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1989 NBA Season – Bad Boys

December 15, 2014


Charles Oakley was the newest addition to the Knicks, acquired from the Bulls for Bill Cartwright *photo courtesy of Raptors Forum

1989 would officially mark the passing of one of the great teams of the 1980’s.  For the Boston Celtics, head coach K.C. Jones had retired after the 1988 season (he would come back briefly to coach the Seattle Sonics in 1991) and was replaced by Jimmy Rodgers.  Larry Bird played the first 6 games of the season and then was lost after having heel surgery.  The Celtics were amazingly 2-4 in those games.

On February 23, Danny Ainge and Brad Lohaus would be traded to the Sacramento Kings for Joe Kleine and Ed Pinckney.  This ended Ainge’s 8-year association with the team.  They drafted Brian Shaw in the 1st round of the ’88 draft and signed Kevin Gamble on December 15.  Without Bird, the Celtics finished at 42-40 and were swept by Detroit in the 1st round.  It wasn’t all bad as Kevin McHale had an All-Star season and Robert Parish was solid.  Reggie Lewis also developed into a scoring threat, averaging 18.5 points per game.

There was no question that the biggest trade in the 1988 NBA off-season was the Charles Oakley/Bill Cartwright trade.  Oakley and 20th pick Rod Strickland were in New York while Cartwright and 11th pick Will Perdue went to Chicago.  It shaped both teams for 1989 and the 1990’s.

Our first two games of this post will be Chicago vs. New York as both Oakley and Cartwright would have their homecomings.  First, Cartwright’s initial trip back to New York.

November 8, 1988 – Chicago Bulls 117 @New York Knicks 126

For the Chicago Bulls, Scottie Pippen missed the first 8 games of the season (including this one) after having off-season back surgery.  In the meanwhile, the Bulls had signed former Georgetown and UNLV star Anthony Jones.  Jones would be waived soon after Pippen returned.  The Bulls also signed forward Charles Davis and big man Ed Nealy to fill their bench after releasing Rory Sparrow and Elston Turner.

They joined a lineup of Michael Jordan, Bill Cartwright, Horace Grant, Sam Vincent, John Paxson, Brad Sellers, and Dave Corzine.  The Bulls had lost their home opener to Detroit before winning at Washington to come into New York with an even 1-1 record.

New York lost their opening game at Boston (while they still had Larry Bird) and then at New Jersey the next night.  They were 0-2 when they were expected to be improved.  Oakley and Strickland joined a deep lineup of Patrick Ewing, Mark Jackson, Gerald Wilkins, Johnny Newman, Trent Tucker, Kenny Walker, Sidney Green and Eddie Lee Wilkins.

This was the Knicks home opener though and Newman got the first basket with a three from the top after penetration from Jackson.  Cartwright got the first opponent basket at MSG with a slam after three Bulls offensive rebounds.  Oakley came back with a wing jumper against his former team but Cartwright had the strongest play as he blocked a Ewing reverse dunk.  Vincent hit a pull-up jumper off that block.

For the most part though, the Bulls were still adjusting to Cartwright’s presence.  He took more perimeter jumpers than he probably took at any other time of his career.  The other curious decision was Doug Collins’ starting lineup without Pippen.  6’10” Horace Grant, 6’11” Dave Corzine, and 7’1″ Bill Cartwright were across the front line.  While this lineup had size, nobody could match up with Johnny Newman at the perimeter (or, nobody was willing to chase him).  It also probably told what Collins thought of Brad Sellers, who would be in the season-long doghouse in his last year in Chicago.

The 1st quarter was fast-paced, like Rick Pitino and the Knicks liked it.  Twice, Mark Jackson pushed the ball after Chicago makes and either got a basket or set up a basket.  But the Bulls got out as Sam Vincent had an effective quarter finding people.  When he found Jordan for a slam on the break, the Bulls led 14-10 and New York called a timeout.  But putbacks from Oakley and Jackson tied the game at 16 and forced a Chicago timeout.

The teams traded baskets for the rest of the quarter as the field goal percentage was off the charts.  The Bulls took a 38-37 lead after the quarter when Paxson found Corzine for a wing jumper with 1 second to go.

The Bulls took a brief 44-39 lead early in the 2nd quarter when Paxson found Sellers on the break for a three-point play.  Trent Tucker came back with a three and Newman gave the Knicks a lead with a breakaway layup and a foul.  Five straight points from Newman, late in the quarter, gave the Knicks a 69-62 lead and gave Newman 20 first half points.  Jordan also committed his 3rd foul late in the half.  But the Bulls cut their halftime deficit to 69-64 on two Cartwright free throws with 4 seconds left.  Wilkins almost gave the Knicks an 8-point lead by just missing a three off the glass.

New York started the 2nd half on a 7-2 run to take a 76-66 lead and force a Bulls timeout.  Vincent hit a jumper off the stoppage but New York pushed the ball right back and Newman got a three-point play.  Ewing then got a slam after a baseline spin against Cartwright in the post.  Ewing followed that by blocking a Sellers shot.  Jackson then pushed and found a wide-open Newman for a three from the wing.  Chicago called another timeout, down 84-68.

The Bulls increased their aggressiveness and got back into the game.  Grant put back a Cartwright miss for a three-point play.  Jordan hit a runner in the lane off the glass.  Grant hit a fall-away from the post.  Vincent then got a steal and layup to cut the margin to 84-77 and force a Knicks timeout.

The Bulls eventually cut it to 88-84 after two Cartwright free throws.  But rookie Rod Strickland came in and sparked the Knicks with a three-point play on a double-pump runner in the lane.  Later, after a Corzine jumper cut the Knicks lead to 92-90, Strickland hit another runner in the lane after Ewing kicked it out to him at the perimeter.  Sidney Green then hit a hook in the lane for a 96-90 New York advantage going into the 4th quarter.

Strickland and Green each got another field goal as New York increased their lead to 102-92.  Jordan led the Bulls on a 6-0 run before committing his 4th foul.  Another Newman three-point play on a drive gave the Knicks a 107-100 lead.  Newman got another layup as Jackson pushed it after a Bulls basket.  Then Newman followed that up with a steal from Paxson in the back court and another layup for his 35th point, a career-high.

Jordan then committed his 5th foul trying to swipe the ball from Ewing on a rebound.  Ewing’s two free throws gave New York a 113-102 lead.  A Jordan steal and three-point play layup against two guys cut the lead to 113-107.  But after two offensive rebounds, Jackson got the roll on a runner and was fouled.

The Bulls cut it back to 118-111 when Jordan scored against three guys this time.  But a Sellers travel on another breakaway chance hurt the Bulls.  They did cut it to 120-115 before Ewing got an offensive rebound and Jackson fed Wilkins for a slam.  Then after a charge on Cartwright, Jackson’s pull-up from the elbow with 42 seconds to go put the game away.

This was the Knicks 1st win of the season and it started a 5-game winning streak.  The Knicks had another 6-game streak early on and were 18-8 when they traveled to Chicago on December 29.  The Bulls meanwhile were 13-12 going into that game.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Horace Grant (18) – Small Forward

Dave Corzine (7) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (20) – Center

Sam Vincent (16) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (31) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Brad Sellers (15)

John Paxson (10)

Anthony Jones (0)

Ed Nealy (0)

Chicago Coach: Doug Collins

New York starters (points scored)

Johnny Newman (35) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (6) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (18) – Center

Mark Jackson (20) – Point Guard

Gerald Wilkins (17) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

Sidney Green (9)

Trent Tucker (10)

Rod Strickland (9)

Kenny Walker (2)

Eddie Lee Wilkins (0)

Greg Butler (0)

New York Coach: Rick Pitino

December 29, 1988 – New York Knicks 106 @Chicago Bulls 108

The New York Knicks led the Atlantic Division with a 18-8 record.  But they were coming off a tough loss in Atlanta.  It was a game in which Patrick Ewing went out after the first minute with an injury.  He was back against the Bulls though.

Chicago was 5th in the Central Division with a 13-12 record.  The Bulls got Scottie Pippen back and had made a trade in mid-December.  Ed Nealy and a 2nd round pick had gone to Phoenix for sharp-shooter Craig Hodges.  Hodges went right into the rotation and was a key shooter.

Not only was Pippen back but he was in the starting lineup.  He helped the Bulls get off to an 8-2 start against the Knicks.  That lead was eventually increased to 24-14 despite Jordan only scoring 6 points.  Pippen and Sam Vincent had led the way to give Chicago that advantage.

But the Knicks bench got them back into it (it also helped that Jordan got a longer rest than usual because of a ailing knee).  Rod Strickland, Kenny Walker and Eddie Lee Wilkins each got field goals in a 7-0 run.  Wilkins got two more layups after steals from Strickland and Trent Tucker, but he missed a free throw that could have tied the game at the end of the 1st quarter.  Chicago led 27-26.

Jordan started to get going a bit in the 2nd quarter with a fall-away jumper after going 1-on-1.  Later, he got a three-point play on a breakaway layup after a Sam Vincent lob pass.  This three-point play put Chicago up 47-41.  Then MJ got a block and Vincent found Pippen on a 3-on-1 break for a slam.  Jordan followed that up with a pull-up from the baseline and then Pippen got another slam from Vincent on a 3-on-1.  The Bulls eventually took a 56-43 lead.

But Rod Strickland came in and gave the Knicks a huge spark.  First, he hit a turnaround in the lane and then he got a steal and found Kenny Walker for a baseline jumper.  Strickland then got a steal and layup off the press.  Later, he got another steal and an Eddie Lee Wilkins layup cut the Bulls lead to 58-56.  Strickland’s finale to his personal show was a three-pointer to give New York the lead.  Vincent came right back with a pull-up to give Chicago a 60-59 lead.  That score held at halftime.

The Knicks took a small lead when Bill Cartwright picked up his 4th foul but Jordan and Pippen brought them back to tie the game at 72.  In fact, Michael and Scottie almost singlehandedly kept the Bulls even with New York throughout the 3rd quarter.  Pippen had started inconsistently in his second season but was starting to come around and develop into the star he would become.  This game kicked off 26 out of the next 27 games in which Pippen scored in double figures.  The game was tied at 84 going into the 4th.

Ewing started the 4th quarter with a jumper in the lane and then a tip-in of his own miss.  Mark Jackson then drove down the lane for a layup.  New York led 90-86 and Chicago called a timeout.  After Hodges and Jordan hit jumpers to tie the game.  Ewing was called for his 5th foul on an offensive foul.

Knicks coach Rick Pitino didn’t like the call and argued to the point of getting a technical.  It was a point that Pitino didn’t agree with.  He argued further and got another technical for an ejection.  Hodges’ two free throws gave Chicago a 92-90 lead.

Jordan’s baseline jumper in transition increased the lead to four.  But then Gerald Wilkins (no relation to Eddie Lee but Gerald is the brother of Dominique) hit two field goals to square the game at 94.  Jackson then gave New York the lead with a finger roll after a behind-the-back dribble.  But Pippen came right back with a banker and a foul.  Scottie then found Hodges for a baseline jumper and a 99-96 lead.

The Bulls took a four-point lead when Pippen found Horace Grant for a three-point play on the break.  But Gerald Wilkins came back with a three and Jackson hit two free throws for a 103-102 New York advantage.  Jordan came back by breaking the press and hitting a layup against Ewing.  But Patrick came right back with a turnaround banker in the post and a foul.  The three-point play gave the Knicks a 106-104 lead with 59 seconds to go.

Jordan tied it after a timeout with a drive down the lane and finger roll.  Ewing then missed a runner from the wing at the end of the shot clock and the Bulls got the ball and a timeout with 22 seconds to go.

Chicago ran the clock down and gave it to Jordan (surprise! surprise!).  He drove baseline but his shot was blocked by Ewing.  Grant got the rebound and missed. New York then back-tapped it to the free throw line where Pippen was standing.  Scottie faked and then hit a jumper in the lane at the buzzer.  The Bulls had won and Pippen had been jump-started.

The Bulls won their next two games but then dropped two in a row before traveling to Atlanta on January 10.

New York would lose the next night in Charlotte for a three-game losing streak.  Fortunately, that would be tied for the longest losing streak for the Knicks during the season.  They won the Atlantic Division with a 52-30 record.  Unfortunately for New York, they weren’t done seeing Chicago.

New York starters (points scored)

Johnny Newman (15) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (6) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (23) – Center

Mark Jackson (13) – Point Guard

Gerald Wilkins (15) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

Rod Strickland (12)

Trent Tucker (3)

Sidney Green (7)

Kenny Walker (4)

Eddie Lee Wilkins (8)

New York Coach: Rick Pitino

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (23) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (9) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (6) – Center

Sam Vincent (10) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (37) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Craig Hodges (14)

John Paxson (4)

Brad Sellers (0)

Dave Corzine (5)

Jack Haley (0)

Chicago Coach: Doug Collins

January 10, 1989 – Chicago Bulls 104 @Atlanta Hawks 101

Coming into the day, the Chicago Bulls were 16-14 and tied with the Philadelphia 76ers for the 6th spot in the East.  The teams ahead of them in order were the Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks.  The Hawks were 21-11 and 4 games behind the Cavaliers for the top spot in the East.

Atlanta had some changes since taking Boston to the 7th game in 1988.  Scott Hastings was lost to the Miami Heat in the expansion draft.  Randy Wittman was traded to Sacramento on the day before the draft in exchange for veteran guard Reggie Theus.  Atlanta also gave up its 1988 1st round pick in that deal.  Tree Rollins signed as a free agent in Cleveland.  Atlanta filled its hole in the middle by signing veteran Moses Malone.  While getting stars like Theus and Malone looks good on paper, the chemistry was off and it would show.

Then insult was added to injury when Kevin Willis had to sit out the entire 1989 season with a knee injury.  But the Hawks record was still successful with Theus and Malone teaming with Dominique Wilkins and Doc Rivers.  Cliff Levingston moved into the starting lineup but the Hawks bench was still strong.  Players like Antoine Carr, John Battle, Spud Webb, Jon Koncak and Dudley Bradley gave coach Mike Fratello depth.

The Bulls had lost two in a row since point guard Sam Vincent had injured his back in practice against Charles Davis.  Davis had played sparingly in his first season in Chicago, but he and rookie Will Perdue got a few minutes in this one.

These two teams battled to an 11-10 Bulls advantage early on.  Michael Jordan scored 7 of those 11 points.  Then John Paxson, who was starting for Vincent, penetrated and found Horace Grant for a slam.  Bill Cartwright hit a turnaround from the baseline.  Jordan followed-slammed a Grant miss on the break.  Chicago was now on a 6-0 run, led 17-10, and Atlanta called a timeout.

Atlanta stayed in it briefly as Wilkins scored 10 points.  But a Jordan three-point play and a Paxson jumper off Jordan penetration increased the lead.  It grew to 28-19 when Scottie Pippen penetrated and found Cartwright for a slam.  For Pippen, this would be the final time until the 2001 season that he would come off the bench.  Pippen got a breakaway slam on an MJ feed.  Then after Atlanta had called a timeout, Jordan out-raced two Hawks to a pass at halfcourt and got a breakaway slam for a 32-19 Chicago lead.

Mike Fratello went exclusively to his bench as Webb, Battle, Bradley, Carr and Koncak all saw the floor at the same time.  The strategy worked as Atlanta got back into the game (although it did help that Jordan got his rest at this time).  Carr hit two free throws.  Webb got a three-point play with a runner off the glass in transition.  Battle then hit a pull-up in transition and Chicago called a timeout.  But the quarter ended with Bradley hitting a jumper and a free throw and Chicago’s lead was down to 32-29.

Two more free throws from Bradley and a three-point play from Battle put the run at 15-0 before Jordan’s double-pump on a baseline drive gave him 16 points and broke the run.  But the Bulls offense continued to struggle and Jordan seemed to be the only answer.  Atlanta increased its lead to as big as 7 a few times in the second quarter.  But Jordan’s 11 points, including a three-point play on a slam over Moses and Dominique, kept the margin closer for the rest of the half.  A runner by Doc Rivers put Atlanta up 58-54 at the half.

A spin and fall-away from the foul line by Jordan tied the game at 60 early in the 2nd half and forced an Atlanta timeout.  After the stoppage, the Hawks slowly increased their lead.  Carr hit a banker after a spin.  Rivers penetrated and found Wilkins for a wing jumper.  Rivers got a three-point play on a drive and later hit a pull-up jumper in the lane in transition.  This gave Atlanta a 74-66 lead.  It increased to ten when Moses hit two free throws.

Near the end of the quarter, another three-point play on a running banker from Spud Webb gave the Hawks a 12-point lead.  It increased to 85-71 when Webb found Jon Koncak for a baseline jumper in transition.  A turnaround jumper in the post from Perdue that shocked the Hawks’ announcers cut the lead to 85-73 at the end of the 3rd quarter.

Atlanta held that lead through just about halfway through the 4th quarter.  The Hawks led 95-81 and had the ball with a chance to increase it.  But Jordan got a big steal and zigged and zagged his way around Moses in transition for a dunk and a foul.  Even though the Hawks’ announcers gave only Jordan credit for the Bulls comeback, the fact of the matter was that Scottie Pippen changed the game defensively and made a really strong case to never come off the bench again until he was a 14-year veteran with the Portland Trailblazers.

Pippen also got involved offensively as Jordan found him for a reverse layup.  Then Pippen attacked Wilkins with a baseline drive and score to cut the lead to 97-88.  Jordan then got a defensive rebound and then took it himself and nailed a pull-up from the top.  Pippen followed by finding MJ for a lefty layup on a drive down the lane.  Pippen again found Jordan for a pull-up in transition.  Jordan scored three more points to tie the game at 97.  The Bulls were on a 13-0 run.

It would grow to 15-0 when, with under 3:00 left, Jordan found Brad Sellers for a corner jumper.  Wilkins tied it with two free throws at the 2:13 mark.  Jordan came down and missed a quick pull-up three, but Cartwright got the offensive rebound.  Later in the possession, Cartwright handed off to Craig Hodges, who drove down the lane, finished a left-handed layup, and drew the foul.  The three-point play put Chicago up 102-99.

John Battle hit a runner at the end of the Hawks shot clock and Atlanta was able to get a stop as well as Moses rebounded a Jordan miss.  Atlanta called a timeout with 39 seconds to go.  But Rivers missed a runner and then fouled Jordan with 22 seconds to go.  Jordan hit both free throws for 48 points.

Atlanta showed their impatience after a timeout when Wilkins, Moses (yep, Moses) and Bradley took quick three-pointers to tie it instead of getting a two-pointer and playing the foul game.  Each player missed and Chicago held on.

This win kicked off a 6-game winning streak for the Bulls.  It would be tied for their longest of the season though.  But with 10 games to go, Chicago held a 45-27 record and were 2 games ahead of the Hawks for the 5th spot in the East.  But, in the next game in this post after the All-Star Game, the Bulls started a skid with a game in Detroit.  Meanwhile, Atlanta won 9 of their final 10 games, including a win over the Bulls, to not only pass Chicago but Milwaukee as well for the 4th spot in the East.  They finished at 52-30.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Brad Sellers (6) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (2) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (16) – Center

John Paxson (4) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (48) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (14)

Craig Hodges (8)

Dave Corzine (4)

Charles Davis (0)

Jack Haley (0)

Will Perdue (2)

Chicago Coach: Doug Collins

Atlanta starters (points scored)

Dominique Wilkins (28) – Small Forward

Cliff Levingston (4) – Power Forward

Moses Malone (10) – Center

Doc Rivers (12) – Point Guard

Reggie Theus (7) – Shooting Guard

Atlanta bench (points scored)

John Battle (15)

Antoine Carr (8)

Jon Koncak (4)

Spud Webb (6)

Dudley Bradley (7)

Atlanta Coach: Mike Fratello

jordan flying slam

Michael Jordan’s 48 points led the Bulls to a big comeback road win over the Hawks *photo courtesy of tumblr

February 12, 1989 – NBA All-Star Game @Houston: West 143, East 134

This All-Star Game would be the first basketball game played at the Astrodome since 1972.  College basketball’s most famous regular season game was played there in 1968 between Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s UCLA Bruins and the Houston Cougars.  Kareem was back for his final All-Star Game after initially not making the roster.

But Lakers’ teammate Magic Johnson partially tore a hamstring in the Lakers’ final game before the break.  He would only miss two weeks but that included this game.  Kareem stepped in for him for his 18th All-Star Game appearance (technically he was voted on 19 times but he missed 1973’s game).

Not only was Magic Johnson out but Larry Bird was out because of surgery to remove bone spurs in the heels in November.  So this All-Star Game had some new talent, like Mark Price and Mark Jackson of the East and John Stockton, Dale Ellis, Chris Mullin and Mark Eaton of the West.

The West had only one true point guard, but John Stockton set a standard with 9 first quarter assists.  Many of them were out on the break and many of them were to his Utah Jazz teammate Karl Malone.  Malone’s back-to-back buckets on the break (including a thunderous slam) put the West up 18-12.  They continued to increase it as Stockton fed Dale Ellis and Alex English as well for easy jumpers and layups.

The West ran their way to a 47-31 lead after the 1st quarter.  They continued to run to an 87-59 lead at the half.  Clyde Drexler and Tom Chambers were factors off the bench.  Hakeem Olajuwon was doing well in his home city and Stockton was putting up some points as well as dishing out assists.

The West’s lead increased to as much as 31 before an Isiah Thomas three-quarter length bounce pass to Michael Jordan for a slam seemed to get the East going a bit.  They cut into the lead oh so steadily and then an 11-0 run late in the 3rd quarter cut it back to 109-96.  A lineup of mostly Price, Isiah, Larry Nance, Charles Barkley and Moses Malone were the catalysts in that run.

Two free throws from Kareem with 2 seconds to go in the 3rd (his first two points of the day) put the West ahead 111-96 at the end of the 3rd quarter.

The scoring went back-and-forth early in the final quarter.  Mark Jackson gave the East a spark with nifty passes to Nance and Terry Cummings for layups.  The East then made their run with defense (in an All-Star Game?? yep, it happened once) and free throws.  Finally, two charity tosses from Mark Jackson cut the lead to 123-116 with plenty of time remaining.

But then the two people battling for MVP, Karl Malone and Dale Ellis, got going again for the West.  Ellis tipped in an Olajuwon miss and was fouled.  Stockton hit Malone for a jumper from the top.  Then Hakeem got a deflection and Stockton found Ellis for a breakaway slam.  Stockton then got another steal and fed Malone for a layup.

This put the West back up 132-116 and effectively concluded the outcome.  Kareem was able to get one last sky hook to go down from the middle of the lane before the final buzzer sounded.

Karl Malone was the game MVP and he and Stockton (who finished the All-Star Game with 17 assists) would have Utah winning the Midwest Division.  But the Jazz went out in a 1st round sweep to Golden State.

Golden State, although they would lose in the 2nd round, would be one of the many new teams to watch out for in the 2nd half of the season.  Cleveland was ahead of Detroit in the East standings (although Detroit would make a trade three days later that ended up helping them out).  Phoenix and Seattle were right on the heels of the Lakers in the Pacific Division.

East starters (teams) and point totals

Dominique Wilkins (Atlanta Hawks) 9 – Small Forward

Charles Barkley (Philadelphia 76ers) 17 – Power Forward

Moses Malone (Atlanta Hawks) 9 – Center

Isiah Thomas (Detroit Pistons) 19 – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (Chicago Bulls) 28 – Shooting Guard

East bench (teams) and point totals

Patrick Ewing (New York Knicks) 4

Terry Cummings (Milwaukee Bucks) 10

Larry Nance (Cleveland Cavaliers) 10

Mark Price (Cleveland Cavaliers) 9

Mark Jackson (New York Knicks) 9

Brad Daugherty (Cleveland Cavaliers) 0

Kevin McHale (Boston Celtics) 10

East Coach: Lenny Wilkens (Cleveland Cavaliers)

West starters (teams) and point totals

Alex English (Denver Nuggets) 16 – Small Forward

Karl Malone (Utah Jazz) 28 – Power Forward

Hakeem Olajuwon (Houston Rockets) 12 – Center

John Stockton (Utah Jazz) 11 – Point Guard

Dale Ellis (Seattle Sonics) 27 – Shooting Guard

West bench (teams) and point totals

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Los Angeles Lakers) 4

Clyde Drexler (Portland Blazers) 14

Tom Chambers (Phoenix Suns) 14

Chris Mullin (Golden State Warriors) 4

James Worthy (Los Angeles Lakers) 8

Mark Eaton (Utah Jazz) 0

Kevin Duckworth (Portland Blazers) 5

West Coach: Pat Riley (Los Angeles Lakers)


Karl Malone holding up his 1989 All-Star MVP trophy *photo courtesy of

April 6, 1989 – Chicago Bulls 108 @Detroit Pistons 115

In their first game after the All-Star break, the defending Eastern Conference champion Detroit Pistons defeated the back-to-back champion Los Angeles Lakers in the Forum.  And although Detroit improved their record to 32-13 with that win, all was not totally well.

It seemed to start in Game 7 of the 1988 NBA Finals against the Lakers.  Detroit star forward Adrian Dantley had sat for all but token minutes of the 4th quarter with the Pistons behind and making a run.  There were rumors of grumbling from Dantley since then, not just that he lost 4th quarter minutes from Dennis Rodman in that game but that Rodman was emerging, needed more playing time and brought defense and energy to a lineup with plenty of scoring.

And while Dantley didn’t complain outwardly, there was rumors that his attitude wasn’t the best for the situation.  The Pistons desperately wanted to win a championship after back-to-back heart-breaking playoff defeats in ’87 and ’88 and something even so small could tear them apart.  Team chemistry is a delicate thing (just remember the Lakers with Kobe and Shaq: yeah they won, but they could have won more).

There was another player in the league who wasn’t totally happy with his situation (well, there were probably several, but for this context there was just one).  For 7 1/2 years now, Mark Aguirre had been a star in Dallas and had led them to playoff respectability despite the fact that the Mavericks franchise didn’t exist until 1980.  But they couldn’t get past the Lakers, not winning one playoff game in the Forum, and over the hump.  And now Aguirre was starting to hear about what an underachiever he was.

February 15, a day after the Pistons beat the Lakers, turned out to be one of the biggest days in the 1989 season.  Adrian Dantley was shipped to Dallas for Mark Aguirre.  Um, wow!  Was that a good trade?  Did they really need to do that?  Dantley didn’t think so but with the tea kettle perhaps about to explode, the Pistons were able to acquire basically the same type of player (a post-up small forward who was probably the worst defender on the Pistons), but as a caveat, Aguirre and Isiah Thomas were the best of friends growing up in Chicago at the same time.  With Aguirre happy to be in a winning situation (Dallas was tied for the 7th spot in the West at the time of the trade) and playing with his best friend, the Pistons anticipated no such gripings from Aguirre as they may (or may not) have gotten from Dantley.

What’s more, after a 1-2 start with Aguirre, the Pistons ran off a 20-3 spurt heading into this Bulls game.  The spurt had vaulted them past Cleveland by a game into the top spot in the East.  Now they were seeing the Bulls for the first time with Mark Aguirre, who ended up hitting the biggest shot.

A few weeks before this game, Bulls coach Doug Collins started an experiment that… well… was pretty ballsy.  Collins moved Michael Jordan to the point guard spot and inserted shooter Craig Hodges into the lineup to replace former point guard Sam Vincent.  The Bulls won 5 games in a row before Hodges injured an achilles tendon and John Paxson took over as the shooter.  The Bulls then won 3 of their next 4 games but Paxson sprained his ankle and was out.

So now Vincent was back in the starting lineup but Michael Jordan was still the point guard.  There was a specific reason other than the winning.  MJ had posted triple-doubles in 6 consecutive games.  Jordan actually, far and away, had his career high in assists in 1989 with 8 per game (yet was still labeled selfish and a one-man team… go figure).

Other than the Aguirre/Dantley swap, Detroit had its same lineup from 1988 with Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars in the back court with Vinnie Johnson coming off the bench.  Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn manned the middle with Dennis Rodman, John Salley and James Edwards providing sparks as reserves.

Jordan showed on the Bulls first two possessions how well he mastered this triple-double thing.  First, he hit a pull-up jumper off the tip.  Then he grabbed a defensive rebound, pushed it up the floor and fed Scottie Pippen on a cut for a layup.  There was even a pre-game soundbite from Jordan about him considering a full-time change to the point guard position (yep, that actually happened).

Dumars’ step-back jumper and Isiah’s pull-up in the lane cut the Bulls lead back to one.  But the offense was flowing as Vincent hit two jumpers upon his return to the starting lineup.  Pippen only ended up playing 20 minutes in this game after having a root canal done the day before (hey, don’t chastise him, those toothaches probably hurt as much as a migrane.. sorry, had to).

Bill Cartwright also got some inside buckets for the Bulls but a 7-0 run by Detroit gave them a 21-15 lead.  No matter as Jordan was scoring and finding guys, the Bulls went on an 11-0 run to nearly finish the 1st quarter.  The bench of Charles Davis, Brad Sellers and Dave Corzine got into the scoring column on that run.  But a pull-up jumper from Isiah Thomas at the top of the key cut the lead to 32-27 at the end of the quarter.

A banker from Jordan gave Chicago a 38-29 lead early in the 2nd quarter but Detroit’s bench helped them hang around and gave the starters valuable rest.  Jordan, however, was having a typical nice 1st half and his pull-up from the top gave Chicago a 55-45 advantage.

But then Detroit’s defense and hustle, speaking of typical, started to grab hold.  They went on a 10-0 run highlighted by their offensive rebounding.  Laimbeer hit a jumper after Vinnie Johnson missed twice.  Mahorn slammed down his own miss and Laimbeer put back his own miscue.  But Jordan’s 20 points, including the last 5 for Chicago of the half, put the Bulls up 64-59 at the break.

Detroit’s defense took better hold in the 3rd as the Bulls started out 1-for-10 from the field.  With that marksmanship, Bill Laimbeer was able to grab 9 defensive rebounds in the quarter, setting a Pistons record.  Meanwhile, a Detroit 7-0 run tied the game at 68.  But the run continued, Mahorn tipped in an Isiah miss.  Laimbeer outletted a ball to Isiah, who found Aguirre who found Dumars for a layup.  Then Isiah hit a deep pull-up from the top to give Detroit a 74-68 lead and force a 2nd Bulls timeout with 5:53 to go in the period.

The run had another field goal as Dumars drove out of a double team and scored.  Jordan finally ended the drought for Chicago with a wing jumper.  But the Pistons were able to stretch their lead to as much as 10 after a Dumars steal and pull-up.  Detroit led 88-80 going into the 4th quarter.

A Laimbeer putback and three-point play as well as a stick-back from John Salley gave the Pistons a 95-84 lead.  Then after Laimbeer grabbed his 20th rebound of the game on the defensive boards, Isiah found Vinnie for a running hook and a 13-point lead.  Chicago called a quick timeout with 9:04 to go.

While the Bulls made a mini-run, Detroit kind of did let their foot off the gas pedal.  Only Dumars’ scoring and passing (two fancy behind-the-back passes to Rodman after Joe was doubled on a pick-and-roll) kept Detroit ahead by double figures, well that and their defense, before Chicago made their big run with under 2:00 to go.

A three-point play by Davis on Jordan’s 10th assist (7th straight triple-double!) cut the lead to 109-104.  Then after Rodman missed a layup, Isiah got called for a loose ball foul on Vincent.  Sam made two free throws with 52 seconds to go and it was a one possession game.

Detroit ran down the shot clock before Isiah found the newest Piston Aguirre.  Mark drove baseline and laid the ball in at the buzzer.  That, helped by subsequent misses from Chicago and free throws from the Pistons, finished the game.  Laimbeer ended up with 22 rebounds.

The Bulls and Pistons played the next night in Chicago and this happened.

Detroit won 114-112 in overtime and won 10 of their final 11 games to finish 63-19, 6 games ahead of Cleveland for the top spot in the East.  For Chicago, these two losses began a 6-game losing streak that effectively ended Michael Jordan’s thoughts of a change to the point guard position (although he did get 10 triple-doubles in 11 games).

Chicago finished 47-35 (2-8 in their final 10 games) and slipped to 6th place in the East.  The Bulls were 0-12 in 1989 against Detroit and, their 1st round opponent, Cleveland.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (6) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (14) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (14) – Center

Michael Jordan (31) – Point Guard

Sam Vincent (16) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Brad Sellers (9)

Dave Corzine (8)

Charles Davis (8)

Jack Haley (2)

Chicago Coach: Doug Collins

Detroit starters (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (16) – Small Forward

Rick Mahorn (16) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (13) – Center

Isiah Thomas (18) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (20) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Vinnie Johnson (12)

Dennis Rodman (8)

James Edwards (6)

John Salley (6)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

April 13, 1989 – Phoenix Suns 119 @Houston Rockets 111

The other big surprise from the 1989 NBA season was the turnaround of the Phoenix Suns.  First of all, the Suns were a year and a half removed from one of the biggest drug scandals in sports history which in essence lost them coach John MacLeod and players Walter Davis, James Edwards, and Jay Humphries.

Phoenix had gone 28-54 in 1988 but had some young pieces.  They had drafted guard Jeff Hornacek in the 2nd round of the 1986 draft and Armen Gilliam with the 2nd pick in the 1987 draft.  The Suns also acquired sharpshooter and scorer Eddie Johnson from the Sacramento Kings in a trade.  But their big move came on February 25, 1988.  They traded star Larry Nance and Mike Sanders to Cleveland for forward Tyrone Corbin, center Mark West, and point guard Kevin Johnson.

That trade got them three starters for 1989.  The 1988 draft also yielded them three key players.  In the 1st round, the Suns drafted forward Tim Perry and guard Dan Majerle.  In the 2nd round, they drafted center Andrew Lang.  Phoenix also brought on veteran coach Cotton Fitzsimmons.  With all of these key young pieces, the Suns still needed a star to bring it all together.  And they got one in free agency after Walter Davis signed with Denver.

Seattle Sonics high scoring forward Tom Chambers was signed.  He turned in an All-Star season in 1989 as Phoenix started to get it together in December and became the highest scoring team in the league.  Kevin Johnson and Jeff Hornacek started coming into their own and Eddie Johnson became the 6th man of the year.  By the time they took on Houston late in the season, the Suns were 50-26, had won 5 in a row, and were two games behind the Lakers for the top spot in the West.

The Rockets were also about a year and a half removed from their biggest move.  On December 12, 1987, they traded Ralph Sampson to Golden State for Joe Barry Carroll and Sleepy Floyd.  Carroll formed his own version of the twin towers with center Hakeem Olajuwon before being traded to New Jersey early in the 1989 season for four players, including key bench pieces in center Tim McCormick and point guard Frankie Johnson.

The Rockets also traded mainstays Rodney McCray and Jim Petersen to Sacramento for power forward Otis Thorpe.  Thorpe and Olajuwon formed a nice combination inside and each benefited with Floyd running the show.  Future NBA head coach Mike Woodson was signed as a free agent to be the two-guard.  1986 1st round pick Buck Johnson was the small forward.  Houston also had veteran guard Allen Leavell who was in his last NBA season, as well as high-arcing shooter Purvis Short, who was acquired from Golden State in 1987 in a non-Sampson deal.  1988 1st round draftee Derrick Chievous and forward Walter Berry, who was signed at mid-season, filled out the roster.  The head coach had also changed as Bill Fitch gave way to former NBA guard Don Chaney.

Houston had had a so-so season that put them at 41-34 going into their matchup against Phoenix.  That tied them with Seattle for 6th place in the West at the moment but they were a game and a half out of 4th place.

Hakeem seemed intent on them rising in the standings as he started the game with two jumpers in the post.  He later rebounded a Buck Johnson miss and slammed it back home.  But Kevin Johnson (K.J.) and Hornacek got Phoenix back into it with a good start.

This game illustrated the contrast between the Eastern Conference and Western Conference as both teams went up and down and matched each other basket for basket.  A back and forth sequence started when Chambers followed up a K.J. miss to put Phoenix up 18-14.

Hakeem fed Buck Johnson for a slam.  K.J. pushed it right back and found Corbin for a corner jumper.  Woodson hit a banker from the wing.  Hornacek came back with a wing jumper over Woodson.  But Mike hit again from the wing after Floyd hit him with a cross-court pass.  K.J. pushed it back and slammed one down.  The sequence ended when Thorpe started a Rockets run with a putback.

Houston took a 26-24 lead when Eddie Johnson came into the game and nailed two three-pointers.  Houston managed to tie it before Majerle ended the 1st quarter with a runner to put the Suns up 34-32.

The 2nd quarter was more of the same.  Olajuwon led the way for the Rockets while Eddie Johnson and Armen Gilliam gave the Suns a spark off the bench.  However, an 11-0 run by Houston put them up 52-43.  K.J. brought the Suns back with a slam on a baseline drive and two three-point plays on pushes of the ball.  While Olajuwon finished with 23 first half points, Phoenix was able to cut it to 65-64 at the half.

Chambers got going in the 3rd quarter but Houston was able to stay with the Suns as Floyd and Thorpe were the sparkplugs.  The two teams battled to an 85-all tie late in the 3rd before Chambers hit two free throws and Gilliam got back-to-back baskets for a 6-point lead.

The Suns led 93-87 going into the 4th and kept the run going as Eddie Johnson fed Gilliam for a slam and Majerle drove down the lane for a left-handed finish.  Houston called a timeout, down 97-87 with 9:54 to go.

Leavell, Thorpe and Floyd got quick baskets for the Rockets to bring them back into the game.  But Eddie Johnson hit a three and got a breakaway after a Hornacek steal.  Houston cut it back to five with 6:50 left before the teams traded baskets again.

K.J. penetrated and found Chambers for a wing jumper.  Floyd fed Olajuwon for a layup and his first 2nd half field goal.  Hakeem then tipped in a Buck Johnson miss to cut Phoenix’s lead to 104-101 but Gilliam put back a Hornacek miss to put the margin back at five.

An Olajuwon offensive rebound and slam cut the game back to 108-105 but K.J. found Chambers for a wing jumper.  Thorpe’s fast break slam after an Olajuwon block cut it back to 110-107 but K.J.’s pull-up from the top off a Chambers screen increased the margin again.

The theme continued as a turnaround from Hakeem cut the lead back to three and a one possession game.  But Eddie Johnson drove baseline for a banker.  Thorpe’s two free throws cut it to 114-111 with under 2:00 to go.  But Hornacek found E.J. (Eddie Johnson) on a cut for another five-point lead.

Houston did not have an answer this time and Phoenix was able to hold on for their 6th straight victory.  The Suns won 9 in a row and 10 of their last 11 to finish at 55-27.  Unfortunately for Phoenix, the Lakers won 7 of their final 8 games and finished with the top spot in the West with a 57-25 record.

Houston would lose their next game at Utah to fall to 41-36 but won 4 of their final 5 games (including a win at Phoenix).  The Rockets were able to climb to a #5 seed as both Denver and Golden State fell down in the standings with losing streaks of 5 and 6 games, respectively.  Golden State actually lost their final 6 games of the season to fall from 4th to 7th.  They recovered to sweep Utah in the 1st round.  But both the Nuggets and Warriors would fall to the Suns in the 1st two rounds as Phoenix went 7-1 in those two series.

But the one team that would climb past Houston with an 8-game winning streak was Seattle.  The Sonics would host the Rockets in the 1st round and the series would end in dramatic fashion.

Phoenix starters (points scored)

Tyrone Corbin (6) – Small Forward

Tom Chambers (27) – Power Forward

Mark West (4) – Center

Kevin Johnson (17) – Point Guard

Jeff Hornacek (18) – Shooting Guard

Phoenix bench (points scored)

Eddie Johnson (24)

Armen Gilliam (16)

Dan Majerle (4)

Andrew Lang (3)

Phoenix Coach: Cotton Fitzsimmons

Houston starters (points scored)

Buck Johnson (12) – Small Forward

Otis Thorpe (34) – Power Forward

Hakeem Olajuwon (33) – Center

Sleepy Floyd (9) – Point Guard

Allen Leavell (6) – Shooting Guard

Houston bench (points scored)

Mike Woodson (8)

Walter Berry (2)

Purvis Short (0)

Tim McCormick (3)

Frank Johnson (4)

Houston Coach: Don Chaney

chambers kevin johnson

Tom Chambers and Kevin Johnson were key factors in the turnaround of the Phoenix Suns in 1989.  Chambers’ (top) highlight was this slam over Mark Jackson of the Knicks *photos courtesy of operation sports and CNN

April 30, 1989 – West Quarterfinals, Game 2: Portland Blazers 105 @Los Angeles Lakers 113

The last time that the Los Angeles Lakers weren’t the #1 seed in the West was in 1981.  That was also the last year that they had lost a 1st round game in the NBA playoffs.  Since the NBA went to 16 playoff teams in 1984, the Lakers had swept the Kansas City (now Sacramento) Kings, Phoenix Suns, San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets and the Spurs again in 1988.

The 39-43 Portland Blazers didn’t look like they were going to end that streak, but there was a future building.  After back-to-back 1st round playoff losses (while having home court advantage), the Blazers and their coach Mike Schuler were getting dissatisfied.  Schuler was fired in February, 1989 and replaced by assistant Rick Adelman.  Adelman was in his first head coaching job and was a former Blazers guard in the early ’70’s.

While Adelman went 14-21 to end the 1989 season, he had the respect of the players.  That eventually led Portland a long way.  The Blazers had traded stars Jim Paxson and Kiki Vandeweghe in the last two seasons, getting back former Boston guard Jerry Sichting and a 1989 1st round pick.

The holdover stars now in Portland were Clyde Drexler, Jerome Kersey and Terry Porter.  Each were perimeter players who could slash and shoot sometimes (except for Porter, who was an excellent outside shooter).  The Blazers traded their 1986 1st round pick, Walter Berry, after three months of the season to San Antonio for Kevin Duckworth.  Duckworth was a big large man with a soft shooting touch from the post and as far out as the elbow.

Those four players would be the starters on some great Portland teams over the next three seasons.  But for 1989, one of their positive developments was the return of Sam Bowie after playing just 8 games in the past two and a half seasons because of multiple leg fractures.  Bowie was the center taken one pick ahead of Michael Jordan in the 1984 NBA draft.

Bowie was not in the starting lineup for Game 2 as Adelman decided to go with guard Danny Young to increase the Blazers’ speed.  Unfortunately for Portland (a running team), they were going against one of the greatest fast break teams of all time and neither guard could match up with Magic Johnson (but, then again, could anybody?).

The Lakers only roster changes from 1988 involved deep on their bench (which would become a factor later).  Kurt Rambis signed with the expansion Charlotte Hornets after 7 seasons in L.A.  The Lakers drafted guard David Rivers in the 1st round and signed Orlando Woolridge in free agency.  But the lineup of James Worthy and A.C. Green at the forward, Magic Johnson and Byron Scott at the guards and the venerable Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (in his 20th and last NBA season) at center was still intact along with top reserves Mychal Thompson and Michael Cooper.

Portland had chances to take an early lead but missed out (the most obvious was a blown layup by Porter).  A putback by Worthy plus a foul gave L.A. an 8-3 lead.  Drexler then committed his 2nd and 3rd fouls on back-to-back possessions.  Although Portland would scrap and play hard for the game, the 3rd foul on Drexler effectively finished them in Game 2 against a team that turned out to be on a mission.

A three-pointer from Magic in transition gave L.A. a 20-11 lead.  Magic would hit another three and finish with 14 1st quarter points along with 4 assists.  The Lakers led 35-23 after one quarter, and it was only that close because of Bowie’s putback of a Duckworth miss with 2 seconds left in the quarter.

Portland stayed within reasonable range because of their outside shooting, most notably Porter and Kersey.  But they could never really get a stop when they needed to.  Magic led a balanced Laker attack in the 1st half with 20 points, including a running hook shot in the lane that got the bounce to put the Lakers up 56-46 at the half.

Magic’s 2nd most impressive play of the day came early in the 3rd when he stripped Kersey of the ball while Jerome was attempting a jumper.  Magic then took it coast-to-coast for a layup.  The Lakers eventually took an 80-63 lead before Portland got back into it led by Clyde Drexler.

After being held to 5 1st half points because of foul trouble, Drexler scored 8 of his 12 3rd quarter points after the Lakers took their 17-point lead and led Portland back to within 86-76 going into the 4th quarter.

The final damage was done by the back-to-back world champions early on.  Magic had his most impressive play of the day when he jumped into the air and stole a whip pass from out of the Portland post (not only did he steal it, he caught it cleanly).  Then Magic went past three Portland players in transition for a coast-to-coast layup and a foul.  That three-point play was followed by a three-pointer from Magic.

Although he finished two rebounds short of a triple-double, Magic had perhaps one of his best playoff performances with 35 points (including 4 three-pointers) and 12 assists.  The Lakers took their biggest lead at 105-82 after a three from Byron Scott.

But Pat Riley couldn’t rest his starters as the Blazers made an impressive charge that showed off their future capability.  Bowie was particularly impressive at the defensive end.  He had two blocked shots on one sequence and, later, another on Worthy.

Drexler had two impressive highlight reel slams in the late going.  First, he drove baseline and contorted his body when he jumped into the air.  As he contorted, he met Mychal Thompson at the rim.  While in contact with Thompson, Drexler slammed over him and drew a foul.  On the next possession in transition, Porter alley-ooped to Drexler.  Clyde caught it high in the air with his right hand while seemingly level with the side of the backboard.  But from the right side of the rim, Drexler caught the ball with his right arm fully extended and slammed it down without his left hand touching the ball.

The run, of course, turned out to be futile (and so would the series as the Lakers swept a 1st round series again) but Portland would prove to be a team to be reckoned with after acquiring Buck Williams from the Nets in exchange for Sam Bowie.

Portland starters (points scored)

Clyde Drexler (28) – Small Forward

Jerome Kersey (21) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (13) – Center

Terry Porter (21) – Point Guard

Danny Young (10) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Sam Bowie (12)

Jerry Sichting (0)

Caldwell Jones (0)

Steve Johnson (0)

Richard Anderson (0)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (18) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (7) – Power Forward

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (13) – Center

Magic Johnson (35) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (13) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Mychal Thompson (15)

Michael Cooper (7)

Orlando Woolridge (5)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Pat Riley

magic '89

Magic Johnson would have a smile on his face for most of 1989 as he won his 2nd MVP award and put in an MVP performance in Game 2 against Portland *photo courtesy of daily basket

May 2, 1989 – East Quarterfinals, Game 3: New York Knicks 116 @Philadelphia 76ers 115 (OT)

It’s usually a battle of more than just teams whenever Philadelphia and New York get together for a big game or series.  For this particular game, lots of people from the Big Apple traveled down to the Spectrum to urge their team on.  New York fans frequently chanted “sweep, sweep” while Philly fans were about as loud and boisterous as they usually are when motivated.

New York had won the Atlantic Division for the first time since 1971 and had a 2-0 lead against the division-rival 76ers.  But both Knick wins were close, including a 107-106 victory in Game 2 when Mark Jackson hit a game-winning three-pointer.

New York traded their 1989 1st round pick to Portland in mid-season for Kiki Vandeweghe.  Kiki joined a bench unit that included Trent Tucker, Rod Strickland, Sidney Green, Kenny Walker and Eddie Lee Wilkins.  These guys supplemented the starters of Mark Jackson, Gerald Wilkins, Johnny Newman, Charles Oakley and Patrick Ewing and coach Rick Pitino.

In 1988, the Philadelphia 76ers missed the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.  The 76ers had the retirement of Julius Erving in 1987 and the forced retirement of Andrew Toney in 1988 after multiple foot injuries.  Matt Guokas also left as coach after 43 games and went to the 76ers broadcast booth.  He was replaced by assistant Jim Lynam.

The 76ers main holdovers were Maurice Cheeks and Charles Barkley.  Other than that, they drafted Christian Welp in the 1st round of the ’87 draft.  They signed veteran guard Gerald Henderson as a free agent after the Knicks let him go early in the ’88 season.  They traded Roy Hinson and Tim McCormick to New Jersey on January 16, 1988 for Ben Coleman and Mike Gminski, their center combination in 1989.

They acquired guard Hersey Hawkins in a 1988 draft day trade.  They signed guard Scott Brooks (future NBA coach) and also acquired Ron Anderson from Indiana in a trade.  They then signed Derek Smith in February after he was released by Sacramento.

With Barkley, Cheeks, Gminski, Hawkins and Smith settling into the starting lineup for Lynam, the 76ers finished 46-36 and were the #7 seed in the East.

The intensity was palpable after Mark Jackson opened the game with a three from the top.  Jackson was able to successfully get an offensive foul call on Barkley after Charles grabbed a defensive rebound and was swinging the elbows.  Barkley then threw the ball at Jackson (on the ground) and Mark threw it back.  Charles Oakley then barged in and bumped Barkley and each had to be separated from each other.  Neither Oakley or Barkley was thrown out (the refs had to give Philadelphia a chance), instead both got technicals.

But New York took the early lead as two Philadelphia starters, Smith and Hawkins, were struggling mightily.  Lynam finally had to bring in Ron Anderson and Gerald Henderson and each hit field goals to cut New York’s lead to 28-24 at the end of the 1st quarter.

More of Philadelphia’s bench became a factor early in the 2nd quarter.  Most notably, former University of Maryland star Ben Coleman got free for slams on passes from Henderson and putbacks.  Coleman scored 10 points early on as the 76ers took a 36-30 lead.

Philadelphia was able to keep that lead for the rest of the half as Patrick Ewing struggled with foul trouble.  The 76ers led 52-47 at the break.

Ewing started the 2nd half with a turnaround from the baseline and the Knicks took a 55-54 lead when Gerald Wilkins got a steal and Mark Jackson finished on a breakaway.  The teams battled back-and-forth from there as the 3rd quarter was a seesaw.  New York led 79-78 at the conclusion of the period.

A three from Scott Brooks and a pull-up from Henderson gave Philadelphia an early lead.  But a post-up banker and two free throws from Jackson tied the game at 83.  But New York hit more trouble as Ewing picked up his 4th and 5th fouls.  Patrick only had 4 points to this juncture and had drawn jeers from the Philly crowd for missing a breakaway slam earlier in the game.

However, New York was able to take a slight lead but could not put Philly away.  A three-point play from Derek Smith cut the lead to 95-92.  Then Henderson and Anderson responded to field goals by Jackson and Oakley.  Finally, two free throws from Barkley cut the Knicks lead to 100-98 and then a post-up jumper from Sir Charles tied the game.

Ewing hit a turnaround from the baseline for a 102-100 Knicks lead.  But Oakley got called for his 5th foul on Barkley.  Charles tied it again with two free throws and then blocked a Ewing shot at the other end.  Ron Anderson gave the 76ers a 104-102 lead at about the two-minute mark.  But Wilkins tied it with a running hook in the lane after a Ewing screen.

Philadelphia missed a chance to lead when Gminski missed a free throw after a New York illegal defense and, after an exchange of misses and turnovers, the Knicks took the lead when Wilkins stole the ball, drove coast-to-coast, spun, and scored with 11 seconds to go.

Philly called a timeout and Barkley got it at the top.  Charles went 1-on-1 and got the bounce on a pull-up jumper in the lane to tie it at 106 with 6 seconds to go.  After a New York timeout, Jackson missed a runner and the game was going into overtime.

Wilkins and Newman got early field goals for New York in the first minute.  But the 76ers responded as Barkley was able to save the ball to Anderson for a wing jumper.  Then after Newman fouled out with a charge, Barkley tied it with a pull-up from the elbow.  The 76ers then took the lead after Cheeks saved the ball to Anderson, who found Barkley for a slam.

Ewing tied it with a pair of free throws after being neck-tied by Gerald Henderson and having to be held back by Barkley.  The Knicks took the lead with 54 seconds to go when Jackson found Tucker (who had come in for Newman) for a baseline jumper.

Trent wouldn’t hit the game-winner this time as Henderson gave Philadelphia a 115-114 lead with a pull-up three.  Henderson then rebounded an Oakley miss and appeared to be fouled by Wilkins, but the officials called it a double foul on Henderson and Wilkins with a jump ball between Ewing and Barkley at mid-court.

Ewing had the advantage but was called for jumping too quickly and the 76ers got the ball, up one.  Henderson was fouled by Tucker with 13 seconds to go but went from hero to goat by missing the two free throws.  Ewing rebounded and New York got a timeout with 12 seconds left.

The Knicks ended up getting the ball to Wilkins against Cheeks.  Gerald pulled up from the top of the key and nailed the jumper with 6 seconds left.  The Knicks had the lead, the New York portion of the crowd was going crazy, and Philadelphia used a timeout.

They went to Barkley at the top again.  But this time he missed a banker over Ewing.  Patrick grabbed the rebound and the Knicks were moving on.

Several Knick players celebrated the occasion by grabbing brooms from the Philadelphia custodial staff and sweeping the floor.  They would, perhaps, come to eat that celebration.

New York starters (points scored)

Johnny Newman (17) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (17) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (8) – Center

Mark Jackson (24) – Point Guard

Gerald Wilkins (22) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

Kiki Vandeweghe (8)

Rod Strickland (5)

Trent Tucker (6)

Sidney Green (9)

Kenny Walker (0)

Eddie Lee Wilkins (0)

New York Coach: Rick Pitino

Philadelphia starters (points scored)

Derek Smith (9) – Small Forward

Charles Barkley (29) – Power Forward

Mike Gminski (15) – Center

Maurice Cheeks (18) – Point Guard

Hersey Hawkins (2) – Shooting Guard

Philadelphia bench (points scored)

Ron Anderson (10)

Gerald Henderson (15)

Scott Brooks (5)

Ben Coleman (12)

Christian Welp (0)

Philadelphia Coach: Jim Lynam

76ers Philadelphia in 1989

several Knicks celebrated their sweep of Philadelphia by sweeping the floor (across from left to right: Sidney Green, Johnny Newman, Eddie Lee Wilkins, Mark Jackson and Charles Oakley) *photo courtesy of AP

May 5, 1989 – West Quarterfinals, Game 4: Seattle Sonics 98 @Houston Rockets 96

The Seattle Sonics made a late charge into the 4th spot in the Western Conference.  A lot of it could be thanks to a lineup change by head coach Bernie Bickerstaff.  Xavier McDaniel was put into the starting lineup for the last 10 games of the season.  The Sonics went 8-2 in those games.

McDaniel was the second leading scorer on the Sonics in 1989 after Dale Ellis.  McDaniel had been one of the three-headed scoring monster the Sonics had in ’87 and ’88 with Ellis and Tom Chambers (who signed as a free agent with the Phoenix Suns).  But McDaniel was coming off of knee surgery and the Sonics acquired power forward Michael Cage and had second-year man Derrick McKey ready to start.  So McDaniel became the 6th man and it didn’t work out.

Finally, Cage was moved out of the lineup and the Sonics went from 7th to 4th in the West.  Seattle had veteran Alton Lister at center and 2nd year point guard Nate McMillan to pair with Ellis in the back court.  The bench for Seattle included guard Sedale Threatt, who had been acquired from Chicago for Sam Vincent in February, 1988, and 1987 1st round pick Olden Polynice (who had also been acquired from Chicago on draft day for Scottie Pippen).

The Houston Rockets had also climbed to get to the #5 seed.  But they lost the first two games in Seattle.  But in Game 3 in Houston, Hakeem Olajuwon had a double-double and Sleepy Floyd and Otis Thorpe scored over 20 points.  The Rockets and Sonics had played 7 times now in the 1989 season, the home team won each time.

McDaniel, who was 1-for-9 in Game 3, got off to a great start in Game 4 with three early field goals.  Thorpe matched him with 7 early points, including a coast-to-coast drive and slam, but Seattle grabbed a 29-27 lead after one quarter.  McDaniel finished with 10 points and Ellis was right behind him with 9.

Seattle increased that lead to five early in the 2nd before veteran Purvis Short came off the Rockets bench and provided a spark with 8 points.  An Olajuwon block and score at the other end gave Houston a 41-39 lead.  The Rockets took a five-point lead of their own when Floyd hit a three and Short hit a wing jumper for his 10th point.  But Seattle cut it back to 53-51 at the break.

Dale Ellis came out firing for the Sonics in the 3rd as he scored 12 points to put the Sonics back in the lead.  But Houston was able to maintain its lead at the end of the 3rd quarter thanks to the bench contribution from Tim McCormick.  The Rockets led 79-76 but a bad trend was developing.

Seattle was out-rebounding the Rockets badly and it was more blown up when Houston started out cold in the 4th quarter and only got one shot per possession.  Seattle meanwhile got multiple and took that to an 88-80 lead before the Rockets got their first field goal, 4 1/2 minutes into the quarter.

It would be awhile before Houston got another one.  Two free throws from Lister put Seattle up 92-83 with 6:25 to go.  Seattle could not increase that advantage but Houston wasn’t helping themselves either.  After an Olajuwon strip and a Thorpe recovery, Houston coach Don Chaney called for a timeout.  Thorpe outletted to Floyd who dropped the ball out of bounds thinking the timeout had been recognized.  But, at the time, only a player could call a timeout and no Rocket player had.  So it was a turnover and a mental mistake by Floyd.

Things looked worse for Houston when Thorpe fouled out with under 5:00 to go.  But Cage missed two free throws and suddenly Houston was able to get something going.  Buck Johnson found former St. John’s star Walter Berry for a reverse layup on the break.  Then Olajuwon hit a turnaround from the baseline with 3:40 to go.  Short hit another jumper in transition as Houston cut it to 92-89 but missed chances to cut it further.

Finally, McKey hit a runner from the baseline to give Seattle a 94-89 lead.  It increased to six with 1:00 to go.  But Olajuwon hit a face-up jumper from the post, McDaniel was called for an offensive foul, and future NBA coach Mike Woodson put back his own miss with 14 seconds to go.  Seattle led 95-93.

Floyd fouled Ellis at the 11 second mark.  Ellis was an 82% foul shooter but split the pair to give the Rockets a chance, down 96-93.  After a timeout, Floyd and Woodson ran a pick-and-pop.  Woodson airballed a three from the top, but Short grabbed it out of the air as every Supersonic was closing in to rebound.  Short kicked it out to a wide-open Floyd, who nailed a three with 1 second left as the crowd went crazy.  Seattle called a timeout.

Don Chaney decided to bring in two cold substitutes for the last second.  7’5″ Chuck Nevitt was to defend the inbounds pass and 6’1″ 10-year veteran guard Allen Leavell, who was in his final NBA game, guarded 6’9″ Derrick McKey.  After calling another timeout, Nate McMillan threw a lob pass over Nevitt and found McKey jumping over Leavell.  Derrick put it in at the buzzer to end the series.

Seattle ran off the floor as Houston and the crowd looked stunned (kind of like what Houston did with the Lakers to end the 1986 Western Conference Finals).  The Sonics were now moving on to play those Lakers.

The dramatics ended for the Sonics after this one.  Los Angeles swept them in 4 straight in the next round.  This included a Game 4 heartbreaker in which Seattle had a 41-12 lead early in the 2nd quarter before losing 97-95.  The Lakers would move on to play Phoenix in the Western Conference Finals.

Seattle starters (points scored)

Derrick McKey (15) – Small Forward

Xavier McDaniel (17) – Power Forward

Alton Lister (4) – Center

Nate McMillan (6) – Point Guard

Dale Ellis (26) – Shooting Guard

Seattle bench (points scored)

Michael Cage (12)

Sedale Threatt (12)

Olden Polynice (6)

Seattle Coach: Bernie Bickerstaff

Houston starters (points scored)

Buck Johnson (5) – Small Forward

Otis Thorpe (11) – Power Forward

Hakeem Olajuwon (24) – Center

Sleepy Floyd (14) – Point Guard

Mike Woodson (15) – Shooting Guard

Houston bench (points scored)

Derrick Chievous (4)

Walter Berry (5)

Purvis Short (12)

Tim McCormick (6)

Frank Johnson (0)

Chuck Nevitt (0)

Allen Leavell (0)

Houston Coach: Don Chaney

derrick mckey

Derrick McKey’s game-winning layup eliminated Houston in 1989 and put Seattle in the next round *photo courtesy of Beckett Marketplace

May 5, 1989 – East Quarterfinals, Game 4: Cleveland Cavaliers 108 @Chicago Bulls 105 (OT)

The Cleveland Cavaliers had had a great season.  It was their best in their 19 year history.  They had an 11-game winning streak in December and January and were on top of the East for most of the season.

Unfortunately, Detroit passed them in the late going and, because Detroit was in the same division, Cleveland was knocked down to the 3 seed in the East despite having a better record than Atlantic Division winning New York.  But the Cavaliers had won all 6 games from Chicago during the regular season (including the final game of the season, when the Cavs were playing their reserves against the Bulls starters).

Cleveland returned basically the same roster from 1988, and their continuity contributed to their great record.  Mark Price, Ron Harper, and Craig Ehlo were in the backcourt.  Larry Nance, Mike Sanders, and Hot Rod Williams were at the forwards.  Brad Daugherty was in the middle.  Cleveland’s only moves were acquiring point guard Darnell Valentine on the same day that they lost Dell Curry in the expansion draft and signing veteran shot-blocker Tree Rollins as a free agent.

But for the playoffs, the Cavs had some concerns.  Mark Price injured a groin and missed Game 1.  Craig Ehlo had a sprained ankle and missed Game 3.  Brad Daugherty was also nursing an injury and struggled in the first 3 games.  He was 8-for-21 from the foul line and had 15 points combined in Games 1 & 2.  The only consistent players in the series so far were Nance and Harper.

That, combined with Jordan going into playoff mode and scoring at least 30 points in each of the first three games, helped give Chicago a 2-1 lead and put Cleveland one loss away from elimination.  Jordan was also getting some help as Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant and Craig Hodges had good series so far.

Game 4 set off a different trend from the first 3 games in this sense.  The Bulls had jumped out to double digit 1st quarter leads, but Cleveland got off to the stronger start as Nance scored 12 early points.  Cleveland coach Lenny Wilkens had also put Hot Rod Williams in the starting lineup over Mike Sanders to help out on the boards.  Williams also got off to a great start.

The Bulls only offense for awhile was Scottie Pippen, who scored 9 first quarter points.  Jordan did not have a field goal in the 1st quarter, but he got to the line late in the stanza and hit 5-of-6 free throws to bring the Bulls back to within 23-22 at the end of the quarter.

The teams seesawed to start the 2nd quarter before new reserve Mike Sanders came into the game, grabbed 3 offensive rebounds, and scored 7 points to put Cleveland ahead 40-34.  Jordan’s first field goal cut it to 40-38 but MJ had gone 13-for-16 from the line in the first half and added two more field goals to somehow get to 19 points despite struggling from the field.

But when Price penetrated and found Larry Nance for a slam, Cleveland took a 49-48 lead.  It stayed that way at halftime after the Bulls committed their first turnover of the game in the last minute of the half.

A three-point play from Jordan on the break and then an MJ feed to Grant for a layup put Chicago ahead 53-51 early in the 3rd quarter.  But for the first time all series, Mark Price got going.  He hit a runner from the baseline and drew the 4th foul from a scoreless Craig Hodges.  Price later hit a pull-up from the elbow to put Cleveland up 56-55.

Jordan responded with a baseline fall-away after a fake.  Daugherty found Price for a baseline jumper and then Price hit a pull-up three and the Cavs led 61-57.  Jordan hit a baseline jumper and then got a breakaway slam after Bill Cartwright got a block.  Jordan and Price exchanged a basket before MJ got a steal in the backcourt and fed Grant for a slam.  Then Jordan got another breakaway layup to put Chicago ahead 67-63.

But Harper brought Cleveland back with a wing jumper and then a steal and slam.  But Jordan finished the quarter with three more field goals as he out-scored Price 19-14 in the 3rd.  The Bulls led 76-74 going into the 4th.

Chicago increased that lead to 81-76 after Dave Corzine scored on a layup and drew a foul after a baseline spin against Daugherty.  But Nance and Sanders scored on putbacks and Harper hit a pull-up in the lane in transition to give the Cavs the lead.  The game seesawed from there.  Cleveland took a four-point lead twice before Jordan’s baseline jumper tied the game at 95 with under 2:00 to go.

Sanders tipped in a Price miss to give Cleveland the lead again but Jordan tied it with two free throws.  Sanders then missed a baseline jumper and Jordan was fouled on a drive with 48 seconds to go.  MJ split the free throws and Chicago led 98-97.

The Bulls got the ball back after a Pippen deflection and Jordan ran down the shot clock before he drove and was hammered with 9 seconds left.  Michael made the first free throw but came up short on the second.  Daugherty rebounded and called timeout with 8 seconds to go.  Daugherty came away from his 17th rebound limping.  Jordan had amazingly gone 2-for-4 from the line with a chance to put Cleveland away.

The Cavs took advantage of the second life as Price penetrated and found Daugherty cutting to the basket.  With an open layup looming, Hodges had no choice but to commit his 5th foul on him with 4 seconds left to stop the shot.

As mentioned earlier, Daugherty came into the game shooting 8-for-21 from the line.  But he was 9-for-10 so far in Game 4.  Daugherty continued to show that he regained his touch by swishing the two free throws.  But Chicago had one last shot.

Pippen lobbed an inbounds pass to Jordan on the weak side.  But MJ missed the fall-away from the baseline and the game was headed into overtime.

Cleveland continued to take advantage of their second life by taking a 105-99 lead in the first minute and a half.  They had a chance to increase that lead but couldn’t do it and Chicago got second life when Cartwright hit a banker in the lane with 1:43 to go to cut the lead to 107-103.

Hodges later nailed a jumper to cut it to 107-105.  Craig Ehlo, struggling with his sprained ankle, missed a jumper at the 52 second mark and the Bulls had a chance to tie.  Hodges went for the lead but missed a three.  Pippen got the rebound and the Bulls reset but Jordan never saw the ball.  Pippen went inside to Cartwright, who tried to drive but was stripped by Daugherty and Jordan had to commit his 5th foul on Harper.

Unfortunately for the Bulls, they weren’t quite in the penalty.  So Jordan had to commit another foul on Harper with 8 seconds to go.  It was MJ’s 6th and this was a monumental moment.  It was the last time Jordan fouled out in a playoff game.

Harper hit the first free throw but missed the second, giving the Bulls one last chance trailing 108-105.  Charles Davis came into the game for Jordan.  Pippen penetrated and found him at the wing for a three.  He bricked.  Pippen rebounded and found Hodges.  Craig missed on a shot that appeared to come after the buzzer, but there was no controversy because he missed it.

The Cavs had stolen a great opportunity for the Bulls to finish them at home and now the teams were headed back to Cleveland for an all-or-nothing Game 5.  It was later described that Jordan felt about as low as he ever did after this game because of those circumstances.  But MJ got a shower greeting from Jesse Jackson in the post-game as the activist tried to cheer him up.

Cleveland starters (points scored)

Larry Nance (27) – Small Forward

Hot Rod Williams (8) – Power Forward

Brad Daugherty (15) – Center

Mark Price (24) – Point Guard

Ron Harper (17) – Shooting Guard

Cleveland bench (points scored)

Mike Sanders (14)

Craig Ehlo (1)

Darnell Valentine (0)

Chris Dudley (0)

Tree Rollins (2)

Cleveland Coach: Lenny Wilkens

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (15) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (7) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (12) – Center

Craig Hodges (6) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (50) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Sam Vincent (2)

John Paxson (0)

Brad Sellers (8)

Dave Corzine (5)

Charles Davis (0)

Chicago Coach: Doug Collins


Mark Price, talking with Coach Lenny Wilkens, overcame a groin injury to have a big 2nd half in Game 4 against the Bulls *photo courtesy of King James Gospel

May 7, 1989 – East Quarterfinals, Game 5: Milwaukee Bucks 96 @Atlanta Hawks 92

The Hawks had won 9 of their final 10 games of the regular season to pass Milwaukee in the standings.  Coach Mike Fratello had inserted 7’0″ Jon Koncak into the starting lineup to go with Dominique Wilkins, Moses Malone, Doc Rivers and Reggie Theus.  While it looked like a talented team on paper, there were still questions of fitting together.

It didn’t help when they fell behind Milwaukee 2-1 in the series after the Bucks won an overtime game at home in Game 3.  But Moses Malone guaranteed a Game 4 victory and Milwaukee lost their all-star forward Terry Cummings to a severely sprained ankle.  But still Atlanta had to make a late comeback to send the game into overtime for the second straight contest.  Then the Hawks won going away 113-106 to force a Game 5 back in Atlanta.

The Milwaukee Bucks had seen better days.  Don Nelson, who had coached them for 11 seasons, was gone and replaced by former Rockets coach Del Harris.  Cummings and Paul Pressey were hurt.  Sidney Moncrief was in the twilight of his career and Jack Sikma was mostly a stand-still three-point shooter.  Milwaukee still finished at 49-33 and were led by 6th man Ricky Pierce.  They also possessed former Celtic forward Fred Roberts and point guard Jay Humphries (who was one of the names surfaced in the Phoenix Suns drug ring described earlier).  Forward Larry Krystkowiak provided toughness, along with holdovers Randy Breuer and Paul Mokeski.  The Bucks also picked up former Jazz point guard Rickey Green late in the year.

Roberts, who was in the starting lineup in Cummings’ place, got three early layups to give Milwaukee a lead they would not relinquish for most of the 1st half.  Pierce also provided his usual spark to counter Dominique Wilkins’ 11 opening quarter points.  The Bucks held a 21-19 at the end of the quarter.

The Bucks continued to hold a lead with their deliberate pace.  A tip-in by Moncrief put Milwaukee up 35-32.  But then Moses Malone got going for Atlanta with a turnaround jumper and a putback.  A breakaway layup by Moses capped an 8-0 run and put the Hawks up 40-35.  A three-point play by Sikma brought the Bucks back, but Atlanta was still in good position when Doc Rivers hit a pull-up from the foul line to put the Hawks up 44-40 with 9 seconds left in the half.

But then Rickey Green drove and was fouled.  He hit two free throws with 5 seconds to go.  Then Doc turned the ball over on the sideline near halfcourt by stepping out of bounds with 2 seconds left.  After a timeout, Pierce threw a long pass to a wide open Roberts for a layup at the buzzer.  The Bucks had tied the game at 44.

The momentum didn’t hold for Milwaukee through the break as Moses and Dominique hit field goals to start off the 3rd quarter.  A three-point play by Koncak after Reggie Theus’ 4th assist of the quarter gave Atlanta a 54-48 advantage.  That three-point play also put the 4th foul on a struggling Krystkowiak.

A Theus wing jumper eventually put the Hawks up 60-52 but then Humphries, who had not been a factor in the 1st half, drove and scored.  He then found Pierce for a transition three and drove and scored again.  Pierce hit another three after an Atlanta timeout and the Bucks led 62-60 after a 10-0 run.

Another Pierce jumper made the run 12-0 before Moses ended it with a free throw.  Milwaukee stretched its lead to five before the Hawks tied it at 70 late in the quarter.  But Milwaukee got the last bullet again in the last second when Humphries found Mokeski for a three from the top.  This made it 73-70 Milwaukee going into the 4th quarter.

Even with Cummings, Milwaukee was not supposed to challenge Atlanta like this but here the Bucks were with a chance to move on to Detroit and play the Pistons with a victory.  But a three-point play by Theus put the Hawks up 81-79 midway through the quarter.  Two free throws from Moses made it four with 5:34 to go.

The Hawks then had a breakaway but Wilkins forced a shot and missed.  Pierce came back with a turnaround from the baseline over a double-team and Milwaukee was back in it.  Three free throw misses from Moses helped the Bucks out too.  They took an 87-86 advantage when Sikma found Mokeski for a layup.

Rivers missed a jumper with a chance to give Atlanta the lead again and Roberts was fouled on the rebound with 2:28 left.  Fred made both free throws.  The Hawks “dysfunction” was shown on the next possession.  Moses went out to set a screen on Reggie Theus’ man.  But just as Theus was going into the screen, Moses backed off and went down low.  Wilkins was open at the top and, one would think, the first option for Atlanta but Theus went 1-on-1 and badly missed a turnaround jumper.

Milwaukee then ran down the shot clock before Pierce pulled up and nailed a wing jumper to put the Bucks up 91-86.  After an Atlanta timeout with 1:31 left, they went to John Battle, who missed a runner.  Humphries then got a breakaway layup and it was 93-86 with 1:21 left.

Threes by Rivers and, get this, by Moses cut the Bucks lead to 95-92 with 44 seconds left.  Then the Hawks got a final chance when Pierce missed and Moses grabbed his 16th rebound with 20 seconds left.  After a timeout, the Hawks finally went to Wilkins, who was 1-on-1 against Pierce.  Wilkins spun and broke free for a look.  However, Dominique bricked the three and Humphries rebounded and was fouled with 8 seconds left.

Jay put it away with a free throw and Milwaukee had their upset without their star.  While it was a great victory for Milwaukee, the bad news was that they were going to play Detroit.

The Hawks would miss the playoffs by one game in 1990 after they let Reggie Theus go in the expansion draft and traded Antoine Carr in the middle of the season.  The Hawks would not be a factor again until 1994 when their star Dominique Wilkins was unhappy.

Milwaukee starters (points scored)

Fred Roberts (18) – Small Forward

Larry Krystkowiak (2) – Power Forward

Jack Sikma (9) – Center

Jay Humphries (15) – Point Guard

Sidney Moncrief (6) – Shooting Guard

Milwaukee bench (points scored)

Ricky Pierce (25)

Rickey Green (6)

Randy Breuer (4)

Tony Brown (0)

Paul Mokeski (11)

Milwaukee Coach: Del Harris

Atlanta starters (points scored)

Dominique Wilkins (22) – Small Forward

Jon Koncak (8) – Power Forward

Moses Malone (25) – Center

Doc Rivers (14) – Point Guard

Reggie Theus (11) – Shooting Guard

Atlanta bench (points scored)

John Battle (9)

Cliff Levingston (2)

Antoine Carr (1)

Spud Webb (0)

Atlanta Coach: Mike Fratello


6th man Ricky Pierce led Milwaukee to a victory over Atlanta in 1989 without Terry Cummings *photo courtesy of Action PC Sports

May 7, 1989 – East Quarterfinals, Game 5: Chicago Bulls 101 @Cleveland Cavaliers 100

It is, quite simply, one of the most famous shots in NBA history.  One that is always shown and is the reason why Cleveland fans aren’t reading this portion of the post.  This game, may have, in retrospect decided the next great team in the NBA.  Both teams had young rosters and one would ascend to greatness while the other regressed for the next few seasons.  And it was all decided by one shot.

The Cavaliers crowd at the Richfield Coliseum was out for blood.  They were into the game from start to finish and were an excellent energy source for the Cavs.  It also helped that Cleveland came out aggressive while Chicago was tentative.  The Cavs big lineup of Larry Nance, Hot Rod Williams, and Brad Daugherty got on the offensive boards and, as a result, they got a lot of extra shots early.

But it was an offensive rebound by Mark Price that set up Ron Harper for the first field goal of the game.  Scottie Pippen responded by missing two free throws.  Price penetrated again and found Harper for a baseline jumper to make the score 4-0.  Nance and Daugherty later scored on putbacks and Hot Rod hit a jumper after Price stole a Bulls rebound.

But Chicago was able to stay in it mostly thanks to Bill Cartwright.  Cartwright scored 6 of their first 8 points and the Bulls took a 10-8 lead when Michael Jordan found Horace Grant for a slam on the break.  Chicago’s major advantage turned out to be fast break points.

The teams matched baskets in a fast-paced three possessions in which Harper, Jordan, and Price to balls coast-to-coast for layups.  But Cleveland eventually grabbed a lead despite Nance and Daugherty picking up 2 fouls.  The Cavs led 28-24 after one quarter.

Price gave Cleveland their biggest lead at 7 with a three-pointer but the Bulls came right back with a 6-0 run.  It was like that for most of the game; Cleveland ran out to a lead but couldn’t put Chicago away.  The Cavs ran out to another lead at 42-34 but the Bulls came back despite Jordan missing a breakaway slam.

Cartwright and Daugherty picked up their 3rd fouls and Jordan was struggling from the foul line after his big misses in Game 4.  But MJ did hit two free throws with 3 seconds left in the half to cut the Cavs lead to 48-46 at the break.

The 3rd quarter didn’t start positively again for the Bulls as Grant and then Cartwright picked up their 4th fouls.  But Jordan, as he usually does, exploded with 13 third quarter points to keep the Bulls in the game.  They cut it to 59-58 on a three-pointer from Craig Hodges but Mark Price came right back with a drive and scoop.

Price was finally exploding after injuring his groin muscle before Game 1.  His 2nd half of Game 4 was carrying over as Price was penetrating, hitting threes, and causing havoc with hustle as he grabbed offensive rebounds, got steals and drew charges.  Price hit another three and Nance got a three-point play on a drive.  Then Harper drove and hit a banker to give Cleveland a 69-62 lead.

Hodges kept the Bulls in the game for the latter part of the 3rd quarter with his shooting as the Bulls were able to stay within 75-69 going into the 4th.

Another injured Cavalier was reserve Craig Ehlo with a sprained ankle.  Ehlo was arguably Cleveland’s best defender against Jordan and, in the 4th quarter, he became a factor on offense as well.  He started with two jumpers and then hit a three.

But those 7 points were the only Cleveland points for the first half of the 4th quarter as the Bulls went on a run to take an 87-82 lead.  But the outstanding crowd kept the Cavs in the game and they got rewarded when a breakaway layup by Harper cut the lead to 87-86 and then Harper runner from the elbow against Jordan to put Cleveland in front again.

Jordan helped the Bulls retake a 92-90 lead with 2:48 to go but was 1-for-3 from the foul line in that stretch.  Ehlo returned to the scoring column by nailing a three on a Daugherty kickout to give the Cavaliers a 93-92 lead.  Cartwright tipped in a Hodges miss with 2:00 left but Grant picked up his 6th foul and Nance hit two free throws for another Cleveland lead.

Jordan got the ball on the next possession and penetrated.  He kicked out to Pippen who was not having a good shooting day (3-for-13 to that point and 3-for-8 from the line).  But Scottie rose up and nailed a corner three to give the Bulls a 97-95 lead and Cleveland called a timeout with 1:06 to go.

The Cavaliers gave the ball to Harper, who penetrated.  He kicked out to Ehlo for a three and a Cleveland lead.  The back and forth was halted when Jordan badly missed a runner with 39 seconds to go and Cleveland rebounded.  They ran down the shot clock before Nance missed a wing jumper.  Ehlo hustled for the rebound and appeared to knock it off a Chicago foot, but the ball was called off of Ehlo with 19 seconds to go.  Chicago had a chance to lead.

They took it full court and Scottie Pippen brought it across against pressure.  Jordan popped out, got the ball, and took it 1-on-1 against Ehlo.  He drove past him as Craig was hit in the face and pulled up over Nance.  Jordan hit from just inside the elbow with 6 seconds to go and the Bulls led 99-98.

That would have been a helluva game-winner had Lenny Wilkens not devised a brilliant play in the Cleveland huddle.  Ehlo inbounded with Hodges guarding him.  As soon as Craig inbounded to Nance, he cut.  Price popped out at the top of the circle to occupy defensive attention, but Nance handed off to a streaking Ehlo who had a wide open lane to the basket.

Ehlo was able to duck under a block attempt by Jordan and lay it in with 3 seconds left.  While it was a brilliant play, it didn’t run out the game.

Chicago had a brilliant play of their own, find a way to give Jordan the ball.  After a Chicago timeout, a much maligned Brad Sellers (who did come up with a Bulls playoff staple of wearing black shoes) inbounded at half court.  Jordan cut towards him and got the ball in between two people.

MJ then drove to the foul line with Ehlo staying with him.  But then the disadvantage came.  Michael rose up with Ehlo but Craig came down while Michael hung.  Jordan got off a clear shot just before the buzzer and it settled in the basket.  Jordan then jumped higher to pump his fist and tell the Cleveland crowd to “go home” while Ehlo crumpled to the ground.

Ehlo had put in a gutty effort with 24 points and 15 in the 4th quarter but he will forever be more famous for his dejection as the Cleveland crowd was silent for the first time all day and the Bulls celebrated running off the court.

The Bulls were now on to play the Knicks while Cleveland would set their franchise back a bit by trading Harper early in the 1990 season.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (13) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (12) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (16) – Center

Craig Hodges (10) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (44) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Sam Vincent (2)

Brad Sellers (2)

Dave Corzine (2)

Charles Davis (0)

Chicago Coach: Doug Collins

Cleveland starters (points scored)

Larry Nance (16) – Small Forward

Hot Rod Williams (7) – Power Forward

Brad Daugherty (8) – Center

Mark Price (23) – Point Guard

Ron Harper (22) – Shooting Guard

Cleveland bench (points scored)

Craig Ehlo (24)

Mike Sanders (0)

Darnell Valentine (0)

Tree Rollins (0)

Cleveland Coach: Lenny Wilkens

May 9, 1989 – East Semifinals, Game 1: Chicago Bulls 120 @New York Knicks 109 (OT)

It’s the age-old question.  It had been a week since the Knicks had polished off the Philadelphia 76ers, meanwhile the Bulls had squeaked by the Cavaliers two days earlier.  So did the well-rested Knicks have the advantage or disadvantage?  It’s always the winner that has the advantage.

Patrick Ewing picked up an early slam but also picked up two early fouls.  Knick coach Rick Pitino kept him in the fast-paced game.  The Bulls handled Pitino’s press well early and got some good shots.  The biggest beneficiary was Craig Hodges, who scored 5 early points.

The Bulls were also duplicating the Knicks’ three-point attack as Hodges, Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan each hit a trey.  The Bulls grabbed a 15-9 lead before Johnny Newman came right back with a driving layup and two free throws.

The Knicks were able to get to the free throw line in the opening quarter as Horace Grant and Bill Cartwright each picked up 2 fouls for the Bulls.  This helped New York tie it at 27 at the end of the quarter.

The action slowed down in the 2nd quarter.  The Knicks got some bench help from Kiki Vandeweghe but Michael Jordan countered by going back to his point guard roots.  MJ handed out 9 assists in the 1st half while only scoring 11 points.  Hodges was right behind him with 10 points.  The Bulls led 47-46 at the half.

The Bulls took an early 54-50 lead in the 3rd quarter.  They eventually stretched it to 62-55 on a beautiful fast break in which Hodges fed Grant, who found Pippen on the right for a slam.  But New York came back led by Johnny Newman and took a 65-64 lead after an 8-0 run.

Newman ended up scoring 14 points in the 3rd quarter but the Bulls’ balanced attack led them back.  Jordan only had 17 points at the end of three but Chicago had cut the Knicks’ lead to 75-74 going into the 4th.

However, in the 4th quarter the Knicks press finally got to Chicago and forced some turnovers.  Ewing and Vandeweghe each scored 4 points as the Knicks took an 83-76 lead in the first 3 minutes.  5-out of-6 free throws from Kenny Walker and Ewing eventually put that lead at 10.  Then Rod Strickland got a steal and layup.  It was now 90-78 New York.

The Knicks defense was, again, suffocating on the next possession.  But then Bill Cartwright found a lane, scored a runner and drew a foul with 7:42 remaining.  That three-point play turned out to be huge as it turned the momentum.

A three from Hodges cut it to 92-86 and two free throws from Grant made the margin four.  But Newman stole a rebound from Cartwright and scored.  That kept the momentum even as the Knicks held to a 103-95 lead with 3:30 to go.

New York had a chance to increase it but Ewing missed a running hook.  Former Bull Charles Oakley committed his 6th foul on Cartwright (the guy he was traded for) on the rebound.  Oakley was a non-factor in the first game while Cartwright was proving to be a difference.  Three Cartwright free throws cut it to 103-98.

Then after Kenny Walker missed a pair of free throws, Cartwright cut it to four with another charity toss.  With under 2:00 left, Grant cut it to 103-101 with two free throws.  Newman, the Knick hero so far, missed his second consecutive jumper and the Bulls had a chance to tie it.

Jordan went 1-on-1 and drew a foul from Trent Tucker with 1:15 remaining.  Jordan had struggled from the line against Cleveland but ended up 11-for-11 in Game 1 and hit these two to even the score.

The teams traded misses before a controversial play came up.  Ewing’s turnaround from the baseline was in-and-out and Cartwright ended up getting a breakaway chance.  Ewing hustled back and swiped down on Cartwright.  The refs ruled he got all ball, the replay seemed to show a foul.  Either way, the Knicks got the ball back and called a timeout with 19 seconds left.

They ran down the clock for the final shot but then panicked.  Mark Jackson ended up taking a long three with 6 seconds left and missing it off to the right.  Pippen stole the rebound from Ewing and the Bulls got a timeout with 2 seconds left.

Jackson, however, got another chance when he stole the ball near halfcourt.  His launch from just in front of the mid-court line was off the mark and the Bulls survived a scare of a two seconds.  The game was going into overtime.

The OT started with Jordan picking up his 5th foul and Sidney Green getting a layup off a Ewing feed.  But the Bulls went on a 6-0 run as Jordan penetrated and found Grant for a layup.  MJ then hit a wing jumper at the end of the shot clock and Hodges followed with a wing jumper off a Pippen assist.

New York responded to tie it at 109 when Gerald Wilkins spun and drove down the lane for a finger roll.  But then the Bulls swung the ball around and found Jordan for a corner jumper.  Then after Pippen rebounded a missed jumper from Green, Jordan drove down the lane and met Green at the rim.  MJ contorted his body so his back was facing the basket and threw it in over his head while Green fouled him.

That three-point play with 1:15 to go put the Bulls up 114-109.  The Knicks were out of miracles and points as the Bulls shut them down the rest of the way.  Jordan’s layup after John Paxson found him versus the trap defense put the game away with 32 seconds left.

MJ ended up scoring 17 of his 34 points (or half) in the 4th quarter and overtime.  You could only hold him down for so long, especially in the playoffs, as the Knicks were soon to find out.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (15) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (19) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (18) – Center

Craig Hodges (24) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (34) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Sam Vincent (2)

John Paxson (0)

Brad Sellers (4)

Dave Corzine (2)

Charles Davis (2)

Chicago Coach: Doug Collins

New York starters (points scored)

Johnny Newman (27) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (2) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (22) – Center

Mark Jackson (12) – Point Guard

Gerald Wilkins (18) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

Kiki Vandeweghe (13)

Rod Strickland (5)

Trent Tucker (1)

Sidney Green (2)

Kenny Walker (7)

New York Coach: Rick Pitino

May 15, 1989 – East Semifinals, Game 4: Detroit Pistons 96 @Milwaukee Bucks 94

Things got bad to worse for the Bucks after their first round victory over Atlanta.  They lost the first 3 games of the series to the Pistons, but that wasn’t their biggest issue.

Terry Cummings and Paul Pressey still weren’t back in the lineup (although Cummings tried to play in Game 3).  But now key reserves in Paul Mokeski and Rickey Green were out.  Worst of all, starting forward Larry Krystkowiak tore his ACL and medial meniscus on the first play of Game 3.  The talented, young forward was never the same.

With these 5 players out, the Bucks only had 7 available to them in Game 4 and many expected a Detroit blowout like it was in Games 2 & 3.  But the Milwaukee crowd came to life and put a charge in the Bucks and they stayed with the Pistons early.

Perhaps it helped that Detroit may have let down a little bit in the 1st quarter.  Fred Roberts scored 12 points and Jay Humphries continually got by Isiah Thomas for driving layups with no Pistons help.  Milwaukee finished the 1st quarter on a 14-2 run and led 33-20 at the end of the period.

It continued in the 2nd quarter as Ricky Pierce came off the bench to score 6 early points in the quarter (after hitting two field goals to end the 1st).  The latest of those 6 points put the Bucks ahead 45-24.  The crowd was loving it, and may have been as shocked as everybody else.

But Milwaukee came back to earth slowly and Detroit started to realize that they had a game on their hands.  A step-back jumper from Sikma made the score 47-24 before Mark Aguirre and Joe Dumars hit pull-up jumpers and Bill Laimbeer nailed to three-pointers.

Isiah also connected from downtown but the Bucks were able to hold off the big charge for the moment and lead 54-44 at the half.  Jay Humphries had 11 assists for the Bucks and Fred Roberts had 17 points and had played every minute of the 1st half.  Pierce was right behind with 16.

Isiah helped produce the huge run to start the 3rd quarter.  He hit Rick Mahorn for two layups and Laimbeer for another.  Then he hit a pull-up jumper in the lane to complete the 8-0 run and put the Milwaukee lead at 56-54.

Milwaukee could only hold them for so long and it looked like Detroit would surge to another blowout.  Isiah hit a three and then hit Dumars for a breakaway layup to put the Pistons ahead 68-63.  Bucks coach Del Harris didn’t help matters with a technical foul.

But Fred Roberts stepped forward and scored 11 more points in the 3rd quarter (without taking a rest) to keep Milwaukee within 76-71 going into the 4th.

There the teams went back-and-forth, which wasn’t good for Milwaukee as Detroit was ahead.  James Edwards scored 8 points in the quarter for Detroit.  Fred Roberts was finally gassed and Ricky Pierce hadn’t done much of anything in the 2nd half.

The Pistons took a 92-84 lead with under 4:00 left, but the Bucks found the strength for one last charge.  Humphries kicked out to Sikma for a three from the wing.  Pierce then had two driving layups to cut Detroit’s advantage to 93-91 with under 2:00 to go.

Dumars penetrated and was fouled.  With 1:34 to go, Joe D hit two free throws to give Detroit a 4-point lead.  The teams traded misses before Milwaukee got a timeout at the 46 second mark.

Humphries drove and ran into Mahorn for a foul with 44 seconds left.  Jay hit two free throws and it was 95-93 Pistons.  Detroit ran down the shot clock.  Laimbeer bricked a three but Isiah got the rebound with 21 seconds to go.  Milwaukee didn’t realize that they needed to foul Isiah until they were 8 seconds left.

But the Bucks got a break when Thomas split the free throws and gave the Deer a chance to tie it with a three.  Harris tried to get Pierce open but Ricky was fouled with 2 seconds left before he could get off a shot.

Ricky made the first and missed the second intentionally.  But the ball could not be controlled by anybody and the clock ran out with Detroit ahead by 2.  The Milwaukee crowd gave the short-handed Bucks a standing ovation for their effort against a much better team.  It was the type of Milwaukee Bucks crowd that would not exist 20 years later.

For the Bucks themselves, they would not reach the 2nd round again until 2001 and would go 7 consecutive seasons without making the playoffs in the ’90’s.

Terry Cummings was traded to San Antonio 13 days after the season ended for Greg ‘Cadillac’ Anderson and Alvin Robertson.  Sidney Moncrief retired for a season before finishing out his career in Atlanta in 1991.  Randy Breuer was traded to Minnesota for Brad Lohaus mid-way through the 1990 season.  And midway through the 1991 season, Ricky Pierce would be traded to Seattle for Dale Ellis.  Then after the 31-51 1992 season, Jay Humphries and Larry Krystkowiak were traded to Utah for Blue Edwards and Eric Murdock.  None of the players that the Bucks got in return panned out.

Detroit starters (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (15) – Small Forward

Rick Mahorn (10) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (17) – Center

Isiah Thomas (17) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (22) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Vinnie Johnson (2)

Dennis Rodman (2)

James Edwards (8)

John Salley (3)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

Milwaukee starters (points scored)

Fred Roberts (33) – Small Forward

Jack Sikma (12) – Power Forward

Randy Breuer (8) – Center

Jay Humphries (12) – Point Guard

Sidney Moncrief (6) – Shooting Guard

Milwaukee bench (points scored)

Ricky Pierce (21)

Tony Brown (2)

Milwaukee Coach: Del Harris

May 19, 1989 – East Semifinals, Game 6: New York Knicks 111 @Chicago Bulls 113

After an easy win for the Knicks in Game 2 to tie the series, the teams traveled to Chicago.  The Bulls killed New York 111-88 in Game 3 as Michael Jordan scored 40 points.  Jordan, however, strained a groin muscle during the game but wasn’t going to miss Game 4 the next day.

Because of this, New York coach Rick Pitino questioned whether Jordan was really that injured.  Big mistake.  Jordan scored 47 points, including 18 in the 4th quarter, to help the Bulls win going away 106-93.  The Bulls were now up 3-1 on the favored Knicks.

New York did win Game 5 back at Madison Square Garden 121-114 as Patrick Ewing led the way with 32 points.  The Knicks had finally found their offense in Game 5 after being stifled in Chicago and New York players, most notably point guard Mark Jackson, thought that they could bring it back to Chicago to win Game 6.

The 1st quarter was a string of runs.  The Bulls surged to a 6-2 lead forcing an early Knick timeout.  New York tied it at 6 before Bill Cartwright drove baseline past Ewing for a layup.  Then Craig Hodges hit a runner in transition and Jordan followed with a wing jumper.  But two field goals by Gerald Wilkins and a layup by Johnny Newman on a Jackson feed tied the game again at 12.

But right back came the Bulls after a timeout.  Cartwright fed Hodges for a three.  Jordan hit a runner in the lane and Hodges got a corner three after a Scottie Pippen push.  The Bulls eventually led 29-22 after a Jordan steal and breakaway slam.

But Kiki Vandeweghe and Mark Jackson hit threes for a New York.  Then Jackson countered a Pippen three with a three-point play on a runner in the lane.  Chicago held a 32-31 lead after one quarter.

New York continued their momentum as their bench sparked them to a 7-0 run to start the 2nd quarter.  The biggest factor would be Trent Tucker, who scored 8 points in the quarter, including two three-pointers.  The Knicks took their biggest lead at 49-41 before Cartwright hit two field goals to bring the Bulls back.

Cartwright would hit one more jumper just before the half to finish with 12 points as the Bulls cut New York’s lead to 61-59 at the half.  Despite the Knicks finding their offense in the 1st half, they weren’t getting Patrick Ewing the ball enough for their announcing team’s liking.

This would prove especially prevalent in the 3rd quarter when the Knicks offense slowed down considerably.  Hodges scored 5 quick points and a 6-0 Bulls run put them up 70-64.

The Bulls would keep ahead and eventually pull their lead to 82-74 after Pippen nailed his fourth trey on four attempts.  The margin became 10 late in the quarter after a Pippen knockaway and a Hodges breakaway.

The Knicks cut it to seven as the Bulls had the ball for the final possession of the quarter.  While the ball was at the wing with 12 seconds left, contact happened under the basket between Pippen and Kenny Walker.  Both extended their arms and shoved each other but there didn’t seem to be anything malicious.

But even so, they were both ejected.  It was a trade-off that vastly favored the Knicks as the 3rd quarter ended with New York down 86-79.  It was explained that as soon as anything close to a punch was thrown, that player was ejected per the memo that officials sent teams before the 1989 playoffs (which questions why Charles Oakley and Charles Barkley weren’t ejected for a scuffle they had in Game 3 of their series.. because Barkley is a superstar, I know).

New York started the 4th quarter with two three-point plays but never could overtake the Bulls for awhile.  Unlike the last two games (when Jordan took over), the Bulls fourth quarter attack was more balanced.  Cartwright, Grant, and John Paxson were doing most of the damage.

With 3:34 to go, Cartwright fed Grant for a slam and a foul to put the Bulls up 101-94.  But then the Bulls went cold and New York cut it to five in the next minute and tied it at the 1:59 mark on two free throws from Ewing.

Cartwright came up big with a banker in the lane.  Ewing (who was getting the ball more often in the 4th quarter) tied it at 103 with his own bank shot from the post.  Then Gerald Wilkins committed his 5th foul on Jordan.  Michael put away two free throws.  Ewing missed a turnaround from the post and Grant rebounded with under 1:00 left.

The Bulls ran down the shot clock and gave it to Jordan.  Michael penetrated and kicked out to Paxson for a wing jumper with 40 seconds left.  The Bulls now led 107-103.  Wilkins rebounded his own miss and drew Cartwright’s 5th foul with 26 seconds to go.  Dominique’s brother hit the two free throws and then fouled out committing a foul on Jordan.

Jordan hit two more free throws.  Ewing banked one in from the post but Jordan hit two more free throws to put the Bulls ahead 111-107 with 9 seconds left.  New York used their last timeout.

The only hope the Knicks had for their season not ending was to hit a three and draw a foul.  It was a remote possibility.  But Ewing handed off to Tucker who launched and nailed a three and a foul was called on Hodges with 6 seconds left.  New York had a chance to tie the game.

The crowd and Doug Collins were so shocked that the Knicks actually had a chance to tie the game that they didn’t argue or boo the obvious.  IT WAS A HORRIBLE CALL (at least from the angle I got).  It just looks like Hodges ran into a screen from Ewing and didn’t touch Tucker.

Either way, Tucker tied it at 111 with the free throw and the Bulls called a timeout.  They inbounded to Jordan, who drove to the middle of the lane and was fouled by Newman.  MJ went to the line again and hit the two free throws again to put the Bulls up 113-111 with 4 seconds left.

New York didn’t have a timeout, so they inbounded to Jackson who found a wide-open Newman behind the three-point line.  Newman launched with 1 second left for the win but the shot was long and just hit the glass.  The Bulls had survived and now were moving on to the Conference Finals for the first time since 1975, when they were in the West.

For New York, Rick Pitino got hired by Kentucky two weeks after the season ended and no longer would be in a world where he could stew up Michael Jordan with comments and Michael would make his team pay, at least until he went to the Boston Celtics in 1997.

New York starters (points scored)

Johnny Newman (17) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (6) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (22) – Center

Mark Jackson (22) – Point Guard

Gerald Wilkins (22) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

Kiki Vandeweghe (3)

Rod Strickland (4)

Trent Tucker (14)

Sidney Green (1)

Kenny Walker (0)

Eddie Lee Wilkins (0)

Pete Myers (0)

New York Coach: Rick Pitino

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (19) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (11) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (16) – Center

Craig Hodges (15) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (40) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Sam Vincent (0)

John Paxson (8)

Brad Sellers (4)

Dave Corzine (0)

Charles Davis (0)

Chicago Coach: Doug Collins


Jordan shoots his typical fall-away against the Knicks in the 1989 playoffs *photo courtesy of The Best Ten blog

May 26, 1989 – Western Conference Finals, Game 3: Los Angeles Lakers 110 @Phoenix Suns 107

The Phoenix Suns ascent into the upper tier of the league was definitely one of the feel-good stories of the 1989 season.  But once they got into the Western Conference Finals against the Lakers, their inexperience showed.

The Suns lost two close games at the Forum to go down 2-0 in the series.  But this game would be the biggest evidence of their inexperience against a Lakers team that had already made 7 NBA Finals appearances in the ’80’s.

The Suns started off well on their home court in front of a sellout.  Tom Chambers drove by A.C. Green for a three-point play.  Then Jeff Hornacek found Tyrone Corbin for a baseline jumper.  Hornacek hit a jumper from the wing to put Phoenix up 7-1 but then the Suns hit a drought.

James Worthy got two buckets and Magic Johnson found Green for another layup to tie it at 7.  Eddie and Kevin Johnson got the home team back on track with field goals and Phoenix was able to maintain a 15-11 lead before hitting another drought.

Magic hit two field goals while Mychal Thompson and Michael Cooper got field goals off the Lakers bench.  L.A. went on an 11-1 run to take a 22-16 lead before Eddie Johnson got a breakaway three-point play.

But Magic Johnson put the Suns in their place with a shot-put field goal from just in front of half court at the end of 1st quarter buzzer.  That prayer made it 25-19 Lakers.

The Lakers took as much as a 9-point lead early in the 2nd quarter before Phoenix got a spark from rookie Dan Majerle (who, even at that early stage of his career, was known as Thunder Dan by the Phoenix announcing team).

Majerle and Hornacek combined on a 7-0 run to give the Suns a 39-36 lead.  Then K.J. (Kevin Johnson) joined the action with 12 points over the last half of the 2nd quarter to give Phoenix as much as a 7-point advantage.  A pull-up from Magic cut the Suns’ lead to 54-50 at halftime.

The Lakers defense came back to life in the 3rd quarter and held Phoenix to 21 points.  The Phoenix announcers repeatedly referenced that the Lakers were playing a zone (illegal at the time) but L.A. was called for only one illegal defense penalty.

Cooper hit 8 points to put the Lakers ahead and keep them there while Magic and Kareem each hit a couple hook shots.  A putback by Mychal Thompson at the last second gave the Lakers an 82-75 lead at the end of the 3rd quarter.

The Lakers maintained the lead early in the 4th quarter as Hornacek picked up his 5th foul and sat for the rest of the game.  Three jumpers by James Worthy gave him 23 points and gave L.A. a 93-83 with 7:11 to go.

Phoenix’s bench brought them back as Armen Gilliam and Eddie Johnson each hit two field goals on an 8-0 run over the next few minutes.  But the Suns couldn’t overtake the Lakers as L.A. regained a 99-94 advantage.

Chambers and Majerle hit field goals and it was a one-point game.  But Worthy was able to connect on a baseline jumper after recovering an arrant lob pass.  Then Chambers committed a foul on Thompson trying to rebound a Majerle miss.  Thompson connected on 1-of-2 free throws to make the score 102-98.

Thompson committed his 5th foul on Eddie Johnson with 2:19 to go and Eddie hit two free throws to cut the lead in half.  Then Kareem airballed a long sky hook in the lane and the Suns had a chance to tie.

They did better as K.J. penetrated and found Eddie Johnson for a leaner off the glass and a foul.  With 1:50 to go, Eddie’s three-point play gave the Suns a 103-102 lead and L.A. called a timeout.

Phoenix got a stop as Magic lost the ball on a drive down the lane.  Gilliam then put back a Majerle miss to make the score 105-102 and put Phoenix in good position.  But with 1:04 to go, Chambers was called for a foul on Worthy on a play where Chambers felt he got all ball.  Worthy hit two free throws for his 13th and 14th point of the 4th quarter.

Chambers then missed a baseline jumper and Magic led Thompson on a breakaway.  Chambers hustled back to foul him with 38 seconds to go.  Thompson made both free throws to give the Lakers a 106-105 lead.

Thompson then blocked Majerle’s pull-up in the lane and Mychal was fouled on the rebound.  With 22 seconds to play, Thompson made two more free throws to make the score 108-105.

While the last few possessions may have shown the Phoenix inexperience, the next two were more telling.  Needing a three to tie it, Suns coach Cotton Fitzsimmons had Chambers and Eddie Johnson on the floor and, most notably, Jeff Hornacek on the bench.  But they went to the rookie Majerle (who wasn’t quite the shooter that he would become yet, although he did made as many threes on the season as Hornacek).

Majerle’s three was just short and Orlando Woolridge rebounded for the Lakers.  The Suns got second life after Orlando failed to connect on either free throw.  But, again, they ended up going to Majerle.  He hit the front rim on a three attempt from the wing and this time Cooper rebounded, was fouled, and hit two free throws to ice it.

The Lakers would ice the series in Game 4 by winning 122-117.  L.A. was now 11-0 in the 1989 NBA playoffs after sweeping Portland, Seattle and Phoenix.  But they would run into some small problems before and during the NBA Finals.

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (29) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (2) – Power Forward

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (15) – Center

Magic Johnson (20) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (10) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Mychal Thompson (13)

Michael Cooper (16)

Orlando Woolridge (5)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Pat Riley

Phoenix starters (points scored)

Tyrone Corbin (4) – Small Forward

Tom Chambers (26) – Power Forward

Mark West (0) – Center

Kevin Johnson (22) – Point Guard

Jeff Hornacek (21) – Shooting Guard

Phoenix bench (points scored)

Eddie Johnson (14)

Dan Majerle (14)

Armen Gilliam (6)

Ed Nealy (0)

Phoenix Coach: Cotton Fitzsimmons

May 27, 1989 – Eastern Conference Finals, Game 3: Detroit Pistons 97 @Chicago Bulls 99

The first two rounds had been a breeze for the Detroit Pistons.  They had swept Boston and Milwaukee without much issue.  The Bulls had lived on the edge in defeating Cleveland and New York, without home court advantage in either series.

So with that being said, it was probably still a shock when the Bulls took a 33-17 lead against the Pistons at the Palace at Auburn Hills in Game 1.  The Bulls held off a Piston charge and won 94-88 to take a surprising series lead.  Although the Pistons tied the series by winning Game 2, they were still trying to break out of their lethargy.

It may have helped that players almost came to blows several times in a spirited practice leading up to Game 3 at Chicago Stadium (or “the Madhouse on Madison”).  Detroit looked like the best team early on as Isiah Thomas, off the tip, found Joe Dumars for a wing jumper.

Mark Aguirre kicked out to Bill Laimbeer for a jumper from the top.  Rick Mahorn hit a face-up jumper from the post and got a layup on a Dumars feed.  Aguirre then hit three jumpers including a trey to give the Pistons a 15-9 lead.  The Bulls only counter early on was Michael Jordan, who had 7 of those 9 points.

Jordan scored 6 more points to pull the Bulls back to within 20-19.  The teams’ benches went back and forth from there before took a 28-27 lead into the 2nd quarter.

The Pistons defense then turned up after Chicago took a 31-29 lead.  The Bulls would go without a field goal for a long time while Detroit went on a run mainly by getting on the offensive boards.  After Vinnie Johnson nailed a three, Dennis Rodman tipped in a miss and Isiah followed up an Aguirre miss.

Aguirre didn’t miss much in the 1st half as he scored 18 points to lead the way for Detroit.  It was noted that Mark didn’t usually play well in his hometown of Chicago but he obviously was in this particular first half.

The Pistons took their biggest lead at 56-42 after Bulls coach Doug Collins was assessed a technical foul.  But Craig Hodges found Michael Jordan with a behind-the-back pass for a banker and a foul to cut the lead to 11 at the half.

The Bulls got a spark early in the 3rd quarter from Bill Cartwright, who scored 6 points to cut the Pistons lead to 62-55.  But then on the biggest play of the quarter, Cartwright was called for his 4th foul when he went to the basket and scored but was called for wiping out Bill Laimbeer.

Detroit maintained their 10-point lead as the teams traded barbs for the rest of the quarter.  The Pistons led 77-66 going into the 4th quarter.

The lead continued at around that margin as Vinnie Johnson hit two key shots.  Then Isiah lobbed a ball to James Edwards, who slammed over Horace Grant to put the Pistons ahead 86-72.

It didn’t seem like it was ever going to turn around for the Bulls.  The exclamation point seemed to be when Vinnie hit a tough fadeaway shot at the shot clock buzzer when he was sideways to the hoop.  This put Detroit up 90-77 and CBS’ Dick Stockton commented that the Bulls were missing several open and good shots while Detroit was hitting stuff like that.

But then you can guess what happened.  Jordan kicked out to John Paxson for a wing jumper and Pippen nailed a three after stealing an outlet pass.  The Pistons lead was now down to 91-83.

Jordan then went into Michael Jordan mode.  He drove past Dumars and finished a running banker over Laimbeer’s out-stretched hand.  Jordan hit a pair of free throws to cut it to 91-87 but Pippen missed a pair of free throws.  Laimbeer then lobbed to Rodman for a layup to make it 93-87 with 2:49 left.

Jordan drove the lane for a lefty layup but Isiah found Vinnie Johnson for a layup to maintain a 6-point lead.  With 1:55 left, Jordan nailed a wing jumper over Dumars.  Then Vinnie was called for an offensive foul and Grant followed up a Paxson miss to cut the lead to 95-93 with 1:23 left.  The Madhouse on Madison was living up to its nickname.

But Paxson committed his 5th foul on Dumars with 1:10 to go and Joe Cool hit both free throws.  But Jordan got a pass from Cartwright and hit a double-pump pull-up jumper in the lane with three guys in his airspace with 52 seconds to go.

Detroit ran down the shot clock and the Bulls defense forced Laimbeer to throw up a wild three that he missed.  Rodman then fouled Grant on the rebound with 28 seconds to go.  Horace tied the game at 97 with two free throws.

Chuck Daly then called a timeout and gave the ball to Isiah Thomas, who was being guarded by Jordan.  Isiah ran down the clock before Laimbeer came out to set a screen.  Isiah went off the screen but Laimbeer was called for hip-checking Jordan, a call that wasn’t popular with Detroit supporters, with 9 seconds to go.

The Bulls called two timeouts before Pippen was able to inbound to Jordan at the top.  Michael went 1-on-1 against Dennis Rodman and drove to the right of the lane.  Jordan rose up as Rodman seemed to be getting cut off by teammate Isiah Thomas, who was trying to help, and couldn’t jump with him.  Jordan banked it in either way with 3 seconds to go.

After a Detroit timeout, Laimbeer hit Dumars with a return pass and Joe went up for three at the buzzer.  It was banked off too hard and the Bulls survived to take an improbable 2-1 lead against the Pistons.  It would turn out to be the last hurrah for the 1989 Chicago Bulls and Doug Collins, but he’ll always have this post-game sound.

Detroit starters (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (25) – Small Forward

Rick Mahorn (9) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (4) – Center

Isiah Thomas (5) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (12) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Vinnie Johnson (19)

Dennis Rodman (8)

James Edwards (4)

John Salley (8)

John Long (3)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (7) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (7) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (15) – Center

Craig Hodges (2) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (46) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Sam Vincent (0)

John Paxson (12)

Dave Corzine (4)

Charles Davis (6)

Chicago Coach: Doug Collins

June 2, 1989 – Eastern Conference Finals, Game 6: Detroit Pistons 103 @Chicago Bulls 94

It was downhill for the Bulls after Game 3.  They lost a close Game 4, and then dropped Game 5 at the Palace 94-85 when the Pistons outscored them by 8 points in the 4th quarter.  Vinnie Johnson led the way with 16 4th quarter points while the Pistons held Jordan to 1.  Jordan was getting worn down after averaging 43 minutes per game in the series against Detroit.

Things got worse for Chicago on their first possession of Game 6.  Scottie Pippen was going after a Michael Jordan miss and was elbowed by Bill Laimbeer.  Some have claimed that it was on purpose (I think it was accidental) but it hit Scottie in the temple and he went down.  It took a few possessions for anybody to realize that Pippen was hurt (the officials apparently couldn’t call a timeout because one of them, Joey Crawford, actually dragged Pippen off the playing court).

Pippen was dazed and eventually diagnosed with a concussion.  He was out for the game after the first minute.  This brought in Brad Sellers, who was sitting at the end of the bench now and had only been in for 2 games against the Pistons.

Jordan got going early to put the Bulls ahead without Pippen.  He found Horace Grant for a layup and Craig Hodges for a wing jumper.  Then he got a slam and followed it with a highlight play seen many times.  Jordan deflected a Bill Laimbeer pass to Sellers and then got it back.  Jordan was on the break with Laimbeer back.  He jumped into Laimbeer, twisted his body and threw the ball over his head into the basket.  Jordan missed the ensuing free throw but the Bulls led 8-2.

Sellers gave Chicago a spark with two jumpers while Jordan got another slam on a baseline spin from the post.  Then he found Grant on the break again and Chicago led 16-6.  Jordan and Sellers continued to score and lead the way for a 26-14 Bulls lead with just over 2:00 left in the 1st quarter.

Doug Collins decided that this was the time to give MJ his rest.  He had to get some rest at some point, but this backfired.  Detroit’s bench led them on a 10-0 run to end the quarter.  Vinnie Johnson hit two free throws and Dennis Rodman, John Salley and James Edwards each hit field goals.  Edwards almost tied it with a jumper in the lane at the buzzer but Chicago still led 26-24.

The bench continued to spark Detroit in the 2nd quarter.  Isiah Thomas got going as well with 8 points.  The Bulls were able to stay in it with the three-point shooting of Craig Hodges.  But Grant picked up his 3rd foul and had to sit and Bill Cartwright was scoreless (and barely got the ball).  Sellers did score 4 more points to finish the half with 12.  But the Pistons grabbed a 49-47 lead into halftime.

It was the Jordan show to start the 2nd half as he came out with 7 quick points to push his total to 24.  But Bill Laimbeer hit a three and put back a miss to keep the game even.  Laimbeer had been quiet throughout the series but came alive in the 2nd half.  His hook shot put the Pistons up 62-57 halfway through the quarter.

The game was slowly starting to get away from the Bulls as Grant picked up his 4th foul and Chicago was starting to get cold from the foul line.  Jordan missed a pair and, late in the quarter, Dave Corzine missed a pair.  Meanwhile, Edwards scored 6 points in the last half of the 3rd while Rodman hit three free throws.  Detroit led 77-69 going into the 4th.

The Bulls were dealt another blow when Jordan re-injured a groin that he had hurt during the season.  Despite that, the Chicago Stadium crowd came alive and MJ didn’t want to leave them hanging.  Mark Aguirre started out the 4th quarter with a jumper.  But Jordan came up with a left-handed reverse layup and drew a foul.

He missed the free throw but Grant rebounded and Jordan finished again in the lane with three guys around him.  The Bulls had cut it to 79-73 but MJ was noticeably limping.  Isiah hit a jumper from the top but Jordan kicked out to John Paxson for a three from the top and it was 81-76.

Paxson later split a pair of free throws and then hit a corner jumper on a Jordan assist and the Detroit lead was 81-79.  The Bulls had a chance to tie but Joe Dumars stripped Jordan on a drive.  Isiah later hit a wing jumper after a Dumars cross and the Pistons were ahead 84-79.

Isiah followed with two free throws and another field goal to make the score 88-80.  Later, he hit two more free throws and then got a steal and layup to put Detroit ahead 94-84 with 4:36 left.  It was slipping away from the Bulls fast and Jordan, for once, didn’t help by missing two free throws.

Isiah hit a fall-away over Jordan after a drive and pivot to keep the lead at 10.  Thomas then outletted to Dumars for a breakaway layup to put the Pistons ahead 100-88 with 2:32 to go.  Dumars put it away with a runner at the end of the shot clock on the next possession.

The Pistons defense had taken the last three games away from the Bulls in the 4th quarter and they had eliminated Chicago for the second straight season.

The Bulls would make an unpopular decision to fire head coach Doug Collins over the summer and promote assistant Phil Jackson.  While the Bulls had improved under Collins the 3 years he was there, there was apparently more under the surface that management didn’t feel he could continue.  As it turned out the promotion of Jackson would work out.

For Detroit, it was a rematch they had been waiting a year for.  They were going back to the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Detroit starters (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (10) – Small Forward

Rick Mahorn (4) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (11) – Center

Isiah Thomas (33) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (12) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Vinnie Johnson (8)

Dennis Rodman (9)

James Edwards (11)

John Salley (5)

John Long (0)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (0) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (13) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (4) – Center

Craig Hodges (15) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (32) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Sam Vincent (2)

John Paxson (10)

Brad Sellers (16)

Dave Corzine (0)

Charles Davis (2)

Chicago Coach: Doug Collins

June 8, 1989 – NBA Finals, Game 2: Los Angeles Lakers 105 @Detroit Pistons 108

The Detroit Pistons had the home court advantage for this year against the Lakers.  They won Game 1 handily with guards Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and Vinnie Johnson combining for 65 points on 29-for-46 shooting from the field.

The Lakers backcourt was hampered before the series started.  Byron Scott tore a hamstring in practice and while he wasn’t ruled out for the series, he did not end up playing a minute in the 1989 NBA Finals.  This brought 33-year-old Michael Cooper into the starting lineup.  Cooper was still an above average defensive player but had lost a step compared to Detroit’s quick guards.

Detroit had also put the clamps on James Worthy in Game 1, holding him to 6-for-18 from the field.  The only advantage the Lakers seemed to have was one Magic Johnson on offense.  Magic started the game by getting a three-point play in the post against Dumars.

Isiah Thomas picked up 2 quick fouls and Worthy got two quick buckets to put L.A. up 9-2.  The Lakers increased that lead to nine while Bill Laimbeer and Mark Aguirre each picked up 2 fouls.  The margin reached 23-13 after Cooper banked in a three on a kickout from Magic.

But Dumars and Vinnie Johnson kept the margin within range for the rest of the quarter.  Joe D had 11 first quarter points and Vinnie had 9.  A lefty runner from Dumars after getting by Magic with a crossover cut L.A.’s advantage to 32-26 at the end of the 1st quarter.

While Detroit’s bench usually provided a spark, a seldom used member of the Lakers bench gave them a shot in the arm at the beginning of the 2nd quarter.  Tony Campbell hit his first 3 shots to keep the Lakers ahead.  But Dumars kept coming with a step-back jumper and then a pull-up from the wing.  Then he hit a driving runner over a lunging Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to cut L.A.’s lead to 38-37.

But Detroit was not able to grab a lead and the Lakers went back up by 7.  But Dumars kept coming and was Detroit’s offense for the 2nd quarter.  He finished the half with 26 points but the Pistons trailed 62-56 at the break.

L.A. kept its lead through half of the 3rd quarter as Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn picked up their 4th fouls.  But Isiah Thomas, who was held to 2 points in the 1st half with foul trouble, kept attacking and helped the Pistons cut it to 75-73 when he drove past Magic for a scoop.

Then, with 4:35 left in the quarter, came a play that haunted the Lakers for the rest of the series (and every Laker fan who thinks of that series).  John Salley blocked a shot to start a Piston fast break.  While Magic Johnson was running back on defense, he grabbed at his left hamstring.  It didn’t matter as much to said Lakers fans that Isiah eventually found Mark Aguirre for a layup to tie the game at 75.  Magic limped off the court and would not return for the rest of the game.  He had re-strained a hamstring that he had injured during the season.

But as teams often do for a short period of time when their leader goes out, the Lakers responded.  Worthy hit a field goal and two free throws.  Campbell connected on a turnaround from the baseline.  Later, Cooper and Campbell each hit threes to increase the margin.  The Lakers took a 92-84 lead at the end of the 3rd quarter.

But then reality and the Pistons defense set in.  The Lakers were not able to score a field goal for the first 8 1/2 minutes of the 4th quarter (only a little over 3/4’s of the final quarter).  James Edwards played big off the Pistons bench for the 5th straight playoff game and he put back an Isiah miss and hit two free throws to start the Pistons rally.

Vinnie then hit two field goals and Aguirre recovered a loose ball and scored a layup to put Detroit ahead 94-92.  Later, Isiah slipped on a baseline drive but was still able to find Dennis Rodman for a slam.  Isiah attacked the Lakers defense on three separate possessions that resulted in a runner, a layup and a scoop.  Detroit now led 102-95 with 4:31 on the clock.

Detroit slowed down their attack from there and kept L.A. with a fighter’s chance.  It still seemed that the Pistons were in good position when Isiah recovered his own miss and hit a jumper in the lane with 1:23 to go.  This put Detroit up 106-100.

But Mychal Thompson hit two free throws and A.C. Green rebounded a Dumars miss.  Green was later fouled by Aguirre on a corner jumper and made two more free throws to cut it to 106-104 with 32 seconds left.  Detroit ran the clock down but didn’t get a good shot.  Isiah threw up an airball with 8 seconds to go for a shot-clock violation.  L.A. had a chance to tie.

Pat Riley and the Lakers eventually found Worthy who was guarded by Rodman outside.  James drove and Dennis fouled him with 2 seconds left.  The first free throw bounced on the rim four times before falling off.  Worthy made the 2nd to cut it to one and the Lakers were able to foul Isiah before the clock ran out.

But after Thomas made both shots and the Lakers called a timeout, they were not able to get a three-point shot off to tie it.  Detroit now had a 2-0 lead going back to L.A. and the Lakers had more to be worried about then just their 2-0 deficit.

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (19) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (10) – Power Forward

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (11) – Center

Magic Johnson (18) – Point Guard

Michael Cooper (19) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Orlando Woolridge (7)

Mychal Thompson (6)

Tony Campbell (15)

Jeff Lamp (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Pat Riley

Detroit starters (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (14) – Small Forward

Rick Mahorn (2) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (2) – Center

Isiah Thomas (21) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (33) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Vinnie Johnson (18)

Dennis Rodman (2)

James Edwards (8)

John Salley (8)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

June 11, 1989 – NBA Finals, Game 3: Detroit Pistons 114 @Los Angeles Lakers 110

There was an early good sign for the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 3.  Magic Johnson was in the starting lineup despite a strained hamstring.  However, that good news soon went away when play started and Magic could barely run (much less do anything else).

Magic played about 5 1/2 minutes, was 0-for-2 from the field (and those two misses were missed badly), and had an assist.  After that, the decision was made to sit him out for the rest of the half and when it didn’t get better at halftime, Magic was out for the rest of the game.

Although the Lakers took an early lead, the Forum crowd was kind of downtrodden with what was going on.  Detroit came back to finish the 1st quarter on a 6-0 run as the Pistons guards split L.A.’s trap defense and got easy shots.  It was 27-22 Pistons after 1.

The lead grew to eight when Isiah Thomas split the trap and found John Salley for a three-point play.  But Tony Campbell came in to spark the Lakers and the Forum crowd.  Campbell had 11 points in the 1st half and Orlando Woolridge also gave L.A. a shot in the arm with a drive and dunk.  James Worthy got going as well for, really, the first time in the series as L.A. came back to take a 52-46 lead.

But then Detroit’s defense and passing against the trap produced a Pistons 9-0 run and brought them back into a 57-55 halftime lead.

The 3rd quarter started with a spark from one, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  The 42-year-old scored 6 early points as L.A. took a 68-63 lead after a Worthy drop-step and finger roll in the lane.

Then Campbell picked up his 4th foul and Joe Dumars hit two free throws.  This started an incredible streak for Dumars that kept Detroit in the game and opened up series MVP talk for the 4-year guard.  A Woolridge slam on a 3-on-2 break put the Lakers up 72-67.  But Dumars responded with a drive.

Michael Cooper hit a pull-up from the foul line, but Dumars responded with a wing jumper after Bill Laimbeer swung the ball to him on the weak side.  Cooper pushed the ball right back and found Woolridge for a reverse.  Laimbeer again swung the ball to Dumars for a wing jumper after L.A. double-teamed on one side of the court and couldn’t rotate to Dumars in time.

Worthy got another layup from the post but Dumars hit another wing jumper to respond.  Kareem got the bounce on a fall-away in the lane.  Dumars hit a free throw after A.C. Green was called for a technical.  Worthy kicked out to Cooper for a three to give L.A. an 83-76 lead.  But Dumars responded with not one, not two, but three baskets to cut the lead to one.

Then Joe D answered a Mychal Thompson field goal with another jumper, this time from the top.  All in all, Dumars had 21 points in the 3rd quarter and had scored 17 Piston points in a row.  Laimbeer found Rick Mahorn for a slam to end the Dumars run late in the 3rd but L.A. still led 88-86 going into the 4th.

The crowd had responded to the Lakers effort without Magic and Byron Scott since early in the 2nd quarter, but the Pistons bench and defense came to life again in the 4th.

John Salley hit two field goals.  Dennis Rodman would pull down a career-high 19 rebounds despite back spasms.  But it was the Microwave, Vinnie Johnson, that came to life offensively in the quarter.

It started when Vinnie rebound-slammed an Isiah miss to tie the game at 94 with 7:46 left.  He later gave Detroit a 98-96 advantage when he split the trap for a runner.  He did it again for a three-point play a possession later.

But the Lakers stayed in it with Kareem scoring and rebounding like it was 1976 again and with a little bit of luck too.  A.C. Green got the bounce on a shot-put double-pump fling as he was fouled.

But Vinnie put the Pistons out in front with three jumpers to make it 109-104 with just over 2:00 left.  However, Kareem hit two free throws.  Then after Vinnie missed a three and Rodman missed a subsequent tip, L.A. got the ball back.

They almost ran out the shot clock after Isiah blocked a driving shot by Tony Campbell.  But, speaking of luck, Worthy recovered and threw in a prayer from the wing at the buzzer.  Unfortunately for Worthy, his foot was on the three-point line.  So Detroit still led 109-108 with under 1:00 to go.  Isiah broke down the L.A. defense and hit a runner off the glass with 38 seconds left.

The Lakers then turned over the inbounds pass after a timeout and Green was forced to foul Isiah with 28 seconds to go.  Thomas made both free throws to make it 113-108 Detroit.  Isiah then stole the ball from Cooper and that seemed to be it.  But Green tied up Isiah and forced a jump ball.  Green controlled it to rookie David Rivers, who was only playing because of the injuries to Magic and Scott.  Isiah then committed a bone-head error and fouled Rivers on a reach-in.

Rivers made both shots with 13 seconds left and Detroit called timeout.  Chuck Daly got it inbounds to Dumars who was tied up by A.C. Green again with 11 seconds left.  This time Dumars got his hand on the tip but hit it too far and it went out of bounds.  The Lakers had a chance to tie with 9 seconds left.

Cooper inbounded and Rivers broke free in the corner.  Rivers seemed to have an open shot for a second but Dumars lunged over and blocked the shot.  Then Joe D was able to save it in to Laimbeer, who was fouled by Green.  In a game where Dumars had an incredible 3rd period display (after an impressive 2nd quarter display in Game 2), that block would become the play of the series.

Laimbeer hit a free throw to finally put it away and Detroit was up 3-0.  What now loomed for the Lakers was not only getting swept, but the last game for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had 13 rebounds to go along with his 24 points in Game 3.

Detroit starters (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (2) – Small Forward

Rick Mahorn (7) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (10) – Center

Isiah Thomas (26) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (31) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Vinnie Johnson (17)

Dennis Rodman (12)

James Edwards (0)

John Salley (9)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (26) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (11) – Power Forward

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (24) – Center

Magic Johnson (0) – Point Guard

Michael Cooper (15) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Orlando Woolridge (9)

Mychal Thompson (8)

Tony Campbell (11)

David Rivers (6)

Jeff Lamp (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Pat Riley


Joe Dumars had his 2nd straight 30-point game in Game 3 of the Finals, including 21 in the 3rd quarter *photo courtesy of

June 13, 1989 – NBA Finals, Game 4: Detroit Pistons 105 @Los Angeles Lakers 97

It seemed like a formality that the series was over.  Magic Johnson was in a sweatsuit for the Lakers and Byron Scott was in a suit.  Nothing had changed there.

But if the Lakers were going to go down, they showed early on that it wasn’t going to be easy.  Mark Aguirre and Rick Mahorn each picked up 2 fouls early on.  Mahorn had been the best defender of the series against James Worthy.  With him out of the game, Worthy went crazy.

L.A. grabbed an early 10-4 lead before Detroit pushed back to within 13-10.  Then Worthy got started with a step-back jumper from the wing.  He followed with a lefty hook in the lane after an up-and-under move against John Salley.  Then after a Kareem block, Worthy drove the lane for another score.  After Worthy hit a turnaround from the post, L.A. led 23-14.

Another defensive problem for Detroit came when Dennis Rodman, who had been battling back spasms since the Chicago series, finally came up lame.  He could only manage 13 minutes in Game 4.  Worthy finished the 1st quarter with 17 points as the Lakers raced to a 35-23 lead.  But the concern was that a.) Detroit had gotten off to slow starts before and b.) was anyone going to help Worthy with the scoring load?

Michael Cooper did help briefly with 5 points early in the 2nd quarter to give L.A. as much as a 16-point lead.  But Detroit started making a run as Joe Dumars and Vinnie Johnson, main culprits for the Lakers demise in the last two games, got going.

Dumars scored 16 points and got to the line 14 times in the 1st half, making only 10, while Vinnie scored 11 2nd quarter points.  But Detroit could only cut it to 55-49 at the half, thanks in large part to 11 missed free throws in the 1st half.

But the Pistons made one of their big runs in the first 3 minutes of the 3rd quarter.  Bill Laimbeer started it with a three-pointer from the top.  Worthy answered with a three for his 24th point but then Mahorn hit two free throws and put back an Isiah Thomas miss.  Dumars then gave Detroit a 59-58 lead when he hit a running banker and drew a foul.

Pat Riley finally called a timeout at the 9:00 mark after Mahorn hit a jumper from the post to give Detroit a 61-58 advantage.  While the Pistons kept themselves ahead for awhile, the Lakers stayed in the game and eventually took the lead thanks to James Worthy.

Worthy finished the 3rd quarter with 33 points but wasn’t getting much help.  Tony Campbell had 6 points and 5 fouls.  Kareem, after a great effort in Game 3, didn’t have a field goal in the first 3 quarters.  At the end of the 3rd quarter, L.A. was hanging on to a 78-76 lead.

Detroit would put the Lakers away in Game 4 the same way that they had the last 2 games, with defense and bench play in the 4th quarter.  Rodman penetrated and found Mahorn for a layup and a foul to tie it at 82.  Then Isiah found James Edwards for a baseline jumper.

Later, Vinnie found Edwards for a slam and a foul to give Detroit an 89-86 lead.  Isiah then got two layups to put Detroit up 93-87 with 7:02 to go.  Worthy continued to keep L.A. in the game but, despite his career-high 40 points, he was finally shut down over the last half of the quarter.

Edwards scored his 13th point of the 4th quarter with a turnaround from the post to give Detroit a 96-90 lead.  Mychal Thompson hit two free throws and a field goal for the Lakers but a runner from Isiah with just under 4:00 left put Detroit ahead 100-94.

There was a drought from there for both teams.  Pistons droughts over the last few minutes of Games 2 & 3 had given L.A. a chance.  But this time, the Lakers had few answers.

Finally, Kareem hit a banker after a spin from the pivot.  This cut Detroit’s lead to 100-96 with 1:37 to go.  It would also become significant as it would be Kareem’s last points in the NBA.  Detroit ran down the shot clock and got another chance when Salley rebounded a Dumars miss.  Dumars, who would become an unlikely series MVP, then sealed it with a baseline jumper with 1:03 to go.

Then came the question of when Kareem would be taken out for the last time.  It originally happened with 47 seconds to go.  But then Laimbeer hit a jumper to put the Pistons ahead 104-97 with 28 seconds left.  Riley called a timeout and decided to put Kareem back in.  Cooper then missed a three and Isiah was fouled.

At this point, it was more known that this was the final moment for Kareem.  The crowd at the Forum chanted his name while the Piston players applauded out of respect.

The Pistons were starting to tear up and hug on the sideline.  Not every team that suffers heartbreaking playoff losses (like the Pistons had in ’87 and ’88) have the chance to get back and win the title, but this Piston team had persevered.

Their defense over the last few seasons had shut down the ’80’s dynasties of Boston and the Lakers.  And while it is said for most teams that they needed everybody to contribute and play within their roles to win.  Detroit did not have a single player average over 20 points per game, but they had 5 players average double figures and 4 others over 7 points per game.

It was said of Detroit that you never knew who the “star of the night” was because it could have been anybody.  The star of the 1989 NBA Finals was Joe Dumars, who averaged 27.3 points per game.  Isiah Thomas (21.3) and Vinnie Johnson (17.0) were the only other scorers who averaged double figures in the Finals.  But Worthy was the only Laker who averaged over 12.5 points per game.  Pistons defense, especially in the 4th quarter, was the difference.

Detroit starters (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (2) – Small Forward

Rick Mahorn (13) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (16) – Center

Isiah Thomas (14) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (23) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Vinnie Johnson (14)

Dennis Rodman (2)

James Edwards (13)

John Salley (8)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (40) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (6) – Power Forward

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (7) – Center

Michael Cooper (11) – Point Guard

Tony Campbell (6) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Orlando Woolridge (13)

Mychal Thompson (11)

David Rivers (2)

Mark McNamara (0)

Jeff Lamp (1)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Pat Riley

detroit celebration 1989 (1) detroit celebration 1989 (2)

The Pistons celebrate the franchise’s 1st ever championship with Pistons Owner William Davidson (holding the trophy) and Isiah Thomas (#11) in the middle of it *photos courtesy of and


From → NBA

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