North Carolina but for Kansas, the no-name Jayhawks, they were one game away from their 2nd unlikely National title in 4 years.

Kansas starters (points scored)

Alonzo Jamison (9) – Small Forward

Mike Maddox (10) – Power Forward

Mark Randall (16) – Center

Adonis Jordan (16) – Point Guard

Terry Brown (3) – Shooting Guard

Kansas bench (points scored)

Sean Tunstall (5)

Richard Scott (14)

Patrick Richey (4)

Steve Woodberry (2)

David Johanning (0)

Kirk Wagner (0)

Kansas Coach: Roy Williams

North Carolina starters (points scored)

Rick Fox (13) – Small Forward

George Lynch (13) – Power Forward

Pete Chilcutt (4) – Center

King Rice (5) – Point Guard

Hubert Davis (25) – Shooting Guard

North Carolina bench (points scored)

Eric Montross (6)

Brian Reese (5)

Derrick Phelps (2)

Henrik Rodl (0)

Clifford Rozier (0)

Kenny Harris (0)

Pat Sullivan (0)

North Carolina Coach: Dean Smith

30 MAR 1991: Kansas University guard Sean Tunstall (22) and North Carolina forward Rick Fox (44) and guard Hubert Davis (40) reach for the loose ball during the NCAA National Basketball Championship semifinal game at the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis, IN. Kansas defeated North Carolina 79-73. Rich Clarkson/NCAA Photos.

30 MAR 1991: Kansas University guard Sean Tunstall (22) and North Carolina forward Rick Fox (44) and guard Hubert Davis (40) reach for the loose ball during the NCAA National Basketball Championship semifinal game at the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis, IN. Kansas defeated North Carolina 79-73. Rich Clarkson/NCAA Photos.

March 30, 1991 – National Semifinal: (#2)Duke Blue Devils 79, (#1)UNLV Runnin’ Rebels 77

So what happens when the same two teams were involved in the biggest blowout in National Championship Game history the previous year, you get one of the best games in Final Four history.

This was after a week in which Duke was hearing all about how they had no chance and that UNLV was the best college team ever.  The Rebels had 2 of their 34 victories in single digits, but there was perhaps some vulnerability popping up in the tournament.

After a tough win against Georgetown in which the Rebels actually had to make some key free throws in the last minute, they had to go to the amoeba zone against Utah to finally blow open that game and then were challenged for a half by Seton Hall in the Regional Finals.

But still, a big run at the start of the 2nd half keyed a 77-65 victory against the Pirates.  But UNLV was actually seeing what it was like to go against quality opponents from quality conferences.

Coach K had assured everyone that Duke was a much tougher team than in 1990.  Duke had won some tough road games at Oklahoma, Georgia Tech and North Carolina.  They had also taken their lumps on the road against Virginia, N.C. State and Wake Forest.  The Devils also saw what could happen if they came out flat when they were blown out in the championship game of the 1991 ACC tournament.

All of this builds character.  Duke had not been seriously challenged in the NCAA tournament so far.

But the big factor for the Blue Devils early on was the intimidation factor that UNLV had set on so many opponents.  Duke needed to get off to a good start and they did.

Grant Hill got a hustle layup off the opening tip.  Christian Laettner nailed a three after Anderson Hunt nailed a high-arcing trey.  Hill got another layup in transition when Bobby Hurley found him with a bounce pass through traffic.

Laettner then hit two free throws, got a layup off a feed from Grant Hill and then hit another banker inside.  Duke had made their first 5 shots and when Grant Hill hit a pull-up jumper in the lane after going 1-on-1 against Larry Johnson, the Blue Devils led 15-6.

Duke had to sacrifice a bit defensively as Greg Koubek went man-to-man against Larry Johnson down low, but Christian Laettner helped off of George Ackles and Koubek effectively bodied Johnson to the point that he couldn’t get the ball much and when he did, he was quickly doubled.

On offense, Duke had Grant Hill and Laettner at the 4 and 5 positions.  They effectively brought Johnson and Ackles out of the paint which led to more penetration and also highlighted the fact that Johnson and Ackles weren’t used to playing outside.  Hill and Laettner took advantage early on.

But then Jerry Tarkanian switched his defense to the amoeba.  It proved to be effective as Duke couldn’t get any good shots.  On offense, Greg Anthony started to penetrate and got some shots.  When he, or someone else, missed, the Rebels dominated the offensive boards.

Johnson, Ackles, Anthony, and Stacey Augmon each got putbacks as UNLV tied the game at 18.  At one point, the Runnin’ Rebels had an 11-0 offensive rebound advantage.

But Duke stayed with them and took advantage of a big fast break opportunity when Hurley found Grant Hill with an over-the-shoulder pass for a dunk.  Hurley also nailed a three to put Duke up 27-25 but Anderson Hunt got two layups to give the Rebels the lead again.

A three-point play on a reverse layup from Laettner put Duke ahead 30-29 with 6:36 left in the half.  Duke would later go up 37-31 when Hurley nailed another three.  Back to back threes from Hunt and Anthony tied the game and then Anthony got a steal and a 360 reverse to give UNLV a 39-37 advantage.

The 1st half would basically be a duel between Christian Laettner and Greg Anthony.  Laettner had 20 points while Anthony contributed 16, including a driving banker to give the Rebels a 43-41 halftime lead.

Duke had managed to stay in the game in the 1st half and had answered all of UNLV’s challenges.  But the biggest may have been the pending 2nd half barrage that had put Arkansas, Utah and Seton Hall away (among others).

But the Devils answered that too as Hurley and Laettner ran a give-and-go that led to a layup by Christian to tie the game at 43.  Thomas Hill then hit a turnaround banker from the post.  But Hunt answered with a three and then a breakaway slam off a steal.

Grant Hill answered with a three-point play that drew George Ackles’ 4th foul.  Hurley followed with a breakaway three-point play after Koubek stripped Johnson inside.  Hunt answered again with a three as Anderson scored UNLV’s first 11 points of the 2nd half.

But Duke maintained its lead at 57-54 before Anthony got a three-point play on a double-pump runner in the lane against Hurley.  The Devils responded again as Billy McCaffrey nailed a baseline jumper and then Hurley found Laettner for a reverse.

While UNLV’s back court was dominating, Stacey Augmon and Larry Johnson could not get involved.  The ball never seemed to go to them and they, especially Augmon, could not get out on the break for easy baskets to get themselves going.  Duke had done a marvelous job of taking care of the ball and now the Rebels were starting to realize that they were in a ball game late in the 2nd half for the first time all year.

Frustration started to show too as Johnson picked up a technical after UNLV felt that a foul on Bobby Hurley should have been called an intentional foul.  Johnson had also asked out for a few minutes in the 2nd half because of fatigue.

Duke maintained a 65-61 lead halfway through the 2nd half.  But then UNLV made a move as Augmon got a layup off a feed from Anthony.  Hunt then drove for a three-point play to give the Rebels a 66-65 lead.

But Anthony picked up his 4th foul and Duke continued to stay in it as the teams traded leads for the next several minutes.  UNLV finally grabbed a 74-71 lead when Anthony got a steal and Hunt followed up his breakaway miss.

UNLV would get the ball back and Anthony decided to penetrate.  He charged into McCaffrey and was called for his 5th foul with 3:51 left.  The other bad news for UNLV from the ball was that Anthony had made the finger roll.  Had it been called a blocking foul, UNLV would have a chance to go up 77-71 with Anthony still in the game.

Without Anthony, Hunt had to move to the point.  This wasn’t as effective because Hunt had been the main scorer along with Anthony and now had to run the club and take on the pressure defense of Duke.  Perhaps because of this, UNLV ran down the shot clock the next time they got the ball.

It worked as Ackles tipped in his own miss to give the Rebels a 76-71 lead.  But then Hurley came back with the biggest shot of his career and showed that he had learned a lot after looking like prey in the previous year against UNLV.  Hurley nailed a big three from the top with 2:14 remaining to end Duke’s drought and cut the lead to 76-74.

UNLV ran down the shot clock and had to inbounds the ball with 5 seconds remaining on the clock after Duke deflected a ball out of bounds.  Although Duke deflected the inbounds pass, UNLV lost their composure and Augmon didn’t even get a shot off.

Grant Hill then took advantage of his matchup with Johnson and went 1-on-1.  He penetrated and found Brian Davis on the baseline.  Davis drove, hit a banker and drew a foul.  The three-point play gave Duke a 77-76 lead with 1:02 left.

Augmon drove and threw up an airball on a wild shot.  Johnson rebounded and was fouled by Grant Hill with 49.9 seconds left.  Johnson looked like he hadn’t shot a pressure free throw in at least a year as he missed the first free throw.

At the time, Johnson had a hesitation on his free throw attempt.  As he brought the ball up to shoot, he held it in that motion for an extra second before he shot it.  Opponents were called for a lot of lane violations because of that.

This came up again as Johnson missed the second free throw as well but Duke was called for stepping into the lane too soon.  Johnson nailed his third attempt to tie the game at 77.

With 49.9 seconds left, there was only a 4 second differential between the shot clock and the game clock (the shot clock was 45 seconds at the time).  This meant Duke went for as close to the last shot as they could get.

With under 20 seconds to go, Thomas Hill finally drove and barely missed a pull-up jumper.  After the rebound was tapped once, Laettner grabbed it and was fouled by Evric Gray (who had come in for Anthony) before he could throw in a banker.

With 12.7 seconds left, Christian Laettner stood at the foul line with a chance to put Duke up by two.  He swished both free throws.  UNLV called a timeout.

The Rebels then pushed the ball up the full length of the court and Johnson seemed to have a chance for a pull-up three against Laettner (Tarkanian said after the game that he wished Johnson had taken that shot) but LJ hesitated.  He then looked to get the ball back out to Hunt who was double teamed.

Hunt did get the ball and threw up a wild three-point shot that bricked badly off the rim and backboard.  Duke grabbed the rebound as time expired and the upset was complete.

Duke celebrated and then ran off the court almost as if they won a national championship.  They quickly realized there was one more game but for now, they had sleighed the giant.

UNLV’s sanctions would be enforced for the next season and Tarkanian left after the 1992 season.  The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels have not been the same since.  It would be another 24 years before an undefeated team entered the Final Four.  That team was also being compared to UNLV.

Duke starters (points scored)

Greg Koubek (2) – Small Forward

Grant Hill (11) – Power Forward

Christian Laettner (28) – Center

Bobby Hurley (12) – Point Guard

Thomas Hill (6) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Brian Davis (15)

Billy McCaffrey (5)

Antonio Lang (0)

Crawford Palmer (0)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

UNLV starters (points scored)

Stacey Augmon (6) – Small Forward

Larry Johnson (13) – Power Forward

George Ackles (7) – Center

Greg Anthony (19) – Point Guard

Anderson Hunt (29) – Shooting Guard

UNLV bench (points scored)

Evric Gray (2)

Elmore Spencer (1)

UNLV Coach: Jerry Tarkanian

91 duke unlv 3 NCAA Final Four Duke UNLV 1991 no-2-duke-79-no-1-unlv-77 4 91 duke unlv 5 duke_unlv_1991 1

Pictures of Duke vs. UNLV from 1991.  1st picture: Grant Hill took advantage of his 1-on-1 matchup against Larry Johnson several times.  2nd picture: Larry Johnson scores against Christian Laettner.  3rd picture: Bobby Hurley hustles after a loose ball against Stacey Augmon.  4th picture: although this isn’t the critical free throws (Greg Anthony, shown in picture, had fouled out), Laettner did make the biggest free throws of his life with 12.7 seconds left.  5th picture: Anderson Hunt is consoled after the final buzzer goes off and Duke pulls the upset.  Photos courtesy of SI vault on Twitter, NBC Sports, New York Daily News, Fanbase, and The Starting Five

April 1, 1991 – National Championship Game: (#3)Kansas Jayhawks 65, (#2)Duke Blue Devils 72

Now that Duke had beaten UNLV, they had a very realistic chance at a national championship (nobody else had a chance until UNLV lost, according to the “experts”).  With that being said, now the point was being mentioned that they had been to 7 previous Final Fours (and 3 championship games) but had never come away with the big prize.  They were the forever bridesmaids.

Its hard to imagine Duke as bridesmaids and underdogs, but at one point in time they were.  You have to win your first sometime.

But it wouldn’t come easy.  Christian Laettner had played 40 minutes against UNLV and then had to go through drug testing afterwards (a: I’m sure it was random and b: what if it had come up positive?).  With that being said, Laettner was a tired individual for the National Championship Game, but not at the free throw line.

It helped when his teammates got off to a good start.  Greg Koubek nailed a three and then followed up a Laettner miss.  Then on a transition break, Bobby Hurley threw a high lob to Grant Hill.  Hill’s right arm was out-stretched and it seemed to be behind his head at one point, but he caught the ball with his right hand and dunked it while falling away from the basket.

This highlight play gave Duke a 7-1 lead.  But Laettner’s fatigue allowed his counterpart, Mark Randall, to get going.  Randall hit a running hook and then got a layup off a high-low feed from Mike Maddox.  Terry Brown then hit a three to cut it to 11-10.

Laettner got a Duke 7-1 run started by getting the bounce on a pull-up from the foul line.  It would be his only field goal of the 1st half.  Brian Davis slashed it for a scoop and then Hurley nailed a three after penetration from Thomas Hill.

Kansas answered and eventually cut it to 26-25 with about 7 minutes left in the half when Brown hit his second three-pointer.  Hurley then answered with a three.  The only other points from Duke during an 8-minute stretch of the 1st half were free throws from Laettner, who was 12-for-12 from the line for the game, and three jumpers from Billy McCaffrey, including a three.  This gave Duke as much as a 36-27 lead.

For McCaffrey, this turned out to be his final game at Duke as he transferred to Vanderbilt for the following season.  His brother, Ed, would go on to win two Superbowls with the Denver Broncos in the late ’90’s.

Kansas cut back into it and had a chance to slice Duke’s lead to three in the final seconds of the half.  But Richard Scott stepped on the baseline after running into a Duke player (no call on either team) with 10 seconds left.

Hurley then took it down court and into the lane.  He kicked out to Thomas Hill behind him for a three from the top (although it looked like his foot was on the line) at the buzzer.  This would give Duke a 42-34 halftime lead.

But Mark Randall got going against a tired Laettner again and Kansas cut the lead to four.  But McCaffrey scored 5 more points to keep Duke ahead.  Billy would be the difference maker, something Kansas usually got from someone off their bench but not on this night, as he made up for Thomas Hill’s lack of production.

A Hurley alley-oop to Davis put Duke ahead 53-43.  They would then hold Kansas to one field goal over the next 7 minutes and pull ahead 61-47.  Everyone on the Jayhawks minus Randall had pretty much been shut down and the “no-names” were called that for a reason, there was no superstar to get the big basket.

The Jayhawks finally put two buckets together to cut the lead to 65-56 with 5:16 left.  But then both teams would go into a drought and wouldn’t score for the next 2 1/2 minutes.  This was fine for Duke, who was running down the shot clock anyway, but disastrous for Kansas.

Roy Williams’ team finally got going when they went into scramble mode, down 70-59, with a minute left.  They were helped when Grant Hill missed two free throws.  They then forced a turnover and nearly another, which was saved by Thomas Hill calling a timeout when Duke had one second to get it across half-court.

During this stretch, the Jayhawks had cut it to 70-65 with 25.7 seconds left.  But the timeout call by Hill not only saved a turnover but preluded the clinching basket as Brian Davis took the inbounds pass and went coast-to-coast for a slam.

The celebration was on for Duke, who had exorcised big demons in the Final Four.  They won their first championship in their 8th Final Four appearance and they had avenged the worst loss in championship game history against UNLV.

What would be even better for Duke was that every major player, other than McCaffrey and Greg Koubek, returned for the 1992 season.  This would mean that the 1992 Blue Devils would become the 1991 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels.  The hunted who carried a #1 ranking throughout the season.

But for now, Coach K and Duke would have their first National Championship.  You have to get your first before you can get your fifth 24 years later.

Kansas starters (points scored)

Alonzo Jamison (2) – Small Forward

Mike Maddox (4) – Power Forward

Mark Randall (18) – Center

Adonis Jordan (11) – Point Guard

Terry Brown (16) – Shooting Guard

Kansas bench (points scored)

Patrick Richey (0)

Steve Woodberry (2)

Sean Tunstall (2)

Kirk Wagner (2)

Richard Scott (6)

David Johanning (2)

Kansas Coach: Roy Williams

Duke starters (points scored)

Greg Koubek (5) – Small Forward

Grant Hill (10) – Power Forward

Christian Laettner (18) – Center

Bobby Hurley (12) – Point Guard

Thomas Hill (3) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Billy McCaffrey (16)

Brian Davis (8)

Antonio Lang (0)

Crawford Palmer (0)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

1991 ncaa champions

With his first National Championship in hand, Coach K stands in the middle as his team hoists the trophy above him.  Faces shown from right to left: Grant Hill, Krzyzewski, Brian Davis, Thomas Hill, and Bobby Hurley *photo courtesy of USA Today

After winning to Wooden and Naismith award, UNLV’s Larry Johnson would be selected #1 overall by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1991 NBA draft.  Georgia Tech sophomore Kenny Anderson went #2 to the New Jersey Nets.  Syracuse junior Billy Owens was picked #3 by the Sacramento Kings.  He would be traded to Golden State for Mitch Richmond.  Georgetown’s Dikembe Mutombo went #4 to the Denver Nuggets.  Michigan State’s Steve Smith (last seen in 1990 College Basketball post) went #5 to the Miami Heat.

Missouri’s Doug Smith was the 6th pick by the Dallas Mavericks.  UNLV’s Stacey Augmon went 9th to the Atlanta Hawks.  Arizona junior Brian Williams went 10th to the Orlando Magic.  UNLV point man Greg Anthony went 12th to the New York Knicks.  Clemson’s Dale Davis (last seen in 1990 post) went to the Indiana Pacers at #13.  Nebraska’s Rich King went 14th to the Seattle Supersonics.  Seton Hall’s Anthony Avent went 15th to the Hawks.

Louisville’s LaBradford Smith (last seen in 1990 post) went 19th to the Washington Bullets.  Former Georgetown forward John Turner (last seen in 1989 College Basketball post) went 20th to the Houston Rockets.  From 21-24, Providence’s Eric Murdock (last seen in ’90) went to the Utah Jazz, Syracuse’s LeRon Ellis went to the Los Angeles Clippers, Orlando took former LSU big man Stanley Roberts, and the Boston Celtics took North Carolina’s Rick Fox.  To round out the 1st round, Kansas’ Mark Randall was drafted by the Chicago Bulls and North Carolina’s Pete Chilcutt was taken by Sacramento.

Notable 2nd round picks were Minnesota’s Kevin Lynch (last seen in ’90 post) by Charlotte, UNLV’s George Ackles by Miami (Ackles never played an NBA game), N.C. State’s Rodney Monroe by Atlanta and his teammate Chris Corchiani by Orlando.  Memphis State’s Elliot Perry (last seen in 1988 College Basketball post) was taken by the Clippers.  Purdue’s Jimmy Oliver and LaSalle’s Doug Overton (last seen in ’90 post) were selected back-to-back by Cleveland and Detroit.

Providence’s Marty Conlon (last seen in ’90), Virginia’s John Crotty and UCLA’s Keith Owens would find their way into the league despite being undrafted.

1990 NBA Season – Bad Boys II

dumars jordan

The Bulls and Pistons were the most intriguing matchup for an early season matchup and SI’s cover *photo courtesy of krakov

Would the defending champion Detroit Pistons repeat and continue to hold down Michael Jordan and curtail the Bulls rise?  Would the Lakers drop off in the West without Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? (an early prime candidate to knock them off was San Antonio with the addition of David Robinson.  The Spurs did beat the Lakers on opening night)  Would the Celtics return to relevance after dominating the East in the 1980’s?

Those were the main questions heading into the 1990 NBA season.  The Detroit Pistons had lost their main enforcer Rick Mahorn in the expansion draft to the Minnesota Timberwolves.  Mahorn would eventually be traded to the Philadelphia 76ers and teamed with Charles Barkley to form a physical frontcourt.

The Pistons put John Salley in the starting lineup (along with Mark Aguirre, Bill Laimbeer, Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars) to replace Mahorn.  This meant the bench with Dennis Rodman, Vinnie Johnson and James Edwards got shorter, although the Pistons did acquire physical big man Scott Hastings.

The Bulls big change involved their head coach as Doug Collins was fired over the summer and Phil Jackson was hired.  The smaller changes involved their bench.  Sam Vincent was selected by Orlando in the expansion draft.  Brad Sellers was traded to Seattle for a 1st round pick (which gave the Bulls three of them, two of which were still on the roster on opening day).  Chicago drafted Oklahoma’s Stacey King with pick #6 and Iowa’s B.J. Armstrong with the pick from Seattle.  With the addition of King, the Bulls could trade veteran center Dave Corzine to Orlando for future 2nd round picks.

King and Armstrong added to a bench that would include Craig Hodges, Charles Davis and Will Perdue (who didn’t get much playing time as a rookie in 1989).  The starters were Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant at the forwards, Bill Cartwright in the middle, and John Paxson and Michael Jordan at the guards.  They would have an early matchup with the defending champs on TNT

November 7, 1989 – Detroit Pistons 114 @Chicago Bulls 117

Michael Jordan opened the season with 54 points in an overtime win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.  But the Bulls dropped their second game, also at Chicago Stadium, to Boston when Larry Bird (fresh off of heel surgery that took him out of all but 6 games in 1989) hit a layup at the buzzer.  Now they had their 3rd game of the season at home.

Detroit had opened with close wins against New York at home and then at Washington.  They got off to a good start in Chicago as Aguirre scored 7 of their first 13 points and Detroit trailed by two.  Horace Grant had picked up 2 early fouls and Stacey King (who had not scored a field goal in his first two games) came in.

Jordan then hit a pull-up from the foul line and Paxson finished a breakaway against Laimbeer.  Then Jordan stole the ball from Dumars at halfcourt and took it in for a slam.  Chicago now led 21-13.  But Detroit’s defense got them back in despite King getting his first NBA field goal.  They took a 26-25 lead when Isiah hit a high-arcing pull-up from the baseline with 1 tenth of a second left in the 1st quarter (the NBA now had the ability to go to tenths of a second in the final minute).

The teams traded leads early in the 2nd quarter but Detroit’s bench (like it had so many times in 1989) provided a spark on both ends of the court.  Back-to-back steals and layups by Vinnie Johnson capped a 7-0 run and gave the Pistons a 50-42 lead.

The lead stretched to 14 when Aguirre put in a three for his 18th point of the 1st half.  Chicago was able to cut it to 59-47 at the half.

Bill Laimbeer started the 2nd half with three jumpers (including two three-pointers) to give Detroit as much as a 15-point lead.  But Chicago steadily climbed back into it after an early timeout by Jackson.  Cartwright hit two field goals and Paxson found Pippen for a three.

The teams traded baskets for awhile until Detroit re-took a 10-point lead at 80-70.  But then Jordan hit two free throws, Pippen found Grant for a fast-break layup, and Jordan kicked out to Paxson for a wing jumper.  This was the closest the Bulls had been in awhile.

Later, Jordan hit a pull-up double-pump in the lane that turned into a three-point play and Pippen followed with a turnaround from the baseline.  The lead was cut to one and would stay that way as Detroit led 84-83 going into the 4th.  Chicago had not used a bench player in the 3rd and had scored 36 points led by Jordan’s 15.

The new enforcer Scott Hastings was brought in by Chuck Daly to start the 4th quarter.  He soon goaded rookie Stacey King into an ejection.  Hastings battled and grabbed King on one possession until he had enough and threw a punch.

Detroit held the lead as Dumars, who hadn’t done much in the first 3 quarters offensively, scored 9 early points.  But when Grant put back a Pippen miss halfway through the quarter, Detroit’s lead was down to 95-93.  But Grant sprained his ankle on the play and, without King, Jackson had to go to raw-raw Jack Haley.  Haley would eventually be released by the Bulls a month later, but he did hit two free throws.

Ultimately, Grant returned (he would miss the Bulls game the next night) but Detroit kept its lead.  Dumars and Isiah were the main scorers, as they were in the 1989 NBA Finals.  But the Bulls stayed with them and with 1:43 to go, a jumper from Paxson cut the Pistons lead to 109-107.

Then Jordan helped out Paxson to trap Isiah at half court and force Thomas to throw the ball out of bounds.  Jordan then beat a double team and found Grant for an easy layup to tie the game.  After a Detroit timeout, Paxson stripped Isiah and Pippen found Jordan for a breakaway slam.  The Bulls now led 111-109 with 58.2 seconds to go.

Pippen then rebounded a Laimbeer miss on a pick-and-pop.  The Bulls ran down the clock and Jordan found Paxson for a wing jumper.  Detroit eventually got a timeout with 23.9 to go and Isiah hit a pull-up from the baseline to cut it to 113-111.

Dumars then fouled Jordan and Michael split the free throws, giving Detroit a chance to tie.  Isiah had an open three in transition but lost the ball.  He recovered and found Laimbeer, who bricked a three.  Pippen rebounded and was fouled.  He hit both free throws that ultimately put the game away.

Phil Jackson and the Bulls had gotten off to a good start with a win over the Pistons.  Unfortunately for Chicago, that would be the last time they would defeat Detroit in the 1990 regular season.

Detroit starters (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (22) – Small Forward

John Salley (6) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (17) – Center

Isiah Thomas (20) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (23) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

James Edwards (2)

Vinnie Johnson (14)

Dennis Rodman (10)

Stan Kimbrough (0)

Scott Hastings (0)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (17) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (12) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (17) – Center

John Paxson (16) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (40) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Stacey King (9)

Craig Hodges (0)

B.J. Armstrong (0)

Will Perdue (0)

Charles Davis (4)

Jack Haley (2)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

November 14, 1989 – Chicago Bulls 96 @Sacramento Kings 94

There are some games in the long 82-game schedule that you will look at your best, when you are one of the best.  Then there are some games where you will not look good but need to survive anyway.

The Chicago Bulls experienced that against a perennially struggling Sacramento Kings team.  The Kings had talent, but its talent wasn’t superstars.  A lot of them were or turned out to be role players on championship-level teams.  They acquired a former superstar that was trying to battle back from injuries.

It was noted during the game that the Kings didn’t have anybody on their roster who was there in 1986-87 (when the Lakers, somewhat famously, took a 28-0 lead on the Kings in a game).  They drafted North Carolina point guard Kenny Smith in the 1st round in 1987.  He still remained.

They drafted Vinny Del Negro from NC State in the 1st round in 1988.  Then the trades were made.  Otis Thorpe was traded to Houston for Rodney McCray and Jim Petersen.  LaSalle Thompson and Randy Wittman were traded to Indiana for Wayman Tisdale.  Joe Kleine and Ed Pinckney were traded to Boston for Danny Ainge.  They drafted Louisville’s Pervis Ellison with the #1 pick in 1989.

Then the trade came for the former superstar.  Jim Petersen and only Jim Petersen would be traded to Golden State for Ralph Sampson.  Sampson would join a lineup of Tisdale, McCray, Ainge and Smith, with Ellison, Del Negro and former Villanova Wildcat Harold Pressley coming off the bench.

The teams traded jabs early on and the game was tied at 13 after Sampson outletted to Ainge who found Smith for a slam.  Horace Grant and then Stacey King picked up two early fouls for the Bulls.  Sacramento would get another basket off transition as Ainge saved a ball to Tisdale, who found Smith, who found McCray for a slam.

Michael Jordan, as per usual, scored 10 points in the 1st quarter (but committed two fouls) in leading the Bulls to a 26-24 advantage at the end of the 1st quarter.

A subplot of this game was that the #1 overall pick, Pervis Ellison, was actually making his NBA debut.  Imagine the fact that he got cheered wildly by the Sacramento fans.  Also imagine that he had a good game and hit his first shot on a turnaround from the post.  Ellison then fed Smith on a cut to put the Kings up 30-27.

Sacramento would actually go on an 11-2 run to open the 2nd quarter.  But the Bulls managed to stay in it and a wing jumper from Scottie Pippen cut the lead to 39-37.

With time running out in the 1st half, Smith hit a three and then found Tisdale for a pull-up in the lane.  The Kings led 51-45 with 1:02 to go.  But then Jordan got a slam after a steal by Craig Hodges.  He followed that by nailing a three from the top to cut the Kings lead to 51-50 at the half.

A 6-0 run by the Kings put them up early in the 3rd quarter.  The Bulls were developing a missed layups epidemic.  Danny Ainge also had a missed jumpers epidemic but he hit two in a row to keep Sacramento ahead.

Craig Hodges came off the bench to hit two jumpers (including a three) but McCray scored 6 Kings points in a row as the teams literally went back-and-forth.  Finally, Jordan’s pull-up jumper after a crossover gave Chicago a 74-69 lead.  Then Bill Cartwright got a steal and Jordan fed Pippen for a slam with 1:04 to go in the 3rd.

A three-point play by Ellison cut the lead back to 76-72 by quarter’s end.

But Chicago continued its momentum and took an 83-74 lead after Sacramento coach Jerry Reynolds (who coached the team for about 3 years but was taken over for by Bill Russell for most of the 1988 season, Reynolds would later become a Kings broadcaster) was called for a technical.

But then the missed layups epidemic was in full effect and the home team got back as Del Negro and then Pressley each nailed two jumpers to cut it to 85-84.  Jordan hit a fall-away in the lane after stepping through a double.  He found Hodges for two jumpers as Chicago took a 91-86 lead with 4:13 remaining.

That lead grew to 94-88 before the Kings went on a 6-0 run, culminating when Rodney McCray hit a fall-away from the deep wing at the end of the shot clock, to tie the game with 1:35 to go.

Cartwright missed a turnaround and Pippen missed a tip.  Tisdale’s feed to Ainge went out of bounds.  Jordan’s turnaround in the post was in-and-out.  Then Tisdale missed a turnaround in the lane and Pippen rebounded with 13 seconds left.

Chicago called a timeout and Phil Jackson, in his 7th game as a coach, gave the ball to Michael.  Be brought it up court and was met by a Wayman Tisdale double-team at the right wing.  As he rose in the air, Pippen back-cut Harold Pressley and got a whip-pass from MJ.  Pippen’s layup rolled in as the buzzer sounded and the Bulls had survived.

Chicago’s road magic didn’t continue as they lost their next three games (at Utah, at Seattle, and at Portland).  The Bulls would find that the road was not always an easy place to be, even against the most expansion of opponents.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (14) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (15) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (8) – Center

John Paxson (8) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (27) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Craig Hodges (11)

Stacey King (5)

Charles Davis (4)

B.J. Armstrong (3)

Ed Nealy (0)

Will Perdue (1)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Sacramento starters (points scored)

Rodney McCray (21) – Small Forward

Wayman Tisdale (19) – Power Forward

Ralph Sampson (2) – Center

Kenny Smith (22) – Point Guard

Danny Ainge (10) – Shooting Guard

Sacramento bench (points scored)

Harold Pressley (8)

Vinny Del Negro (6)

Pervis Ellison (6)

Randy Allen (0)

Sacramento Coach: Jerry Reynolds

Wayman Tisdale

Wayman Tisdale spent 5 full seasons in Sacramento *photo courtesy of Washington Post

December 15, 1989 – Los Angeles Lakers 119 @Boston Celtics 110

Larry Bird was back for the Boston Celtics in 1990.  With that, everyone expected them to return to the top of the East.  But the Celtics had started with a so-so 12-9 record and Boston was restless.

The Celtics had gone through some changes since their 1988 Eastern Conference Finals appearance.  Most notably, K.C. Jones had been replaced at coach by assistant Jimmy Rodgers, who was feeling the brunt of this restlessness.  In February, 1989, the Celtics traded Danny Ainge to Sacramento for Ed Pinckney and Joe Kleine.

Pinckney and Kleine were brought in to lessen the minutes load on Robert Parish and Kevin McHale.  The Celtics also had young guards in Reggie Lewis and Brian Shaw, so Ainge seemed expendable.

But then Shaw signed with an Italian team before the 1990 season and got into a contract lawsuit with the Celtics that eventually forced Shaw to rejoin Boston for the 1991 season.  The Celtics had also signed former Cavalier guard John Bagley, but he was hurt.  Lewis returned for the Lakers game after missing the previous few with a hamstring injury.  But the Celtics guards now were veterans Dennis Johnson and Jim Paxson, each of whom were in their final season in the NBA.

While the minutes for Parish and McHale were down, Larry Bird’s were still around 40 minutes per game.  And with Bird just returning, it wasn’t easy for him to put together consecutive good games.  In the Celtics’ previous game against Seattle, Bird scored 40 points in 46 minutes.  In the game against the Lakers, Bird missed 18 shots.

It seemed like the Celtics were in transition.  Their veterans were definitely slowed and their young talent hadn’t stepped up yet.  Meanwhile, the Lakers were thought to be past their prime without Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

But then the Lakers started the season at 10-1.  They had more of a speed lineup and still had Magic Johnson and James Worthy to post up, along with Mychal Thompson and A.C. Green who could run as big men.  Byron Scott and Michael Cooper manned the guard spots with Larry Drew brought in as a backup point guard after David Rivers was lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the expansion draft (the Lakers also lost Tony Campbell to Minnesota).

L.A. also seemed to find a gem in the draft.  21-year-old Vlade Divac was drafted with the 2nd-to-last pick of the 1st round.  While the young center surely had some growing pains, he also had some promising moments.  This included his performance in the 4th quarter against Boston.

The Lakers came into this game at 17-5 and were without Mychal Thompson, who had a sore achilles tendon.  So Pat Riley decided to start three guards (Magic, Scott and Cooper) with Worthy and A.C. Green in the middle.

With the 6’9″ 220 lb Green on him, Robert Parish was determined to get off to a good start with his height and weight advantage.  He put back an Ed Pinckney miss and then hit a turnaround jumper in the lane.

But Worthy matched him as he scored L.A.’s first 6 points to keep the Lakers even.  L.A. took a 24-18 lead when Magic found Green for back-to-back jumpers.  But Dennis Johnson got Boston back into it by sticking two outside shots.  D.J. found Kevin McHale for a jumper in the lane to give Boston a 30-28 lead after the 1st quarter.

The Celtics bench got off to a good start in the 2nd quarter.  Joe Kleine hit a lefty hook shot (before he had to go out of the game because his funny-bone was hit).  Reggie Lewis hit a pull-up and McHale (who was now back to the 6th man) got a three-point play on a Lewis feed.  Lewis then scored on a driving layup to put Boston ahead 41-34.  Parish continued his dominant 1st half as well.

The Lakers got back into it and tied the game at 47 on a Cooper three.  A Bird jumper and then a feed to a cutting Paxson put Boston back up by four.  But then the Celtics went ice cold and couldn’t make a basket.  L.A. went on a 10-0 run and finished the half with a 13-4 clip to take a 60-55 halftime lead.

When the 2nd half started, the momentum did a complete 180.  The Lakers now couldn’t make a shot or a good decision (they turned the ball over on a 4-on-1 fast break) and Boston spurted back into the game.  Bird hit back-to-back field goals and Boston took a 66-64 lead when D.J. got a steal and layup.

D.J. led Boston with 18 points while Parish had 17.  But Dennis committed his 4th foul and two free throws from Magic tied the game at 70.  Magic later kicked out to Green for a jumper to put L.A. up 73-70.  The Lakers were able to maintain that lead through the end of the 3rd quarter as Worthy led them with 22 and Green contributed 15.  The Lakers led 85-82 going into the 4th.

Within the first minute of the 4th quarter, L.A. had its most damaging spurt.  Magic lobbed a pass to Orlando Woolridge for a three-point play.  Byron Scott nailed a three.  Then Vlade Divac got a steal and Magic fed Worthy for a layup.  It was now 93-82 and Boston called a timeout with 10:59 left and the fans at Boston Garden beginning to boo.

After the timeout, the run continued as Magic hit a step-back jumper from the wing and then fed Divac for a reverse.  Divac also contributed a hustling save to keep a Lakers possession alive and then, in the most stunning Divac move of all, he pick-pocketed Larry Bird in the back court while Bird was dribbling up court.

Bird would come alive though as NBA fans were seemingly remembering what he was like after not seeing him much in 1989.  He hit a wing jumper, a three from the top and then a fall-away over Woolridge from the post to cut the lead to 101-93 with 7:05 left.

However, that was the end of the Bird magic.  L.A. was able to maintain their lead and Magic Johnson even got a steal from Bird which led to an A.C. Green slam.  Bird attempted 27 shots and, as I said earlier, missed 18 of them.  Magic would finish the game with 21 assists.

Little did one know it at the time, but this would be the final time that Larry Bird and Magic Johnson matched up at the Boston Garden.

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

Michael Cooper (12) – Small Forward

James Worthy (28) – Power Forward

A.C. Green (25) – Center

Magic Johnson (16) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (21) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Orlando Woolridge (5)

Vlade Divac (10)

Larry Drew (2)

Mark McNamara (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Pat Riley

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (21) – Small Forward

Ed Pinckney (2) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (23) – Center

Dennis Johnson (24) – Point Guard

Jim Paxson (6) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Kevin McHale (21)

Reggie Lewis (6)

Joe Kleine (4)

Kevin Gamble (0)

Michael Smith (0)

Kelvin Upshaw (3)

Boston Coach: Jimmy Rodgers

larry-bird-magic-johnson-celtics-lakers

Bird and Magic matched up for the last time at Boston Garden on December 15, 1989 *photo courtesy of Total Pro Sports

December 20, 1989 – Chicago Bulls 109 @Orlando Magic 110

The Orlando Magic had made some surprises as an expansion team in the early part of the season.  They were 8-15 and on their list of conquests were New York, Cleveland (at Cleveland), Philadelphia, Utah (at Utah), and the Los Angeles Lakers.  With defeating 5 teams who made it to the 1989 NBA playoffs, it was the most since the Chicago Bulls themselves were an expansion team in 1967.

But the Magic had gotten some veterans, including a few former Bulls.  In the back court was Sam Vincent and Reggie Theus and off the bench was Sidney Green and Dave Corzine.  Other veterans included forwards Jerry Reynolds and Terry Catledge, center Mark Acres and 6th man Otis Smith.  The young pieces were point guard Scott Skiles and rookie swingman Nick Anderson.

Orlando was on a 4-game losing streak (all on the road, including one at Chicago) while the Bulls were on a 5-game winning streak and had defeated the Lakers at home the previous night.  Chicago was actually leading the Central Division (over the Detroit Pistons) and was tied for the lead in the East at that moment with a 15-7 record.

Despite the back-to-back (with subsequent travel), the Bulls came out with energy in front of a big crowd at the O-rena.  Michael Jordan got a steal and slam.  Bill Cartwright hit a turnaround in the post.  Scottie Pippen tip-dunked a Cartwright miss.  Horace Grant hit a turnaround in the lane.  Finally, Jordan nailed a three from the top and Orlando coach Matt Guokas had to use a timeout less than 4 minutes into the game with his team down 11-2.

The Bulls eventually increased their lead to as much as 14 after Jordan found Pippen for a slam and a foul.  But the Magic started pushing the ball and going to the basket.  As a result, they got to the foul line.  Sam Vincent was the main beneficiary early as he shot 8 free throws in the 1st quarter (making 7 of them).

Orlando went on a 10-0 run after Otis Smith, Nick Anderson and Sidney Green came in off the bench to make a contribution.  But Jordan’s 6 points in the latter half of the quarter held the Magic at bay as the Bulls led 28-22 going into the 2nd quarter.

It was in the 2nd quarter where fatigue may have become a factor for Chicago.  Orlando started out with a 7-0 run to take the lead as Smith hit a tough runner and was fouled and Green hit a field goal and two free throws.

Otis Smith, in particular, got going in the 2nd quarter as he scored 16 of his 20 1st half points.  But the Bulls still hung around, thanks to Mr. Jordan.  Jordan got a breakaway slam while drawing the 3rd foul from a scoreless Reggie Theus to tie the game at 40.  But Smith and Vincent kept getting to the line and Orlando’s leading scorer, Terry Catledge, got 6 points late in the half (his first 6 points of the game) to put the Magic ahead 55-50 at the break.

Catledge kept it going in the 3rd while Theus joined the party by nailing outside shots.  Orlando took a 9-point lead several times as the Bulls field goal percentage was continuing to drop.  They had not shot well at all since the 1st quarter.

Catledge had 10 third quarter points but Theus was the big factor with 14.  Chicago managed to cut the lead to 79-75 when Grant got a steal and Jordan got a breakaway slam.  But Pippen picked up his 4th foul and Nick Anderson led Orlando on an 8-0 run to take their biggest lead at 87-75.

The Bulls though made a late comeback in the 3rd.  Jordan hit a pull-up and then Orlando turned the ball over with a few seconds left.  Craig Hodges then lobbed an inbounds pass to a wide-open Cartwright for a layup at the buzzer.  The Magic’s lead was cut to 87-79 going into the 4th.

But Orlando started the final quarter well and took a 95-85 lead before the Bulls made their big run.  And by the Bulls, I mean Jordan.  MJ went on a 6-0 run, including a lefty layup after a quick first step, and then two free throws from Cartwright cut it to 95-93 with 6:23 left.

It looked very much like the Bulls were going to steal another one after not playing well, especially after Jordan nailed a three to give the Bulls a 98-97 lead with under 5:00 left.  But Orlando stayed with them as Terry Catledge kept getting to the line and hitting free throws.

Otis Smith tied it at 102 with a spin to the baseline and a slam.  Then Vincent came from behind Jordan to block an MJ shot.  This led to a breakaway layup from Theus to give Orlando a lead with 2:25 left.  The Bulls then went cold on their next two possessions (which included a Jordan airball) and the Magic took a 106-102 lead when Theus found Smith for a banker with 1:11 left.

But then after Phil Jackson called a timeout, Jordan got the ball at the middle of the floor, drove, scored and was fouled.  The three-point play cut the lead to one.  Then Vincent missed a pull-up and there was a jump ball called after a rebound scramble with 31.2 seconds remaining.  The Bulls controlled the jump and Smith eventually fouled Jordan with 15.9 remaining.  MJ hit both free throws to put Chicago up 107-106.

Orlando called a timeout and Matt Guokas went small by putting Catledge in at center.  Catledge got the inbounds pass at the foul line, drove against Cartwright and drew a foul with 13.5 left.  Catledge made both free throws and Phil Jackson called timeout.

Again, they cleared out for Jordan.  The double didn’t come quickly enough as Michael drove, stopped on a dime and pulled up over Mark Acres (the center who was back in and was coming over late to help out).  Jordan banked one in with 7.7 seconds left and the Bulls took the lead again.  Guokas used a timeout now.

The Magic went to their 6th man who was having a career game.  Otis Smith was out on the top guarded by Pippen.  Smith drove past him and was able to scoop one in with 2 seconds left.  The Bulls were out of timeouts and the arena was celebrating.  Cartwright had to take it out and throw a long pass with cheerleaders celebrating around him.

Cartwright was able to get a long pass to Jordan, who had his shot blocked at the buzzer and was complaining that he was fouled (there were no good looks of the play that was shown).  The Magic had beaten their 6th 1989 playoff team in their first two months of existence.

The Magic would come back down to earth after this game.  They were 9-15 at this time but would finish at 18-64.  However, they did have one more memorable win against the Bulls.  On Valentine’s Day, 1990, the Bulls were in Orlando again and lost in overtime.  This game would be famous because Michael Jordan had to wear #12 (as you probably know, it was 1 of 3 numbers he wore during his NBA career).

The Bulls Central Division lead didn’t last long either as the Pistons went on a 38-5 streak.  This included three wins against the Bulls (two at Chicago Stadium) in games that weren’t particularly close.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (9) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (10) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (19) – Center

John Paxson (8) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (52) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Craig Hodges (6)

Stacey King (4)

Jeff Sanders (0)

B.J. Armstrong (0)

Will Perdue (1)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Orlando starters (points scored)

Jerry Reynolds (2) – Small Forward

Terry Catledge (26) – Power Forward

Mark Acres (4) – Center

Sam Vincent (13) – Point Guard

Reggie Theus (18) – Shooting Guard

Orlando bench (points scored)

Otis Smith (28)

Nick Anderson (10)

Sidney Green (9)

Scott Skiles (0)

Orlando Coach: Matt Guokas

jordan #12

In the Bulls next visit to Orlando, Michael Jordan’s #23 was missing and he had to wear #12 *photo courtesy of USA Today

December 26, 1989 – Boston Celtics 112 @Los Angeles Clippers 111

It was probably the umpteenth time that the Clippers franchise had some young talent and hope for the future.  Even in 1990, the Clippers were tortured.  Their last playoff appearance had been in 1976 as the Buffalo Braves.  They had spent six seasons as the San Diego Clippers before moving to L.A. in 1984.  Their highest number of wins in a season since their last playoff appearance was 43.

For 1990, their core had been built through the draft.  In 1985, they selected center Benoit Benjamin with the 3rd pick.  He turned out to be a bust but their picks got a little better.  In 1987, they used their 1st round picks to select Reggie Williams, Joe Wolf and Ken Norman.  Williams would later be part of a key trade.

In 1988, the Clippers had the 1st and 6th picks in the draft and made some headway.  With the 1st selection, they drafted Danny Manning.  With the 6th, they drafted guard Hersey Hawkins and traded him to Philadelphia on that day for big man Charles Smith.  On that same day, they traded veteran Michael Cage to Seattle for their draft pick, guard Gary Grant.  In 1989, they drafted Danny Ferry.

Ferry and the aforementioned Williams would then be part of a key trade on November 16, 1989.  They were sent to Cleveland for athletic star guard Ron Harper.  Harper joined Grant, Norman, Benjamin and Smith in the starting lineup.  Danny Manning was coming off the bench as he was just returning from a torn ACL that ended his rookie season.  Joe Wolf also came off the bench with former Rhode Island star Tom Garrick.

The Clippers were actually 9-4 at home so far in 1990.  This included wins against the Bulls and Pistons.  Unfortunately for this young team, they were 0-10 on the road.

But they were home at the Los Angeles Sports Arena for this one against the Celtics, who were struggling on the road so far in 1990.  Boston had a so-so 14-11 record as Bird was still coming back from his 1989 heel surgeries.  Boston was also an aging team that had no point guard behind Dennis Johnson with John Bagley out.  The 6’5″ Kevin Gamble filled that role in this game.  A backdrop for the Clippers coming into this game was that they had not beaten Boston in a game since moving to L.A.

Bird started off this game well as he scored 4 field goals for 8 of Boston’s first 11 points.  But Gary Grant matched him with 8 of the Clippers first 10.  Los Angeles (like their L.A. counterparts) were a running team that liked the get out on the break.  Their athleticism would especially be an advantage against the Celtics.

The Clippers took a 20-14 lead after Smith and Harper each scored on putbacks.  They kept that six point advantage until 7 seconds remained in the quarter as Reggie Lewis drove baseline, scored and was fouled.  After the three-point play, the Clippers led 26-23 going into the 2nd quarter.

Lewis was another big key to this game for the Celtics because he was one of the few younger players on the Celtics who could match the Clippers’ athleticism.  Lewis was off to a slow start for the season.

Boston’s bench came in and made a difference in the 2nd quarter.  Most notably, Kevin McHale scored 6 early points as the Celtics regained a 36-30 lead.  But Harper got out on the break twice over the next few minutes to help bring L.A. back to a 38-all tie.  The Clips regained a 4-point lead late in the half after a three-point play from Harper and then a Charles Smith slam on a 4-on-1 break.

But Bird scored his 14th point on a lefty runner in the lane and McHale found D.J. for a wing jumper to tie the game at 50.  Two more free throws from Bird put Boston up 52-50 at the half.

A 6-0 run by the Clippers helped them regain the lead as Grant continued to have an effective day.  The former Michigan Wolverine had 20 points at the end of the 3rd.  The teams went back and forth as the Clips continued to get out on the break and Boston executed in the half-court.  Los Angeles had an 85-82 advantage going into the 4th.

L.A. took a 92-86 lead when Danny Manning hit a runner in the lane and drew a foul.  But Reggie Lewis kept Boston in it with 6 early points.  Boston went on an 8-2 run to tie the game at 94 with 7 minutes to go.

The Clippers then went down low to Charles Smith, who showed off his potential.  Smith scored all 10 of the Clippers points as they took a 104-100 lead.  This included two turnaround jumpers, including one where he was fouled.  Charles had 29 points at that point.

But Lewis hit 6 free throws during a stretch to keep Boston within 105-102.  Harper hit a high-arcing fall-away from the baseline to give the Clippers a five-point lead.  But, other than that shot, nobody minus Smith was able to score for the Clippers as their fast break was cut off.  Lewis responded to Harper’s shot with a runner.

Then after Smith hit two free throws, D.J. found Bird for a wing jumper and Boston trailed 109-106 with 2:00 left.  But the Clippers continued with their cold stretch and a tip-in by Robert Parish (his 16th rebound of the game) cut the lead to one.  Smith then missed a finger roll for the Clippers and Boston had a chance to lead.

Bird missed a jumper but the Clippers knocked it out of bounds with 25.3 seconds left.  Boston called a timeout and went to Lewis.  Reggie was able to draw a cheap foul on Harper with 10.3 seconds left.  He got the bounce on the first free throw before nailing the second to give Boston a 110-109 lead.  The Clippers called a timeout.

They went to Charles Smith at the top.  Smith took McHale 1-on-1 to the lane where he met Parish.  Smith pulled up over both of them and nailed the jumper with 5.1 to go.  Boston used another timeout.  The final 5 seconds showed off the fortunes both franchises had enjoyed in their history.

This time coach Jimmy Rodgers went to the Bird.  Larry, though, was double-teamed.  He raised up over Smith as Charles put his hands up.  There was a little contact but Smith seemed to have his hands up.  Either way, a foul was called with 0.2 seconds left on the clock.  Bird made both free throws to give Boston the lead.

L.A. then used their last timeout.  With 0.2 seconds left, we now know that you can’t get off a shot.  But in the first year of the tenths of seconds in ’89-’90, there was no parameters.  Three weeks after this game, New York’s Trent Tucker hit a buzzer-beater with 0.1 seconds left to beat the Bulls.

But unlike that play, on this case Harper caught the ball with his back to the basket.  He turned around from behind the three-point line and nailed an incredible shot that had the fans and the Clippers going crazy.  But the replay clearly showed that the shot got off too late and the refs waived off the basket (they actually called it no-good immediately as they couldn’t view replay at this time).

The Celtics had survived and would start to get their season on track a bit with an overtime win in Sacramento a night later.  They beat Seattle to finish their mini-road trip at 3-0.

The Clippers would get their revenge in Boston Garden on January 5 with a 114-105 win.  They incredibly out-scored Boston 34-17 in the 4th quarter and beat the Celtics for the first time since they were in San Diego.  Harper and Manning had 28 and 26, respectively.  It would perhaps be the high point for the Clippers that season.

11 days later, Harper tore his ACL and cartilage in his knee and would be out until January, 1991.  While Harper remained an effective player for the last 10 years of his career after the injury, he was forever robbed of a good portion of his athleticism that defined his early career.

A little over two weeks later, Gary Grant fractured his ankle and was out for the season.  Grant would never materialize into anything more than a journeyman backup.  After this injury, the Clips started to lose again and went out of the playoff race.

They would finish at 30-52.  The Clippers “curse” was alive and well.  Although they would break their 16-year playoff drought in 1992 with many of these same players, including Manning, Smith, Harper, Grant and Norman.

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (27) – Small Forward

Ed Pinckney (5) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (11) – Center

Dennis Johnson (7) – Point Guard

Jim Paxson (4) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Reggie Lewis (28)

Kevin McHale (20)

Kevin Gamble (4)

Joe Kleine (2)

Michael Smith (4)

Charles Smith (0)

Boston Coach: Jimmy Rodgers

L.A. Clippers starters (points scored)

Ken Norman (10) – Small Forward

Charles Smith (33) – Power Forward

Benoit Benjamin (10) – Center

Gary Grant (24) – Point Guard

Ron Harper (20) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Clippers bench (points scored)

Danny Manning (14)

Tom Garrick (0)

Joe Wolf (0)

L.A. Clippers Coach: Don Casey

charles smith

Charles Smith had his career-high 33 points against Boston, but it wasn’t enough *photo courtesy of Pinterest

February 11, 1990 – NBA All-Star Game @ Miami: East 130, West 113

Even without Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Los Angeles Lakers still managed to get three starters in the All-Star Game.  Thanks to an ankle injury by Karl Malone, A.C. Green got a start in his only All-Star appearance.  He didn’t make much of it as he failed to score.  James Worthy also struggled with a 1-for-11 performance.  But Magic Johnson ended up being the star of stars despite being on the losing team.

A three from Magic gave the West an early 7-2 lead.  But then a three from Michael Jordan and then a three-point play on a strong post-up move by Charles Barkley gave the East a lead that it never relinquished.

For one of the few times in All-Star history, a team looked cohesive.  The East had about as talented a starting five as any in history with Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan.  They showed off their talent with balance as everybody except Bird got into the scoring column and contributed.  They also showed off their talents at the defensive end and held the West starters, minus Magic, down.

The best back-and-forth sequence of the 1st quarter came when Magic and Jordan exchanged two coast-to-coast drives in a duel of “I can do anything better than you, no you can’t, yes I can.”

But the East ran away when their bench came in and didn’t miss a beat.  Joe Dumars hit a three from the top to give the East a 25-19 lead with 3:00 to go.  The Celtics big men of Kevin McHale and Robert Parish each scored two field goals.  But Dominique Wilkins would get the two highlights as he had a double-pump fast break dunk and then hit a long three at the buzzer to end the 1st quarter.  All in all, the East had gone on a 18-4 run and led 40-23.

Parish and McHale continued to play well and keep the East well ahead in the 2nd quarter.  But the newest addition making a splash in the NBA, David Robinson of the Spurs, also had an impressive showing as he was aggressive on both ends of the floor and especially showed off some agility and moves on offense.

Robinson and Rolando Blackman helped the West cut into what was as much as a 20-point lead.  Two threes from Magic ended the half on a higher note for the West as they had cut it to 65-52 at the break.

But the East started the 2nd half on an 11-5 run (the five West points coming from Magic).  The East would regain a 20-point lead with the highlight being Isiah Thomas bounce passing a ball through Patrick Ewing’s legs (and past three West defenders) to Jordan for a slam.

The East increased it to 91-68 with 4:00 left in the 3rd when Dumars hit another three.  Tom Chambers and Clyde Drexler led the West on a mini-run to cut the lead to 100-83 at the end of the 3rd quarter.  The East had six players in double figures scoring.

The West started the 4th quarter on a 9-2 run as Robinson hit a turnaround from the post, Chambers got a three-point play and Lafayette “Fat” Lever scored two field goals.  But a pull-up in the lane by Parish and a baseline drive in transition by Dominique put the East back ahead 106-92 with just over 2:00 gone by in the quarter.

A 6-0 West run cut it back to 108-98 but the East then scored 6 of the game’s next 8 points, culminating with Jordan completing a layup after a spin in the lane.

The closest the West got was 116-107 with just under 3:00 remaining.  But Ewing tipped in a Barkley miss and then after Blackman hit a jumper to respond, Barkley hit a hook shot from the post.  Isiah lobbed to Jordan for a layup and then got a breakaway basket to officially put the game away.

But there was one more highlight to go.  With the East running out the last seconds of the clock, the West just left Barkley open beyond the three-point line.  Barkley resisted for awhile but then finally took a long three and nailed it at the buzzer to make the final score what it was.

The last question was concerning the MVP.  The East had been so balanced that nobody stood out (imagine an All-Star team looking like that today).  Jordan and Barkley led seven East players in double figures with 17.

So the voting swung towards Magic Johnson, who had 22 points after three quarters (and didn’t end up scoring in the 4th).  The logic was something along the lines of, if it weren’t for Magic the West would probably be getting killed by 40 points.  So Magic was voted the MVP.  It would be the 3rd time a member of the losing team got an MVP in the All-Star Game (the first two were Bob Pettit in 1958 and Julius Erving in 1977).

West starters (teams) and point totals

James Worthy (Los Angeles Lakers) 2 – Small Forward

A.C. Green (Los Angeles Lakers) 0 – Power Forward

Hakeem Olajuwon (Houston Rockets) 8 – Center

John Stockton (Utah Jazz) 2 – Point Guard

Magic Johnson (Los Angeles Lakers) 22 – Shooting Guard

West bench (teams) and point totals

David Robinson (San Antonio Spurs) 15

Fat Lever (Denver Nuggets) 16

Tom Chambers (Phoenix Suns) 21

Rolando Blackman (Dallas Mavericks) 15

Clyde Drexler (Portland Blazers) 7

Chris Mullin (Golden State Warriors) 3

Kevin Johnson (Phoenix Suns) 2

West Coach: Pat Riley (Los Angeles Lakers)

East starters (teams) and point totals

Larry Bird (Boston Celtics) 8 – Small Forward

Charles Barkley (Philadelphia 76ers) 17 – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (New York Knicks) 12 – Center

Isiah Thomas (Detroit Pistons) 15 – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (Chicago Bulls) 17 – Shooting Guard

East bench (teams) and point totals

Robert Parish (Boston Celtics) 14

Kevin McHale (Boston Celtics) 13

Joe Dumars (Detroit Pistons) 9

Dominique Wilkins (Atlanta Hawks) 13

Reggie Miller (Indiana Pacers) 4

Scottie Pippen (Chicago Bulls) 4

Dennis Rodman (Detroit Pistons) 4

East Coach: Chuck Daly (Detroit Pistons)

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Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan battle in the 1990 NBA All-Star Game.  Magic won the MVP but Jordan’s team won the game *photo courtesy of In All Airness

February 20, 1990 – Los Angeles Lakers 115 @San Antonio Spurs 114 (OT)

When the San Antonio Spurs beat the Lakers 106-98 on opening night, L.A. GM Jerry West said that it was not a fluke.  And with that, a strong start was underway in San Antonio after a 21-61 season in 1989 (Larry Brown’s first losing season as a coach).

What was different for the Spurs?  Many things, actually.  First of all, the #1 pick in the 1987 draft was finally available after a two-year tour of duty with the Naval Academy.  7’1″ David Robinson was making an impact on both ends of the floor.  They acquired Terry Cummings in a trade with Milwaukee in exchange for Alvin Robertson and Greg “Cadillac” Anderson.  Arizona’s Sean Elliott was selected with the 3rd pick in the draft.

The last trade of the off-season was with the Philadelphia 76ers.  San Antonio sent Johnny Dawkins and Jay Vincent to the Sixers in exhange for veteran point guard Maurice Cheeks, Christian Welp and David Wingate.  Two of those people would be traded at the trade deadline (2 days after this game).  One of them unexpectedly.

Robinson, Cummings, Elliott and Cheeks would join 1988 1st round pick, Willie Anderson, in the starting lineup.  For the most part, each would make an impact.  Elliott struggled as a rookie and was eventually replaced in the starting lineup by Frank Brickowski.  But Elliott would be back in the lineup for this game.

The Spurs were 34-16 and 1 game behind the Utah Jazz for the lead in the Midwest Division.  Meanwhile, the Lakers were 37-12 and 1.5 games ahead of the Portland Trailblazers, who were finally putting it together with all of their talent.

The teams started even through the first 5 minutes before a 7-0 Lakers run put them ahead 15-8.  The Spurs had beaten L.A. at the Forum a month earlier but Magic Johnson was out with the flu.  Magic was the difference early on, like he is in most Laker games.  His 7th point on a jumper in the lane put the L.A. up 21-13.  Byron Scott then penetrated and found James Worthy for a baseline jumper and a 10-point Laker lead.

Worthy then got his 8th point when Magic kicked out to him for a jumper from the top.  The lead was now 25-13.  But then Magic took a breather and, just like that, the Spurs went on a run.  Cummings hit back-to-back baskets.  Brickowski got a steal and fed Robinson for a slam.  Cheeks then followed with a steal and Wingate followed up his miss and was fouled.

It looked like the Spurs would cut the Lakers lead to 28-24 at the end of the 1st quarter when Wingate hit two free throws with 0.7 seconds left.  But L.A. threw a long pass and Brickowski deflected it right to rookie Vlade Divac, who nailed a jumper from the top.  Somehow it counted.

Divac did get the shot off before 0.0 according to the replay but a deflection and a catch-and-shoot in 0.7 seconds seems like too much.  So perhaps the Spurs timer started the clock a tad late.  It would end up costing the Spurs and L.A. now led 30-24.

The benches battled back-and-forth in the 2nd quarter.  The Lakers got contributions from Michael Cooper, Larry Drew and Orlando Woolridge to stay ahead.  They took a 53-46 lead with 2:33 left in the half when Worthy drove, scored and drew Robinson’s 3rd foul.

L.A. increased it to as much as 11 before disaster struck with 12 seconds left in the half.  Michael Cooper hustled after a loose ball and jumped in the air out of bounds, tripped over a chair, and hit the back of his head and neck on the landing.  Cooper was unconscious for a few minutes before coming to and being able to walk off the court with some assistance.  He was taken to the hospital and was determined to have a bruised spine in his neck.  He was obviously out for the rest of this game and the Lakers’ game the next night in Denver.

After that delay, action resumed and Anderson found Cummings for a layup to cut the Lakers halftime lead to 59-52.  Cummings led the Spurs with 18 points.  The Lakers maintained that lead for much of the 3rd quarter as well.

They led 74-66 with under 5:00 to go in the quarter.  But on consecutive possessions, Cheeks found Cummings for a layup and Brickowski found 17-year veteran Caldwell Jones for another layup.  Maurice Cheeks then took the offense in his own hands with a driving three-point play and then a jumper from the top to give the Spurs a 75-74 lead.

Cheeks could not add to his onslaught as he missed a perimeter jumper on the next possession.  Magic rebounded and went coast-to-coast for a layup and a foul.  A Magic outlet to Scott for another breakaway after a block from Divac gave the Lakers an 81-79 advantage going into the 4th quarter.

L.A. maintained a 90-88 five minutes into the 4th quarter before Elliott drove baseline for a slam and a foul to give the Spurs the lead.  Elliott was a big factor in the 2nd half after going scoreless in the 1st.  But Larry Brown elected to bench him down the stretch in favor of Brickowski.  This reared its ugly head when Frank had to go 1-on-1 against Worthy down the stretch.

But first things first, back-to-back baskets by Cheeks forced an L.A. timeout with 5:05 to go.  The Spurs were up 95-90.  Pat Riley had to take another timeout 23 seconds later when Cheeks found Anderson for a reverse on the break to put the Spurs up by seven.

The Lakers would be brought back by Worthy, who went 1-on-1 on consecutive possessions to help cut the lead to 102-98 with 2:22 left.  Then after Big Game James rebounded a miss by Cummings, Magic kicked out to him for a three from the top.

The teams traded misses before Woolridge (who played in A.C. Green’s spot down the stretch) fouled Cummings with 38.5 seconds left.  Cummings made two free throws to put the Spurs up 104-101.  After an L.A. timeout, Worthy penetrated and found Mychal Thompson.  Thompson hit a runner while Cummings fouled him.  An old fashioned three-point play tied the game with 29.8 left.

The Spurs did not use a timeout and tried to get the ball inside to Robinson.  Cheeks finally got it there and the Admiral pump faked Thompson, went under Mychal and hit a jumper with 9.3 seconds left.  Riley used a timeout.

Magic drove into the lane and spun.  He was doubled at that point and kicked out to a wide open Worthy for a baseline jumper.  It was good with 2.2 to play.  Brown used a timeout this time.  Anderson lobbed the ball to Robinson in the near post.  But this time Thompson blocked David’s turnaround and the game was headed for overtime.

Field goals by Woolridge and Thompson put the Lakers up 110-106 two minutes into the extra period.  But back-to-back baskets by Robinson tied the game again.  Magic scored in the post against Cheeks but Willie Anderson answered with a driving layup.  The Spurs then got the ball back when Woolridge was called for an offensive foul.

Anderson drove baseline, pump faked Byron Scott, and hit a tough shot to give San Antonio a 114-112 lead with 37.4 seconds to go.  Magic missed on a drive and Woolridge missed a tip.  Cheeks rebounded with 30.6 seconds left.  The Lakers decided to play the possession out and not foul.

It worked when Anderson missed a step-back jumper against Worthy.  Scott rebounded and called timeout with 7.7 seconds to play.

Riley again gave it to Magic at the top.  He swung it to Woolridge who penetrated instead of going to Worthy in the corner.  The Spurs defense collapsed around Woolridge in the lane and he had no shot.  But wide open at the left wing outside the three-point line was Byron Scott.

Woolridge kicked out and Scott nailed the three as the buzzer went off.  The Lakers danced off the court as the raucous crowd in San Antonio was now stunned.  The Lakers had thrown a big dagger in the hearts of the Spurs.  It would turn out to be the last time they matched up in 1990.

Spurs fans would be more stunned the next day when their veteran presence, Maurice Cheeks, would be traded to New York for young point guard Rod Strickland.  Christian Welp would be traded to Golden State, meaning Wingate was the only player remaining from the off-season trade with Philadelphia.

Despite the daggers, the Spurs were able to catch the Jazz and finish a game ahead of them for the Midwest Division title and a 56-26 record.  Their 35-win improvement from the previous season was the biggest in NBA history, and would be until the Spurs broke it in 1998.

The Lakers would hold off Portland and Detroit by four games for the best record in the league at 63-19.  But the Lakers would be in for tough playoffs, unlike 1989.

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (27) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (12) – Power Forward

Mychal Thompson (13) – Center

Magic Johnson (19) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (15) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Orlando Woolridge (11)

Vlade Divac (8)

Michael Cooper (2)

Larry Drew (8)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Pat Riley

San Antonio starters (points scored)

Sean Elliott (9) – Small Forward

Terry Cummings (30) – Power Forward

David Robinson (23) – Center

Maurice Cheeks (14) – Point Guard

Willie Anderson (16) – Shooting Guard

San Antonio bench (points scored)

David Wingate (13)

Frank Brickowski (4)

Caldwell Jones (2)

Johnny Moore (3)

San Antonio Coach: Larry Brown

March 4, 1990 – Chicago Bulls 118 @Boston Celtics 114

After losing to the Orlando Magic on Valentine’s Day in a game where Michael Jordan had to wear #12, the Chicago Bulls were 29-20 and 6.5 games behind the Detroit Pistons in the Central Division.

But after that, they put together their longest winning streak since 1983 with 7 victories in a row.  Although they were still 6 games behind the red hot Pistons, they were a half a game behind New York for the 2nd best record in the East.  But now they were to play their toughest game since the streak started, in the Boston Garden.

The Celtics had followed up losing 4 in a row by winning 4 straight (their longest win streak since 1988).  They were 34-22 and 2.5 games behind the Knicks (and 1 game behind Philadelphia) in the Atlantic Division.  Coach Jimmy Rodgers had changed the lineup and put rookie Michael Smith into a starting role at forward alongside Larry Bird.  That combination had produced the 4-game winning streak.

But Chicago looked like the stronger team early on as they shot 68% from the field in the 1st quarter and Jordan scored 17 points.  But Craig Hodges provided a lightning bolt with a long three at the buzzer to end the quarter.  Chicago led 40-32, even without Bill Cartwright who was out with a back injury.

The Celtics big factor was that they were not taking advantage of the Bulls not having Cartwright.  Robert Parish was being guarded by 2nd-year player Will Perdue and rookie Stacey King and not getting the ball.  Boston’s bench kept them within range in the early part of the 2nd quarter.  But when they finally went to Parish, they made a run.  An 8-1 spurt brought the Celtics back to within 47-44.

Michael Smith was also proving to be a factor.  Smith drove repeatedly and drew fouls.  He also got out on the break.  Four consecutive free throws from Smith brought Boston to within 51-50 and Phil Jackson brought Michael Jordan back in.  Jordan and Scottie Pippen kept the Bulls ahead and they led 64-59 at the half.

Jordan’s passing became a factor in the 3rd quarter as he found John Paxson for jumpers and Will Perdue for layups.  But Larry Bird was starting to warm up after not shooting well in the 1st half.  His turnaround fall-away from the post over Pippen cut the Bulls lead to 70-69 halfway through the quarter.

The Celtics took their first lead since very early when Parish kicked out to Dennis Johnson for a jumper from the top.  But the Bulls followed with a 6-0 run.  Boston stayed within 86-83 going into the 4th quarter.

The final quarter started out just as the promoters wanted it to.  Jordan got a layup after a steal.  Bird popped out and hit an elbow jumper.  Jordan hit a jumper from the top.  Bird hit a three from the wing.

Bird continued to respond to Chicago buckets by either scoring or feeding to teammates.  His breakaway layup on a Parish outlet cut it to 97-96 with about 6:00 left.  What followed was each team trading punches without the other blinking.

Bird gave the Celtics the lead when D.J. found him for an elbow jumper.  Jordan penetrated and kicked out to Pippen for a corner three.  D.J. found Bird for a three of his own.  Pippen then penetrated and found Hodges for a three from the wing.  Kevin McHale kicked out of a double-team to D.J. for a jumper from the top.

All of that happened on consecutive possessions and the game was tied at 103 with 3:56 left.  After a timeout, Jordan hit two free throws to give the Bulls the lead.  Bird followed-up a Parish miss to tie it.  McHale then grabbed a Bulls miss and was ready to outlet the ball when Jordan stripped him and laid it in.

With about 2:00 left, D.J. tied it again with two free throws.  But Pippen found Horace Grant for a layup and the Bulls led 109-107.  Bird had a rare 4th quarter miss and Parish fouled Hodges chasing down the rebound.  Hodges hit two free throws for a four-point lead.

The Bulls eventually led 113-108 before Bird hit a turnaround fall-away from the post with under a minute to go.  Bird then rebounded a missed three from Pippen at the end of the shot clock.  Bird outletted to D.J. who pushed and found Reggie Lewis for a layup and a foul.  Lewis had a chance to tie the game but missed the free throw.

McHale fouled Jordan with 19.5 seconds left.  Michael made both free throws and the Bulls led 115-112.  After a Celtics timeout, Bird got open for a three.  He missed but Pippen was called for a foul and subsequently a technical.  This was still in the days that Bird got two free throws instead of three even though he was fouled behind the three-point line.  But with Pippen’s technical, Bird had three shots to tie it at 11.6 seconds.

Bird hit the technical but missed the first of his two regular shots.  The 1990 Celtics were one of the best free throw shooting teams in NBA history, but missed two key free throws.  Bird made the second to cut it to 115-114.  McHale fouled Pippen at 10.2 to foul out.  Pippen made the first but missed the second.

Parish rebounded and the Celtics pushed without calling a timeout.  Bird went for three and the win but Pippen, this time, successfully deflected his shot and Hodges was fouled by Lewis with 0.5 seconds left.  Hodges finished it with two free throws.

The Bulls won at Milwaukee two days later to increase their win streak to 9 before losing at home to Utah.  But the Bulls won 7 of their next 9 games (one of those losses being to Detroit 106-81) to improve to 45-23 when they traveled to Cleveland.  A year after Jordan gave the Cavaliers a cruel exit from the playoffs, he had another surprise for them.

The loss to Chicago kicked off a 3-game losing streak for Boston that put Michael Smith back on the bench.  But they rebounded and had a chance to increase their season-long winning streak of 4 games when they traveled to New York 20 days later.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (22) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (15) – Power Forward

Will Perdue (10) – Center

John Paxson (12) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (36) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Craig Hodges (15)

Stacey King (4)

B.J. Armstrong (2)

Ed Nealy (2)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (38) – Small Forward

Michael Smith (16) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (18) – Center

Dennis Johnson (11) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (8) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Kevin McHale (11)

Jim Paxson (12)

John Bagley (0)

Boston Coach: Jimmy Rodgers

March 24, 1990 – Boston Celtics 115 @New York Knicks 110

At the 1990 All-Star break, the New York Knicks were 32-16.  This was good for 2nd best in the East behind Detroit, two games ahead of Philadelphia and 3 games ahead of Boston for the lead in the Atlantic Division.

On March 11, they still led the Atlantic Division with a 39-22 record.  But after a home loss to Chicago two days later, they started to go the wrong way.  The Knicks lost their next 4 games and lost Charles Oakley for the rest of the regular season with a broken hand.  Now on a 5-game losing streak, New York was 3rd in the Atlantic and desperately needed a big performance.

The Knicks still had Patrick Ewing, Mark Jackson, Gerald Wilkins and Johnny Newman in the lineup.  Kenny Walker moved up to starter when Oakley got injured.  Off the bench came Kiki Vandeweghe, Trent Tucker and Eddie Lee Wilkins.  They lost Sidney Green to the Orlando Magic in the expansion draft in 1989 and traded young disgruntled guard Rod Strickland to San Antonio for Maurice Cheeks.  Cheeks brought a veteran presence and was challenging the struggling Jackson for the starting spot at the point.  New York also had a new coach after Rick Pitino left for Kentucky.  Assistant Stu Jackson stepped in for 1990.

Boston was headed in the opposite direction than the Knicks.  The Celtics had won 4 in a row and were starting to put their game together.  With it being a big division game, the Knicks needed a big performance and their star provided it.

Patrick Ewing started early hitting two jumpers from the post over Robert Parish to give New York an early lead.  His third turnaround jumper from down low put the Knicks ahead 13-7.  Ewing continued later with another baseline turnaround and then threw down an alley-oop pass from Gerald Wilkins.  Ewing’s driving hook put his team up 27-17.  Ewing had 12 points but was also getting help from Jackson and Wilkins.

But then Boston went on a 9-0 run as Kevin McHale, Larry Bird, Reggie Lewis, and Dennis Johnson all scored to cut the lead to one.  Boston finished the quarter on a 14-4 run and took a 34-31 lead at the break.

Ewing hit three more field goals from down low to start the 2nd quarter as Joe Kleine was now guarding him.  Later, two more jumpers from down low put the Knicks back up 47-40.  Although Ewing was dominating, his teammates were not getting involved and Jackson, most notably, looked like the player that had lost confidence and was getting booed by the home crowd.

Parish responded with two field goals but Ewing kept New York ahead as he was showing the Celtics every move he could think of down low.  Ewing capped the half when he tipped in a miss from Jackson with 0.6 left in the quarter.  New York led 62-56 and Ewing had 32 points.

Helped by a technical called on Bird, New York grabbed an early 10-point lead in the 3rd quarter.  They would push it to 74-62 when Jackson got a steal and found Kenny Walker for a layup.  Boston called a timeout at the 6:25 mark.

The Celtics went to McHale down low and he converted a three-point play.  D.J. then hit two jumpers and found McHale for a three from the top.  The McHale trey (he was going more to the three-point shot now that he wasn’t as able to elevate down low as he was earlier in his career) cut the Knicks lead to 76-74.

Two free throws from McHale tied it before Ewing led the Knicks on a 7-0 run to stretch the lead again.  Another turnaround jumper from Patrick down low gave him 41 points and gave New York an 85-78 lead heading into the 4th quarter.

Ewing scored 4 quick points to put the Knicks up 11.  But then Reggie Lewis hit a floater and Bird nailed a three.  After Ewing hit two free throws, Lewis hit a step-back from the baseline, McHale got a three-point play on an up-and-under move from the post, and then McHale put back a Bird miss for his 23rd point.  New York was now up only 91-90 and called a timeout at the 8:24 mark.

The teams then traded baskets until Boston was able to grab a three point lead.  Ewing had another field goal and two free throws to bring his total to 51 and bring New York to within one.  But then the Celtics defense was finally effective against Ewing as they stripped him twice and then forced a miss on the next few times he got the ball.

Lewis hit two free throws and Parish got a layup after former BC great John Bagley penetrated and found him.  McHale hit a fall-away from the post and Parish tipped in a McHale miss to give Boston a 106-100 lead with just over 2:00 left.  Then after getting the ball back, Bird spun past Johnny Newman in the post for a left-handed layup.

New York called timeout with 1:51 to go, down 108-100.  Newman would pull New York back to within 111-108 with 8 points.  The Knicks then forced a turnover from Bird and had a chance to tie it with a three.  But instead of giving Newman the ball again, they worked it around to Kenny Walker.  Walker took a long two-point shot from the baseline and it was blocked by McHale.

The Celtics were able to further put it away when Gerald Wilkins missed a driving layup and Boston hit most of its free throws.  Ewing fouled out with 10 seconds to go and, although he got a nice hand from the Garden crowd, he was clearly frustrated with not getting the win.  Ewing’s 51 points would end up being his career-high.

Although the Knicks ended their 6-game losing streak in their next ballgame, they skidded to a 45-37 finish and held off Milwaukee by one game to finish 5th in the East.  Boston’s 5-game winning streak ended in their next game but they had a 6-gamer in April and finished 52-30, good for 4th in the East.

So, with these teams’ finishes, they would play each other in the 1st round.  The Knicks would get Oakley back for the first playoff game.  It ended up making a difference.

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (19) – Small Forward

Kevin McHale (27) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (18) – Center

Dennis Johnson (8) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (31) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

John Bagley (2)

Joe Kleine (2)

Ed Pinckney (2)

Kevin Gamble (2)

Michael Smith (4)

Boston Coach: Chris Ford (taking over for Jimmy Rodgers on this night)

New York starters (points scored)

Johnny Newman (19) – Small Forward

Kenny Walker (8) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (51) – Center

Mark Jackson (6) – Point Guard

Gerald Wilkins (10) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

Kiki Vandeweghe (6)

Maurice Cheeks (9)

Trent Tucker (0)

Eddie Lee Wilkins (1)

Brian Quinnett (0)

Stuart Gray (0)

New York Coach: Stu Jackson

March 28, 1990 – Chicago Bulls 117 @Cleveland Cavaliers 113 (OT)

By 1990, the fans and people of Cleveland had had just about enough of Michael Jordan.  Michael had beaten the Cavs (almost by himself) in the playoffs the last two seasons, culminating with his game-winning shot in Game 5 in Cleveland the previous season.

But Michael hadn’t quite had enough of the Cavaliers yet.  In the opening game of the season, he dropped 54 on them in an overtime victory.

Cleveland was not quite the same as they had been in 1989, when they tied for the 2nd-best record in the league.  They started the season with Mark Price, Larry Nance and Brad Daugherty all out with injuries and lost their first 4 games as a result.  But Price came back and the Cavs won three in a row.

But on November 16, they traded star guard Ron Harper to the Clippers (along with three draft picks) for Danny Ferry and Reggie Williams.  Williams, after struggling in his first 3 1/2 seasons with the Clippers, would average just under 7 points per game for Cleveland in 32 games before being waived on February 26.  He would be picked up by San Antonio a week later.  Ferry was playing in Italy after being drafted but not wanting to play for the Clippers.  He would average double-figures in 2 seasons of his 13-year career.  So, although Harper would tear his ACL, this trade set Cleveland back.

Nance would return in early December but did not have his explosive jumping ability that made him an excellent shot-blocker.  The Cavs would not see Daugherty until January 30.  The Cavs would play at under .500 for most of the year as they went on three 5-game losing streaks and a 6-gamer at the beginning of March to fall to 25-34.  But then they won 7 of their next 9 games to get to within a 1/2 game of the 8th and final playoff spot.

Cleveland now had Craig Ehlo at the off-guard spot and rookies Winston Bennett and Chucky Brown were splitting times that they started at the forward spot opposite Nance.  John “Hot Rod” Williams preferred to be the 6th man and had an excellent season off the bench.  The Cavs had also acquired Steve Kerr, who had struggled in Phoenix in his first season but was starting to prove he belonged in the league.  1st-round pick John Morton was also getting some time at the guard spot.

Bennett was the man who would start out on Jordan in this game and Michael immediately took him to the post and hit a turnaround fall-away.  Cleveland though would match Chicago early on and took a lead with the help of a Phil Jackson technical.  Jordan hit another fall-away and put back a Scottie Pippen miss but it was 17-13 Cavs.

But then MJ would nail a three after Charles David grabbed an offensive rebound.  Jordan followed with a driving lefty layup and, later, a wing jumper.  But after the Cavs came back to take the lead, Jordan ended the quarter by pump-faking Ehlo at the elbow, and then nailing the jumper while Ehlo fouled him.  The three-point play gave Michael 16 points and gave Chicago a 27-26 lead heading into the 2nd quarter.

Mark Price was just about matching Jordan as he had 15 points in the first 15 minutes of the game.  The Cavs stayed right with the Bulls as Jordan got a rest and nobody else from Chicago was stepping up.

MJ would score 13 more points in the 2nd quarter to being his total to 29 and the Bulls took a 53-50 halftime lead when B.J. Armstrong made a wing jumper with 0.2 seconds remaining.

Jordan continued early in the 3rd quarter with a breakaway slam and a pull-up jumper in transition.  But the beef that was starting to develop among the Cleveland contingent was that Jordan was not being called for fouls despite contact and then getting cheap fouls called on the Cavs at the other end.

The biggest gripe would be a “breakaway” foul called on Hot Rod Williams that sent MJ to the line for two shots and then gave the Bulls the ball back.  The breakaway foul was basically to stop people from fouling from behind on the break (similar to today’s rule when a player would get one shot and his team the ball back).

The two free throws from Jordan and then a subsequent step-back jumper from the baseline over Ehlo gave Michael 39 points and gave the Bulls a 69-58 lead with 7:25 left.  By that point, Cavs coach Lenny Wilkens had had enough.

During the timeout, he argued so vehemently with the refs that he got himself ejected with two technicals.  Assistant Dick Helm took over as coach and Jordan made both technical free throws.

Chicago continued to hold the lead and eight straight points by Jordan, to give him 49, put the Bulls ahead 87-70 in the last minute of the 3rd.  Chicago’s biggest lead would be 18 when Pippen drove baseline for a runner.  But then within 20 seconds, Hot Rod Williams made a jumper in the post and Ehlo nailed a three for his 22nd point of the game.

Then after Pippen committed an offensive foul with 3.3 seconds remaining, John Morton went coast-to-coast for a runner at the buzzer that cut the Bulls lead to 89-78 and gave Cleveland 7 points in about 40 seconds.

The Cavs now had momentum and, after Jordan nailed a three at the end of the shot clock to put Chicago up 94-82, went on an 8-0 run to cut it to four.  But then there was more controversy that steamed Cleveland.  Williams was on the break and banged into John Paxson while Jordan goaltended a shot attempt.  But instead of the three-point play to cut it to one, Hot Rod was called for an offensive foul and the Cavs got no points.

Jordan would then nail two more jumpers to put Chicago up 98-92 with 4:37 remaining.  The biggest thing that was helping the Cavs was that Jordan was doing the scoring all by himself as Pippen, most notably, struggled mightily.  But Jordan had beaten the Cavs seemingly by himself before.

Williams would tip in his own miss and then get a slam on a Nance feed to cut the lead to 100-98.  Jordan countered with a pull-up but then with 2:20 remaining, Paxson fouled out after scoring only 2 points and Price made two free throws.  Nance would then split a pair at the line with 1:22 remaining and Cleveland only cut it to 102-101.

Horace Grant, the only Chicago double figure scorer other than Jordan, was then fouled after rebounding an MJ airball.  He made two free throws to put the Bulls up three.  Jordan would then foul Ehlo with 49.8 remaining but Craig split his free throws too.  But Pippen threw the ball away in the backcourt and the Cavs had a chance to tie it.

But Ehlo was short on a baseline jumper and then fouled Jordan on the rebound.  Michael made the first free throw for his 61st point but missed the second, giving Cleveland a chance to tie it with a three.  After a timeout, Price found Ehlo at the wing for a trey that tied the game with 11.3 seconds remaining.  Jordan would miss a contested three against a double-team and the game would head to overtime.

After the comeback that they had, Cleveland would seem to gain a huge psychological advantage if they could grab the lead at some point.  But they never did.

Both teams went scoreless on their first few overtime possessions before Jordan hit a pull-up in the lane and Bill Cartwright hit two free throws.  A three-point play by Price cut the lead to one but each team then traded free throws until Chicago led 113-112 with under a minute to go.

Ehlo rebounded a Jordan miss (Jordan had his career high at this point, his previous high was against Boston in the 1986 playoffs with 63 points) but his three would then bounce off the rim and over the backboard.  B.J. Armstrong hit two free throws with 10.7 seconds remaining to put the Bulls ahead 115-112.  Jordan then fouled Price before he could get off a tying three.  Price was a 90% foul shooter but split the free throws (Price actually missed three free throws in this game, going only 17-for-20 from the line).

Grant rebounded the second miss and was fouled with 7.6 seconds remaining.  It was Hot Rod’s 6th foul after a strong game off the bench.  But Grant bricked the first and then the second.  Jordan, though, rebounded the second miss and was fouled with 4.2 remaining to foul out Ehlo.  Jordan made the two shots for his 68th and 69th point and put the game away.  69 would remain his career-high despite numerous 50-point games (in the playoffs too) and even some 60-point games (not in the playoffs).

Chicago finished the season at 55-27.  It was the 2nd-best record in the Central Division and Eastern Conference, 4 games behind Detroit.  The Bulls would beat the 6th seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the 1st round in 4 games.  They would then take on the Philadelphia 76ers.

Philadelphia beat a team that rebounded from its slow start and having Jordan score 69 on them.  The Cavs won 10 of their final 13 games to finish at 42-40 and in the 7th spot in the East.  They beat Philadelphia twice in Cleveland but lost three times in the Spectrum for their 3rd straight 5-game defeat in the 1st round.

Although Philadelphia would hold off Boston for the Atlantic Division title, they literally had to fight to do it.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (7) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (16) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (9) – Center

John Paxson (2) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (69) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Stacey King (1)

B.J. Armstrong (6)

Will Perdue (0)

Charles Davis (5)

Clifford Lett (2)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Cleveland starters (points scored)

Winston Bennett (6) – Small Forward

Larry Nance (11) – Power Forward

Brad Daugherty (10) – Center

Mark Price (31) – Point Guard

Craig Ehlo (26) – Shooting Guard

Cleveland bench (points scored)

John Williams (23)

Chucky Brown (2)

Steve Kerr (2)

John Morton (2)

Tree Rollins (0)

Cleveland Coach: Lenny Wilkens

MJ 69

MJ hits a fall-away for two of his career-high 69 points against Cleveland while Larry Nance (#22) looks on *photo courtesy of Da Windy City

April 19, 1990 – Philadelphia 76ers 107 @Detroit Pistons 97

The Philadelphia 76ers needed one more win to clinch the Atlantic Division.  There were two more games in the season and the last would be hosting the Boston Celtics, who were on the heels of Philly.  CBS I’m sure was hoping that the division would come down to that game so that they could make it a Sunday afternoon showcase.

Philadelphia had gone 46-36 in 1989 under Jim Lynam and decided to get younger at the point guard by trading away a longtime popular piece.  Maurice Cheeks, along with Christian Welp and David Wingate, would be traded to the Spurs in August for Johnny Dawkins and Jay Vincent (who would be waived in December).  Dawkins, the former Dukie, would step in at the point.

The 76ers still had Charles Barkley, Hersey Hawkins and Mike Gminski to go along with him.  But then a move was made before the season that would make the 76ers hated by the Pistons.  Former Piston Rick Mahorn was acquired by Philadelphia from Minnesota, who had selected him in the expansion draft.  Mahorn and Barkley made for a physical front line that could match the Bad Boys.

It showed during the season as Philadelphia beat Detroit twice at the Spectrum and then lost an overtime game at the Palace in which they had a four-point lead in the final seconds of regulation.  While Detroit/Chicago may have been a hot matchup in the East, the Pistons/76ers would definitaly have been interesting.  Especially after this game.

Detroit already had the Central Division wrapped up.  They were up 3 games on the Bulls with 3 to play (and the Pistons had already won the season series with Chicago).  But the Pistons were trying to re-integrate their lineup.  Joe Dumars had been out for a few weeks with a broken wrist.  He had been a reserve in his first 4 games back but now was back in the starting lineup.

Furthermore, Chuck Daly made a gamble in the middle of January starting with a game at Chicago.  He put Dennis Rodman in the starting lineup in place of Mark Aguirre.  Rodman started along with Dumars, Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer and James Edwards.  Detroit followed by winning 25 of their next 26 games and Rodman would stay in the lineup for the rest of the year.

Dumars took advantage of his first starting role since the injury by nailing a baseline jumper for the first two points of the game.  He’d hit another one a few minutes later but would not end up shooting well in this game.  The lead swung back and forth and it would be Rodman, uncharacteristically, who would make three jump shots in the 1st quarter.

Philadelphia countered with balance as Barkley became the last starter to score.  But he finished the quarter with two slams and then a wing jumper over John Salley to put the 76ers up 25-22 heading into the 2nd quarter.

That lead increased as Ron Anderson came off the bench to score 8 quick points at Philly raced to a 36-25 advantage.  But Detroit got back into it as their new 6th man Mark Aguirre contributed as well.  Barkley though would score 11 points in the quarter, including a strong lefty layup in the post and then a three over Salley.  The 76ers grabbed a 53-43 halftime lead.

Isiah Thomas had struggled with only 2 points in the 1st half but he came out strong in the 3rd with 6 quick points.  Then Laimbeer put back his own miss to cut it to 55-51 and force a Philly timeout at the 9:51 mark.  By this point in the game, there had been three near skirmishes.  A lot of the animosity centered around Mahorn now being in an enemy uniform from the Detroit perspective and giving the 76ers a physicality.  Mahorn and Laimbeer drew technicals early in the 3rd after a near-skirmish.

Detroit would cut the lead to one twice but never could grab the advantage.  Barkley and Mahorn did just enough to hold off Detroit initially and then Philadelphia finished the 3rd quarter on a 6-0 run, culminating from a three by Hersey Hawkins.  The 76ers led 75-67 heading into the 4th.

Vinnie Johnson went into microwave mode early in the 4th and scored 8 points.  But Barkley countered with 6 to hold Detroit off.  Back-to-back buckets by Mike Gminski put the 76ers up 91-81 at the 5:27 mark.

Detroit would make one final run, although a portion of it would be without Isiah Thomas.  Thomas was trying to steal the ball from Mahorn on a play in the back court and ended up throwing two punches.  Mahorn didn’t even flinch at them and Isiah was ejected with Detroit down 93-86.

Dumars found Laimbeer for a three to cut it to 94-89 with 2:40 remaining.  But Detroit could not cut it any further and went into a drought over the next minute.  Philadelphia regained a 10-point lead when Barkley banked in a pull-up jumper.  Then Detroit would score and play the foul game.

It all came to a head when Mahorn got a breakaway slam with 14.8 seconds remaining to put the 76ers up 107-95.  Laimbeer then shoved the ball in Mahorn’s face and both pushed at each other.  By then Barkley came in and he and Laimbeer threw hay-makers at each other.  Everybody on the bench came out to try and break it up (this was before the rule that you couldn’t leave the bench during a skirmish) and ended up piling onto each other and causing more harm than good.

After a few minutes, it seemed to be calmer but there was still some simmering.  Laimbeer walked by the 76ers bench after being ejected and that escalated another near-skirmish.  Then it almost spilled into the crowd (a prelude to the Malice at the Palace) as Barkley, who was also ejected, walked to the tunnel by himself and got into it with fans.

They were finally able to finish the game but Laimbeer and Barkley would be suspended for the next game on each team’s schedule.  However, the 76ers could absorb a 20-point loss to the Celtics in the final game because they had clinched their division with the victory over Detroit.  The 76ers would finish at 53-29 and would beat Cleveland in the 1st round in 5 games to take on Chicago.  Detroit topped the East with a 59-23 record and swept Indiana in the 1st round.  They would take on the Knicks/Celtics winner, to be discussed after sorting out some chaos in the West.

But an NBA fan sure had to be looking forward to a possible 76ers/Pistons matchup in the playoffs after this scene.

Philadelphia starters (points scored)

Charles Barkley (36) – Small Forward

Rick Mahorn (11) – Power Forward

Mike Gminski (16) – Center

Johnny Dawkins (16) – Point Guard

Hersey Hawkins (13) – Shooting Guard

Philadelphia bench (points scored)

Ron Anderson (15)

Scott Brooks (0)

Kenny Payne (0)

Kurt Nimphius (0)

Philadelphia Coach: Jim Lynam

Detroit starters (points scored)

Dennis Rodman (10) – Small Forward

James Edwards (24) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (8) – Center

Isiah Thomas (13) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (8) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (15)

Vinnie Johnson (14)

John Salley (3)

William Bedford (2)

Gerald Henderson (0)

David Greenwood (0)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

April 19, 1990 – Denver Nuggets 130 @Houston Rockets 127 (OT)

In 1990, it was the season of career highs for the all-time greats.  On January 27th, Karl Malone got 61 points as the Utah Jazz thrashed the Milwaukee Bucks 144-96.  Then, as covered earlier, Patrick Ewing had 51 in a loss against Boston and Michael Jordan had 69 in a win at Cleveland.  Now, with the season three days away from ending and his team’s playoff hopes hanging in the balance, it was Hakeem Olajuwon’s turn.

Going into this game, the Denver Nuggets were 41-38 and in the 7th spot in the West.  The Houston Rockets were 40-39 and in the 8th spot.  Meanwhile, the Seattle Supersonics were 39-40 and on the outside looking in, at the moment.

As fate would have it, Denver could clinch a playoff spot with a win and Houston would tie Denver with a win (although the Nuggets would still have the edge because of winning the season series 3-2).

The Denver Nuggets were one of the most successful teams in the NBA in the 1980’s.  They had won the Midwest Division in 1985 and 1988 and had gone as far as the Conference Finals in 1985.  But things were winding down.  New ownership had taken over and longtime Nuggets were being dealt.

The often-injured Calvin Natt would be traded in the middle of the 1989 season.  Then after the 1990 season ended, Lafayette “Fat” Lever would be traded to Dallas for two 1st round picks.  Lever, who was an All-Star in 1990, would finish out his career, with injuries, on lowly Dallas Maverick teams.  The Nuggets then let Alex English walk to Dallas in free agency to play out his final season.  Finally, in September, head coach Doug Moe would be let go.  By the time the 1991 season started, the Nuggets were a jumbled mess.

As for Houston, they still had Olajuwon, Otis Thorpe and Sleepy Floyd with head coach Don Chaney as their core.  But there was starting to be some grumblings from Olajuwon about not being able to put a good team around him as Houston struggled through the season.

Lewis Lloyd and Mitchell Wiggins (father of Andrew Wiggins) would be reinstated for the season after a two-year drug expulsion.  Guards Anthony Bowie and Vernon Maxwell would be purchased from the Spurs.  Veteran forward Larry Smith would be signed.  Buck Johnson would have his best season in the NBA.  But with all that, Houston had gone over .500 the previous weekend for the first time since early December.

But with all the turmoil on both sides, the playoffs were still within reach.  Both teams, especially Denver, were fast-paced and proved it in the 1st half.  Houston raced out to a lead but Denver came back to cut it to 61-58 at the half.  Floyd and Hakeem had led Houston with 18 and 16 points, respectively, and Fat Lever led the way for Denver.

The Nuggets scored the first 5 points of the 2nd half to take a lead.  But Olajuwon and Sleepy led the Rockets on an 8-0 run that forced a Doug Moe timeout at the 8:27 mark.  Houston would eventually increase their lead to 74-65 when Vernon Maxwell got a breakaway double-pump three-point play.

But Denver’s veterans would take over in the 2nd half.  Walter Davis (who would sign with Denver in 1988 after 11 seasons in Phoenix) and Danny Schayes (in his 7th season with the Nuggets) took over in the latter part of the 3rd to cut into Houston’s lead.

The Nuggets cut it to 88-87 at the end of the 3rd when 5’10” Michael Adams hit a runner in the lane over Hakeem.  Olajuwon had answered the call as he had 30 points at the end of the 3rd and continued to match baskets with Denver in the 4th.  He repeatedly featured his baseline turnaround jumper against a smaller Danny Schayes and also hit him with a few drop-steps as well.

But the Nuggets would bring on another veteran and unsung hero.  Bill Hanzlik was in his 8th season in Denver and his last season in the league.  But he hit three big jumpers in the 4th quarter to keep Denver in it.  Mitchell Wiggins would do the same for Houston as he had a big quarter hitting jumpers on Olajuwon kickouts.

Wiggins scored 6 Houston points in a row but two free throws from Hanzlik with 59.1 seconds remaining put the Nuggets ahead 115-114.  Olajuwon came back with a jump hook in the lane for his 46th point.  He then blocked a Schayes shot and Davis had to foul Floyd with 10.6 seconds left.  Floyd made both free throws to put Houston up 118-115.

But Denver pushed it immediately and Fat Lever was wide open for a three after a screen and buried it to tie the game with 4.9 seconds remaining.  Houston went to Olajuwon after a timeout but he came up short on a turnaround jumper and the game was heading to overtime.

Denver would take the initial advantage in overtime as their veterans Schayes and Hanzlik each scored a field goal to put the Nuggets up 123-119.  But then Hakeem would break out a dream shake and hit another baseline turnaround.  Wiggins then banked in a jumper to tie the game.

After Denver regained a 125-123 advantage, Olajuwon would go for the kill.  He hit a pull-up in the lane and then a baseline turnaround to put Houston ahead and force a Denver timeout with 1:13 remaining.

But then Lever, who had an under-rated performance in this game and an under-rated NBA career, went for his own kill.  He nailed a three from the top to give the Nuggets a 128-127 advantage with 56.4 seconds remaining.  Denver doubled Olajuwon and he had to kick it out.  Wiggins then found Larry Smith underneath but he missed a layup.

Denver rebounded and ran down the shot clock.  Adams missed but Schayes rebounded and Olajuwon was forced to foul him.  It was Hakeem’s 6th foul and, like Ewing against Boston, he had to go to the bench frustrated with his career high but with his team down.  Olajuwon finished with 52 points.

Schayes made both free throws with 7.7 seconds remaining.  Houston, after a timeout, brought in Mike Woodson for his first action of the game.  As fate would have it, it would be Woodson who launched the tying three-pointer at the buzzer.  He airballed it.

Denver clinched a playoff spot with their win but would get swept by San Antonio in the 1st round.  Their next playoff appearance came in 1994.  Nobody from the current Nuggets team was still on the team at that point.

Houston was now tied with Seattle, after the Supersonics’ overtime win in Sacramento, with a 40-40 record.  The race for the 8th spot would come down to the final day of the season.

Denver starters (points scored)

Alex English (16) – Small Forward

Jerome Lane (2) – Power Forward

Joe Barry Carroll (2) – Center

Michael Adams (21) – Point Guard

Fat Lever (22) – Shooting Guard

Denver bench (points scored)

Walter Davis (12)

Blair Rasmussen (16)

Danny Schayes (16)

Todd Lichti (6)

Bill Hanzlik (14)

Tim Kempton (0)

T.R. Dunn (3)

Denver Coach: Doug Moe

Houston starters (points scored)

Buck Johnson (12) – Small Forward

Otis Thorpe (10) – Power Forward

Hakeem Olajuwon (52) – Center

Sleepy Floyd (28) – Point Guard

Vernon Maxwell (9) – Shooting Guard

Houston bench (points scored)

Mitchell Wiggins (12)

Mike Woodson (0)

Anthony Bowie (0)

Larry Smith (4)

Tim McCormick (0)

Houston Coach: Don Chaney

April 22, 1990 – Seattle Sonics 122 @Golden State Warriors 124

The final game of the regular season on this blog featured two under-achieving teams who had made the playoffs in 1989.  One of them still had a chance as Seattle had grabbed a one game lead over Houston for the final playoff spot.

Like Houston, Seattle had been so-so throughout the year and could never get a good streak going.  Injuries didn’t help as their two leading scorers, Xavier McDaniel and Dale Ellis, missed a significant amount of time.  Derrick McKey and Sedale Threatt stepped up to average double figures, while Michael Cage and rookie Dana Barros averaged 9.7 points per game.  Threatt had been a reserve for most of the season while Nate McMillan started at the point, but Threatt was in the lineup now for head coach Bernie Bickerstaff.  The Sonics also featured a young man fresh out of JC named Shawn Kemp.  The Reign Man would make his impact in subsequent years.

Seattle was 41-40 after beating the Los Angeles Clippers.  Houston had lost by one point at Dallas the night after losing to Denver.  So the Rockets stood at 40-41 but would hold the tiebreaker should they have the same record as the Sonics.  Houston was hosting Utah in a game that would also decide the Midwest Division and some playoff positioning.

Both Utah and San Antonio were 55-26 going into the day and Phoenix was right behind them at 54-27.  San Antonio beat Phoenix 108-93 on the final day.  This locked the Suns into the 5th spot in the West.  Meanwhile, San Antonio would win the Midwest if Houston beat Utah.

As for Golden State, they started out at 4-14 and were playing catch-up the rest of the way.  A 6-game losing streak in February didn’t help and a 5-game losing streak in April knocked them out of the playoff race.  They were 36-45 coming in.

The Warriors had acquired Seattle’s big man, Alton Lister, in the off-season for a draft pick that turned out to be Gary Payton.  The Warriors had also acquired rugged Jim Petersen from Sacramento in exchange for Ralph Sampson.  Petersen was only able to play 43 games while Lister participated in 3 games.  With these big men out, the Warriors had to trot out the likes of Christian Welp and Mike Smrek over the last half season at center.

But the Warriors guard line was coming together along with superstar Chris Mullin.  Mitch Richmond was drafted in 1988 and had an awesome first two seasons (but he was sitting out this game).  Then the Warriors drafted Tim Hardaway in 1989 and Run TMC was underway.  Hardaway actually needed 8 assists in this game to pass Oscar Robertson for the 2nd most assists by a rookie (the all-time leader was Mark Jackson).  He got 6 in the first half but none in the 2nd, third isn’t bad though.

The Warriors had also brought some talent from Europe as Sarunas Marciulionis was signed in the off-season.  Those four players averaged in double figures along with veteran forwards Terry Teagle and Rod Higgins.  The were a fast-paced fun group to watch coached by offensive genius Don Nelson.  But their peak would have to wait for the next two seasons.

Seattle and Golden State matched each other early on before a 7-0 Warriors run, led by Hardaway, put them up 17-14 halfway through the 1st quarter.  But Seattle came back to tie it at 34 at the end of the quarter.

With the score now tied at 42 halfway through the 2nd quarter, Seattle made their push for a playoff spot.  McDaniel hit a turnaround from the post and Threatt nailed a wing jumper.  Then Ellis, who had been posting up for most of the game, got a three-point play down low to put the Sonics up 49-42.  Ellis and McDaniel continued the assault as Seattle grabbed an 11-point lead and a 66-58 halftime advantage.  Ellis led the way with 18 points.

Rod Higgins started off the 2nd half well for the Warriors with 7 points.  Golden State cut it to 70-69 on a Tim Hardaway pull-up and forced a Seattle timeout with 9:34 left.  But Seattle regained a 10-point lead as Threatt and Ellis each made two field goals and McKey got a three-point play.

Higgins put back his own miss to cut it to 84-76 but then Hardaway picked up his 4th foul.  That cleared the way for an unsung hero.  Kelvin Upshaw had been with 3 teams in 2 seasons and had been cut 4 times before joining the Warriors.  Although Upshaw would not last beyond the season in Golden State, and wouldn’t last beyond 1991 in the NBA, he made a great case in this game as he would have his moments.

Meanwhile, five straight points by Mullin cut the Sonics lead to 89-87.  But after the Sonics regained a 96-90 lead late in the quarter, Upshaw had his first moment when he nailed a wing jumper with 3.8 seconds remaining to cut the lead to four going into the 4th.

He then made his first two jumpers in the final quarter and a Teagle layup tied the game at 98 and forced a Seattle timeout at the 10:43 mark.  Upshaw then matched Seattle points with four of his own to keep the game tied at 102.  Hardaway hit a step-back to give the Warriors their first lead in awhile.

McKey then fouled out for Seattle and Upshaw kept scoring points.  He hit four more to give the Warriors a 108-106 advantage.  Then Mullin penetrated and kicked out to Hardaway for a three to put Golden State up by five with 5:27 remaining.  They kept their lead over the next four minutes and things looked bleak for Seattle when Ellis fouled out with 1:41 remaining.  Mullin hit two free throws to put the Warriors up 120-114.

Seattle hit 2-of-4 free throws and had a turnover over the next few possessions but Golden State couldn’t take advantage until Hardaway hit two free throws with 46.8 seconds remaining to give Golden State a 122-116 lead.  Then Seattle’s unsung heroes came to life.

Threatt found Dana Barros for a three from the top to cut it to 122-119 with 37.4 remaining.  Seattle decided to play straight up defense and not foul.  It worked out as Upshaw missed from the corner and McDaniel rebounded.  Seattle didn’t use a timeout and McDaniel crossed the ball to Quintin Dailey.  Dailey, who had been battling drug problems throughout his career and got his last chance with the Sonics in 1990, nailed a corner three to tie the game with 7.1 seconds remaining.

Don Nelson then set up a great play as Mullin inbounded to Higgins at the wing.  When Higgins got the ball, Hardaway cut to the basket from the top of the key and got a pass for a layup with 3.3 remaining.  Seattle again didn’t use a timeout and Barros hit nothing but backboard from halfcourt.

Although the Warriors had won, Seattle wasn’t quite knocked out of the playoffs until Houston beat Utah 100-88 later that day.  Utah’s loss gave San Antonio the Midwest Division and gave Utah a 1st round matchup with the Phoenix Suns.  The Jazz would end up hoping that they had beaten Houston and won the Division.  Meanwhile, Houston would give the top-seeded Lakers something they hadn’t had in 9 seasons.

As for these two teams, the Warriors would not retain several of the players who played in this game (Mullin, Higgins, Hardaway and Marciulionis would be the only ones) but would improve over the next two seasons.  For Seattle, there would be a slight overhaul in 1991 that actually shaped their playoff teams in the early 90’s.  It’ll be covered in the 1991 blog but it started with Bernie Bickerstaff not being retained as coach.

Seattle starters (points scored)

Derrick McKey (14) – Small Forward

Xavier McDaniel (21) – Power Forward

Michael Cage (7) – Center

Sedale Threatt (19) – Point Guard

Dale Ellis (33) – Shooting Guard

Seattle bench (points scored)

Dana Barros (7)

Quintin Dailey (15)

Shawn Kemp (0)

Nate McMillan (4)

Olden Polynice (2)

Seattle Coach: Bernie Bickerstaff

Golden State starters (points scored)

Chris Mullin (24) – Small Forward

Rod Higgins (25) – Power Forward

Christian Welp (2) – Center

Tim Hardaway (28) – Point Guard

Sarunas Marciulionis (17) – Shooting Guard

Golden State bench (points scored)

Terry Teagle (10)

Kelvin Upshaw (17)

Manute Bol (1)

Mike Smrek (0)

Golden State Coach: Don Nelson

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Tim Hardaway finished with the 3rd most assists by a rookie (behind Oscar Robertson and Mark Jackson) *photo courtesy of San Jose Fuji

April 29, 1990 – West Quarterfinals, Game 2: Houston Rockets 100 @Los Angeles Lakers 104

So far, the NBA playoffs were a bit of a dud.  April 29 was the 4th day of the playoffs and so far, the home team had won every game (that would change when Phoenix defeated Utah later that night) and most had not been very close.

This game would change that, even if it showed a bored Laker team where the Pat Riley cracks may have been starting to show.  The Lakers had not lost a first round game since 1981.  But they were 0-2 in playoff series against the Houston Rockets in the 1980’s (the Rockets had actually been the last team to defeat L.A. in a first round game).

The Rockets had a 13-point lead in Game 1 before the Lakers outscored them 58-40 in the 2nd half and won by 12.  Now Pat Riley was going for his 100th playoff win, which would put him past Red Auerbach for 1st place.  This was a big deal in the grand scheme of the Celtics/Lakers rivalry.  But Houston again wouldn’t make it easy.

The Lakers had doubled Hakeem Olajuwon whenever he got the ball and made the others beat them.  Early in Game 2, it worked out for the Rockets as they hit the offensive boards.  Magic Johnson and James Worthy would be the catalysts early on as the Lakers took a 17-13 lead 5 minutes into the game.

But Houston’s offensive boardwork put them back into a 24-all tie.  Then Vernon Maxwell went crazy (crazy in a good way in this case) and scored 9 points over the final 2:26 of the 1st quarter to lead Houston to a 33-30 advantage going into the 2nd quarter.

Maxwell and Sleepy Floyd kept it going for the Rockets as they kept the lead.  Worthy and Magic seemed to be the only Lakers not playing lackadaisical.  Houston got plenty of steals and breakaways and also beat the Lakers trap defense.  Otis Thorpe and Buck Johnson also got involved as the Rockets took a 55-46 lead with 2:46 to go.

Then Buck Johnson hit a runner, Floyd hit two free throws and found Mitchell Wiggins for a transition jumper, and then Olajuwon hit a turnaround from the post.  Suddenly, Houston had a 17-point lead and the Forum crowd, which had been louder than one you’d normally expect for a first round game, was silent.

Riley had to call his 4th timeout of the quarter.  The Rockets would take their biggest lead at 65-46 before Worthy hit two free throws to finish the 1st half with 19 points and cut the Rockets lead back to 17 at the half.

Not surprisingly, a different Laker team came out for the 2nd half.  Magic penetrated and found Byron Scott for a corner three and then Worthy hit back-to-back baskets.  But 6 points in a row from Floyd put Houston back up by 16.

However, Scott and A.C. Green got involved as they scored the next 7 Lakers points.  The teams would battle evenly as Maxwell continued to have a strong game for the Rockets.  Houston took an 80-69 lead when Hakeem found Floyd with a long pass for a breakaway.

But then Green hit a jumper from the top on a kickout from Magic, Scott drove down the lane for a layup and Magic hit a hook shot in the lane.  Houston salvaged the run when Floyd found Maxwell for a transition layup to put the Rockets ahead 82-75 going into the 4th quarter.  But the Lakers were now awake and not bored.

The teams continued to battle evenly through the first part of the 4th quarter.  Houston would not go away as Olajuwon was a presence of the defensive end while his teammates handled the scoring.  The Rockets maintained a 92-85 lead after a Buck Johnson slam.

But the Lakers bench brought them back as Vlade Divac and Orlando Woolridge were able to put together some points.  Divac, the rookie, actually played down the stretch in Mychal Thompson’s place and hit four key free throws and scored 6 points as the Lakers cut the lead to 92-91.

A baseline jumper from Buck Johnson kept Houston ahead with 3 1/2 to go.  Magic found Woolridge for a slam but Floyd drove for a score and Buck hit two free throws to put Houston ahead 98-93 with 2:39 left.

But then Woolridge drew Olajuwon’s 5th foul and hit two free throws.  Then after a steal, Divac follow-slammed a Woolridge breakaway miss to cut the lead back to one with 1:43 to go.

Maxwell hit a pull-up jumper after a timeout to put Houston back ahead 100-97.  But then Floyd was called for a foul on Worthy away from the ball at the 1:19 mark.  James hit both free throws and then made the biggest play of the game.

The Rockets went to Olajuwon and he was doubled (what new?), so he tried to kick it out to Maxwell cross-court but Worthy shot the gap and intercepted that pass.  Worthy completed his sequence with a breakaway slam to put L.A. ahead 101-100.  Houston had to call their last timeout at the 1:04 mark.

Maxwell missed a jumper and Magic rebounded.  Otis Thorpe would then be called for a foul on Worthy with 33.9 to go.  But James could only make 1-of-2 this time.  The Rockets knew where they wanted to go even without a timeout.

They went inside to Olajuwon.  He attempted a turnaround jumper from the baseline and then ball went in-and-out.  Magic rebounded and Byron Scott was eventually fouled with 7.2 to go.  He made both free throws to ice the game.  The Lakers celebrated a bit more than usual after this game as they knew they had survived.

Although the Lakers would go on to win the series, the Rockets delivered them what they hadn’t had in 9 years.  Houston defeated L.A. 114-108 in Game 3 to give them a first round loss.  The Lakers won Game 4 109-88 but would run into the most trouble in the next round.

Houston starters (points scored)

Buck Johnson (16) – Small Forward

Otis Thorpe (14) – Power Forward

Hakeem Olajuwon (11) – Center

Sleepy Floyd (27) – Point Guard

Vernon Maxwell (24) – Shooting Guard

Houston bench (points scored)

Mitchell Wiggins (4)

Larry Smith (4)

Tim McCormick (0)

Houston Coach: Don Chaney

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (32) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (10) – Power Forward

Mychal Thompson (4) – Center

Magic Johnson (17) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (17) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Orlando Woolridge (10)

Vlade Divac (12)

Michael Cooper (2)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Pat Riley

May 6, 1990 – East Quarterfinals, Game 5: New York Knicks 121 @Boston Celtics 114

Not surprisingly, there would be some road victories as the 1990 playoffs went into its 2nd week.  Two series did not have any through a week and a half.  Philadelphia defeated Cleveland in 5 games by winning all three at the Spectrum.  The other was Boston/New York.

There was not expected to be a road victory in Game 5 either.  For one, New York had not won at Boston Garden since Bernard King was leading the way in January, 1984.  They had also lost their last 8 playoff games at the Garden, dating back to 1974.  Secondly, the Celtics had set several playoff scoring records the last time the Knicks were in the building in Game 2.  They shot 67% from the field, had three 40 point quarters, and won 157-128.

The Knicks did have Charles Oakley back but Mark Jackson was a shadow of himself and would be benched for the entirety of Game 5.  Patrick Ewing though would be at his best at Madison Square Garden.  The Knicks won Game 3 102-99 on a late shot by Kenny Walker.  Then they killed the Celtics 135-108 in Game 4 as Ewing led the way with 44 points.  Also contributing mightily was Johnny Newman, who was now the 6th man.  Newman had been a Celtics killer the last few seasons.

Boston took the early lead in Game 5 as Larry Bird got hot.  His pull-up three-pointer from the wing put the Celtics up 23-16 and forced Stu Jackson to call a timeout.  Patrick Ewing did not get involved until late in the quarter with two field goals.  Bird scored 13 points as Boston led 32-24 after one.

Boston maintained that 8-point lead until New York’s bench provided a spark early in the 2nd quarter.  Newman hit a pull-up jumper and then drove baseline for a slam.  Trent Tucker then hit a three to give New York the lead.  An Oakley putback made it 39-36 Knicks and forced Jimmy Rodgers to call a Boston timeout at the 6:48 mark.

The teams battled to a 46-all tie until Bird fed Robert Parish for two layups and then Reggie Lewis pushed the ball and found Dennis Johnson for a baseline jumper.  But a baseline jumper from Ewing with 0.6 left in the half cut the Celtics halftime lead to 54-50.

Bird had 17 points while Oakley had a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds at the half.  An effective play for the Knicks was when they went down low to Ewing and Boston doubled, Oakley would cut to the basket and got a few layups.

The Knicks had become confident after their Game 4 performance and had answered Boston’s challenges so far.  New York took an early 58-56 lead in the 3rd.  Then Ewing and Mark Jackson’s replacement, Maurice Cheeks, took control.  But Boston stayed with them as Kevin McHale scored 8 quick points, including a three-pointer, and then the Celtics took a 73-66 lead on a three-point play from Reggie Lewis.

But the Knicks responded again as Ewing hit a jumper in the lane for his 10th point of the quarter.  Then he and Cheeks each hit two free throws.  Cheeks would then score the next 6 Knicks points to give them a 78-77 lead.  After Bird hit two free throws, Cheeks found Gerald Wilkins for a slam, Oakley hit two free throws and then Newman penetrated and found Ewing for a slam.

Ewing would finish with 14 points in the 3rd while Cheeks contributed 11.  New York took an 87-83 lead heading into the 4th.  But Boston started out the last quarter as you’d expect from the Eastern Conference team of the ’80’s.  Lewis put back his own miss and then D.J. found Bird for a jumper from the foul line to tie the game.

But the Knicks responded again as Ewing kicked out to Tucker for a three and then Patrick got the roll on a turnaround jumper.  The game would go back and forth as two buckets from D.J. cut the Knicks lead to 92-91.  But then two field goals from Oakley put the Knicks back up 97-91.

But Newman committed his 5th foul with 8:09 to go and it took a weapon off the court for Stu Jackson.  But the Knicks persevered thanks to some luck and some great hustle.  Lewis missed two free throws (this was a bigger deal as the 1990 Celtics are one of the best foul shooting teams in NBA history), and then Tucker broke up a 3-on-1 Boston fast break by getting a piece of the ball from behind the middle man.  This led to an Oakley slam.

However, back-to-back baskets from Lewis and D.J. cut the lead back to 99-97 with 5:28 to go.  But then the Knicks made their final run.  Newman came back into the game and Ewing hit him on a cut for a slam.  Ewing then hit a hook shot in the lane.

Bird would help the Knicks run when he missed a reverse slam after a great spin move in the post.  Cheeks then hit a pull-up jumper to give New York a 105-99 lead.  Lewis and Cheeks would exchange baskets before great Knick ball movement found Johnny Newman for a wide-open three from the wing.  This made the score 110-101 and forced a Boston timeout with 2:51 to go.

But the dagger was yet to come.  After Oakley grabbed his 15th rebound after a Boston miss, the Knicks ran down the shot clock.  Oakley then penetrated and tried to kick to Ewing but the pass was away from Patrick on the baseline.  Ewing though ran it down and recovered the ball in the left corner beyond the three-point line in front of the Knicks bench (which probably helped him realize that the shot clock was running out).  Ewing launched the three and made it with 2:03 to go to give the Knicks a 113-101 lead.

Game. Set. Match.

The Knicks would go on to meet the Detroit Pistons in the next round.  Ewing would average 27 points per game in the series but the Pistons shut off the other guys and won easily 4-1.

Over the summer, the Knicks would, in my view, make one of their big mistakes that came back to bite them in the ’90’s.  They did not match the Charlotte Hornets offer sheet to Johnny Newman and lost him in free agency.  As the years went on and the Knicks lacked consistent perimeter shooting and perimeter defense, one (like me) had to wonder if Newman would have made a difference.  But, as a Bulls fan, I like how things turned out.

For Boston, it would not quite be the end but it was nearing.  Dennis Johnson and Jim Paxson announced their retirements during the off-season.  Jimmy Rodgers was fired as coach two days after this game.  He would be replaced by another former K.C. Jones assistant in Chris Ford.  The Celtics would have a resurgence of sorts for most of the 1991 season.

New York starters (points scored)

Kiki Vandeweghe (4) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (26) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (31) – Center

Maurice Cheeks (21) – Point Guard

Gerald Wilkins (12) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

Johnny Newman (13)

Trent Tucker (14)

Kenny Walker (0)

Stuart Gray (0)

New York Coach: Stu Jackson

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (31) – Small Forward

Kevin McHale (17) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (22) – Center

Dennis Johnson (21) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (19) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Jim Paxson (0)

Joe Kleine (2)

Michael Smith (0)

Ed Pinckney (0)

John Bagley (2)

Boston Coach: Jimmy Rodgers

ewing 90

Patrick Ewing hits a jumper over Robert Parish in Game 5 as Larry Bird looks on *photo courtesy of nba.com

1990 West Quarterfinals, Game 5: Phoenix Suns 104 @Utah Jazz 102

The Phoenix Suns were the surprise team in the NBA in 1989.  They won 55 games, after winning 28 the previous season, and went to the Western Conference Finals.

But in 1990, they had to change their team a little bit.  Starting small forward Tyrone Corbin was drafted by Minnesota in the expansion draft.  This moved star Tom Chambers to the small forward spot, where he wasn’t as effective.  Chambers did not have the quickness to go against most of the small forwards in the league and his advantage at power forward (taking bigger guys outside) was gone.  Although he averaged a career-high 27.2 points per game, his average would start to drop over the next few seasons as he got into his 30’s.

The Suns initially started Armen Gilliam at power forward and got off to a slow start.  But then Gilliam was traded to Charlotte in December for a veteran presence in Kurt Rambis.  Rambis provided toughness and the Suns started to get it together with a 10-game winning streak in January that kicked off a 30-5 streak.  But the Suns went 10-9 down the stretch and finished a game behind Utah for the 4th seed.

Chambers and point guard Kevin Johnson were named All-Stars.  1989 6th man of the year Eddie Johnson and center Mark West were good veteran pieces and guards Jeff Hornacek and Dan Majerle, along with big men Tim Perry and Andrew Lang were good young pieces (3 of those 4 players would eventually be good young pieces that brought a superstar to Phoenix in a trade).

The Utah Jazz were two years removed from taking the world champion Lakers to 7 games in the West Semifinals.  They were seen as a real threat to the Lakers but had been swept by Golden State in the 1989 1st round.  Utah still had the core of Karl Malone, John Stockton, Mark Eaton and Thurl Bailey but had finished one game behind San Antonio for the Midwest Division crown.

However, with a home win in this game, the Jazz would get another shot at the Lakers.  Jerry Sloan had stepped in for Frank Layden early in the 1989 season and would not leave the bench for a long, long time.  Utah still had veteran guards in Bobby Hansen and Darrell Griffith, and they had drafted Blue Edwards in the 1st round of the 1989 draft.

The first 4 games started to expose Chambers’ weaknesses at small forward.  He was shooting 17-for-54 from the field and had a nightmare on both ends with the quicker Thurl Bailey.  But the Suns had won two games as Kevin and Eddie Johnson, Hornacek, Majerle and even Mark West was contributing offensively.  But then Karl Malone’s 33 offset Eddie Johnson’s 33 in Game 4 as E.J. got little offensive help and Utah won in Phoenix 105-94.

The Jazz continued that momentum and took an early lead in Game 5.  But despite that, Chambers did hit an early turnaround jumper from the post against the 6’11” Bailey.  John Stockton also picked up two fouls but the Jazz got a bonus.  In the 4th round of the 1985 draft, Utah had selected Wake Forest guard Delaney Rudd.  Usually, 4th round picks didn’t stick around long but Rudd finally got the call in the 1990 season and replaced Stockton early in this one.

He immediately handed out 4 assists and hit a runner in the lane as Utah took a 20-13 lead.  But Kevin Johnson was keeping Phoenix in it by hitting pull-up jumper after pull-up jumper.  K.J. scored 9 points in the 1st quarter and Chambers had 6.  Phoenix came back to take a 23-22 lead at the end of the 1st quarter as E.J. and Hornacek got their first field goals.

The benches matched each other for the 2nd quarter.  Darrell Griffith came in and hit three field goals as Utah took a 40-31 lead.  Then Eddie Johnson hit three field goals of his own to bring Phoenix back to a 45-all tie.  But then Eddie and Chambers each picked up their 3rd fouls and Utah took a 4-point lead despite Karl Malone picking up a technical.

Malone did have 14 1st half points despite going 2-for-5 on free throws.  K.J. got his 13th point with 4 seconds left in the half as he went 1-on-1 against Rudd and hit a turnaround in the lane.  But Rudd came right back and hit a pull-up jumper (with his foot on the three-point line) at the buzzer to give Utah a 53-49 halftime advantage.

Malone scored 8 points in the first 7 minutes of the 3rd quarter to give Utah a 66-59 lead.  But then with 4:24 to go, the Mailman picked up his 4th foul (on a silly reach-in foul on the perimeter that Karl Malone had a bad habit of committing, and that would probably be the exact sentence that Karl Malone himself would say that in as he did routinely refer to himself in third person).

Phoenix cut the lead to 76-74 going into the 4th despite Eddie Johnson committing his 5th foul.  Kevin Johnson had 7 points late in the 3rd to lead the rally.

Utah exploded again early in the 4th as Stockton fouled Blue Edwards for a jumper and then a breakaway slam after a Malone steal.  Griffith then hit a three and found Edwards on a 3-on-1 for a layup.  Utah took its biggest lead at 10 points four times in the 4th quarter despite Malone committing his 5th foul.

But then halfway through the 4th quarter, Tom Chambers (who had been consistent throughout this game) scored 6 points in a row to cut Utah’s lead to 95-92 with 5 minutes to go.  Cotton Fitzsimmons had gone small and put Chambers at power forward.  It worked despite quirks like Dan Majerle playing against Karl Malone at the defensive end (and Malone not taking advantage of it although Utah didn’t give him the ball in the post nearly enough times during this cold stretch).

Utah re-took a 98-94 lead when Bailey hit a hook in the lane but then Thurl fouled Chambers, who hit two free throws to bring his point total to 32 (16-for-16 from the line).  After Mark West blocked a Stockton shot on a drive, Eddie Johnson hit a three to give Phoenix a 99-98 lead with just over a minute to go.  But Stockton found Bailey for another running hook to give the Jazz the lead again.

Eddie Johnson threw the ball away with 47.3 to go but got another chance after West deflected away an entry pass to Malone and Phoenix got the ball back.  Johnson hit a running banker in the lane and got fouled.  His three-point play gave the Suns a 102-100 lead with 24.5 seconds to play.  After a Utah timeout, they ran a familiar play.

Stockton went off a Malone screen and Karl popped out to the elbow.  Stockton found the Mailman for a jumper to tie the game with 14.9 seconds remaining.  Cotton Fitzsimmons used a timeout and brought in his small lineup that included former Laker guard Mike McGee (who did win a few championships in L.A. despite you probably not remembering him).

Kevin Johnson penetrated and found McGee under the basket.  He was quickly surrounded and made the ‘veteran’ play by kicking back out to an open K.J. at the foul line.  Johnson drilled his jumper with 0.8 seconds remaining to give Phoenix the lead.

For some reason (a 1990 rule that may be forgotten today), Utah went full-court despite having used a timeout.  Stockton missed a prayer from half-court and Phoenix advanced with the second road win of the day in an all-or-nothing Game 5 (after the home team had won the first 15 playoff games of 1990).

Despite the Lakers and their fans probably being relieved not to play the Jazz, they would rue their matchup with Phoenix.  And for Kevin Johnson, hitting the game-winner in this one was perhaps his best playoff moment.  Although, one could argue that it was yet to come in 1990.

Phoenix starters (points scored)

Tom Chambers (32) – Small Forward

Kurt Rambis (0) – Power Forward

Mark West (6) – Center

Kevin Johnson (26) – Point Guard

Jeff Hornacek (10) – Shooting Guard

Phoenix bench (points scored)

Eddie Johnson (23)

Dan Majerle (4)

Mike McGee (0)

Tim Perry (3)

Andrew Lang (0)

Phoenix Coach: Cotton Fitzsimmons

Utah starters (points scored)

Thurl Bailey (26) – Small Forward

Karl Malone (26) – Power Forward

Mark Eaton (6) – Center

John Stockton (9) – Point Guard

Bobby Hansen (8) – Shooting Guard

Utah bench (points scored)

Darrell Griffith (15)

Blue Edwards (8)

Mike Brown (0)

Delaney Rudd (4)

Raymond Brown (0)

Utah Coach: Jerry Sloan

k.j. vs. stockton

In a classic point guard matchup, Kevin Johnson got the last laugh against John Stockton and Utah with the game-winner in Game 5 *photo courtesy of Fanbase

May 12, 1990 – West Semifinals, Game 3: Los Angeles Lakers 103 @Phoenix Suns 117

The Los Angeles Lakers continued their uneven play to start the Semifinals against a Phoenix team still riding a high from beating Utah in the last second.

The Suns won Game 1 at the Forum 104-102 as the Lakers offense was mostly stagnant.  For perhaps the first time all season, the Lakers were missing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  They had become a faster team in 1990 but by the time the playoffs started, the speed was gone and suddenly Magic Johnson and James Worthy were the only go-to guys on offense.

The Lakers may have also been missing Kareem for the simple fact that Mark West, usually not a scoring threat although he averaged a career-high 10.5 points per game in 1990, had 24 points on 10-for-17 shooting.  West may have single-handedly won the game for the Suns as everybody else struggled (even though Tom Chambers led them with 26, he was 10-for-26 from the field).

The rest of the Suns struggled even more in Game 2 as L.A. blew them out.  Vlade Divac and Orlando Woolridge contributed with a combined 37 points off the bench.

It had become old hat throughout the ’80’s that a team in the west might steal a game in L.A. and come back home for Game 3 with a split.  But the Lakers would then usually win the next two games on the opponents court, or at least one.  The only time that had not been the case was in 1986 against the Rockets.  But Houston was the only Western Conference team to beat L.A. in the ’80’s.

Phoenix had been particularly stung by the Lakers.  L.A. had beaten them in 1980, 1982, 1984, 1985 and 1989.  In all of those series, the Suns had won a total of 3 games and had been swept three times.  For much of this Game 3, it looked to be the same story as one figured L.A. had this one in the bag.

Kevin Johnson helped Phoenix stay with the Lakers early, but a 6-0 L.A. run put them up 14-8.  In particular, the Lakers got several easy baskets by pushing it right back at the Suns after a Phoenix make and getting a basket of their own without having to set up their offense.

The Lakers took as much as an eight-point lead in the 1st quarter as Magic continually found Worthy, Byron Scott and A.C. Green for field goals.  But Phoenix stayed with them as K.J. continued to find people and Chambers and Jeff Hornacek were starting to come alive.

The Suns cut it to 27-26 before Michael Cooper, who was looking all of his 33 years of age on both ends of the floor, scored his first field goal of the series with a fall-away banker in the lane with 1.2 seconds remaining in the quarter.  L.A. led 29-26.

A 7-0 Phoenix run gave them the lead early in the 2nd quarter.  Everyone was contributing as Hornacek, West and Chambers led the way but Eddie Johnson and Dan Majerle were making contributions off the bench.

L.A. stayed in it led mostly by Magic Johnson.  With the offense stagnant, Magic had to take matters into his own hands a lot (but not as much as he did the next two games).  Magic had 10 points in the half (6 in the 2nd quarter) but did not get to the free throw line.  But his 10 assists did help, even if Worthy and Scott went scoreless in the 2nd quarter.

Magic’s running hook with 6.6 seconds remaining cut the Phoenix lead to 51-49 at the half.  One still figured at this point that the Lakers would find a way to win this game.

For the first 5 minutes of the 3rd quarter, the Lakers came out firing.  But a funny thing happened.  The Suns matched each Laker basket with one of their own.  K.J, Hornacek and Chambers were the x-factors.  Chambers had his best game of the playoffs when he started to go down low against Worthy.  Chambers got much better percentage shots and didn’t have to deal with Worthy’s quickness at the perimeter.  Meanwhile, with the Lakers having no threat like Utah’s Karl Malone, Chambers didn’t have to guard Worthy on defense.

About halfway through the quarter, Chambers put back a K.J. miss to give Phoenix a 65-59 lead.  Then after Magic hit two free throws, Chambers hit a wing jumper over Worthy and then, after recovering a loose ball, nailed a three to put the Suns ahead 70-61 and force a Pat Riley timeout with 5:07 remaining.  Chambers now had 23 points to lead the way.

Phoenix took an 11-point lead when West put back a Chambers miss and then grabbed a 14-point lead when Chambers hit a left-handed hook in the lane.  Hornacek later scored 5 points in a row, including a three, to put Phoenix ahead 83-66.  The crowd was loving it and seemed stunned all at the same time.

But L.A. got a big field goal after Chambers put back a Hornacek miss with 5 seconds to go to put the Suns up 88-71.  Cooper threw a lead pass to Worthy for a double-pump breakaway and a foul.  The three-point play was huge as the Lakers still got most of their success by pushing it right back at the Suns.  But that was the only time it happened in the 3rd and more dangerously, Chambers, Hornacek, and the Suns were getting their confidence and thinking that they might be able to beat this L.A. team.

Byron Scott started the 4th quarter with a jumper off a Magic Johnson feed.  But then the Lakers had a defensive breakdown as K.J. got free off a Kurt Rambis screen and was wide open for a backdoor layup.  Chambers then hit another jumper and, later, two free throws.  But L.A. cut it back to 94-84 when Green put back a Woolridge miss on the break and forced Cotton Fitzsimmons to call a timeout with 6:55 remaining.

But just over a minute later, Tom Chambers put a stamp on this game and perhaps this series.  Chambers got a kickout at the right baseline and up-faked Magic Johnson.  He then drove past a helping Worthy for what normally would be a big two-handed slam that probably would have energized the crowd.  But Chambers added a little spice to it.  After he got by Worthy, he turned 180 degrees and finished with a reverse slam over Orlando Woolridge, a good leaper.  It was definitely a “did he just do what I think he just did???” play.

The game was effectively over after that as Hornacek scored the last 10 of his playoff career-high 29 points, including a dagger jumper at the end of the shot clock with under 3:00 to go.  Riley took out his regulars thereafter.

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (27) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (13) – Power Forward

Mychal Thompson (4) – Center

Magic Johnson (22) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (9) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Orlando Woolridge (12)

Vlade Divac (6)

Michael Cooper (6)

Larry Drew (4)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Pat Riley

Phoenix starters (points scored)

Tom Chambers (34) – Small Forward

Kurt Rambis (2) – Power Forward

Mark West (14) – Center

Kevin Johnson (22) – Point Guard

Jeff Hornacek (29) – Shooting Guard

Phoenix bench (points scored)

Eddie Johnson (8)

Dan Majerle (6)

Kenny Battle (2)

Greg Grant (0)

Mike McGee (0)

Phoenix Coach: Cotton Fitzsimmons

May 13, 1990 – East Semifinals, Game 4: Chicago Bulls 111 @Philadelphia 76ers 101

The Bulls won the first two games at home as Michael Jordan led the way.  But then in Game 3 at the Spectrum, the 76ers took a 33-14 lead at the end of the 1st quarter and increased it to 22 at the half.  Charles Barkley was the star now as he got to the foul line 21 times.

But instead of fold, Chicago made a run as Jordan scored 23 4th quarter points.  They cut it to three before losing 118-112.  Scottie Pippen played the game and scored 20 points despite his father passing away the day before.  Pippen went home for the funeral and missed Game 4.

Phil Jackson decided to go with a big lineup to match Philadelphia’s frontcourt of Barkley, Rick Mahorn and Mike Gminski (who had been fouling the Bulls hard in an effort to intimidate them).  The Bulls put Stacey King in the starting lineup to go with Horace Grant and Bill Cartwright.

It didn’t work early on as King picked up two fouls and got abused down low by Gminski, who usually shot open jumpers while Barkley and Mahorn went to the post.  Gminski scored 8 points early but Jordan led Chicago back to a 14-all tie.

But Philly took the lead as Ron Anderson nailed a three and then Johnny Dawkins hit a jumper from the wing.  Despite Philly grabbing the lead, Barkley wasn’t as aggressive as he was in Game 3 and furthermore, when he did get to the line he missed most of his free throws.  The 76ers took a 30-26 lead after one quarter.

Philly’s bench then built a 43-33 lead halfway through the 2nd quarter.  But Chicago stayed in it as Jordan was not only scoring but passing.  Stacey King would be the big beneficiary as he got going down low.  But Philly finished the half on a 6-1 run and led 55-50 at the break.

The 3rd quarter would belong to 76ers 2nd year guard Hersey Hawkins.  Hawkins scored 13 early points, including three three-pointers, to put Philly ahead 74-64.  Then a fast break slam by Gminski forced Jackson to call a timeout at the 4:39 mark.

It didn’t help initially as Barkley hit a fall-away from the post and then got a steal and breakaway slam to give Philly an 80-66 lead.  But Chicago was able to cut it to 86-77 at the end of the 3rd quarter despite two more field goals from Hawkins.

Without Pippen, Chicago had to feature more of their bench.  In the 4th quarter, a reserve by the name of Ed Nealy came up big.  On the defensive end, Nealy was able to put his big 238 lb frame on Barkley and force the Round Mound of Rebound off the boards, while grabbing a few himself.  On the offensive end, he got a three-point play on a cut and a feed from Jordan and he also put back two misses.

Jordan also hit a three and got a layup as Chicago cut the lead to 90-89.  Then Barkley missed two free throws and Cartwright hit a baseline jumper.  After Craig Hodges gave Chicago a 93-90 lead with a runner, Philly coach Jimmy Lynam was forced to use a timeout at the 6:31 mark.

Hawkins scored off the timeout but then Horace Grant hit a hook shot in the lane and Jordan spun and hit a lefty layup to put the Bulls up by five.  Barkley followed by missing two more free throws and Jordan hit on a finger roll for his 36th point.

Lynam had to use another timeout at the 4:27 mark.  This time it worked as Dawkins hit a free throw and a jumper and then Barkley put back a Gminski miss to cut the Bulls lead to 99-97 and force Jackson to use a timeout with 3:38 on the clock.  But then Jordan drove past Barkley for a reverse layup on the baseline.  And, yes, for some reason Barkley was guarding Jordan.  Chicago did go small and MJ was the small forward but Lynam didn’t put Barkley on Craig Hodges or rookie B.J. Armstrong, who weren’t nearly as big of threats as Jordan.

Barkley did keep Philly alive on one possession by grabbing two offensive rebounds (Ed Nealy was no longer in the game) but then after he was fouled, he split his free throws and Jordan drove past Mahorn for an And One layup.  This gave Chicago a 106-99 lead.  And after Nealy came back in and grabbed his 8th rebound after a Ron Anderson miss, the game was effectively over.

Jordan had scored over 40 for the third time in the series.  He would cap it with 37 in Game 5 while Pippen came back and scored 29 off the bench.  The Bulls won the 5th game 117-99 to eliminate Philadelphia.  Now it was on to Detroit for their 3rd playoff matchup in 3 years.  And once again, they didn’t have the home court advantage.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Horace Grant (10) – Small Forward

Stacey King (21) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (4) – Center

John Paxson (8) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (45) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Craig Hodges (2)

B.J. Armstrong (2)

Will Perdue (10)

Ed Nealy (9)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Philadelphia starters (points scored)

Charles Barkley (22) – Small Forward

Rick Mahorn (2) – Power Forward

Mike Gminski (24) – Center

Johnny Dawkins (17) – Point Guard

Hersey Hawkins (26) – Shooting Guard

Philadelphia bench (points scored)

Ron Anderson (5)

Scott Brooks (3)

Bob Thornton (2)

Philadelphia Coach: Jim Lynam

jordan past barkley

Michael Jordan drove past Charles Barkley on a key late possession in which Barkley had to guard Jordan in Game 4 *photo courtesy of kappatwitch

May 15, 1990 – West Semifinals, Game 5: Phoenix Suns 106 @Los Angeles Lakers 103

After their Game 3 win, the Phoenix Suns continued to take it to the Lakers in Game 4.  Kevin Johnson led the way with 30 points and 16 assists.  Tom Chambers and Jeff Hornacek each scored over 20 while Mark West continued his brief offensive prowess with 15 points to go with his 15 rebounds.

Meanwhile for the Lakers, James Worthy contributed a 5-for-21 shooting game while Byron Scott was 2-for-8.  With those two being two of the top three Laker scorers, the third scorer had to go off.  Magic Johnson kept them alive with 43 points, a career-playoff high that broke his 42 points against Philadelphia in the 1980 NBA Finals.

But it wasn’t enough as the Lakers got out-scored by 22 combined points in the 1st and 4th quarters and lost 114-101.  They were now down 3-1.  From the outside looking in at the time, one figured the Lakers could rebound and everyone seemed to be remembering 1970, when Phoenix had a 3-1 lead on Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, and Wilt Chamberlain’s Los Angeles Lakers but then lost the last three games.

But as it has come out later, Pat Riley knew he had lost the team after Game 4 when he gave a passionate speech about what the Lakers needed to be doing better and what they weren’t doing and saw blank faces looking at him.  Riley punched the blackboard and blood came gushing out of his hand.  In a bit of an irony, Riley received his first ever coach of the year award before Game 5.

Riley did start Vlade Divac at center in Game 5 as Mychal Thompson was giving him nothing.  The Lakers and their crowd put it all on the line early in Game 5.  After Phoenix took an early 7-4 lead, Magic Johnson went to work.  He scored on a drop-step and lefty layup in the paint.  He went coast-to-coast for a driving layup and then had another drive down the lane in transition.  These field goals led L.A. to a 17-9 advantage.

The Lakers maintained a 25-18 lead when Magic went crazy again.  He hit a hook shot in the lane and then had two coast-to-coast drives.  He then put back his own miss to put L.A. up by 15.  Magic had 19 1st quarter points and the Lakers led 35-20 after one quarter.

Kevin Johnson started the 2nd quarter with two three-point plays as the Lakers were still trying to figure out how to guard him (perhaps, Byron Scott’s lack of offense was due to him trying to stay in front of K.J. off the dribble).  But the Lakers were still able to maintain a 15-point lead at 50-35 when Magic spun baseline from the post and laid it in.

But after L.A. failed on a 4-on-1 fast break with a chance to increase their lead, Hornacek found Chambers for an uncontested breakaway slam.  This seemed to switch the momentum as Hornacek followed with two field goals.  K.J. later hit a pull-up in the lane and then went coast-to-coast for a score as the lead was cut to 54-47.

K.J. continued to score and find people for the rest of the half but L.A. was able to hold off Phoenix, for now, as Byron Scott ended the half with a three.  The Lakers led 61-53 at the break.

Phoenix started the 2nd half with 2nd year guard Dan Majerle matched up against Magic Johnson.  Majerle wasn’t yet known as the long range bomber he would become, but he was always a defensive standout.  And he held Magic in check throughout the 3rd quarter and also contributed some surprising offense.

The Lakers were in trouble when Magic was shut down because James Worthy was struggling for the second straight game and L.A. still wasn’t getting much of a contribution from inside as Mychal Thompson and A.C. Green were next to useless and Divac was in foul trouble.

L.A. did maintain a 10-point lead at 69-59 but then K.J. hit a banker in the lane.  Mark West hit a hook shot.  K.J. found Hornacek for a jumper and Majerle got a layup on the break.  Phoenix was within 69-67 and Riley called a timeout at the 4:47 mark.

It worked as Magic found Divac for a layup and then Michael Cooper alley-ooped to Orlando Woolridge on the break.  Realizing the potential of the Lakers to go on a game-killing run, Cotton Fitzsimmons used a Phoenix timeout with 4:08 to go.  Majerle responded with two drives and two scores (one on an offensive rebound of his own miss).

L.A. maintained a 76-74 lead but had a driving layup by Magic taken away when Mychal Thompson was called for an offensive foul for clearing space in the lane for Magic.  Majerle responded with a three-point play on a baseline drive to give Phoenix their first lead since early on and give him 11 points in the quarter.

But then after Magic hit two free throws, Chambers missed a layup and committed his 4th foul trying to get the ball back.  Magic hit two more foul shots to give L.A. an 80-77 lead heading into the 4th.

L.A. was able to maintain its lead as Scott and Worthy hit jumpers.  But K.J. started to attack again for two field goals and then Majerle hit a three to give the Suns an 88-86 lead.  But the Lakers hoped to make one final push for this victory as Magic went coast-to-coast for a three-point play to give L.A. a 93-90 lead.

Magic then came back with a pull-up jumper on the next possession to put L.A. up by 5 and force Fitzsimmons to use a timeout at the 3:55 mark.  At this point, Magic had 43 points again.  But he would be scoreless the rest of the way.  This included a missed technical free throw.

K.J. and Hornacek hit field goals and then K.J. got by Scott with a crossover and hit finished with the left hand.  Divac committed two fouls to foul out with under 2:00 left and Hornacek hit two free throws to give Phoenix a 98-97 lead.  K.J. then stole a kickout pass from the post from Magic and Hornacek and West worked a pick-and-roll that resulted in a slam from West.

L.A. had nowhere to go with Worthy struggling and Magic now struggling.  Worthy missed in the lane and West grabbed his 15th rebound.  K.J. then drove and drew a foul from Scott with 44.6 seconds remaining.  K.J. hit two free throws for a 102-97 Suns lead.  The Lakers called a timeout and went inside to Worthy again.  He was doubled and kicked out to Cooper, who swung it to Scott for a three from the top with 37.9 remaining.

After a timeout, Phoenix ran down the shot clock and Hornacek’s jumper was in-and-out.  Cooper rebounded and found Magic.  Magic tried to go coast-to-coast again but was cut off before he could get to the basket.  He forced a lefty banker and hit it off the board just a little too hard.  Hornacek rebounded and Magic fouled him with 6.5 seconds left.

Hornacek hit two free throws that didn’t quite put the game away.  Scott hit a running three from the top to cut it to 104-103 with 2.9 seconds left.  Scott then fouled K.J. on the inbounds with 2.4.  K.J. hit both free throws but the Lakers got a break when a long inbounds pass was deflected out of bounds by Phoenix with 2.1 left.

This meant that the Lakers could inbound from half-court without a timeout.  But perhaps the timeout would have helped as there was mis-communication and Cooper threw the inbounds pass out of bounds on the other side of the court.

This finally ended the Lakers season as Phoenix ran out the clock.  It was an upset that brought about changes to the Lakers as Pat Riley resigned and Michael Cooper played his final season in Italy in 1991.

For the NBA, neither to Lakers or the Houston Rockets would represent the West in the NBA Finals for the first time since 1979.  Phoenix was moving on while Portland and San Antonio battled in the other West Semifinal.

Phoenix starters (points scored)

Tom Chambers (12) – Small Forward

Kurt Rambis (1) – Power Forward

Mark West (10) – Center

Kevin Johnson (37) – Point Guard

Jeff Hornacek (22) – Shooting Guard

Phoenix bench (points scored)

Eddie Johnson (8)

Dan Majerle (16)

Tim Perry (0)

Phoenix Coach: Cotton Fitzsimmons

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (14) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (0) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (10) – Center

Magic Johnson (43) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (17) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Orlando Woolridge (7)

Mychal Thompson (5)

Michael Cooper (5)

Larry Drew (2)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Pat Riley

chambers[1]

Tom Chambers (here going against Mychal Thompson) was one of the key factors in the Phoenix Suns’ 1990 playoff victory over the Lakers *photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated for Kids

May 15, 1990 – West Semifinals, Game 5: San Antonio Spurs 132 @Portland Blazers 138 (2OT)

As is usually the case with two relatively new playoff teams that were in the upper echelon, it had been a home court series so far.  The Portland Blazers won the first two games at the Memorial Coliseum easily.  The San Antonio Spurs then won the next two easily at the HemisFair Arena.  Fir awhile, it looked like Game 5 would be another easy victory for the home team.

The San Antonio Spurs had made two key moves since their February 20 loss at the buzzer to the Lakers (earlier in the post).  They had traded Maurice Cheeks to New York for Rod Strickland.  They had also signed Reggie Williams as a free agent after Cleveland had let him go.  San Antonio had won their final 7 games of the regular season and then had swept Denver in the first round.

The Portland Blazers were making their 8th consecutive playoff appearance but they had perennially gone out in the 1st round (only twice in those 8 years had they advanced) despite having an abundance of talent.  But in 1990, things were looking different so far.  Not only had they won the most games during a season in franchise history with 59, but they made mincemeat of Dallas in the first round and were making mincemeat of San Antonio (halting their 10-game winning streak) until Games 3 & 4.

For Blazers holdovers like guards Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter and frontcourt personnel like Jerome Kersey and Kevin Duckworth, their playoff run had always been halted by, at least, one home loss.  But the Blazers had some new talent to go with this core four in 1990.  They had acquired Buck Williams from New Jersey in exchange for Sam Bowie.  They had drafted Cliff Robinson and had young shooters in Danny Young and Drazen Petrovic.  They also had a young coach in Rick Adelman, who took over late in the 1989 season.

The Blazers had lost Kevin Duckworth to a broken hand for the series.  Cliff Robinson stepped into his place in the starting lineup but the Blazers were having some trouble containing big men Terry Cummings and David Robinson.

But early in Game 5, San Antonio had trouble containing Terry Porter.  Porter started the game with two driving layups and two three-pointers to give the Blazers a 12-2 lead.  San Antonio was able to cut it back to one but a 13-0 Blazers run, keyed by Porter, broke the game open (this wasn’t the last 13-0 run of the game).

Drexler had the final 6 points of the run as the Blazers took a 32-15 lead.  Portland increased their lead to as much as 19 before San Antonio cut it back to 41-27 at the end of the quarter.  Porter and Drexler had led the way with 17 and 12 points, respectively.

The 2nd quarter featured much of the same.  Drexler started it out with a steal and breakaway three-point play while Porter hit two more threes to finish the half with 5 treys and 27 points.  San Antonio never trailed by more than 19 points but 72-53 ended up being the margin at halftime.

The Spurs started the make their crawl back into the game in the 3rd as Cummings and Robinson got on the boards and tipped in misses.  Cummings then fed Sean Elliott for a cutting layup and then Willie Anderson for a wing jumper, for his 18th point.  Anderson and Elliott each followed with another field goal as the Spurs cut the lead to 74-65 and forced Adelman to call a timeout.

A Drexler three-point play, for his 21st point, restored order briefly for the Blazers.  They eventually ran back to an 88-69 lead after a 9-0 run.  But the Spurs stayed in it as Cummings kept getting to the line and hit 8 consecutive free throws in the quarter.  But Cummings’ biggest basket came after the Spurs had cut it back to 99-85 with a few seconds left in the 3rd.  He stole an inbounds pass and connected on a jumper at the buzzer to cut it to 12.

Danny Young made the first basket of the 4th quarter to put the Blazers up by 14.  But the Spurs momentum from the 3rd continued from there as the second 13-0 run came about.

David Wingate fed Anderson on a cut for a layup.  Robinson rebound-slammed a Wingate miss on the break.  Strickland got a steal and layup.  Robinson muscled in a putback while drawing a foul for a three-point play.  Robinson then hit two free throws and Strickland found Cummings at the top for a jumper.  The Blazers now led 101-100.

Portland pushed it back to 109-103 with 5:45 to go.  At that point, the NBA TV rebroadcast of the game cut to the end of the first overtime.  So while I can’t go into great detail, I can tell you Drexler missed a key free throw that could’ve put the game away and then David Wingate tied it at 119 in the last second of regulation with a three-pointer.

I can also tell you that many key people had fouled out.  For the Spurs, David Robinson, Willie Anderson and Rod Strickland were gone.  For the Blazers, it was Clyde Drexler.  So the Spurs had to trot out a lineup of former Georgetown Hoyas Reggie Williams and David Wingate in the back court with Sean Elliott, Terry Cummings and 17-year veteran (in his last season) Caldwell Jones in the middle.  Despite that, they still only trailed 126-124 and had the ball.

Cummings airballed a fall-away from the baseline put the Spurs did force a 10-second halfcourt violation from Portland.  Then eventually, Wingate found Elliott (who made several key shots in the latter part of regulation) for a wing jumper to tie the game with 20.2 seconds remaining.

Portland called a timeout and decided to have Porter go 1-on-1 against Wingate.  As Porter got into the lane, Williams helped out and the two former Hoyas hearkened back to their college days as Williams stripped Porter and Wingate got the steal.  San Antonio wasn’t able to get off a winning shot however and the game went into a second overtime.

The 6th period started out with Cummings nailing a baseline jumper to, perhaps, give the Spurs their first lead of the game.  San Antonio had four chances to increase that lead but never could.  The 4th attempt failed when Kersey blocked an Elliott layup.  Porter then drove down the lane and finished with the left hand to tie the game at 128 with under 3:00 to go.

Buck Williams gave Portland the lead with a jumper from the post a minute later.  But Cummings fouled out Cliff Robinson with an up-and-under move and banker from the post.  The subsequent free throw put the Spurs ahead 131-130 with 1:41 to go.  I’m sure it would have been a typical home playoff loss to a Blazers fan at the time had the Spurs been able to beat them with 3 starters (including David Robinson) having fouled out.

But Porter showed that this may be a different team with two key plays.  First, he drew a foul from Wingate on a drive and made two free throws.  Then he drew a charge from Wingate for David’s 6th foul, forcing Johnny Moore, who in his 10th and final NBA season wasn’t playing much, into the game.  Moore almost forced a steal but the Blazers ended up getting a basket as rookie Drazen Petrovic hit a pull-up jumper at the end of the shot clock with under 1:00 to go.

Then after a San Antonio turnover, Porter hit a free throw to put Portland up by four.  Finally, after Cummings split a pair of free throws (the miss was his first miss of the game as he had gone 13-for-14 from the line), the Blazers were able to put it away as Kersey hit two free throws with 11 seconds to go.

Portland had survived this round but they were not quite done yet with the Spurs.

San Antonio starters (points scored)

Sean Elliott (21) – Small Forward

Terry Cummings (32) – Power Forward

David Robinson (27) – Center

Rod Strickland (11) – Point Guard

Willie Anderson (23) – Shooting Guard

San Antonio bench (points scored)

David Wingate (10)

Reggie Williams (7)

Frank Brickowski (1)

Caldwell Jones (0)

Johnny Moore (0)

San Antonio Coach: Larry Brown

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (23) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (15) – Power Forward

Cliff Robinson (11) – Center

Terry Porter (38) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (35) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Drazen Petrovic (11)

Danny Young (4)

Mark Bryant (1)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

May 19, 1990 – West Semifinals, Game 7: San Antonio Spurs 105 @Portland Blazers 108 (OT)

After letting an opportunity get away in Game 5, the Spurs took care of business again at home in Game 6.  Willie Anderson, despite a thumb he sprained late in the 5th game, led the way with 30 points while holding Clyde Drexler to 4.  The Spurs won 112-97 to force a Game 7.

It was pretty historic as this was the first Game 7 in the history of the Portland Trailblazers (their next one wouldn’t come for another 10 years).  Only one starter from each team had ever played in a Game 7 and that was Terry Cummings from San Antonio.

But despite that, both teams came out hot from the field.  Cummings started it out with a jumper from the baseline.  Jerome Kersey responded with two jumpers for Portland.  Anderson and Rod Strickland then got hot as the Spurs pulled to as much as a 5-point lead.  But Terry Porter led the Blazers back and into a 31-24 lead at the end of the 1st quarter.

Both teams cooled down considerably in the 2nd quarter.  The big stars in particular were off to a slow start.  David Robinson and Clyde Drexler failed to get off.  But Willie Anderson hit his first 6 shots and Terry Porter was also on fire.  He hit a three with 2:52 to go in the 1st half for his 18th point.  That trey gave the Blazers their biggest lead at 49-38.

But then Cummings came alive for the Spurs with 8 points, including two breakaway layups in the final 2.5 seconds of the half to cut the Portland lead to 52-46.  Cummings finished with 14 points while Porter had 19.

The Spurs then continued their momentum in the 3rd quarter as Robinson finally got involved after missing 9 of his first 10 shots.  He had 7 points late in the quarter to cut the Blazers lead to 73-72 going into the 4th.

Then Robinson continued with two field goals and then an assist to Caldwell Jones to give San Antonio a 79-75 and force Rick Adelman to call a timeout with 9:54 to go.  A Robinson slam on a fast break increased that lead to six.

Porter responded with a jumper at the end of the shot clock for his 32nd point (a big exclamation point on the claim of where would Portland be without Porter).  Drexler then got a breakaway for his 8th point (further exclamation) to force Larry Brown to call a timeout a minute and 21 seconds later.

Drexler got into double figures with a slam to give the Blazers an 86-85 lead.  This was after Robinson committed his 5th foul and sat for a minute.  He came back and Strickland gave the Spurs the lead again before committing his 5th foul.

The Spurs gained a 93-90 lead at the 3:17 mark when David Wingate hit a free throw after Kersey committed his 5th foul.  Wingate then got a steal and Strickland was fouled on a breakaway.  He hit two free throws for a five-point lead.

Then Robinson got a block at one end and tipped in a miss at the other to put the Spurs ahead 97-90 with 2:37 left.  Portland would become notorious over the next few seasons for shooting themselves in the foot in big games.  This wouldn’t be one of them as they quickly responded.

Kevin Duckworth, who was a surprise starter after missing the first 6 games and got a Willis Reed-like standing ovation from the Portland fans when he entered the floor in pregame, hit a jumper from the foul line with 2:21 left.

Then Drexler rebounded a Strickland miss and hit a three at the other end with 1:50 to go to cut it to 97-95.  Strickland missed again at the end of the shot clock and Porter rebounded.  Porter then penetrated and found Kersey for a slam to tie the game.  San Antonio called a timeout with 1:17 to play.

Neither team could score over the next minute and it looked like Portland would get the last shot.  Porter missed a pull-up from the baseline with 5 seconds left.  Wingate rebounded and pushed the ball ahead to Willie Anderson, who looked like he had a game-winning breakaway.

But Drexler, the only man back on defense, deflected Anderson’s dribble and forced him to lose control and not get a shot off.  The cameras then caught Larry Brown telling his team that they should have called a timeout.  The game was headed to overtime, just like Game 5.

Anderson got the Spurs on the board first in the extra period with two free throws.  But Kersey responded with a baseline jumper.  Buck Williams put back a Drexler miss.  Then Drexler took it right at Wingate 1-on-1 for a score and a 103-99 Blazers lead with 2:39 left.

The Spurs came back over the next minute and a half as Anderson fed Cummings for a layup and then Robinson tied it with a turnaround jumper from the post.  They had a chance to lead but Cummings airballed a jumper from the top.

They would get another chance with 40 seconds remaining.  But this time they would be done in by a bonehead play from Rod Strickland, which would become characteristic over his career.  Strickland got the ball at the top and faced away from the basket.  He then threw a blind, over-the-head pass that was supposed to hit a cutting Sean Elliott on the baseline.  But Elliott was in the corner and Kersey got the steal.

Kersey then threw a long pass to Drexler on the breakaway.  Strickland was forced to foul him from behind, which meant two shots and possession for Portland (similar to today’s breakaway foul rule).  This was also Strickland’s 6th foul.

Drexler hit four free throws before the Spurs saw the ball again.  But after Cummings hit two free throws with 9.1 seconds to play, Drexler split his pair and Portland’s lead was only three with 5.6 to go.  But Porter intercepted Wingate’s inbounds pass and Portland was moving on to the Western Finals for the first time since winning their 1977 NBA championship.

They perhaps got a break in not playing the Lakers, but they wouldn’t have an easy time with the Phoenix Suns.

San Antonio starters (points scored)

Sean Elliott (9) – Small Forward

Terry Cummings (27) – Power Forward

David Robinson (20) – Center

Rod Strickland (18) – Point Guard

Willie Anderson (20) – Shooting Guard

San Antonio bench (points scored)

David Wingate (5)

Frank Brickowski (2)

Reggie Williams (0)

Caldwell Jones (4)

San Antonio Coach: Larry Brown

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (21) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (12) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (6) – Center

Terry Porter (36) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (22) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (1)

Drazen Petrovic (5)

Danny Young (1)

Wayne Cooper (4)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

1990.blazers

Clyde Drexler, driving against Willie Anderson (#40) and Terry Cummings, scored 16 points in the 4th quarter and overtime (including the last 7) to give the Blazers a big Game 7 victory against San Antonio *photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated for Kids

May 26, 1990 – Eastern Finals, Game 3: Detroit Pistons 102 @Chicago Bulls 107

The Chicago Bulls had been eliminated by the Detroit Pistons over the past two seasons.  But if there was silver lining, it was that at least in those series, the Bulls had taken one of the first two games in Detroit.  That was not the case in 1990.

Joe Dumars led the way with 27 and 31 points in the first two games (actually outscoring Michael Jordan by 4 points total) as the Pistons grabbed a pair of 9-point victories.  Dumars did this while being the primary defender on Jordan (although the Jordan Rules gave him lots of help) and not getting any offensive help from the other starters.

But Detroit’s defense had been on point throughout the playoffs and now, even some Chicago players (most notably an interview with Craig Hodges) questioned whether the Bulls were ready to beat Detroit.  The Pistons had even won 9 of their last 11 games played at the Chicago Stadium.

James Edwards and Isiah Thomas (the most notable offensive struggles from the first two games) came to life early in Game 3.  Edwards hit three jumpers and Isiah got two layups as Detroit took an early 10-6 lead.  Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant were the early offense for Chicago to keep them in the game.

Dumars got his first field goal on a baseline jumper to put the Pistons ahead 15-13.  But then Jordan got his first field goal on a drive and tough finish.  Jordan then nailed a three and Pippen found Grant for a layup.  Grant later tipped in a miss as the Bulls were able to grab a 24-19 lead after the first quarter.

But then the problem came about for the Bulls.  In the first two games, the Pistons bench had given them a big spark to help out Dumars.  John Salley, Vinnie Johnson and Mark Aguirre had all been offensive factors while Chicago barely got any contribution from their bench.

In the 2nd quarter of Game 3, the Bulls bench contribution went from barely to nothing.  Meanwhile, Detroit was business as usual as Mark Aguirre hit three field goals and then got an assist to Vinnie Johnson on a 2-on-1 break.  This gave the Pistons a 32-26 lead, forced a Chicago timeout and forced Michael Jordan back into the game.

Jordan got the Bulls back going but the Pistons bench continued their assault.  Vinnie hit a tough double-shot runner against two people.  Salley tipped in a miss and hit some free throws.  Aguirre hit two more field goals to finish the 1st half with 12 points.

Jordan and Pippen were able to keep the Bulls within range at 45-41 before Detroit’s defense forced two turnovers and Edwards, Dumars and Isiah got field goals to give the Pistons their biggest lead at 10.  A tip-in from Jordan, for his 16th point, cut the Pistons lead to 51-43 at the half.  Detroit’s bench had out-scored Chicago’s 22-0 in the 1st half.

Detroit picked up where they left off in the 3rd as Isiah got hot with three quick jumpers.  Horace Grant committed fouls number 4 and 5 and was no longer a factor.  A three from Isiah gave Detroit a 62-50 lead.  Aguirre then hit two jumpers, including a three, to give Detroit their biggest lead at 67-53.

This was a crossroads for Chicago.  They were looking very much like they weren’t ready to beat Detroit and the crowd was very subdued.  If the Bulls couldn’t put anything together at this point, they would go down 3-0 and likely lose the series in 5 games at the most.  In terms of the development of a team, this would be a step back for a team that had a 2-1 series lead and had taken Detroit to six games in 1989.  The seeds of the Bulls championship mettle would be built at moments like these.

Jordan got two field goals and an assist but a scoop from Isiah on a cut gave the Pistons a 71-59 advantage.  All of a sudden however, the Bulls started forcing turnovers with their trapping defense.  Then Craig Hodges hit a jumper for the first field goal from Chicago’s bench.  Pippen got a breakaway after a steal.

Pippen then further came to life over the next minute by grabbing three offensive rebounds (including two on one possession), drawing fouls number 4 and 5 on Salley and hitting 3-out of-4 free throws to cut the lead to 71-66.  Then Pippen got matched against Thomas in a cross-match.  He backed Isiah into the post and banked a shot in before the double team could come.

The crowd was now back into it and, although the Pistons broke their drought with some field goals, three-point plays from Jordan and then Ed Nealy (on a Jordan feed) cut the Detroit lead to 75-74.  Jordan then gave Chicago the lead with two free throws with 5.5 seconds remaining in the quarter.  But then Pippen made his only mistake and fouled Vinnie Johnson on a jumper with a second remaining.  Vinnie hit both free throws to give Detroit the lead going into the 4th.

But Pippen had sparked Chicago with 12 points and 6 rebounds in the 3rd quarter.  He now had a double-double and finished the game with 5 assists.

Jordan got going, as per usual but not exactly against Detroit, in the 4th quarter.  MJ hit three pull-up jumpers to give the Bulls an 86-82 lead.  He later hit a runner in the lane to make the score 90-86.  Then rookie B.J. Armstrong hit a jumper from the top to put Chicago up by six and force a Detroit timeout with 4:41 to go.

Jordan kept it going despite putting a scare into every Chicago fan by limping badly after a made basket.  However, it was determined that he just banged knees with somebody and that while it was painful for the moment, the pain soon went away.  Two more free throws from Jordan after Bill Laimbeer’s 6th foul (a play that Laimbeer thought was a charge) put Chicago ahead 96-88.

Isiah kept the Pistons in it by going 1-on-1 against Armstrong and hitting a pull-up jumper.  But then the Bulls ran down the shot clock and Jordan seemed to put a dagger into the Pistons with a three-pointer at the buzzer with 2:24 to go.  Chicago now led 99-90.

But even though the Bulls had shown that they could compete with Detroit (and may actually be further developed than a year ago), the Pistons were still the champs and still had to be put away.

Salley drew Grant’s 6th foul and made two free throws.  Then after forcing a turnover on their press, Edwards hit a turnaround from the baseline to cut it to 99-94.  The Bulls ran down the shot clock and gave it to Michael.  He missed but Bill Cartwright got the offensive rebound.  Chicago ran down the clock and gave it to Michael again.  He missed another jumper but this time it was Pippen who got the rebound and then put back the miss to give Chicago a 101-94 lead with 1:00 to go.

Aguirre hit a three after a Detroit offensive rebound but then Pippen found Ed Nealy (who was becoming a cult hero in these playoffs) for a layup and a foul with 29.2 seconds to go.  But even the last three daggers couldn’t put Detroit to bed.

Isiah hit two free throws and later hit a step-back three with 15.2 seconds to go to cut the lead to 105-102.  Then after a Bulls timeout, the inbounds pass was deflected by Salley and an ensuing scramble led to a jump ball between Pippen and Dumars with 10.2 to go.

Pippen would normally have the advantage except that he lost concentration for a second and wasn’t looking at the ball when Joey Crawford tossed it into the air (in my Chicago fan defense, it was a reallyyyyyyy quick toss).  This allowed Dumars to steal it and Detroit to call a timeout with 8.3 to play and a chance to tie it.

Although Chuck Daly may have designed the following play, I’m sure he wanted a better shot.  Aguirre inbounded to Thomas and then got a return pass.  Mark then fired from just in front of the hash mark (we’ll say about 33 feet from the hoop) and missed.  Jordan rebounded, was fouled, and finally put the game away with two free throws.  Jordan and Grant finished with double-doubles alongside Pippen.  This included 6 offensive rebounds each from Pippen and Grant.

The Bulls had passed test one and now would prove that Detroit couldn’t beat them in Chicago Stadium as they won Game 4 and Game 6 easily.  But now the Bulls needed to win at the Palace at Auburn Hills.  They lost Game 5 97-83 and now had to go back for a Game 7.

Detroit starters (points scored)

Dennis Rodman (2) – Small Forward

James Edwards (16) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (0) – Center

Isiah Thomas (36) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (8) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (22)

Vinnie Johnson (9)

John Salley (9)

Gerald Henderson (0)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (29) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (10) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (2) – Center

John Paxson (4) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (47) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Stacey King (2)

Craig Hodges (2)

B.J. Armstrong (3)

Will Perdue (0)

Ed Nealy (8)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

May 29, 1990 – Western Finals, Game 5: Phoenix Suns 114 @Portland Blazers 120

By the time the Western Conference Finals had reached Game 5, the Phoenix Suns were kicking themselves and their fans were already hoping that they didn’t blow a golden opportunity.

After losing Game 1 100-98 in Portland, the Suns had a 22-point lead in Game 2 at the Memorial Coliseum.  But the Blazers came back and won 108-107 to take a 2-0 series lead.  What made it worse was that in Games 3 & 4 in Phoenix, the Suns demolished the Blazers 123-89 and 119-107.  Phoenix was at least three points from sweeping Portland but if you take the 22-point lead in Game 2 into account, they should at least have a 3-1 lead.

Now they returned to Portland needing to win one in Rip City.  They got off to a good start in Game 5 as they ripped a 9-0 run to take a 17-9 lead just over 5 minutes into the game.  But the Blazers responded with a 16-1 run.  Terry Porter was the main catalyst in that surge with 8 points, including two three-pointers.  The other was Kevin Duckworth, who was still feeling his way back from his broken hand but getting better by the game.

In reality, all five Blazers starters were contributing as Porter had 8, Clyde Drexler 4, Jerome Kersey 6, Buck Williams 5 and Duckworth 6 to contribute 29 of the Blazers 31 1st quarter points.  Portland led 31-24.  Kevin Johnson paced Phoenix with 9.

Portland would get help from its bench in the 2nd quarter as Danny Young hit two jumpers and found Drexler for a slam on a 3-on-2 break.  When Cliff Robinson got a steal and breakaway slam, Portland led 42-33.  They would increase that lead to as much as 12 in the quarter as the fast pace that had come to be known in the Western Conference was in full effect.

Drexler scored 14 points in the 2nd quarter, mostly on drives and putbacks.  But K.J. kept Phoenix alive with 17 points and 8 assists, including 6 in the 2nd quarter, to bring the Suns back to within 64-57 at the half.

While K.J. was brilliant, most of his help was coming from Mark West, the beneficiary of a lot of K.J.’s assists.  Tom Chambers would hit 3 of his first 14 shots while Jeff Hornacek, Dan Majerle, and Eddie Johnson contributed but neither stepped forward and went on a roll.

Portland kept the lead in the 3rd quarter with their balance as all five starters were playing well.  They took a 10-point lead with 5:17 to go and held for a 91-84 advantage going into the 4th quarter.  But the concern would be that Kersey committed his 5th foul when he contacted Eddie Johnson when E.J. was throwing up a prayer in the last second of the quarter.  E.J. would split the free throws to cut the margin to 7.

Phoenix took advantage early on in the 4th as they cut the lead to 96-93 on a three-point play by Hornacek.  They would then tie it at 98 on a three-point play by K.J.  A Hornacek feed to Majerle for a layup gave the Suns their first lead since the 1st quarter and then a breakaway layup by K.J. forced Rick Adelman to call a Portland timeout with 7:25 remaining and the Suns up 102-99.

Phoenix would later take a 106-101 advantage when Majerle hit a baseline jumper.  But then the big moment of the game happened.  Drexler launched a three from the top that went in.  Meanwhile, Mark West and Kevin Duckworth were battling for rebounding position and West got whistled for his 5th foul.  Duckworth hit the free throw and the four-point play gave Portland their confidence back.

Buck Williams put back a miss and Porter hit a fall-away runner in the lane to tie the game at 109.  Phoenix got three shots on their next possession but got nothing out of it.  Then two free throws by Kersey gave Portland the lead with 2:54 to go.  Buck then took down a defensive rebound and outletted to Kersey, who found Drexler for a flying slam that got the crowd super-charged and forced a Cotton Fitzsimmons timeout with 2:39 left.

But Portland missed golden opportunities to increase that lead and Phoenix was able to cut it to 113-112 with 1:16 to go when Majerle hit a runner.  West then grabbed a miss by Williams and Chambers drove and was fouled by Buck with 47.3 to play.  Chambers, despite a 6-for-21 shooting night, calmly sank both free throws to give Phoenix the lead and finish 10-for-11 from the line.

After a Portland timeout, Majerle switched onto Drexler when Kersey set a pick to free Clyde.  Drexler then drove and drew a foul on Majerle with 34.4 seconds to go.  Drexler, like Chambers, calmly sank both free throws to get to 32 points.  Phoenix used a timeout.

The key to Portland’s defense on Phoenix’s next possession would be Terry Porter denying the ball to Kevin Johnson the entire possession and forcing Phoenix to go elsewhere.  The Suns’ best creator, and scorer on the day, never touched the ball and Buck Williams recovered a Dan Majerle miss and was fouled by Hornacek with 14.9 seconds left.

Buck made both free throws to give Portland a 117-114 lead.  Without using a timeout, K.J. went and got the ball and pushed it up.  Instead of taking the shot himself (something he’d be criticized for), he deferred to a well-covered Hornacek who missed a running three.  Kersey rebounded and drew Hornacek’s 6th foul.  His free throw finished the game.

Phoenix was returning home and would get a good/bad news scenario.  The good news was that Game 5 wouldn’t be the last they heard from Hornacek.  The bad news was the Game 5 would be nearly the last they heard from Kevin Johnson in 1990.  All in all, they probably still kick themselves about Game 2.

Phoenix starters (points scored)

Tom Chambers (22) – Small Forward

Kurt Rambis (8) – Power Forward

Mark West (18) – Center

Kevin Johnson (28) – Point Guard

Jeff Hornacek (17) – Shooting Guard

Phoenix bench (points scored)

Eddie Johnson (10)

Dan Majerle (11)

Mike McGee (0)

Tim Perry (0)

Andrew Lang (0)

Phoenix Coach: Cotton Fitzsimmons

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (21) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (15) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (15) – Center

Terry Porter (19) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (32) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (8)

Drazen Petrovic (1)

Danny Young (5)

Wayne Cooper (4)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

May 31, 1990 – Western Finals, Game 6: Portland Blazers 112 @Phoenix Suns 109

The Portland Trailblazers had been blown out twice in Phoenix in the series.  But on the devil’s advocate side, they were 3-0 in the close games so if they could keep it close…

Portland did get off to a good start in Game 6 as Jerome Kersey hit two jumpers.  The second of which gave the Blazers a 10-6 lead and forced Cotton Fitzsimmons to call a timeout 3 minutes into the game.  Tom Chambers then committed his 2nd foul, which kicked off an ineffective 1st half.  Buck Williams made two free throws to put the Blazers ahead 12-6.

But then Kevin Johnson and Jeff Hornacek got going.  Hornacek scored 5 quick points and K.J. continued to penetrate, like he had been doing all playoffs.  K.J. hit 5-of-6 free throws and then crossed over Terry Porter for a layup to put the Suns ahead 20-16.  K.J. later hit a fall-away in the lane, found Mark West for a slam on a pick-and-roll, and then he found Hornacek for a baseline jumper in transition.  Phoenix now led 26-19 with 3:36 to go and Rick Adelman used a timeout this time.

K.J. finished this 1st quarter with 13 points and 5 assists while Hornacek had 9.  But even so, Portland was able to pull back to within 34-31 at the end of the quarter.

The 2nd quarter didn’t start out well for Phoenix as Cliff Robinson hit a turnaround to cut it to one and then Chambers airballed his first shot attempt and then was called for a travel after making a subsequent basket.  But things turned around for Phoenix, but not for Chambers, as their bench severely out-played Portland’s.

Dan Majerle hit a wing jumper.  Hornacek found Tim Perry for a slam.  Hornacek’s jumper from the top got the bounce.  Majerle converted a three-point play and Perry got a breakaway layup.  By then, Phoenix led 47-35 with 7:46 remaining in the half and Adelman had to use another timeout and bring back his starters.

Majerle kept attacking the basket and scoring (this included a transition dunk over Cliff Robinson) to keep Phoenix ahead.  But Portland kept chipping away as Porter nailed two three-pointers and Kevin Duckworth hit two field goals after struggling early.  This cut the Suns’ lead to 53-50.

K.J. had sat most of the 2nd quarter but he came back in and scored on a lefty reverse driving layup while Duckworth fouled him.  The three-point play would be K.J.’s last hurrah of 1990.  Porter found Drexler for a layup and then Porter hit another trey to cut it to 56-55.

After Porter’s three, K.J. took the inbounds pass and came up lame.  He called a timeout and gingerly walked to the locker room.  He had pulled a hamstring and would be out for the rest of the game.  The interesting question that will never be answered is would he have played in Game 7.

Drexler hit a jumper to give Portland the lead.  But Hornacek came back with a runner.  Then Majerle stole the ball from Drexler and was fouled in transition.  He hit the two free throws and then, a possession later, Majerle put back his own miss and drew a foul.  The three-point play gave Majerle 16 points in the quarter (and in the game) and gave the Suns a 63-57 lead.

A jumper from Duckworth cut that lead to 63-59 at the half.  K.J. did warm up before the 2nd half but couldn’t go.  Chambers had ended the 1st half scoreless.

Four points from Buck Williams tied the game at 63 before Majerle put back a Chambers miss.  Then Majerle got Chambers a basket on a 3-on-2 break.  Chambers then scored a layup after recovering a loose ball.  Although he wouldn’t shoot well in this game, Chambers did become more aggressive and got to the line 6 times in the 3rd quarter.

Terry Porter and then Jerome Kersey each committed their 4th fouls for Portland and the Blazers would trail by ten several times in the 3rd quarter but Phoenix could never increase the margin.  Then in the final stages, just like the 2nd quarter, Portland made a run.

Duckworth hit a turnaround jumper from the baseline.  Drexler drove down the lane for a scoop and then got a breakaway three-point play after a Cliff Robinson outlet.  The 7-0 run had cut Phoenix’s lead to 83-80.  The Suns would maintain an 89-84 lead going into the 4th.

Then after their bench was out-played in the 2nd quarter, Drazen Petrovic came out firing to start the 4th.  He hit a three and then a long two to tie the game at 89.  He later scored on a breakaway but then was called for a technical after elbowing Hornacek following the basket.  Hornacek’s technical free throw tied the game at 91 and gave him 26 points.

Hornacek had taken over the point guard duties from Kevin Johnson and had attacked the basket K.J. style as well as connecting on his jumpers.  He continued to do so as he drove for a lefty layup and then hit a jumper from the top.

But Portland matched each of Hornacek’s baskets as Drexler and Kersey hit jumpers to tie the game at 95.  Hornacek followed with two more baskets on drives as Phoenix took a 100-95 advantage.  Chambers would follow with two jumpers but Portland stayed right in it as they trailed 104-99 despite Buck Williams picking up his 5th foul.  But Buck had put in work with 12 points, 11 rebounds, and being the main defensive catalyst on Chambers.

However, Kersey picked up his 5th foul with 4:00 to go and Chambers split a pair of free throws to give Phoenix a 105-99 lead.  They had a chance to increase that lead but couldn’t do it.  Drexler then took the ball in transition and found Porter for a three.  Then Kersey took it himself on a 3-on-1 break to cut the Suns’ lead to one.

Hornacek found Chambers for a slam in transition and then Mark West grabbed a defensive rebound.  But Drexler stole his outlet pass and drew a foul from West.  The free throws cut the lead to 107-106.  Duckworth fouled Hornacek with 1:09 to go and Jeff hit the two free throws to bring his career-game total to 36 points.

Portland called a timeout.  Phoenix was 0-3 in the close games of the series and had been done in by a lack of execution offensively and not getting defensive stops they needed.  Neither would happen.

Hornacek fouled Porter on a drive and Terry hit two free throws with 55.1 seconds remaining to cut the lead to one.  Then Phoenix ran down the shot clock unsure of what they wanted to do.  Finally, Hornacek drove but his shot was blocked by Kersey.  Drexler then took it on a 3-on-1 and found Jerome for a layup and a Blazers lead with 27.2 to go.

Phoenix tried to get something quickly in transition but Portland had three men back and Hornacek had to use a timeout.  Phoenix then had to use their last timeout when they couldn’t get the ball inbounds.  When they finally did, they again seemed unsure as Hornacek and Chambers tried to play a two-man game with the other three people standing around.

Chambers then had to try and take Buck Williams 1-on-1 and Buck stole it.  Drexler was then fouled by Eddie Johnson, who was completing a nightmare of a series (one which may have opened him up to being traded a season later), with 6.8 seconds to play.

Clyde the Glide hit both free throws and Phoenix had to go without a timeout.  Hornacek badly missed a running three-pointer and Buck got the rebound at the buzzer and Portland celebrated on the floor and in the locker room.

There was a new team in the West that, for the moment, had overtaken the Lakers.  Portland was making their first Finals appearance since winning it all in 1977.  Phoenix would not get this close until they traded for a superstar two years later.

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (15) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (12) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (18) – Center

Terry Porter (23) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (23) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (6)

Drazen Petrovic (11)

Danny Young (0)

Wayne Cooper (4)

Mark Bryant (0)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

Phoenix starters (points scored)

Tom Chambers (17) – Small Forward

Kurt Rambis (2) – Power Forward

Mark West (6) – Center

Kevin Johnson (16) – Point Guard

Jeff Hornacek (36) – Shooting Guard

Phoenix bench (points scored)

Eddie Johnson (5)

Dan Majerle (22)

Mike McGee (1)

Tim Perry (4)

Andrew Lang (0)

Kenny Battle (0)

Phoenix Coach: Cotton Fitzsimmons

sunsblazers90

Terry Porter comes off a Kevin Duckworth (#00) pick as Kevin Johnson (left side of Duckworth) and Mark West defend.  Porter helped Portland defeat Phoenix and reach their first NBA Finals in 13 years *photo courtesy of nba.com

June 3, 1990 – Eastern Finals, Game 7: Chicago Bulls 74 @Detroit Pistons 93

Phil Jackson had said before this game that the Bulls needed to reach 95 points to win, anything below and they had no chance.  The Bulls had scored 77, 93, and 83 points in their 3 losses at the Palace while putting up 107, 108, and 109 in their 3 victories at Chicago Stadium.

The main difference had been the benches.  Detroit’s bench had out-played Chicago’s for most of the first 5 games.  But in Game 6, Craig Hodges scored 19 points and broke out of a shooting slump to help the Bulls to an 18-point victory.  Hodges would have to be in the starting lineup for Game 7 as John Paxson re-injured a sprained ankle in Game 6 and was unavailable.

For Detroit, their only consistency so far had been Joe Dumars.  In every game except for Game 3, Dumars had scored over 20 points while guarding Michael Jordan.  Dumars and the Pistons bench had been the biggest contributors as Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer were inconsistent.  Isiah had been unbelievable in Games 3 & 4 in Chicago but had disappeared the rest of the series.  Laimbeer was breaking out of a shooting slump slowly in Games 5 & 6.

Game 7 started out low scoring, which was good for Detroit and bad for Chicago.  Neither team shot well in the 1st quarter as perhaps both teams looked nervous.  There was some good defense but a lot of missed shots would seem easy for NBA players.  Detroit, in particular, shot 6-for-22 in the quarter.

But Chicago could not take advantage.  Jordan had 6 points and 2 assists but Craig Hodges was back in his slump (although he did hit two shots) and a lot of shots from Bulls supporting players were short, a bad trend that was developing.  The Bulls did lead 19-17 after the 1st quarter but would live to regret not having a bigger lead.

Detroit’s bench came in for the 2nd quarter and had its usual impact.  Mark Aguirre hit two jumpers from the post area.  Vinnie Johnson hit a pull-up from the elbow for his first field goal since Game 5.  But John Salley’s play at both ends of the floor was the key.

The Bulls stayed with the Pistons and even had the lead for the first 5 minutes of the quarter.  It was 27-25 Chicago after Horace Grant stole the ball from Vinnie in the back-court and Jordan tipped in his miss.  But the Pistons immediately broke the Bulls trap and Salley got a breakaway three-point play to give Detroit the lead.  It would be the last lead change of the game.

What happened next would be described later as the key play of the game.  Isiah Thomas blocked a Jordan jumper and then Dumars got a breakaway which forced Phil Jackson to use a timeout at the 7:14 mark.

From that point on in the quarter, the Bulls just couldn’t score.  They had 6 points for the rest of the quarter; one field goal went in cleanly (ironically it was Scottie Pippen’s only field goal), they got one basket from goaltending and then two free throws.

Meanwhile, Isiah Thomas took over on the Pistons’ offensive end.  He penetrated and found Salley for a slam and then he hit a banker on the drive.  After Aguirre got a finger roll after a blocked shot from Salley, Jackson used another timeout with 5:43 to go and the Bulls down 36-27.

Isiah and Aguirre continued to score to increase the Pistons lead to 44-31 and then, perhaps, the two biggest daggers of the half happened for Chicago.  First, Salley (not known as a jump shooter) hit a wing jumper at the end of the shot clock to increase the Pistons lead to 15.  Then, after Will Perdue hit two free throws with 7 seconds to go in the half, Dumars pushed the ball and found Dennis Rodman for a reverse layup at the buzzer.

The Pistons led 48-33 now at the half.  Detroit had shot 82% in the 2nd quarter while Chicago had thrown in 21%.  A lot of the Bulls shots were short.  And while this is the game where Scottie Pippen had his now-famous migraine headache and shot 1-for-10 from the field, it’s not like he was the only one struggling.  Horace Grant finished 3-for-17, although he did grab 14 rebounds including 8 on the offensive boards, and Craig Hodges was 3-for-13.  Bill Cartwright didn’t help much either as he would be out-rebounded by Isiah Thomas in the game.

The Pistons surge continued in the 3rd quarter as Isiah twice found Rodman for layups and then hit a baseline jumper to put Detroit ahead 54-35.  He later would find Laimbeer for a baseline jumper and then he hit a pull-up from the top and a three-pointer from the wing.  The Pistons took their biggest lead at 61-39.

Jordan, at that point, would lead the Bulls onto their biggest run of the game.  He hit two pull-up jumpers, found Cartwright twice for field goals and then found Hodges for a three that cut the Pistons lead to 63-52.  Unfortunately for Chicago, Jordan (while he was 5-for-5 from the field in the quarter) could not get to the basket and probably would end up tiring himself out by trying to get the Bulls back into the game seemingly by himself.

Chicago could get no closer than 10, which was their deficit at the end of the 3rd quarter at 69-59.  Isiah Thomas and Vinnie Johnson would repeatedly break Chicago’s press and get easy opportunities for himself and teammates.  The Pistons regained a 16-point lead in the 4th quarter.  Chicago cut it back to 11 halfway through.

But Detroit would keep coming up with baskets and stops when they needed them.  And the play of Chicago’s supporting cast would be further proof to the saying that they (in terms of the Bulls as a team) weren’t ready yet.

Rodman, who was playing through a sprained ankle that would affect him more in the NBA Finals, hit a running banker on the drive down the lane.  Isiah penetrated and found Laimbeer for a layup and a foul.  Salley then recovered a loose ball after Jordan stripped Isiah on a drive and scored on a layup.  The Pistons now led 84-70.

They would put the game away with three offensive daggers.  Salley drove baseline for a slam.  Isiah fed Aguirre on a cut for a three-point play.  Then, in the finishing touch, Isiah alley-ooped to Salley for a reverse slam to give the Pistons their biggest lead at 93-70 with 2:03 to go.

By this point, the crowd was serenading the Bulls with “na-na-na-na, hey-hey-hey, good-bye” and the Pistons were beginning to celebrate.

Although Jordan’s teammates came up woefully short in this game and MJ would be disappointed following the game, he didn’t give up on them and bolt to another team (unlike LeBron, yep I had to!).  He admitted that the Pistons were better and that the Bulls just weren’t ready yet, and he would end up getting the last laugh.

For Detroit, they would now take on the new Western power in the Portland Trailblazers in the NBA Finals.  And, although they had made it look so easy at home against Chicago, it wouldn’t continue.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (2) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (10) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (6) – Center

Craig Hodges (8) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (31) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Stacey King (5)

B.J. Armstrong (2)

Will Perdue (2)

Charles Davis (2)

Ed Nealy (6)

Jeff Sanders (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Detroit starters (points scored)

Dennis Rodman (13) – Small Forward

James Edwards (6) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (13) – Center

Isiah Thomas (21) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (7) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (15)

Vinnie Johnson (4)

John Salley (14)

William Bedford (0)

Gerald Henderson (0)

Scott Hastings (0)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

detroit-pistons-chicago-bulls-michael-jordan-bill-laimbeer-james-edwards-isiah-thomas-nba-playoffs

This would be what Michael Jordan repeatedly saw whenever he could get to the hoop against Detroit, three people surrounding him (in this case, James Edwards #53, Isiah Thomas, and Bill Laimbeer) as the Bulls would be eliminated for the 3rd straight year by the Pistons in 1990 *photo courtesy of Detroit Athletic Blog

June 7, 1990 – NBA Finals, Game 2: Portland Blazers 106 @Detroit Pistons 105 (OT)

Although the Portland Trailblazers had the same regular season record as the Detroit Pistons, many didn’t give them much of a chance.  But then in Game 1, Portland came into the Palace at Auburn Hills and strutted their stuff.

The Blazers controlled the tempo and dominated the action while Detroit looked like they had just fended off Chicago in a 7-game series.  They led most of the way and had a 90-80 lead with 6 minutes to go.  But then the light switch turned on for Detroit and suddenly they stepped up their defense and strung together stops.  On offense though, it was basically a one-man show.

Isiah Thomas got the Pistons going with 4 points to kick off a 9-4 run.  Then after hitting two free throws, Isiah hit a three, a long jumper and then another three.  The 10-0 Isiah Thomas run gave them a 99-94 lead with under 2:00 to go.  The Pistons held on 105-99 and were breathing a sigh of relief while Portland was insisting that they now knew they could play with the Pistons.

But the following game after a heartbreaking loss like that usually doesn’t go the way of the team that had their heart broken.  It looked like that would be the case early on.  The Pistons went inside to James Edwards, who was used to being double-teamed but wasn’t by Portland.  Edwards hit five straight turnaround jumpers to get the Pistons going.

Isiah eventually hit two more threes and a fall-away jumper from the baseline to give the Pistons a 25-16 lead with 3:35 to go in the opening quarter.

Detroit took a 30-19 lead when Dennis Rodman hit a free throw.  But Rodman missed the second and, when trying to get the rebound, re-sprained an ankle that he initially hurt in the Chicago series.  This ankle would cut down Rodman’s effectiveness for the rest of the series.  In fact, Rodman would miss Game 3 and play 1 minute in Game 4.

Rodman’s injury and Portland’s bench play would start to turn the game around.  Cliff Robinson hit a jumper from the elbow and Wayne Cooper rebounded a miss and slammed one down.  Portland trailed 30-23 at the end of the 1st quarter.

Portland would make its big run after Bill Laimbeer started the 2nd quarter with a long two-pointer.  Jerome Kersey hit a turnaround from the mid-post.  Robinson pushed the ball on the break and found Clyde Drexler for a layup.  Terry Porter drove down the lane for a layup.  Cliff Robinson got a three-point play in transition and then Drazen Petrovic went 1-on-1 and scored on a runner from the baseline.  This 11-0 run gave Portland a 34-32 lead.

Petrovic continued to be effective as Portland’s reserves severely out-did what they accomplished in Game 1.  Buck Williams and Drexler were also effective as Portland completed a 13-4 run by taking a 53-41 advantage late in the 2nd quarter.  Isiah hit two free throws and Edwards hit another turnaround to bring Detroit back to within 53-45 at the half but the Pistons field goal touch was gone and Isiah and Edwards weren’t getting much help.

Isiah and Edwards continued their effectiveness as each came out with two field goals to start the 3rd quarter and brought Detroit to within 55-53.  But Portland was able to stay ahead by getting to the free throw line.  They went 13-for-15 from the foul line in the 3rd quarter and Terry Porter was 11-for-11 for the game.  With that help, Portland led 75-69 going into the 4th quarter and it was starting to look a lot like Game 1.

Detroit’s bench finally came to life to start the 4th quarter.  Mark Aguirre got his first two field goals to bring Detroit to within two.  The Pistons cut it to two a few times but could not grab the lead for the moment.  Portland was holding them off again and still led 86-83 with 4:16 to go.

But then Detroit made its move with an even more unexpected performance.  Bill Laimbeer’s shooting throughout the playoffs had mostly been ice cold.  But he may have never become as red hot as he was about to in his entire NBA career.  Portland had been daring him to shoot all game, especially after they started double-teaming Edwards, and in the last 4 minutes he obliged with some daggers.

His first three-pointer (2nd of the game) tied it up at 86 and then his next put Detroit ahead for the first time since 32-30.  Drexler answered with a three but Isiah followed with a scoop layup and a free throw as Detroit led 92-89 with 1:41 to go.

Portland didn’t panic, this time, and Drexler found Porter on a cut for a layup.  But Detroit got two offensive rebounds on their next possession.  The second of which was when John Salley tipped in a Mark Aguirre miss and drew the 6th foul on Kevin Duckworth.  Duckworth had quietly been effective down low with 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting.

Salley missed the free throw but Detroit still led by three.  Then Salley fouled Drexler on a drive on the next Portland possession.  But Drexler split the free throws and Detroit had a chance to perhaps put the game away.  They didn’t as Isiah missed a scoop in the lane at the end of the shot clock.  Kersey rebounded and Portland called timeout with 21.1 seconds to go.

Porter drove against Isiah and lost the ball.  But Thomas was called for his 5th foul on a reach-in.  Porter hit the two free throws with 10.2 seconds left to tie the game at 94.

The Pistons went to Isiah against Porter.  Thomas couldn’t get past him and had to settle for a deep fall-away jumper from the wing, which came up short at the buzzer.  Amazingly, this was the first overtime NBA Finals game since 1984.

Detroit started overtime better as Edwards hit a jumper on a pick-and-roll with Isiah.  Laimbeer then hit two more threes when the ball swung to him.  For Portland, Kersey had fouled out after an ineffective game but Drexler hit two field goals to keep Portland to within 102-98 with 1:28 to go.

But Porter drove against Isiah again and got Thomas to go for his pump fake and drew his 6th foul with 1:10 to go.  Porter hit the two free throws and was 15-for-15 from the line, setting a record for the most free throws made without a miss in a Finals game.

Then after a Joe Dumars turnover, Porter penetrated and kicked out to Drexler for a wing jumper to tie the game at 102.  Buck Williams rebounded a missed three from Laimbeer with 27 seconds to go.  After a Portland timeout, Porter drove and missed.  Buck went after the rebound and was fouled by Dumars with 9.6 seconds to go.  Williams made both free throws to give Portland a 104-102 lead.

Detroit called a timeout and the reporter James Brown found out from listening to the Pistons huddle that Chuck Daly wanted to go for three and the win.  Bill Laimbeer obliged when he got the inbounds pass and, especially, when he couldn’t find an open teammate.

He dribbled against Drexler and then pulled up from 2 feet behind the line and nailed the three with 4.1 seconds to go.  Portland called timeout as Detroit and the Palace were celebrating.  They got the ball to Drexler at the top, who drove against Rodman.  Rodman was called for hand-checking Clyde (hand-checking wasn’t always called at that time) with 2.1 seconds left.

Drexler made both free throws to give the Trailblazers the lead.  Detroit called a timeout and then their last after Portland committed their foul to give.  The Pistons then went inside to Edwards against Wayne Cooper.  Edwards went for another turnaround jumper but Cliff Robinson came over to help and ended up blocking his shot from behind as the buzzer went off.

Portland celebrated off the Palace floor.  They had gotten a split and Drexler was evidently the most vocal (before the game) in saying that Portland will split in Detroit and then not come back.  He was right, they didn’t come back to Detroit.

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (6) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (12) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (14) – Center

Terry Porter (21) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (33) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (7)

Drazen Petrovic (8)

Danny Young (2)

Wayne Cooper (3)

Mark Bryant (0)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

Detroit starters (points scored)

Dennis Rodman (1) – Small Forward

James Edwards (26) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (26) – Center

Isiah Thomas (23) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (16) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (6)

Vinnie Johnson (2)

John Salley (5)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

nba finals game 2

Isiah Thomas doesn’t appear at the moment to be looking inside to give James Edwards the ball, but he may be trying to fake out Terry Porter (guarding Thomas), Kevin Duckworth (guarding Edwards) and the rest of the Portland defense.  *photo courtesy of Getty Images

June 12, 1990 – NBA Finals, Game 4: Detroit Pistons 112 @Portland Blazers 109

Going into Game 3 in Portland, the Detroit Pistons had not won a game in the city of Roses since 1974, a streak of 20 games.  Most figured the streak would end in one of the games in Portland and the Pistons made it sooner rather than later.

Detroit’s backcourt, like they did in the ’89 Finals, stepped up and led the way offensively.  Isiah Thomas had 21 points, Vinnie Johnson also had 21 after no-showing the first two games, but Joe Dumars was the main star with 33.  Portland’s front court got into foul trouble (Bill Laimbeer’s flopping was partly to blame) and the Pistons won going away 121-106.

Dumars must have been elated coming off the floor, but his world would soon come crashing down.  His father had been fighting a long battle with diabetes and had passed away before the game.  Dumars’s family didn’t want him to know beforehand, so head coach Chuck Daly and Isiah Thomas were the only ones that found out until Joe did after the game.  Dumars, after going back home to Louisiana for a day in between games, decided to play Games 4 & 5, go back home for the funeral on Saturday and then travel back to Detroit for a possible Game 6 on Sunday.

As for the game, Portland knew that they needed to get everyone involved and get out on the break.  They did so in the 1st quarter.  Terry Porter pushed the tempo and found all four of his starting teammates for baskets early on as the Blazers took an 18-11 lead.  He then started scoring himself after Detroit got back into it and his 6th point on a lefty runner from the baseline put his team up 30-20.

A driving banker by Clyde Drexler with 2.8 seconds remaining in the 1st quarter made the score 32-22 Blazers at the quarter break.  Drexler and Jerome Kersey had been the biggest beneficiaries to Porter’s 6 assists.  Kevin Duckworth had gotten some buckets down low and Buck Williams seemed back after a bad Game 3.

But it all would be washed away by Detroit’s defense and bench strength.  Isiah Thomas committed his 3rd foul early in the 2nd quarter and sat.  Vinnie Johnson responded by scoring 7 points in a row to cut Portland’s lead to 32-31.  It took the Trailblazers 5 minutes of 2nd quarter action to score.

Joe Dumars would later score 6 Piston points in a row as Detroit eventually brought it back to a 46-all tie with a minute to go in the half.  Dumars would then find Laimbeer for his first three-pointer since the explosion in Game 2.  Dumars followed with a pull-up jumper from the wing with 0.8 seconds left to give the Pistons a 51-46 halftime lead.

Isiah came back for the 3rd and made up for lost time.  He got started with two transition jumpers and then two free throws.  Portland was able to stay in it for the moment as Drexler and Kersey were scoring at will.  But nobody else came to the party as Drexler and Kersey would be Portland’s only scorers from the middle of the 2nd quarter until late in the 3rd.

Detroit took a 65-56 lead before James Edwards picked up his 4th foul.  No matter, Isiah didn’t commit another foul and kept scoring.  His barrage started with a pull-up from the wing.  Then he connected on a three and another baseline jumper.  Isiah then hit three straight treys as Detroit went on a 9-2 run to take an 81-65 lead with under 2:00 to go in the 3rd quarter.  Isiah finished the quarter with 22 points and 4 three-pointers.

With Portland struggling, Rick Adelman changed up the defense by going to the trap.  It had been effective against the Pistons earlier in the series and one wondered why Portland waited so long to go to it in this game.  One especially wondered that after it worked.

Drexler got three steals, finished one breakaway by himself and then fed Cliff Robinson for layups on the others.  Portland went on an 8-0 run and it took a pull-up from Vinnie to keep Detroit’s lead at 83-73 entering the final quarter.

Portland suddenly had their 1st quarter momentum back and continued to cut into the lead.  A Kersey layup on a 3-on-1 break cut it to 89-87 with 7:27 to go, and the game was on.

Vinnie Johnson responded with another basket but was helpless when the 6’7″ Drexler decided to post the 6’2″ Vinnie up (another thing you wondered why they didn’t do more of).  Drexler got consecutive baskets down low to cut the lead to 92-91.  Then Porter hit a pull-up from the baseline to give the Trailblazers the lead with 5:20 left.

It was Porter’s first field goal since the 1st quarter and seemed to get him going as he scored on two consecutive driving layups to answer Piston baskets.  But then he committed his 5th foul on Dumars and Joe put Detroit back up 98-97 with two free throws.  Two more free throws by Isiah put the Pistons up by three and they were able to keep that lead for the next few minutes.

A pull-up banker by Isiah gave Detroit a 104-101 lead with 1:48 to go.  30 seconds later, a pull-up by Dumars after a give-and-go with Laimbeer put the Pistons up 106-102.  But then after Kersey hit two free throws, John Salley fouled out after an offensive foul with 52 seconds remaining.

This brought in Dennis Rodman, who was seeing his first action since Game 2 when he re-sprained his ankle.  Laimbeer then committed his 5th foul and Buck Williams had a chance to tie the game at the line.  He made the first but missed the second.  There was a rebound scramble which ended with Drexler falling out of bounds with the ball.  But just when it was thought to be Detroit’s ball, Laimbeer was called for his 6th foul setting off a mini-tirade from Bill.

Drexler made both free throws with 31.8 remaining and Portland led 107-106.  Detroit used a timeout and gave it to Isiah against Porter.  Isiah waited and waited at the wing before launching and nailing a jumper with his foot on the three-point line.  Portland used a timeout at the 25 second mark.

Porter then got the ball against Isiah.  He got past him in the lane but Dumars came over to help and stripped the ball from Porter.  Thomas was then fouled by Danny Young with 8.4 remaining.  He made the two free throws and Detroit led 110-107.

Portland had to use two timeouts (including their last) before getting it inbounds to Porter.  Mark Aguirre, who was starting in place of Rodman, committed a foul before Porter could launch a tying three.  Terry made the two free throws with 6.5 seconds left.

Detroit then got it inbounds and went long before Portland could foul them.  It ended up with veteran guard Gerald Henderson (who had come in for Vinnie a few seconds earlier after Johnson hyper-extended his knee) getting an easy layup with 1.3 to go.

With Portland being out of timeouts, they had to throw it long and it almost worked.  Danny Young got the ball on the right side way beyond the three-point line.  Unfortunately for Portland, he casually dribbled a few times before launching a running three that clearly came after the buzzer sounded.

It went in and was originally thought to send the game into overtime.  But the refs, which included Earl Strom working his final NBA assignment, discussed it and over-turned their original call (remember that this was the pre-replay days, so the refs actually had to have a discussion and hoped to get it right without review… in this case, they did).

Detroit now had a 3-1 lead and had a chance to do the unexpected, sweep three games in Portland.

Detroit starters (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (3) – Small Forward

James Edwards (13) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (12) – Center

Isiah Thomas (32) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (26) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Vinnie Johnson (20)

John Salley (4)

Dennis Rodman (0)

David Greenwood (0)

Gerald Henderson (2)

Scott Hastings (0)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (33) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (9) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (8) – Center

Terry Porter (17) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (34) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (8)

Drazen Petrovic (0)

Danny Young (0)

Wayne Cooper (0)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

June 14, 1990 – NBA Finals, Game 5: Detroit Pistons 92 @Portland Blazers 90

For the Portland Trailblazers to get back into this series, it was almost simple.  They needed to get everybody involved again.  Clyde Drexler and Jerome Kersey had been magnificent for the most part.  But the production from Buck Williams and Kevin Duckworth had fallen off in the last two games and Terry Porter was 3-for-16 on three-pointers in the series.

Detroit had won the last two games playing at Portland’s fast tempo as well.  But as Game 5 got started it was soon evident that the game would be more at Detroit’s slow-it-down, defensive grind pace.  Portland grabbed the early lead as Duckworth got going down low and Porter nailed his 4th three of the series, but they could not take advantage of the Pistons’ slow start by running away as their biggest lead would be 5.

Then Isiah Thomas, as he had in key points of the series, turned it on and went on a scoring binge.  It started with a few transition breakaways as Detroit’s defense picked up.  Then he scored the Pistons’ last 7 points of the quarter, including a banker with 1.2 seconds remaining, to give Detroit a 26-22 lead going into the 2nd quarter.  Isiah had 15 points at this juncture.

The 2nd quarter would be even uglier as Detroit’s defense kept forcing Portland to take outside shots and the Pistons grabbed a 37-29 lead midway through.  But Portland then kept going to Duckworth and the big man with the soft touch got them back into the game with 8 points.  Drexler tied it at 41 with a coast-to-coast layup.

But then Joe Dumars hit his first field goal of the game on a wing jumper and Drexler fouled Mark Aguirre while trying to get out to challenge Dumars’ jumper.  The three-point play and two subsequent free throws from Aguirre with 0.2 seconds left put the Pistons ahead 46-42 at the half.

Finally in the 3rd quarter, Portland was able to get their offense going.  Duckworth had been the only Blazers in double figures with 14 points (Isiah was the only Piston in double figures with 20) and the Blazers kept going to him early on.

Duckworth got a three-point play after Porter penetrated and found him for a layup.  Then a short jumper from Kevin after a pick-and-roll with Porter gave Portland a 50-48 lead.  The game went back-and-forth for a few minutes as Porter hit two threes but the Pistons answered.

Then Buck Williams picked up his 4th foul with 4:49 to go and Portland up 58-55.  Buck was, once again, not a huge factor but had gotten going a bit in the 3rd.  Drexler then took over with a driving finger roll in the lane and then a highlight three-point play as he drove baseline for a one-handed twisting reverse slam while he was fouled.

But Isiah answered each basket with a three at the end of the shot clock and then another pull-up to bring his point total to 27.  Drexler then picked up his 4th foul and the Blazers stopped going down low to Duckworth.  But they were able to stay ahead and got a boost with 3.8 seconds remaining in the quarter as they won a jump ball and Porter nailed a three from the top to give the Blazers a 69-65 advantage heading into the 4th.

Isiah got a rest to start the final quarter as Vinnie Johnson came in.  Vinnie had been a huge factor in Games 3 & 4 but couldn’t make anything so far in Game 5.  Portland took advantage by getting out to a 76-69 lead.

But the Microwave went on one of his rolls as Vinnie made the next three field goals, including a tough turnaround jumper in the lane after rebounding his own miss to cut the lead to one.  Vinnie then hit two free throws to put Detroit up 77-76.  Drexler committed his 5th foul for Portland while Bill Laimbeer and James Edwards had 5 for Detroit.

But the Pistons had a worse loss for a few minutes as Isiah Thomas ran into a Portland player going after a loose ball and sustained a bloody nose that could not be contained, so he had to go to the bench with 5 minutes to go.

Portland took advantage over the next few minutes as Detroit couldn’t get their offense going.  A turnaround jumper by Duckworth in the post, when they finally went to him, gave the Blazers an 86-81 lead.  Then after John Salley follow-slammed a Vinnie miss, Drexler drove the lane and kissed a finger roll off the glass.

On the Blazers’ next possession, Drexler was doubled out on the top but he was able to find Kersey down low.  Kersey then found a cutting Buck Williams for a slam to give Portland a 90-83 lead with 2:02 to go.  Chuck Daly called a timeout as the Portland crowd went crazy.  It seemed strange that Detroit had won the last two games playing Portland’s tempo and now the Trailblazers were on the verge of winning a game that was played at Detroit’s tempo.

But, as they say and as Portland had learned earlier in the series, it wasn’t over til its over.  Isiah came back in and Detroit went with the three guard lineup.  Vinnie Johnson, in essence, killed two birds with one stone on the next possession.  He hit a pull-up jumper from the foul line while drawing a foul from Drexler.  It was Clyde’s 6th foul and would prove to be a huge loss for Portland.  And, on top of that, Vinnie’s three-point play cut the lead to 90-86.

Duckworth missed a turnaround in the post and Bill Laimbeer continued making his biggest contribution to the game by grabbing his 16th rebound.  Vinnie then hit a pull-up from the baseline and the Microwave was heating up again.  The lead was down to two.

Duckworth’s next turnaround jumper was in-and-out and Laimbeer grabbed his 17th rebound (he was the only player in the game that had double digit rebounds and Portland’s biggest advantage before the Finals was their ability to out-rebound teams, it became perhaps the biggest factor in their final three losses and was the biggest reason why Buck Williams was deemed ineffective in the final three games).

Portland was able to force a jump ball with 43.1 seconds remaining.  But Vinnie out-jumped Danny Young, who was in for Drexler, and tipped the ball to Isiah.  Thomas then hit a pull-up from the top to tie the game at 90 with 36.5 seconds left.  Portland didn’t call a timeout and Porter penetrated and threw the ball away with 20.1 to go.

Now Detroit used a timeout and got the ball to Isiah to go for the last shot.  Thomas penetrated but then kicked the ball out to Vinnie Johnson.  Because Portland went with a typical position lineup against Detroit’s three guards, Vinnie was guarded by Kersey which would seem to be a Portland advantage.

But Vinnie was able to penetrate himself and get away just enough to launch a pull-up from the wing (Kersey also was late in reacting to the jumper) that swished through with 0.7 seconds left to give the Pistons a 92-90 lead.

Portland would have one more chance but their collapse would be completed when Porter bricked a three from the corner.  Detroit had won three games in Portland, after not winning there since 1974, and had become the 3rd franchise to win back-to-back championships in the NBA.

The Pistons domination in 1989 and 1990 would be punctuated by the fact that they went 5-0 on the road in the Finals in that stretch.  Detroit did it with defense and the leadership and clutch play of Isiah Thomas (especially in the 1990 Finals, where he was named MVP) as well as clutch offense from Dumars, Vinnie Johnson and Bill Laimbeer and defense all the way around.  Defense would become sexy in Detroit at that time.

The journey to back-to-back championships had nearly taken a decade for the Detroit franchise to build and they had brought down the 80’s Celtics and the 80’s Lakers, all would be documented in the Bad Boys 30 for 30.  But as they went for a three-peat, they would run into another building dynasty.

Detroit starters (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (10) – Small Forward

James Edwards (13) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (6) – Center

Isiah Thomas (29) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (8) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Vinnie Johnson (16)

Dennis Rodman (2)

John Salley (8)

David Greenwood (0)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (11) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (10) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (21) – Center

Terry Porter (21) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (20) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (0)

Danny Young (5)

Wayne Cooper (2)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

isiah & vinnie back-to-backdetroit back-to-back90_vinnie_johnson_grab

The two big heroes (Isiah Thomas & Vinnie Johnson) celebrate back-to-back championships with their teammates (John Salley & Bill Laimbeer are front and center with Isiah in the 2nd picture).  Vinnie made the celebration possible in Portland with his game-winning jumper over Jerome Kersey (bottom) *photos courtesy of nba.com, ioffer.com, and nba.com

1990 College Basketball Season – Runnin’ Rebel Domination

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JuCo All-American Larry Johnson was the newest member of the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels in 1989 *photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated for Kids

For the pre-season rankings in 1989-90, the top 10 looked like this.  #1 UNLV, #2 LSU, #3 Syracuse, #4 Michigan, #5 Georgetown, #6 Arizona, #7 North Carolina, #8 Illinois, #9 Arkansas, and #10 Duke.

UNLV and LSU was getting some new talent while everyone else was returning most everybody.  Arkansas had some young talent that was coming together while every other team from 3-10 was losing key people.

UNLV was perhaps getting the most heralded of newcomers as Juco All-American Larry Johnson signed on to join a star-studded lineup.  They would get invited to the Pre-Season NIT and would get a chance to show off their talent against a run-and-gun team.

November 15, 1989 – Pre-Season NIT 1st round: Loyola (Marymount) 91 @(#1)UNLV Runnin’ Rebels 102

The Loyola Marymount Lions, under former Lakers coach Paul Westhead, had been known the last two seasons for their run-and-gun style.  In 1988, they had upset Wyoming in the 1st round of the NCAA tournament before losing to North Carolina.  In 1989, they had made the NCAA tournament again.

Now for 1990, they had two supreme senior stars, as well as a third senior who played a prominent role.  Their stars had been teammates since the 9th grade in Philadelphia.  Swingman Bo Kimble and big man Hank Gathers were garnering NBA attention.  The third unheralded senior was shooter Jeff Fryer.  Fryer would play prominently in Westhead’s system as the sharp-shooter, while Kimble shot and penetrated and Gathers was the inside threat.

Loyola also had point guards Tony Walker and Terrell Lowery to push the tempo and feed Fryer and Kimble for threes and Gathers for layups.  Lowery, the 6th man, was more of a scorer and also shot a lot of threes.  Lowery was a sophomore while Walker was a Juco transfer.  Another key player was big man shooter (a stretch 4 if you will) Per Stumer from Sweden.  Stumer was the other inside player on defense but hung around the perimeter on offense.  Reserves of this team included Tom Peabody, John O’Connell and Chris Knight.

Loyola would debut their 1990 running game style against another fast-paced team in the “Runnin'” Rebels.  Johnson joined a star-studded lineup that included 1988 Olympian forward Stacey Augmon, guards Greg Anthony and Anderson Hunt, and centers David Butler, Moses Scurry, and George Ackles.

But for this opening game, all three centers were out.  Ackles had a wrist injury and would be red-shirted for the 1990 season.  Meanwhile, Butler and Scurry were out with academic trouble.  This would be a key factor early on in the season but for now, Vegas was on their home-court at the Thomas & Mack Center.

James Jones, the “center” for now for Jerry Tarkanian and the Rebels, got things started with a jumper in the lane.  But Loyola gave a preview of their style as Kimble hit a pull-up and Fryer hit a three and a long two.  But Jones, Johnson and Augmon dominated the inside early on and gave UNLV a 10-point lead.

But the tempo was taking effect as Johnson was bent over and out of breath a few times.  Loyola took advantage as Peabody got a steal in the back court and fed Kimble for a layup to cut the lead to 23-19.  Another steal and layup by John O’ Connell cut the lead to 25-23.  Then Lowery pushed after a Rebels miss and found Fryer for a corner three.  A possession later, Lowery hit his own pull-up three.  Gathers then fed Peabody for a layup and Stumer hit two free throws.  It was now 33-25 Loyola.

Loyola continued to maintain their lead at 40-34 when, with 5:41 left in the half, the game was stopped because of a bomb threat.  The game was put on a 4-minute delay while police searched the building and people in attendance checked their seat and area.  ESPN cameras even caught a glimpse of a package up in the vents of the building.  Ultimately, nothing was found and nothing happened.

The delay seemed to halt Loyola’s momentum a bit.  UNLV cut it to 44-43 after reserve Barry Young hit a three.  Johnson then drove, spun and scored for a Runnin’ Rebels lead.  Johnson would finish with 14 1st half points despite having to sit at various times for being gassed.

But three buckets from Terrell Lowery put Loyola Marymount back ahead 54-50.  Jones then followed up a miss by Hunt at the buzzer to cut the lead to 54-52.

Jerry Tarkanian wasn’t happy with his team’s defense in the 1st half and didn’t think he could contain Marymount man-to-man.  So he switched to a zone for a rare time and slowed down the tempo on offense to start the 2nd half.

UNLV did get some breakaways too but they were briefly answered by threes from Jeff Fryer.  But when Anthony outletted to Augmon for a breakaway three-point play, the Rebels took a 65-62 lead.

Hunt then answered a basket by Kimble with a three and then a slam after a long pass from Anthony.  At this point of the 2nd half, the intensity was high and there were some near flare-ups.  The closest came when Gathers and Hunt almost got involved after shoving each other.  Gathers had to be briefly restrained but it fired him up in a different way.

After a block from Stumer, Gathers drove down the lane for a layup and a foul.  This cut the UNLV advantage to 70-66 and also unleashed what was called the ugliest free throw style in college basketball.  Gathers shot his free throws right-handed at this point (trust me, this would become a story-line later) and this free throw was flat and Gathers almost fell over the line before releasing.

Despite the missed free throw, a layup by Gathers cut the lead back to 72-70.  But UNLV broke Loyola’s press and Augmon put back his own miss.  Johnson then hit a turnaround from the baseline after Anthony got a steal and Fryer committed his 4th foul.  Lowery penetrated and found Kimble for a three-point play to cut it to 76-73.

But then the Anderson Hunt show began (the first of a few in 1990).  First, he got a steal and layup.  Then Anthony found him for a corner three.  After Gathers hit a pull-up, Anthony pushed the ball back and found Hunt for another corner three to make the score 84-75 UNLV.

Fryer briefly kept the Lions within striking distance with two jumpers.  But then a key player (although he had only scored 2 points) fouled out for Loyola.  Tony Walker was called for a charge in transition with UNLV only up 87-80.  Walker ran the fast-paced offense and was getting the ball to Gathers, Kimble, and Fryer for their shots.

After Walker fouled out, Young hit a pull-up from the foul line and Johnson hit a turnaround from the post.  Johnson then outletted to Hunt for a breakaway.  Hunt then knocked the ball away from Kimble and Anthony got a breakaway layup.  UNLV was now up 95-80 and the game was all but over.

However, the intensity wasn’t.  After the final buzzer, the teams walked off the court without shaking hands and apparently almost came to blows in the tunnel walking to the locker room.  They would ultimately get a chance to play each other again, but in much, much, much different circumstances.

The loss of UNLV’s centers early on came up to bite them after they won the first two games of the Pre-Season NIT in Vegas.  They traveled to New York to take on Kansas.  The Jayhawks had former Indiana Hoosier Rick Calloway, as well as senior guards (from their 1988 Championship team) Kevin Pritchard and Jeff Gueldner.  But the Jayhawk big men of Mark Randall, Mike Maddox and Pekka Markkanen made the difference for Roy Williams’ team as they went on a 34-16 run and won 91-77.

Kansas had beaten 2nd ranked LSU in Baton Rouge a day before beating UNLV.  As a result of Kansas knocking off the #1 and #2 ranked teams in the nation, they went from unranked to #4 in the nation in one week.

Loyola (Marymount) starters (points scored)

Bo Kimble (21) – Small Forward

Per Stumer (6) – Power Forward

Hank Gathers (18) – Center

Tony Walker (2) – Point Guard

Jeff Fryer (23) – Shooting Guard

Loyola (Marymount) bench (points scored)

Terrell Lowery (15)

Chris Knight (0)

Tom Peabody (2)

John O’Connell (4)

Greg Walker (0)

Loyola (Marymount) Coach: Paul Westhead

UNLV starters (points scored)

Stacey Augmon (18) – Small Forward

Larry Johnson (24) – Power Forward

James Jones (14) – Center

Greg Anthony (15) – Point Guard

Anderson Hunt (26) – Shooting Guard

UNLV bench (points scored)

Travis Bice (0)

Chris Jeter (0)

Barry Young (5)

UNLV Coach: Jerry Tarkanian

gathers_kimble

Hank Gathers (left) and Bo Kimble had been teammates since the 9th grade in Philadelphia *photo courtesy of covers.com

December 6, 1989 – ACC/Big East Challenge: Clemson Tigers 72, Providence Friars 71

In the first ACC/Big East challenge (which would only go on for two more years), this game was the prelude to the highly anticipated Duke/Syracuse game which was the second game of a double-header in Greensboro, North Carolina.

In the first two days (and four games) of the challenge, the conferences had tied with two wins apiece.  But the high end teams like Duke, Syracuse, North Carolina and Georgetown had not played yet and would in the next two days.

But this game would feature a surprise team in their particular conference.  Providence, coached by Rick Barnes, still had some players remaining from their 1987 Final Four team.  There were big men Marty Conlon and Abdul Shamsid-Deen and point guard Carlton Screen.  But their star and future NBA player was junior Eric Murdock.  The Friars had faltered late in the 1989 season after winning their first 13 games.  They were 4-0 so far in 1990.

Clemson had been in the bottom rung of the ACC for most of their existence.  But for 1990, head coach Cliff Ellis had two young big men who would make an impact in the NBA.  Senior Elden Campbell and junior Dale Davis were dubbed the duo of doom.  Neither was as heavily chiseled as they would become but the athleticism was off the charts.  The rest of the roster filled with swingmen Sean Tyson, David Young, Derrick Forrest and Kirkland Howling along with point guard Marion Cash.

It would be the role players that were big in this game.  David Young started Clemson off on the right foot with two three-pointers.  Campbell and Davis each hit two field goals and Young hit another three as Clemson took a 19-9 lead midway through the half.

But then the pressure defense of Rick Barnes and Providence got going and Clemson didn’t score a point for 5 minutes.  Campbell picked up his 2nd foul and eventually Davis committed his 3rd.  The Friars went on a 14-2 run to take a 23-21 advantage.

But then Sean Tyson came off the bench and made his impact.  He scored 10 points over the latter part of the 1st half as the Tigers regained a 34-32 lead at the halftime break.

Tyson also scored 10 points early in the 2nd half as the teams went back-and-forth.  Carlton Screen was leading the way for Providence with help from senior forward Quinton Burton.  A three-pointer from Eric Murdock put the Friars up 51-48 but Eric was not much of a factor in the ball game.  Neither was Marty Conlon who, along with Screen and Murdock, would average over 14 points per game in 1990 to lead the Friars.

But Campbell and Davis were struggling as well for Clemson and the missed offense for both teams would continue to be made up by Tyson, Burton, Young and Abdul Shamsid-Deen.  Young’s 4th three-pointer put Clemson up 56-55.

But Providence would take the biggest lead at 64-60 when Burton hit a three and Shamsid-Deen got a basket on a Dale Davis goaltend.  But Conlon picked up his 4th foul and Campbell hit two free throws.

Both teams would go into a drought for the next few minutes as the Friars took a 65-62 lead.  Then with 2:13 to go, Davis scored a power layup against two guys and drew a foul.  With a chance to tie the game, Davis missed the free throw but Campbell follow-slammed the miss and the Tigers had a 66-65 advantage.  Just like that, the duo of doom had arrived.

But Davis committed his 4th foul at the 2:05 mark.  However, Burton could only tie it as he split his free throws.  Davis then banked a shot in from the post.  Burton responded by nailing a three after a cross-court pass from Conlon.  The Friars led 69-68 but Burton committed a foul in the back court on Clemson point guard Marion Cash.

Cash hit two free throws with 1:30 to go.  The two teams then exchanged turnovers before Providence got the ball back with under a minute left.  They got two offensive rebounds before Burton hit a runner from the baseline with 24 seconds to go.  Clemson didn’t call a timeout and attacked the Friars press.

David Young was short on a pull-up from the baseline but Davis got the rebound and was fouled.  Dale Davis was evidently never a good foul shooter (he was 42% in this early season and would never climb higher than 70% in his NBA career).  But he made both shots here with 14 seconds to go and Clemson led 72-71.

Providence didn’t call a timeout either and they got a good shot.  Screen penetrated and kicked out to an open Conlon at the top.  But the struggling big man bricked the jumper and the buzzer sounded.  Clemson had a key early win that would spark momentum going into the ACC season.

The Tigers would finish at the top of the ACC in the regular season with a 10-4 record and they would be undefeated at home.  They would lose in the ACC Semifinals to Virginia 69-66 and would become the #5 seed in the East Regional.

Providence would lose another one-point game to in-state rival Rhode Island 3 days later.  Providence losing by one-point (or at the buzzer) would become a theme at critical points of their season.

Clemson starters (points scored)

Kirkland Howling (3) – Small Forward

Dale Davis (12) – Power Forward

Elden Campbell (12) – Center

Marion Cash (7) – Point Guard

David Young (12) – Shooting Guard

Clemson bench (points scored)

Sean Tyson (20)

Derrick Forrest (6)

Ricky Jones (0)

Tim Kincaid (0)

Clemson Coach: Cliff Ellis

Providence starters (points scored)

Quinton Burton (20) – Small Forward

Marty Conlon (4) – Power Forward

Abdul Shamsid-Deen (14) – Center

Carlton Screen (17) – Point Guard

Eric Murdock (10) – Shooting Guard

Providence bench (points scored)

Marques Bragg (4)

Chris Watts (0)

Marvin Saddler (2)

Greg Bent (0)

Providence Coach: Rick Barnes

dale davis

Dale Davis’ two free throws gave Clemson a big early-season win against Providence in the 1st of 3 ACC/Big East challenges *photo courtesy of millercards.net

December 6, 1989 – ACC/Big East Challenge: (#6)Duke Blue Devils 76, (#1)Syarcuse Orangemen 78

A veteran college basketball fan could have been thinking of this game when Duke and Syracuse first became conference opponents in 2014.  The same two guys that were coaching them in 1989 were still there 25 years later, Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim.

But even in 1989, this was a big-time star-studded matchup.  Each team had lost a key player after the 1989 season.  For Syracuse, it was point guard Sherman Douglas and for Duke, forward Danny Ferry.

Without Douglas, Boeheim had to start 6’4″ Stephen Thompson at the point while freshman and true point guard Michael Edwards waited off the bench for his shot.  Thompson led an athletic Syracuse lineup of Derrick Coleman, Billy Owens and Dave Johnson.  Kentucky transfer LeRon Ellis joined the team to man up the middle.  That was Syracuse’s starting five, but Boeheim didn’t have much off his bench.  Rich Manning and Tony Scott came in along with Edwards, but they didn’t receive much time.

Duke had a veteran lineup to supplant the loss of Ferry.  They didn’t have veterans to take over once point guard Quin Snyder graduated.  But they were able to get perhaps the 2nd-best point guard recruit in the country and Coach K immediately gave him the ball.  Bobby Hurley was teamed with seniors Phil Henderson, Robert Brickey and Alaa Abdelnaby in the starting lineup.  He was also joined by sophomore Christian Laettner, and Hurley and Laettner would begin a love-hate-respect 3-year relationship.

Duke’s bench wasn’t particularly overwhelming either.  There was junior shooter Greg Koubek and sophomore defensive ace Brian Davis.  There were freshman guards Billy McCaffrey and Thomas Hill.  There were particularly underwhelming big men Crawford Palmer and Clay Buckley (both were out for this game and neither became more than a bench-warmer at Duke).

Syracuse’s athleticism was shown off the tip (literally) as Owens alley-ooped to Dave Johnson after the Orangemen won the jump ball.  Later, Ellis found Coleman for a slam.  The big mismatch in Syracuse’s favor was the 6’4″ powerfully built Thompson against the freshman Hurley.  A few times, Thompson took him to the lane for finger rolls and pull-up jumpers.  He also back cut the freshman for layups.

Syracuse built an early lead (that could have been bigger had the Orangemen converted several layups on fast breaks and back cuts that they missed on) despite Coleman committing two early fouls.  Their big run came after Thompson follow-slammed a Johnson miss to give the Orange a 26-17 lead.

Coleman then followed up a miss and later found Owens for a fast break dunk to put the lead into double-digits.  Then after Laettner committed his 2nd foul for Duke, Coleman lobbed to Owens for another slam.  Coach K had to call a timeout with 5:57 left in the half as Syracuse now led 32-17.

The momentum started to change when Syracuse started missing shots and Duke got out on the break.  Hurley got a layup that was goaltended by Thompson and then Hurley found Brickey with a touch-pass for a slam.  Brickey, in particular, started to get going for Duke with 8 points late in the 1st half.

With that, it took a leaner from Bobby Hurley that got the bounce at the buzzer to cut the Syracuse lead to 40-33 at the half.

After the teams exchanged buckets to start half number two, Coleman picked up his 3rd foul.  Because Derrick was a senior and Boeheim had no bench, Coleman stayed in and it didn’t hurt Syracuse.  Brickey got the pro-Duke Greensboro Coliseum crowd going with a breakaway double-pump reverse slam.

Later, Hurley showed off his play-making skills when he threw an alley-oop pass from half-court to Brickey, who caught it with his elbow at rim level and laid it in.  This forced a Boeheim timeout less than 3 minutes into the half as Duke cut it to 42-41.

The Blue Devils were able to take a lead when Hurley penetrated and found Brickey for a layup.  And until very late in the game, neither team took more than a two-point lead.  The heavyweights were literally trading punches.

Thompson and Laettner would be the keys for their team as the second half wore on as each led the way.  Coleman and Brickey would be supporting actors as the teams thoroughly entertained the crowd and the broadcasters.

But then as the action hit the final four minutes, Phil Henderson and Billy Owens traded threes.  Owens’ turnaround from the foul line tied the game at 71.  Thompson then tipped-in a miss on the break to give Syracuse the lead again.  Laettner would hit two free throws, after Ellis picked up his 4th foul, to tie the game again with over 3:00 left.

Both teams failed to convert on their next possession.  Then Ellis gave the Orange a 1-point lead with a free throw.  Coleman then committed his 4th foul when Brickey found Laettner on a cut.  With 1:28 to go, Laettner uncharacteristically missed both free throws.  Alaa Abdelnaby fouled Coleman on the rebound of the second miss and Derrick gave Syracuse a 76-73 lead by nailing both ends of the 1-and-1.

Coleman had a chance to increase that lead after Hurley missed and Abdelnaby fouled him again with 39 seconds left.  But he missed the front end of the 1-and-1.  Henderson split a pair of free throws to cut the lead to two.  Syracuse was moving the ball around trying to avoid getting it to Thompson, their weakest foul shooter who’s lack of foul shooting capability had been shown off so far in this game.

But in their haste, Syracuse made a killer mistake.  A pass to Owens at halfcourt was overthrown and Henderson picked up the steal.  Henderson and Duke were fortunate that the officials didn’t see Phil step on the out-of-bounds line after picking up the ball (the announcers didn’t notice until the replay).  Henderson took it coast-to-coast and finished against two guys to tie the game with 15 seconds left.

Syracuse got a timeout at the 10-second mark and had to go full-court.  They got it to Owens, who was pressured by Brickey as he brought the ball up.  Billy was able to find Dave Johnson by the basket with a bullet feed.  Johnson drew a foul on Laettner with 3 seconds left.  This was Christian’s 5th foul.  Johnson would end the 1990 season as a 61% foul shooter, but he made both on this trip.

Duke threw it to Hurley at halfcourt and Bobby got a timeout just before the buzzer sounded.  There was 1 second on the clock but if the time clock showed tenths (as the NBA did starting in 1990), it surely would have been about 0.3 or 0.4.  How do I know this?  Because the buzzer sounded as soon as Duke touched the ball and they couldn’t get off a shot.

The ACC and Big East were tied at 3 wins apiece in the challenge going into the final day.  For Syracuse, their #1 ranking would remain until the Big East season started.  For Duke, they would travel to defending champion Michigan three days later for another tough game.

Duke starters (points scored)

Robert Brickey (21) – Small Forward

Christian Laettner (19) – Power Forward

Alaa Abdelnaby (11) – Center

Bobby Hurley (4) – Point Guard

Phil Henderson (14) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Billy McCaffrey (7)

Greg Koubek (0)

Brian Davis (0)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Syracuse starters (points scored)

Dave Johnson (8) – Small Forward

Derrick Coleman (16) – Power Forward

LeRon Ellis (5) – Center

Stephen Thompson (21) – Point Guard

Billy Owens (18) – Shooting Guard

Syracuse bench (points scored)

Rich Manning (8)

Michael Edwards (2)

Syracuse Coach: Jim Boeheim

Georgetown University vs Syracuse University

Stephen Thompson shows off his powerfully built frame, despite being 6’4″, by finishing against Georgetown’s Alonzo Mourning while Billy Owens looks on *photo courtesy of getty images

December 7, 1989 – ACC/Big East Challenge: (#3)Georgetown Hoyas 93, (#17)North Carolina Tarheels 81

John Thompson and the Georgetown Hoyas had big men Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo returning.  Thompson decided that he would play them together, and shots in the paint by the opponent became infinitely tougher as a result.  The Hoyas also had key senior guards returning in Dwayne Bryant and Mark Tillmon.

Thompson was a big opponent of the Big East/ACC Challenge and looking at his cupcake schedule for early in the 1990 season, perhaps they could have used some tougher games.

Dean Smith and North Carolina had missed out on two freshman point guards who were not only among the top recruits in the nation but it was a position UNC needed badly.  But without Kenny Anderson and Bobby Hurley, a lot was placed on junior King Rice.  Rice could penetrate and defend but not shoot.  Georgetown actually had a freshman point guard in David Edwards who would make a difference on this day that North Carolina could have used.

Rounding out the roster for Smith was seniors Scott Williams and Kevin Madden, juniors Pete Chilcutt and Rick Fox (along with Rice), and sophomore Hubert Davis.  To go along with them, the Tarheels had a bevy of freshmen in George Lynch, Matt Wenstrom, and Henrik Rodl.  It would be nothing compared to their 1990 class.

North Carolina actually played a tough schedule and came in 4-2 after losing to Missouri in the Maui Invitational title game and at Alabama.

The big factors for Georgetown in the game; Tillmon, Mourning, Mutombo and Edwards each got into the scoring column as the Hoyas took an 8-7 lead.  Scott Williams had 6 of the 7 points.

Then Georgetown took a slightly bigger lead at 16-9 as Tillmon and Bryant each got steals and layups.  But it was Lynch who would bring Carolina back into the game after he came in off the bench.  The Tarheels took a 22-20 lead on two free throws from Rice with under 9:00 remaining.

But then Tillmon hit three straight buckets, helped out on one play by a Mutombo block.  Reserve Antoine Stoudamire hit a three to put the Hoyas up 29-22.  The score went back and forth from there but Carolina wasn’t helped by Rick Fox committing 3 fouls.

The Heels did cut it to 39-35 late in the half and had a last shot chance to cut it further.  But Bryant got a steal with 5 seconds remaining and pushed.  He found John Thompson’s son, Ronnie, in the corner for a long jumper well inside the three point line.  Thompson nailed the jumper at the buzzer and it was inexplicably called a three-pointer.  Luckily, I guess, the final result wasn’t a one-point win for Georgetown but it was still an egregiously bad call.

The 2nd half started with Mutombo getting away with an obvious goaltending.  But not all calls were going against Carolina as John Thompson got a technical early in the 2nd half as well.

A breakaway three-point play from Tillmon gave him 17 points and gave Georgetown a 47-40 lead.  But it was cut back to 51-48 before Alonzo Mourning showed up after only a cameo in the 1st half.

Mourning rebounded a Tillmon missed and slammed one home while he was fouled.  He missed the free throw but later, he rebound-slammed a Bryant miss in transition to put the Hoyas back up by seven.  Davis and Tillmon exchanged threes before Mourning got another slam to make it 60-51 Hoyas.

The rest of the game saw Georgetown continually hold off the Tar Heels at both ends of the court.  Dikembe Mutombo finished with 9 blocked shots.  Tillmon and Mourning would continue scoring baskets.  But the biggest play was made by the freshman.

With the score down to 80-75, David Edwards took it 1-on-1 past Rice.  He then connected on a double-pump banker against two people while he was fouled.  The three-point play ended up being the straw that broke the camel’s back.  But Mourning would punctuate everything by blocking two perimeter jumpers.  He finished with 5 blocks.

North Carolina would continue their so-so start to the season with a loss at Iowa two days later.  They were now 4-4.  But they put it together for the moment by winning 6 of their next 7 games heading into the ACC season.

Georgetown, meanwhile, would start 14-0 and get to as high as #2 in the nation when they traveled to a rising Big East power on January 20.  Thompson’s freshman star point guard David Edwards playing time was going down by that point and he would transfer to Texas A&M after several disagreements with coach Thompson.

Georgetown starters (points scored)

Sam Jefferson (0) – Small Forward

Alonzo Mourning (18) – Power Forward

Dikembe Mutombo (6) – Center

Dwayne Bryant (10) – Point Guard

Mark Tillmon (27) – Shooting Guard

Georgetown bench (points scored)

David Edwards (12)

Ronnie Thompson (11)

Milton Bell (4)

Anthony Allen (2)

Antoine Stoudamire (3)

Michael Tate (0)

Mike Sabol (0)

Georgetown Coach: John Thompson

North Carolina starters (points scored)

Kevin Madden (6) – Small Forward

Pete Chilcutt (10) – Power Forward

Scott Williams (19) – Center

King Rice (3) – Point Guard

Rick Fox (5) – Shooting Guard

North Carolina bench (points scored)

George Lynch (19)

Hubert Davis (14)

Jeff Denny (5)

Matt Wenstrom (0)

Henrik Rodl (0)

Kenny Harris (0)

North Carolina Coach: Dean Smith

December 9, 1989 – (#6)Duke Blue Devils 108 @(#8)Michigan Wolverines 113 (OT)

The Michigan Wolverines started defense of their national championship by losing to Arizona 82-75 to open the season.  But Steve Fisher and the Wolverines won 4 in a row since and now were taking on another challenge, albeit this one in Ann Arbor.

Fisher was now officially the head coach of the basketball team.  He brought back most of his talent as seniors Rumeal Robinson, Terry Mills, and Loy Vaught stepped up and led the way.  The other major returning piece was junior Sean Higgins, who was taking over for the departed Glen Rice.  Role players Mike Griffin and Demetrius Calip were back, along with freshmen Michael Talley and big man Eric Riley.

Duke got off to a faster start than they had against Syracuse as the Blue Devils led 9-2.  But soon after the slow start, Michigan began to dominate.

Duke still did not have any frontcourt people behind Christian Laettner and Alaa Abdelnaby.  So when Abdelnaby picked up 3 fouls, Michigan’s big front line (that ran no shorter than 6’9″) began to dominate the boards.

As a result, Mills, Vaught and Higgins began scoring at will as the Wolverines took a double-digit lead.  Rumeal Robinson also was a factor as the senior took the freshman Bobby Hurley to school.

The Wolverines had as much as a 49-31 lead before Duke was able to cut it to 51-38 at the half.  Bobby Hurley had led the way for Duke with 11 points.  Higgins had 14 while Mills and Robinson finished with 12.

A big key for Duke was to step it up in the first 5 minutes of the 2nd half.  They started out strong as Laettner scored and was fouled on a drop-step to the middle.  Laettner missed the free throw but Abdelnaby rebounded and put it back in.  Then Robert Brickey follow-slammed a Hurley miss and Laettner put back a Phil Henderson miss.  Suddenly, it was 51-46 and Michigan called a timeout less than 2 minutes into the half.

After a three-point play from Vaught, Abdelnaby picked up his 4th foul on a charge.  But he stayed in to try and contend with Michigan’s big men.  The Wolverines continued to hold a lead (although it never crept into double digits) until Robinson picked up his 4th foul on a charge and went to the bench.

Without their point guard, the Wolverines went into a mini-funk and Duke went on a 10-0 run to take a 72-69 advantage.  Mills later picked up his 4th foul on a charge, but Michigan was able to stay in it thanks to Vaught.  Loy hit three baseline jumpers and two free throws.  But Duke took an 85-80 lead on a three-pointer from Henderson.

Mills connected on a fallaway banker but then committed his 5th foul on a rebound scramble and had to sit for the game.  Duke maintained its 5-point lead after Laettner saved a ball from going out of bounds by finding Abdelnaby for a layup.  But then with around 3 minutes to go, Higgins hit a three from the top to cut it to 89-87.

Another baseline jumper from Vaught tied the game as Duke went scoreless for two minutes.  Brickey broke their ice with 1:02 to go by hitting two free throws to give them a 91-89 advantage.  But Robinson and Higgins ran a pick and pop and Higgins connected on a trey from the top for a Wolverines lead.

Brickey tied it with a free throw at the 31.9 second mark (Michigan was apparently on of the few college arenas that were capable of their clocks producing tenths of a second in 1990).

Michigan didn’t call a timeout and went for the last shot.  Robinson went 1-on-1 with Hurley at the left baseline.  Rumeal was able to pull up and nail the jumper with 4.6 seconds to play.  Duke called a timeout and then another with 3.8 to go after throwing a pass near mid-court.

Greg Koubek had taken over for Abdelnaby for the stretch and he inbounded.  Hurley got the ball but had to throw up a desperation three against two guys.  As Michigan stood and watched the shot go up, Koubek sneaked to the boards and put back the miss just before the buzzer to force overtime.

The teams subsequently battled to a 101-all tie before Vaught hit another wing jumper.  Then the freshman Eric Riley, who came in for Mills and seemed like a mismatch against Laettner, blocked a shot and Griffin fed the ball ahead to Robinson on the break.  Rumeal went behind-the-back on the dribble and scored to give Michigan a 105-101 lead with 2:18 to go.

Duke came back to within 105-103 and had a chance to take the lead but Hurley’s three was in-and-out.  Hurley then committed his 5th foul on Robinson with 1:10 remaining and Rumeal hit both ends of the 1-and-1.

Henderson cut it to 107-106 with a three but Higgins answered with a baseline turnaround with 42 seconds left.  Koubek missed a three and fouled Riley on the rebound.  But Eric showed he was still a freshman by missing the front end of the 1-and-1.

Michigan was able to switch out and defend Henderson, Koubek, and Billy McCaffrey (who came in for Hurley) as they tried to get off a tying three.  Finally, Laettner drove the lane and was fouled by Vaught.  Christian hit two free throws with 10.8 to go and then Henderson fouled Robinson at 8.9.

Robinson made both free throws again and Duke had to shoot a three to try and tie it.  McCaffrey went coast-to-coast but bricked a pull-up trey and Higgins rebounded and was fouled.  Sean would finish the day with two free throws.

Michigan had a big win and Oklahoma had a big home win against UNLV on December 9.  But, as it turned out, the biggest story of the day was a prelude to a tragedy.

Loyola Marymount was taking on Cal-Santa Barbara.  Hank Gathers drove the lane and was fouled 6 minutes into the 2nd half.  When he went to the line, his heart was beating faster than normal.  He launched the free throw, missed and collapsed to the floor.  Coaches and medical staff rushed out to the court but Gathers got up within seconds and walked off the court.  He was later diagnosed with an abnormal heartbeat and would miss the next three weeks of action for Loyola Marymount.

Duke starters (points scored)

Robert Brickey (11) – Small Forward

Christian Laettner (26) – Power Forward

Alaa Abdelnaby (12) – Center

Bobby Hurley (19) – Point Guard

Phil Henderson (22) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Greg Koubek (10)

Billy McCaffrey (4)

Brian Davis (2)

Thomas Hill (2)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Michigan starters (points scored)

Sean Higgins (32) – Small Forward

Loy Vaught (27) – Power Forward

Terry Mills (18) – Center

Rumeal Robinson (22) – Point Guard

Mike Griffin (2) – Shooting Guard

Michigan bench (points scored)

Demetrius Calip (4)

Michael Talley (4)

Eric Riley (4)

Michigan Coach: Steve Fisher

December 19, 1989 – Loyola (Marymount) Lions 117 @(#21)Oregon State Beavers 113

I know the matchup says that this game was between Loyola Marymount and Oregon State, but a marquee could have said Bo Kimble vs. Gary Payton.

Loyola Marymount had put up 5 wins since losing their opener to UNLV.  But this would be their first real game since Hank Gathers initially went down with an irregular heartbeat on December 9 in a game against UC-Santa Barbara.  The Lions survived 104-101 as Kimble put up 51 points.

Oregon State had been coached by Hall-of-Famer Ralph Miller for 19 seasons.  But he retired after the 1989 campaign and opened the door for his assistant Jim Anderson.  Anderson had been at Oregon State for 29 years before getting the head coaching opportunity.

Miller had led the Beavers to 8 NCAA tournament appearances.  The closest he had gotten to the Final Four was in 1982 when they made it to the West Regional Finals as a #2 seed with a future Laker in A.C. Green as a freshman.  But they were drilled by top-seeded Georgetown and their freshman Patrick Ewing 69-45.

But Miller and now Anderson had clearly the best player in their programs’ history.  Gary Payton was a senior and was all-everything for the Beavers.  But even Payton had not led them beyond the 1st round of the NCAA tournament in two previous appearances.

But the Beavers, like the Lions, were off to a 5-1 start.  This including dominating 2nd ranked Arizona 84-61 at Gill Coliseum which helped them crack the top 25.

The Lions got off to a 6-2 lead after Kimble got a layup when Tony Walker pushed the ball after an Oregon State basket.  But Payton would lead the Beavers to a 17-13 advantage, despite picking up 2 fouls, by the time the under 16 minute media timeout came about.

Payton would help give Oregon State as much as a 12-point lead but Loyola Marymount was able to cut it back to 37-31 with 9:09 to go.  The tempo was definitely quicker than the Oregon State crowd was used to.

Payton and Kimble battled for the rest of the half as Oregon State took a 56-52 lead.  Payton had 28 points and Kimble 26 at that point.  But then Kimble picked up his 3rd foul with 1:45 to go.  This got momentum to Oregon State as they went on a 10-0 run (Payton didn’t even score any ofthe points during the run – Karl Anderson, Allan Celestine, Will Brantley and Teo Alibegovic got into the action).

Kimble had to come back in during the run and with 13 seconds to go, Kimble tipped in his own miss to stop the 10-0 spurt and cut the lead to 66-54.  Then Terrell Lowery got a steal for the Lions and Kimble got a layup.  But the half wasn’t over and Oregon State turned the ball over again with 3 seconds left.  Loyola inbounded to Lowery, who cut baseline for a reverse at the buzzer.  A 6-0 run in the last 15 seconds by Loyola cut Oregon State’s halftime lead to 66-58.

The latest run had an effect as the Beavers started out cold in the 2nd half.  Back-to-back baskets by Kimble cut the lead to 68-65 and forced a timeout with 15:51 left.  From there, the teams traded baskets and leads as the pace was still racing.

And, of course, the main players were Kimble and Payton.  Payton scored his 40th point when he tipped in his own miss to give Oregon State an 88-86 lead.  But Kimble came back with a turnaround jumper from the wing for his 44th point.

It seemed that the winner of this game would be whichever star got the most help.  Jeff Fryer, who had missed the last 4 games after breaking his hand, had struggled shooting the ball early on.  But he made four three-pointers down the stretch.  Karl Anderson was contributing for Oregon State off their bench.

Down the stretch though for the Beavers, it was Payton.  Gary committed his 4th foul on a charge after scoring one of his baskets.  But he put together three baskets in a row, the last of which tied the game at 112 with a minute and a half left.  Payton had 48 and Kimble had 50.

Loyola now had the ball with a chance to lead.  They were, for a rare time, showing patience and running a set offense.  Coach Paul Westhead didn’t like the direction that offense was going and called a timeout with 1:10 left.

Westhead’s strategy was to go to Kimble down low.  It turned out to be wise as Bo got a pass from Lowery and got past his defender.  Payton dropped down to help out but Kimble scored a banker and drew Payton’s 5th foul.  It was a double whammy for Oregon State.  Kimble completed the three-point play to give Loyola Marymount a 115-112 lead at the 59 second mark.

Without Payton, it was anybody’s guess where the Beavers were going to go with the ball.  Will Brantley drove and found Karl Anderson who was fouled.  Karl made the first but missed the second and Kimble rebounded.

Oregon State was unsure whether to foul or not and let Tom Peabody (who would finish the 1990 season shooting 13-for-34 from the foul line) bring it across without committing a foul.  Finally, Earl Martin fouled Terrell Lowery with 19 seconds left.  Lowery, on the other hand, was a 74% foul shooter and made his two free throws.

The game ended when Peabody rebounded an Allan Celestine miss and ran out the clock.  Loyola Marymount had a big win against a ranked team without one of their two best players.  They would get a chance to up their ranking as they hosted #7 ranked Oklahoma, another high-scoring team, 5 days later.

Oregon State would finish the regular season at 22-5 and 15-3 in the Pac-10, good for a share of 1st place with Arizona.  They would get upset in the 1st round of the Pac-10 tournament by Arizona State, who was hosting the tournament, and would earn a #5 seed in the West Regional.  They got upset again, this time by 12th seeded Ball State 54-53.  This wouldn’t be the last time you’ll hear from Ball State in this particular blog post.

Loyola (Marymount) starters (points scored)

Bo Kimble (53) – Small Forward

Per Stumer (10) – Power Forward

Chris Knight (4) – Center

Tony Walker (8) – Point Guard

Jeff Fryer (22) – Shooting Guard

Loyola (Marymount) bench (points scored)

Terrell Lowery (18)

Tom Peabody (0)

Chris Scott (2)

John O’Connell (0)

Loyola (Marymount) Coach: Paul Westhead

Oregon State starters (points scored)

Earl Martin (16) – Small Forward

Teo Alibegovic (12) – Power Forward

Scott Haskin (6) – Center

Gary Payton (48) – Point Guard

Will Brantley (10) – Shooting Guard

Oregon State bench (points scored)

Karl Anderson (17)

Allan Celestine (4)

Lamont McIntosh (0)

Bob Cavell (0)

Charles McKinney (0)

Oregon State Coach: Jim Anderson

gary payton

a young Gary Payton (with hair!) while at Oregon State *photo courtesy of SI vault on Twitter

December 24, 1989 – (#7)Oklahoma Sooners 136 @Loyola Marymount Lions 121

After their big win against Oregon State, Loyola hosted Oklahoma in their annual matchup with the Sooners.  Both teams averaged over 120 points per game, so excitement was anticipated and the teams didn’t disappoint.

As for talent, only Bo Kimble and Skeeter Henry managed to play an NBA game (a combined 109 games, 105 by Kimble) from this particular contest.

But Oklahoma and coach Billy Tubbs did have some good players in the run-and-gun game despite losing Stacey King and Mookie Blaylock from the year before.  Terry Evans was an effective point guard (despite being a red-shirt freshman) and ran the back court with Henry.  Damon Patterson, Tony Martin, and William Davis were effective inside players.  Jackie Jones also contributed from the wing.  Surprisingly, the veteran of the group Terrence Mullins (the only player remaining who played in the 1988 NCAA Championship Game) didn’t get much time.  But he had a big stretch in this game.

Oklahoma was 4-0 and their biggest win came against UNLV two weeks earlier.  But this was also going to be their first road game of the season.

They started off well grabbing a 13-6 lead as Henry and Jones combined for 9 points.  But a 6-0 Bo Kimble run (that ran past the under 15 minute timeout) cut the lead to 13-12.  Patterson hit a pull-up and Jones nailed a three.  But Jeff Fryer tied the game with back-to-back triples on feeds from Terrell Lowery.

Damon Patterson scored 8 of the Sooners next 10 points to keep them at a 28-all tie by the time the game reached the under 12 timeout.  As you can see, both teams were living up to their run-and-gun billing.  Oklahoma though was dominating the inside game more as Loyola was without Hank Gathers for this game as well.  Patterson had 19 points before going out with 3 fouls with his team up 48-44.

Loyola’s advantage was that they were shooting a ton more free throws.  Kimble, himself, got to the line 10 times in the 1st half.  This included two free throws to cut the lead to 48-46.  But the Lions then went ice cold and Skeeter Henry led OU on an 8-0 run to take a 56-46 advantage.  Fryer finally broke the drought with his 5th three-pointer of the half.

Oklahoma kept its lead as William Davis, normally a starter but nursing a sprained ankle, contributed off the bench.  But after he committed his 3rd foul, Loyola made a run (a run that was aided by a Billy Tubbs technical).  The end of the 1st half highlighted the high-paced show.  Terrell Lowery went coast-to-coast for a layup after a steal to cut the lead to 65-61.

But then the aforementioned veteran who wasn’t getting as much time, Terrence Mullins, hit a pull-up from the wing with 21 seconds left.  Did Loyola hold for the last shot?  Of course not.  Tony Walker penetrated and found Lowery for a corner three with 12 seconds left.  But then Evans pushed it down the court and hit Mullins for his corner three at the buzzer.  10 combined points in the last 30 or so seconds and Oklahoma led 70-64 at the half.

Through the halfway point of the 2nd half, Oklahoma maintained its lead as Skeeter Henry took over the scoring duties.  He had 18 points in the first 10 minutes and had 29 all-together at that point.  But each member of Oklahoma’s starting front court had 4 fouls.  Loyola was down 105-94 when a Terrence Mullins technical (for pushing Tony Walker in a mini-scrum) sent Kimble to the line for two more free throws.

Kimble made both and then got a three-point play on a cut to slice the lead to 105-99.  Kimble then committed his 4th foul, but without Gathers, Bo wasn’t coming out of the game.  Davis missed two free throws after that foul and reserve Tom Peabody hit a corner jumper to cut it to 105-101.

A three from Lowery later put Loyola down 107-105.  But the Lions couldn’t take the lead on their next possession as Fryer missed a three.  Fryer had nightmare 3-for-19 shooting performance in the 2nd half.  Kimble did tie it with two free throws with 7:47 to go.  But Henry found Patterson for a layup after breaking the press and then Skeeter hit four free throws.

Loyola cut the lead to 1 three more times as Per Stumer (from Sweden) nailed a three and then Walker and Kimble got breakaways after steals.  But Loyola could never take the lead.  A chance happened when Lowery and Walker were on a 2-on-1 break.  Walker, however, missed the layup.  The Lions couldn’t score a possession later when Henry got a steal and Davis a breakaway.  It was now 117-114 with 5:28 left.

But Loyola was ice cold once again for the rest of the way and the combined performance of Davis, Patterson, Henry and Tony Martin (who finished with 23 and 12) put the game out of reach for the Lions.

Gathers would be back for the Lions in their next game a week later.  Loyola lost a two-point game to Xavier as Tyrone Hill matched Bo Kimble’s production of 38 points.  They then had to travel to Philadelphia (Kimble and Gathers’ hometown) for two games.  They beat St. Joseph’s in the first game 99-96 (when Kimble made a running three-pointer at the buzzer) but then had to take on undefeated LaSalle.

Oklahoma would finish the regular season at 26-4 and would win the Big Eight conference tournament.  For the 3rd straight season, they were a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament.  But they ran into trouble in an early round.  Again.

Oklahoma starters (points scored)

Jackie Jones (10) – Small Forward

Damon Patterson (29) – Power Forward

Tony Martin (23) – Center

Terry Evans (3) – Point Guard

Skeeter Henry (41) – Shooting Guard

Oklahoma bench (points scored)

William Davis (17)

Smokey McCovery (4)

Kermit Holmes (2)

Mike Harris (2)

Terrence Mullins (5)

Oklahoma Coach: Billy Tubbs

Loyola Marymount starters (points scored)

Bo Kimble (46) – Small Forward

Per Stumer (3) – Power Forward

Chris Knight (5) – Center

Tony Walker (12) – Point Guard

Jeff Fryer (29) – Shooting Guard

Loyola Marymount bench (points scored)

Terrell Lowery (18)

Tom Peabody (7)

Chris Scott (1)

Loyola Marymount Coach: Paul Westhead

kimble

Bo Kimble scores 2 of his game-high 46 points, but his #30 counter-part Skeeter Henry and Oklahoma got the last laugh *photo courtesy of fanbase

January 6, 1990 – (#25)Loyola Marymount Lions 121 @(#17)LaSalle Explorers 116

This game had a Philadelphia flavor, minus the fact that the game was in Philadelphia.  For Loyola Marymount (who were in the rankings for the first time all season), stars Bo Kimble and Hank Gathers hailed from Philly, as well as head coach Paul Westhead.

Kimble and Gathers had, in fact, been high school teammates with LaSalle star junior guard Doug Overton.  That team had defeated a team that featured the other LaSalle star, senior athletic big man Lionel Simmons, and reserve red-shirt junior forward Bob Johnson in the 1985 City title game.

LaSalle, hailing from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), had started the season at 8-0 with stars Overton and Simmons leading the way.  The Explorers had a storied basketball history that included winning the 1954 NCAA championship with Tom Gola leading the way.  Westhead had actually coached LaSalle from 1970-1979 before being hired as an assistant coach by the Lakers.

But LaSalle had not won an NCAA tournament game since Gola led them back to the NCAA title game in 1955 (where they lost to Bill Russell and the University of San Francisco), and coach Speedy Morris was trying to change that.

While the Explorers, with Simmons and guards Jack Hurd and Randy Woods getting going, got off to an early lead, they got caught up in Loyola Marymount’s tempo.  LaSalle went up 20-11 when they answered a Loyola basket by pushing the ball and Woods found Johnson for a layup.  But Terrell Lowery pushed the ball right back at them and found Jeff Fryer for a corner three.

Fryer then got a steal off the press and Lowery hit a reverse layup.  Terrell, who would later play parts of 4 seasons in the major leagues, then hit a three to cut the lead to one.  The rest of the half went back and forth from there as Hank Gathers was playing with reckless abandon.

After Gathers’ initial fainting spell a month earlier, he had been prescribed Inderal (which slows down the heart beat and can cause sluggishness).  Gathers was cleared to return after three weeks but had not been playing with any energy.  So Gathers evidently started to cut back on his medication (gulp! but hindsight is 20-20) and was playing better against LaSalle.  He hit several pull-up jumpers in the lane after 1-on-1 moves, showing off possibly small forward NBA skills (sigh).

Loyola took a 59-55 lead at the half as Gathers scored 16 points.  He had also started shooting his free throws left-handed (and hadn’t looked good with it).

Gathers started the 2nd half well too as he pushed the ball and found Kimble for a three.  Then Gathers showed off more 1-on-1 skills with a cross-over and a runner in the lane to put the Lions up 64-57.

Doug Overton kept LaSalle in it with three transition layups, but two three-pointers from Jeff Fryer kept Loyola ahead 72-64.  LaSalle went on a 6-0 run and Loyola followed with a 5-0 run, all within the span of 2 minutes, it seemed.

But finally an 8-0 run by the Explorers, which included an Overton behind-the-back pass to Simmons on the break for a slam, tied the game at 83, and we still weren’t halfway through the 2nd half.

Loyola took a lead again at 90-87 when Fryer hit a three.  Then point guard Tony Walker pushed the ball for a coast-to-coast layup.  But Overton pushed it right back and found Simmons for a slam and a foul.  Simmons was having a brilliant day despite airballing three free throws.

Overton was as well.  After the under 8 minute timeout, Overton nailed a three to tie the game at 99 and then gave LaSalle its first 2nd half lead with a pull-up from the foul line.  The teams continued back and forth but LaSalle was able to take a 109-105 lead after three-pointers from Bob Johnson and Jack Hurd.

But Kimble penetrated and found Fryer for a banker.  Then Walker got a steal and Kimble hit two free throws to tie the game at 109.  Then after Simmons missed two free throws (including one of his three airballs), Walker drove down the lane for a layup.  The game then reached the under 4 minute timeout.

Fryer nailed a three after the break and Gathers hit his first left-handed free throw of the game (in his fifth attempt).  But LaSalle cut it back to 116-115 with under 2:00 to go when Johnson nailed a three off an Overton assist.  Walker was then called for a charge and LaSalle had a chance to lead.

But Simmons missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and Overton committed his 5th foul on Kimble.  Overton finished with 23 points, 10 assists, and 7 steals.  Kimble made both ends of the 1-and-1 with 1:28 to go.  LaSalle reserve Bron Holland cut it to 118-116 with a free throw and the Explorers got the ball back after an LMU turnover.

But Simmons missed a pull-up from the baseline and Gathers rebounded.  Terrell Lowery was fouled with 39.8 seconds to go but kept the door open by splitting his free throws.  Speedy Morris used his last timeout with 34.2 remaining and his team down three.

They went for an immediate tie but Bob Johnson missed a pull-up three.  Gathers grabbed his 12th rebound and Loyola was able to run a lot of time off the clock before Gathers was fouled with 10.5 left.  Hank and his left-handed free throw style made both ends of the 1-and-1 to put the game away and give LaSalle their first loss of the season.

As it turned out, it would be LaSalle’s only loss during the regular season.  The Explorers dominated the MAAC and finished at 29-1.  But with the low amount of “competition” the Explorers had, they were only named a #4 seed in the East Regional.  They lost in the 2nd round to Clemson 79-75 after holding a 19-point lead in that game.

But they had won their first NCAA tournament game since 1955 with a defeat of Southern Mississippi in the 1st round (in case you were wondering, Brett Favre did not play in that game but Clarence Weatherspoon did).  Speedy Morris would coach 11 more seasons at LaSalle and make only one more NCAA tournament appearance and not win a game.

Loyola started their West Coast Conference schedule and went unblemished over the first month.  Their next challenge (and their next out-of-conference game) would be on February 3rd when they traveled to LSU and take on a new big man on the scene.

Loyola Marymount starters (points scored)

Bo Kimble (32) – Small Forward

Per Stumer (4) – Power Forward

Hank Gathers (27) – Center

Tony Walker (9) – Point Guard

Jeff Fryer (27) – Shooting Guard

Loyola Marymount bench (points scored)

Terrell Lowery (12)

Chris Knight (0)

Tom Peabody (6)

John O’Connell (4)

Loyola Marymount Coach: Paul Westhead

LaSalle starters (points scored)

Jack Hurd (16) – Small Forward

Lionel Simmons (34) – Power Forward

Milko Lieverst (4) – Center

Doug Overton (23) – Point Guard

Randy Woods (4) – Shooting Guard

LaSalle bench (points scored)

Bob Johnson (20)

Bron Holland (13)

LaSalle Coach: Speedy Morris

lionel-simmons

Lionel Simmons was an All-American in 1990, but his teams’ one loss in the regular season was marred his three airballs from the foul line *photo courtesy of Hoopstalgia

January 11, 1990 – (#10)Duke Blue Devils 96 @(#9)Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 91

For the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, they had rarely (if ever) come up with the prize from a recruiting class.  But in 1989, they had.  Point guard Kenny Anderson from New York City was being recruited by North Carolina and Duke, among others.  But he ended up choosing Georgia Tech thanks in part to head coach Bobby Cremins’ New York City connection.

Anderson would join a strong perimeter cast with junior Dennis Scott and senior Brian Oliver.  All averaged over 20 points per game and became known as lethal weapon 3 (two years before that movie actually came out).  The Yellow Jackets had started the year 10-0 thanks to these guys.

Cremins’ other pieces were freshman big man Malcolm Mackey, who would average double-doubles in two of his four seasons with the Jackets but wasn’t quite there as a freshman, and senior JC transfers center Johnny McNeil and defensive guard Karl Brown.  Neither of those players were big scorers and Cremins didn’t go much deeper on his bench.  So lethal weapon 3 was going to take them however far they would go.

Georgia Tech’s first test of the season would come in the form of the Duke Blue Devils (although Tech beat Pitt twice and Pitt was ranked to start the season, they went downhill quickly).  Duke had not had any trouble since losing their back-to-back games against Syracuse and Michigan.  But forward Robert Brickey had injured a knee in their ACC opener against Virginia and was out for a few weeks.

But Duke still came in 10-2 and got off to a good start against Tech at Alexander Memorial Coliseum.  Three straight buckets by Christian Laettner gave the Blue Devils an early 10-4 lead.  Then Bobby Hurley got going with three straight assists as Phil Henderson got two layups and Alaa Abdelnaby got a slam.  Duke now led 16-6 and Georgia Tech had to use a timeout less than 4 minutes into the game.

Hurley kept the assists going as he found Brickey’s replacement, Greg Koubek, for a three to put the Devils up 19-8.  That three started off a sequence of four straight triples.  Brian Oliver hit a pull-up three from the top.  Hurley answered with his pull-up from the top.  Anderson then pushed it down court and found Scott for a trey from the wing.

Duke continued to hold its lead as Scott was the only one hitting for Tech.  He had two three-point plays (the old fashioned way) and a step-back three from the wing.  But Duke’s balance held them off as the four starters that weren’t Laettner got involved in the scoring.  The Blue Devils took as much as a 13-point lead after Hurley penetrated and kicked out to Henderson for a three from the top.

But over the last 6 minutes of the half, Georgia Tech made its run.  Scott finished the half with 21 points and fourth-year junior James Munlyn came off the bench and gave Cremins 4 points as Tech was able to cut Duke’s lead to 51-48 at the break.

Tech then started the 2nd half on an 13-3 run, which culminated with Scott hitting a step-back three from the corner and then a pull-up from the foul line.  But then Tech started getting into foul trouble as Mackey and Oliver each picked up their 3rd.  Alaa Abdelnaby scored 5 points and then Henderson hit a three to cut Tech’s lead to 64-62.

For Tech to that point of the game, Scott was outstanding and Oliver wasn’t too shabby as well.  But in terms of scoring, the 3rd weapon wasn’t shooting well.  Kenny Anderson had scored only 6 points.  But that changed as the freshman got going with 7 points in a row.  He started with a pull-up jumper from the baseline and then he hit a pull-up in the lane after losing Hurley with a behind-the-back dribble.  Anderson then hit a pull-up three in transition and Georgia Tech had its biggest lead at 71-62 with 11:26 to go.

The other star who hadn’t gotten involved in the first 3/4’s of the game was Christian Laettner.  Laettner had 9 points so far and 6 of them came in the first three minutes.  But he got going with a jumper from the post and then a banker after recovering a ball that was stripped from Abdelnaby.

Tech took a 78-68 lead when Anderson hit another pull-up from the baseline, but Duke kept plugging away.  Their defense had been challenged by Coach K and now they were responding.  Scott had now gone ice cold and the other two scorers couldn’t sustain any runs.  Duke went on a 10-2 spurt that culminated with Hurley finding Greg Koubek for a three in transition.  Cremins called a timeout with 4:52 to go.

But the timeout didn’t help the Jackets.  Henderson hit a baseline jumper to tie the game at 80.  Mackey missed the front end of a 1-and-1 after Abdelnaby picked up his 4th foul.  Mackey then committed his 4th and Laettner hit both ends of the 1-and-1 with 3:53 to go.  Then after Koubek blocked an Oliver shot, Laettner found Henderson for a three and it was 85-80 Duke.

But Anderson pushed it right back and drew the 5th foul on Abdelnaby.  Anderson’s two free throws, plus two subsequent free throws from Oliver, cut the lead back to one.  But with 2:20 to go, Hurley hit two free throws.  Anderson came back with a pull-up in the lane after a spin against Hurley but Tech could not regain the lead.

Laettner hit two free throws to give Duke an 89-86 lead with 1:15 to go.  Then Billy McCaffrey rebounded a missed three from Scott.  McCaffrey then penetrated and found Laettner for a slam and Mackey’s 5th foul with 34 seconds to go.  This three-point play would ultimately put the game away and give Duke a big road win against a quality Georgia Tech team, who was suffering their first loss.

These teams would see each other again in 2 1/2 weeks but would first have to get by some challenges from other ACC opponents.

Duke starters (points scored)

Greg Koubek (16) – Small Forward

Christian Laettner (23) – Power Forward

Alaa Abdelnaby (12) – Center

Bobby Hurley (15) – Point Guard

Phil Henderson (26) – Shooting Guard

Duke bench (points scored)

Brian Davis (0)

Billy McCaffrey (2)

Crawford Palmer (0)

Thomas Hill (2)

Joe Cook (0)

Duke Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Georgia Tech starters (points scored)

Dennis Scott (30) – Small Forward

Malcolm Mackey (8) – Power Forward

Johnny McNeil (4) – Center

Kenny Anderson (19) – Point Guard

Brian Oliver (24) – Shooting Guard

Georgia Tech bench (points scored)

Karl Brown (2)

Darryl Barnes (0)

James Munlyn (4)

Brian Domalik (0)

Georgia Tech Coach: Bobby Cremins

anderson vs hurley

The freshman point guards battle as Kenny Anderson takes on Bobby Hurley *photo courtesy of Pinterest

January 15, 1990 – (#5)Syracuse Orangemen 59 @Connecticut Huskies 70

Since joining the Big East at its inception in 1979, the UConn Huskies had mostly bottom-feeders.  They had gone 50-96 in Conference games in their first 10 seasons and had an above .500 record once.

In 1986, Jim Calhoun had taken over the helm and went 9-19 in his first season.  But season-by-season, they started to get better.  They had Cliff Robinson who flourished under Calhoun and enjoyed a productive 18 seasons in the NBA.  But he was gone by 1990.

However, Calhoun still had senior leader and point guard Tate George.  He had also been able to recruit some gems.  Shooting guard Chris Smith came locally from Bridgeport.  Freshman forward Scott Burrell also came locally from Hamden.  But then came a prize out of the Middle East.  21-year-old Israeli forward Nadav Henefeld was being termed as the Larry Bird of Israel.  Henefeld visited UConn, fell in love with it, and became their ‘point forward.’

Henefeld would go back to Israel after the 1990 season and play professionally for Tel Aviv until 2002.  But for one season, Henefeld and Connecticut had a mutual love.  That one season started with a loss to Texas A&M in the Great Alaska Shootout.  But UConn followed with 7 straight wins.

They lost their first two Big East games (including by 31 points at St. John’s).  But then they won 3 games in a row and had a chance to see how far they had come when they hosted Syracuse at the Hartford Civic Center (Gampel Pavilion would be opened on January 27).

Syracuse had started 10-0 and were #1 in the polls for 6 weeks.  But then they were stunned on their home floor by Villanova 93-74.  They recovered to win two in a row and were still #5 in the polls.  But the Orange still relied heavily on the starting five and still didn’t have any reliable perimeter shooting.  This would become a factor when UConn went to a zone.

Billy Owens started the scoring in this game by tipping in a Dave Johnson miss.  But then Tate George nailed a three after junior Murray Williams (who would be starting until Burrell, who didn’t play in this game, took his place) found him with a cross-court pass.  Then Williams got a block, and George led Chris Smith for a breakaway slam.  Henefeld followed with a steal, a push, and a feed to George for a layup.

After Smith made 1 of 2 free throws following a Jim Boeheim technical, UConn had literally run off 8 points in a row and were ahead 8-2.  Despite a technical on Calhoun, UConn kept running the break to a 13-6 lead within the first 4 minutes.  Henefeld then nailed a three to put the Huskies up by 10.

They held that lead for awhile before another three from Henefeld, a Henefeld feed to backup center Dan Cyrulik for a layup (Henefeld showing off the Larry Bird skills), and then a three from Smith put UConn ahead 30-14.

But the Huskies went cold and the Orangemen went on a 6-0 run to cut it to 10 with 6 1/2 to go in the 1st half.  George briefly answered with a three but the Orange went on a 9-0 run and the lead was down to 33-29.

Another three from Henefeld (UConn’s 6th three of the half on 9 attempts) put the Huskies back up by 9 late in the half.  But LeRon Ellis tipped in a miss at the buzzer and UConn led 38-31 at the half.

Syracuse was not able to score within the first 2 1/2 minutes of the 2nd half as UConn went to a zone.  But the Huskies couldn’t stretch their lead beyond 12 despite Billy Owens picking up his 4th foul.

Syracuse eventually got back into the game when they brought in a true point guard in freshman Michael Edwards.  Edwards was able to find Ellis and Derrick Coleman inside for layups.  The lead went down to 47-43.  UConn’s sophomore center Rod Sellers would stem off the tide with back-to-back baskets (including a bad goaltending call on Derrick Coleman).

A three from Owens would cut it back to 52-49 but that would be the closest Syracuse got.  Junior forward Lyman DePriest drove for a layup and then George lobbed to Henefeld for a layup.  Later, George was able to connect on a scoop while his side was facing the basket and draw a foul.  This three-point play put UConn up 59-51.

Syracuse made one last run that was culminated when Stephen Thompson got a steal and Coleman put back his miss and drew a foul with 2:19 to go.  Coleman missed the free throw and Syracuse was still down 61-57.  They had another chance to cut further but George got a steal from Owens and Sellers (a 52% foul shooter in 1990) hit both ends of a 1-and-1 with 1:07 to go.

Syracuse then missed four shots before UConn was able to rebound and put the game away at the foul line and with a breakaway layup in the last second by Lyman DePriest to make the final margin 11.

UConn would try to keep their streak going with a win against Georgetown 5 days later.

Syracuse starters (points scored)

Dave Johnson (6) – Small Forward

Derrick Coleman (16) – Power Forward

LeRon Ellis (14) – Center

Stephen Thompson (10) – Point Guard

Billy Owens (13) – Shooting Guard

Syracuse bench (points scored)

Michael Edwards (0)

Rich Manning (0)

Syracuse Coach: Jim Boeheim

Connecticut starters (points scored)

Murray Williams (2) – Small Forward

Nadav Henefeld (11) – Power Forward

Rod Sellers (8) – Center

Tate George (17) – Point Guard

Chris Smith (17) – Shooting Guard

Connecticut bench (points scored)

Lyman DePriest (9)

Dan Cyrulik (2)

John Gwynn (4)

Connecticut Coach: Jim Calhoun

January 18, 1990 – Ohio State Buckeyes 88 @(#6)Michigan Wolverines 90

The Ohio State Buckeyes were on the mend after not making the NCAA tournament for two consecutive seasons.  Their coach, Gary Williams, had moved on to Maryland and 33-year-old assistant Randy Ayers was promoted.  Not only was Ayers young, but the team had no seniors.

Their veterans were juniors chiseled big man Perry Carter and backup forward Treg Lee.  The sophomores were forward Chris Jent, guard Jamaal Brown, and backup center Bill Robinson.  The freshmen were shooting guard Alex Davis, point guard Mark Baker and their biggest star of all, forward Jim Jackson, a local product from Toledo.

The Buckeyes started out losing 3 of their first 4 games but got it together early in the Big Ten season.  They upset Indiana by two points and then won at Iowa.  They were 3-1 in the Big Ten and 9-5 overall but would get their biggest test so far in the conference season.

Michigan had kept on winning since beating Duke.  Their only blemish was their Big Ten opener at Indiana.  The defending champion Wolverines were 12-2 and had not lost at home under Steve Fisher.

But the young Buckeyes would have none of it early as they took a 9-5 lead.  But Terry Mills and Loy Vaught led Michigan on a 9-0 run to take the lead.  Sean Higgins wasn’t known as a defender at Michigan, but he shut out Jackson for a good portion of the first half.

The other Buckeye big guys, Carter and Jent, had productive first halves but each committed 3 fouls.  But Ohio State was able to take the lead when Jackson got his first points on a pull-up jumper from the elbow over Rumeal Robinson, and then Davis hit a long two from the baseline.  The Buckeyes had held Robinson, the Wolverines leading scorer, scoreless to that point.

But Vaught carried the load with 13 points before going out with 3 fouls.  Back-to-back baskets by Jackson put the Buckeyes ahead 39-38.  But a three-point play by Robinson got him his first field goal and gave Michigan a 43-40 lead.  The Wolverines held a 47-46 advantage at the break.

The 2nd half started out with the teams going back and forth.  Brown found Carter for a layup and the Buckeyes led.  Vaught and Mills answered with layups on great feeds.  Davis tied it with a trey.  Mike Griffin got a rare basket for Michigan on a press breaking layup.  Carter scored in the post on an up-and-under.  Then Jackson capped a transition breakaway with a crossover and a finish.

Ohio State big guys continued in foul trouble as Jent picked up his 4th foul and backup center Robinson picked up his 4th and 5th in succession.  But Ohio State went on a run that started when Jackson tipped in a Carter miss and was fouled.  Jackson later hit a baseline jumper and then found Carter for a layup.  When Treg Lee hit a turnaround in the post for his only two points, Ohio State led 64-57.

But Terry Mills gave Michigan a spark with three field goals and an assist to cut the lead to 68-66.  Then backup point guard Demetrius Calip drove baseline and hit a double-pump reserve to tie the game.  Michigan then got out in transition and Robinson found Higgins for a three and the Wolverines led with 9:22 to go.

Ohio State was able to hang around as Vaught picked up his 4th foul.  But the Buckeyes were cold and couldn’t overtake the Wolverines.  It didn’t help when Jent, who went scoreless in the 2nd half after 12 1st half points, fouled out with 6:05 to go.

Finally, Robinson found Calip for a three from the baseline to put Michigan up 78-71.  Later, a tip-in by Calip made it a nine-point lead with just over 3:00 left.

But Michigan tried too hard to put the game away and forced some plays and shots.  Vaught fouled out after missing a layup and six free throws from Ohio State cut it down to 82-79 with 1:46 left.  Michigan finally slowed it down and ran some clock.

They ran down the entire shot clock in fact before giving it to Higgins.  Sean up-faked the freshman Jackson and launched a long three at the end of the shot clock.  It was good and seemed that it would bury the Buckeyes with under 1:00 to go.

But the Buckeyes stayed alive with the help of Michigan.  The Wolverines committed two shooting fouls and Carter and Jackson each hit two free throws.  Robinson also helped out by missing half of his four free throw attempts.

When Jackson found Carter for a left-handed driving banker (Carter had 21 2nd half points), the Buckeyes were down 87-85 and called a timeout with 10.7 seconds to play.  They then had to hope Robinson missed another free throw after Davis fouled him with 9.6 left.  He made the front end of the 1-and-1 but did miss the 2nd shot.

Ohio State pushed it to Davis, their best three-point shooter, to try and tie the game.  Davis was closely guarded by Robinson but stepped back for a three from the left baseline as Robinson stumbled backwards.  Before Davis made the shot though, the official on the baseline had blown his whistle for an offensive foul.

In the days before there were 20 million TV cameras (not to mention camera phones) at a sporting event, ESPN did not have a good look at the play but it didn’t appear Davis had done much to commit an offensive foul.  Ayers and the Ohio State bench didn’t seem to like it very much (and the play happened right in front of them).

Either way, the foul was called with 5.2 seconds left and Robinson was finally able to make two free throws to put the game away.  Michigan’s winning ways ended when they lost their next game at Iowa by two points.  They would lose at home to Purdue a few weeks later.

Michigan would finish 3rd in the Big Ten with a 12-6 record and were a #3 seed in the West Regional.  No problem right, Michigan had finished 3rd in the Big Ten and was a #3 seed in 1989 too.

Ohio State regressed a bit as their loss to Michigan started a 4-game losing streak.  But the Buckeyes recovered enough to finish with a 10-8 Big Ten record, including a win over Michigan, and an NCAA tournament appearance as an 8th seed in the West.

Ohio State starters (points scored)

Jim Jackson (19) – Small Forward

Chris Jent (12) – Power Forward

Perry Carter (29) – Center

Jamaal Brown (4) – Point Guard

Alex Davis (15) – Shooting Guard

Ohio State bench (points scored)

Bill Robinson (2)

Mark Baker (5)

Treg Lee (2)

Steve Hall (0)

Tom Brandewie (0)

Ohio State Coach: Randy Ayers

Michigan starters (points scored)

Sean Higgins (16) – Small Forward

Loy Vaught (17) – Power Forward

Terry Mills (18) – Center

Rumeal Robinson (16) – Point Guard

Mike Griffin (3) – Shooting Guard

Michigan bench (points scored)

Demetrius Calip (16)

Eric Riley (2)

Michael Talley (2)

Michigan Coach: Steve Fisher

January 20, 1990 – (#2)Georgetown Hoyas 65 @Connecticut Huskies 70

The Connecticut Huskies had been a nice story so far and perhaps they were about ready to be ranked.  But a win against 14-0 Georgetown seemed to be a little too much to ask.  The Hoyas had been pretty dominant (albeit against lesser competition) so far and it was their best start since Patrick Ewing’s senior year.

But 14-0 wouldn’t only describe Georgetown’s record coming in.  Nadav Henefeld started the Connecticut attack with two free throws and a three.  It would be the only scoring in the first 4 minutes of the game.  For Georgetown, Mark Tillmon and Alonzo Mourning each picked up 2 fouls.

But then after the media timeout, Chris Smith got it going for Jim Calhoun’s Huskies.  He hit a three from the wing and then a pull-up long two from the other wing.  Tate George got a steal and fed Smith for a breakaway.  A breakaway slam by Rod Sellers made the score, yes, 14-0.  The Hartford Civic Center was beside itself and the announcers were shocked.

Georgetown finally got on the board when Mourning got two layups.  Suddenly, Georgetown remembered that you can’t win if you don’t score.  Tillmon and Ronnie Thompson (the coach’s son) hit jumpers.  Mourning hit a hook and Tillmon followed with a pull-up from the wing.  The score was now down to 16-12.

A three-point play by Mourning after a lob pass from Dwayne Bryant tied the game at 17.  Tate George followed with a driving layup for his 1,000th career point.  Bryant answered with an NBA range three to give the Hoyas their first lead.

But UConn got their momentum back thanks to reserve guard John Gwynn.  Gwynn scored 9 points over the latter part of the 1st half to lead the Huskies to a 35-29 halftime advantage.

But Bryant started out the 2nd half with a three and just like that, John Thompson’s senior starting back court would be released.  Tillmon, the Big East’s leading scorer in the early season who had managed only 4 points in the 1st half, hit a jumper, two free throws and then got a steal and layup to put the Hoyas ahead 40-37.

Nadav Henefeld followed with the first of his many big threes in the 2nd half to tie the game.  Henefeld then pick-pocketed Thompson at halfcourt and fed Smith for a breakaway.  Tillmon followed with a runner but Henefeld nailed another three just before the first media timeout.

Connecticut maintained a 53-50 lead before controversy ensued.  Tillmon drove down the lane for a runner.  It hit the back rim and then the front rim before Mourning tipped it in while it was still on the rim.  Mourning was fouled in the process by backup center Dan Cyrulik.  The officials not only disregarded the goaltending a counted the basket, but they gave it to Tillmon and gave Mourning a 1-and-1 because he wasn’t the person who scored.  If the officials had credited Alonzo with the tip-in, he would be going for the three-point play.  Instead, Georgetown had a chance for a four-point play and they got it when Mourning nailed both ends of the 1-and-1.  Georgetown got the lead and, needless to say, UConn got screwed.

It might have mattered more had Henefeld not hit another big three to put the Huskies ahead 58-56 with under 6:00 remaining.  Cyrulik gave UConn a four-point lead with a jumper.  But field goals by Thompson and Mourning squared the game back at 60.

However, the Israeli sensation came back to the rescue.  Henefeld came off a Lyman DePriest screen and nailed a three from the top to give UConn a 63-60 advantage.  But over the next few possessions, UConn missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and then had a turnover.  Meanwhile, Mourning hit an over-the-head layup after Bryant lobbed him a pass from half-court.

Then with a minute and a half remaining, Mourning blocked a Henefeld shot and Georgetown had a chance to lead.  Tillmon took it coast-to-coast and was fouled.  Tillmon, a 74% foul shooter and a senior, missed them both.

Gwynn hit both ends of a 1-and-1 to give UConn a 65-62 lead.  Then Smith rebounded a missed three from Tillmon and saved it from going out of bounds to Henefeld.  Nadav hit both ends of the 1-and-1 to make it a five-point lead.  Tillmon would keep the Hoyas alive with a three at the 31.9 second mark.  But Gwynn hit two more free throws and DePriest hit a free throw to put the game away.

This was said to be UConn’s biggest win in their basketball history.  However, as the season went along and the nation started to realize that the Huskies were for real, the wins kept getting bigger.

The Hoyas suffered some more setbacks, including two losses to Syracuse.  The final game of the regular season at the Carrier Dome was an overtime affair that decided the Big East regular season championship.  Georgetown would then lose to UConn for the second time in three games in the Semifinals of the Big East tournament

Georgetown would still be a #3 seed in the Midwest Regional.  But they were upset by Tyrone Hill and 6th seeded Xavier 74-71 in the 2nd round.  Thompson would