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1988 NBA Season – Repeat

August 29, 2014

pippen '87 draft

An unknown Scottie Pippen was the 5th pick of the ’87 draft by Seattle, he would be traded to Chicago on draft day *photo courtesy of NLSC

The questions coming into the 1988 season were perhaps the same as usual.  Would we finally have a repeat champion?  Could anyone knock the Lakers and/or Celtics off their perch?  Could the perceived new team on the block (Detroit) follow up their success with more or flame out like the ’86 Rockets?

After a physically grueling playoffs, there were questions about whether the Boston Celtics could come back.  Much of these same questions were asked about the Lakers after 1986.  But the difference was that coming into 1988, the Celtics had an older roster top to bottom then the ’87 Lakers had.

By the middle of the season, the only Celtics starter under age 30 was Danny Ainge.  Boston also kept re-tooling their bench to try and get younger.  But nobody could step up.  The Celtics initial moves for their bench was drafting Northeastern’s Reggie Lewis in the 1st round and Iowa’s Brad Lohaus in the 2nd round.  They then traded Sam Vincent and Scott Wedman to Seattle for a 2nd round pick (Wedman never played for the Sonics).  The Celtics also signed center Mark Acres, who was drafted by Dallas in the 2nd round in 1985 but had never appeared in an NBA game.

Kevin McHale was still recovering from surgery for his broken foot as Boston traveled to Washington for their 2nd game of the season.  Larry Bird, and his new haircut, had a chance to prove that he still had it.

November 7, 1987 – Boston Celtics 140 @Washington Bullets 139 (2OT)

Much of this game was played like the 2nd game of the season.  Boston looked rusty while Washington was trying to incorporate some new talent.  But when you came down to it, it was probably a top game of the year.

After acquiring Moses Malone and Terry Catledge in a trade with Philadelphia a day before the ’86 draft, Washington had drafted LSU’s John Williams and Wake Forest’s Muggsy Bogues in the last two drafts.  They signed free agent Bernard King before the start of the season.  King had played 6 games at the end of the ’87 season for the Knicks after returning from a torn ACL.  They also strengthened their bench by acquiring Mark Alarie and Darrell Walker from Denver just before the start of the season.

These players joined holdovers Jeff Malone, Manute Bol, Frankie Johnson and coach Kevin Loughery.  Bol and Frankie were out for this game with injury.  So rookie Muggsy Bogues got to start in the back court along with Jeff Malone.  The starting frontcourt, that wouldn’t last, for this game was King, Catledge and Moses.

Boston went on an early 10-0 run to take an 18-8 lead.  Bird was hitting shots and saving the Celtics stagnate offense.  Meanwhile, Ainge was taking advantage of the matchup with the 5’3″ Bogues.  Each scored 6 of the Celtics first 18 points.  But then Muggsy got easy shots for his teammates by pushing the ball.  First, Jeff Malone got a layup and then Catledge got a slam.  Darren Daye came off the bench for Boston and scored 7 points to lead Boston to a 27-23 lead after one quarter.

The benches performed well for each team in the 2nd quarter as the score stayed relatively even.  John Williams and Darrell Walker sparked the Bullets while Jerry Sichting and Brad Lohaus each hit two field goals for Boston.  Even Greg Kite (who would be released on February 1) got involved with a tip-in.  A lefty layup by Bird tied the game at 59 lead with 9 seconds left in the half.  But Dennis Johnson committed his 4th foul on Walker with 4 seconds to go.  Darrell hit two free throws to end the half.

Washington’s first field goal of the 2nd half was Moses Malone’s first field goal of the game.  It gave the Bullets a 63-61 lead.  Jeff Malone then drove baseline for a three-point play.  King followed up by dishing to Moses for a slam and then Catledge found Jeff for a jumper from the top.  Boston called timeout, down 70-61.  Bird led the Celtics back with 8 points and an assist as they tied the game at 74 and forced a Bullets timeout.

The teams traded baskets until five straight points from Fred Roberts (who was in the starting lineup in McHale’s spot) gave Boston an 87-82 lead.  Bogues led the Bullets back with 6 points but the man who took Muggsy’s playing time for the rest of the game, Darrell Walker, finished out the quarter with a steal and dish to Moses for a layup at the buzzer to cut Boston’s lead to 93-92.

Bird scored 7 early points in the 4th quarter as Boston took an 8-point lead.  But the Bullets lineup of Walker, King, John Williams, Moses & Jeff Malone led them back.  Moses did most of the offensive damage with 6 points, including a slam on a 5-on-1 break after a Williams defensive rebound.  This slam tied the game at 106 and showed how tired the Celtics looked as only one player got back.

Walker made two free throws.  Then after Bird split a pair, Moses fed Bernard King for a layup and Washington led 110-107.  The Bullets took a 114-108 lead with 2:31 left when Jeff Malone got a steal and King got a layup on a 4-on-1 break.  Neither team could score in the next minute before Bird hit two free throws with 1:29 left to cut the lead to 114-110.

Bird then put pressure on Williams in the back court and forced a turnover.  D.J. found Parish for a layup with 1:13 left to cut the lead to 114-112.  King responded by hitting his customary pull-up from the baseline (or, at least, customary before the injury).  Bird hit a jumper in the lane to answer back.  Then Boston got a steal with 30 seconds left and Bird nailed a three from the wing.  However, the shot didn’t count as Boston had called a timeout just before the shot.

Boston moved it around before finding Ainge at the baseline.  He pump faked a three and hit a two with 8 seconds left to tie the game at 116.  Washington called timeout.  Williams inbounded and found Walker wide open near the basket.  Walker had a 2-on-1 situation and he touch-passed it to Moses for a slam and a foul.  The play took only one second and the Bullets led by three.  Boston called timeout with 7 seconds left.

There was really only one man to go to.  Bird got it at the top and launched a running three-pointer from the top that swished in with 4 seconds left.  Larry didn’t even set for that shot he just threw it up while moving forward.  After a Bullets timeout, Moses missed a shot from the top and the game was heading into overtime.

The teams matched basket for basket in the overtime.  Two free throws from Ainge tied the game at 127 with 1:20 left.  Parish then stole an entry pass to Moses.  Bird crossed to D.J. in transition for a corner jumper.  Boston led and Washington called timeout with 39 seconds left.  They found King again on the baseline.  This time he drove into the lane for a running hook and the game was deadlocked at 129.  Boston got a timeout with 15 seconds left.

They found Bird again at the wing.  He drove against Williams and drew a foul with 4 seconds left.  Williams fouled out on this play.  Bird then hit two free throws and Washington called timeout.  The Bullets once again got Walker open, this time at the left baseline just in front of the three-point line.  King got him the ball and Darrell nailed the jumper with 1 second left.  Bird got off a desperation three and almost hit it.  2nd overtime.

It took just over two minutes for anyone to score in the 2nd OT.  Finally, Jeff Malone hit two free throws.  Ainge then hit a jumper from the top.  Jeff then drew Parish’s 6th foul.  This brought in rookie Mark Acres and sent Jeff back to the line, where he made two more.  But then Bird hit a turnaround from the post against King and drew Bernard’s 6th foul.  Bird missed the free throw but the Celtics took a 138-135 lead when Ainge nailed a three from the wing.

Jeff Malone came back with a runner in the lane.  Then Mark Alarie forced a Bird turnover with 35 seconds left.  But Jeff Malone missed a jumper and Bird got the rebound.  Washington didn’t foul Bird and waited for the Celtics to pass it around to Acres before Moses fouled him with 9 seconds left.  The rookie was in-and-out on both free throws and Terry Catledge rebounded and called timeout with 7 seconds left.

Alarie inbounded to Moses at the wing.  Malone drove past Acres and looked like Jeff Malone as he drove in and hit a running jumper with 2 seconds left.  Boston called timeout as Washington led 139-138.  You know who had the final laugh.

Ainge inbounded to Bird at the right wing.  Larry just turned around, launched and nailed a jumper with his foot on the three-point line to give the Celtics the win at the buzzer and give him 47 points.  There was no celebrating for Larry and the Celtics.  It was only the 2nd game of the season and just another shot to Bird.

Washington would stumble to an 8-19 start and replace Kevin Loughery with his former Bullet teammate Wes Unseld.  The Bullets finished 30-25 under Unseld and made the playoffs as a 7-seed.  They took Detroit to five games before losing in the 1st round.  This would be their last playoff appearance until 1997.

They traded Manute Bol and lost Muggsy Bogues to the Charlotte Hornets in the expansion draft.  They released Frankie Johnson and Moses Malone signed as a free agent with Atlanta.  Then after the 1989 season, they lost Terry Catledge to the Orlando Magic in the expansion draft.  After the 1990 season, Washington traded Jeff Malone to Utah in a three-team trade and received Pervis Ellison in return.  That trade signified the era of futility in Washington between 1988 and 1997 where Wes Unseld was coach and then GM.

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (47) – Small Forward

Fred Roberts (16) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (17) – Center

Dennis Johnson (10) – Point Guard

Danny Ainge (28) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Darren Daye (10)

Jerry Sichting (4)

Brad Lohaus (4)

Mark Acres (2)

Greg Kite (2)

Reggie Lewis (0)

Conner Henry (0)

Boston Coach: K.C. Jones

Washington starters (points scored)

Bernard King (25) – Small Forward

Terry Catledge (11) – Power Forward

Moses Malone (32) – Center

Muggsy Bogues (10) – Point Guard

Jeff Malone (27) – Shooting Guard

Washington bench (points scored)

John Williams (16)

Darrell Walker (12)

Mark Alarie (2)

Charles Jones (2)

Jay Murphy (2)

Washington Coach: Kevin Loughery


Larry Bird had cut his hair for the 1988 season, but, as Washington found out, it didn’t stop his game *photo courtesy of Slam Magazine

December 11, 1987 – Los Angeles Lakers 115 @Boston Celtics 114

Both of the defending conference champs were struggling coming into this game.  Boston had lost 4 of 5, including their first home loss of the year to Denver.  The Lakers had also lost 4 of 5, and were 3-6 since starting the season 8-0.  The reasons for the drop-off probably had something to do with intensity, I mean how can two teams who battled in the Finals in 3 of the last 4 seasons take a December schedule seriously?

But going into the day, the Celtics had the 4th best record in the East (although they still led the Atlantic Division) while the Lakers were behind Dallas in the West.  But what better way to ratchet up each team’s intensity than to play each other.

That’s exactly what happened as both teams came out flying.  Especially Larry Bird, who had two three-point plays (on a back door cut and lob from Parish and then a fall-away from the wing) to score 9 of Boston’s first 11 points.  The Lakers stayed with them even with a struggling James Worthy.  Worthy not only had knee tendinitis and didn’t play much in the 2nd half but the Lakers had lost his uniform at the dry cleaners, so he was #00 today instead of #42.  James scored all 8 of his points in the 1st quarter.

But Bird continued his hot outside shooting (including a high-arcing turnaround on the baseline and, later, a baseline drive and left-handed reverse finish that got the crowd going).  He had 17 first quarter points.  But Magic with his scoring and assists kept the Lakers right with Boston.  His last assist of the quarter came with 2 seconds left when he found Byron Scott in the corner for a three.  This gave L.A. a 32-30 lead after one.

A reserve for each team got going in the 2nd quarter.  Michael Cooper for L.A. hit several threes and defended Bird.  While Jerry Sichting for Boston was hitting his outside shot.  In fact, quite a few Celtics were hitting from the outside in the 1st half.  This was important considering this was Kevin McHale’s 4th game back and it didn’t look like he had any of his quickness or moves down low.

The teams continued to match each other in a well played first half.  Each team was executing offensively and scoring despite great defense.  I guess this game couldn’t have come at a more important time for each team after they lost 4 of 5 games.

Magic Johnson finished the 1st half with 12 assists while Bird got his first two field goals of the 2nd quarter in the last few minutes.  First, he scored on a drive against Kareem and then spun baseline in the post and scored.  Bird ended the half by penetrating and finding Sichting for a baseline jumper.  This gave Boston a 60-58 halftime lead.

The Celtics had scored the last 4 points of the 1st half and started the 2nd even stronger.  Bird got a breakaway on a McHale outlet and then hit two free throws.  Danny Ainge got a steal and layup and later, Dennis Johnson pulled up and hit from the elbow in transition.  Boston led 68-58 and L.A. called timeout.  The Lakers had 15 turnovers at that point.

Bird continued the run with a three to put Boston up thirteen before Magic came right back.  First, he hit a leaning jumper and then a runner.  Kareem hit two free throws and then slammed one down after a baseline spin.  This forced a Boston timeout with the Celtics lead cut to 73-66.

The Celtics held that 7-9 point margin until Magic found Scott for a slam on a 2-on-1 break and a foul on D.J.  This cut the lead to 83-78.  Cooper then found A.C. Green for a baseline jumper and Scott hit three free throws to tie the game at 83 with just over 1:00 left in the 3rd.  But then D.J. hit two free throws and fed Bird for a layup.  D.J. finished his act by getting a steal in the last few seconds and hitting Sichting ahead.  Sichting then found Fred Roberts who slammed one down at the buzzer.  Boston led 89-83.

Magic started the 4th quarter by hitting two free throws and then finding Cooper for a wing jumper.  But then D.J. found Sichting for a baseline jumper and Bird kicked out to D.J. for a jumper from the top.  Robert Parish then hit a tough shot in the post while Magic fouled him.  The three-point play put Boston up 96-87.

The Celtics kept their lead for a while but back-to-back baskets by Kareem and two free throws from Mychal Thompson cut Boston’s lead to 102-101.  Bird then kicked to Sichting for a three from the wing.  Cooper found Scott for a wing jumper.  Parish hit two free throws.  Kareem hit a banker in the post.  Ainge swung the ball to Sichting for another wing jumper.  This was the 17th point for Sichting, by far his best game for Boston that season.  He would only last in Boston for two more months before getting traded to Portland for Jim Paxson.

With Boston up 109-105, Bird got a steal and went coast-to-coast for a runner in the lane.  This forced an L.A. timeout with 2:33 left.  The Lakers responded on their next two possessions as Magic found Mychal Thompson for jumpers.  Then Kareem rebounded a McHale miss and was fouled at the other end with 1:05 to go.  Kareem missed the first shot but made the second.

Ainge then found Parish on a cut to give Boston a 113-110 lead with 55 seconds to go.  But Magic pushed and found Cooper for a three from the wing to tie the game.  Magic then knocked away an entry pass and the Lakers had a chance to win it as they called timeout with 26 seconds to go.  The Celtics defense didn’t let them get anywhere though and Bird rebounded a Kareem airball with 8 seconds left.

Larry then hit a streaking Ainge on a breakaway.  The future Celtics GM went in and was fouled by Magic with 3 seconds to go.  Ainge nailed the first but was short on the second free throw.  Mychal Thompson had the rebound for a second before losing it.  However, the refs ruled that the Lakers got a timeout while Thompson still had possession.  A claim that the Celtics and Boston Garden didn’t agree with.

But the timeout counted and Cooper inbounded to Magic running towards the left baseline.  Magic was double-teamed as Parish switched out to help Ainge.  But Magic lofted a running jumper that banked in at the buzzer.  The Lakers ran off the court happy like they did at the end of Game 4 of the previous years Finals.

But it didn’t turn out to be a death blow for the Celtics.  It woke them up as they won their next 6 games and 10 of their next 11.  By the time they were at the All-Star break, they were back at the top of the Eastern Conference (although when the coaches were named for the All-Star game, the Atlanta Hawks still had a better record so Mike Fratello got to coach the East).  For the Lakers, this win kicked off a 15-game winning streak.  L.A. ran off a 24-2 run going into the All-Star break and finished at 62-20, best record in the league.

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (8) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (13) – Power Forward

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (23) – Center

Magic Johnson (18) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (21) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Michael Cooper (21)

Mychal Thompson (9)

Kurt Rambis (2)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Pat Riley

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (35) – Small Forward

Kevin McHale (10) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (15) – Center

Dennis Johnson (19) – Point Guard

Danny Ainge (15) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Jerry Sichting (17)

Fred Roberts (3)

Darren Daye (0)

Mark Acres (0)

Boston Coach: K.C. Jones

magic and larry 1988

Magic and Larry led their teams in a classic game on December 11, 1987, Magic got the last laugh though *photo courtesy of Knows Bleed Sports

December 12, 1987 – Houston Rockets 103 @Chicago Bulls 112

This turned out to be a historic game of sorts for the 1980’s Houston Rockets.  It would be the last game Ralph Sampson would ever play for them.  Houston had started the season at 5-1 before losing 6 of their next 9 games (including a loss to Chicago at home).  They rebounded to win three in a row before traveling to Chicago fr the first CBS game of the year.

Ralph Sampson was off to a somewhat slow start as one kept wondering whether he’d be able to play with Olajuwon (or was even healthy).  The frustration was punctuated when Sampson was 0-for-6 and didn’t shoot a free throw in Houston’s win over Utah two days before traveling to Chicago.  The Rockets only other big roster move in the off-season was acquiring Purvis Short from Golden State.  Robert Reid missed the first 15 games of the season, so Houston acquired a shooting guard, Short, a day before the season was set to begin.

The rest of the lineup was pretty much the same.  Hakeem Olajuwon and Rodney McCray started with Sampson in the front court and Allen Leavell ran the point.  Jim Petersen came off the bench.  The other new addition was World B. Free, who was in his last season in the NBA.  Free became the designated shooter off the bench (a role I’m sure he liked).

Meanwhile, the story in Chicago was that Michael Jordan finally had some help and the Bulls proved it by jumping off to a 12-6 start (including an 8-3 start on the road).  Not only had the Bulls drafted Horace Grant and acquired Scottie Pippen on draft day (as well as draft Jack Haley in the 4th round, do NOT underestimate this!  There was a white mamba before Brian Scalabrine!), but they acquired veteran Artis Gilmore from San Antonio (who starred previously in Chicago from 1976-1982) to put in the middle.

Gilmore proved to be just a little too old and was waived by Chicago two weeks after this game.  But the point was that Chicago with drafting Pippen and Grant along with the growth of Charles Oakley and John Paxson finally was starting to get some help for Michael Jordan.

What also helped the Bulls was their increased team speed with Pippen and Grant, which allowed more running.  They did this to perfection in the 1st quarter against Houston as Jordan found Grant for a layup and then found Oakley with a look-away pass for another layup.  On another break, Paxson found Oakley who quickly found Gilmore for a slam.  This contributed to an early Bulls lead.

Houston came back to tie it at 13 before Paxson hit a three and then found Jordan for a slam on a baseline drive and a foul.  Then Oakley found Grant on the break for a reverse layup and a foul.  This put Chicago up 22-15.

The Bulls were able to keep that lead and increase it to 37-25 at the end of the 1st quarter.  Olajuwon committed 2 fouls and Chicago shot 14 free throws (as opposed to 4 by Houston).

However, the 2nd quarter was a different story as Jordan sat for the first few minutes and the Bulls struggled without him (and stopped running).  So much for the help for Jordan.  Sampson also became more aggressive when Olajuwon sat with his 2 fouls.  He scored 6 of Houston’s first 12 points as the Rockets cut the Bulls lead to 40-37 and forced a Doug Collins timeout.

The Bulls regained a nine-point lead and Olajuwon committed his 3rd foul on a loose ball foul.  But the designated shooter came in and sparked a run.  Free hit two jumpers and then Purvis Short hit from the wing after Free penetrated.  Sampson later got a slam and then hit two free throws to cut the Bulls lead to 50-49 with a minute to go in the half.

But the half ended the Bulls way as Oakley tipped in a Jordan miss and then Jordan hit Pippen for a reverse layup as the buzzer sounded.  The Bulls led 54-49.

Houston did cut it back to 56-55 early in the 2nd half before Olajuwon committed his 4th foul.  He stayed in the game briefly but Jordan started a run with a steal and flying slam that got the crowd going.  Later, MJ finished a 5-on-2 break by connecting on a double-pump layup against Leavell and Short while Purvis fouled him.  Later, Jordan finished another double-pump layup against Short on the baseline after a Paxson lob.  Both finishes were typical-MJ how did he do it fashion.  The Bulls led 68-59 after his latest acrobatic act.

The margin stayed about the same for the rest of the quarter.  Free kept Houston alive while Jordan (helped at this point by Paxson jumpers) kept the attack going for the Bulls.  An Allen Leavell left-handed driving layup, plus a foul, at the buzzer cut Chicago’s lead to 85-78.  The margin stayed the same when the 3rd quarter officially ended because Leavell missed the free throw.

The first few baskets of the 4th quarter was a prelude to the future.  Jordan found Pippen for a slam and Pippen found Jordan for a cutting layup.  But 2nd year forward Buck Johnson gave Houston a spark with 5 quick points.  Then an Olajuwon jumper from the post cut the Bulls lead to 91-87.

Two free throws from World B. Free cut it to 92-89 before Paxson found Jordan for a baseline jumper.  Then MJ scored on a baseline sop-and-go drive.  Then Michael found Oakley on the break for a layup and the lead was back to seven.  A Paxson wing jumper off a Dave Corzine screen put Chicago up 102-93 with 2:56 to go.

Jordan would finish off the Rockets from there.  He held off Houston mini-runs with a drive past Rodney McCray for a layup and then a step-back jumper off the dribble from the wing.  But the dagger happened with 44 seconds to go after Houston cut it to five.  Grant found Jordan on a cut for a layup after the Bulls used a lot of the shot clock.

The Bulls improved to 14-6 but were soon brought back down to earth with a 5-game losing streak (during which, they released Gilmore.. who would be picked up by Boston).  But the Bulls were able to stay about 8-10 games above .500 as the season hit its final stretch (we’ll pick them up again on March 25).

For the Rockets, the block-buster trade came down the same evening that they lost to Chicago (this game was an afternoon game).  Ralph Sampson and Steve Harris were traded to Golden State for Sleepy Floyd, Joe Barry Carroll and cash.  Carroll started alongside Olajuwon late in the season, but it proved to be less effective then the twin towers of Sampson/Olajuwon.

Houston finished 46-36, good for 6th place in the West.  They lost to Dallas in 4 games in the 1st round.  Just before the 1989 season, Carroll was traded to New Jersey, along with Lester Conner, for 4 players.  Also before the 1989 season, Robert Reid was traded to the expansion Charlotte Hornets while Rodney McCray and Jim Petersen were shipped to Sacramento for Otis Thorpe.  Thorpe, along with Olajuwon and Sleepy Floyd, were the cornerstones for the next few Rockets teams.

Houston starters (points scored)

Rodney McCray (5) – Small Forward

Ralph Sampson (20) – Power Forward

Hakeem Olajuwon (31) – Center

Allen Leavell (15) – Point Guard

Purvis Short (6) – Shooting Guard

Houston bench (points scored)

Jim Petersen (4)

World B. Free (16)

Buck Johnson (6)

Robert Reid (0)

Steve Harris (0)

Lester Conner (0)

Houston Coach: Bill Fitch

Chicago starters (points scored)

Horace Grant (11) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (19) – Power Forward

Artis Gilmore (4) – Center

John Paxson (14) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (44) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Dave Corzine (4)

Brad Sellers (2)

Scottie Pippen (12)

Sedale Threatt (0)

Rory Sparrow (2)

Chicago Coach: Doug Collins

February 7, 1988 – NBA All-Star Game @Chicago: East 138, West 133

In the last NBA All-Star weekend that Chicago had had (to date), it turned out to be a showcase for their young star.  On All-Star Saturday, Michael Jordan squared off in the finals of the dunk contest against Dominique Wilkins.  It was perhaps the greatest dunk contest ever, and most controversial.

There were three dunks for the Finals.  Wilkins and Jordan each got 50’s on their first dunks.  Wilkins, on his second dunk, got another 50.  Jordan inexplicably got a 47.  The crowd started the boo the judges like “we’re gonna kill you if OUR GUY doesn’t win!”  So the judges, in trying to rectify, gave Wilkins a 45 on his third dunk.  While his dunk may not have been a 50, a score of 48 would have given Wilkins the win.  But that dunk was higher than a 45, like Jordan’s previous dunk was probably higher than a 47, and it probably would have been scored so if the contest wasn’t in Chicago.

So then Michael Jordan, for his final dunk ever in a dunk contest, took off from the free throw line and slammed home a 50 to take the championship 147 to 145.  Wilkins would win his second dunk contest in 1990, but there are still those that feel he should have three wins (if that really matters over the context of a career).

Then in the All-Star game, Wilkins would score 29 and get the closest he would ever get to an All-Star MVP.  But once again, he was out-shown by the home-town guy (and the numbers could actually back that up).

This was the first All-Star Game for Karl Malone.  And he and Akeem Olajuwon dominated the boards early against a small East starting lineup who’s only big guy was Moses Malone.  That factor, along with 5 assists from Magic Johnson gave the West an early 8-point lead.  There were some great plays early as Jordan blocked an Alex English layup on a 4-on-1 break and Dominique got a vicious over-the-head slam at the other end.

Jordan scored 8 points in the 1st quarter but the West held a 32-27 lead at the end of the period.  A 7-0 run by the East tied the game at 34 early on in the 2nd.  Wilkins got another big slam on the break and Jordan dished to his former UNC teammate Brad Daugherty for a layup.  The run continued to 11-0 after Daugherty fed Jordan this time for a reverse layup on the break.

Jordan got another reverse layup after a baseline drive and spin move toward the lane.  The East eventually broke out to a nice lead when Jordan blocked a Karl Malone shot from the blind side and took it coast-to-coast uncontested for a double-pump slam.  Then Moses Malone got a defensive rebound and outletted to Larry Bird for a breakaway layup.  The East led 50-42 at this point.  The lead reached 10 before the West was able to cut it to 60-54 at the half.

The East maintained its lead throughout the 3rd quarter as Wilkins got going again by slamming down an alley-oop from Isiah Thomas and then finishing a double-pump reverse slam on a 4-on-nothing break.  Jordan had his perimeter shot going too which helped him shake off good defense from Lafayette “Fat” Lever.

But Magic led the West to within three at one point before a 6-0 run by the East put them back ahead comfortably.  Two three-pointers by Danny Ainge helped stretch the East lead to 99-89 at the end of the 3rd quarter.

The East’s lead grew to 15 at one point in the 4th quarter.  But the West was able to keep it relatively close from there.  However, unlike the ’87 All-Star Game in Seattle, the East was able to hold them off.

Jordan had 16 points in the final quarter as the East kept going to him to get the MVP on his home court.  His first two points came on a drive to the lane and finish against Olajuwon.  Later, he got a finger roll on the break after a Patrick Ewing outlet and then a tip-dunk on an Isiah Thomas miss.

MJ then scored 8 points in the last two minutes, the last of which came on an Isiah alley-oop in which Jordan finished with one hand while his body was under the basket, to finish with 40.  It was two points shy of the All-Star Game record set by Wilt Chamberlain in 1962.

But the West got a milestone as well in the final minute.  Kareem was two points away from setting the all-time scoring mark in All-Star Game history.  After originally thinking he had it at the end of the 3rd quarter when a near three-point shot at the buzzer was counted for goaltending (it turned out that it was offensive goaltending and called such when the officials got together at the end of the quarter), Kareem came into the game late in the 4th quarter.  He hit a more customary sky-hook to set the record and get a nice ovation from Chicago Stadium.

The West was able to cut their margin of defeat to five points but the game was sealed and Jordan capped off a hell of a weekend on his home court by winning the MVP.

West starters (teams) and point totals

Alex English (Denver Nuggets) 10 – Small Forward

Karl Malone (Utah Jazz) 22 – Power Forward

Akeem Olajuwon (Houston Rockets) 21 – Center

Magic Johnson (Los Angeles Lakers) 17 – Point Guard

Fat Lever (Denver Nuggets) 17 – Shooting Guard

West bench (teams) and point totals

Mark Aguirre (Dallas Mavericks) 14

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Los Angeles Lakers) 10

Alvin Robertson (San Antonio Spurs) 2

Xavier McDaniel (Seattle Sonics) 2

Clyde Drexler (Portland Blazers) 12

James Worthy (Los Angeles Lakers) 4

James Donaldson (Dallas Mavericks) 2

West Coach: Pat Riley (Los Angeles Lakers)

East starters (teams) and point totals

Dominique Wilkins (Atlanta Hawks) 29 – Small Forward

Larry Bird (Boston Celtics) 6 – Power Forward

Moses Malone (Washington Bullets) 7 – Center

Isiah Thomas (Detroit Pistons) 8 – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (Chicago Bulls) 40 – Shooting Guard

East bench (teams) and point totals

Patrick Ewing (New York Knicks) 9

Doc Rivers (Atlanta Hawks) 9

Kevin McHale (Boston Celtics) 2

Charles Barkley (Philadelphia 76ers) 4

Danny Ainge (Boston Celtics) 12

Brad Daugherty (Cleveland Cavaliers) 12

Maurice Cheeks (Philadelphia 76ers) 0

East Coach: Mike Fratello (Atlanta Hawks)


a closeup of Jordan slamming in 2 of his 40 points while James Worthy (#42) and James Donaldson (#40) look on *photo courtesy of

February 12, 1988 – Boston Celtics 105 @Dallas Mavericks 104

The Celtics kicked off the 2nd half of the season with a west-coast road trip.  Two days before a National TV tilt with the Lakers in L.A, Boston concluded its Texas trilogy against a Mavericks team that was a consistent playoff team in the West, but their lack of defense usually cost them.

The Mavericks still had a starting lineup of Mark Aguirre, Sam Perkins, James Donaldson, Derek Harper and Rolando Blackman, with Detlef Schrempf and Brad Davis coming off the bench.  But in 1986, they drafted Roy Tarpley to add to that mix.  Tarpley would eventually be banned from the NBA for substance abuse but was reinstated and played for one more season.  After bombing out to 7th seeded Seattle in the 1st round in 1987, coach Dick Motta was replaced by former Phoenix coach John MacLeod.  MacLeod’s Mavericks, at the time of this game, were leading the Midwest Division, despite losing 5 of their last 6 games, and were 2nd in the West behind those Lakers.

Boston had taken the lead over Atlanta for the top spot in the East (after Hawks coach Mike Fratello was named the All-Star Coach for the East), but the roster was ever-changing.  Dirk Minniefield and Artis Gilmore had been signed in the last few months.  Greg Kite had been released and Darren Daye was 12 days from being released.  Jerry Sichting (who had been on the injured list since early January) was 11 days away from being traded to Portland for Jim Paxson.

Bird started out hot by nailing three quick jumpers to give Boston an early 8-2 lead at the Reunion Arena.  Larry ended up hitting his first five shots.  Boston eventually took a 20-10 lead after four free throws from Danny Ainge.  The Celtics held that lead as Bird scored 14 first quarter points.  But a pull-up jumper from Derek Harper with 1 second to go cut Boston’s lead to 33-26 after one quarter.

Tarpley and Schrempf gave Dallas a spark off the bench as the Mavericks cut it to 35-34 early in the 2nd.  But Boston regained their footing and took a 50-40 lead when Robert Parish put back a Dennis Johnson miss.  But then Mark Aguirre got going with a three-point play on a drive past McHale.  Then Aguirre took it himself on a 3-on-1 break to cut the lead to five.

Bird answered with a runner off the glass but that would be the Celtics’ only answer for awhile.  Harper found Brad Davis for a corner jumper.  Harper then found Aguirre for a wing jumper.  Then Harper took it himself on a drive down the lane.  This forced a Boston timeout but the run continued nonetheless.  Aguirre hit a jumper in the lane after getting an offensive rebound.  Then Schrempf hit a turnaround banker from the post.  Dallas was on a 10-0 run and led 55-52.

A Danny Ainge feed to Bird for a reverse layup cut the lead to one.  But with 2 seconds left in the half, Davis found Schrempf for a wing three-pointer.  This gave the Mavericks a 58-54 lead at halftime.

Early in the 3rd, the Celtics stayed with Dallas and eventually tied the game at 66 on a Bird three-pointer.  This was Larry’s 24th point.  But he and the rest of the Celtics went cold.

Aguirre hit a jumper from the post and then finished a 3-on-1 break with a layup.  Aguirre then hit a long pull-up jumper (with his foot on the line) in transition and Harper hit a pull-up from the baseline after a spin.  Dallas led 74-66 and Boston called timeout.  It didn’t help much as Aguirre found Harper for a three in transition and then Harper found Aguirre for another three in transition.  Dallas was on a 14-0 run and led 80-66.

McHale finally hit a turnaround jumper in the lane to break a 4:00 drought.  The Celtics then slowly crept back into it after Aguirre asked out with 17 third quarter points.  Two threes from Ainge and then a drive, spin, and hook from McHale with 9 seconds to go in the quarter cut the lead to 85-78 going into the 4th.

Dallas was able to build the lead back up slightly as Tarpley got a three-point play and, later, tippied in his own miss to give Dallas a 94-83 lead.  But then Dallas went cold.  Bird fed McHale for a layup,  D.J. fed Bird for a wing jumper.  D.J. came off a Bird screen and hit a jumper from the top.  Bird, McHale and Robert Parish hit free throws and D.J. hit a fall-away from the post.  While all of this was happening, Dallas’ counter was going 1-for-4 from the foul line.  Boston now led 96-95.

But Blackman came back with two free throws after a phantom foul on D.J. and then Aguirre hit a baseline jumper.  McHale’s hook cut the lead back to 99-98 with just over 1:00 to go but Boston couldn’t regain the lead.  Blackman was fouled by Ainge with 19 seconds to go and hit two free throws.  Dallas then fouled Bird intentionally to prevent a tying three-point attempt and Bird made two free throws.

Dirk Minniefield then fouled Brad Davis with 14 seconds to go going for the steal.  Davis hit the two free throws.  Bird then faked a three and hit a runner with 11 seconds left.  The Celtics then fouled a struggling Sam Perkins, who was getting booed by the crowd while his backup, Roy Tarpley, was getting wild cheers.  Perkins missed the first and barely made the second.  Dallas led 104-102 with 10 seconds left.  Boston didn’t call timeout.

Instead, Ainge pushed it up off the inbounds and got it to Bird.  Larry pulled up from 2-4 feet beyond the three-point line and nailed a dagger with 4 seconds to go to give Boston the lead.  Dallas called timeout.  The Mavericks didn’t get a good shot as Harper was short on a long three.  Boston won this game but lost to the Lakers two days later.

The Celtics would hold off their East counterparts, Atlanta and Detroit, for the top spot in the Conference with 57 wins.  But they would have trouble with each in the playoffs.

Dallas kicked off an 11-game winning streak after this loss but, at 53-29, finished one game behind Denver for the Midwest Division title.  After defeating Houston, Dallas would defeat the Nuggets 4-2 in the West Semifinals.  It was expected that they’d take on the Lakers, but that didn’t turn out to be a foregone conclusion.

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (39) – Small Forward

Kevin McHale (20) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (12) – Center

Dennis Johnson (13) – Point Guard

Danny Ainge (17) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Brad Lohaus (2)

Mark Acres (0)

Dirk Minniefield (2)

Boston Coach: K.C. Jones

Dallas starters (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (38) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (3) – Power Forward

James Donaldson (0) – Center

Derek Harper (14) – Point Guard

Rolando Blackman (20) – Shooting Guard

Dallas bench (points scored)

Roy Tarpley (16)

Detlef Schrempf (9)

Brad Davis (4)

Uwe Blab (0)

Dallas Coach: John MacLeod

March 25, 1988 – Chicago Bulls 111 @Cleveland Cavaliers 110 (OT)

To finish out the regular season, we’ll get the Bulls against three opponents that they’d see plenty of in the next few years.  Then we’ll start the playoffs with two Bulls games against these same Cleveland Cavaliers.

So far in the 1988 season, the Bulls were unable to go more than 10 games above .500.  They were 38-28 heading into this game and were 2 games behind Atlanta for the 3rd spot in the East, as well as 1 game ahead of Milwaukee for the 5th spot.  The Bulls had acquired Sam Vincent from Seattle exactly a month before this game in exchange for Sedale Threatt.  Sam seemed to fit as the perfect point guard to push the tempo, get the team into their offense, and get the ball to Jordan (which, let’s be honest, was most important).

Cleveland was 31-37 heading into this game and were 1.5 games behind Indiana for the 6th spot in the East.  The Cavs were 28-25 after a home win against Chicago on February 21.  Four days later, they traded veteran center Mark West, 3rd year swingman Tyrone Corbin, and rookie guard Kevin Johnson to Phoenix for Larry Nance and Mike Sanders (many draft picks were also involved in this trade.. strangely Cleveland played in Phoenix that night, none of the traded parties played but at least they could just go off with the other team instead of catching a flight to wherever that team was).  Nance and Sanders joined the likes of Mark Price, Ron Harper, Brad Daugherty and Hot Rod Williams (the core who were all rookies in 1987) along with veterans Phil Hubbard and Craig Ehlo.

There was also a 2nd-year man who was a key factor in this game.  Dell Curry (Steph’s father) came over from Utah before the season in a trade that involved Melvin Turpin.  John Bagley and Keith Lee were traded away on the same day.

Cleveland, after its win over Chicago, then went on a 3-11 stretch which included a 6 and 5-game losing streak.  One was probably bashing the Nance trade in northern Ohio but in reality, the Cavs went on a western road trip (and then the final game back in Boston) in which they lost all 6 games and then after winning two at home, they played 4 of their next 5 games on the road.  So, of the 11 losses, one was at home.  The Cavs rebounded for a home win against New Jersey before taking on Chicago.

Brad Sellers got four early field goals for Chicago as Jordan didn’t get on the board until a steal and pull-up from the baseline put Chicago up 14-11.  But Nance hit Hubbard for a layup and then the new Cavalier found Price for a jumper from the top and a Cleveland lead.  The score went back-and-forth for most of the remainder of the quarter.  Chicago did pull ahead 30-25 when MJ hit a pull-up jumper from the elbow with 4 seconds left.

The lead grew to 40-30 just under halfway through the 2nd quarter.  But Dell Curry came into the game, nailed a three, and another jumper to help jumpstart a Cleveland run.  They had a chance to tie it late in the half but Harper missed a driving layup.  Jordan then out-ran and out-foxed three Cavs defenders to get a breakaway layup at the other end.

The half ended with Harper committing his 3rd foul when Jordan almost lost the ball going 1-on-1 but banged into Harper at the 2 second mark.  Jordan finished the half with 21 points and the Bulls led 55-48.

Harper committed his 4th foul early on in the 3rd after Jordan did a unique wrap-around dribble in which he wrapped it around with his right hand and caught it again with his right hand.  Jordan later got a slam after a baseline spin from the post and then tipped in his own miss on the break.  This gave Chicago a 68-53 advantage.

Cleveland would not let the lead get any bigger but could only cut their deficit to 80-68 at the end of the 3rd quarter.  Harper committed his 5th foul early in the 4th.  He would stay in long enough to miss two free throws, lose the ball to Scottie Pippen on a drive, and get booed by the home crowd before he ended up sitting for the game.

The Bulls increased their lead back to 14 when Charles Oakley hit a three-pointer.  Dell Curry, who along with Craig Ehlo took Harper’s minutes, hit a jumper and then fed Hot Rod Williams for a layup.  But the Bulls still led 92-79 when Curry was out at the three-point line guarded by Pippen.  Scottie made a rookie mistake and played a bit off of Dell, and then he made another rookie mistake.  As Curry shot the three, Pippen lunged and hit him on the wrist.  The three went in and Pippen was called for a foul.  The four-point play changed around the momentum.

That along with Jordan getting more tired and having to take a rest.  It was only a minute rest, if that, and when he came back, the Bulls couldn’t find any ways to give him the ball against Cleveland’s pressure defense.  Price hit a jumper from the top.  Nance got a steal and hit a free throw after being fouled.  Nance then hit a jumper in the lane after Oakley had blocked a shot to cut the lead to 92-88.  Curry then got a steal and breakaway.

The Bulls only answer came when Brad Sellers found himself at the wing with the ball at the end of the shot clock.  After saying, “Oh sh-t, I gotta shoot this,” the former Ohio State Buckeye nailed the jumper.  But right after that, Nance hit two free throws and then Price hit a pull-up three for a 95-94 Cleveland lead.

John Paxson would respond with a three but Price came right back with a driving layup.  Then after a minute in which Jordan and Nance exchanged blocked shots on breakaway layups, Nance gave the Cavs the lead with 2:20 left on a baseline jumper.  Curry then stole a pass to Jordan but Daugherty and Nance missed shots that would have increased Cleveland’s lead.

Dave Corzine then put back an Oakley miss to tie the game with 1:24 left.  Daugherty hit two free throws after Horace Grant committed his 5th foul.  But Grant came right back to tip in a Corzine miss and the game was tied at 101 with 45 seconds to go.  Price missed and Corzine rebounded, but the Bulls again couldn’t find Jordan and Paxson missed a jumper and the ball was knocked out of bounds and was called Cleveland ball with 7 seconds left.

After a timeout, Dell Curry got a clean look from the top.  But it was in-and-out and Daugherty airballed a follow shot at the buzzer.  The Bulls had survived regulation and now were headed into overtime.

Jordan finally got his first basket in a long while when he got a flying slam in transition to give the Bulls a 105-102 lead.  But Nance hit two free throws after Grant fouled out and then Curry hit a wing jumper for a Cavs lead.  A Sellers jumper gave Chicago the lead into the final minute, but Daugherty put Cleveland up 108-107 with a hook off the glass from the post.

After a Bulls timeout at 39 seconds, Jordan penetrated, drew the defense and hit Corzine for a jumper from the top.  Cleveland got a timeout at 25 seconds.  They went to Nance, who hit a jumper over Oakley with 16 seconds to go.  110-109 Cleveland.  After a Bulls timeout at 10 seconds, Jordan got the ball and drove baseline.  Four defenders converged as Jordan went into the air for a shot.  You know how this ends right?

Well, if you had Jordan missing a tough reverse layup and then landing awkwardly, then you are correct.  But because four Cavs defenders converged while Jordan shot, Oakley was free for an unmolested tip-in with 1 second to go.  The Bulls ended up surviving when Price got the inbounds pass way beyond the three-point line.  He had to double-pump his shot to avoid one defender but couldn’t avoid the second, Corzine, who blocked his shot.

For the first time that season, the Bulls were more than 10 games over .500.  They would win 3 of their next 4 games (including 2-1 on a brief Western road trip) before traveling to Detroit for a Sunday afternoon nationally televised game where Jordan showed why he was Jordan and the Pistons would come up with a new defensive strategy.

After losing their next game at Atlanta, Cleveland finished out the season 11-2 to finish at 42-40, good for 6th place in the East and a matchup with Chicago.  However, by then a key man was out of the rotation.  Dell Curry played in only 2 playoff games (for a total of 19 minutes) and would be taken by Charlotte in the expansion draft.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Brad Sellers (14) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (22) – Power Forward

Dave Corzine (10) – Center

Sam Vincent (6) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (39) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

John Paxson (9)

Horace Grant (10)

Scottie Pippen (1)

Granville Waiters (0)

Chicago Coach: Doug Collins

Cleveland starters (points scored)

Larry Nance (29) – Small Forward

Phil Hubbard (5) – Power Forward

Brad Daugherty (22) – Center

Mark Price (13) – Point Guard

Ron Harper (6) – Shooting Guard

Cleveland bench (points scored)

Dell Curry (24)

Hot Rod Williams (11)

Craig Ehlo (0)

Mike Sanders (0)

Cleveland Coach: Lenny Wilkens

April 3, 1988 – Chicago Bulls 112 @Detroit Pistons 110

This is the game that planted the seeds for the infamous Jordan Rules.  The Pistons had lost three in a row for the first time all season.  They were 46-24 and 4 games behind Boston for the top spot in the East.  The Bulls were 42-29 and were 1 game behind Atlanta for the 3rd spot in the East.

The Pistons’ only major move since the 1987 playoffs was adding James Edwards in a trade with Phoenix on February 24.  Edwards joined a 9-man rotation with starters Adrian Dantley, Rick Mahorn and Bill Laimbeer up front and Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars in the back court.  Off the bench was Vinnie Johnson, Dennis Rodman and John Salley.

Jordan started the game with two quick hoops and Sam Vincent had an effective beginning (and game) scoring and assisting.  But Detroit, led by Dantley and Mahorn, took a 19-12 lead after a 7-0 run.  Jordan broke the run with a jumper from the top for his 8th point.  The thing that was obvious about Jordan in this game was that the jumper was falling.  Uh oh!

He hit three pull-up jumpers from the baseline (two were on 1-on-1 moves) and then a right-handed double-pump runner in the lane where, yes, he seemed to hang in the air.  MJ finished the 1st quarter with 18 points but Detroit’s balance, although led by a 13-point quarter from Dantley, kept them ahead.  They led 33-30 at the quarter break.

Jordan sat out for the first 5 minutes of the 2nd quarter but when he came back in, he went to work.  There was a layup after a baseline spin from the post and two more jumpers, including a turnaround from the wing.  But Detroit took a 52-44 lead when a long bounce pass from Dennis Rodman led to an Isiah Thomas breakaway three-point play.

Jordan would hit more jumpers but in this stretch in which the Bulls cut the lead to 57-55, Vincent, Charles Oakley and Dave Corzine got involved with field goals.  After an Isiah scoop banker in the lane, Jordan hit a baseline runner and drew the foul.  That would be the last of MJ’s 32 first half points.  The Pistons re-took a five-point lead when Dumars scored on a cut and drew Brad Sellers’ 4th foul.  But Jordan kicked out to John Paxson for a wing jumper to end the half and cut the lead to 66-63.

Bill Laimbeer was Detroit’s offense to start the third as he hit two jumpers and then put back a Dantley miss.  Detroit maintained its lead throughout most of the quarter despite His Airness’ continued assault.  Jordan even got a big slam on a baseline drive, something Detroit wouldn’t allow much of in the next 3 years.

But eventually, three jumpers from Vincent and then 6 straight points from MJ, including another baseline drive and layup in which he wasn’t cracked, the Bulls led 93-90 late in the quarter.  Two free throws from Rodman cut the lead to 93-92 going into the 4th.

Jordan scored the Bulls first four 4th quarter points (including a fall-away from the foul line over Rodman).  After Rick Mahorn committed his 5th foul and Corzine hit two free throws, the Bulls led 99-94.

Despite a run by the Pistons, the Bulls led 107-100 after back-to-back field goals from Jordan and Vincent.  MJ had 54 points at this time, but those would be the last Bulls field goals of the day.  A Rodman block started a break in which Dumars found Isiah for a layup.  A Dumars jumper that rattled in cut the Bulls lead to 107-106.  Jordan hit two free throws.

Then Isiah went baseline against Vincent and up-faked 4389786297698776827 times until Vincent bit.  Isiah drew the foul and made the shot.  But he missed the free throw and Detroit still trailed 109-108.  But they got a chance to lead after Oakley missed two free throws.  With around 3:00 to go, Laimbeer tipped in a Dantley miss for a 110-109 advantage.

Jordan tied it a minute later with a free throw but despite the Pistons not being able to score from there, they got several chances.  They missed three shots on their next possession, the last of which was a missed reverse layup by Dumars.  After Vincent missed at the end of the shot clock, Detroit got three more chances.  The last of those attempts was blocked out of bounds by Jordan with 24 seconds to go.  So the Pistons could essentially go for the last shot.

After dribbling down the clock, Laimbeer got a pass from Isiah.  Bill then looked and tried to get it inside but the ball was deflected by Brad Sellers right to Jordan on the dead run.  Laimbeer was able to reach in and foul Jordan with 4 seconds left before Michael could have a 1-on-1 breakaway with Isiah.  But the Pistons were in the penalty (when weren’t they?) and Jordan got two shots.

He canned them both for his 58th and 59th point.  Then after a Detroit timeout, Isiah missed a long two-point attempt from the wing and the Bulls had a surprising victory.  Detroit had now lost 4 in a row, but rebounded to finish the season 8-3.  This gave them a 54-28 record, which was 2nd in the East and three games behind Boston.

Chicago won 5 in a row after losing their next game to Washington.  This brought them to a 3rd place tie with Atlanta when they traveled to New York and take on a Knicks team that had just moved past the Indiana Pacers for a playoff spot.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Brad Sellers (2) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (14) – Power Forward

Dave Corzine (12) – Center

Sam Vincent (18) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (59) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

John Paxson (4)

Scottie Pippen (0)

Horace Grant (1)

Elston Turner (2)

Granville Waiters (0)

Chicago Coach: Doug Collins

Detroit starters (points scored)

Adrian Dantley (18) – Small Forward

Rick Mahorn (8) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (18) – Center

Isiah Thomas (24) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (18) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Vinnie Johnson (8)

Dennis Rodman (8)

John Salley (4)

James Edwards (4)

Ralph Lewis (0)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly


Jordan, at the free throw line here, led the Bulls to a 112-110 win in Detroit with 59 points, including the clinching free throws with 4 seconds left *photo courtesy of YouTube

April 19, 1988 – Chicago Bulls 121 @New York Knicks 118

The fact that the Chicago Bulls were 48-30 late in the season was a surprise.  Another surprise was the New York Knicks.  After finishing with 24, 23, and 24 wins the previous three seasons, the Knicks were 37-42 and in the playoff picture, especially after a 14-28 start.

The biggest reason turned out to be a surprise as well.  Despite being the 18th pick in the 1987 draft, St. John’s point guard Mark Jackson would be named the rookie of the year for the Knicks.  His contribution was simple, make the game easier for Patrick Ewing, Gerald Wilkins and Kenny Walker by getting them the ball in spots where they can score.  Jackson averaged 10.6 assists per game as well as scoring 13.6 points per game (3rd on the team).

The addition of Jackson allowed the Knicks to waive Gerald Henderson and trade Rory Sparrow to the Bulls for an ’88 2nd round pick.  The Knicks signed Johnny Newman to add to their bench strength.  They acquired Sidney Green from Detroit in a trade and he became their starting power forward.  This put Bill Cartwright on the bench in his last season in New York.  The Knicks had also hired Rick Pitino as coach, who had led Providence College to the 1987 Final Four.

New York had won 4 of their last 5 games and got off to a 6-2 lead against Chicago as their three leading scorers (Wilkins, Jackson and Ewing) got field goals.  But the Bulls stayed with them as Sam Vincent dished out assists and Michael Jordan scored.  MJ’s highlight of the 1st quarter was a reverse layup with the right hand in which the left hand only touched the ball briefly (so, yes, he brought the ball around with just his right hand).

The Knicks did take a 5-point lead late in the quarter but two jumpers by John Paxson and a Jordan free throw tied the game at 24 at the end of the 1st quarter.

It was more of the same in the 2nd quarter as the teams went back and forth.  The Bulls took the biggest lead of the quarter at 42-38.  Chicago still led 50-49 at the half after Jackson found Kenny Walker for a wing jumper with 2 seconds left in the quarter.

The 3rd quarter was much of the same at the beginning.  Jordan and Walker exchanged breakaway slams and others got involved as well.  New York battled to a 65-all tie when great ball movement found Ewing for a layup.

Charles Oakley, who would soon be playing home games at Madison Square Garden, put back a Jordan miss and then Jordan led Scottie Pippen for a breakaway slam.  Pippen, who had been struggling lately after a good start to his rookie season, was a key factor late in the 3rd.  He recovered fellow rookie Horace Grant’s missed slam for a dunk of his own and a 5-point Bulls lead.

But Scottie’s biggest basket came after a Jordan pullup, which gave him 32 points, and a Paxson baseline jumper gave the Bulls an 83-75 lead.  Chicago held for the last shot of the quarter with Jordan on the bench.  Vincent penetrated and kicked out to Dave Corzine at the top.  Corzine swung it to Pippen beyond the three-point line at the wing.  Scottie launched and nailed the trey at the buzzer to give the Bulls an 86-75 lead at the end of the 3rd.

Two baskets by Grant gave Chicago a 13-point lead early in the 4th.  But after a Knicks timeout, Jackson got a steal and fed Walker for a dunk.  Then Wilkins got a steal on the Knicks press that Pitino ran on just about every team he coached.  Sidney Green tip-slammed a Jackson miss after the steal and it was 90-81 Chicago and the Bulls called timeout.

However, the Bulls built their lead to as much as 14 as Jordan kept scoring.  But a 6-0 run, capped by a Trent Tucker jumper, cut the Chicago lead to 102-94.  The crowd was back in it and the Knicks put on the press.  The Bulls broke it and a perfect 2-on-1 combination.  Vincent alley-ooped to Jordan, who slammed it down with Jackson hanging on him.  The foul was called on Jackson and, to almost add insult, Jordan accidentally hit Ewing when he was trying to regain his center of gravity while still hanging on the rim.  The three-point play made the score 105-94.

After Jordan committed his 4th foul and Newman hit two free throws, Michael had another big slam after a spin move on the baseline.  The Knicks stayed in it though as Tucker scored 5 straight points to make the score 107-101.  Pippen drove down the lane for a score.  Jackson came right back with a drive before the defense set up.  Jordan then scored against a double.  But back-to-back baskets by Wilkins made the score 111-107 and the Bulls used a timeout.

They regained an 8-point lead with under 2:00 to go helped by two Corzine jumpers.  But then Tucker found Wilkins for a three from the top.  Wilkins subsequently stole the ball and found Tucker for a layup.  The Bulls lead was now 117-114.  Vincent then turned the ball over on a drive and Ewing’s jumper in the lane cut the lead to one with 1:11 left.

Wilkins then committed a not-so-smart foul in the backcourt and Paxson hit two free throws.  But Gerald came back with a turnaround jumper and then defensive rebounded a Corzine miss.  The Knicks had the chance to lead for the first time since 38-36.  They went to Ewing in the post.  He was short on a turnaround and Oakley rebounded (I know one is really used to Ewing and Oakley being on the same team, but Oakley was still on Chicago at this point so his rebound was of the defensive variety).  Jackson then fouled Jordan with 12 seconds left.

He made both free throws and a 3-point lead.  Wilkins, Tucker, and Jackson all got off tying three-point attempts.  All missed and only Jackson’s hit the rim.

The Bulls won and eventually overtook Atlanta for the 3rd seed via tiebreaker, they both finished with 50-32 records.  New York was one of three teams to finish with a 38-44 record.  Two of them, Washington and New York, would make the playoffs.  The third, Indiana, did not.  On the 2nd-to-last day of the season, Indiana and New York played each other in what was the final game of the season for each.  Washington was already fixed at 38-44.  Indiana was 38-43 and New York was 37-44.  The Pacers would pass Washington for the 7th spot if they won, but would finish out of the playoffs if they lost because the Pacers lost their season series to both Washington and New York.  New York won 88-86 in Indiana as Ewing, Jackson and Wilkins led the way into the playoffs.  The Knicks lost to top-seeded Boston 3-1 in the 1st round.

On June 27, 1988 (a day before the draft), the Bulls and Knicks were involved in a trade.  The Knicks traded Bill Cartwright, an ’88 1st round pick and an ’88 3rd round pick to Chicago for Charles Oakley, an ’88 1st round pick and an ’88 3rd round pick.  The main cogs were obviously Cartwright and Oakley, but Bulls did move up to 11th in the draft and selected Will Perdue.  The Knicks, at 19th, selected DePaul’s Rod Strickland.  O.K. maybe they weren’t important assets but Perdue and Strickland each had nice NBA careers.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Brad Sellers (2) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (17) – Power Forward

Dave Corzine (10) – Center

Sam Vincent (8) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (47) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (15)

Horace Grant (14)

John Paxson (8)

Granville Waiters (0)

Chicago Coach: Doug Collins

New York starters (points scored)

Kenny Walker (11) – Small Forward

Sidney Green (9) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (26) – Center

Mark Jackson (16) – Point Guard

Gerald Wilkins (26) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

Johnny Newman (9)

Trent Tucker (9)

Bill Cartwright (7)

Sedric Toney (5)

New York Coach: Rick Pitino

May 1, 1988 – East Quarterfinals, Game 2: Cleveland Cavaliers 101 @Chicago Bulls 106

The Chicago Bulls had home-court advantage in a series for the first time since 1975, and Michael Jordan celebrated the occasion by scoring 50 points in front of the home fans and leading the Bulls to a 104-93 Game 1 win against Cleveland.

The Cavaliers’ young star, Ron Harper, was out for that game with a sprained ankle and Jordan’s 50 came against Craig Ehlo.  But Jordan said afterwards that Ehlo was a better defender than Harper.  Harper’s retort was that MJ had never scored 50 on him.  Challenge Accepted! (sorry, big How I Met Your Mother fan).

Harper did start off Game 2 by hitting a pull-up jumper from the wing after a Brad Daugherty screen.  Harper later hit a pull-up banker and drew a foul.  That three-point play gave the Cavs a 7-2 lead and was Harper’s high point of the day.  He was ineffective and sat on the bench a lot for the rest of the game, but he did return to miss two critical shots.

Two early jumpers from Jordan were the Bulls only offense while Cleveland started hot.  Larry Nance and Mike Sanders helped Harper along with two field goals each early on.  The latest from Sanders was a three-point play on a baseline drive to give the Cavs a 16-6 lead.  That three-point play put two fouls on Brad Sellers, taking out the least popular player from the Bulls fan’s perspective.

Jordan’s 14 first quarter points kept the Bulls remotely alive as Cleveland’s balanced attack eventually gave them a 36-21 lead.  The front court of Sanders, Nance and Daugherty were the main cogs as they took advantage for their matchups with frontline players of the Bulls.  A Scottie Pippen putback cut the Cavaliers lead to 36-23 after one quarter.

At the start of the 2nd quarter, Horace Grant came into the game to team with Pippen and increase the Bulls speed.  Chicago scored the first 8 points of the 2nd quarter with Jordan on the bench.  When MJ came back in, he didn’t miss a beat as he put back a Sam Vincent miss for his 16th point.  The Cavs lead was down to 38-33.  Later, a Grant follow-slam on a Vincent breakaway miss cut the lead to 40-37, brought the crowd alive and forced a Cleveland timeout.

After the timeout, Larry Nance led Cleveland on an 8-2 run to regain their margin.  But Jordan’s driving and scoring (he finished with 28 first half points) led the Bulls back to cut their halftime deficit to 55-51.

Just like the start of the 2nd quarter, the Bulls scored the first 8 points of the 3rd as Charles Oakley sparked them.  His biggest play was chasing down a rebound at the sideline and throwing a behind-the-back pass while falling out of bounds to Jordan for a breakaway double-pump reverse slam.  But Oakley also hit two outside jumpers.  Cleveland had a chance to regain a lead but Harper whiffed on a breakaway slam.  It ended up keeping momentum on the Bulls side for the next few minutes.

Jordan continued his assault by driving past Ehlo for a left-handed score and then beating a trap on a baseline drive, while just avoiding a stumble, scoring and drawing a foul.  Jordan was thoroughly entertaining the crowd as the Bulls led 66-60.  But Daugherty and Mark Price led Cleveland back and a 6-0 run capped by a Nance jumper gave Cleveland a 73-72 advantage.

Pippen then tip-slammed a Jordan miss and Grant followed up a shot on the break and drew Sanders’ 4th foul.  But Cleveland responded with another 6-0 run while Jordan was getting a rest.  The Cavs led 79-77 but a turnaround fall-away from Dave Corzine tied the game at 79 with 4 seconds left in the 3rd.  Jordan had 39 at the end of the third.

Jordan started the 4th with the Bulls’ first 6 points but Cleveland re-took an 88-87 lead when Price found Harper on the break for a layup.  The teams then traded baskets until back-to-back field goals from Jordan put Chicago up 95-92.  Nance hit a banker.  Jordan penetrated and found Grant for a baseline jumper.  Daugherty hit a turnaround.  Vincent split a pair of free throws after Price committed his 5th foul.  The Bulls led 98-96 with 2:26 left.

Cleveland got three chances before Daugherty tied the game with two free throws.  Jordan then got the ball in the post and the Cavs immediately sent a double.  Jordan spun baseline and got in the air as three Cavaliers converged.  But MJ hung in the air and hit a reverse layup like only MJ can.  The Bulls led 100-98 and Jordan had his 51st point.  He had scored 50 against Harper.  But the game was still up for grabs.

After Hot Rod Williams rebounded a Price miss, he kicked it back to Price who rose up and hit a three from the wing.  Cleveland now led 101-100 and Chicago called timeout with 1:14 to go.  Jordan popped out on the weak side and got the ball behind a Corzine screen.  Jordan then shot and made the wing jumper as the Bulls regained the lead.  Cleveland called a timeout with 1:00 to go.

Price then missed a driving runner but Jordan airballed an impossible shot at the other end (a fall-away behind the backboard.. actually I don’t know how Jordan missed that one).  Williams rebounded with 32 seconds to go and Cleveland had a transition break.  Harper was short on a pull-up banker over Corzine and Dave rebounded.  Jordan hit two free throws with 14 seconds to go for 55 points and a 104-101 Bulls lead.

Daugherty missed two shots inside and Grant was fouled by Nance after the second shot and fell hard to the floor on his back.  After being on his back for a few minutes, Grant came back to hit the clinching free throws with 3 seconds to go.  The Bulls now were one win away from their first playoff series win in the Jordan era.

Cleveland starters (points scored)

Mike Sanders (15) – Small Forward

Larry Nance (27) – Power Forward

Brad Daugherty (21) – Center

Mark Price (19) – Point Guard

Ron Harper (10) – Shooting Guard

Cleveland bench (points scored)

Craig Ehlo (5)

Hot Rod Williams (2)

Chris Dudley (2)

Phil Hubbard (0)

Cleveland Coach: Lenny Wilkens

Chicago starters (points scored)

Brad Sellers (0) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (17) – Power Forward

Dave Corzine (4) – Center

Sam Vincent (9) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (55) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Horace Grant (13)

Scottie Pippen (8)

John Paxson (0)

Rory Sparrow (0)

Chicago Coach: Doug Collins

michael jordan air jordan 3 ron harper solo flight

Michael Jordan scored 55 against Ron Harper (#4) in Game 2 while Harper struggled coming off an ankle injury.  But the series wasn’t over *photo courtesy of Sole Collector

May 8, 1988 – East Quarterfinals, Game 5: Cleveland Cavaliers 101 @Chicago Bulls 107

With the Bulls up 2-0, the series shifted to Cleveland.  That’s when Chicago found out that one of the toughest things to do in sports is to knock a team out of the playoffs.  Mark Price led Cleveland to a victory in Game 3 as the Cavs jumped out to a lead and were never headed.  The same thing happened in Game 4.  Cleveland jumped out to a big lead.  And although Chicago came back to take a late lead, the Cavs held on for a 97-91 victory.  Ron Harper, after his struggles in Game 2, led the way with 30 points.

Michael Jordan was held to 38 and 44 points in games 3 & 4.  Although that’s still a lot of points, it wasn’t the 50 and 55 he scored in the first two games when the Bulls had close victories.  It was thought that perhaps Jordan would have to do it again for the Bulls to survive.  And when he and the Bulls didn’t get off to a good start in Game 5, it looked like the pressure had gotten to them.

Scottie Pippen got a surprise start (and wasn’t told he was starting until just before the game), but Cleveland’s balance that they had all series gave them an early lead.  Mike Sanders and Larry Nance hit jumpers.  Price hit a pull-up from the elbow and Harper went coast-to-coast for a slam after a steal.  This gave the Cavs an early 8-2 lead.  Even a Chicago timeout couldn’t change the momentum as the Bulls could not generate any offense and seemed content with the “one pass and shot” method.

Nance’s wing jumper got the bounce and Brad Daugherty hit two free throws for a 10-point lead.  The teams then traded baskets until Ron Harper went on a 6-0 personal run to put the Cavaliers in front 26-10.  The Bulls called another timeout as the crowd booed.  Cleveland eventually took its biggest lead at 32-14 before veteran Rory Sparrow took Sam Vincent’s spot at the point and provided a spark.  He hit two jumpers, including a pull-up with 5 seconds to go to cut Cleveland’s lead to 35-23 at the end of the 1st quarter.

Chicago started the 2nd quarter with a complete 180.  They moved the ball and got on the offensive boards.  Jordan also, after scoring just 4 first quarter points, started getting to the foul line.  Jordan hit 6 of 8 free throws and then took an alley-oop from Pippen to complete an 8-2 run that cut the Cavaliers advantage to 41-37.  Pippen then cut it to two with a layup after recovering a loose ball.  But despite Chicago cutting it to one twice, the Cavaliers were able to hold them off for the 1st half.

A 6-0 run late in the half helped the Cavs cause.  What also seemed to be an advantage was that Jordan picked up his 3rd foul.  But a Pippen tip-slam with 1 second to go in the half cut the Cleveland lead to 56-51.

The Cavs strategy of attacking a foul-ridden Jordan halted early in the 2nd half when Harper re-injured his ankle.  Harper did return but Jordan didn’t pick up his 4th foul until near the end of the game.

However, Cleveland was able to keep their lead despite Nance picking up his 4th foul.  When Price found Sanders for a jumper from the top, the Cavaliers took a 66-58 lead.  But the Bulls came back on an 8-0 run to tie the game as Sparrow sparked them again.  Oakley even got a fast break slam on a Sparrow feed.  Hot Rod Williams scored 6 of Cleveland’s next 8 points to give them a 74-68 advantage.

But a more aggressive Scottie Pippen led the Bulls back with two steals and slams.  For how his career turned out, this could have been the coming out party for Scottie Pippen.  Scottie also follow-slammed a Vincent miss after Sam made a steal.  This happened with 5 seconds to go in the 3rd to give the Bulls an 80-77 lead heading into the fourth.

Chicago kept that advantage at the start of the 4th as Pippen continued his brilliant play by saving a bad pass from going out of bounds while tip-toeing the sidelines.  That turned into a big play as Jordan nailed a jumper on the same possession for an 88-83 Bulls lead.  Chicago led by as many as seven before Ron Harper led Cleveland back to within 94-92 with about 5:00 to play.

The Bulls then ended up turning to their newest hero.  Pippen hit a turnaround from the elbow for a 4-point lead.  Sparrow then penetrated and hit Dave Corzine for a wing jumper.  Then a controversial non-call went against the Cavs.  Pippen shot and missed after the shot clock had gone off, but there was no replay at the time and the shot was ruled to have gotten off in time.  Oakley rebounded the miss and fed Pippen again for a short banker.  This gave the Bulls a 100-92 lead with just under 3:00 to go.  At the 2:30 minute mark, Jordan’s driving layup put Chicago up 102-93.

Pippen fouled out subsequently and was given a standing ovation after his season-high of 24 points.  Nance hit two free throws after the Pippen foul and then Price hit two more after a Harper steal.  The Bulls then ran the shot clock down and had to inbounds from half court with 5 on the clock.

They hit Corzine, who immediately found Jordan on a cut for what seemed to be an easy layup.  Nance came out of nowhere to block the shot but was called for a foul (much to the dismay of everyone in a Cavs uniform).  Jordan hit two free throws for a 104-97 lead with 1:35 to go.  Jordan then got his 4th foul on what amounted to a makeup call, but Daugherty could only split the free throws.

MJ missed at the end of the clock, but Daugherty threw away the outlet pass to Ron Harper with under a minute to go.  The Cavs got a second chance after Harper knocked the ball away from Jordan.  Price then nailed a pull-up three from the top to cut the Bulls lead to 104-101.  Chicago called timeout with 33 seconds to go.

They ran down the shot clock before Sparrow missed from the corner.  Jordan had a tip at it but ultimately it was Oakley who dove on the floor to get the rebound.  He fed Jordan, who was fouled with 7 seconds to go.

Michael’s two free throws ended up sealing the game as the Bulls would move on in the playoffs for the first time since 1981 (when Jordan was a senior in high school).

The Bulls would run into the Pistons and the new Jordan Rules.  The Pistons held Jordan to just about 49% from the field in their 5-game series victory.  Jordan had shot 53.5% from the field during the 1988 season.  And although MJ still did average 27.4 points per game against the Pistons, only two other Bulls were in double figures as the Bulls were held under 80 points in both of their home games.  The Pistons defense was just starting to make a name for themselves, especially against the Bulls.

Cleveland starters (points scored)

Mike Sanders (13) – Small Forward

Larry Nance (11) – Power Forward

Brad Daugherty (16) – Center

Mark Price (25) – Point Guard

Ron Harper (17) – Shooting Guard

Cleveland bench (points scored)

Hot Rod Williams (11)

Craig Ehlo (8)

Chris Dudley (0)

Cleveland Coach: Lenny Wilkens

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (24) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (8) – Power Forward

Dave Corzine (14) – Center

Sam Vincent (2) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (39) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Brad Sellers (2)

John Paxson (3)

Horace Grant (8)

Rory Sparrow (7)

Chicago Coach: Doug Collins


Michael Jordan and the Bulls were able to survive Cleveland in 1988, but 1989 would bring on a bigger challenge *photo courtesy of My MJ

May 17, 1988 – West Semifinals, Game 5: Utah Jazz 109 @Los Angeles Lakers 111

In the 1988 Western Conference Semifinals, the Lakers were in a 2-2 series (or worse) for only the 3rd time in the 1980’s.  The other two times were in 1986 when they survived the Dallas Mavericks but lost to the Houston Rockets in 5 games.

But the Utah Jazz and their young stars, John Stockton and Karl Malone, were putting a challenge into the world champs.  After the Lakers blew them out in Game 1, the Jazz won the next two games to take a 2-1 series lead.  But they couldn’t put a knockout punch on the Lakers in Game 4 at home and lost 113-100.  But the Jazz would still be a force to be reckoned with despite only playing 6 people.

Thurl Bailey had a good series for Utah off the bench to help Stockton & Malone.  Guard Bob Hansen and 7’4″ center Mark Eaton also made their contributions.  Veteran Marc Iavaroni provided hustle and a physical presence.  The Jazz had taken three in a row from Portland in the 1st round after the Blazers won the first game at home and were surprising a lot of people.

The Lakers were usually led by Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy.  But Kareem looked almost all of his 41 years of age in this game and his average was down to 12.5 points per game in this series.  But 5th-year guard Byron Scott had stepped up to average 21.7 points per game in 1988 and averaged more against the Jazz.

John Stockton showed how constructively he was running the Utah offense early by getting 6 assists on the Jazz’ first 7 baskets.  Karl Malone got Utah’s first 8 points.  But everyone got involved for the Lakers as all 5 starters scored (including 6 early points from Kareem) to square the game at 14.  Then Byron Scott got a steal and fed A.C. Green for a breakaway slam.  Scott followed that up with a three to give L.A. a 5-point lead.

Scott’s pull-up in the lane put the Lakers up 23-17 but then he committed his 2nd foul and sat down.  Stockton led Utah back but they trailed 37-32 after one quarter when Karl Malone got a technical after the buzzer.

Mychal Thompson provided a spark for the Lakers off the bench as he got 10 points and 8 rebounds in 6 minutes.  His putback and three-point play gave the Lakers a 44-36 lead.  But then Eaton put back a Bailey miss and Stockton found Bailey in the lane for a jumper.  Malone then completed a strong move inside and Bailey hit two free throws to tie the game at 44.

The teams matched each other before Utah took a 58-55 lead late in the 2nd quarter when Stockton got his 14th assist of the half on a Bailey field goal.  The playoff record of 24 assists was set by the point guard on the other side, Magic Johnson, in 1984.

On back-to-back possessions, Byron Scott demonstrated that he wasn’t just a jump shooter anymore.  He drove down the lane twice for slams, once passing up an open shot, to give the Lakers a 59-58 lead.  A Stockton free throw after L.A.’s 3rd illegal defense of the quarter tied the game at 59 at halftime.

The Lakers weren’t quite in a precarious position with being tied at the half in a critical Game 5 at home but they came out with urgency in the 3rd quarter.  L.A. didn’t even commit one foul in the quarter (or as Utah probably put it, they weren’t called for one).

Los Angeles got their transition game going with Magic, Scott and Worthy leading the way.  They took a lead and kept it but Utah stayed within striking distance.  Stockton got 4 more assists as well as 4 points.  But the Lakers took an 86-78 lead late in the quarter when Thompson drove down the lane for a slam that just beat the shot clock.  The score stayed the same after three quarters.

Thompson increased it to 10 by putting back a Michael Cooper miss to start the 4th quarter.  But Stockton scored 5 of Utah’s next 7 points to cut that lead in half.  Stcokton later found Malone in the post for a three-point play.  Then he knocked it away from Kareem and hit a pull-up jumper at the other end to cut L.A.’s lead to 92-91.  Stockton had also made a presence at the defensive end with several steals, deflections and other deterrents.  As legendary Laker announcer said, “Boy, it’s a good thing he didn’t miss the bus.”

Stockton continued his assault by feeding Bailey for a hook shot that gave Utah a 93-92 lead.  But Scott and Worthy responded with jumpers.  Then after Eaton fouled out, Scott fed Magic on a cut for a 98-94 Lakers lead.

Utah cut it back to one before Scott hit a three on a Kareem kickout.  The Lakers continued to hold a 103-100 lead when Kareem fouled out.  The Jazz responded by hitting four straight free throws to take a 104-103 with 2:40 left.  Magic went right into the post, spun and banked one in to give L.A. the advantage back.

Stockton then fouled Scott in transition after Hansen missed in the lane.  Scott hit 1 of 2 from the line.  Malone also split his pair of free throws after Stockton stole a rebound from A.C. Green.  With 1:04 to go, Utah trailed 106-105.  But Stockton stripped Magic on a drive down the lane.  He then fed Malone for a breakaway slam and his 24th assist, tying Magic’s record.

The Lakers called timeout down 107-106 with 47 seconds to go.  Magic controlled the ball and fed Worthy in the post.  James took his time and hit a jumper in the lane with 31 seconds to go.  Utah didn’t call timeout.  Stockton penetrated and hit Hansen.  Hansen then drove, got in the air, and found Bailey on the baseline at the last second.  Thurl rose up and swished the jumper for his 28th point with 12 seconds to go.  L.A. called their last timeout.

Michael Cooper then came into the game to inbound.  He got it to Magic, who drove to the lane.  Cooper went to the top of the key and Magic kicked it to him after Stockton went to double-team Magic.  Cooper nailed an open shot for his only field goal of the game with 7 seconds left.  Utah now called timeout.

The last two inbounds plays for the Jazz left something to be desired.  On the first play, Iavaroni inbounded with a timeout in his pocket.  But nobody came to the ball and Iavaroni threw a lofting ball in the air toward Bailey that was grabbed by Worthy for an easy interception.  Worthy was fouled immediately with 5 seconds to go.  He split his free throws and Utah called their last timeout.

On the second inbounds play, Frank Layden (who would retire as coach 17 games into the 1989 season thus starting the tenure of Jerry Sloan) brought in rookie Scott Roth for his first action of the game.  Roth was to inbound the ball.  After not finding anybody initially, he had to get it to Stockton near halfcourt where he was double-teamed.  The pressure on Stockton forced him to find the open man, Roth, too late as the Jazz couldn’t get a shot off before the buzzer.

The Lakers survived but had yet to put the Jazz away after Utah thrashed them 108-80 in Game 6.  But L.A. survived Game 7, 109-98, with Magic, Worthy and Scott each scoring over 20 points.  The Lakers would go on to play Dallas in the Western Conference Finals.  Malone had 31 points and 15 rebounds while Stockton had 29 points and 20 assists in their final appearance of 1988.

Utah was looked at as a team of the future after this series.  But it took them 4 years to take that next step into the conference finals, this included 1st round losses in 1989 and 1990 when they had home-court advantage.

Utah starters (points scored)

Marc Iavaroni (6) – Small Forward

Karl Malone (27) – Power Forward

Mark Eaton (10) – Center

John Stockton (23) – Point Guard

Bobby Hansen (15) – Shooting Guard

Utah bench (points scored)

Thurl Bailey (28)

Scott Roth (0)

Utah Coach: Frank Layden

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (27) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (5) – Power Forward

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (14) – Center

Magic Johnson (20) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (24) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Mychal Thompson (18)

Michael Cooper (3)

Kurt Rambis (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Pat Riley

karl_malone_1988 stockton-lakers

Karl Malone and John Stockton almost led Utah to a big upset of beating the Lakers in 1988 *photos courtesy of Chocolate City Web and Sports Illustrated for Kids

May 20, 1988 – East Semifinals, Game 6: Boston Celtics 102 @Atlanta Hawks 100

It was the playoffs again, so naturally K.C. Jones played his Celtics starters around 40 minutes per game.  That didn’t affect the Celtics until after winning the first two games of the Semifinals, just like 1987.

Boston had taken care of the Knicks in the 1st round and dominated the Atlanta Hawks in the first two games at the Boston Garden, especially early on.  In Game 1, Boston scored 38 points in the 1st quarter.  In Game 2, they held the Hawks to 9 points in the 1st quarter.

The Hawks still had the same core as 1987.  Dominique Wilkins and Kevin Willis were at the forwards.  Tree Rollins was in the middle.  Doc Rivers and Randy Wittman manned the starting back court.  Antoine Carr, Cliff Levingston, Spud Webb, John Battle and Scott Hastings made the Hawks deep off the bench.  Mike McGee and 1987 1st round pick Dallas Comegys were traded early in the season.  Jon Koncak had been out since February with a leg injury.

The Hawks had started out splendidly in 1988 and coach Mike Fratello was the coach of the Eastern All-Stars.  But the Hawks lost 6 of their final 9 games to fall to 4th place in the East.  They rebounded to beat Milwaukee in 5 games in the 1st round.

They rebounded again after losing the first two in Boston.  Wilkins and Willis led the Hawks to a big Game 3 victory.  Doc Rivers was the star of Game 4 with 22 assists, including 15 in a half which is still tied for the record.  Wilkins also scored 40 and Spud Webb got 17 off the bench as the Hawks ran the tired Celtics starters out of the gym for the 2nd straight game.  The series was now tied at 2.

Back in Game 5 at the Garden, things were going normally for the first three quarters as Boston led 77-69.  Then Atlanta, highlighted by Wilkins rebound-slamming his own missed jumper, outscored Boston 43-27 in the 4th quarter and won 112-104.  The Hawks now led 3-2 going back to the Omni.  Wilkins, Willis and Rivers each had over 20 and Cliff Levingston, for this game, made a contribution off the bench for 16 points.  Could the Hawks really upset the Celtics and move on to play Detroit?

Chuck Daly was one of many in the Omni to find out.  The Hawks crowd was also much more spirited than most normal Hawks crowds, although their mid-80’s team drew better crowds normally than they did in the late-00’s and early-10’s.  But this crowd was ready to go crazy when the Hawks defeated the Celtics and moved on to the Conference Finals for the first time since 1970, when they were in the Western Conference.

But the Celtics put some dampers in those plans early by throwing some hay-makers.  Danny Ainge hit a three off the tip and Kevin McHale, who had been slowed somewhat in this series, hit a turnaround fall-away in the lane.  Back-to-back three-point plays by Larry Bird and Ainge put Boston up 15-6 and forced a Hawks timeout.

But then Wilkins, Rivers and the Hawks fast break woke up a bit.  Doc found Dominique for a double-pump in the lane.  Then Rivers got a steal and Wilkins fed Willis for a layup.  The Celtics kept their advantage thanks to Bird and McHale but Atlanta kept coming on with their defense and transition game.  Wilkins led the way with 10 points but Webb started the bench factor by hitting a pull-up jumper from the top to cut Boston’s lead to 32-30 at the end of the 1st quarter.

The Hawks bench continued its assault to start the 2nd quarter.  Carr hit a free throw.  Webb found Battle for a pull-up in transition.  Levingston kicked out to Webb for a jumper from the top.  Then after a Boston timeout, Webb got a breakaway after a Levingston outlet.  The Hawks now led 37-32.  But Dennis Johnson’s three-point play on a drive at the end of the shot clock not only stopped the run but was D.J.’s first two points of the game.

The teams literally battled back-and-forth for the 2nd quarter.  McHale led the way for Boston with 19 first half points.  Wilkins had 22 including a big slam in transition.  But the final lead change of the half came when McHale kicked out to D.J. for a jumper from the top.  This gave the Celtics a 58-57 lead at the half.

Rivers scored 7 early points in the 2nd half but Boston took a 72-66 lead after a 6-0 run.  There was a disturbing trend developing for the Hawks.  Wilkins and Rivers were playing brilliantly but people like Willis and Wittman had not gotten involved.  With Dominique and Doc, a future Celtics championship coach, wanting to eliminate Boston badly, they started to resort to 1-on-1 play and late in the 3rd quarter, that hurt the Hawks.  This came at an especially crucial time when McHale and Robert Parish were on the Celtics bench with 4 fouls.

Danny Ainge led the way with 9 points late in the 3rd quarter to give Boston an 83-74 lead.  Four free throws from Wilkins did cut the lead to 83-78 at the end of the 3rd quarter.  Boston increased that lead back to 90-82 when Ainge hit a three and D.J. found Bird for a wing jumper.  Atlanta called a timeout.

McHale committed his 5th foul after the break and Willis got his 3rd and 4th points with two free throws.  Wilkins then put back his own miss but Bird responded by hitting a hook from the baseline after a spin.  Despite Willis getting a few baskets in the next few minutes, the Hawks couldn’t catch Boston.  McHale hit a hook in the lane after a drop step and was fouled.  Then a Bird step-back jumper from the wing gave Boston a 101-93 lead with around 3:00 left.

A Doc Rivers three from the corner after a Tree Rollins offensive rebound and kickout did cut the lead to five.  But after Bird missed a wing jumper, Doc and Wilkins failed to score at the other end and the Celtics had a 101-96 advantage with 1:46 to play.  But Parish missed a turnaround and Rivers hit a pull-up in the lane at the 1:18 mark and it was 101-98.

Ainge was called for a travel with 52 seconds to go on a call that Boston didn’t agree with (they thought he was fouled).  But Parish blocked Wilkins’ shot on a drive and Ainge was fouled by Levingston in transition.  The future Celtics GM split a pair of free throws with 33 seconds to play.  After an Atlanta timeout, they quickly went to Wilkins.  Dominique hit a pull-up in the lane using up only 4 seconds.  This meant that the Hawks didn’t have to foul with a 5-second differential between the shot and game clock.

Larry Bird milked the clock as much as he could but passed it instead of shooting it at the buzzer and the Hawks got the ball back with 5 seconds to go.  They called a timeout.

This play has probably been hashed and re-hashed in Hawks history, but in essence it was the ultimate sucker defense that the Celtics played.  With Doc inbounding, the obvious play was going for Wilkins.  D.J. stayed with him and allowed Cliff Levingston to come and get the ball.  Then when Levingston got the ball, D.J. stayed with Wilkins (and Dominique didn’t move much to get open) and Bird didn’t particularly guard Levingston closely.  So Cliff drove and didn’t look to pass after starting his drive.  Unfortunately for Cliff and the Hawks, he ran into help as he got to the basket and hit nothing but backboard on his layup.

The Hawks now had to go back to Boston to try and win a Game 7 after blowing a Game 6 at home in which their fans were out in full force and now the air was let out.  It didn’t look good but the Hawks would show more than anybody thought they had at Boston Garden.

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (23) – Small Forward

Kevin McHale (26) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (8) – Center

Dennis Johnson (11) – Point Guard

Danny Ainge (22) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Jim Paxson (2)

Fred Roberts (2)

Reggie Lewis (2)

Mark Acres (6)

Artis Gilmore (0)

Dirk Minniefield (0)

Boston Coach: K.C. Jones

Atlanta starters (points scored)

Dominique Wilkins (35) – Small Forward

Kevin Willis (8) – Power Forward

Tree Rollins (0) – Center

Doc Rivers (32) – Point Guard

Randy Wittman (4) – Shooting Guard

Atlanta bench (points scored)

John Battle (6)

Cliff Levingston (2)

Antoine Carr (3)

Spud Webb (8)

Scott Hastings (2)

Atlanta Coach: Mike Fratello

May 22, 1988 – East Semifinals, Game 7: Atlanta Hawks 116 @Boston Celtics 118

Larry Bird started the proceedings for Game 7 in the postgame of Game 6.  He was quoted as saying, “they might as well forget it.  They’ve got no chance.”  Blunt and straightforward.

This game is famous for Bird and Dominique Wilkins but early on, there were other x-factors.  For instance, the Hawks got off to a good start thanks to Randy Wittman hitting his first three shots.  Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and Danny Ainge got the early attack going for Boston as Bird got off slowly.  The teams went back-and-forth as the Hawks were showing that they wouldn’t be intimidated.

Doc Rivers also continued his scoring and dishing from Game 6.  Twice, he came right back after Celtics baskets to score at the other end.  Doc and Wittman each had 8 first quarter points while Wilkins led the Hawks with 10.  Atlanta also didn’t commit their first turnover until the 2nd quarter.  Bird only had 4 1st quarter points but McHale led the way with 11.  Parish and Ainge followed with 6 and 5 points, respectively.  Atlanta ended the quarter on top 30-28.

The Hawks got off to a good start in the 2nd quarter as John Battle hit a pull-up and, later, Doc found Wilkins on a 3-on-2 for a banker.  This forced a Boston timeout as the Celtics trailed 36-30.  Atlanta maintained a 40-34 lead until Ainge knocked down a three and then Bird hit a pull-up from the foul line.  The Celtics couldn’t overtake the Hawks though until Kevin Willis missed a slam and rookie Reggie Lewis hit a turnaround from the post to put Boston ahead 45-44.

The teams continued back-and-forth as Wilkins led Atlanta with 20 1st half points.  Wittman continued his fine shooting with a 7-for-9 half and 14 points.  McHale had 21 and Parish 14, including the last two.  After three straight buckets by Antoine Carr put Atlanta up 58-57, Bird found Parish for a jumper in the lane to give Boston the 59-58 lead with 4 seconds left in the half.

The Celtics started the 2nd half well as McHale scored 6 early points to put Boston up 67-60.  But back-to-back field goals from Rivers and Wilkins cut it back to three.  It was then that Dennis Johnson finally got involved.  D.J. had been scoreless in the first half and seemed like the most tired of the Celtics (only Parish was older in the Celtics’ starting lineup.. and Parish would play for 9 more seasons after this one.. remarkable).  But he nailed three straight jumpers in the 3rd quarter to keep Boston ahead.

But Atlanta didn’t roll over as Carr continued to spark them off the bench.  Wilkins and Wittman kept scoring and Doc kept assisting.  A baseline jumper by Carr gave Atlanta a brief lead.  But Bird’s turnaround fall-away and McHale’s two free throws put Boston up 80-77.  Wilkins responded with a driving three-point play to tie the game.  D.J. and Wilkins exchanged field goals until Atlanta got a chance at the last shot of the quarter to take the lead.

But instead, D.J. swiped the ball away from Rivers and took it coast-to-coast for a layup and an 84-82 Celtics lead at the end of the quarter.  The 4th quarter would be fantastic.  Blunt and straightforward.

Baskets by Willis and Carr offset two D.J. free throws to tie the game at 86.  Then Bird got it started with a jumper from the foul line on a D.J. assist.  Rivers got the bounce on a jumper in the lane after Carr fed him.  Bird responded with a turnaround fall-away from the post.  Willis got the bounce on his own jumper from the post.  Bird got the ball back in the post.  He spun past Wilkins to the middle but lost his balance and stumbled forward.  The foul was called but, as Bird was falling forward, he threw up a left-handed circus shot that banked in.  An incredible “Oh my god! How did he do that!?” play from Bird.

The three-point play gave Boston a 93-90 advantage.  But Battle penetrated and kicked to Wilkins for a three from the wing to tie the game.  Bird then came back and missed his only shot of the 4th quarter (and it rolled out nonetheless), but Larry made up for it by deflecting away an entry pass to Willis in the post.  Then Ainge found Bird ahead on the baseline.  Larry faked by Spud Webb and hit a pull-up as Boston regained a 95-93 lead.

After a Hawks miss, Ainge found Parish for a slam in transition to give Boston a 97-93 lead and force an Atlanta timeout.  Battle and D.J. exchanged driving layups before jumpers from Wittman and Wilkins tied the game again at 99.  Bird came back with a left-handed runner in the lane.  Wilkins hit a pull-up from the top.  D.J. found Bird for a wing jumper.  Wilkins hit a turnaround banker from the post after Wittman gave him a return pass.  The game was tied at 103 and the duel was at its climax.

McHale hit two free throws for 31 points after Rollins committed his 5th foul.  Wittman hit a jumper for his 22nd point on 11-for-13 shooting to tie the game again.  They were the co-stars.

Bird hit a jumper in the lane against a double-team.  Wilkins drove the lane and missed while banging into D.J.  This knocked Johnson out for a few seconds and even drew blood but it forced Dominique to finally miss.  After an exchange of turnovers, McHale hit two more free throws for a 109-105 Boston lead.  Then after Carr missed a turnaround, a haymaker was thrown.  D.J. found Bird at the wing for a three which gave the Celtics a 112-105 lead with 1:43 to go.

Wilkins came back with a jumper in the lane and then two more free throws after D.J. missed at the end of the shot clock.  It was 112-109 Boston with 47 seconds to go.  The Hawks needed a stop.  Bird was in the post against Wilkins.  He spun by him toward the middle and hit a lefty layup over Willis with 26 seconds to go.  The Hawks called a timeout and Brent Musburger gushed his famous, “you are watching what greatness is all about!” line.

Atlanta battled over the last 26 seconds to stay alive.  But they were ultimately done in by controversy and then perhaps a mistake by their leading star.  First the controversy.  After Wilkins scored to pull Atlanta within 114-111, the Celtics threw a long pass to Ainge for a breakaway layup.  Ainge missed it as Doc Rivers hustled back but referee Hugh Evans called goaltending.  It took several replays to determine that as Doc lunged at Ainge’s shot, he didn’t hit the ball but hit the backboard while the ball was on the rim, so it turned out to be a good call.

Then after Doc fouled out with 18 assists, D.J. kept Atlanta alive by hitting 1-of-2 free throws to put Boston up 118-115 with 5 seconds left.  Wilkins rebounded the second miss and took it the length of the floor.  Dominique had Wittman and Battle ahead for the potential game-tying three-pointer but instead took it himself and allowed himself to be fouled by Ainge with 1 second left before he could get a shot off.

Wilkins made the first but contacted only the backboard on his intentional miss of the second.  Time ran out on Atlanta in more ways then one.  This would be the closest they would get, to this day, to the Conference Finals since last making it in 1970.  They would also not advance beyond the 1st round until 1994, when only Willis remained from the 1988 roster.  Boston survived by the skin of their teeth to advance and play Detroit in the Eastern Conference Finals.

As for this game, Bird finished the 4th quarter with 20 points on 9-for-10 shooting.  Wilkins had 14 of his 47 in the final quarter.  Dominique’s 47 is still tied with Sam Jones for the most points scored in a Game 7.

Atlanta starters (points scored)

Dominique Wilkins (47) – Small Forward

Kevin Willis (10) – Power Forward

Tree Rollins (4) – Center

Doc Rivers (16) – Point Guard

Randy Wittman (22) – Shooting Guard

Atlanta bench (points scored)

Antoine Carr (13)

John Battle (4)

Cliff Levingston (0)

Spud Webb (0)

Scott Hastings (0)

Leon Wood (0)

Atlanta Coach: Mike Fratello

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (34) – Small Forward

Kevin McHale (33) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (14) – Center

Dennis Johnson (16) – Point Guard

Danny Ainge (13) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Jim Paxson (2)

Fred Roberts (0)

Reggie Lewis (4)

Mark Acres (2)

Boston Coach: K.C. Jones

bird-wilkins-face-face300350 3-1988-eastern-conference-semifinals-bird-wilkins-celtics-hawks

Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins had many memorable duels in the 1980’s but it climaxed in Game 7 of the 1988 East Semifinals *photos courtesy of and total pro sports

**This footnote I hope to get rid of ASAP.  I have no games from the 1988 Eastern Conference Finals between Boston and Detroit.  Really, Boston was lucky to win both of the games that they did (Game 2 in double overtime after Kevin McHale, of all people, hit a tying three-pointer and an ugly Game 4 by the score of 79-78).  But Detroit showed their heart by winning in Boston for the first time since December, 1982 (Game 1) and then taking Game 5 in Boston Garden in overtime after trailing by 16 points to take a 3-2 series lead back to Detroit.  The Pistons won Game 6 at the Silverdome in what would have been a blowout if not for a final desperate Celtics run to cut their margin of defeat to 95-90.  The crowd was going crazy and seemed destined to rush the court, so the Celtics starters walked off the floor for their own safety with just a few seconds left (setting the stage for Isiah’s excuse for the 1991 Detroit walkoff against Chicago).  McHale shook Isiah’s hand while walking off and told him not to be happy just to be going to the NBA Finals.  Boston was out but would L.A. survive?

June 2, 1988 – Western Finals, Game 6: Los Angeles Lakers 103 @Dallas Mavericks 105

It was a home-court Western Finals in 1988, and the first 5 games were decided in double figures.  But the difference was that the Lakers had blown out the Mavericks in Games 1, 2 & 5 with big 2nd and 3rd quarters.  Dallas had blown open Games 3 & 4 in the 4th quarters in Dallas.  There was still feeling that the Lakers would probably win the series, if not in Game 6 then in Game 7.

But the Dallas crowd was determined that if they had anything to say about it, it would be in Game 7.  Reunion Arena was a madhouse for the 8-year-old Mavericks who were in their first Western Conference Final under their 2nd head coach, John MacLeod.  MacLeod and Pat Riley had shortened their rotations to 7 players by this point.  MacLeod was not helped by Detlef Schrempf being out with a sprained ankle.

The Lakers missed their first 5 shots, but got several offensive rebounds and free throws as Mark Aguirre committed two quick fouls.  But Aguirre stayed in as the Mavs took an early lead thanks to Rolando Blackman’s 8 early points.  They increased it to 20-12 after two free throws from Roy Tarpley.

But then L.A. got their fast break game going as James Worthy got two slams and Byron Scott hit a pull-up to tie the games at 20 and force a Dallas timeout.  An A.C. Green pull-up jumper from the elbow put the Lakers up 26-25 at the end of the 1st quarter.

L.A. continued their run to take a 33-28 lead early in the 2nd quarter.  Dallas stayed with them though as Blackman, Derek Harper and Sam Perkins contributed field goals.  Aguirre went out after his 3rd foul having scored only 4 points at that moment.  The Lakers stayed ahead because of their offensive boardwork but L.A. was not playing a typical L.A. first half.  Magic Johnson highlighted this with 2 points and 6 turnovers.

A three from Harper and a running banker from Blackman gave Dallas a 53-50 halftime lead.  They’re momentum continued to start the 2nd half as Aguirre came back in a hit a pull-up from the baseline.  Later, a three from Perkins and then a steal from Aguirre and breakaway from Harper forced an L.A. timeout as Dallas led 60-52.

Aguirre came out strong in the 2nd half after a less-than-par 1st half.  But the same was said for Magic Johnson as he scored 7 early points but Dallas kept their lead.  That was until Magic hit his 9th point of the quarter with a wing jumper and it was 73-72 L.A.  Aguirre came back with 2 free throws for his 10th point of the quarter.

The teams went back-and-forth from there.  Two more free throws from Aguirre after an offensive rebound gave Dallas an 82-80 lead going into the 4th quarter.

L.A. took a quick 84-82 lead when Worthy hit from the post and Byron Scott hit his 26th and 27th point on two free throws.  But then Brad Davis hit a runner in the lane to start a run for Dallas.  Aguirre hit for a three-point play on a drive.  Harper found Perkins at the top for a jumper and the Lakers called timeout.

After a three-point play from Magic, Perkins hit two free throws.  Tarpley got a slam on a 3-on-1 after a Perkins steal.  Blackman hit a pull-up from the baseline and Harper hit a free throw.  It was now 96-87 Mavericks.

Magic then went to work in scoring or assisting in L.A.’s next 8 points as they cut the lead to 99-95.  Then Magic got another assist when he found Michael Cooper for a three to cut the lead to one with 3:35 to go.  But Dallas hustled their way to three shots on their next possession before Aguirre got a basket on a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar goaltend.  Kareem, who was spry in Game 5, looked like a 41-year-old playing NBA basketball in Game 6.

Kareem did hit a skyhook though to cut Dallas’ lead to 102-100 with 1:49 to go.  But then Aguirre put back a Tarpley miss to increase the lead back.  L.A. responded as Cooper hit Worthy for a layup and it was 104-102 with 1:08 left.  It was the last field goal of the game.

In the final minute, it would be evident to both teams that the referees would not call fouls.  Perkins lost the ball on a drive down the lane on a play where there could have been a foul call.  Then after Kareem rebounded a Blackman miss and L.A. called timeout with 11 seconds to go, they swung the ball to a wide-open Worthy in the left corner.  James could have taken the outside shot but decided to drive.  He ran into traffic and missed.  No foul and a rebound from James Donaldson and a foul from Green that it took the refs a few seconds to call.  Worthy and the Lakers bench weren’t pleased with the play-on non-call.

Donaldson split the free throws, giving the Lakers a chance with 2 seconds left down three.  But Blackman fouled Magic before he could get off a three.  Magic made the first free throw but, in an attempt to intentionally miss the second, banged it off the backboard.  An intentional miss from the foul line has to at least hit the rim.  So L.A. gave up the ball with 1 second left.  Dallas inbounded and ran out the clock.

The Mavericks had forced the Lakers to their second straight Game 7.  Even though it was still thought that the Lakers would probably win, it was still a Game 7 and anything could happen.

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (27) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (6) – Power Forward

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (8) – Center

Magic Johnson (19) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (27) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Mychal Thompson (6)

Michael Cooper (10)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Pat Riley

Dallas starters (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (23) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (14) – Power Forward

James Donaldson (11) – Center

Derek Harper (17) – Point Guard

Rolando Blackman (22) – Shooting Guard

Dallas bench (points scored)

Roy Tarpley (12)

Brad Davis (6)

Dallas Coach: John MacLeod

6. Mark Aguirre

Mark Aguirre led the Mavericks to a Game 6 victory with a big 2nd half against the Lakers in the 1988 Western Conference Finals *photo courtesy of Not in Hall of Fame

June 4, 1988 – Western Finals, Game 7: Dallas Mavericks 102 @Los Angeles Lakers 117

Perhaps its like an NCAA tournament matchup.  There is the favorite and then there’s the team that’s good but shouldn’t compete with the favorite.  The Dallas Mavericks were a good team, but especially in the Forum, they didn’t figure to have much of a chance against the Lakers.  But, also like an NCAA tournament matchup, the underdog has nothing to lose and if they can hang around for any length of time, the pressure goes to the favorite when their season is on the line.

Early on, the Lakers played like they were going to decide the issue early.  James Worthy kicked out to Byron Scott for a three from the top on L.A.’s first possession.  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar then found A.C. Green for a layup.  Dallas countered by missing its first few shots but broke through on a James Donaldson free throw.  But then Magic Johnson drove for a layup and put back a Worthy miss.  The Lakers led 9-1 and all five starters had a field goal or assist.

Mark Aguirre got Dallas back into it by hitting his first three shots, including a three, to cut L.A.’s lead to 11-8.  Magic put the Lakers back up by seven with an up-and-under layup in the post and then two free throws.  The Lakers maintained that lead until Kareem picked up his 2nd foul and Donaldson got a three-point play after penetration from Derek Harper.  That three-point play tied the game at 27 and gave Donaldson 8 points.

Dallas grabbed their first lead at 29-27 when Roy Tarpley, a basketball tragedy of sorts as his NBA career was cut short by alcoholism, got a slam on a Harper feed.  Two free throws from Green tied the game at 29 at the end of the 1st quarter.  The underdog had staved off the initial charge of the favorite and were right in the game.

The Mavericks continued to battle the Lakers even in the 2nd quarter.  L.A. took a brief 5-point lead after Tarpley picked up his 3rd foul.  But a three-point play by Brad Davis cut the lead to 44-42.  Then Sam Perkins hit a wing jumper and drove for a three-point play and picked up Kareem’s 3rd foul.  Dallas was on an 8-0 run and led 47-44 but Kareem came back with a sky-hook from the post as Pat Riley kept him in the game.

Back to back baskets by Donaldson gave him 14 points and gave Dallas a 53-50 lead late in the half.  The 7’2″ 275 ib Donaldson was acquired in 1985 as Dallas looked for a big man to wear on Kareem.  In the 1988 Western Conference Finals, he was doing so and it was a factor in Dallas forcing L.A. to a 7th game.  In Game 7, Donaldson was having the playoff game of his life, at least in the 1st half.

However, Dallas missed a golden opportunity to stake some momentum into the 2nd half as L.A. cut it to one when Green hit a jumper on a Kareem kickout.  Then Aguirre turned the ball over with 29 seconds to go.  Kareem then gave L.A. the lead with 11 seconds to go with a sky-hook.  The Lakers held that 54-53 lead at the half.

Aguirre came out aggressive in the 2nd half and scored the first two baskets.  But the Mavs missed a chance to take a 59-54 lead and Worthy came back with consecutive field goals to give the Lakers the lead.  Aguirre kept his aggressiveness as the teams continued to battle back and forth.

Mid-way through the half, Kareem found Worthy on a cut for a layup.  Later, Kareem was wide-open down-court after a Mavericks fast break failure.  He got a lead pass from Magic, slammed it down, and drew a foul.  That five-point run put L.A. up 70-65.  The Lakers would not lose the lead from there.

But like the underdog, the Mavericks hung around but had missed key chances to take momentum.  Dallas cut the Lakers’ lead to two 4 times, but each time the Lakers came back with a basket.  The latest was a Magic feed to Worthy for a layup on the pick-and-roll.  This gave the Lakers a 78-74 advantage and kicked off a 6-0 run.  Despite Kareem picking up his 4th foul, L.A. stayed ahead and led 87-79 at the end of 3.

Sam Perkins started the 4th quarter with back-to-back baskets as Dallas cut it to four.  But Mark Aguirre had re-bruised a previously injured hand and had to sit at a big moment like this.  I’m sure Aguirre was criticized.  Mychal Thompson tipped in a Magic miss and then Magic penetrated and found Michael Cooper for a corner three.  Magic encore was a steal, a behind-the-back dribble to avoid Perkins and then a dipsy-do layup to put L.A. up 94-83.

Aguirre had to come back in and did but was ineffective.  His only field goal was a breakaway layup to cut the Lakers’ lead to 98-92.  But the Lakers half-court offense got baskets when they had to (this favorite didn’t feel the pressure when it was on) while Dallas missed key shots that would have put more pressure on the Lakers.

The dagger came with just over 2:00 left when Worthy penetrated and hit Byron Scott for a corner three.  Scott was then fouled on the fast break after Aguirre missed a three.  Byron’s two free throws gave L.A. a 111-96 lead and put the capper on it.  The Lakers survived two 7-game series but its toughest test, the Pistons, was still yet to come.

For the Dallas Mavericks, the loss in the 1988 Western Finals effectively brought an end to their good 80’s team.  They finished 38-44 in 1989 and missed the playoffs.  Mid-way through the 1989 season, the Mavericks traded Aguirre to a contender.  They finished 47-35 in 1990, but were swept by Portland in the 1st round.  It was their last playoff appearance until 2001.

But several Mavericks players would experience playoff success and stardom with other teams.  Aguirre went to Detroit and won a few championships.  Perkins made Finals appearances with the Lakers, Seattle and Indiana.  Donaldson ended his career with a title contender in Utah.  Derek Harper would wither in Dallas until 1994 until he was traded to New York and made a Finals appearance.  Rolando Blackman ended his career on those same Knicks teams.  Other success would come from two players who didn’t make an appearance in Game 7.  Detlef Schrempf would become a star for Indiana and Seattle before finishing as a key role player for Portland.  Bill Wennington would get a career reprieve in Chicago and win three titles.

Dallas starters (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (24) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (13) – Power Forward

James Donaldson (17) – Center

Derek Harper (15) – Point Guard

Rolando Blackman (14) – Shooting Guard

Dallas bench (points scored)

Roy Tarpley (16)

Brad Davis (3)

Dallas Coach: John MacLeod

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (28) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (14) – Power Forward

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (17) – Center

Magic Johnson (24) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (21) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Mychal Thompson (5)

Michael Cooper (8)

Tony Campbell (0)

Wes Matthews (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Pat Riley


A 41-year-old Kareem slamming one down as A.C. Green (#45) and future Laker Sam Perkins (#44) looks on *photo courtesy of spokeo

June 19, 1988 – NBA Finals, Game 6: Detroit Pistons 102 @Los Angeles Lakers 103

The Detroit Pistons had grown up and come a long way in the playoffs.  They had avenged their heartbreaking 1987 playoff loss to Boston by beating the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.  Then many didn’t think they would be much of a factor against the Lakers in the NBA Finals.

Then in Game 1, led by Adrian Dantley’s 34 points on 14-for-16 shooting, the Pistons shocked the Lakers at the Forum 105-93.  Detroit gained its advantage with a 35-19 2nd quarter.  The Lakers regained control after winning Games 2 & 3 by 12 and 13 points.  They broke open Game 3 in the Silverdome with a 31-18 3rd quarter.  Detroit came back to win Games 4 & 5 in the Silverdome.  Dantley scored over 20 in each game and Vinnie Johnson contributed off the bench.

More than anything, the barometers of the series was that when the Lakers won, James Worthy had a good game, and when the Pistons won, Dantley had over 20 points and Vinnie scored in double figures off the bench.  The closest margin of victory in the first 5 games was 10 points.  That would change in Game 6.

The Pistons were now 1 game away from beating the powerful Celtics and Lakers in back-to-back playoff series.  But they had to do it in the Forum against a team who’s coach was hell-bent on becoming the first team to repeat as champions since 1969.

Detroit started off Game 6 well though as Isiah Thomas hit a pull-up from the top on the first possession of the game.  Kareem quickly tied it but Detroit took an early lead by getting out on the break.  The main cogs were Isiah and Joe Dumars.  Detroit took an early 17-10 lead, but Magic Johnson made a point of getting James Worthy involved.  Worthy got 4 early baskets on Magic assists.  Detroit still led 26-20 at the end of the 1st quarter.

L.A. started the 2nd quarter with an 8-1 run culminated by a Magic alley-oop to Byron Scott, who slammed over Dumars to give the Lakers their first lead.  The game went back and forth for awhile before the Lakers opened it up to 43-37 after a 6-0 run.  They continued to hold a 53-46 halftime lead.  Magic had a Finals record 14 assists in the 1st half.

The Lakers took an early 56-48 lead in the 3rd quarter before Isiah Thomas drove and was fouled.  Who knew that two free throws would set off one of the most amazing quarters in NBA history.  Isiah then followed up a missed pull-up by hitting a short jumper over Kareem.  After Magic hit two free throws, Isiah came back with a pull-up from the foul line.  Then after Magic found Worthy for a wing jumper, Isiah hit a pull-up in the lane.  Isiah then countered baskets by Kareem and Scott by hitting a double-pump in the lane and then a jumper off an inbounds pass.

Isiah had scored Detroit’s last 12 points but L.A. had maintained a 64-60 lead.  A Dumars steal and Isiah layup cut the lead to 64-62 after Byron Scott had banged his knee against Isiah’s and was out until the 4th quarter.  But a disturbing trend was developing for Detroit after L.A. went on a 6-0 run, no offense was coming from anybody other than Isiah.  This would become a bigger factor with what happened halfway through the quarter.

Isiah got a rebound and led a 3-on-2 fast break.  He hit Dumars on the right wing for a layup but as he did that, he stepped on Michael Cooper’s foot and crumbled to the floor.  After the Lakers got a basket at the other end with Isiah on the floor, Detroit called a timeout down 72-66.  Isiah was out with a sprained ankle.  Naturally, Detroit couldn’t score after the timeout and A.C. Green was fouled at the other end.

While Green was shooting his two free throws to put L.A. up 74-66, Isiah came back into the game.  Although he was noticeably limping, his scoring didn’t slow down.  He hit a runner from the baseline and then a runner from the wing against Cooper while Michael knocked him off-balance and sent him into the crowd.  Inspired, Detroit got baskets from Dantley and Rodman to cut the lead to 76-74.

Then after Mychal Thompson hit a free throw, Isiah tied it at 77 with a three-pointer from the wing.  Isiah followed with a layup on a 2-on-1 where he stumbled over camera people because he couldn’t stop his momentum because of the ankle.  After Green tied it with a baseline jumper, Detroit got the last shot.  Naturally, they went to Isiah who was 1-on-1 against Cooper on the baseline.  Isiah spun and then launched a fade-away jumper with Cooper right in his face.  With 2 seconds to go, the shot dropped in.  Isiah had scored a still-Finals record 25 points in the 3rd quarter and single-handedly given the Pistons an 81-79 lead going into the 4th quarter.

Detroit took an early 83-79 lead when Vinnie Johnson got a layup after an Isiah strip.  But Isiah didn’t have his scoring magic after missing his first few shots.  As a result, Detroit went into a drought and L.A. took advantage.  Magic spun and drove down the lane for a three-point play.  Kareem hit two free throws after Bill Laimbeer committed his 4th foul.  Worthy hit a pull-up in the lane after a spin.  Then Kareem spun baseline in the post and hit a layup.  It was now 88-83 Lakers.

L.A. would eventually take a 92-85 advantage before Isiah hit his first basket of the quarter.  Then Rodman hit two free throws after Kareem committed his 4th foul.  Kareem did rectify a Lakers defensive mistake by blocking a layup from a seemingly open Dantley.  This held off Detroit for a few minutes but L.A. was now in a field goal drought.  Baskets from Isiah and Dumars cut the lead to 97-93.

Then with just over 3:00 left, Rodman put back a Dumars miss and was fouled.  The three-point play cut the Lakers’ lead to one.  Then after Dumars stripped Worthy, Dantley rebounded an Isiah miss and was fouled with 2:39 left.  Dantley hit two free throws to give Detroit the lead.  Detroit was trying to buck the barometer as Dantley only had 14 points and Vinnie was 2-for-7 from the field, while Worthy had 28 points.

After a turnover by Magic Johnson, Dantley missed a baseline fall-away that would’ve given the Pistons a 100-97 lead.  Magic rebounded and went coast-to-coast to give L.A. a 99-98 advantage.  Detroit called a timeout with 1:37 to go.

Isiah scored his 43rd point by hitting a baseline pull-up over Magic.  Magic went to Worthy at the other end, but Rodman blocked his shot.  Dumars then drove and was fouled with exactly 1:00 to go.  Dumars hit two free throws for a 102-99 Detroit lead and L.A. called a timeout.  Everyone was saying it.  Detroit was exactly one minute away from a championship.

But L.A. would put some doubt back in 8 seconds later as Byron Scott hit a pull-up in the lane.  Detroit called timeout with 45 seconds to go.  They ran down the shot clock and gave to Isiah.  But he couldn’t shake Cooper’s defense and missed a tough fall-away from the baseline (actually the same shot he hit to end the 3rd quarter).  The Lakers called a timeout with 27 seconds to go.

They swung the ball inside to Kareem.  With 14 seconds to go, he went up for a sky-hook against Laimbeer and drew Bill’s 6th foul.  There has since been controversy about whether that was actually a foul.  Laimbeer and Kareem did have contact but Bill was straight up with his arm up.  Maybe it was a foul but it shouldn’t be called with 14 seconds to go in a Finals game.  Kareem swished two free throws and L.A. led 103-102.  Detroit called their last timeout.

Isiah was closely guarded by Cooper on the inbounds, so Dumars drove and hit nothing but backboard on a runner.  There was a rebound scramble before Scott grabbed it and dribbled down court.  Rodman pushed him into the stands with 5 seconds to go.  It was just a common foul (unlike today) but it did upset Scott and Cooper briefly.

Scott would brick his two free throws but Detroit couldn’t cleanly control the rebound and, without a timeout, couldn’t get a clean shot off.  The frustration was palpable on Detroit after the final buzzer went off as Laimbeer kicked the ball into the stands.  The Pistons were 1:00 away from a championship and now had to play a Game 7 in L.A. with an injured Isiah.

Unlike Game 6, Detroit’s depth showed more in the final game.  Would it be enough?

Detroit starters (points scored)

Adrian Dantley (14) – Small Forward

Rick Mahorn (4) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (2) – Center

Isiah Thomas (43) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (16) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Vinnie Johnson (5)

Dennis Rodman (7)

John Salley (3)

James Edwards (8)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (28) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (10) – Power Forward

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (14) – Center

Magic Johnson (22) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (16) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Mychal Thompson (7)

Michael Cooper (4)

Kurt Rambis (2)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Pat Riley

nba_g_thomas1x_576isiah-thomas isiah2

Despite spraining his ankle mid-way through the 3rd quarter in Game 6, Isiah Thomas put on one of the best performances in NBA Finals history, but it wasn’t enough to get Detroit a championship *photos courtesy of ESPN, Daily Snark, and Outside the Hype

June 21, 1988 – NBA Finals, Game 7: Detroit Pistons 105 @Los Angeles Lakers 108

Isiah Thomas had apparently not walked on his sprained ankle since the end of Game 6.  There was speculation about whether he would play or not in Game 7.  He indeed, and not surprisingly, suited up.

It was the latest an NBA season had gone to that point as it reached the first day of summer.  But neither team lived up to the weather as each started cold.  James Worthy and Adrian Dantley, the two big barometers, got the only field goals in the first few minutes.  Then Magic Johnson hit a hook from the post and found A.C. Green for a baseline jumper.  A.C.’s shot gave L.A. a 7-2 lead.

But Dantley led the Pistons back by scoring 6 of their 8 points on an 8-0 run.  The game went back and forth for the rest of the 1st quarter but the scoring was dragging.  Each team brought in so much emotion that it was hard to execute offensively.  Detroit led 23-21 after the 1st quarter.  Dantley and Worthy each had 11 points.

The intensity stayed the same way in the 2nd quarter although the scoring opened up a bit.  Worthy was the big offensive force for the Lakers with 20 1st half points.  But L.A. was experiencing what Detroit had experienced in Game 6 with Isiah being the only offense.  Byron Scott was held to 5 1st half points.  A.C. Green only had 2 and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was scoreless and didn’t play well.

Kareem’s struggles were signified when he overthrew Magic on a pass out of a double-team to the top.  An injured Isiah out-raced Magic to the ball and got a breakaway layup.  Isiah got warmed up enough to finish the half with two pull-up jumpers and 10 points to give Detroit a 52-47 halftime advantage.

The halftime break produced a complete 180.  Isiah was never effective whenever he was in the game in the 2nd half, and he very rarely was in it.  Meanwhile, the Lakers came out flying.  It started when Byron Scott got a breakaway slam over Laimbeer.  James Worthy then went on a 7-0 run (including two breakaway layups off great Laker defense) after a Dantley field goal.  This run gave L.A. a 56-54 lead.

Kareem made up for his struggles in the 1st half by finding Magic on a cut.  Then Scott got a steal and breakaway.  Detroit’s only answer was free throws.  Kareem hit a left-handed sky-hook in the lane for his first basket.  Scott got a layup on a 2-on-1 with Worthy.  The Lakers now led 64-57 and timeout was called by Detroit.  While walking to the huddle, Scott and Bill Laimbeer got involved in a little scuffle which included Laimbeer shoving Scott in the face.

Bill got a technical for that and Byron hit a free throw for an 8-point lead.  Scott followed that up with a pull-up from the baseline to make it 67-57.  Then after a Joe Dumars jumper, Worthy kicked out to Scott for a three from the wing.  This gave L.A. a 70-59 lead and the Lakers had hit 10 field goals in 10 attempts in the 3rd quarter.

L.A. was able to continue that advantage for the rest of the 3rd quarter.  Worthy had 31 points and the Lakers led 83-73 going into the 4th.

Detroit missed a chance to score first in the 4th and Magic Johnson pulled up for a wing jumper.  Then in transition, Magic kicked out to a struggling Michael Cooper, who had come into Game 7 shooting 4-for-31 from the field and 1-for-14 from three.  Cooper knocked down his 2nd three and 5th field goal to put L.A. up 88-73.  The game looked history.

But because that all happened in about 2 minutes, maybe, there was still plenty of time.  L.A. proved that its hard to keep the intensity up with a big lead and when the trailing team has nothing to lose.  Detroit went with a lineup of Joe Dumars, Vinnie Johnson, Dennis Rodman, John Salley, and Bill Laimbeer at this time.  Not only was Isiah out, but Adrian Dantley would start his complaining that eventually led to his trade next season of not getting enough playing time.

Vinnie penetrated and found Salley for a slam to cut the lead to 90-79.  The Lakers pushed it back to 15 but Laimbeer put back a Dumars miss and Salley hit an amazing shot from the baseline while Mychal Thompson (who had completely cut him off) fouled him.  That three-point play made the score 94-84 and forced an L.A. timeout.

Detroit kept plugging away and cut the lead to 98-92 with 3:54 left.  Kareem and Magic picked up their 5th fouls and a jumper by Laimbeer after a Vinnie Johnson behind-the-back pass cut the lead to 98-94 with 3:09 to go.  After a Lakers timeout, Rodman deflected a pass and scored at the other end to make it 98-96 and have everyone in the Forum almost gulp their hearts.

But Worthy saved them for the moment by tipping in a Magic Johnson miss.  Vinnie came back with a pull-up from the foul line.  Magic hit two free throws with 1:54 to go.  Dumars hit from the top after Vinnie penetrated and it was 102-100 Lakers.  Then Dennis Rodman made a young mistake by fouling Magic in the back court while trying to deny him the ball.  But Magic only hit 1 of the 2 shots and it was 103-100.  Detroit called timeout with 1:14 to go.

Laimbeer inbounded it to Vinnie, who passed it back to Laimbeer at the top beyond the three-point line.  Bill bricked a chance to tie it and then Salley tipped it into the back court for a violation.  But the Pistons got another chance after a steal.  But with 39 seconds to go, Rodman made another young mistake and pulled up for a wing jumper (not his specialty in 1988 or 1998).  He missed and Byron Scott got the rebound.  He hit two free throws with 30 seconds to go and it was 105-100.

The Lakers got another steal but Cooper missed two free throws.  After Detroit called their last timeout, Dumars put back a Vinnie missed three.  Then Worthy was fouled with 14 seconds to go.  Big Game James (who would earn that nickname on this night) already had his first career triple-double.  But he missed the first free throw.  He got the second one to put L.A. up 106-102.

Isiah came back into the game and fed Laimbeer for a three with 7 seconds to go to cut the lead to one.  The Lakers inbounded to Magic.  Detroit didn’t get to him in time and Magic threw a full length pass to A.C. Green for a layup with 2 seconds left.  When that happened the Lakers bench and parts of the crowd sort of rushed the floor.  Detroit didn’t have any timeouts but Laimbeer inbounded to Isiah about 30 feet from the Lakers basket.  Isiah just fell down and lost the ball at the buzzer (although it kind of looked like he ran into Magic).

The Lakers had done it.  Back-to-back for the first time in 19 years.  The crowd celebrated onto the floor as their team had officially become the team of the 80’s with 5 championships.  But as time would prove, they were aging a bit and they hadn’t seen the last of Detroit.

Detroit starters (points scored)

Adrian Dantley (16) – Small Forward

Rick Mahorn (0) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (11) – Center

Isiah Thomas (10) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (25) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Vinnie Johnson (10)

Dennis Rodman (15)

John Salley (17)

James Edwards (1)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (36) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (4) – Power Forward

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (4) – Center

Magic Johnson (19) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (21) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Mychal Thompson (12)

Michael Cooper (12)

Kurt Rambis (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Pat Riley

magic 88 champaign 1988lakers-worthy1

The Lakers celebrated back-to-back world championships as James Worthy (#42) was named Finals MVP after his triple-double in Game 7 *photos courtesy of van damme was there and Scan Digital



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  1. 1988 NBA Season – Repeat | Matthew Parij

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