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1990 NBA Season – Bad Boys II

July 19, 2015

dumars jordan

The Bulls and Pistons were the most intriguing matchup for an early season matchup and SI’s cover *photo courtesy of krakov

Would the defending champion Detroit Pistons repeat and continue to hold down Michael Jordan and curtail the Bulls rise?  Would the Lakers drop off in the West without Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? (an early prime candidate to knock them off was San Antonio with the addition of David Robinson.  The Spurs did beat the Lakers on opening night)  Would the Celtics return to relevance after dominating the East in the 1980’s?

Those were the main questions heading into the 1990 NBA season.  The Detroit Pistons had lost their main enforcer Rick Mahorn in the expansion draft to the Minnesota Timberwolves.  Mahorn would eventually be traded to the Philadelphia 76ers and teamed with Charles Barkley to form a physical frontcourt.

The Pistons put John Salley in the starting lineup (along with Mark Aguirre, Bill Laimbeer, Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars) to replace Mahorn.  This meant the bench with Dennis Rodman, Vinnie Johnson and James Edwards got shorter, although the Pistons did acquire physical big man Scott Hastings.

The Bulls big change involved their head coach as Doug Collins was fired over the summer and Phil Jackson was hired.  The smaller changes involved their bench.  Sam Vincent was selected by Orlando in the expansion draft.  Brad Sellers was traded to Seattle for a 1st round pick (which gave the Bulls three of them, two of which were still on the roster on opening day).  Chicago drafted Oklahoma’s Stacey King with pick #6 and Iowa’s B.J. Armstrong with the pick from Seattle.  With the addition of King, the Bulls could trade veteran center Dave Corzine to Orlando for future 2nd round picks.

King and Armstrong added to a bench that would include Craig Hodges, Charles Davis and Will Perdue (who didn’t get much playing time as a rookie in 1989).  The starters were Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant at the forwards, Bill Cartwright in the middle, and John Paxson and Michael Jordan at the guards.  They would have an early matchup with the defending champs on TNT

November 7, 1989 – Detroit Pistons 114 @Chicago Bulls 117

Michael Jordan opened the season with 54 points in an overtime win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.  But the Bulls dropped their second game, also at Chicago Stadium, to Boston when Larry Bird (fresh off of heel surgery that took him out of all but 6 games in 1989) hit a layup at the buzzer.  Now they had their 3rd game of the season at home.

Detroit had opened with close wins against New York at home and then at Washington.  They got off to a good start in Chicago as Aguirre scored 7 of their first 13 points and Detroit trailed by two.  Horace Grant had picked up 2 early fouls and Stacey King (who had not scored a field goal in his first two games) came in.

Jordan then hit a pull-up from the foul line and Paxson finished a breakaway against Laimbeer.  Then Jordan stole the ball from Dumars at halfcourt and took it in for a slam.  Chicago now led 21-13.  But Detroit’s defense got them back in despite King getting his first NBA field goal.  They took a 26-25 lead when Isiah hit a high-arcing pull-up from the baseline with 1 tenth of a second left in the 1st quarter (the NBA now had the ability to go to tenths of a second in the final minute).

The teams traded leads early in the 2nd quarter but Detroit’s bench (like it had so many times in 1989) provided a spark on both ends of the court.  Back-to-back steals and layups by Vinnie Johnson capped a 7-0 run and gave the Pistons a 50-42 lead.

The lead stretched to 14 when Aguirre put in a three for his 18th point of the 1st half.  Chicago was able to cut it to 59-47 at the half.

Bill Laimbeer started the 2nd half with three jumpers (including two three-pointers) to give Detroit as much as a 15-point lead.  But Chicago steadily climbed back into it after an early timeout by Jackson.  Cartwright hit two field goals and Paxson found Pippen for a three.

The teams traded baskets for awhile until Detroit re-took a 10-point lead at 80-70.  But then Jordan hit two free throws, Pippen found Grant for a fast-break layup, and Jordan kicked out to Paxson for a wing jumper.  This was the closest the Bulls had been in awhile.

Later, Jordan hit a pull-up double-pump in the lane that turned into a three-point play and Pippen followed with a turnaround from the baseline.  The lead was cut to one and would stay that way as Detroit led 84-83 going into the 4th.  Chicago had not used a bench player in the 3rd and had scored 36 points led by Jordan’s 15.

The new enforcer Scott Hastings was brought in by Chuck Daly to start the 4th quarter.  He soon goaded rookie Stacey King into an ejection.  Hastings battled and grabbed King on one possession until he had enough and threw a punch.

Detroit held the lead as Dumars, who hadn’t done much in the first 3 quarters offensively, scored 9 early points.  But when Grant put back a Pippen miss halfway through the quarter, Detroit’s lead was down to 95-93.  But Grant sprained his ankle on the play and, without King, Jackson had to go to raw-raw Jack Haley.  Haley would eventually be released by the Bulls a month later, but he did hit two free throws.

Ultimately, Grant returned (he would miss the Bulls game the next night) but Detroit kept its lead.  Dumars and Isiah were the main scorers, as they were in the 1989 NBA Finals.  But the Bulls stayed with them and with 1:43 to go, a jumper from Paxson cut the Pistons lead to 109-107.

Then Jordan helped out Paxson to trap Isiah at half court and force Thomas to throw the ball out of bounds.  Jordan then beat a double team and found Grant for an easy layup to tie the game.  After a Detroit timeout, Paxson stripped Isiah and Pippen found Jordan for a breakaway slam.  The Bulls now led 111-109 with 58.2 seconds to go.

Pippen then rebounded a Laimbeer miss on a pick-and-pop.  The Bulls ran down the clock and Jordan found Paxson for a wing jumper.  Detroit eventually got a timeout with 23.9 to go and Isiah hit a pull-up from the baseline to cut it to 113-111.

Dumars then fouled Jordan and Michael split the free throws, giving Detroit a chance to tie.  Isiah had an open three in transition but lost the ball.  He recovered and found Laimbeer, who bricked a three.  Pippen rebounded and was fouled.  He hit both free throws that ultimately put the game away.

Phil Jackson and the Bulls had gotten off to a good start with a win over the Pistons.  Unfortunately for Chicago, that would be the last time they would defeat Detroit in the 1990 regular season.

Detroit starters (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (22) – Small Forward

John Salley (6) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (17) – Center

Isiah Thomas (20) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (23) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

James Edwards (2)

Vinnie Johnson (14)

Dennis Rodman (10)

Stan Kimbrough (0)

Scott Hastings (0)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (17) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (12) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (17) – Center

John Paxson (16) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (40) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Stacey King (9)

Craig Hodges (0)

B.J. Armstrong (0)

Will Perdue (0)

Charles Davis (4)

Jack Haley (2)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

November 14, 1989 – Chicago Bulls 96 @Sacramento Kings 94

There are some games in the long 82-game schedule that you will look at your best, when you are one of the best.  Then there are some games where you will not look good but need to survive anyway.

The Chicago Bulls experienced that against a perennially struggling Sacramento Kings team.  The Kings had talent, but its talent wasn’t superstars.  A lot of them were or turned out to be role players on championship-level teams.  They acquired a former superstar that was trying to battle back from injuries.

It was noted during the game that the Kings didn’t have anybody on their roster who was there in 1986-87 (when the Lakers, somewhat famously, took a 28-0 lead on the Kings in a game).  They drafted North Carolina point guard Kenny Smith in the 1st round in 1987.  He still remained.

They drafted Vinny Del Negro from NC State in the 1st round in 1988.  Then the trades were made.  Otis Thorpe was traded to Houston for Rodney McCray and Jim Petersen.  LaSalle Thompson and Randy Wittman were traded to Indiana for Wayman Tisdale.  Joe Kleine and Ed Pinckney were traded to Boston for Danny Ainge.  They drafted Louisville’s Pervis Ellison with the #1 pick in 1989.

Then the trade came for the former superstar.  Jim Petersen and only Jim Petersen would be traded to Golden State for Ralph Sampson.  Sampson would join a lineup of Tisdale, McCray, Ainge and Smith, with Ellison, Del Negro and former Villanova Wildcat Harold Pressley coming off the bench.

The teams traded jabs early on and the game was tied at 13 after Sampson outletted to Ainge who found Smith for a slam.  Horace Grant and then Stacey King picked up two early fouls for the Bulls.  Sacramento would get another basket off transition as Ainge saved a ball to Tisdale, who found Smith, who found McCray for a slam.

Michael Jordan, as per usual, scored 10 points in the 1st quarter (but committed two fouls) in leading the Bulls to a 26-24 advantage at the end of the 1st quarter.

A subplot of this game was that the #1 overall pick, Pervis Ellison, was actually making his NBA debut.  Imagine the fact that he got cheered wildly by the Sacramento fans.  Also imagine that he had a good game and hit his first shot on a turnaround from the post.  Ellison then fed Smith on a cut to put the Kings up 30-27.

Sacramento would actually go on an 11-2 run to open the 2nd quarter.  But the Bulls managed to stay in it and a wing jumper from Scottie Pippen cut the lead to 39-37.

With time running out in the 1st half, Smith hit a three and then found Tisdale for a pull-up in the lane.  The Kings led 51-45 with 1:02 to go.  But then Jordan got a slam after a steal by Craig Hodges.  He followed that by nailing a three from the top to cut the Kings lead to 51-50 at the half.

A 6-0 run by the Kings put them up early in the 3rd quarter.  The Bulls were developing a missed layups epidemic.  Danny Ainge also had a missed jumpers epidemic but he hit two in a row to keep Sacramento ahead.

Craig Hodges came off the bench to hit two jumpers (including a three) but McCray scored 6 Kings points in a row as the teams literally went back-and-forth.  Finally, Jordan’s pull-up jumper after a crossover gave Chicago a 74-69 lead.  Then Bill Cartwright got a steal and Jordan fed Pippen for a slam with 1:04 to go in the 3rd.

A three-point play by Ellison cut the lead back to 76-72 by quarter’s end.

But Chicago continued its momentum and took an 83-74 lead after Sacramento coach Jerry Reynolds (who coached the team for about 3 years but was taken over for by Bill Russell for most of the 1988 season, Reynolds would later become a Kings broadcaster) was called for a technical.

But then the missed layups epidemic was in full effect and the home team got back as Del Negro and then Pressley each nailed two jumpers to cut it to 85-84.  Jordan hit a fall-away in the lane after stepping through a double.  He found Hodges for two jumpers as Chicago took a 91-86 lead with 4:13 remaining.

That lead grew to 94-88 before the Kings went on a 6-0 run, culminating when Rodney McCray hit a fall-away from the deep wing at the end of the shot clock, to tie the game with 1:35 to go.

Cartwright missed a turnaround and Pippen missed a tip.  Tisdale’s feed to Ainge went out of bounds.  Jordan’s turnaround in the post was in-and-out.  Then Tisdale missed a turnaround in the lane and Pippen rebounded with 13 seconds left.

Chicago called a timeout and Phil Jackson, in his 7th game as a coach, gave the ball to Michael.  Be brought it up court and was met by a Wayman Tisdale double-team at the right wing.  As he rose in the air, Pippen back-cut Harold Pressley and got a whip-pass from MJ.  Pippen’s layup rolled in as the buzzer sounded and the Bulls had survived.

Chicago’s road magic didn’t continue as they lost their next three games (at Utah, at Seattle, and at Portland).  The Bulls would find that the road was not always an easy place to be, even against the most expansion of opponents.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (14) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (15) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (8) – Center

John Paxson (8) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (27) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Craig Hodges (11)

Stacey King (5)

Charles Davis (4)

B.J. Armstrong (3)

Ed Nealy (0)

Will Perdue (1)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Sacramento starters (points scored)

Rodney McCray (21) – Small Forward

Wayman Tisdale (19) – Power Forward

Ralph Sampson (2) – Center

Kenny Smith (22) – Point Guard

Danny Ainge (10) – Shooting Guard

Sacramento bench (points scored)

Harold Pressley (8)

Vinny Del Negro (6)

Pervis Ellison (6)

Randy Allen (0)

Sacramento Coach: Jerry Reynolds

Wayman Tisdale

Wayman Tisdale spent 5 full seasons in Sacramento *photo courtesy of Washington Post

December 15, 1989 – Los Angeles Lakers 119 @Boston Celtics 110

Larry Bird was back for the Boston Celtics in 1990.  With that, everyone expected them to return to the top of the East.  But the Celtics had started with a so-so 12-9 record and Boston was restless.

The Celtics had gone through some changes since their 1988 Eastern Conference Finals appearance.  Most notably, K.C. Jones had been replaced at coach by assistant Jimmy Rodgers, who was feeling the brunt of this restlessness.  In February, 1989, the Celtics traded Danny Ainge to Sacramento for Ed Pinckney and Joe Kleine.

Pinckney and Kleine were brought in to lessen the minutes load on Robert Parish and Kevin McHale.  The Celtics also had young guards in Reggie Lewis and Brian Shaw, so Ainge seemed expendable.

But then Shaw signed with an Italian team before the 1990 season and got into a contract lawsuit with the Celtics that eventually forced Shaw to rejoin Boston for the 1991 season.  The Celtics had also signed former Cavalier guard John Bagley, but he was hurt.  Lewis returned for the Lakers game after missing the previous few with a hamstring injury.  But the Celtics guards now were veterans Dennis Johnson and Jim Paxson, each of whom were in their final season in the NBA.

While the minutes for Parish and McHale were down, Larry Bird’s were still around 40 minutes per game.  And with Bird just returning, it wasn’t easy for him to put together consecutive good games.  In the Celtics’ previous game against Seattle, Bird scored 40 points in 46 minutes.  In the game against the Lakers, Bird missed 18 shots.

It seemed like the Celtics were in transition.  Their veterans were definitely slowed and their young talent hadn’t stepped up yet.  Meanwhile, the Lakers were thought to be past their prime without Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

But then the Lakers started the season at 10-1.  They had more of a speed lineup and still had Magic Johnson and James Worthy to post up, along with Mychal Thompson and A.C. Green who could run as big men.  Byron Scott and Michael Cooper manned the guard spots with Larry Drew brought in as a backup point guard after David Rivers was lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves in the expansion draft (the Lakers also lost Tony Campbell to Minnesota).

L.A. also seemed to find a gem in the draft.  21-year-old Vlade Divac was drafted with the 2nd-to-last pick of the 1st round.  While the young center surely had some growing pains, he also had some promising moments.  This included his performance in the 4th quarter against Boston.

The Lakers came into this game at 17-5 and were without Mychal Thompson, who had a sore achilles tendon.  So Pat Riley decided to start three guards (Magic, Scott and Cooper) with Worthy and A.C. Green in the middle.

With the 6’9″ 220 lb Green on him, Robert Parish was determined to get off to a good start with his height and weight advantage.  He put back an Ed Pinckney miss and then hit a turnaround jumper in the lane.

But Worthy matched him as he scored L.A.’s first 6 points to keep the Lakers even.  L.A. took a 24-18 lead when Magic found Green for back-to-back jumpers.  But Dennis Johnson got Boston back into it by sticking two outside shots.  D.J. found Kevin McHale for a jumper in the lane to give Boston a 30-28 lead after the 1st quarter.

The Celtics bench got off to a good start in the 2nd quarter.  Joe Kleine hit a lefty hook shot (before he had to go out of the game because his funny-bone was hit).  Reggie Lewis hit a pull-up and McHale (who was now back to the 6th man) got a three-point play on a Lewis feed.  Lewis then scored on a driving layup to put Boston ahead 41-34.  Parish continued his dominant 1st half as well.

The Lakers got back into it and tied the game at 47 on a Cooper three.  A Bird jumper and then a feed to a cutting Paxson put Boston back up by four.  But then the Celtics went ice cold and couldn’t make a basket.  L.A. went on a 10-0 run and finished the half with a 13-4 clip to take a 60-55 halftime lead.

When the 2nd half started, the momentum did a complete 180.  The Lakers now couldn’t make a shot or a good decision (they turned the ball over on a 4-on-1 fast break) and Boston spurted back into the game.  Bird hit back-to-back field goals and Boston took a 66-64 lead when D.J. got a steal and layup.

D.J. led Boston with 18 points while Parish had 17.  But Dennis committed his 4th foul and two free throws from Magic tied the game at 70.  Magic later kicked out to Green for a jumper to put L.A. up 73-70.  The Lakers were able to maintain that lead through the end of the 3rd quarter as Worthy led them with 22 and Green contributed 15.  The Lakers led 85-82 going into the 4th.

Within the first minute of the 4th quarter, L.A. had its most damaging spurt.  Magic lobbed a pass to Orlando Woolridge for a three-point play.  Byron Scott nailed a three.  Then Vlade Divac got a steal and Magic fed Worthy for a layup.  It was now 93-82 and Boston called a timeout with 10:59 left and the fans at Boston Garden beginning to boo.

After the timeout, the run continued as Magic hit a step-back jumper from the wing and then fed Divac for a reverse.  Divac also contributed a hustling save to keep a Lakers possession alive and then, in the most stunning Divac move of all, he pick-pocketed Larry Bird in the back court while Bird was dribbling up court.

Bird would come alive though as NBA fans were seemingly remembering what he was like after not seeing him much in 1989.  He hit a wing jumper, a three from the top and then a fall-away over Woolridge from the post to cut the lead to 101-93 with 7:05 left.

However, that was the end of the Bird magic.  L.A. was able to maintain their lead and Magic Johnson even got a steal from Bird which led to an A.C. Green slam.  Bird attempted 27 shots and, as I said earlier, missed 18 of them.  Magic would finish the game with 21 assists.

Little did one know it at the time, but this would be the final time that Larry Bird and Magic Johnson matched up at the Boston Garden.

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

Michael Cooper (12) – Small Forward

James Worthy (28) – Power Forward

A.C. Green (25) – Center

Magic Johnson (16) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (21) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Orlando Woolridge (5)

Vlade Divac (10)

Larry Drew (2)

Mark McNamara (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Pat Riley

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (21) – Small Forward

Ed Pinckney (2) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (23) – Center

Dennis Johnson (24) – Point Guard

Jim Paxson (6) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Kevin McHale (21)

Reggie Lewis (6)

Joe Kleine (4)

Kevin Gamble (0)

Michael Smith (0)

Kelvin Upshaw (3)

Boston Coach: Jimmy Rodgers


Bird and Magic matched up for the last time at Boston Garden on December 15, 1989 *photo courtesy of Total Pro Sports

December 20, 1989 – Chicago Bulls 109 @Orlando Magic 110

The Orlando Magic had made some surprises as an expansion team in the early part of the season.  They were 8-15 and on their list of conquests were New York, Cleveland (at Cleveland), Philadelphia, Utah (at Utah), and the Los Angeles Lakers.  With defeating 5 teams who made it to the 1989 NBA playoffs, it was the most since the Chicago Bulls themselves were an expansion team in 1967.

But the Magic had gotten some veterans, including a few former Bulls.  In the back court was Sam Vincent and Reggie Theus and off the bench was Sidney Green and Dave Corzine.  Other veterans included forwards Jerry Reynolds and Terry Catledge, center Mark Acres and 6th man Otis Smith.  The young pieces were point guard Scott Skiles and rookie swingman Nick Anderson.

Orlando was on a 4-game losing streak (all on the road, including one at Chicago) while the Bulls were on a 5-game winning streak and had defeated the Lakers at home the previous night.  Chicago was actually leading the Central Division (over the Detroit Pistons) and was tied for the lead in the East at that moment with a 15-7 record.

Despite the back-to-back (with subsequent travel), the Bulls came out with energy in front of a big crowd at the O-rena.  Michael Jordan got a steal and slam.  Bill Cartwright hit a turnaround in the post.  Scottie Pippen tip-dunked a Cartwright miss.  Horace Grant hit a turnaround in the lane.  Finally, Jordan nailed a three from the top and Orlando coach Matt Guokas had to use a timeout less than 4 minutes into the game with his team down 11-2.

The Bulls eventually increased their lead to as much as 14 after Jordan found Pippen for a slam and a foul.  But the Magic started pushing the ball and going to the basket.  As a result, they got to the foul line.  Sam Vincent was the main beneficiary early as he shot 8 free throws in the 1st quarter (making 7 of them).

Orlando went on a 10-0 run after Otis Smith, Nick Anderson and Sidney Green came in off the bench to make a contribution.  But Jordan’s 6 points in the latter half of the quarter held the Magic at bay as the Bulls led 28-22 going into the 2nd quarter.

It was in the 2nd quarter where fatigue may have become a factor for Chicago.  Orlando started out with a 7-0 run to take the lead as Smith hit a tough runner and was fouled and Green hit a field goal and two free throws.

Otis Smith, in particular, got going in the 2nd quarter as he scored 16 of his 20 1st half points.  But the Bulls still hung around, thanks to Mr. Jordan.  Jordan got a breakaway slam while drawing the 3rd foul from a scoreless Reggie Theus to tie the game at 40.  But Smith and Vincent kept getting to the line and Orlando’s leading scorer, Terry Catledge, got 6 points late in the half (his first 6 points of the game) to put the Magic ahead 55-50 at the break.

Catledge kept it going in the 3rd while Theus joined the party by nailing outside shots.  Orlando took a 9-point lead several times as the Bulls field goal percentage was continuing to drop.  They had not shot well at all since the 1st quarter.

Catledge had 10 third quarter points but Theus was the big factor with 14.  Chicago managed to cut the lead to 79-75 when Grant got a steal and Jordan got a breakaway slam.  But Pippen picked up his 4th foul and Nick Anderson led Orlando on an 8-0 run to take their biggest lead at 87-75.

The Bulls though made a late comeback in the 3rd.  Jordan hit a pull-up and then Orlando turned the ball over with a few seconds left.  Craig Hodges then lobbed an inbounds pass to a wide-open Cartwright for a layup at the buzzer.  The Magic’s lead was cut to 87-79 going into the 4th.

But Orlando started the final quarter well and took a 95-85 lead before the Bulls made their big run.  And by the Bulls, I mean Jordan.  MJ went on a 6-0 run, including a lefty layup after a quick first step, and then two free throws from Cartwright cut it to 95-93 with 6:23 left.

It looked very much like the Bulls were going to steal another one after not playing well, especially after Jordan nailed a three to give the Bulls a 98-97 lead with under 5:00 left.  But Orlando stayed with them as Terry Catledge kept getting to the line and hitting free throws.

Otis Smith tied it at 102 with a spin to the baseline and a slam.  Then Vincent came from behind Jordan to block an MJ shot.  This led to a breakaway layup from Theus to give Orlando a lead with 2:25 left.  The Bulls then went cold on their next two possessions (which included a Jordan airball) and the Magic took a 106-102 lead when Theus found Smith for a banker with 1:11 left.

But then after Phil Jackson called a timeout, Jordan got the ball at the middle of the floor, drove, scored and was fouled.  The three-point play cut the lead to one.  Then Vincent missed a pull-up and there was a jump ball called after a rebound scramble with 31.2 seconds remaining.  The Bulls controlled the jump and Smith eventually fouled Jordan with 15.9 remaining.  MJ hit both free throws to put Chicago up 107-106.

Orlando called a timeout and Matt Guokas went small by putting Catledge in at center.  Catledge got the inbounds pass at the foul line, drove against Cartwright and drew a foul with 13.5 left.  Catledge made both free throws and Phil Jackson called timeout.

Again, they cleared out for Jordan.  The double didn’t come quickly enough as Michael drove, stopped on a dime and pulled up over Mark Acres (the center who was back in and was coming over late to help out).  Jordan banked one in with 7.7 seconds left and the Bulls took the lead again.  Guokas used a timeout now.

The Magic went to their 6th man who was having a career game.  Otis Smith was out on the top guarded by Pippen.  Smith drove past him and was able to scoop one in with 2 seconds left.  The Bulls were out of timeouts and the arena was celebrating.  Cartwright had to take it out and throw a long pass with cheerleaders celebrating around him.

Cartwright was able to get a long pass to Jordan, who had his shot blocked at the buzzer and was complaining that he was fouled (there were no good looks of the play that was shown).  The Magic had beaten their 6th 1989 playoff team in their first two months of existence.

The Magic would come back down to earth after this game.  They were 9-15 at this time but would finish at 18-64.  However, they did have one more memorable win against the Bulls.  On Valentine’s Day, 1990, the Bulls were in Orlando again and lost in overtime.  This game would be famous because Michael Jordan had to wear #12 (as you probably know, it was 1 of 3 numbers he wore during his NBA career).

The Bulls Central Division lead didn’t last long either as the Pistons went on a 38-5 streak.  This included three wins against the Bulls (two at Chicago Stadium) in games that weren’t particularly close.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (9) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (10) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (19) – Center

John Paxson (8) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (52) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Craig Hodges (6)

Stacey King (4)

Jeff Sanders (0)

B.J. Armstrong (0)

Will Perdue (1)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Orlando starters (points scored)

Jerry Reynolds (2) – Small Forward

Terry Catledge (26) – Power Forward

Mark Acres (4) – Center

Sam Vincent (13) – Point Guard

Reggie Theus (18) – Shooting Guard

Orlando bench (points scored)

Otis Smith (28)

Nick Anderson (10)

Sidney Green (9)

Scott Skiles (0)

Orlando Coach: Matt Guokas

jordan #12

In the Bulls next visit to Orlando, Michael Jordan’s #23 was missing and he had to wear #12 *photo courtesy of USA Today

December 26, 1989 – Boston Celtics 112 @Los Angeles Clippers 111

It was probably the umpteenth time that the Clippers franchise had some young talent and hope for the future.  Even in 1990, the Clippers were tortured.  Their last playoff appearance had been in 1976 as the Buffalo Braves.  They had spent six seasons as the San Diego Clippers before moving to L.A. in 1984.  Their highest number of wins in a season since their last playoff appearance was 43.

For 1990, their core had been built through the draft.  In 1985, they selected center Benoit Benjamin with the 3rd pick.  He turned out to be a bust but their picks got a little better.  In 1987, they used their 1st round picks to select Reggie Williams, Joe Wolf and Ken Norman.  Williams would later be part of a key trade.

In 1988, the Clippers had the 1st and 6th picks in the draft and made some headway.  With the 1st selection, they drafted Danny Manning.  With the 6th, they drafted guard Hersey Hawkins and traded him to Philadelphia on that day for big man Charles Smith.  On that same day, they traded veteran Michael Cage to Seattle for their draft pick, guard Gary Grant.  In 1989, they drafted Danny Ferry.

Ferry and the aforementioned Williams would then be part of a key trade on November 16, 1989.  They were sent to Cleveland for athletic star guard Ron Harper.  Harper joined Grant, Norman, Benjamin and Smith in the starting lineup.  Danny Manning was coming off the bench as he was just returning from a torn ACL that ended his rookie season.  Joe Wolf also came off the bench with former Rhode Island star Tom Garrick.

The Clippers were actually 9-4 at home so far in 1990.  This included wins against the Bulls and Pistons.  Unfortunately for this young team, they were 0-10 on the road.

But they were home at the Los Angeles Sports Arena for this one against the Celtics, who were struggling on the road so far in 1990.  Boston had a so-so 14-11 record as Bird was still coming back from his 1989 heel surgeries.  Boston was also an aging team that had no point guard behind Dennis Johnson with John Bagley out.  The 6’5″ Kevin Gamble filled that role in this game.  A backdrop for the Clippers coming into this game was that they had not beaten Boston in a game since moving to L.A.

Bird started off this game well as he scored 4 field goals for 8 of Boston’s first 11 points.  But Gary Grant matched him with 8 of the Clippers first 10.  Los Angeles (like their L.A. counterparts) were a running team that liked the get out on the break.  Their athleticism would especially be an advantage against the Celtics.

The Clippers took a 20-14 lead after Smith and Harper each scored on putbacks.  They kept that six point advantage until 7 seconds remained in the quarter as Reggie Lewis drove baseline, scored and was fouled.  After the three-point play, the Clippers led 26-23 going into the 2nd quarter.

Lewis was another big key to this game for the Celtics because he was one of the few younger players on the Celtics who could match the Clippers’ athleticism.  Lewis was off to a slow start for the season.

Boston’s bench came in and made a difference in the 2nd quarter.  Most notably, Kevin McHale scored 6 early points as the Celtics regained a 36-30 lead.  But Harper got out on the break twice over the next few minutes to help bring L.A. back to a 38-all tie.  The Clips regained a 4-point lead late in the half after a three-point play from Harper and then a Charles Smith slam on a 4-on-1 break.

But Bird scored his 14th point on a lefty runner in the lane and McHale found D.J. for a wing jumper to tie the game at 50.  Two more free throws from Bird put Boston up 52-50 at the half.

A 6-0 run by the Clippers helped them regain the lead as Grant continued to have an effective day.  The former Michigan Wolverine had 20 points at the end of the 3rd.  The teams went back and forth as the Clips continued to get out on the break and Boston executed in the half-court.  Los Angeles had an 85-82 advantage going into the 4th.

L.A. took a 92-86 lead when Danny Manning hit a runner in the lane and drew a foul.  But Reggie Lewis kept Boston in it with 6 early points.  Boston went on an 8-2 run to tie the game at 94 with 7 minutes to go.

The Clippers then went down low to Charles Smith, who showed off his potential.  Smith scored all 10 of the Clippers points as they took a 104-100 lead.  This included two turnaround jumpers, including one where he was fouled.  Charles had 29 points at that point.

But Lewis hit 6 free throws during a stretch to keep Boston within 105-102.  Harper hit a high-arcing fall-away from the baseline to give the Clippers a five-point lead.  But, other than that shot, nobody minus Smith was able to score for the Clippers as their fast break was cut off.  Lewis responded to Harper’s shot with a runner.

Then after Smith hit two free throws, D.J. found Bird for a wing jumper and Boston trailed 109-106 with 2:00 left.  But the Clippers continued with their cold stretch and a tip-in by Robert Parish (his 16th rebound of the game) cut the lead to one.  Smith then missed a finger roll for the Clippers and Boston had a chance to lead.

Bird missed a jumper but the Clippers knocked it out of bounds with 25.3 seconds left.  Boston called a timeout and went to Lewis.  Reggie was able to draw a cheap foul on Harper with 10.3 seconds left.  He got the bounce on the first free throw before nailing the second to give Boston a 110-109 lead.  The Clippers called a timeout.

They went to Charles Smith at the top.  Smith took McHale 1-on-1 to the lane where he met Parish.  Smith pulled up over both of them and nailed the jumper with 5.1 to go.  Boston used another timeout.  The final 5 seconds showed off the fortunes both franchises had enjoyed in their history.

This time coach Jimmy Rodgers went to the Bird.  Larry, though, was double-teamed.  He raised up over Smith as Charles put his hands up.  There was a little contact but Smith seemed to have his hands up.  Either way, a foul was called with 0.2 seconds left on the clock.  Bird made both free throws to give Boston the lead.

L.A. then used their last timeout.  With 0.2 seconds left, we now know that you can’t get off a shot.  But in the first year of the tenths of seconds in ’89-’90, there was no parameters.  Three weeks after this game, New York’s Trent Tucker hit a buzzer-beater with 0.1 seconds left to beat the Bulls.

But unlike that play, on this case Harper caught the ball with his back to the basket.  He turned around from behind the three-point line and nailed an incredible shot that had the fans and the Clippers going crazy.  But the replay clearly showed that the shot got off too late and the refs waived off the basket (they actually called it no-good immediately as they couldn’t view replay at this time).

The Celtics had survived and would start to get their season on track a bit with an overtime win in Sacramento a night later.  They beat Seattle to finish their mini-road trip at 3-0.

The Clippers would get their revenge in Boston Garden on January 5 with a 114-105 win.  They incredibly out-scored Boston 34-17 in the 4th quarter and beat the Celtics for the first time since they were in San Diego.  Harper and Manning had 28 and 26, respectively.  It would perhaps be the high point for the Clippers that season.

11 days later, Harper tore his ACL and cartilage in his knee and would be out until January, 1991.  While Harper remained an effective player for the last 10 years of his career after the injury, he was forever robbed of a good portion of his athleticism that defined his early career.

A little over two weeks later, Gary Grant fractured his ankle and was out for the season.  Grant would never materialize into anything more than a journeyman backup.  After this injury, the Clips started to lose again and went out of the playoff race.

They would finish at 30-52.  The Clippers “curse” was alive and well.  Although they would break their 16-year playoff drought in 1992 with many of these same players, including Manning, Smith, Harper, Grant and Norman.

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (27) – Small Forward

Ed Pinckney (5) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (11) – Center

Dennis Johnson (7) – Point Guard

Jim Paxson (4) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Reggie Lewis (28)

Kevin McHale (20)

Kevin Gamble (4)

Joe Kleine (2)

Michael Smith (4)

Charles Smith (0)

Boston Coach: Jimmy Rodgers

L.A. Clippers starters (points scored)

Ken Norman (10) – Small Forward

Charles Smith (33) – Power Forward

Benoit Benjamin (10) – Center

Gary Grant (24) – Point Guard

Ron Harper (20) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Clippers bench (points scored)

Danny Manning (14)

Tom Garrick (0)

Joe Wolf (0)

L.A. Clippers Coach: Don Casey

charles smith

Charles Smith had his career-high 33 points against Boston, but it wasn’t enough *photo courtesy of Pinterest

February 11, 1990 – NBA All-Star Game @ Miami: East 130, West 113

Even without Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Los Angeles Lakers still managed to get three starters in the All-Star Game.  Thanks to an ankle injury by Karl Malone, A.C. Green got a start in his only All-Star appearance.  He didn’t make much of it as he failed to score.  James Worthy also struggled with a 1-for-11 performance.  But Magic Johnson ended up being the star of stars despite being on the losing team.

A three from Magic gave the West an early 7-2 lead.  But then a three from Michael Jordan and then a three-point play on a strong post-up move by Charles Barkley gave the East a lead that it never relinquished.

For one of the few times in All-Star history, a team looked cohesive.  The East had about as talented a starting five as any in history with Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan.  They showed off their talent with balance as everybody except Bird got into the scoring column and contributed.  They also showed off their talents at the defensive end and held the West starters, minus Magic, down.

The best back-and-forth sequence of the 1st quarter came when Magic and Jordan exchanged two coast-to-coast drives in a duel of “I can do anything better than you, no you can’t, yes I can.”

But the East ran away when their bench came in and didn’t miss a beat.  Joe Dumars hit a three from the top to give the East a 25-19 lead with 3:00 to go.  The Celtics big men of Kevin McHale and Robert Parish each scored two field goals.  But Dominique Wilkins would get the two highlights as he had a double-pump fast break dunk and then hit a long three at the buzzer to end the 1st quarter.  All in all, the East had gone on a 18-4 run and led 40-23.

Parish and McHale continued to play well and keep the East well ahead in the 2nd quarter.  But the newest addition making a splash in the NBA, David Robinson of the Spurs, also had an impressive showing as he was aggressive on both ends of the floor and especially showed off some agility and moves on offense.

Robinson and Rolando Blackman helped the West cut into what was as much as a 20-point lead.  Two threes from Magic ended the half on a higher note for the West as they had cut it to 65-52 at the break.

But the East started the 2nd half on an 11-5 run (the five West points coming from Magic).  The East would regain a 20-point lead with the highlight being Isiah Thomas bounce passing a ball through Patrick Ewing’s legs (and past three West defenders) to Jordan for a slam.

The East increased it to 91-68 with 4:00 left in the 3rd when Dumars hit another three.  Tom Chambers and Clyde Drexler led the West on a mini-run to cut the lead to 100-83 at the end of the 3rd quarter.  The East had six players in double figures scoring.

The West started the 4th quarter on a 9-2 run as Robinson hit a turnaround from the post, Chambers got a three-point play and Lafayette “Fat” Lever scored two field goals.  But a pull-up in the lane by Parish and a baseline drive in transition by Dominique put the East back ahead 106-92 with just over 2:00 gone by in the quarter.

A 6-0 West run cut it back to 108-98 but the East then scored 6 of the game’s next 8 points, culminating with Jordan completing a layup after a spin in the lane.

The closest the West got was 116-107 with just under 3:00 remaining.  But Ewing tipped in a Barkley miss and then after Blackman hit a jumper to respond, Barkley hit a hook shot from the post.  Isiah lobbed to Jordan for a layup and then got a breakaway basket to officially put the game away.

But there was one more highlight to go.  With the East running out the last seconds of the clock, the West just left Barkley open beyond the three-point line.  Barkley resisted for awhile but then finally took a long three and nailed it at the buzzer to make the final score what it was.

The last question was concerning the MVP.  The East had been so balanced that nobody stood out (imagine an All-Star team looking like that today).  Jordan and Barkley led seven East players in double figures with 17.

So the voting swung towards Magic Johnson, who had 22 points after three quarters (and didn’t end up scoring in the 4th).  The logic was something along the lines of, if it weren’t for Magic the West would probably be getting killed by 40 points.  So Magic was voted the MVP.  It would be the 3rd time a member of the losing team got an MVP in the All-Star Game (the first two were Bob Pettit in 1958 and Julius Erving in 1977).

West starters (teams) and point totals

James Worthy (Los Angeles Lakers) 2 – Small Forward

A.C. Green (Los Angeles Lakers) 0 – Power Forward

Hakeem Olajuwon (Houston Rockets) 8 – Center

John Stockton (Utah Jazz) 2 – Point Guard

Magic Johnson (Los Angeles Lakers) 22 – Shooting Guard

West bench (teams) and point totals

David Robinson (San Antonio Spurs) 15

Fat Lever (Denver Nuggets) 16

Tom Chambers (Phoenix Suns) 21

Rolando Blackman (Dallas Mavericks) 15

Clyde Drexler (Portland Blazers) 7

Chris Mullin (Golden State Warriors) 3

Kevin Johnson (Phoenix Suns) 2

West Coach: Pat Riley (Los Angeles Lakers)

East starters (teams) and point totals

Larry Bird (Boston Celtics) 8 – Small Forward

Charles Barkley (Philadelphia 76ers) 17 – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (New York Knicks) 12 – Center

Isiah Thomas (Detroit Pistons) 15 – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (Chicago Bulls) 17 – Shooting Guard

East bench (teams) and point totals

Robert Parish (Boston Celtics) 14

Kevin McHale (Boston Celtics) 13

Joe Dumars (Detroit Pistons) 9

Dominique Wilkins (Atlanta Hawks) 13

Reggie Miller (Indiana Pacers) 4

Scottie Pippen (Chicago Bulls) 4

Dennis Rodman (Detroit Pistons) 4

East Coach: Chuck Daly (Detroit Pistons)


Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan battle in the 1990 NBA All-Star Game.  Magic won the MVP but Jordan’s team won the game *photo courtesy of In All Airness

February 20, 1990 – Los Angeles Lakers 115 @San Antonio Spurs 114 (OT)

When the San Antonio Spurs beat the Lakers 106-98 on opening night, L.A. GM Jerry West said that it was not a fluke.  And with that, a strong start was underway in San Antonio after a 21-61 season in 1989 (Larry Brown’s first losing season as a coach).

What was different for the Spurs?  Many things, actually.  First of all, the #1 pick in the 1987 draft was finally available after a two-year tour of duty with the Naval Academy.  7’1″ David Robinson was making an impact on both ends of the floor.  They acquired Terry Cummings in a trade with Milwaukee in exchange for Alvin Robertson and Greg “Cadillac” Anderson.  Arizona’s Sean Elliott was selected with the 3rd pick in the draft.

The last trade of the off-season was with the Philadelphia 76ers.  San Antonio sent Johnny Dawkins and Jay Vincent to the Sixers in exhange for veteran point guard Maurice Cheeks, Christian Welp and David Wingate.  Two of those people would be traded at the trade deadline (2 days after this game).  One of them unexpectedly.

Robinson, Cummings, Elliott and Cheeks would join 1988 1st round pick, Willie Anderson, in the starting lineup.  For the most part, each would make an impact.  Elliott struggled as a rookie and was eventually replaced in the starting lineup by Frank Brickowski.  But Elliott would be back in the lineup for this game.

The Spurs were 34-16 and 1 game behind the Utah Jazz for the lead in the Midwest Division.  Meanwhile, the Lakers were 37-12 and 1.5 games ahead of the Portland Trailblazers, who were finally putting it together with all of their talent.

The teams started even through the first 5 minutes before a 7-0 Lakers run put them ahead 15-8.  The Spurs had beaten L.A. at the Forum a month earlier but Magic Johnson was out with the flu.  Magic was the difference early on, like he is in most Laker games.  His 7th point on a jumper in the lane put the L.A. up 21-13.  Byron Scott then penetrated and found James Worthy for a baseline jumper and a 10-point Laker lead.

Worthy then got his 8th point when Magic kicked out to him for a jumper from the top.  The lead was now 25-13.  But then Magic took a breather and, just like that, the Spurs went on a run.  Cummings hit back-to-back baskets.  Brickowski got a steal and fed Robinson for a slam.  Cheeks then followed with a steal and Wingate followed up his miss and was fouled.

It looked like the Spurs would cut the Lakers lead to 28-24 at the end of the 1st quarter when Wingate hit two free throws with 0.7 seconds left.  But L.A. threw a long pass and Brickowski deflected it right to rookie Vlade Divac, who nailed a jumper from the top.  Somehow it counted.

Divac did get the shot off before 0.0 according to the replay but a deflection and a catch-and-shoot in 0.7 seconds seems like too much.  So perhaps the Spurs timer started the clock a tad late.  It would end up costing the Spurs and L.A. now led 30-24.

The benches battled back-and-forth in the 2nd quarter.  The Lakers got contributions from Michael Cooper, Larry Drew and Orlando Woolridge to stay ahead.  They took a 53-46 lead with 2:33 left in the half when Worthy drove, scored and drew Robinson’s 3rd foul.

L.A. increased it to as much as 11 before disaster struck with 12 seconds left in the half.  Michael Cooper hustled after a loose ball and jumped in the air out of bounds, tripped over a chair, and hit the back of his head and neck on the landing.  Cooper was unconscious for a few minutes before coming to and being able to walk off the court with some assistance.  He was taken to the hospital and was determined to have a bruised spine in his neck.  He was obviously out for the rest of this game and the Lakers’ game the next night in Denver.

After that delay, action resumed and Anderson found Cummings for a layup to cut the Lakers halftime lead to 59-52.  Cummings led the Spurs with 18 points.  The Lakers maintained that lead for much of the 3rd quarter as well.

They led 74-66 with under 5:00 to go in the quarter.  But on consecutive possessions, Cheeks found Cummings for a layup and Brickowski found 17-year veteran Caldwell Jones for another layup.  Maurice Cheeks then took the offense in his own hands with a driving three-point play and then a jumper from the top to give the Spurs a 75-74 lead.

Cheeks could not add to his onslaught as he missed a perimeter jumper on the next possession.  Magic rebounded and went coast-to-coast for a layup and a foul.  A Magic outlet to Scott for another breakaway after a block from Divac gave the Lakers an 81-79 advantage going into the 4th quarter.

L.A. maintained a 90-88 five minutes into the 4th quarter before Elliott drove baseline for a slam and a foul to give the Spurs the lead.  Elliott was a big factor in the 2nd half after going scoreless in the 1st.  But Larry Brown elected to bench him down the stretch in favor of Brickowski.  This reared its ugly head when Frank had to go 1-on-1 against Worthy down the stretch.

But first things first, back-to-back baskets by Cheeks forced an L.A. timeout with 5:05 to go.  The Spurs were up 95-90.  Pat Riley had to take another timeout 23 seconds later when Cheeks found Anderson for a reverse on the break to put the Spurs up by seven.

The Lakers would be brought back by Worthy, who went 1-on-1 on consecutive possessions to help cut the lead to 102-98 with 2:22 left.  Then after Big Game James rebounded a miss by Cummings, Magic kicked out to him for a three from the top.

The teams traded misses before Woolridge (who played in A.C. Green’s spot down the stretch) fouled Cummings with 38.5 seconds left.  Cummings made two free throws to put the Spurs up 104-101.  After an L.A. timeout, Worthy penetrated and found Mychal Thompson.  Thompson hit a runner while Cummings fouled him.  An old fashioned three-point play tied the game with 29.8 left.

The Spurs did not use a timeout and tried to get the ball inside to Robinson.  Cheeks finally got it there and the Admiral pump faked Thompson, went under Mychal and hit a jumper with 9.3 seconds left.  Riley used a timeout.

Magic drove into the lane and spun.  He was doubled at that point and kicked out to a wide open Worthy for a baseline jumper.  It was good with 2.2 to play.  Brown used a timeout this time.  Anderson lobbed the ball to Robinson in the near post.  But this time Thompson blocked David’s turnaround and the game was headed for overtime.

Field goals by Woolridge and Thompson put the Lakers up 110-106 two minutes into the extra period.  But back-to-back baskets by Robinson tied the game again.  Magic scored in the post against Cheeks but Willie Anderson answered with a driving layup.  The Spurs then got the ball back when Woolridge was called for an offensive foul.

Anderson drove baseline, pump faked Byron Scott, and hit a tough shot to give San Antonio a 114-112 lead with 37.4 seconds to go.  Magic missed on a drive and Woolridge missed a tip.  Cheeks rebounded with 30.6 seconds left.  The Lakers decided to play the possession out and not foul.

It worked when Anderson missed a step-back jumper against Worthy.  Scott rebounded and called timeout with 7.7 seconds to play.

Riley again gave it to Magic at the top.  He swung it to Woolridge who penetrated instead of going to Worthy in the corner.  The Spurs defense collapsed around Woolridge in the lane and he had no shot.  But wide open at the left wing outside the three-point line was Byron Scott.

Woolridge kicked out and Scott nailed the three as the buzzer went off.  The Lakers danced off the court as the raucous crowd in San Antonio was now stunned.  The Lakers had thrown a big dagger in the hearts of the Spurs.  It would turn out to be the last time they matched up in 1990.

Spurs fans would be more stunned the next day when their veteran presence, Maurice Cheeks, would be traded to New York for young point guard Rod Strickland.  Christian Welp would be traded to Golden State, meaning Wingate was the only player remaining from the off-season trade with Philadelphia.

Despite the daggers, the Spurs were able to catch the Jazz and finish a game ahead of them for the Midwest Division title and a 56-26 record.  Their 35-win improvement from the previous season was the biggest in NBA history, and would be until the Spurs broke it in 1998.

The Lakers would hold off Portland and Detroit by four games for the best record in the league at 63-19.  But the Lakers would be in for tough playoffs, unlike 1989.

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (27) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (12) – Power Forward

Mychal Thompson (13) – Center

Magic Johnson (19) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (15) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Orlando Woolridge (11)

Vlade Divac (8)

Michael Cooper (2)

Larry Drew (8)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Pat Riley

San Antonio starters (points scored)

Sean Elliott (9) – Small Forward

Terry Cummings (30) – Power Forward

David Robinson (23) – Center

Maurice Cheeks (14) – Point Guard

Willie Anderson (16) – Shooting Guard

San Antonio bench (points scored)

David Wingate (13)

Frank Brickowski (4)

Caldwell Jones (2)

Johnny Moore (3)

San Antonio Coach: Larry Brown

March 4, 1990 – Chicago Bulls 118 @Boston Celtics 114

After losing to the Orlando Magic on Valentine’s Day in a game where Michael Jordan had to wear #12, the Chicago Bulls were 29-20 and 6.5 games behind the Detroit Pistons in the Central Division.

But after that, they put together their longest winning streak since 1983 with 7 victories in a row.  Although they were still 6 games behind the red hot Pistons, they were a half a game behind New York for the 2nd best record in the East.  But now they were to play their toughest game since the streak started, in the Boston Garden.

The Celtics had followed up losing 4 in a row by winning 4 straight (their longest win streak since 1988).  They were 34-22 and 2.5 games behind the Knicks (and 1 game behind Philadelphia) in the Atlantic Division.  Coach Jimmy Rodgers had changed the lineup and put rookie Michael Smith into a starting role at forward alongside Larry Bird.  That combination had produced the 4-game winning streak.

But Chicago looked like the stronger team early on as they shot 68% from the field in the 1st quarter and Jordan scored 17 points.  But Craig Hodges provided a lightning bolt with a long three at the buzzer to end the quarter.  Chicago led 40-32, even without Bill Cartwright who was out with a back injury.

The Celtics big factor was that they were not taking advantage of the Bulls not having Cartwright.  Robert Parish was being guarded by 2nd-year player Will Perdue and rookie Stacey King and not getting the ball.  Boston’s bench kept them within range in the early part of the 2nd quarter.  But when they finally went to Parish, they made a run.  An 8-1 spurt brought the Celtics back to within 47-44.

Michael Smith was also proving to be a factor.  Smith drove repeatedly and drew fouls.  He also got out on the break.  Four consecutive free throws from Smith brought Boston to within 51-50 and Phil Jackson brought Michael Jordan back in.  Jordan and Scottie Pippen kept the Bulls ahead and they led 64-59 at the half.

Jordan’s passing became a factor in the 3rd quarter as he found John Paxson for jumpers and Will Perdue for layups.  But Larry Bird was starting to warm up after not shooting well in the 1st half.  His turnaround fall-away from the post over Pippen cut the Bulls lead to 70-69 halfway through the quarter.

The Celtics took their first lead since very early when Parish kicked out to Dennis Johnson for a jumper from the top.  But the Bulls followed with a 6-0 run.  Boston stayed within 86-83 going into the 4th quarter.

The final quarter started out just as the promoters wanted it to.  Jordan got a layup after a steal.  Bird popped out and hit an elbow jumper.  Jordan hit a jumper from the top.  Bird hit a three from the wing.

Bird continued to respond to Chicago buckets by either scoring or feeding to teammates.  His breakaway layup on a Parish outlet cut it to 97-96 with about 6:00 left.  What followed was each team trading punches without the other blinking.

Bird gave the Celtics the lead when D.J. found him for an elbow jumper.  Jordan penetrated and kicked out to Pippen for a corner three.  D.J. found Bird for a three of his own.  Pippen then penetrated and found Hodges for a three from the wing.  Kevin McHale kicked out of a double-team to D.J. for a jumper from the top.

All of that happened on consecutive possessions and the game was tied at 103 with 3:56 left.  After a timeout, Jordan hit two free throws to give the Bulls the lead.  Bird followed-up a Parish miss to tie it.  McHale then grabbed a Bulls miss and was ready to outlet the ball when Jordan stripped him and laid it in.

With about 2:00 left, D.J. tied it again with two free throws.  But Pippen found Horace Grant for a layup and the Bulls led 109-107.  Bird had a rare 4th quarter miss and Parish fouled Hodges chasing down the rebound.  Hodges hit two free throws for a four-point lead.

The Bulls eventually led 113-108 before Bird hit a turnaround fall-away from the post with under a minute to go.  Bird then rebounded a missed three from Pippen at the end of the shot clock.  Bird outletted to D.J. who pushed and found Reggie Lewis for a layup and a foul.  Lewis had a chance to tie the game but missed the free throw.

McHale fouled Jordan with 19.5 seconds left.  Michael made both free throws and the Bulls led 115-112.  After a Celtics timeout, Bird got open for a three.  He missed but Pippen was called for a foul and subsequently a technical.  This was still in the days that Bird got two free throws instead of three even though he was fouled behind the three-point line.  But with Pippen’s technical, Bird had three shots to tie it at 11.6 seconds.

Bird hit the technical but missed the first of his two regular shots.  The 1990 Celtics were one of the best free throw shooting teams in NBA history, but missed two key free throws.  Bird made the second to cut it to 115-114.  McHale fouled Pippen at 10.2 to foul out.  Pippen made the first but missed the second.

Parish rebounded and the Celtics pushed without calling a timeout.  Bird went for three and the win but Pippen, this time, successfully deflected his shot and Hodges was fouled by Lewis with 0.5 seconds left.  Hodges finished it with two free throws.

The Bulls won at Milwaukee two days later to increase their win streak to 9 before losing at home to Utah.  But the Bulls won 7 of their next 9 games (one of those losses being to Detroit 106-81) to improve to 45-23 when they traveled to Cleveland.  A year after Jordan gave the Cavaliers a cruel exit from the playoffs, he had another surprise for them.

The loss to Chicago kicked off a 3-game losing streak for Boston that put Michael Smith back on the bench.  But they rebounded and had a chance to increase their season-long winning streak of 4 games when they traveled to New York 20 days later.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (22) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (15) – Power Forward

Will Perdue (10) – Center

John Paxson (12) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (36) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Craig Hodges (15)

Stacey King (4)

B.J. Armstrong (2)

Ed Nealy (2)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (38) – Small Forward

Michael Smith (16) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (18) – Center

Dennis Johnson (11) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (8) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Kevin McHale (11)

Jim Paxson (12)

John Bagley (0)

Boston Coach: Jimmy Rodgers

March 24, 1990 – Boston Celtics 115 @New York Knicks 110

At the 1990 All-Star break, the New York Knicks were 32-16.  This was good for 2nd best in the East behind Detroit, two games ahead of Philadelphia and 3 games ahead of Boston for the lead in the Atlantic Division.

On March 11, they still led the Atlantic Division with a 39-22 record.  But after a home loss to Chicago two days later, they started to go the wrong way.  The Knicks lost their next 4 games and lost Charles Oakley for the rest of the regular season with a broken hand.  Now on a 5-game losing streak, New York was 3rd in the Atlantic and desperately needed a big performance.

The Knicks still had Patrick Ewing, Mark Jackson, Gerald Wilkins and Johnny Newman in the lineup.  Kenny Walker moved up to starter when Oakley got injured.  Off the bench came Kiki Vandeweghe, Trent Tucker and Eddie Lee Wilkins.  They lost Sidney Green to the Orlando Magic in the expansion draft in 1989 and traded young disgruntled guard Rod Strickland to San Antonio for Maurice Cheeks.  Cheeks brought a veteran presence and was challenging the struggling Jackson for the starting spot at the point.  New York also had a new coach after Rick Pitino left for Kentucky.  Assistant Stu Jackson stepped in for 1990.

Boston was headed in the opposite direction than the Knicks.  The Celtics had won 4 in a row and were starting to put their game together.  With it being a big division game, the Knicks needed a big performance and their star provided it.

Patrick Ewing started early hitting two jumpers from the post over Robert Parish to give New York an early lead.  His third turnaround jumper from down low put the Knicks ahead 13-7.  Ewing continued later with another baseline turnaround and then threw down an alley-oop pass from Gerald Wilkins.  Ewing’s driving hook put his team up 27-17.  Ewing had 12 points but was also getting help from Jackson and Wilkins.

But then Boston went on a 9-0 run as Kevin McHale, Larry Bird, Reggie Lewis, and Dennis Johnson all scored to cut the lead to one.  Boston finished the quarter on a 14-4 run and took a 34-31 lead at the break.

Ewing hit three more field goals from down low to start the 2nd quarter as Joe Kleine was now guarding him.  Later, two more jumpers from down low put the Knicks back up 47-40.  Although Ewing was dominating, his teammates were not getting involved and Jackson, most notably, looked like the player that had lost confidence and was getting booed by the home crowd.

Parish responded with two field goals but Ewing kept New York ahead as he was showing the Celtics every move he could think of down low.  Ewing capped the half when he tipped in a miss from Jackson with 0.6 left in the quarter.  New York led 62-56 and Ewing had 32 points.

Helped by a technical called on Bird, New York grabbed an early 10-point lead in the 3rd quarter.  They would push it to 74-62 when Jackson got a steal and found Kenny Walker for a layup.  Boston called a timeout at the 6:25 mark.

The Celtics went to McHale down low and he converted a three-point play.  D.J. then hit two jumpers and found McHale for a three from the top.  The McHale trey (he was going more to the three-point shot now that he wasn’t as able to elevate down low as he was earlier in his career) cut the Knicks lead to 76-74.

Two free throws from McHale tied it before Ewing led the Knicks on a 7-0 run to stretch the lead again.  Another turnaround jumper from Patrick down low gave him 41 points and gave New York an 85-78 lead heading into the 4th quarter.

Ewing scored 4 quick points to put the Knicks up 11.  But then Reggie Lewis hit a floater and Bird nailed a three.  After Ewing hit two free throws, Lewis hit a step-back from the baseline, McHale got a three-point play on an up-and-under move from the post, and then McHale put back a Bird miss for his 23rd point.  New York was now up only 91-90 and called a timeout at the 8:24 mark.

The teams then traded baskets until Boston was able to grab a three point lead.  Ewing had another field goal and two free throws to bring his total to 51 and bring New York to within one.  But then the Celtics defense was finally effective against Ewing as they stripped him twice and then forced a miss on the next few times he got the ball.

Lewis hit two free throws and Parish got a layup after former BC great John Bagley penetrated and found him.  McHale hit a fall-away from the post and Parish tipped in a McHale miss to give Boston a 106-100 lead with just over 2:00 left.  Then after getting the ball back, Bird spun past Johnny Newman in the post for a left-handed layup.

New York called timeout with 1:51 to go, down 108-100.  Newman would pull New York back to within 111-108 with 8 points.  The Knicks then forced a turnover from Bird and had a chance to tie it with a three.  But instead of giving Newman the ball again, they worked it around to Kenny Walker.  Walker took a long two-point shot from the baseline and it was blocked by McHale.

The Celtics were able to further put it away when Gerald Wilkins missed a driving layup and Boston hit most of its free throws.  Ewing fouled out with 10 seconds to go and, although he got a nice hand from the Garden crowd, he was clearly frustrated with not getting the win.  Ewing’s 51 points would end up being his career-high.

Although the Knicks ended their 6-game losing streak in their next ballgame, they skidded to a 45-37 finish and held off Milwaukee by one game to finish 5th in the East.  Boston’s 5-game winning streak ended in their next game but they had a 6-gamer in April and finished 52-30, good for 4th in the East.

So, with these teams’ finishes, they would play each other in the 1st round.  The Knicks would get Oakley back for the first playoff game.  It ended up making a difference.

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (19) – Small Forward

Kevin McHale (27) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (18) – Center

Dennis Johnson (8) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (31) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

John Bagley (2)

Joe Kleine (2)

Ed Pinckney (2)

Kevin Gamble (2)

Michael Smith (4)

Boston Coach: Chris Ford (taking over for Jimmy Rodgers on this night)

New York starters (points scored)

Johnny Newman (19) – Small Forward

Kenny Walker (8) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (51) – Center

Mark Jackson (6) – Point Guard

Gerald Wilkins (10) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

Kiki Vandeweghe (6)

Maurice Cheeks (9)

Trent Tucker (0)

Eddie Lee Wilkins (1)

Brian Quinnett (0)

Stuart Gray (0)

New York Coach: Stu Jackson

March 28, 1990 – Chicago Bulls 117 @Cleveland Cavaliers 113 (OT)

By 1990, the fans and people of Cleveland had had just about enough of Michael Jordan.  Michael had beaten the Cavs (almost by himself) in the playoffs the last two seasons, culminating with his game-winning shot in Game 5 in Cleveland the previous season.

But Michael hadn’t quite had enough of the Cavaliers yet.  In the opening game of the season, he dropped 54 on them in an overtime victory.

Cleveland was not quite the same as they had been in 1989, when they tied for the 2nd-best record in the league.  They started the season with Mark Price, Larry Nance and Brad Daugherty all out with injuries and lost their first 4 games as a result.  But Price came back and the Cavs won three in a row.

But on November 16, they traded star guard Ron Harper to the Clippers (along with three draft picks) for Danny Ferry and Reggie Williams.  Williams, after struggling in his first 3 1/2 seasons with the Clippers, would average just under 7 points per game for Cleveland in 32 games before being waived on February 26.  He would be picked up by San Antonio a week later.  Ferry was playing in Italy after being drafted but not wanting to play for the Clippers.  He would average double-figures in 2 seasons of his 13-year career.  So, although Harper would tear his ACL, this trade set Cleveland back.

Nance would return in early December but did not have his explosive jumping ability that made him an excellent shot-blocker.  The Cavs would not see Daugherty until January 30.  The Cavs would play at under .500 for most of the year as they went on three 5-game losing streaks and a 6-gamer at the beginning of March to fall to 25-34.  But then they won 7 of their next 9 games to get to within a 1/2 game of the 8th and final playoff spot.

Cleveland now had Craig Ehlo at the off-guard spot and rookies Winston Bennett and Chucky Brown were splitting times that they started at the forward spot opposite Nance.  John “Hot Rod” Williams preferred to be the 6th man and had an excellent season off the bench.  The Cavs had also acquired Steve Kerr, who had struggled in Phoenix in his first season but was starting to prove he belonged in the league.  1st-round pick John Morton was also getting some time at the guard spot.

Bennett was the man who would start out on Jordan in this game and Michael immediately took him to the post and hit a turnaround fall-away.  Cleveland though would match Chicago early on and took a lead with the help of a Phil Jackson technical.  Jordan hit another fall-away and put back a Scottie Pippen miss but it was 17-13 Cavs.

But then MJ would nail a three after Charles David grabbed an offensive rebound.  Jordan followed with a driving lefty layup and, later, a wing jumper.  But after the Cavs came back to take the lead, Jordan ended the quarter by pump-faking Ehlo at the elbow, and then nailing the jumper while Ehlo fouled him.  The three-point play gave Michael 16 points and gave Chicago a 27-26 lead heading into the 2nd quarter.

Mark Price was just about matching Jordan as he had 15 points in the first 15 minutes of the game.  The Cavs stayed right with the Bulls as Jordan got a rest and nobody else from Chicago was stepping up.

MJ would score 13 more points in the 2nd quarter to being his total to 29 and the Bulls took a 53-50 halftime lead when B.J. Armstrong made a wing jumper with 0.2 seconds remaining.

Jordan continued early in the 3rd quarter with a breakaway slam and a pull-up jumper in transition.  But the beef that was starting to develop among the Cleveland contingent was that Jordan was not being called for fouls despite contact and then getting cheap fouls called on the Cavs at the other end.

The biggest gripe would be a “breakaway” foul called on Hot Rod Williams that sent MJ to the line for two shots and then gave the Bulls the ball back.  The breakaway foul was basically to stop people from fouling from behind on the break (similar to today’s rule when a player would get one shot and his team the ball back).

The two free throws from Jordan and then a subsequent step-back jumper from the baseline over Ehlo gave Michael 39 points and gave the Bulls a 69-58 lead with 7:25 left.  By that point, Cavs coach Lenny Wilkens had had enough.

During the timeout, he argued so vehemently with the refs that he got himself ejected with two technicals.  Assistant Dick Helm took over as coach and Jordan made both technical free throws.

Chicago continued to hold the lead and eight straight points by Jordan, to give him 49, put the Bulls ahead 87-70 in the last minute of the 3rd.  Chicago’s biggest lead would be 18 when Pippen drove baseline for a runner.  But then within 20 seconds, Hot Rod Williams made a jumper in the post and Ehlo nailed a three for his 22nd point of the game.

Then after Pippen committed an offensive foul with 3.3 seconds remaining, John Morton went coast-to-coast for a runner at the buzzer that cut the Bulls lead to 89-78 and gave Cleveland 7 points in about 40 seconds.

The Cavs now had momentum and, after Jordan nailed a three at the end of the shot clock to put Chicago up 94-82, went on an 8-0 run to cut it to four.  But then there was more controversy that steamed Cleveland.  Williams was on the break and banged into John Paxson while Jordan goaltended a shot attempt.  But instead of the three-point play to cut it to one, Hot Rod was called for an offensive foul and the Cavs got no points.

Jordan would then nail two more jumpers to put Chicago up 98-92 with 4:37 remaining.  The biggest thing that was helping the Cavs was that Jordan was doing the scoring all by himself as Pippen, most notably, struggled mightily.  But Jordan had beaten the Cavs seemingly by himself before.

Williams would tip in his own miss and then get a slam on a Nance feed to cut the lead to 100-98.  Jordan countered with a pull-up but then with 2:20 remaining, Paxson fouled out after scoring only 2 points and Price made two free throws.  Nance would then split a pair at the line with 1:22 remaining and Cleveland only cut it to 102-101.

Horace Grant, the only Chicago double figure scorer other than Jordan, was then fouled after rebounding an MJ airball.  He made two free throws to put the Bulls up three.  Jordan would then foul Ehlo with 49.8 remaining but Craig split his free throws too.  But Pippen threw the ball away in the backcourt and the Cavs had a chance to tie it.

But Ehlo was short on a baseline jumper and then fouled Jordan on the rebound.  Michael made the first free throw for his 61st point but missed the second, giving Cleveland a chance to tie it with a three.  After a timeout, Price found Ehlo at the wing for a trey that tied the game with 11.3 seconds remaining.  Jordan would miss a contested three against a double-team and the game would head to overtime.

After the comeback that they had, Cleveland would seem to gain a huge psychological advantage if they could grab the lead at some point.  But they never did.

Both teams went scoreless on their first few overtime possessions before Jordan hit a pull-up in the lane and Bill Cartwright hit two free throws.  A three-point play by Price cut the lead to one but each team then traded free throws until Chicago led 113-112 with under a minute to go.

Ehlo rebounded a Jordan miss (Jordan had his career high at this point, his previous high was against Boston in the 1986 playoffs with 63 points) but his three would then bounce off the rim and over the backboard.  B.J. Armstrong hit two free throws with 10.7 seconds remaining to put the Bulls ahead 115-112.  Jordan then fouled Price before he could get off a tying three.  Price was a 90% foul shooter but split the free throws (Price actually missed three free throws in this game, going only 17-for-20 from the line).

Grant rebounded the second miss and was fouled with 7.6 seconds remaining.  It was Hot Rod’s 6th foul after a strong game off the bench.  But Grant bricked the first and then the second.  Jordan, though, rebounded the second miss and was fouled with 4.2 remaining to foul out Ehlo.  Jordan made the two shots for his 68th and 69th point and put the game away.  69 would remain his career-high despite numerous 50-point games (in the playoffs too) and even some 60-point games (not in the playoffs).

Chicago finished the season at 55-27.  It was the 2nd-best record in the Central Division and Eastern Conference, 4 games behind Detroit.  The Bulls would beat the 6th seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the 1st round in 4 games.  They would then take on the Philadelphia 76ers.

Philadelphia beat a team that rebounded from its slow start and having Jordan score 69 on them.  The Cavs won 10 of their final 13 games to finish at 42-40 and in the 7th spot in the East.  They beat Philadelphia twice in Cleveland but lost three times in the Spectrum for their 3rd straight 5-game defeat in the 1st round.

Although Philadelphia would hold off Boston for the Atlantic Division title, they literally had to fight to do it.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (7) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (16) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (9) – Center

John Paxson (2) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (69) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Stacey King (1)

B.J. Armstrong (6)

Will Perdue (0)

Charles Davis (5)

Clifford Lett (2)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Cleveland starters (points scored)

Winston Bennett (6) – Small Forward

Larry Nance (11) – Power Forward

Brad Daugherty (10) – Center

Mark Price (31) – Point Guard

Craig Ehlo (26) – Shooting Guard

Cleveland bench (points scored)

John Williams (23)

Chucky Brown (2)

Steve Kerr (2)

John Morton (2)

Tree Rollins (0)

Cleveland Coach: Lenny Wilkens

MJ 69

MJ hits a fall-away for two of his career-high 69 points against Cleveland while Larry Nance (#22) looks on *photo courtesy of Da Windy City

April 19, 1990 – Philadelphia 76ers 107 @Detroit Pistons 97

The Philadelphia 76ers needed one more win to clinch the Atlantic Division.  There were two more games in the season and the last would be hosting the Boston Celtics, who were on the heels of Philly.  CBS I’m sure was hoping that the division would come down to that game so that they could make it a Sunday afternoon showcase.

Philadelphia had gone 46-36 in 1989 under Jim Lynam and decided to get younger at the point guard by trading away a longtime popular piece.  Maurice Cheeks, along with Christian Welp and David Wingate, would be traded to the Spurs in August for Johnny Dawkins and Jay Vincent (who would be waived in December).  Dawkins, the former Dukie, would step in at the point.

The 76ers still had Charles Barkley, Hersey Hawkins and Mike Gminski to go along with him.  But then a move was made before the season that would make the 76ers hated by the Pistons.  Former Piston Rick Mahorn was acquired by Philadelphia from Minnesota, who had selected him in the expansion draft.  Mahorn and Barkley made for a physical front line that could match the Bad Boys.

It showed during the season as Philadelphia beat Detroit twice at the Spectrum and then lost an overtime game at the Palace in which they had a four-point lead in the final seconds of regulation.  While Detroit/Chicago may have been a hot matchup in the East, the Pistons/76ers would definitaly have been interesting.  Especially after this game.

Detroit already had the Central Division wrapped up.  They were up 3 games on the Bulls with 3 to play (and the Pistons had already won the season series with Chicago).  But the Pistons were trying to re-integrate their lineup.  Joe Dumars had been out for a few weeks with a broken wrist.  He had been a reserve in his first 4 games back but now was back in the starting lineup.

Furthermore, Chuck Daly made a gamble in the middle of January starting with a game at Chicago.  He put Dennis Rodman in the starting lineup in place of Mark Aguirre.  Rodman started along with Dumars, Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer and James Edwards.  Detroit followed by winning 25 of their next 26 games and Rodman would stay in the lineup for the rest of the year.

Dumars took advantage of his first starting role since the injury by nailing a baseline jumper for the first two points of the game.  He’d hit another one a few minutes later but would not end up shooting well in this game.  The lead swung back and forth and it would be Rodman, uncharacteristically, who would make three jump shots in the 1st quarter.

Philadelphia countered with balance as Barkley became the last starter to score.  But he finished the quarter with two slams and then a wing jumper over John Salley to put the 76ers up 25-22 heading into the 2nd quarter.

That lead increased as Ron Anderson came off the bench to score 8 quick points at Philly raced to a 36-25 advantage.  But Detroit got back into it as their new 6th man Mark Aguirre contributed as well.  Barkley though would score 11 points in the quarter, including a strong lefty layup in the post and then a three over Salley.  The 76ers grabbed a 53-43 halftime lead.

Isiah Thomas had struggled with only 2 points in the 1st half but he came out strong in the 3rd with 6 quick points.  Then Laimbeer put back his own miss to cut it to 55-51 and force a Philly timeout at the 9:51 mark.  By this point in the game, there had been three near skirmishes.  A lot of the animosity centered around Mahorn now being in an enemy uniform from the Detroit perspective and giving the 76ers a physicality.  Mahorn and Laimbeer drew technicals early in the 3rd after a near-skirmish.

Detroit would cut the lead to one twice but never could grab the advantage.  Barkley and Mahorn did just enough to hold off Detroit initially and then Philadelphia finished the 3rd quarter on a 6-0 run, culminating from a three by Hersey Hawkins.  The 76ers led 75-67 heading into the 4th.

Vinnie Johnson went into microwave mode early in the 4th and scored 8 points.  But Barkley countered with 6 to hold Detroit off.  Back-to-back buckets by Mike Gminski put the 76ers up 91-81 at the 5:27 mark.

Detroit would make one final run, although a portion of it would be without Isiah Thomas.  Thomas was trying to steal the ball from Mahorn on a play in the back court and ended up throwing two punches.  Mahorn didn’t even flinch at them and Isiah was ejected with Detroit down 93-86.

Dumars found Laimbeer for a three to cut it to 94-89 with 2:40 remaining.  But Detroit could not cut it any further and went into a drought over the next minute.  Philadelphia regained a 10-point lead when Barkley banked in a pull-up jumper.  Then Detroit would score and play the foul game.

It all came to a head when Mahorn got a breakaway slam with 14.8 seconds remaining to put the 76ers up 107-95.  Laimbeer then shoved the ball in Mahorn’s face and both pushed at each other.  By then Barkley came in and he and Laimbeer threw hay-makers at each other.  Everybody on the bench came out to try and break it up (this was before the rule that you couldn’t leave the bench during a skirmish) and ended up piling onto each other and causing more harm than good.

After a few minutes, it seemed to be calmer but there was still some simmering.  Laimbeer walked by the 76ers bench after being ejected and that escalated another near-skirmish.  Then it almost spilled into the crowd (a prelude to the Malice at the Palace) as Barkley, who was also ejected, walked to the tunnel by himself and got into it with fans.

They were finally able to finish the game but Laimbeer and Barkley would be suspended for the next game on each team’s schedule.  However, the 76ers could absorb a 20-point loss to the Celtics in the final game because they had clinched their division with the victory over Detroit.  The 76ers would finish at 53-29 and would beat Cleveland in the 1st round in 5 games to take on Chicago.  Detroit topped the East with a 59-23 record and swept Indiana in the 1st round.  They would take on the Knicks/Celtics winner, to be discussed after sorting out some chaos in the West.

But an NBA fan sure had to be looking forward to a possible 76ers/Pistons matchup in the playoffs after this scene.

Philadelphia starters (points scored)

Charles Barkley (36) – Small Forward

Rick Mahorn (11) – Power Forward

Mike Gminski (16) – Center

Johnny Dawkins (16) – Point Guard

Hersey Hawkins (13) – Shooting Guard

Philadelphia bench (points scored)

Ron Anderson (15)

Scott Brooks (0)

Kenny Payne (0)

Kurt Nimphius (0)

Philadelphia Coach: Jim Lynam

Detroit starters (points scored)

Dennis Rodman (10) – Small Forward

James Edwards (24) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (8) – Center

Isiah Thomas (13) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (8) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (15)

Vinnie Johnson (14)

John Salley (3)

William Bedford (2)

Gerald Henderson (0)

David Greenwood (0)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

April 19, 1990 – Denver Nuggets 130 @Houston Rockets 127 (OT)

In 1990, it was the season of career highs for the all-time greats.  On January 27th, Karl Malone got 61 points as the Utah Jazz thrashed the Milwaukee Bucks 144-96.  Then, as covered earlier, Patrick Ewing had 51 in a loss against Boston and Michael Jordan had 69 in a win at Cleveland.  Now, with the season three days away from ending and his team’s playoff hopes hanging in the balance, it was Hakeem Olajuwon’s turn.

Going into this game, the Denver Nuggets were 41-38 and in the 7th spot in the West.  The Houston Rockets were 40-39 and in the 8th spot.  Meanwhile, the Seattle Supersonics were 39-40 and on the outside looking in, at the moment.

As fate would have it, Denver could clinch a playoff spot with a win and Houston would tie Denver with a win (although the Nuggets would still have the edge because of winning the season series 3-2).

The Denver Nuggets were one of the most successful teams in the NBA in the 1980’s.  They had won the Midwest Division in 1985 and 1988 and had gone as far as the Conference Finals in 1985.  But things were winding down.  New ownership had taken over and longtime Nuggets were being dealt.

The often-injured Calvin Natt would be traded in the middle of the 1989 season.  Then after the 1990 season ended, Lafayette “Fat” Lever would be traded to Dallas for two 1st round picks.  Lever, who was an All-Star in 1990, would finish out his career, with injuries, on lowly Dallas Maverick teams.  The Nuggets then let Alex English walk to Dallas in free agency to play out his final season.  Finally, in September, head coach Doug Moe would be let go.  By the time the 1991 season started, the Nuggets were a jumbled mess.

As for Houston, they still had Olajuwon, Otis Thorpe and Sleepy Floyd with head coach Don Chaney as their core.  But there was starting to be some grumblings from Olajuwon about not being able to put a good team around him as Houston struggled through the season.

Lewis Lloyd and Mitchell Wiggins (father of Andrew Wiggins) would be reinstated for the season after a two-year drug expulsion.  Guards Anthony Bowie and Vernon Maxwell would be purchased from the Spurs.  Veteran forward Larry Smith would be signed.  Buck Johnson would have his best season in the NBA.  But with all that, Houston had gone over .500 the previous weekend for the first time since early December.

But with all the turmoil on both sides, the playoffs were still within reach.  Both teams, especially Denver, were fast-paced and proved it in the 1st half.  Houston raced out to a lead but Denver came back to cut it to 61-58 at the half.  Floyd and Hakeem had led Houston with 18 and 16 points, respectively, and Fat Lever led the way for Denver.

The Nuggets scored the first 5 points of the 2nd half to take a lead.  But Olajuwon and Sleepy led the Rockets on an 8-0 run that forced a Doug Moe timeout at the 8:27 mark.  Houston would eventually increase their lead to 74-65 when Vernon Maxwell got a breakaway double-pump three-point play.

But Denver’s veterans would take over in the 2nd half.  Walter Davis (who would sign with Denver in 1988 after 11 seasons in Phoenix) and Danny Schayes (in his 7th season with the Nuggets) took over in the latter part of the 3rd to cut into Houston’s lead.

The Nuggets cut it to 88-87 at the end of the 3rd when 5’10” Michael Adams hit a runner in the lane over Hakeem.  Olajuwon had answered the call as he had 30 points at the end of the 3rd and continued to match baskets with Denver in the 4th.  He repeatedly featured his baseline turnaround jumper against a smaller Danny Schayes and also hit him with a few drop-steps as well.

But the Nuggets would bring on another veteran and unsung hero.  Bill Hanzlik was in his 8th season in Denver and his last season in the league.  But he hit three big jumpers in the 4th quarter to keep Denver in it.  Mitchell Wiggins would do the same for Houston as he had a big quarter hitting jumpers on Olajuwon kickouts.

Wiggins scored 6 Houston points in a row but two free throws from Hanzlik with 59.1 seconds remaining put the Nuggets ahead 115-114.  Olajuwon came back with a jump hook in the lane for his 46th point.  He then blocked a Schayes shot and Davis had to foul Floyd with 10.6 seconds left.  Floyd made both free throws to put Houston up 118-115.

But Denver pushed it immediately and Fat Lever was wide open for a three after a screen and buried it to tie the game with 4.9 seconds remaining.  Houston went to Olajuwon after a timeout but he came up short on a turnaround jumper and the game was heading to overtime.

Denver would take the initial advantage in overtime as their veterans Schayes and Hanzlik each scored a field goal to put the Nuggets up 123-119.  But then Hakeem would break out a dream shake and hit another baseline turnaround.  Wiggins then banked in a jumper to tie the game.

After Denver regained a 125-123 advantage, Olajuwon would go for the kill.  He hit a pull-up in the lane and then a baseline turnaround to put Houston ahead and force a Denver timeout with 1:13 remaining.

But then Lever, who had an under-rated performance in this game and an under-rated NBA career, went for his own kill.  He nailed a three from the top to give the Nuggets a 128-127 advantage with 56.4 seconds remaining.  Denver doubled Olajuwon and he had to kick it out.  Wiggins then found Larry Smith underneath but he missed a layup.

Denver rebounded and ran down the shot clock.  Adams missed but Schayes rebounded and Olajuwon was forced to foul him.  It was Hakeem’s 6th foul and, like Ewing against Boston, he had to go to the bench frustrated with his career high but with his team down.  Olajuwon finished with 52 points.

Schayes made both free throws with 7.7 seconds remaining.  Houston, after a timeout, brought in Mike Woodson for his first action of the game.  As fate would have it, it would be Woodson who launched the tying three-pointer at the buzzer.  He airballed it.

Denver clinched a playoff spot with their win but would get swept by San Antonio in the 1st round.  Their next playoff appearance came in 1994.  Nobody from the current Nuggets team was still on the team at that point.

Houston was now tied with Seattle, after the Supersonics’ overtime win in Sacramento, with a 40-40 record.  The race for the 8th spot would come down to the final day of the season.

Denver starters (points scored)

Alex English (16) – Small Forward

Jerome Lane (2) – Power Forward

Joe Barry Carroll (2) – Center

Michael Adams (21) – Point Guard

Fat Lever (22) – Shooting Guard

Denver bench (points scored)

Walter Davis (12)

Blair Rasmussen (16)

Danny Schayes (16)

Todd Lichti (6)

Bill Hanzlik (14)

Tim Kempton (0)

T.R. Dunn (3)

Denver Coach: Doug Moe

Houston starters (points scored)

Buck Johnson (12) – Small Forward

Otis Thorpe (10) – Power Forward

Hakeem Olajuwon (52) – Center

Sleepy Floyd (28) – Point Guard

Vernon Maxwell (9) – Shooting Guard

Houston bench (points scored)

Mitchell Wiggins (12)

Mike Woodson (0)

Anthony Bowie (0)

Larry Smith (4)

Tim McCormick (0)

Houston Coach: Don Chaney

April 22, 1990 – Seattle Sonics 122 @Golden State Warriors 124

The final game of the regular season on this blog featured two under-achieving teams who had made the playoffs in 1989.  One of them still had a chance as Seattle had grabbed a one game lead over Houston for the final playoff spot.

Like Houston, Seattle had been so-so throughout the year and could never get a good streak going.  Injuries didn’t help as their two leading scorers, Xavier McDaniel and Dale Ellis, missed a significant amount of time.  Derrick McKey and Sedale Threatt stepped up to average double figures, while Michael Cage and rookie Dana Barros averaged 9.7 points per game.  Threatt had been a reserve for most of the season while Nate McMillan started at the point, but Threatt was in the lineup now for head coach Bernie Bickerstaff.  The Sonics also featured a young man fresh out of JC named Shawn Kemp.  The Reign Man would make his impact in subsequent years.

Seattle was 41-40 after beating the Los Angeles Clippers.  Houston had lost by one point at Dallas the night after losing to Denver.  So the Rockets stood at 40-41 but would hold the tiebreaker should they have the same record as the Sonics.  Houston was hosting Utah in a game that would also decide the Midwest Division and some playoff positioning.

Both Utah and San Antonio were 55-26 going into the day and Phoenix was right behind them at 54-27.  San Antonio beat Phoenix 108-93 on the final day.  This locked the Suns into the 5th spot in the West.  Meanwhile, San Antonio would win the Midwest if Houston beat Utah.

As for Golden State, they started out at 4-14 and were playing catch-up the rest of the way.  A 6-game losing streak in February didn’t help and a 5-game losing streak in April knocked them out of the playoff race.  They were 36-45 coming in.

The Warriors had acquired Seattle’s big man, Alton Lister, in the off-season for a draft pick that turned out to be Gary Payton.  The Warriors had also acquired rugged Jim Petersen from Sacramento in exchange for Ralph Sampson.  Petersen was only able to play 43 games while Lister participated in 3 games.  With these big men out, the Warriors had to trot out the likes of Christian Welp and Mike Smrek over the last half season at center.

But the Warriors guard line was coming together along with superstar Chris Mullin.  Mitch Richmond was drafted in 1988 and had an awesome first two seasons (but he was sitting out this game).  Then the Warriors drafted Tim Hardaway in 1989 and Run TMC was underway.  Hardaway actually needed 8 assists in this game to pass Oscar Robertson for the 2nd most assists by a rookie (the all-time leader was Mark Jackson).  He got 6 in the first half but none in the 2nd, third isn’t bad though.

The Warriors had also brought some talent from Europe as Sarunas Marciulionis was signed in the off-season.  Those four players averaged in double figures along with veteran forwards Terry Teagle and Rod Higgins.  The were a fast-paced fun group to watch coached by offensive genius Don Nelson.  But their peak would have to wait for the next two seasons.

Seattle and Golden State matched each other early on before a 7-0 Warriors run, led by Hardaway, put them up 17-14 halfway through the 1st quarter.  But Seattle came back to tie it at 34 at the end of the quarter.

With the score now tied at 42 halfway through the 2nd quarter, Seattle made their push for a playoff spot.  McDaniel hit a turnaround from the post and Threatt nailed a wing jumper.  Then Ellis, who had been posting up for most of the game, got a three-point play down low to put the Sonics up 49-42.  Ellis and McDaniel continued the assault as Seattle grabbed an 11-point lead and a 66-58 halftime advantage.  Ellis led the way with 18 points.

Rod Higgins started off the 2nd half well for the Warriors with 7 points.  Golden State cut it to 70-69 on a Tim Hardaway pull-up and forced a Seattle timeout with 9:34 left.  But Seattle regained a 10-point lead as Threatt and Ellis each made two field goals and McKey got a three-point play.

Higgins put back his own miss to cut it to 84-76 but then Hardaway picked up his 4th foul.  That cleared the way for an unsung hero.  Kelvin Upshaw had been with 3 teams in 2 seasons and had been cut 4 times before joining the Warriors.  Although Upshaw would not last beyond the season in Golden State, and wouldn’t last beyond 1991 in the NBA, he made a great case in this game as he would have his moments.

Meanwhile, five straight points by Mullin cut the Sonics lead to 89-87.  But after the Sonics regained a 96-90 lead late in the quarter, Upshaw had his first moment when he nailed a wing jumper with 3.8 seconds remaining to cut the lead to four going into the 4th.

He then made his first two jumpers in the final quarter and a Teagle layup tied the game at 98 and forced a Seattle timeout at the 10:43 mark.  Upshaw then matched Seattle points with four of his own to keep the game tied at 102.  Hardaway hit a step-back to give the Warriors their first lead in awhile.

McKey then fouled out for Seattle and Upshaw kept scoring points.  He hit four more to give the Warriors a 108-106 advantage.  Then Mullin penetrated and kicked out to Hardaway for a three to put Golden State up by five with 5:27 remaining.  They kept their lead over the next four minutes and things looked bleak for Seattle when Ellis fouled out with 1:41 remaining.  Mullin hit two free throws to put the Warriors up 120-114.

Seattle hit 2-of-4 free throws and had a turnover over the next few possessions but Golden State couldn’t take advantage until Hardaway hit two free throws with 46.8 seconds remaining to give Golden State a 122-116 lead.  Then Seattle’s unsung heroes came to life.

Threatt found Dana Barros for a three from the top to cut it to 122-119 with 37.4 remaining.  Seattle decided to play straight up defense and not foul.  It worked out as Upshaw missed from the corner and McDaniel rebounded.  Seattle didn’t use a timeout and McDaniel crossed the ball to Quintin Dailey.  Dailey, who had been battling drug problems throughout his career and got his last chance with the Sonics in 1990, nailed a corner three to tie the game with 7.1 seconds remaining.

Don Nelson then set up a great play as Mullin inbounded to Higgins at the wing.  When Higgins got the ball, Hardaway cut to the basket from the top of the key and got a pass for a layup with 3.3 remaining.  Seattle again didn’t use a timeout and Barros hit nothing but backboard from halfcourt.

Although the Warriors had won, Seattle wasn’t quite knocked out of the playoffs until Houston beat Utah 100-88 later that day.  Utah’s loss gave San Antonio the Midwest Division and gave Utah a 1st round matchup with the Phoenix Suns.  The Jazz would end up hoping that they had beaten Houston and won the Division.  Meanwhile, Houston would give the top-seeded Lakers something they hadn’t had in 9 seasons.

As for these two teams, the Warriors would not retain several of the players who played in this game (Mullin, Higgins, Hardaway and Marciulionis would be the only ones) but would improve over the next two seasons.  For Seattle, there would be a slight overhaul in 1991 that actually shaped their playoff teams in the early 90’s.  It’ll be covered in the 1991 blog but it started with Bernie Bickerstaff not being retained as coach.

Seattle starters (points scored)

Derrick McKey (14) – Small Forward

Xavier McDaniel (21) – Power Forward

Michael Cage (7) – Center

Sedale Threatt (19) – Point Guard

Dale Ellis (33) – Shooting Guard

Seattle bench (points scored)

Dana Barros (7)

Quintin Dailey (15)

Shawn Kemp (0)

Nate McMillan (4)

Olden Polynice (2)

Seattle Coach: Bernie Bickerstaff

Golden State starters (points scored)

Chris Mullin (24) – Small Forward

Rod Higgins (25) – Power Forward

Christian Welp (2) – Center

Tim Hardaway (28) – Point Guard

Sarunas Marciulionis (17) – Shooting Guard

Golden State bench (points scored)

Terry Teagle (10)

Kelvin Upshaw (17)

Manute Bol (1)

Mike Smrek (0)

Golden State Coach: Don Nelson


Tim Hardaway finished with the 3rd most assists by a rookie (behind Oscar Robertson and Mark Jackson) *photo courtesy of San Jose Fuji

April 29, 1990 – West Quarterfinals, Game 2: Houston Rockets 100 @Los Angeles Lakers 104

So far, the NBA playoffs were a bit of a dud.  April 29 was the 4th day of the playoffs and so far, the home team had won every game (that would change when Phoenix defeated Utah later that night) and most had not been very close.

This game would change that, even if it showed a bored Laker team where the Pat Riley cracks may have been starting to show.  The Lakers had not lost a first round game since 1981.  But they were 0-2 in playoff series against the Houston Rockets in the 1980’s (the Rockets had actually been the last team to defeat L.A. in a first round game).

The Rockets had a 13-point lead in Game 1 before the Lakers outscored them 58-40 in the 2nd half and won by 12.  Now Pat Riley was going for his 100th playoff win, which would put him past Red Auerbach for 1st place.  This was a big deal in the grand scheme of the Celtics/Lakers rivalry.  But Houston again wouldn’t make it easy.

The Lakers had doubled Hakeem Olajuwon whenever he got the ball and made the others beat them.  Early in Game 2, it worked out for the Rockets as they hit the offensive boards.  Magic Johnson and James Worthy would be the catalysts early on as the Lakers took a 17-13 lead 5 minutes into the game.

But Houston’s offensive boardwork put them back into a 24-all tie.  Then Vernon Maxwell went crazy (crazy in a good way in this case) and scored 9 points over the final 2:26 of the 1st quarter to lead Houston to a 33-30 advantage going into the 2nd quarter.

Maxwell and Sleepy Floyd kept it going for the Rockets as they kept the lead.  Worthy and Magic seemed to be the only Lakers not playing lackadaisical.  Houston got plenty of steals and breakaways and also beat the Lakers trap defense.  Otis Thorpe and Buck Johnson also got involved as the Rockets took a 55-46 lead with 2:46 to go.

Then Buck Johnson hit a runner, Floyd hit two free throws and found Mitchell Wiggins for a transition jumper, and then Olajuwon hit a turnaround from the post.  Suddenly, Houston had a 17-point lead and the Forum crowd, which had been louder than one you’d normally expect for a first round game, was silent.

Riley had to call his 4th timeout of the quarter.  The Rockets would take their biggest lead at 65-46 before Worthy hit two free throws to finish the 1st half with 19 points and cut the Rockets lead back to 17 at the half.

Not surprisingly, a different Laker team came out for the 2nd half.  Magic penetrated and found Byron Scott for a corner three and then Worthy hit back-to-back baskets.  But 6 points in a row from Floyd put Houston back up by 16.

However, Scott and A.C. Green got involved as they scored the next 7 Lakers points.  The teams would battle evenly as Maxwell continued to have a strong game for the Rockets.  Houston took an 80-69 lead when Hakeem found Floyd with a long pass for a breakaway.

But then Green hit a jumper from the top on a kickout from Magic, Scott drove down the lane for a layup and Magic hit a hook shot in the lane.  Houston salvaged the run when Floyd found Maxwell for a transition layup to put the Rockets ahead 82-75 going into the 4th quarter.  But the Lakers were now awake and not bored.

The teams continued to battle evenly through the first part of the 4th quarter.  Houston would not go away as Olajuwon was a presence of the defensive end while his teammates handled the scoring.  The Rockets maintained a 92-85 lead after a Buck Johnson slam.

But the Lakers bench brought them back as Vlade Divac and Orlando Woolridge were able to put together some points.  Divac, the rookie, actually played down the stretch in Mychal Thompson’s place and hit four key free throws and scored 6 points as the Lakers cut the lead to 92-91.

A baseline jumper from Buck Johnson kept Houston ahead with 3 1/2 to go.  Magic found Woolridge for a slam but Floyd drove for a score and Buck hit two free throws to put Houston ahead 98-93 with 2:39 left.

But then Woolridge drew Olajuwon’s 5th foul and hit two free throws.  Then after a steal, Divac follow-slammed a Woolridge breakaway miss to cut the lead back to one with 1:43 to go.

Maxwell hit a pull-up jumper after a timeout to put Houston back ahead 100-97.  But then Floyd was called for a foul on Worthy away from the ball at the 1:19 mark.  James hit both free throws and then made the biggest play of the game.

The Rockets went to Olajuwon and he was doubled (what new?), so he tried to kick it out to Maxwell cross-court but Worthy shot the gap and intercepted that pass.  Worthy completed his sequence with a breakaway slam to put L.A. ahead 101-100.  Houston had to call their last timeout at the 1:04 mark.

Maxwell missed a jumper and Magic rebounded.  Otis Thorpe would then be called for a foul on Worthy with 33.9 to go.  But James could only make 1-of-2 this time.  The Rockets knew where they wanted to go even without a timeout.

They went inside to Olajuwon.  He attempted a turnaround jumper from the baseline and then ball went in-and-out.  Magic rebounded and Byron Scott was eventually fouled with 7.2 to go.  He made both free throws to ice the game.  The Lakers celebrated a bit more than usual after this game as they knew they had survived.

Although the Lakers would go on to win the series, the Rockets delivered them what they hadn’t had in 9 years.  Houston defeated L.A. 114-108 in Game 3 to give them a first round loss.  The Lakers won Game 4 109-88 but would run into the most trouble in the next round.

Houston starters (points scored)

Buck Johnson (16) – Small Forward

Otis Thorpe (14) – Power Forward

Hakeem Olajuwon (11) – Center

Sleepy Floyd (27) – Point Guard

Vernon Maxwell (24) – Shooting Guard

Houston bench (points scored)

Mitchell Wiggins (4)

Larry Smith (4)

Tim McCormick (0)

Houston Coach: Don Chaney

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (32) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (10) – Power Forward

Mychal Thompson (4) – Center

Magic Johnson (17) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (17) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Orlando Woolridge (10)

Vlade Divac (12)

Michael Cooper (2)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Pat Riley

May 6, 1990 – East Quarterfinals, Game 5: New York Knicks 121 @Boston Celtics 114

Not surprisingly, there would be some road victories as the 1990 playoffs went into its 2nd week.  Two series did not have any through a week and a half.  Philadelphia defeated Cleveland in 5 games by winning all three at the Spectrum.  The other was Boston/New York.

There was not expected to be a road victory in Game 5 either.  For one, New York had not won at Boston Garden since Bernard King was leading the way in January, 1984.  They had also lost their last 8 playoff games at the Garden, dating back to 1974.  Secondly, the Celtics had set several playoff scoring records the last time the Knicks were in the building in Game 2.  They shot 67% from the field, had three 40 point quarters, and won 157-128.

The Knicks did have Charles Oakley back but Mark Jackson was a shadow of himself and would be benched for the entirety of Game 5.  Patrick Ewing though would be at his best at Madison Square Garden.  The Knicks won Game 3 102-99 on a late shot by Kenny Walker.  Then they killed the Celtics 135-108 in Game 4 as Ewing led the way with 44 points.  Also contributing mightily was Johnny Newman, who was now the 6th man.  Newman had been a Celtics killer the last few seasons.

Boston took the early lead in Game 5 as Larry Bird got hot.  His pull-up three-pointer from the wing put the Celtics up 23-16 and forced Stu Jackson to call a timeout.  Patrick Ewing did not get involved until late in the quarter with two field goals.  Bird scored 13 points as Boston led 32-24 after one.

Boston maintained that 8-point lead until New York’s bench provided a spark early in the 2nd quarter.  Newman hit a pull-up jumper and then drove baseline for a slam.  Trent Tucker then hit a three to give New York the lead.  An Oakley putback made it 39-36 Knicks and forced Jimmy Rodgers to call a Boston timeout at the 6:48 mark.

The teams battled to a 46-all tie until Bird fed Robert Parish for two layups and then Reggie Lewis pushed the ball and found Dennis Johnson for a baseline jumper.  But a baseline jumper from Ewing with 0.6 left in the half cut the Celtics halftime lead to 54-50.

Bird had 17 points while Oakley had a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds at the half.  An effective play for the Knicks was when they went down low to Ewing and Boston doubled, Oakley would cut to the basket and got a few layups.

The Knicks had become confident after their Game 4 performance and had answered Boston’s challenges so far.  New York took an early 58-56 lead in the 3rd.  Then Ewing and Mark Jackson’s replacement, Maurice Cheeks, took control.  But Boston stayed with them as Kevin McHale scored 8 quick points, including a three-pointer, and then the Celtics took a 73-66 lead on a three-point play from Reggie Lewis.

But the Knicks responded again as Ewing hit a jumper in the lane for his 10th point of the quarter.  Then he and Cheeks each hit two free throws.  Cheeks would then score the next 6 Knicks points to give them a 78-77 lead.  After Bird hit two free throws, Cheeks found Gerald Wilkins for a slam, Oakley hit two free throws and then Newman penetrated and found Ewing for a slam.

Ewing would finish with 14 points in the 3rd while Cheeks contributed 11.  New York took an 87-83 lead heading into the 4th.  But Boston started out the last quarter as you’d expect from the Eastern Conference team of the ’80’s.  Lewis put back his own miss and then D.J. found Bird for a jumper from the foul line to tie the game.

But the Knicks responded again as Ewing kicked out to Tucker for a three and then Patrick got the roll on a turnaround jumper.  The game would go back and forth as two buckets from D.J. cut the Knicks lead to 92-91.  But then two field goals from Oakley put the Knicks back up 97-91.

But Newman committed his 5th foul with 8:09 to go and it took a weapon off the court for Stu Jackson.  But the Knicks persevered thanks to some luck and some great hustle.  Lewis missed two free throws (this was a bigger deal as the 1990 Celtics are one of the best foul shooting teams in NBA history), and then Tucker broke up a 3-on-1 Boston fast break by getting a piece of the ball from behind the middle man.  This led to an Oakley slam.

However, back-to-back baskets from Lewis and D.J. cut the lead back to 99-97 with 5:28 to go.  But then the Knicks made their final run.  Newman came back into the game and Ewing hit him on a cut for a slam.  Ewing then hit a hook shot in the lane.

Bird would help the Knicks run when he missed a reverse slam after a great spin move in the post.  Cheeks then hit a pull-up jumper to give New York a 105-99 lead.  Lewis and Cheeks would exchange baskets before great Knick ball movement found Johnny Newman for a wide-open three from the wing.  This made the score 110-101 and forced a Boston timeout with 2:51 to go.

But the dagger was yet to come.  After Oakley grabbed his 15th rebound after a Boston miss, the Knicks ran down the shot clock.  Oakley then penetrated and tried to kick to Ewing but the pass was away from Patrick on the baseline.  Ewing though ran it down and recovered the ball in the left corner beyond the three-point line in front of the Knicks bench (which probably helped him realize that the shot clock was running out).  Ewing launched the three and made it with 2:03 to go to give the Knicks a 113-101 lead.

Game. Set. Match.

The Knicks would go on to meet the Detroit Pistons in the next round.  Ewing would average 27 points per game in the series but the Pistons shut off the other guys and won easily 4-1.

Over the summer, the Knicks would, in my view, make one of their big mistakes that came back to bite them in the ’90’s.  They did not match the Charlotte Hornets offer sheet to Johnny Newman and lost him in free agency.  As the years went on and the Knicks lacked consistent perimeter shooting and perimeter defense, one (like me) had to wonder if Newman would have made a difference.  But, as a Bulls fan, I like how things turned out.

For Boston, it would not quite be the end but it was nearing.  Dennis Johnson and Jim Paxson announced their retirements during the off-season.  Jimmy Rodgers was fired as coach two days after this game.  He would be replaced by another former K.C. Jones assistant in Chris Ford.  The Celtics would have a resurgence of sorts for most of the 1991 season.

New York starters (points scored)

Kiki Vandeweghe (4) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (26) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (31) – Center

Maurice Cheeks (21) – Point Guard

Gerald Wilkins (12) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

Johnny Newman (13)

Trent Tucker (14)

Kenny Walker (0)

Stuart Gray (0)

New York Coach: Stu Jackson

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (31) – Small Forward

Kevin McHale (17) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (22) – Center

Dennis Johnson (21) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (19) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Jim Paxson (0)

Joe Kleine (2)

Michael Smith (0)

Ed Pinckney (0)

John Bagley (2)

Boston Coach: Jimmy Rodgers

ewing 90

Patrick Ewing hits a jumper over Robert Parish in Game 5 as Larry Bird looks on *photo courtesy of

1990 West Quarterfinals, Game 5: Phoenix Suns 104 @Utah Jazz 102

The Phoenix Suns were the surprise team in the NBA in 1989.  They won 55 games, after winning 28 the previous season, and went to the Western Conference Finals.

But in 1990, they had to change their team a little bit.  Starting small forward Tyrone Corbin was drafted by Minnesota in the expansion draft.  This moved star Tom Chambers to the small forward spot, where he wasn’t as effective.  Chambers did not have the quickness to go against most of the small forwards in the league and his advantage at power forward (taking bigger guys outside) was gone.  Although he averaged a career-high 27.2 points per game, his average would start to drop over the next few seasons as he got into his 30’s.

The Suns initially started Armen Gilliam at power forward and got off to a slow start.  But then Gilliam was traded to Charlotte in December for a veteran presence in Kurt Rambis.  Rambis provided toughness and the Suns started to get it together with a 10-game winning streak in January that kicked off a 30-5 streak.  But the Suns went 10-9 down the stretch and finished a game behind Utah for the 4th seed.

Chambers and point guard Kevin Johnson were named All-Stars.  1989 6th man of the year Eddie Johnson and center Mark West were good veteran pieces and guards Jeff Hornacek and Dan Majerle, along with big men Tim Perry and Andrew Lang were good young pieces (3 of those 4 players would eventually be good young pieces that brought a superstar to Phoenix in a trade).

The Utah Jazz were two years removed from taking the world champion Lakers to 7 games in the West Semifinals.  They were seen as a real threat to the Lakers but had been swept by Golden State in the 1989 1st round.  Utah still had the core of Karl Malone, John Stockton, Mark Eaton and Thurl Bailey but had finished one game behind San Antonio for the Midwest Division crown.

However, with a home win in this game, the Jazz would get another shot at the Lakers.  Jerry Sloan had stepped in for Frank Layden early in the 1989 season and would not leave the bench for a long, long time.  Utah still had veteran guards in Bobby Hansen and Darrell Griffith, and they had drafted Blue Edwards in the 1st round of the 1989 draft.

The first 4 games started to expose Chambers’ weaknesses at small forward.  He was shooting 17-for-54 from the field and had a nightmare on both ends with the quicker Thurl Bailey.  But the Suns had won two games as Kevin and Eddie Johnson, Hornacek, Majerle and even Mark West was contributing offensively.  But then Karl Malone’s 33 offset Eddie Johnson’s 33 in Game 4 as E.J. got little offensive help and Utah won in Phoenix 105-94.

The Jazz continued that momentum and took an early lead in Game 5.  But despite that, Chambers did hit an early turnaround jumper from the post against the 6’11” Bailey.  John Stockton also picked up two fouls but the Jazz got a bonus.  In the 4th round of the 1985 draft, Utah had selected Wake Forest guard Delaney Rudd.  Usually, 4th round picks didn’t stick around long but Rudd finally got the call in the 1990 season and replaced Stockton early in this one.

He immediately handed out 4 assists and hit a runner in the lane as Utah took a 20-13 lead.  But Kevin Johnson was keeping Phoenix in it by hitting pull-up jumper after pull-up jumper.  K.J. scored 9 points in the 1st quarter and Chambers had 6.  Phoenix came back to take a 23-22 lead at the end of the 1st quarter as E.J. and Hornacek got their first field goals.

The benches matched each other for the 2nd quarter.  Darrell Griffith came in and hit three field goals as Utah took a 40-31 lead.  Then Eddie Johnson hit three field goals of his own to bring Phoenix back to a 45-all tie.  But then Eddie and Chambers each picked up their 3rd fouls and Utah took a 4-point lead despite Karl Malone picking up a technical.

Malone did have 14 1st half points despite going 2-for-5 on free throws.  K.J. got his 13th point with 4 seconds left in the half as he went 1-on-1 against Rudd and hit a turnaround in the lane.  But Rudd came right back and hit a pull-up jumper (with his foot on the three-point line) at the buzzer to give Utah a 53-49 halftime advantage.

Malone scored 8 points in the first 7 minutes of the 3rd quarter to give Utah a 66-59 lead.  But then with 4:24 to go, the Mailman picked up his 4th foul (on a silly reach-in foul on the perimeter that Karl Malone had a bad habit of committing, and that would probably be the exact sentence that Karl Malone himself would say that in as he did routinely refer to himself in third person).

Phoenix cut the lead to 76-74 going into the 4th despite Eddie Johnson committing his 5th foul.  Kevin Johnson had 7 points late in the 3rd to lead the rally.

Utah exploded again early in the 4th as Stockton fouled Blue Edwards for a jumper and then a breakaway slam after a Malone steal.  Griffith then hit a three and found Edwards on a 3-on-1 for a layup.  Utah took its biggest lead at 10 points four times in the 4th quarter despite Malone committing his 5th foul.

But then halfway through the 4th quarter, Tom Chambers (who had been consistent throughout this game) scored 6 points in a row to cut Utah’s lead to 95-92 with 5 minutes to go.  Cotton Fitzsimmons had gone small and put Chambers at power forward.  It worked despite quirks like Dan Majerle playing against Karl Malone at the defensive end (and Malone not taking advantage of it although Utah didn’t give him the ball in the post nearly enough times during this cold stretch).

Utah re-took a 98-94 lead when Bailey hit a hook in the lane but then Thurl fouled Chambers, who hit two free throws to bring his point total to 32 (16-for-16 from the line).  After Mark West blocked a Stockton shot on a drive, Eddie Johnson hit a three to give Phoenix a 99-98 lead with just over a minute to go.  But Stockton found Bailey for another running hook to give the Jazz the lead again.

Eddie Johnson threw the ball away with 47.3 to go but got another chance after West deflected away an entry pass to Malone and Phoenix got the ball back.  Johnson hit a running banker in the lane and got fouled.  His three-point play gave the Suns a 102-100 lead with 24.5 seconds to play.  After a Utah timeout, they ran a familiar play.

Stockton went off a Malone screen and Karl popped out to the elbow.  Stockton found the Mailman for a jumper to tie the game with 14.9 seconds remaining.  Cotton Fitzsimmons used a timeout and brought in his small lineup that included former Laker guard Mike McGee (who did win a few championships in L.A. despite you probably not remembering him).

Kevin Johnson penetrated and found McGee under the basket.  He was quickly surrounded and made the ‘veteran’ play by kicking back out to an open K.J. at the foul line.  Johnson drilled his jumper with 0.8 seconds remaining to give Phoenix the lead.

For some reason (a 1990 rule that may be forgotten today), Utah went full-court despite having used a timeout.  Stockton missed a prayer from half-court and Phoenix advanced with the second road win of the day in an all-or-nothing Game 5 (after the home team had won the first 15 playoff games of 1990).

Despite the Lakers and their fans probably being relieved not to play the Jazz, they would rue their matchup with Phoenix.  And for Kevin Johnson, hitting the game-winner in this one was perhaps his best playoff moment.  Although, one could argue that it was yet to come in 1990.

Phoenix starters (points scored)

Tom Chambers (32) – Small Forward

Kurt Rambis (0) – Power Forward

Mark West (6) – Center

Kevin Johnson (26) – Point Guard

Jeff Hornacek (10) – Shooting Guard

Phoenix bench (points scored)

Eddie Johnson (23)

Dan Majerle (4)

Mike McGee (0)

Tim Perry (3)

Andrew Lang (0)

Phoenix Coach: Cotton Fitzsimmons

Utah starters (points scored)

Thurl Bailey (26) – Small Forward

Karl Malone (26) – Power Forward

Mark Eaton (6) – Center

John Stockton (9) – Point Guard

Bobby Hansen (8) – Shooting Guard

Utah bench (points scored)

Darrell Griffith (15)

Blue Edwards (8)

Mike Brown (0)

Delaney Rudd (4)

Raymond Brown (0)

Utah Coach: Jerry Sloan

k.j. vs. stockton

In a classic point guard matchup, Kevin Johnson got the last laugh against John Stockton and Utah with the game-winner in Game 5 *photo courtesy of Fanbase

May 12, 1990 – West Semifinals, Game 3: Los Angeles Lakers 103 @Phoenix Suns 117

The Los Angeles Lakers continued their uneven play to start the Semifinals against a Phoenix team still riding a high from beating Utah in the last second.

The Suns won Game 1 at the Forum 104-102 as the Lakers offense was mostly stagnant.  For perhaps the first time all season, the Lakers were missing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  They had become a faster team in 1990 but by the time the playoffs started, the speed was gone and suddenly Magic Johnson and James Worthy were the only go-to guys on offense.

The Lakers may have also been missing Kareem for the simple fact that Mark West, usually not a scoring threat although he averaged a career-high 10.5 points per game in 1990, had 24 points on 10-for-17 shooting.  West may have single-handedly won the game for the Suns as everybody else struggled (even though Tom Chambers led them with 26, he was 10-for-26 from the field).

The rest of the Suns struggled even more in Game 2 as L.A. blew them out.  Vlade Divac and Orlando Woolridge contributed with a combined 37 points off the bench.

It had become old hat throughout the ’80’s that a team in the west might steal a game in L.A. and come back home for Game 3 with a split.  But the Lakers would then usually win the next two games on the opponents court, or at least one.  The only time that had not been the case was in 1986 against the Rockets.  But Houston was the only Western Conference team to beat L.A. in the ’80’s.

Phoenix had been particularly stung by the Lakers.  L.A. had beaten them in 1980, 1982, 1984, 1985 and 1989.  In all of those series, the Suns had won a total of 3 games and had been swept three times.  For much of this Game 3, it looked to be the same story as one figured L.A. had this one in the bag.

Kevin Johnson helped Phoenix stay with the Lakers early, but a 6-0 L.A. run put them up 14-8.  In particular, the Lakers got several easy baskets by pushing it right back at the Suns after a Phoenix make and getting a basket of their own without having to set up their offense.

The Lakers took as much as an eight-point lead in the 1st quarter as Magic continually found Worthy, Byron Scott and A.C. Green for field goals.  But Phoenix stayed with them as K.J. continued to find people and Chambers and Jeff Hornacek were starting to come alive.

The Suns cut it to 27-26 before Michael Cooper, who was looking all of his 33 years of age on both ends of the floor, scored his first field goal of the series with a fall-away banker in the lane with 1.2 seconds remaining in the quarter.  L.A. led 29-26.

A 7-0 Phoenix run gave them the lead early in the 2nd quarter.  Everyone was contributing as Hornacek, West and Chambers led the way but Eddie Johnson and Dan Majerle were making contributions off the bench.

L.A. stayed in it led mostly by Magic Johnson.  With the offense stagnant, Magic had to take matters into his own hands a lot (but not as much as he did the next two games).  Magic had 10 points in the half (6 in the 2nd quarter) but did not get to the free throw line.  But his 10 assists did help, even if Worthy and Scott went scoreless in the 2nd quarter.

Magic’s running hook with 6.6 seconds remaining cut the Phoenix lead to 51-49 at the half.  One still figured at this point that the Lakers would find a way to win this game.

For the first 5 minutes of the 3rd quarter, the Lakers came out firing.  But a funny thing happened.  The Suns matched each Laker basket with one of their own.  K.J, Hornacek and Chambers were the x-factors.  Chambers had his best game of the playoffs when he started to go down low against Worthy.  Chambers got much better percentage shots and didn’t have to deal with Worthy’s quickness at the perimeter.  Meanwhile, with the Lakers having no threat like Utah’s Karl Malone, Chambers didn’t have to guard Worthy on defense.

About halfway through the quarter, Chambers put back a K.J. miss to give Phoenix a 65-59 lead.  Then after Magic hit two free throws, Chambers hit a wing jumper over Worthy and then, after recovering a loose ball, nailed a three to put the Suns ahead 70-61 and force a Pat Riley timeout with 5:07 remaining.  Chambers now had 23 points to lead the way.

Phoenix took an 11-point lead when West put back a Chambers miss and then grabbed a 14-point lead when Chambers hit a left-handed hook in the lane.  Hornacek later scored 5 points in a row, including a three, to put Phoenix ahead 83-66.  The crowd was loving it and seemed stunned all at the same time.

But L.A. got a big field goal after Chambers put back a Hornacek miss with 5 seconds to go to put the Suns up 88-71.  Cooper threw a lead pass to Worthy for a double-pump breakaway and a foul.  The three-point play was huge as the Lakers still got most of their success by pushing it right back at the Suns.  But that was the only time it happened in the 3rd and more dangerously, Chambers, Hornacek, and the Suns were getting their confidence and thinking that they might be able to beat this L.A. team.

Byron Scott started the 4th quarter with a jumper off a Magic Johnson feed.  But then the Lakers had a defensive breakdown as K.J. got free off a Kurt Rambis screen and was wide open for a backdoor layup.  Chambers then hit another jumper and, later, two free throws.  But L.A. cut it back to 94-84 when Green put back a Woolridge miss on the break and forced Cotton Fitzsimmons to call a timeout with 6:55 remaining.

But just over a minute later, Tom Chambers put a stamp on this game and perhaps this series.  Chambers got a kickout at the right baseline and up-faked Magic Johnson.  He then drove past a helping Worthy for what normally would be a big two-handed slam that probably would have energized the crowd.  But Chambers added a little spice to it.  After he got by Worthy, he turned 180 degrees and finished with a reverse slam over Orlando Woolridge, a good leaper.  It was definitely a “did he just do what I think he just did???” play.

The game was effectively over after that as Hornacek scored the last 10 of his playoff career-high 29 points, including a dagger jumper at the end of the shot clock with under 3:00 to go.  Riley took out his regulars thereafter.

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (27) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (13) – Power Forward

Mychal Thompson (4) – Center

Magic Johnson (22) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (9) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Orlando Woolridge (12)

Vlade Divac (6)

Michael Cooper (6)

Larry Drew (4)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Pat Riley

Phoenix starters (points scored)

Tom Chambers (34) – Small Forward

Kurt Rambis (2) – Power Forward

Mark West (14) – Center

Kevin Johnson (22) – Point Guard

Jeff Hornacek (29) – Shooting Guard

Phoenix bench (points scored)

Eddie Johnson (8)

Dan Majerle (6)

Kenny Battle (2)

Greg Grant (0)

Mike McGee (0)

Phoenix Coach: Cotton Fitzsimmons

May 13, 1990 – East Semifinals, Game 4: Chicago Bulls 111 @Philadelphia 76ers 101

The Bulls won the first two games at home as Michael Jordan led the way.  But then in Game 3 at the Spectrum, the 76ers took a 33-14 lead at the end of the 1st quarter and increased it to 22 at the half.  Charles Barkley was the star now as he got to the foul line 21 times.

But instead of fold, Chicago made a run as Jordan scored 23 4th quarter points.  They cut it to three before losing 118-112.  Scottie Pippen played the game and scored 20 points despite his father passing away the day before.  Pippen went home for the funeral and missed Game 4.

Phil Jackson decided to go with a big lineup to match Philadelphia’s frontcourt of Barkley, Rick Mahorn and Mike Gminski (who had been fouling the Bulls hard in an effort to intimidate them).  The Bulls put Stacey King in the starting lineup to go with Horace Grant and Bill Cartwright.

It didn’t work early on as King picked up two fouls and got abused down low by Gminski, who usually shot open jumpers while Barkley and Mahorn went to the post.  Gminski scored 8 points early but Jordan led Chicago back to a 14-all tie.

But Philly took the lead as Ron Anderson nailed a three and then Johnny Dawkins hit a jumper from the wing.  Despite Philly grabbing the lead, Barkley wasn’t as aggressive as he was in Game 3 and furthermore, when he did get to the line he missed most of his free throws.  The 76ers took a 30-26 lead after one quarter.

Philly’s bench then built a 43-33 lead halfway through the 2nd quarter.  But Chicago stayed in it as Jordan was not only scoring but passing.  Stacey King would be the big beneficiary as he got going down low.  But Philly finished the half on a 6-1 run and led 55-50 at the break.

The 3rd quarter would belong to 76ers 2nd year guard Hersey Hawkins.  Hawkins scored 13 early points, including three three-pointers, to put Philly ahead 74-64.  Then a fast break slam by Gminski forced Jackson to call a timeout at the 4:39 mark.

It didn’t help initially as Barkley hit a fall-away from the post and then got a steal and breakaway slam to give Philly an 80-66 lead.  But Chicago was able to cut it to 86-77 at the end of the 3rd quarter despite two more field goals from Hawkins.

Without Pippen, Chicago had to feature more of their bench.  In the 4th quarter, a reserve by the name of Ed Nealy came up big.  On the defensive end, Nealy was able to put his big 238 lb frame on Barkley and force the Round Mound of Rebound off the boards, while grabbing a few himself.  On the offensive end, he got a three-point play on a cut and a feed from Jordan and he also put back two misses.

Jordan also hit a three and got a layup as Chicago cut the lead to 90-89.  Then Barkley missed two free throws and Cartwright hit a baseline jumper.  After Craig Hodges gave Chicago a 93-90 lead with a runner, Philly coach Jimmy Lynam was forced to use a timeout at the 6:31 mark.

Hawkins scored off the timeout but then Horace Grant hit a hook shot in the lane and Jordan spun and hit a lefty layup to put the Bulls up by five.  Barkley followed by missing two more free throws and Jordan hit on a finger roll for his 36th point.

Lynam had to use another timeout at the 4:27 mark.  This time it worked as Dawkins hit a free throw and a jumper and then Barkley put back a Gminski miss to cut the Bulls lead to 99-97 and force Jackson to use a timeout with 3:38 on the clock.  But then Jordan drove past Barkley for a reverse layup on the baseline.  And, yes, for some reason Barkley was guarding Jordan.  Chicago did go small and MJ was the small forward but Lynam didn’t put Barkley on Craig Hodges or rookie B.J. Armstrong, who weren’t nearly as big of threats as Jordan.

Barkley did keep Philly alive on one possession by grabbing two offensive rebounds (Ed Nealy was no longer in the game) but then after he was fouled, he split his free throws and Jordan drove past Mahorn for an And One layup.  This gave Chicago a 106-99 lead.  And after Nealy came back in and grabbed his 8th rebound after a Ron Anderson miss, the game was effectively over.

Jordan had scored over 40 for the third time in the series.  He would cap it with 37 in Game 5 while Pippen came back and scored 29 off the bench.  The Bulls won the 5th game 117-99 to eliminate Philadelphia.  Now it was on to Detroit for their 3rd playoff matchup in 3 years.  And once again, they didn’t have the home court advantage.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Horace Grant (10) – Small Forward

Stacey King (21) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (4) – Center

John Paxson (8) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (45) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Craig Hodges (2)

B.J. Armstrong (2)

Will Perdue (10)

Ed Nealy (9)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Philadelphia starters (points scored)

Charles Barkley (22) – Small Forward

Rick Mahorn (2) – Power Forward

Mike Gminski (24) – Center

Johnny Dawkins (17) – Point Guard

Hersey Hawkins (26) – Shooting Guard

Philadelphia bench (points scored)

Ron Anderson (5)

Scott Brooks (3)

Bob Thornton (2)

Philadelphia Coach: Jim Lynam

jordan past barkley

Michael Jordan drove past Charles Barkley on a key late possession in which Barkley had to guard Jordan in Game 4 *photo courtesy of kappatwitch

May 15, 1990 – West Semifinals, Game 5: Phoenix Suns 106 @Los Angeles Lakers 103

After their Game 3 win, the Phoenix Suns continued to take it to the Lakers in Game 4.  Kevin Johnson led the way with 30 points and 16 assists.  Tom Chambers and Jeff Hornacek each scored over 20 while Mark West continued his brief offensive prowess with 15 points to go with his 15 rebounds.

Meanwhile for the Lakers, James Worthy contributed a 5-for-21 shooting game while Byron Scott was 2-for-8.  With those two being two of the top three Laker scorers, the third scorer had to go off.  Magic Johnson kept them alive with 43 points, a career-playoff high that broke his 42 points against Philadelphia in the 1980 NBA Finals.

But it wasn’t enough as the Lakers got out-scored by 22 combined points in the 1st and 4th quarters and lost 114-101.  They were now down 3-1.  From the outside looking in at the time, one figured the Lakers could rebound and everyone seemed to be remembering 1970, when Phoenix had a 3-1 lead on Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, and Wilt Chamberlain’s Los Angeles Lakers but then lost the last three games.

But as it has come out later, Pat Riley knew he had lost the team after Game 4 when he gave a passionate speech about what the Lakers needed to be doing better and what they weren’t doing and saw blank faces looking at him.  Riley punched the blackboard and blood came gushing out of his hand.  In a bit of an irony, Riley received his first ever coach of the year award before Game 5.

Riley did start Vlade Divac at center in Game 5 as Mychal Thompson was giving him nothing.  The Lakers and their crowd put it all on the line early in Game 5.  After Phoenix took an early 7-4 lead, Magic Johnson went to work.  He scored on a drop-step and lefty layup in the paint.  He went coast-to-coast for a driving layup and then had another drive down the lane in transition.  These field goals led L.A. to a 17-9 advantage.

The Lakers maintained a 25-18 lead when Magic went crazy again.  He hit a hook shot in the lane and then had two coast-to-coast drives.  He then put back his own miss to put L.A. up by 15.  Magic had 19 1st quarter points and the Lakers led 35-20 after one quarter.

Kevin Johnson started the 2nd quarter with two three-point plays as the Lakers were still trying to figure out how to guard him (perhaps, Byron Scott’s lack of offense was due to him trying to stay in front of K.J. off the dribble).  But the Lakers were still able to maintain a 15-point lead at 50-35 when Magic spun baseline from the post and laid it in.

But after L.A. failed on a 4-on-1 fast break with a chance to increase their lead, Hornacek found Chambers for an uncontested breakaway slam.  This seemed to switch the momentum as Hornacek followed with two field goals.  K.J. later hit a pull-up in the lane and then went coast-to-coast for a score as the lead was cut to 54-47.

K.J. continued to score and find people for the rest of the half but L.A. was able to hold off Phoenix, for now, as Byron Scott ended the half with a three.  The Lakers led 61-53 at the break.

Phoenix started the 2nd half with 2nd year guard Dan Majerle matched up against Magic Johnson.  Majerle wasn’t yet known as the long range bomber he would become, but he was always a defensive standout.  And he held Magic in check throughout the 3rd quarter and also contributed some surprising offense.

The Lakers were in trouble when Magic was shut down because James Worthy was struggling for the second straight game and L.A. still wasn’t getting much of a contribution from inside as Mychal Thompson and A.C. Green were next to useless and Divac was in foul trouble.

L.A. did maintain a 10-point lead at 69-59 but then K.J. hit a banker in the lane.  Mark West hit a hook shot.  K.J. found Hornacek for a jumper and Majerle got a layup on the break.  Phoenix was within 69-67 and Riley called a timeout at the 4:47 mark.

It worked as Magic found Divac for a layup and then Michael Cooper alley-ooped to Orlando Woolridge on the break.  Realizing the potential of the Lakers to go on a game-killing run, Cotton Fitzsimmons used a Phoenix timeout with 4:08 to go.  Majerle responded with two drives and two scores (one on an offensive rebound of his own miss).

L.A. maintained a 76-74 lead but had a driving layup by Magic taken away when Mychal Thompson was called for an offensive foul for clearing space in the lane for Magic.  Majerle responded with a three-point play on a baseline drive to give Phoenix their first lead since early on and give him 11 points in the quarter.

But then after Magic hit two free throws, Chambers missed a layup and committed his 4th foul trying to get the ball back.  Magic hit two more foul shots to give L.A. an 80-77 lead heading into the 4th.

L.A. was able to maintain its lead as Scott and Worthy hit jumpers.  But K.J. started to attack again for two field goals and then Majerle hit a three to give the Suns an 88-86 lead.  But the Lakers hoped to make one final push for this victory as Magic went coast-to-coast for a three-point play to give L.A. a 93-90 lead.

Magic then came back with a pull-up jumper on the next possession to put L.A. up by 5 and force Fitzsimmons to use a timeout at the 3:55 mark.  At this point, Magic had 43 points again.  But he would be scoreless the rest of the way.  This included a missed technical free throw.

K.J. and Hornacek hit field goals and then K.J. got by Scott with a crossover and hit finished with the left hand.  Divac committed two fouls to foul out with under 2:00 left and Hornacek hit two free throws to give Phoenix a 98-97 lead.  K.J. then stole a kickout pass from the post from Magic and Hornacek and West worked a pick-and-roll that resulted in a slam from West.

L.A. had nowhere to go with Worthy struggling and Magic now struggling.  Worthy missed in the lane and West grabbed his 15th rebound.  K.J. then drove and drew a foul from Scott with 44.6 seconds remaining.  K.J. hit two free throws for a 102-97 Suns lead.  The Lakers called a timeout and went inside to Worthy again.  He was doubled and kicked out to Cooper, who swung it to Scott for a three from the top with 37.9 remaining.

After a timeout, Phoenix ran down the shot clock and Hornacek’s jumper was in-and-out.  Cooper rebounded and found Magic.  Magic tried to go coast-to-coast again but was cut off before he could get to the basket.  He forced a lefty banker and hit it off the board just a little too hard.  Hornacek rebounded and Magic fouled him with 6.5 seconds left.

Hornacek hit two free throws that didn’t quite put the game away.  Scott hit a running three from the top to cut it to 104-103 with 2.9 seconds left.  Scott then fouled K.J. on the inbounds with 2.4.  K.J. hit both free throws but the Lakers got a break when a long inbounds pass was deflected out of bounds by Phoenix with 2.1 left.

This meant that the Lakers could inbound from half-court without a timeout.  But perhaps the timeout would have helped as there was mis-communication and Cooper threw the inbounds pass out of bounds on the other side of the court.

This finally ended the Lakers season as Phoenix ran out the clock.  It was an upset that brought about changes to the Lakers as Pat Riley resigned and Michael Cooper played his final season in Italy in 1991.

For the NBA, neither to Lakers or the Houston Rockets would represent the West in the NBA Finals for the first time since 1979.  Phoenix was moving on while Portland and San Antonio battled in the other West Semifinal.

Phoenix starters (points scored)

Tom Chambers (12) – Small Forward

Kurt Rambis (1) – Power Forward

Mark West (10) – Center

Kevin Johnson (37) – Point Guard

Jeff Hornacek (22) – Shooting Guard

Phoenix bench (points scored)

Eddie Johnson (8)

Dan Majerle (16)

Tim Perry (0)

Phoenix Coach: Cotton Fitzsimmons

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (14) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (0) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (10) – Center

Magic Johnson (43) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (17) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Orlando Woolridge (7)

Mychal Thompson (5)

Michael Cooper (5)

Larry Drew (2)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Pat Riley


Tom Chambers (here going against Mychal Thompson) was one of the key factors in the Phoenix Suns’ 1990 playoff victory over the Lakers *photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated for Kids

May 15, 1990 – West Semifinals, Game 5: San Antonio Spurs 132 @Portland Blazers 138 (2OT)

As is usually the case with two relatively new playoff teams that were in the upper echelon, it had been a home court series so far.  The Portland Blazers won the first two games at the Memorial Coliseum easily.  The San Antonio Spurs then won the next two easily at the HemisFair Arena.  Fir awhile, it looked like Game 5 would be another easy victory for the home team.

The San Antonio Spurs had made two key moves since their February 20 loss at the buzzer to the Lakers (earlier in the post).  They had traded Maurice Cheeks to New York for Rod Strickland.  They had also signed Reggie Williams as a free agent after Cleveland had let him go.  San Antonio had won their final 7 games of the regular season and then had swept Denver in the first round.

The Portland Blazers were making their 8th consecutive playoff appearance but they had perennially gone out in the 1st round (only twice in those 8 years had they advanced) despite having an abundance of talent.  But in 1990, things were looking different so far.  Not only had they won the most games during a season in franchise history with 59, but they made mincemeat of Dallas in the first round and were making mincemeat of San Antonio (halting their 10-game winning streak) until Games 3 & 4.

For Blazers holdovers like guards Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter and frontcourt personnel like Jerome Kersey and Kevin Duckworth, their playoff run had always been halted by, at least, one home loss.  But the Blazers had some new talent to go with this core four in 1990.  They had acquired Buck Williams from New Jersey in exchange for Sam Bowie.  They had drafted Cliff Robinson and had young shooters in Danny Young and Drazen Petrovic.  They also had a young coach in Rick Adelman, who took over late in the 1989 season.

The Blazers had lost Kevin Duckworth to a broken hand for the series.  Cliff Robinson stepped into his place in the starting lineup but the Blazers were having some trouble containing big men Terry Cummings and David Robinson.

But early in Game 5, San Antonio had trouble containing Terry Porter.  Porter started the game with two driving layups and two three-pointers to give the Blazers a 12-2 lead.  San Antonio was able to cut it back to one but a 13-0 Blazers run, keyed by Porter, broke the game open (this wasn’t the last 13-0 run of the game).

Drexler had the final 6 points of the run as the Blazers took a 32-15 lead.  Portland increased their lead to as much as 19 before San Antonio cut it back to 41-27 at the end of the quarter.  Porter and Drexler had led the way with 17 and 12 points, respectively.

The 2nd quarter featured much of the same.  Drexler started it out with a steal and breakaway three-point play while Porter hit two more threes to finish the half with 5 treys and 27 points.  San Antonio never trailed by more than 19 points but 72-53 ended up being the margin at halftime.

The Spurs started the make their crawl back into the game in the 3rd as Cummings and Robinson got on the boards and tipped in misses.  Cummings then fed Sean Elliott for a cutting layup and then Willie Anderson for a wing jumper, for his 18th point.  Anderson and Elliott each followed with another field goal as the Spurs cut the lead to 74-65 and forced Adelman to call a timeout.

A Drexler three-point play, for his 21st point, restored order briefly for the Blazers.  They eventually ran back to an 88-69 lead after a 9-0 run.  But the Spurs stayed in it as Cummings kept getting to the line and hit 8 consecutive free throws in the quarter.  But Cummings’ biggest basket came after the Spurs had cut it back to 99-85 with a few seconds left in the 3rd.  He stole an inbounds pass and connected on a jumper at the buzzer to cut it to 12.

Danny Young made the first basket of the 4th quarter to put the Blazers up by 14.  But the Spurs momentum from the 3rd continued from there as the second 13-0 run came about.

David Wingate fed Anderson on a cut for a layup.  Robinson rebound-slammed a Wingate miss on the break.  Strickland got a steal and layup.  Robinson muscled in a putback while drawing a foul for a three-point play.  Robinson then hit two free throws and Strickland found Cummings at the top for a jumper.  The Blazers now led 101-100.

Portland pushed it back to 109-103 with 5:45 to go.  At that point, the NBA TV rebroadcast of the game cut to the end of the first overtime.  So while I can’t go into great detail, I can tell you Drexler missed a key free throw that could’ve put the game away and then David Wingate tied it at 119 in the last second of regulation with a three-pointer.

I can also tell you that many key people had fouled out.  For the Spurs, David Robinson, Willie Anderson and Rod Strickland were gone.  For the Blazers, it was Clyde Drexler.  So the Spurs had to trot out a lineup of former Georgetown Hoyas Reggie Williams and David Wingate in the back court with Sean Elliott, Terry Cummings and 17-year veteran (in his last season) Caldwell Jones in the middle.  Despite that, they still only trailed 126-124 and had the ball.

Cummings airballed a fall-away from the baseline put the Spurs did force a 10-second halfcourt violation from Portland.  Then eventually, Wingate found Elliott (who made several key shots in the latter part of regulation) for a wing jumper to tie the game with 20.2 seconds remaining.

Portland called a timeout and decided to have Porter go 1-on-1 against Wingate.  As Porter got into the lane, Williams helped out and the two former Hoyas hearkened back to their college days as Williams stripped Porter and Wingate got the steal.  San Antonio wasn’t able to get off a winning shot however and the game went into a second overtime.

The 6th period started out with Cummings nailing a baseline jumper to, perhaps, give the Spurs their first lead of the game.  San Antonio had four chances to increase that lead but never could.  The 4th attempt failed when Kersey blocked an Elliott layup.  Porter then drove down the lane and finished with the left hand to tie the game at 128 with under 3:00 to go.

Buck Williams gave Portland the lead with a jumper from the post a minute later.  But Cummings fouled out Cliff Robinson with an up-and-under move and banker from the post.  The subsequent free throw put the Spurs ahead 131-130 with 1:41 to go.  I’m sure it would have been a typical home playoff loss to a Blazers fan at the time had the Spurs been able to beat them with 3 starters (including David Robinson) having fouled out.

But Porter showed that this may be a different team with two key plays.  First, he drew a foul from Wingate on a drive and made two free throws.  Then he drew a charge from Wingate for David’s 6th foul, forcing Johnny Moore, who in his 10th and final NBA season wasn’t playing much, into the game.  Moore almost forced a steal but the Blazers ended up getting a basket as rookie Drazen Petrovic hit a pull-up jumper at the end of the shot clock with under 1:00 to go.

Then after a San Antonio turnover, Porter hit a free throw to put Portland up by four.  Finally, after Cummings split a pair of free throws (the miss was his first miss of the game as he had gone 13-for-14 from the line), the Blazers were able to put it away as Kersey hit two free throws with 11 seconds to go.

Portland had survived this round but they were not quite done yet with the Spurs.

San Antonio starters (points scored)

Sean Elliott (21) – Small Forward

Terry Cummings (32) – Power Forward

David Robinson (27) – Center

Rod Strickland (11) – Point Guard

Willie Anderson (23) – Shooting Guard

San Antonio bench (points scored)

David Wingate (10)

Reggie Williams (7)

Frank Brickowski (1)

Caldwell Jones (0)

Johnny Moore (0)

San Antonio Coach: Larry Brown

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (23) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (15) – Power Forward

Cliff Robinson (11) – Center

Terry Porter (38) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (35) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Drazen Petrovic (11)

Danny Young (4)

Mark Bryant (1)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

May 19, 1990 – West Semifinals, Game 7: San Antonio Spurs 105 @Portland Blazers 108 (OT)

After letting an opportunity get away in Game 5, the Spurs took care of business again at home in Game 6.  Willie Anderson, despite a thumb he sprained late in the 5th game, led the way with 30 points while holding Clyde Drexler to 4.  The Spurs won 112-97 to force a Game 7.

It was pretty historic as this was the first Game 7 in the history of the Portland Trailblazers (their next one wouldn’t come for another 10 years).  Only one starter from each team had ever played in a Game 7 and that was Terry Cummings from San Antonio.

But despite that, both teams came out hot from the field.  Cummings started it out with a jumper from the baseline.  Jerome Kersey responded with two jumpers for Portland.  Anderson and Rod Strickland then got hot as the Spurs pulled to as much as a 5-point lead.  But Terry Porter led the Blazers back and into a 31-24 lead at the end of the 1st quarter.

Both teams cooled down considerably in the 2nd quarter.  The big stars in particular were off to a slow start.  David Robinson and Clyde Drexler failed to get off.  But Willie Anderson hit his first 6 shots and Terry Porter was also on fire.  He hit a three with 2:52 to go in the 1st half for his 18th point.  That trey gave the Blazers their biggest lead at 49-38.

But then Cummings came alive for the Spurs with 8 points, including two breakaway layups in the final 2.5 seconds of the half to cut the Portland lead to 52-46.  Cummings finished with 14 points while Porter had 19.

The Spurs then continued their momentum in the 3rd quarter as Robinson finally got involved after missing 9 of his first 10 shots.  He had 7 points late in the quarter to cut the Blazers lead to 73-72 going into the 4th.

Then Robinson continued with two field goals and then an assist to Caldwell Jones to give San Antonio a 79-75 and force Rick Adelman to call a timeout with 9:54 to go.  A Robinson slam on a fast break increased that lead to six.

Porter responded with a jumper at the end of the shot clock for his 32nd point (a big exclamation point on the claim of where would Portland be without Porter).  Drexler then got a breakaway for his 8th point (further exclamation) to force Larry Brown to call a timeout a minute and 21 seconds later.

Drexler got into double figures with a slam to give the Blazers an 86-85 lead.  This was after Robinson committed his 5th foul and sat for a minute.  He came back and Strickland gave the Spurs the lead again before committing his 5th foul.

The Spurs gained a 93-90 lead at the 3:17 mark when David Wingate hit a free throw after Kersey committed his 5th foul.  Wingate then got a steal and Strickland was fouled on a breakaway.  He hit two free throws for a five-point lead.

Then Robinson got a block at one end and tipped in a miss at the other to put the Spurs ahead 97-90 with 2:37 left.  Portland would become notorious over the next few seasons for shooting themselves in the foot in big games.  This wouldn’t be one of them as they quickly responded.

Kevin Duckworth, who was a surprise starter after missing the first 6 games and got a Willis Reed-like standing ovation from the Portland fans when he entered the floor in pregame, hit a jumper from the foul line with 2:21 left.

Then Drexler rebounded a Strickland miss and hit a three at the other end with 1:50 to go to cut it to 97-95.  Strickland missed again at the end of the shot clock and Porter rebounded.  Porter then penetrated and found Kersey for a slam to tie the game.  San Antonio called a timeout with 1:17 to play.

Neither team could score over the next minute and it looked like Portland would get the last shot.  Porter missed a pull-up from the baseline with 5 seconds left.  Wingate rebounded and pushed the ball ahead to Willie Anderson, who looked like he had a game-winning breakaway.

But Drexler, the only man back on defense, deflected Anderson’s dribble and forced him to lose control and not get a shot off.  The cameras then caught Larry Brown telling his team that they should have called a timeout.  The game was headed to overtime, just like Game 5.

Anderson got the Spurs on the board first in the extra period with two free throws.  But Kersey responded with a baseline jumper.  Buck Williams put back a Drexler miss.  Then Drexler took it right at Wingate 1-on-1 for a score and a 103-99 Blazers lead with 2:39 left.

The Spurs came back over the next minute and a half as Anderson fed Cummings for a layup and then Robinson tied it with a turnaround jumper from the post.  They had a chance to lead but Cummings airballed a jumper from the top.

They would get another chance with 40 seconds remaining.  But this time they would be done in by a bonehead play from Rod Strickland, which would become characteristic over his career.  Strickland got the ball at the top and faced away from the basket.  He then threw a blind, over-the-head pass that was supposed to hit a cutting Sean Elliott on the baseline.  But Elliott was in the corner and Kersey got the steal.

Kersey then threw a long pass to Drexler on the breakaway.  Strickland was forced to foul him from behind, which meant two shots and possession for Portland (similar to today’s breakaway foul rule).  This was also Strickland’s 6th foul.

Drexler hit four free throws before the Spurs saw the ball again.  But after Cummings hit two free throws with 9.1 seconds to play, Drexler split his pair and Portland’s lead was only three with 5.6 to go.  But Porter intercepted Wingate’s inbounds pass and Portland was moving on to the Western Finals for the first time since winning their 1977 NBA championship.

They perhaps got a break in not playing the Lakers, but they wouldn’t have an easy time with the Phoenix Suns.

San Antonio starters (points scored)

Sean Elliott (9) – Small Forward

Terry Cummings (27) – Power Forward

David Robinson (20) – Center

Rod Strickland (18) – Point Guard

Willie Anderson (20) – Shooting Guard

San Antonio bench (points scored)

David Wingate (5)

Frank Brickowski (2)

Reggie Williams (0)

Caldwell Jones (4)

San Antonio Coach: Larry Brown

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (21) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (12) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (6) – Center

Terry Porter (36) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (22) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (1)

Drazen Petrovic (5)

Danny Young (1)

Wayne Cooper (4)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman


Clyde Drexler, driving against Willie Anderson (#40) and Terry Cummings, scored 16 points in the 4th quarter and overtime (including the last 7) to give the Blazers a big Game 7 victory against San Antonio *photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated for Kids

May 26, 1990 – Eastern Finals, Game 3: Detroit Pistons 102 @Chicago Bulls 107

The Chicago Bulls had been eliminated by the Detroit Pistons over the past two seasons.  But if there was silver lining, it was that at least in those series, the Bulls had taken one of the first two games in Detroit.  That was not the case in 1990.

Joe Dumars led the way with 27 and 31 points in the first two games (actually outscoring Michael Jordan by 4 points total) as the Pistons grabbed a pair of 9-point victories.  Dumars did this while being the primary defender on Jordan (although the Jordan Rules gave him lots of help) and not getting any offensive help from the other starters.

But Detroit’s defense had been on point throughout the playoffs and now, even some Chicago players (most notably an interview with Craig Hodges) questioned whether the Bulls were ready to beat Detroit.  The Pistons had even won 9 of their last 11 games played at the Chicago Stadium.

James Edwards and Isiah Thomas (the most notable offensive struggles from the first two games) came to life early in Game 3.  Edwards hit three jumpers and Isiah got two layups as Detroit took an early 10-6 lead.  Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant were the early offense for Chicago to keep them in the game.

Dumars got his first field goal on a baseline jumper to put the Pistons ahead 15-13.  But then Jordan got his first field goal on a drive and tough finish.  Jordan then nailed a three and Pippen found Grant for a layup.  Grant later tipped in a miss as the Bulls were able to grab a 24-19 lead after the first quarter.

But then the problem came about for the Bulls.  In the first two games, the Pistons bench had given them a big spark to help out Dumars.  John Salley, Vinnie Johnson and Mark Aguirre had all been offensive factors while Chicago barely got any contribution from their bench.

In the 2nd quarter of Game 3, the Bulls bench contribution went from barely to nothing.  Meanwhile, Detroit was business as usual as Mark Aguirre hit three field goals and then got an assist to Vinnie Johnson on a 2-on-1 break.  This gave the Pistons a 32-26 lead, forced a Chicago timeout and forced Michael Jordan back into the game.

Jordan got the Bulls back going but the Pistons bench continued their assault.  Vinnie hit a tough double-shot runner against two people.  Salley tipped in a miss and hit some free throws.  Aguirre hit two more field goals to finish the 1st half with 12 points.

Jordan and Pippen were able to keep the Bulls within range at 45-41 before Detroit’s defense forced two turnovers and Edwards, Dumars and Isiah got field goals to give the Pistons their biggest lead at 10.  A tip-in from Jordan, for his 16th point, cut the Pistons lead to 51-43 at the half.  Detroit’s bench had out-scored Chicago’s 22-0 in the 1st half.

Detroit picked up where they left off in the 3rd as Isiah got hot with three quick jumpers.  Horace Grant committed fouls number 4 and 5 and was no longer a factor.  A three from Isiah gave Detroit a 62-50 lead.  Aguirre then hit two jumpers, including a three, to give Detroit their biggest lead at 67-53.

This was a crossroads for Chicago.  They were looking very much like they weren’t ready to beat Detroit and the crowd was very subdued.  If the Bulls couldn’t put anything together at this point, they would go down 3-0 and likely lose the series in 5 games at the most.  In terms of the development of a team, this would be a step back for a team that had a 2-1 series lead and had taken Detroit to six games in 1989.  The seeds of the Bulls championship mettle would be built at moments like these.

Jordan got two field goals and an assist but a scoop from Isiah on a cut gave the Pistons a 71-59 advantage.  All of a sudden however, the Bulls started forcing turnovers with their trapping defense.  Then Craig Hodges hit a jumper for the first field goal from Chicago’s bench.  Pippen got a breakaway after a steal.

Pippen then further came to life over the next minute by grabbing three offensive rebounds (including two on one possession), drawing fouls number 4 and 5 on Salley and hitting 3-out of-4 free throws to cut the lead to 71-66.  Then Pippen got matched against Thomas in a cross-match.  He backed Isiah into the post and banked a shot in before the double team could come.

The crowd was now back into it and, although the Pistons broke their drought with some field goals, three-point plays from Jordan and then Ed Nealy (on a Jordan feed) cut the Detroit lead to 75-74.  Jordan then gave Chicago the lead with two free throws with 5.5 seconds remaining in the quarter.  But then Pippen made his only mistake and fouled Vinnie Johnson on a jumper with a second remaining.  Vinnie hit both free throws to give Detroit the lead going into the 4th.

But Pippen had sparked Chicago with 12 points and 6 rebounds in the 3rd quarter.  He now had a double-double and finished the game with 5 assists.

Jordan got going, as per usual but not exactly against Detroit, in the 4th quarter.  MJ hit three pull-up jumpers to give the Bulls an 86-82 lead.  He later hit a runner in the lane to make the score 90-86.  Then rookie B.J. Armstrong hit a jumper from the top to put Chicago up by six and force a Detroit timeout with 4:41 to go.

Jordan kept it going despite putting a scare into every Chicago fan by limping badly after a made basket.  However, it was determined that he just banged knees with somebody and that while it was painful for the moment, the pain soon went away.  Two more free throws from Jordan after Bill Laimbeer’s 6th foul (a play that Laimbeer thought was a charge) put Chicago ahead 96-88.

Isiah kept the Pistons in it by going 1-on-1 against Armstrong and hitting a pull-up jumper.  But then the Bulls ran down the shot clock and Jordan seemed to put a dagger into the Pistons with a three-pointer at the buzzer with 2:24 to go.  Chicago now led 99-90.

But even though the Bulls had shown that they could compete with Detroit (and may actually be further developed than a year ago), the Pistons were still the champs and still had to be put away.

Salley drew Grant’s 6th foul and made two free throws.  Then after forcing a turnover on their press, Edwards hit a turnaround from the baseline to cut it to 99-94.  The Bulls ran down the shot clock and gave it to Michael.  He missed but Bill Cartwright got the offensive rebound.  Chicago ran down the clock and gave it to Michael again.  He missed another jumper but this time it was Pippen who got the rebound and then put back the miss to give Chicago a 101-94 lead with 1:00 to go.

Aguirre hit a three after a Detroit offensive rebound but then Pippen found Ed Nealy (who was becoming a cult hero in these playoffs) for a layup and a foul with 29.2 seconds to go.  But even the last three daggers couldn’t put Detroit to bed.

Isiah hit two free throws and later hit a step-back three with 15.2 seconds to go to cut the lead to 105-102.  Then after a Bulls timeout, the inbounds pass was deflected by Salley and an ensuing scramble led to a jump ball between Pippen and Dumars with 10.2 to go.

Pippen would normally have the advantage except that he lost concentration for a second and wasn’t looking at the ball when Joey Crawford tossed it into the air (in my Chicago fan defense, it was a reallyyyyyyy quick toss).  This allowed Dumars to steal it and Detroit to call a timeout with 8.3 to play and a chance to tie it.

Although Chuck Daly may have designed the following play, I’m sure he wanted a better shot.  Aguirre inbounded to Thomas and then got a return pass.  Mark then fired from just in front of the hash mark (we’ll say about 33 feet from the hoop) and missed.  Jordan rebounded, was fouled, and finally put the game away with two free throws.  Jordan and Grant finished with double-doubles alongside Pippen.  This included 6 offensive rebounds each from Pippen and Grant.

The Bulls had passed test one and now would prove that Detroit couldn’t beat them in Chicago Stadium as they won Game 4 and Game 6 easily.  But now the Bulls needed to win at the Palace at Auburn Hills.  They lost Game 5 97-83 and now had to go back for a Game 7.

Detroit starters (points scored)

Dennis Rodman (2) – Small Forward

James Edwards (16) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (0) – Center

Isiah Thomas (36) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (8) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (22)

Vinnie Johnson (9)

John Salley (9)

Gerald Henderson (0)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (29) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (10) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (2) – Center

John Paxson (4) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (47) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Stacey King (2)

Craig Hodges (2)

B.J. Armstrong (3)

Will Perdue (0)

Ed Nealy (8)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

May 29, 1990 – Western Finals, Game 5: Phoenix Suns 114 @Portland Blazers 120

By the time the Western Conference Finals had reached Game 5, the Phoenix Suns were kicking themselves and their fans were already hoping that they didn’t blow a golden opportunity.

After losing Game 1 100-98 in Portland, the Suns had a 22-point lead in Game 2 at the Memorial Coliseum.  But the Blazers came back and won 108-107 to take a 2-0 series lead.  What made it worse was that in Games 3 & 4 in Phoenix, the Suns demolished the Blazers 123-89 and 119-107.  Phoenix was at least three points from sweeping Portland but if you take the 22-point lead in Game 2 into account, they should at least have a 3-1 lead.

Now they returned to Portland needing to win one in Rip City.  They got off to a good start in Game 5 as they ripped a 9-0 run to take a 17-9 lead just over 5 minutes into the game.  But the Blazers responded with a 16-1 run.  Terry Porter was the main catalyst in that surge with 8 points, including two three-pointers.  The other was Kevin Duckworth, who was still feeling his way back from his broken hand but getting better by the game.

In reality, all five Blazers starters were contributing as Porter had 8, Clyde Drexler 4, Jerome Kersey 6, Buck Williams 5 and Duckworth 6 to contribute 29 of the Blazers 31 1st quarter points.  Portland led 31-24.  Kevin Johnson paced Phoenix with 9.

Portland would get help from its bench in the 2nd quarter as Danny Young hit two jumpers and found Drexler for a slam on a 3-on-2 break.  When Cliff Robinson got a steal and breakaway slam, Portland led 42-33.  They would increase that lead to as much as 12 in the quarter as the fast pace that had come to be known in the Western Conference was in full effect.

Drexler scored 14 points in the 2nd quarter, mostly on drives and putbacks.  But K.J. kept Phoenix alive with 17 points and 8 assists, including 6 in the 2nd quarter, to bring the Suns back to within 64-57 at the half.

While K.J. was brilliant, most of his help was coming from Mark West, the beneficiary of a lot of K.J.’s assists.  Tom Chambers would hit 3 of his first 14 shots while Jeff Hornacek, Dan Majerle, and Eddie Johnson contributed but neither stepped forward and went on a roll.

Portland kept the lead in the 3rd quarter with their balance as all five starters were playing well.  They took a 10-point lead with 5:17 to go and held for a 91-84 advantage going into the 4th quarter.  But the concern would be that Kersey committed his 5th foul when he contacted Eddie Johnson when E.J. was throwing up a prayer in the last second of the quarter.  E.J. would split the free throws to cut the margin to 7.

Phoenix took advantage early on in the 4th as they cut the lead to 96-93 on a three-point play by Hornacek.  They would then tie it at 98 on a three-point play by K.J.  A Hornacek feed to Majerle for a layup gave the Suns their first lead since the 1st quarter and then a breakaway layup by K.J. forced Rick Adelman to call a Portland timeout with 7:25 remaining and the Suns up 102-99.

Phoenix would later take a 106-101 advantage when Majerle hit a baseline jumper.  But then the big moment of the game happened.  Drexler launched a three from the top that went in.  Meanwhile, Mark West and Kevin Duckworth were battling for rebounding position and West got whistled for his 5th foul.  Duckworth hit the free throw and the four-point play gave Portland their confidence back.

Buck Williams put back a miss and Porter hit a fall-away runner in the lane to tie the game at 109.  Phoenix got three shots on their next possession but got nothing out of it.  Then two free throws by Kersey gave Portland the lead with 2:54 to go.  Buck then took down a defensive rebound and outletted to Kersey, who found Drexler for a flying slam that got the crowd super-charged and forced a Cotton Fitzsimmons timeout with 2:39 left.

But Portland missed golden opportunities to increase that lead and Phoenix was able to cut it to 113-112 with 1:16 to go when Majerle hit a runner.  West then grabbed a miss by Williams and Chambers drove and was fouled by Buck with 47.3 to play.  Chambers, despite a 6-for-21 shooting night, calmly sank both free throws to give Phoenix the lead and finish 10-for-11 from the line.

After a Portland timeout, Majerle switched onto Drexler when Kersey set a pick to free Clyde.  Drexler then drove and drew a foul on Majerle with 34.4 seconds to go.  Drexler, like Chambers, calmly sank both free throws to get to 32 points.  Phoenix used a timeout.

The key to Portland’s defense on Phoenix’s next possession would be Terry Porter denying the ball to Kevin Johnson the entire possession and forcing Phoenix to go elsewhere.  The Suns’ best creator, and scorer on the day, never touched the ball and Buck Williams recovered a Dan Majerle miss and was fouled by Hornacek with 14.9 seconds left.

Buck made both free throws to give Portland a 117-114 lead.  Without using a timeout, K.J. went and got the ball and pushed it up.  Instead of taking the shot himself (something he’d be criticized for), he deferred to a well-covered Hornacek who missed a running three.  Kersey rebounded and drew Hornacek’s 6th foul.  His free throw finished the game.

Phoenix was returning home and would get a good/bad news scenario.  The good news was that Game 5 wouldn’t be the last they heard from Hornacek.  The bad news was the Game 5 would be nearly the last they heard from Kevin Johnson in 1990.  All in all, they probably still kick themselves about Game 2.

Phoenix starters (points scored)

Tom Chambers (22) – Small Forward

Kurt Rambis (8) – Power Forward

Mark West (18) – Center

Kevin Johnson (28) – Point Guard

Jeff Hornacek (17) – Shooting Guard

Phoenix bench (points scored)

Eddie Johnson (10)

Dan Majerle (11)

Mike McGee (0)

Tim Perry (0)

Andrew Lang (0)

Phoenix Coach: Cotton Fitzsimmons

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (21) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (15) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (15) – Center

Terry Porter (19) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (32) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (8)

Drazen Petrovic (1)

Danny Young (5)

Wayne Cooper (4)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

May 31, 1990 – Western Finals, Game 6: Portland Blazers 112 @Phoenix Suns 109

The Portland Trailblazers had been blown out twice in Phoenix in the series.  But on the devil’s advocate side, they were 3-0 in the close games so if they could keep it close…

Portland did get off to a good start in Game 6 as Jerome Kersey hit two jumpers.  The second of which gave the Blazers a 10-6 lead and forced Cotton Fitzsimmons to call a timeout 3 minutes into the game.  Tom Chambers then committed his 2nd foul, which kicked off an ineffective 1st half.  Buck Williams made two free throws to put the Blazers ahead 12-6.

But then Kevin Johnson and Jeff Hornacek got going.  Hornacek scored 5 quick points and K.J. continued to penetrate, like he had been doing all playoffs.  K.J. hit 5-of-6 free throws and then crossed over Terry Porter for a layup to put the Suns ahead 20-16.  K.J. later hit a fall-away in the lane, found Mark West for a slam on a pick-and-roll, and then he found Hornacek for a baseline jumper in transition.  Phoenix now led 26-19 with 3:36 to go and Rick Adelman used a timeout this time.

K.J. finished this 1st quarter with 13 points and 5 assists while Hornacek had 9.  But even so, Portland was able to pull back to within 34-31 at the end of the quarter.

The 2nd quarter didn’t start out well for Phoenix as Cliff Robinson hit a turnaround to cut it to one and then Chambers airballed his first shot attempt and then was called for a travel after making a subsequent basket.  But things turned around for Phoenix, but not for Chambers, as their bench severely out-played Portland’s.

Dan Majerle hit a wing jumper.  Hornacek found Tim Perry for a slam.  Hornacek’s jumper from the top got the bounce.  Majerle converted a three-point play and Perry got a breakaway layup.  By then, Phoenix led 47-35 with 7:46 remaining in the half and Adelman had to use another timeout and bring back his starters.

Majerle kept attacking the basket and scoring (this included a transition dunk over Cliff Robinson) to keep Phoenix ahead.  But Portland kept chipping away as Porter nailed two three-pointers and Kevin Duckworth hit two field goals after struggling early.  This cut the Suns’ lead to 53-50.

K.J. had sat most of the 2nd quarter but he came back in and scored on a lefty reverse driving layup while Duckworth fouled him.  The three-point play would be K.J.’s last hurrah of 1990.  Porter found Drexler for a layup and then Porter hit another trey to cut it to 56-55.

After Porter’s three, K.J. took the inbounds pass and came up lame.  He called a timeout and gingerly walked to the locker room.  He had pulled a hamstring and would be out for the rest of the game.  The interesting question that will never be answered is would he have played in Game 7.

Drexler hit a jumper to give Portland the lead.  But Hornacek came back with a runner.  Then Majerle stole the ball from Drexler and was fouled in transition.  He hit the two free throws and then, a possession later, Majerle put back his own miss and drew a foul.  The three-point play gave Majerle 16 points in the quarter (and in the game) and gave the Suns a 63-57 lead.

A jumper from Duckworth cut that lead to 63-59 at the half.  K.J. did warm up before the 2nd half but couldn’t go.  Chambers had ended the 1st half scoreless.

Four points from Buck Williams tied the game at 63 before Majerle put back a Chambers miss.  Then Majerle got Chambers a basket on a 3-on-2 break.  Chambers then scored a layup after recovering a loose ball.  Although he wouldn’t shoot well in this game, Chambers did become more aggressive and got to the line 6 times in the 3rd quarter.

Terry Porter and then Jerome Kersey each committed their 4th fouls for Portland and the Blazers would trail by ten several times in the 3rd quarter but Phoenix could never increase the margin.  Then in the final stages, just like the 2nd quarter, Portland made a run.

Duckworth hit a turnaround jumper from the baseline.  Drexler drove down the lane for a scoop and then got a breakaway three-point play after a Cliff Robinson outlet.  The 7-0 run had cut Phoenix’s lead to 83-80.  The Suns would maintain an 89-84 lead going into the 4th.

Then after their bench was out-played in the 2nd quarter, Drazen Petrovic came out firing to start the 4th.  He hit a three and then a long two to tie the game at 89.  He later scored on a breakaway but then was called for a technical after elbowing Hornacek following the basket.  Hornacek’s technical free throw tied the game at 91 and gave him 26 points.

Hornacek had taken over the point guard duties from Kevin Johnson and had attacked the basket K.J. style as well as connecting on his jumpers.  He continued to do so as he drove for a lefty layup and then hit a jumper from the top.

But Portland matched each of Hornacek’s baskets as Drexler and Kersey hit jumpers to tie the game at 95.  Hornacek followed with two more baskets on drives as Phoenix took a 100-95 advantage.  Chambers would follow with two jumpers but Portland stayed right in it as they trailed 104-99 despite Buck Williams picking up his 5th foul.  But Buck had put in work with 12 points, 11 rebounds, and being the main defensive catalyst on Chambers.

However, Kersey picked up his 5th foul with 4:00 to go and Chambers split a pair of free throws to give Phoenix a 105-99 lead.  They had a chance to increase that lead but couldn’t do it.  Drexler then took the ball in transition and found Porter for a three.  Then Kersey took it himself on a 3-on-1 break to cut the Suns’ lead to one.

Hornacek found Chambers for a slam in transition and then Mark West grabbed a defensive rebound.  But Drexler stole his outlet pass and drew a foul from West.  The free throws cut the lead to 107-106.  Duckworth fouled Hornacek with 1:09 to go and Jeff hit the two free throws to bring his career-game total to 36 points.

Portland called a timeout.  Phoenix was 0-3 in the close games of the series and had been done in by a lack of execution offensively and not getting defensive stops they needed.  Neither would happen.

Hornacek fouled Porter on a drive and Terry hit two free throws with 55.1 seconds remaining to cut the lead to one.  Then Phoenix ran down the shot clock unsure of what they wanted to do.  Finally, Hornacek drove but his shot was blocked by Kersey.  Drexler then took it on a 3-on-1 and found Jerome for a layup and a Blazers lead with 27.2 to go.

Phoenix tried to get something quickly in transition but Portland had three men back and Hornacek had to use a timeout.  Phoenix then had to use their last timeout when they couldn’t get the ball inbounds.  When they finally did, they again seemed unsure as Hornacek and Chambers tried to play a two-man game with the other three people standing around.

Chambers then had to try and take Buck Williams 1-on-1 and Buck stole it.  Drexler was then fouled by Eddie Johnson, who was completing a nightmare of a series (one which may have opened him up to being traded a season later), with 6.8 seconds to play.

Clyde the Glide hit both free throws and Phoenix had to go without a timeout.  Hornacek badly missed a running three-pointer and Buck got the rebound at the buzzer and Portland celebrated on the floor and in the locker room.

There was a new team in the West that, for the moment, had overtaken the Lakers.  Portland was making their first Finals appearance since winning it all in 1977.  Phoenix would not get this close until they traded for a superstar two years later.

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (15) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (12) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (18) – Center

Terry Porter (23) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (23) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (6)

Drazen Petrovic (11)

Danny Young (0)

Wayne Cooper (4)

Mark Bryant (0)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

Phoenix starters (points scored)

Tom Chambers (17) – Small Forward

Kurt Rambis (2) – Power Forward

Mark West (6) – Center

Kevin Johnson (16) – Point Guard

Jeff Hornacek (36) – Shooting Guard

Phoenix bench (points scored)

Eddie Johnson (5)

Dan Majerle (22)

Mike McGee (1)

Tim Perry (4)

Andrew Lang (0)

Kenny Battle (0)

Phoenix Coach: Cotton Fitzsimmons


Terry Porter comes off a Kevin Duckworth (#00) pick as Kevin Johnson (left side of Duckworth) and Mark West defend.  Porter helped Portland defeat Phoenix and reach their first NBA Finals in 13 years *photo courtesy of

June 3, 1990 – Eastern Finals, Game 7: Chicago Bulls 74 @Detroit Pistons 93

Phil Jackson had said before this game that the Bulls needed to reach 95 points to win, anything below and they had no chance.  The Bulls had scored 77, 93, and 83 points in their 3 losses at the Palace while putting up 107, 108, and 109 in their 3 victories at Chicago Stadium.

The main difference had been the benches.  Detroit’s bench had out-played Chicago’s for most of the first 5 games.  But in Game 6, Craig Hodges scored 19 points and broke out of a shooting slump to help the Bulls to an 18-point victory.  Hodges would have to be in the starting lineup for Game 7 as John Paxson re-injured a sprained ankle in Game 6 and was unavailable.

For Detroit, their only consistency so far had been Joe Dumars.  In every game except for Game 3, Dumars had scored over 20 points while guarding Michael Jordan.  Dumars and the Pistons bench had been the biggest contributors as Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer were inconsistent.  Isiah had been unbelievable in Games 3 & 4 in Chicago but had disappeared the rest of the series.  Laimbeer was breaking out of a shooting slump slowly in Games 5 & 6.

Game 7 started out low scoring, which was good for Detroit and bad for Chicago.  Neither team shot well in the 1st quarter as perhaps both teams looked nervous.  There was some good defense but a lot of missed shots would seem easy for NBA players.  Detroit, in particular, shot 6-for-22 in the quarter.

But Chicago could not take advantage.  Jordan had 6 points and 2 assists but Craig Hodges was back in his slump (although he did hit two shots) and a lot of shots from Bulls supporting players were short, a bad trend that was developing.  The Bulls did lead 19-17 after the 1st quarter but would live to regret not having a bigger lead.

Detroit’s bench came in for the 2nd quarter and had its usual impact.  Mark Aguirre hit two jumpers from the post area.  Vinnie Johnson hit a pull-up from the elbow for his first field goal since Game 5.  But John Salley’s play at both ends of the floor was the key.

The Bulls stayed with the Pistons and even had the lead for the first 5 minutes of the quarter.  It was 27-25 Chicago after Horace Grant stole the ball from Vinnie in the back-court and Jordan tipped in his miss.  But the Pistons immediately broke the Bulls trap and Salley got a breakaway three-point play to give Detroit the lead.  It would be the last lead change of the game.

What happened next would be described later as the key play of the game.  Isiah Thomas blocked a Jordan jumper and then Dumars got a breakaway which forced Phil Jackson to use a timeout at the 7:14 mark.

From that point on in the quarter, the Bulls just couldn’t score.  They had 6 points for the rest of the quarter; one field goal went in cleanly (ironically it was Scottie Pippen’s only field goal), they got one basket from goaltending and then two free throws.

Meanwhile, Isiah Thomas took over on the Pistons’ offensive end.  He penetrated and found Salley for a slam and then he hit a banker on the drive.  After Aguirre got a finger roll after a blocked shot from Salley, Jackson used another timeout with 5:43 to go and the Bulls down 36-27.

Isiah and Aguirre continued to score to increase the Pistons lead to 44-31 and then, perhaps, the two biggest daggers of the half happened for Chicago.  First, Salley (not known as a jump shooter) hit a wing jumper at the end of the shot clock to increase the Pistons lead to 15.  Then, after Will Perdue hit two free throws with 7 seconds to go in the half, Dumars pushed the ball and found Dennis Rodman for a reverse layup at the buzzer.

The Pistons led 48-33 now at the half.  Detroit had shot 82% in the 2nd quarter while Chicago had thrown in 21%.  A lot of the Bulls shots were short.  And while this is the game where Scottie Pippen had his now-famous migraine headache and shot 1-for-10 from the field, it’s not like he was the only one struggling.  Horace Grant finished 3-for-17, although he did grab 14 rebounds including 8 on the offensive boards, and Craig Hodges was 3-for-13.  Bill Cartwright didn’t help much either as he would be out-rebounded by Isiah Thomas in the game.

The Pistons surge continued in the 3rd quarter as Isiah twice found Rodman for layups and then hit a baseline jumper to put Detroit ahead 54-35.  He later would find Laimbeer for a baseline jumper and then he hit a pull-up from the top and a three-pointer from the wing.  The Pistons took their biggest lead at 61-39.

Jordan, at that point, would lead the Bulls onto their biggest run of the game.  He hit two pull-up jumpers, found Cartwright twice for field goals and then found Hodges for a three that cut the Pistons lead to 63-52.  Unfortunately for Chicago, Jordan (while he was 5-for-5 from the field in the quarter) could not get to the basket and probably would end up tiring himself out by trying to get the Bulls back into the game seemingly by himself.

Chicago could get no closer than 10, which was their deficit at the end of the 3rd quarter at 69-59.  Isiah Thomas and Vinnie Johnson would repeatedly break Chicago’s press and get easy opportunities for himself and teammates.  The Pistons regained a 16-point lead in the 4th quarter.  Chicago cut it back to 11 halfway through.

But Detroit would keep coming up with baskets and stops when they needed them.  And the play of Chicago’s supporting cast would be further proof to the saying that they (in terms of the Bulls as a team) weren’t ready yet.

Rodman, who was playing through a sprained ankle that would affect him more in the NBA Finals, hit a running banker on the drive down the lane.  Isiah penetrated and found Laimbeer for a layup and a foul.  Salley then recovered a loose ball after Jordan stripped Isiah on a drive and scored on a layup.  The Pistons now led 84-70.

They would put the game away with three offensive daggers.  Salley drove baseline for a slam.  Isiah fed Aguirre on a cut for a three-point play.  Then, in the finishing touch, Isiah alley-ooped to Salley for a reverse slam to give the Pistons their biggest lead at 93-70 with 2:03 to go.

By this point, the crowd was serenading the Bulls with “na-na-na-na, hey-hey-hey, good-bye” and the Pistons were beginning to celebrate.

Although Jordan’s teammates came up woefully short in this game and MJ would be disappointed following the game, he didn’t give up on them and bolt to another team (unlike LeBron, yep I had to!).  He admitted that the Pistons were better and that the Bulls just weren’t ready yet, and he would end up getting the last laugh.

For Detroit, they would now take on the new Western power in the Portland Trailblazers in the NBA Finals.  And, although they had made it look so easy at home against Chicago, it wouldn’t continue.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (2) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (10) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (6) – Center

Craig Hodges (8) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (31) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Stacey King (5)

B.J. Armstrong (2)

Will Perdue (2)

Charles Davis (2)

Ed Nealy (6)

Jeff Sanders (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Detroit starters (points scored)

Dennis Rodman (13) – Small Forward

James Edwards (6) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (13) – Center

Isiah Thomas (21) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (7) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (15)

Vinnie Johnson (4)

John Salley (14)

William Bedford (0)

Gerald Henderson (0)

Scott Hastings (0)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly


This would be what Michael Jordan repeatedly saw whenever he could get to the hoop against Detroit, three people surrounding him (in this case, James Edwards #53, Isiah Thomas, and Bill Laimbeer) as the Bulls would be eliminated for the 3rd straight year by the Pistons in 1990 *photo courtesy of Detroit Athletic Blog

June 7, 1990 – NBA Finals, Game 2: Portland Blazers 106 @Detroit Pistons 105 (OT)

Although the Portland Trailblazers had the same regular season record as the Detroit Pistons, many didn’t give them much of a chance.  But then in Game 1, Portland came into the Palace at Auburn Hills and strutted their stuff.

The Blazers controlled the tempo and dominated the action while Detroit looked like they had just fended off Chicago in a 7-game series.  They led most of the way and had a 90-80 lead with 6 minutes to go.  But then the light switch turned on for Detroit and suddenly they stepped up their defense and strung together stops.  On offense though, it was basically a one-man show.

Isiah Thomas got the Pistons going with 4 points to kick off a 9-4 run.  Then after hitting two free throws, Isiah hit a three, a long jumper and then another three.  The 10-0 Isiah Thomas run gave them a 99-94 lead with under 2:00 to go.  The Pistons held on 105-99 and were breathing a sigh of relief while Portland was insisting that they now knew they could play with the Pistons.

But the following game after a heartbreaking loss like that usually doesn’t go the way of the team that had their heart broken.  It looked like that would be the case early on.  The Pistons went inside to James Edwards, who was used to being double-teamed but wasn’t by Portland.  Edwards hit five straight turnaround jumpers to get the Pistons going.

Isiah eventually hit two more threes and a fall-away jumper from the baseline to give the Pistons a 25-16 lead with 3:35 to go in the opening quarter.

Detroit took a 30-19 lead when Dennis Rodman hit a free throw.  But Rodman missed the second and, when trying to get the rebound, re-sprained an ankle that he initially hurt in the Chicago series.  This ankle would cut down Rodman’s effectiveness for the rest of the series.  In fact, Rodman would miss Game 3 and play 1 minute in Game 4.

Rodman’s injury and Portland’s bench play would start to turn the game around.  Cliff Robinson hit a jumper from the elbow and Wayne Cooper rebounded a miss and slammed one down.  Portland trailed 30-23 at the end of the 1st quarter.

Portland would make its big run after Bill Laimbeer started the 2nd quarter with a long two-pointer.  Jerome Kersey hit a turnaround from the mid-post.  Robinson pushed the ball on the break and found Clyde Drexler for a layup.  Terry Porter drove down the lane for a layup.  Cliff Robinson got a three-point play in transition and then Drazen Petrovic went 1-on-1 and scored on a runner from the baseline.  This 11-0 run gave Portland a 34-32 lead.

Petrovic continued to be effective as Portland’s reserves severely out-did what they accomplished in Game 1.  Buck Williams and Drexler were also effective as Portland completed a 13-4 run by taking a 53-41 advantage late in the 2nd quarter.  Isiah hit two free throws and Edwards hit another turnaround to bring Detroit back to within 53-45 at the half but the Pistons field goal touch was gone and Isiah and Edwards weren’t getting much help.

Isiah and Edwards continued their effectiveness as each came out with two field goals to start the 3rd quarter and brought Detroit to within 55-53.  But Portland was able to stay ahead by getting to the free throw line.  They went 13-for-15 from the foul line in the 3rd quarter and Terry Porter was 11-for-11 for the game.  With that help, Portland led 75-69 going into the 4th quarter and it was starting to look a lot like Game 1.

Detroit’s bench finally came to life to start the 4th quarter.  Mark Aguirre got his first two field goals to bring Detroit to within two.  The Pistons cut it to two a few times but could not grab the lead for the moment.  Portland was holding them off again and still led 86-83 with 4:16 to go.

But then Detroit made its move with an even more unexpected performance.  Bill Laimbeer’s shooting throughout the playoffs had mostly been ice cold.  But he may have never become as red hot as he was about to in his entire NBA career.  Portland had been daring him to shoot all game, especially after they started double-teaming Edwards, and in the last 4 minutes he obliged with some daggers.

His first three-pointer (2nd of the game) tied it up at 86 and then his next put Detroit ahead for the first time since 32-30.  Drexler answered with a three but Isiah followed with a scoop layup and a free throw as Detroit led 92-89 with 1:41 to go.

Portland didn’t panic, this time, and Drexler found Porter on a cut for a layup.  But Detroit got two offensive rebounds on their next possession.  The second of which was when John Salley tipped in a Mark Aguirre miss and drew the 6th foul on Kevin Duckworth.  Duckworth had quietly been effective down low with 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting.

Salley missed the free throw but Detroit still led by three.  Then Salley fouled Drexler on a drive on the next Portland possession.  But Drexler split the free throws and Detroit had a chance to perhaps put the game away.  They didn’t as Isiah missed a scoop in the lane at the end of the shot clock.  Kersey rebounded and Portland called timeout with 21.1 seconds to go.

Porter drove against Isiah and lost the ball.  But Thomas was called for his 5th foul on a reach-in.  Porter hit the two free throws with 10.2 seconds left to tie the game at 94.

The Pistons went to Isiah against Porter.  Thomas couldn’t get past him and had to settle for a deep fall-away jumper from the wing, which came up short at the buzzer.  Amazingly, this was the first overtime NBA Finals game since 1984.

Detroit started overtime better as Edwards hit a jumper on a pick-and-roll with Isiah.  Laimbeer then hit two more threes when the ball swung to him.  For Portland, Kersey had fouled out after an ineffective game but Drexler hit two field goals to keep Portland to within 102-98 with 1:28 to go.

But Porter drove against Isiah again and got Thomas to go for his pump fake and drew his 6th foul with 1:10 to go.  Porter hit the two free throws and was 15-for-15 from the line, setting a record for the most free throws made without a miss in a Finals game.

Then after a Joe Dumars turnover, Porter penetrated and kicked out to Drexler for a wing jumper to tie the game at 102.  Buck Williams rebounded a missed three from Laimbeer with 27 seconds to go.  After a Portland timeout, Porter drove and missed.  Buck went after the rebound and was fouled by Dumars with 9.6 seconds to go.  Williams made both free throws to give Portland a 104-102 lead.

Detroit called a timeout and the reporter James Brown found out from listening to the Pistons huddle that Chuck Daly wanted to go for three and the win.  Bill Laimbeer obliged when he got the inbounds pass and, especially, when he couldn’t find an open teammate.

He dribbled against Drexler and then pulled up from 2 feet behind the line and nailed the three with 4.1 seconds to go.  Portland called timeout as Detroit and the Palace were celebrating.  They got the ball to Drexler at the top, who drove against Rodman.  Rodman was called for hand-checking Clyde (hand-checking wasn’t always called at that time) with 2.1 seconds left.

Drexler made both free throws to give the Trailblazers the lead.  Detroit called a timeout and then their last after Portland committed their foul to give.  The Pistons then went inside to Edwards against Wayne Cooper.  Edwards went for another turnaround jumper but Cliff Robinson came over to help and ended up blocking his shot from behind as the buzzer went off.

Portland celebrated off the Palace floor.  They had gotten a split and Drexler was evidently the most vocal (before the game) in saying that Portland will split in Detroit and then not come back.  He was right, they didn’t come back to Detroit.

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (6) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (12) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (14) – Center

Terry Porter (21) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (33) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (7)

Drazen Petrovic (8)

Danny Young (2)

Wayne Cooper (3)

Mark Bryant (0)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

Detroit starters (points scored)

Dennis Rodman (1) – Small Forward

James Edwards (26) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (26) – Center

Isiah Thomas (23) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (16) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (6)

Vinnie Johnson (2)

John Salley (5)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

nba finals game 2

Isiah Thomas doesn’t appear at the moment to be looking inside to give James Edwards the ball, but he may be trying to fake out Terry Porter (guarding Thomas), Kevin Duckworth (guarding Edwards) and the rest of the Portland defense.  *photo courtesy of Getty Images

June 12, 1990 – NBA Finals, Game 4: Detroit Pistons 112 @Portland Blazers 109

Going into Game 3 in Portland, the Detroit Pistons had not won a game in the city of Roses since 1974, a streak of 20 games.  Most figured the streak would end in one of the games in Portland and the Pistons made it sooner rather than later.

Detroit’s backcourt, like they did in the ’89 Finals, stepped up and led the way offensively.  Isiah Thomas had 21 points, Vinnie Johnson also had 21 after no-showing the first two games, but Joe Dumars was the main star with 33.  Portland’s front court got into foul trouble (Bill Laimbeer’s flopping was partly to blame) and the Pistons won going away 121-106.

Dumars must have been elated coming off the floor, but his world would soon come crashing down.  His father had been fighting a long battle with diabetes and had passed away before the game.  Dumars’s family didn’t want him to know beforehand, so head coach Chuck Daly and Isiah Thomas were the only ones that found out until Joe did after the game.  Dumars, after going back home to Louisiana for a day in between games, decided to play Games 4 & 5, go back home for the funeral on Saturday and then travel back to Detroit for a possible Game 6 on Sunday.

As for the game, Portland knew that they needed to get everyone involved and get out on the break.  They did so in the 1st quarter.  Terry Porter pushed the tempo and found all four of his starting teammates for baskets early on as the Blazers took an 18-11 lead.  He then started scoring himself after Detroit got back into it and his 6th point on a lefty runner from the baseline put his team up 30-20.

A driving banker by Clyde Drexler with 2.8 seconds remaining in the 1st quarter made the score 32-22 Blazers at the quarter break.  Drexler and Jerome Kersey had been the biggest beneficiaries to Porter’s 6 assists.  Kevin Duckworth had gotten some buckets down low and Buck Williams seemed back after a bad Game 3.

But it all would be washed away by Detroit’s defense and bench strength.  Isiah Thomas committed his 3rd foul early in the 2nd quarter and sat.  Vinnie Johnson responded by scoring 7 points in a row to cut Portland’s lead to 32-31.  It took the Trailblazers 5 minutes of 2nd quarter action to score.

Joe Dumars would later score 6 Piston points in a row as Detroit eventually brought it back to a 46-all tie with a minute to go in the half.  Dumars would then find Laimbeer for his first three-pointer since the explosion in Game 2.  Dumars followed with a pull-up jumper from the wing with 0.8 seconds left to give the Pistons a 51-46 halftime lead.

Isiah came back for the 3rd and made up for lost time.  He got started with two transition jumpers and then two free throws.  Portland was able to stay in it for the moment as Drexler and Kersey were scoring at will.  But nobody else came to the party as Drexler and Kersey would be Portland’s only scorers from the middle of the 2nd quarter until late in the 3rd.

Detroit took a 65-56 lead before James Edwards picked up his 4th foul.  No matter, Isiah didn’t commit another foul and kept scoring.  His barrage started with a pull-up from the wing.  Then he connected on a three and another baseline jumper.  Isiah then hit three straight treys as Detroit went on a 9-2 run to take an 81-65 lead with under 2:00 to go in the 3rd quarter.  Isiah finished the quarter with 22 points and 4 three-pointers.

With Portland struggling, Rick Adelman changed up the defense by going to the trap.  It had been effective against the Pistons earlier in the series and one wondered why Portland waited so long to go to it in this game.  One especially wondered that after it worked.

Drexler got three steals, finished one breakaway by himself and then fed Cliff Robinson for layups on the others.  Portland went on an 8-0 run and it took a pull-up from Vinnie to keep Detroit’s lead at 83-73 entering the final quarter.

Portland suddenly had their 1st quarter momentum back and continued to cut into the lead.  A Kersey layup on a 3-on-1 break cut it to 89-87 with 7:27 to go, and the game was on.

Vinnie Johnson responded with another basket but was helpless when the 6’7″ Drexler decided to post the 6’2″ Vinnie up (another thing you wondered why they didn’t do more of).  Drexler got consecutive baskets down low to cut the lead to 92-91.  Then Porter hit a pull-up from the baseline to give the Trailblazers the lead with 5:20 left.

It was Porter’s first field goal since the 1st quarter and seemed to get him going as he scored on two consecutive driving layups to answer Piston baskets.  But then he committed his 5th foul on Dumars and Joe put Detroit back up 98-97 with two free throws.  Two more free throws by Isiah put the Pistons up by three and they were able to keep that lead for the next few minutes.

A pull-up banker by Isiah gave Detroit a 104-101 lead with 1:48 to go.  30 seconds later, a pull-up by Dumars after a give-and-go with Laimbeer put the Pistons up 106-102.  But then after Kersey hit two free throws, John Salley fouled out after an offensive foul with 52 seconds remaining.

This brought in Dennis Rodman, who was seeing his first action since Game 2 when he re-sprained his ankle.  Laimbeer then committed his 5th foul and Buck Williams had a chance to tie the game at the line.  He made the first but missed the second.  There was a rebound scramble which ended with Drexler falling out of bounds with the ball.  But just when it was thought to be Detroit’s ball, Laimbeer was called for his 6th foul setting off a mini-tirade from Bill.

Drexler made both free throws with 31.8 remaining and Portland led 107-106.  Detroit used a timeout and gave it to Isiah against Porter.  Isiah waited and waited at the wing before launching and nailing a jumper with his foot on the three-point line.  Portland used a timeout at the 25 second mark.

Porter then got the ball against Isiah.  He got past him in the lane but Dumars came over to help and stripped the ball from Porter.  Thomas was then fouled by Danny Young with 8.4 remaining.  He made the two free throws and Detroit led 110-107.

Portland had to use two timeouts (including their last) before getting it inbounds to Porter.  Mark Aguirre, who was starting in place of Rodman, committed a foul before Porter could launch a tying three.  Terry made the two free throws with 6.5 seconds left.

Detroit then got it inbounds and went long before Portland could foul them.  It ended up with veteran guard Gerald Henderson (who had come in for Vinnie a few seconds earlier after Johnson hyper-extended his knee) getting an easy layup with 1.3 to go.

With Portland being out of timeouts, they had to throw it long and it almost worked.  Danny Young got the ball on the right side way beyond the three-point line.  Unfortunately for Portland, he casually dribbled a few times before launching a running three that clearly came after the buzzer sounded.

It went in and was originally thought to send the game into overtime.  But the refs, which included Earl Strom working his final NBA assignment, discussed it and over-turned their original call (remember that this was the pre-replay days, so the refs actually had to have a discussion and hoped to get it right without review… in this case, they did).

Detroit now had a 3-1 lead and had a chance to do the unexpected, sweep three games in Portland.

Detroit starters (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (3) – Small Forward

James Edwards (13) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (12) – Center

Isiah Thomas (32) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (26) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Vinnie Johnson (20)

John Salley (4)

Dennis Rodman (0)

David Greenwood (0)

Gerald Henderson (2)

Scott Hastings (0)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (33) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (9) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (8) – Center

Terry Porter (17) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (34) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (8)

Drazen Petrovic (0)

Danny Young (0)

Wayne Cooper (0)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

June 14, 1990 – NBA Finals, Game 5: Detroit Pistons 92 @Portland Blazers 90

For the Portland Trailblazers to get back into this series, it was almost simple.  They needed to get everybody involved again.  Clyde Drexler and Jerome Kersey had been magnificent for the most part.  But the production from Buck Williams and Kevin Duckworth had fallen off in the last two games and Terry Porter was 3-for-16 on three-pointers in the series.

Detroit had won the last two games playing at Portland’s fast tempo as well.  But as Game 5 got started it was soon evident that the game would be more at Detroit’s slow-it-down, defensive grind pace.  Portland grabbed the early lead as Duckworth got going down low and Porter nailed his 4th three of the series, but they could not take advantage of the Pistons’ slow start by running away as their biggest lead would be 5.

Then Isiah Thomas, as he had in key points of the series, turned it on and went on a scoring binge.  It started with a few transition breakaways as Detroit’s defense picked up.  Then he scored the Pistons’ last 7 points of the quarter, including a banker with 1.2 seconds remaining, to give Detroit a 26-22 lead going into the 2nd quarter.  Isiah had 15 points at this juncture.

The 2nd quarter would be even uglier as Detroit’s defense kept forcing Portland to take outside shots and the Pistons grabbed a 37-29 lead midway through.  But Portland then kept going to Duckworth and the big man with the soft touch got them back into the game with 8 points.  Drexler tied it at 41 with a coast-to-coast layup.

But then Joe Dumars hit his first field goal of the game on a wing jumper and Drexler fouled Mark Aguirre while trying to get out to challenge Dumars’ jumper.  The three-point play and two subsequent free throws from Aguirre with 0.2 seconds left put the Pistons ahead 46-42 at the half.

Finally in the 3rd quarter, Portland was able to get their offense going.  Duckworth had been the only Blazers in double figures with 14 points (Isiah was the only Piston in double figures with 20) and the Blazers kept going to him early on.

Duckworth got a three-point play after Porter penetrated and found him for a layup.  Then a short jumper from Kevin after a pick-and-roll with Porter gave Portland a 50-48 lead.  The game went back-and-forth for a few minutes as Porter hit two threes but the Pistons answered.

Then Buck Williams picked up his 4th foul with 4:49 to go and Portland up 58-55.  Buck was, once again, not a huge factor but had gotten going a bit in the 3rd.  Drexler then took over with a driving finger roll in the lane and then a highlight three-point play as he drove baseline for a one-handed twisting reverse slam while he was fouled.

But Isiah answered each basket with a three at the end of the shot clock and then another pull-up to bring his point total to 27.  Drexler then picked up his 4th foul and the Blazers stopped going down low to Duckworth.  But they were able to stay ahead and got a boost with 3.8 seconds remaining in the quarter as they won a jump ball and Porter nailed a three from the top to give the Blazers a 69-65 advantage heading into the 4th.

Isiah got a rest to start the final quarter as Vinnie Johnson came in.  Vinnie had been a huge factor in Games 3 & 4 but couldn’t make anything so far in Game 5.  Portland took advantage by getting out to a 76-69 lead.

But the Microwave went on one of his rolls as Vinnie made the next three field goals, including a tough turnaround jumper in the lane after rebounding his own miss to cut the lead to one.  Vinnie then hit two free throws to put Detroit up 77-76.  Drexler committed his 5th foul for Portland while Bill Laimbeer and James Edwards had 5 for Detroit.

But the Pistons had a worse loss for a few minutes as Isiah Thomas ran into a Portland player going after a loose ball and sustained a bloody nose that could not be contained, so he had to go to the bench with 5 minutes to go.

Portland took advantage over the next few minutes as Detroit couldn’t get their offense going.  A turnaround jumper by Duckworth in the post, when they finally went to him, gave the Blazers an 86-81 lead.  Then after John Salley follow-slammed a Vinnie miss, Drexler drove the lane and kissed a finger roll off the glass.

On the Blazers’ next possession, Drexler was doubled out on the top but he was able to find Kersey down low.  Kersey then found a cutting Buck Williams for a slam to give Portland a 90-83 lead with 2:02 to go.  Chuck Daly called a timeout as the Portland crowd went crazy.  It seemed strange that Detroit had won the last two games playing Portland’s tempo and now the Trailblazers were on the verge of winning a game that was played at Detroit’s tempo.

But, as they say and as Portland had learned earlier in the series, it wasn’t over til its over.  Isiah came back in and Detroit went with the three guard lineup.  Vinnie Johnson, in essence, killed two birds with one stone on the next possession.  He hit a pull-up jumper from the foul line while drawing a foul from Drexler.  It was Clyde’s 6th foul and would prove to be a huge loss for Portland.  And, on top of that, Vinnie’s three-point play cut the lead to 90-86.

Duckworth missed a turnaround in the post and Bill Laimbeer continued making his biggest contribution to the game by grabbing his 16th rebound.  Vinnie then hit a pull-up from the baseline and the Microwave was heating up again.  The lead was down to two.

Duckworth’s next turnaround jumper was in-and-out and Laimbeer grabbed his 17th rebound (he was the only player in the game that had double digit rebounds and Portland’s biggest advantage before the Finals was their ability to out-rebound teams, it became perhaps the biggest factor in their final three losses and was the biggest reason why Buck Williams was deemed ineffective in the final three games).

Portland was able to force a jump ball with 43.1 seconds remaining.  But Vinnie out-jumped Danny Young, who was in for Drexler, and tipped the ball to Isiah.  Thomas then hit a pull-up from the top to tie the game at 90 with 36.5 seconds left.  Portland didn’t call a timeout and Porter penetrated and threw the ball away with 20.1 to go.

Now Detroit used a timeout and got the ball to Isiah to go for the last shot.  Thomas penetrated but then kicked the ball out to Vinnie Johnson.  Because Portland went with a typical position lineup against Detroit’s three guards, Vinnie was guarded by Kersey which would seem to be a Portland advantage.

But Vinnie was able to penetrate himself and get away just enough to launch a pull-up from the wing (Kersey also was late in reacting to the jumper) that swished through with 0.7 seconds left to give the Pistons a 92-90 lead.

Portland would have one more chance but their collapse would be completed when Porter bricked a three from the corner.  Detroit had won three games in Portland, after not winning there since 1974, and had become the 3rd franchise to win back-to-back championships in the NBA.

The Pistons domination in 1989 and 1990 would be punctuated by the fact that they went 5-0 on the road in the Finals in that stretch.  Detroit did it with defense and the leadership and clutch play of Isiah Thomas (especially in the 1990 Finals, where he was named MVP) as well as clutch offense from Dumars, Vinnie Johnson and Bill Laimbeer and defense all the way around.  Defense would become sexy in Detroit at that time.

The journey to back-to-back championships had nearly taken a decade for the Detroit franchise to build and they had brought down the 80’s Celtics and the 80’s Lakers, all would be documented in the Bad Boys 30 for 30.  But as they went for a three-peat, they would run into another building dynasty.

Detroit starters (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (10) – Small Forward

James Edwards (13) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (6) – Center

Isiah Thomas (29) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (8) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Vinnie Johnson (16)

Dennis Rodman (2)

John Salley (8)

David Greenwood (0)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (11) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (10) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (21) – Center

Terry Porter (21) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (20) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (0)

Danny Young (5)

Wayne Cooper (2)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

isiah & vinnie back-to-backdetroit back-to-back90_vinnie_johnson_grab

The two big heroes (Isiah Thomas & Vinnie Johnson) celebrate back-to-back championships with their teammates (John Salley & Bill Laimbeer are front and center with Isiah in the 2nd picture).  Vinnie made the celebration possible in Portland with his game-winning jumper over Jerome Kersey (bottom) *photos courtesy of,, and


From → NBA

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