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1991 NBA Season – Learning to Fly

March 10, 2016

MJ '90

 

The Sports Illustrated cover from December, 1990 wondering what we all were *photo courtesy of Sole Collector

Can Michael Jordan and Chicago finally make it to the top?  The Bulls had been rising for 3 years but had run into Detroit and lost each time.  But Chicago wasn’t the only “up-and-coming” team.  The Portland Trailblazers had made a surprise run to the NBA Finals and started out the 1991 season at 19-1.  The Bulls would get off to a slower start that’ll be covered in a bit.

Other changes was that the NBA now had a new major network.  NBC more than tripled the amount that CBS was paying the NBA, and now the NBA on NBC was off and running, setting the stage for this opening.

Everybody from my generation that watched could play the tune in his/her head.  It was, quite simply, the best opening in NBA television history (yep, I said it).

The first NBA on NBC game was actually on the second day of the season when the Lakers traveled to San Antonio and got trounced by the Spurs.  On the league’s opening night, everybody played except for the aforementioned Lakers and Spurs, and Seattle (with 27 teams at the time, there was never an even number of teams with a night off).

One of those games, that was otherwise just a mundane matchup on the marquee, ended up setting a record that still stands after the 2015 season.  It ended up being the highest scoring regulation game in NBA history.

November 2, 1990 – Golden State Warriors 162 @Denver Nuggets 158

For this game to be the highest scoring regulation game in NBA history, there was a pretty lethal combination.  Not only were Denver and Golden State the two highest scoring teams for the 1991 season but they also gave up the most points per game.  Denver, in fact, would set a record by giving up 130.8 points per game during the 1991 season.

The Nuggets had been a run-and-gun show under Doug Moe throughout the 1980’s, but the new run-and-gun style under former Loyola Marymount coach Paul Westhead (who did, in fact, have an NBA championship from 1980 with the Lakers) made the 80’s Nuggets’ defense look like the ’85 Bears.

Westhead brought his Loyola Marymount style of the point guard pushing the ball quickly after a make (or miss, sometimes) and having the shooting guard and small forward head to the baselines and the big guys were the trailers.  It didn’t quite work in the NBA.

Not only had Denver lost Moe as a coach, but stars Alex English and Fat Lever went to Dallas.  The top returning player was 5’10” point guard Michael Adams.  The Nuggets had drafted LSU’s Chris Jackson and had traded conditional draft picks to the Lakers for Orlando Woolridge.  Jackson was not available for this opening game because of side effects for the medication he was taking for turrets.

36-year-old Walter Davis was back as a reserve after turning down a chance to sign with fellow UNC alum, Michael Jordan and the Bulls.  Blair Rasmussen was a good shooting center.  But most of the rest of Denver’s roster was filled with college stars who never quite made it in the pros.  Players like Todd Lichti, Jerome Lane, Joe Wolf, Marcus Liberty and Anthony Cook.  Denver also signed a former LMU star for Westhead, Corey Gaines.

Although he got lots of playing time late in this game in place of Michael Adams, Gaines would be cut 2 1/2 weeks later and spent the next two seasons mostly in the CBA.  The Nuggets also had a young point guard named Avery Johnson, who would be released along with veteran Nugget T.R. Dunn on December 24.  Johnson would sign with the Spurs for the first of three times in January.

For Golden State, head coach Don Nelson had always been an up-tempo, unorthodox coach.  But he had a good, young superstar trio.  Chris Mullin, Mitch Richmond and Tim Hardaway became known as Run TMC and were the leaders of an entertaining club.  Each averaged over 22 points per game with Mullin leading the way at 25.7.

Beyond that, the only other double figure scorer was Lithuanian Sarunas Marciulionis.  Golden State had big men Rod Higgins and Tom Tolbert and had a healthy Alton Lister at center.  Lister had missed most of the 1990 season with an achilles injury.  They had also drafted Xavier’s Tyrone Hill with the 11th pick and Les Jepsen and Kevin Pritchard in the 2nd round.  Jepsen didn’t make his debut on this night but he would be part of the trade that broke up Run TMC.

The tempo was off-and-running as Golden State led 43-41… after the 1st quarter.  Mullin had scored 10 points, despite spraining his ankle.  He would return and not show much ill-effects.  Orlando Woolridge got going for Denver as he scored 7 points early in the 2nd quarter to bring his total to 16.

Denver led 61-60 with 6:46 to go in the 2nd quarter, but the style may have been taking its effects as Joe Wolf and Todd Lichti each picked up their 4th fouls.

But the scoring continued and the game was looking like a recent NBA All-Star Game (2014, for example).  Neither team stopped the other from pushing the ball or driving the lane and the jumpers were wide open.  It seemed the only thing that slowed both teams down was the tempo (perhaps helped by the altitude of Denver).  The Nuggets were even trying to press, but not getting much success out of it.

Mitch Richmond got going later in the 2nd quarter and finished the half with 21 points, including a pull-up from the elbow with 3 seconds left that gave the Warriors an 87-83 halftime lead (a good chunk of games nowadays have lower FINAL SCORES than 87-83).  Woolridge led Denver with 24 points as he repeatedly drove past Golden State big guys and drew fouls.  Walter Davis had also shown well with 16 points.

Lister had held up in the 1st half, a big key for Golden State coming off his injury, but he barely played in the 2nd half as Nellie went small.  Hardaway started out the 3rd quarter with 5 points as Golden State took a 96-87 lead.  Hardaway had mainly been dishing out the assists, he finished with 18 in this game but had 14 at halftime.

The Warriors led through most of the 3rd quarter, but Denver slowly ran up enough points to inch the margin closer.  They finally took the lead at 115-114 on two free throws by Woolridge.  The scoring went back-and-forth from there, culminating in Tim Hardaway answering a Todd Lichti three with one of his own to put Golden State ahead 123-122.

Hardaway then finished the quarter by penetrating and finding Tyrone Hill for a slam with 0.1 seconds left.  The Warriors continued to lead in the 4th quarter by as much as 138-130 with 8:54 to go.

But it was Corey Gaines and Todd Lichti that led Denver back to within one despite Rasmussen fouling out.  But Hardaway found Tom Tolbert for a layup, Richmond put back his own miss and Mullin scored and drew a foul.  Chris missed the free throw but Golden State still led 150-143.  But Marciulionis fouled out with 4:05 to go (neither Rasmussen or Marciulionis had a particularly good scoring day perhaps because of the foul trouble).

But the big foul out came with Woolridge with under 4:00 to go.  Orlando had scored 37 points and that left Davis as the only scoring option playing with Lichti, T.R. Dunn, Joe Wolf (and Anthony Cook after Wolf fouled out), and Corey Gaines (who, as I mentioned before, was playing instead of Michael Adams in crunch time, probably not a popular or particularly wise move).

Despite this, the 36-year-old Davis brought Denver back into a 152-all tie with a turnaround jumper in the post.  But before you could say “tie game,” Hardaway pushed it back at Denver and found Mullin.  Lichti blocked Chris’s first shot but Mullin recovered, scored, and was fouled.  The three-point play gave the Warriors the lead for good, although Denver surprisingly wouldn’t make it easy.

I say surprisingly for the simple fact that the Nuggets cut it to one when T.R. Dunn, of all people, hit a turnaround in the lane.  Dunn had never averaged over 8.2 points per game in his NBA career and his 12 points on this night would be the only game Dunn would score in double figures before Denver cut him and his NBA career ended in December.

Richmond hit two free throws with 1:48 left to give Golden State a 157-154 lead.  Gaines came back with a driving layup but Hardaway came right back and crossed Gaines over before hitting a runner.  Gaines then found Dunn for a baseline jumper to keep Denver in it.  But then T.R. fouled Hardaway on the press with 57.3 seconds to go.  Tim split the free throws and the Nuggets had a chance to tie it.

Forced into a halfcourt offense for one of the few times on this night, the Nuggets could not find an open Davis.  So Lichti took a jumper from the elbow that bounced three times but didn’t go in.  Golden State knocked the ball out of bounds to give Denver another chance.

This time it would be Corey Gaines who was left open at the top.  He bricked and Mullin rebounded.  Rod Higgins finished the scoring with two free throws.

Denver finished last in the league at 20-62.  They got the 4th pick of the 1991 draft and selected Dikembe Mutombo.  Mutombo’s defense helped Denver only give up 108.6 points per game in 1992 under Westhead’s system.  But the Nuggets scoring dropped to last in the league at 100.7 points per game (imagine, an NBA team averaged 100.7 points per game and finished last.. the good ole days) as Mutombo was the 2nd-leading scorer on the team (not good).  They finished at 24-58 and Westhead was fired.

Denver then drafted LaPhonso Ellis and Bryant Stith in 1992.  Chris Jackson changed his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and came into his own after struggling under Westhead.  Denver hired their former hero Dan Issel as coach and slowly became the team that would have the biggest upset in NBA playoff history for awhile as its claim to fame.

But nobody who played in this opening game in which the highest number of points was scored without an overtime was around by the time this playoff upset happened.

Golden State starters (points scored)

Chris Mullin (38) – Small Forward

Tom Tolbert (18) – Power Forward

Alton Lister (1) – Center

Tim Hardaway (32) – Point Guard

Mitch Richmond (29) – Shooting Guard

Golden State bench (points scored)

Sarunas Marciulionis (9)

Rod Higgins (17)

Tyrone Hill (5)

Kevin Pritchard (6)

Steve Johnson (7)

Golden State Coach: Don Nelson

Denver starters (points scored)

T.R. Dunn (12) – Small Forward

Orlando Woolridge (37) – Power Forward

Blair Rasmussen (10) – Center

Michael Adams (18) – Point Guard

Todd Lichti (19) – Shooting Guard

Denver bench (points scored)

Walter Davis (33)

Corey Gaines (8)

Jerome Lane (11)

Joe Wolf (4)

Marcus Liberty (2)

Anthony Cook (0)

Avery Johnson (4)

Denver Coach: Paul Westhead

November 6, 1990 – Boston Celtics 110 @Chicago Bulls 108

In a season with championship aspirations, one of the best things to help your confidence is getting off to a fast start.  In 1990-91, the Chicago Bulls did not.

In the opening game at Chicago Stadium, the Philadelphia 76ers took a 19-point halftime lead and won 124-116.  The next night in Washington, Bernard King burned them with 44 points as the Bullets overcame a 9-point halftime deficit to win 103-102.  So the Bulls were now 0-2.

Not much had changed with Chicago from 1990, Phil Jackson had the same starting lineup (Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, Bill Cartwright, John Paxson, and Michael Jordan).  Most of the reserves (Stacey King, Craig Hodges, B.J. Armstrong, Will Perdue) were back.  The changes were trading three draft picks to New Jersey for 6’5″ guard Dennis Hopson, signing undrafted rookie Scott Williams as a free agent, and then signing veteran forward Cliff Levingston as a free agent after losing Ed Nealy to Phoenix and not being able to sign Walter Davis.

Boston, meanwhile, had won their first two games against Cleveland and then at New York.  The Celtics looked like an old team in 1990, but for the beginning of 1991, they looked much younger.  Dennis Johnson and Jim Paxson had retired.  But 6’6″ point guard Brian Shaw rejoined the Celtics after a contract lawsuit between Shaw, the Celtics and the Italian team Shaw signed for in 1990.  Boston had also drafted Dee Brown with the 19th pick.

The trio of Shaw, Brown and Reggie Lewis made the Boston backcourt much quicker.  6’5″ swingman Kevin Gamble also helped in that speed department.  With those four teaming along with big guys Ed Pinckney and Joe Kleine, one could say that the only old players on Boston were the big three from the 1980’s; Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish.  The Celtics also had a new coach, although Chris Ford had played for Boston in the early 80’s and had been an assistant coach ever since.

Boston got off to a good start in the 3rd game of the season for both teams.  Pinckney hit two baskets, Bird drove to the lane for a finger roll, and Lewis hit a jumper to put Boston up 8-4 and force Phil Jackson to call a timeout less than 3 minutes into the game.

Boston continued to hold the lead through much of the 1st quarter.  Lewis was challenging MJ and Bird was taking it to Pippen in the post.  Boston was also breaking Chicago’s press and getting out in transition.  The Celtics took a 22-15 lead 8 minutes into the game.

But then the contest went a full 180 degrees and the Bulls started looking like championship contenders.  Pippen, who had struggled in the first two games, started taking it to Bird on offense and got to the line.  Pippen also stepped up on defense as the Bulls got out in transition.  Chicago took a 25-24 lead when Pippen put in his 10th point with an elbow jumper.

The Bulls defense continued to turn it on as Boston went scoreless for the final 3 minutes of the 1st quarter.  Their defense set up breakaway opportunities as Armstrong found Grant for a slam and then Pippen would get two more buckets to finish the 1st quarter with 14 points.  Chicago led 32-24 heading into the 2nd quarter.

A driving layup by Jordan gave the Bulls their biggest lead to that point at 37-25.  Jordan also had a nifty reverse slam in transition later on, but Boston’s bench started to lead them back after Pippen picked up his 3rd foul and Jackson had to go to his bench.

Kevin McHale and Kevin Gamble led the way.  Gamble hit a pull-up at the end of the shot clock.  McHale used an up-and-under move to hit a hook shot from the post and draw a foul.  Then Gamble found Lewis in transition for a layup to cut Chicago’s lead to 39-35.

Chicago’s bench played well enough to hold the lead until Bird hit back-to-back jumpers to tie the game at 51.  Stacey King responded with a turnaround banker from the post for Chicago to give the Bulls a 53-51 halftime lead.

The 3rd quarter started out back-and-forth as Bird continued to hit for Boston (including a driving left-handed flip shot) while Pippen and Jordan led the way for the home team.  But Boston started running into a bad trend as the quarter went on.  Their turnovers went up at a fast rate.  They finished with 24 and 1/3 of them came from Bird.

Despite this, Boston was able to stay with Chicago for awhile.  But then Grant and Paxson hit field goals and then Horace found Jordan for a reverse.  This 6-0 run put the Bulls up 76-69 and forced Ford to call a timeout with 4:25 left in the quarter.  Lewis then picked up his 4th foul and Chicago grabbed a 9-point lead.

It grew to 84-73 with 2:15 left when Pippen got a steal and Jordan got a breakaway slam.  It then grew to 88-75 when Pippen put back his own miss.  But then Scottie picked up his 4th foul and Boston was able to cut the lead to 90-79 heading into the 4th quarter.

Despite Chicago’s run, Bird had made his last 8 field goal attempts.  But the Bulls starters, with Paxson contributing 10 points in the quarter, were looking like a well-gelled unit.

But the bench hadn’t quite gotten there for Phil Jackson and they slowly squandered the lead as the 4th quarter went on.  Boston cut down their turnovers and were able to cut it to 96-90 on two free throws from Shaw.  Then McHale hit a swinging hook shot in the lane while drawing a foul.  That three-point play cut the lead in half and the next three-point play, on a runner from Gamble, tied the game 4 minutes into the quarter.

Jordan responded by going coast-to-coast for a slam after a defensive rebound and then hitting a pull-up banker.  But then Shaw hit a jumper and went coast-to-coast past Jordan for a layup to tie the game.  McHale then hit two free throws and Gamble put back his own miss at the end of the shot clock to force a Chicago timeout with 4:21 remaining and the Bulls down 104-100.

The scoring slowed over the next two minutes as Boston missed a few chances to increase their lead (most notably when McHale missed two free throws).  A turnaround jumper by Grant in the lane cut the Celtics led to 106-104.  Then Parish committed an offensive foul with under 2:00 remaining.  Pippen then hit a pull-up from the foul line to tie the game with 1:40 remaining.

Bird hit a wing jumper for his 9th consecutive field goal (Bird sat out for most of the 4th quarter and Lewis sat out the entire quarter as Dee Brown, in his 3rd NBA game, played in the back court with Shaw).  But Jordan responded by hitting a pull-up from the elbow after a Grant handoff.

After two jump balls, Chicago regained possession with a chance to take the lead.  But Jordan was just long on a pull-up from the wing and Shaw rebounded.  Boston went for the last shot originally without taking a timeout, but Pippen almost made the disastrous by deflecting a pass to Bird out of bounds.  Ford used a timeout with 6.9 seconds remaining.

The Celtics had their veteran big three on the court with Shaw and Brown.  McHale inbounded but couldn’t find anybody other than Parish out beyond the three-point line.  Parish drove to the foul line and pulled up over Cartwright but threw an airball.  But Brian Shaw boxed out Jordan nicely and was able to grab the ball out of the air and put it back in at the buzzer to give the Celtics a stunning win.

Despite losing by 20 to the Bulls in Boston Garden 3 days later, the Celtics would break off two 8-game winning streaks and then a 6-gamer to bring their record to 29-5 on January 11 and help Chris Ford become the All-Star Game coach for the East.  However, things would come back to earth when Bird missed a month with his recurring back injury and McHale was out 14 games with torn ligaments in his ankle.

For the Bulls, this would be the last time they would lose 3 games in a row while Michael Jordan was in a Chicago uniform.  They recovered by winning 3 in a row before traveling to Utah a week after this game.

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (24) – Small Forward

Ed Pinckney (7) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (8) – Center

Brian Shaw (20) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (13) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Kevin McHale (19)

Kevin Gamble (15)

Dee Brown (4)

Joe Kleine (0)

Boston Coach: Chris Ford

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (23) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (8) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (10) – Center

John Paxson (13) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (33) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (3)

Stacey King (10)

Craig Hodges (2)

Dennis Hopson (4)

Will Perdue (2)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

brian shaw

Brian Shaw’s game-winning putback gave the Celtics a victory in Chicago *photo courtesy of Trading Card Database

November 13, 1990 – Chicago Bulls 84 @Utah Jazz 82

A week after suffering a heart-breaking loss at the buzzer, Chicago would deliver the same from a not-so-unexpected source.

The Bulls had rebounded from their 0-3 start by winning their last three games.  The Utah Jazz were off to a 2-2 start and had made only one major change in their roster from the previous season.  The Jazz traded veteran two-guard Bobby Hansen, Eric Leckner and three draft picks (including a 1990 1st rounder) to Sacramento as part of a three-team deal with Washington.  The Jazz got back scoring guard Jeff Malone from the Bullets.

Malone teamed with his fellow name-sake Karl Malone, John Stockton, Thurl Bailey and Mark Eaton in Jerry Sloan’s starting lineup.  Off the bench came 2nd year man Blue Edwards, 11-year veteran Darrell Griffith (who was in his final season), point guard Delaney Rudd and big man Mike Brown.

Nobody would mistake this game for Golden State/Denver (and perhaps it gave a little preview to the games these two teams would play in the NBA Finals in ’97 and ’98).  It was a grind-it-out game where nobody shot well.  Both teams showed off their great defense in this one as each held the other to 38% from the field.

The Bulls started out by hitting one of their first eight from the field.  Karl Malone scored 8 early points to give Utah a 10-4 lead and force Phil Jackson to call a timeout at the 6:45 mark.  If you didn’t believe my previous paragraph, only a 10-4 score (and an 84-82 final) in the first 5 minutes and 15 seconds.

Jordan finally got going to bring the Bulls back into it.  He got a steal and a breakaway layup after a behind-the-back dribble to get away from Thurl Bailey.  Later, MJ hit on a scoop shot to tie the game at 18 late in the quarter.

With 4.3 seconds remaining, Blue Edwards hit two free throws that looked to be giving the Jazz a 20-18 lead going into the 2nd quarter.  But then Will Perdue fired a long pass down to Jordan, who touch-passed it to Stacey King for a layup with 1.6 remaining.  But MJ wasn’t done.  Jordan then stole Stockton’s long inbounds pass to half court and pulled up for a 30-foot three-pointer and nailed it at the buzzer.

Jordan’s heroics gave Chicago a 23-20 lead at the quarter break and gave him 13 points to counteract the Mailman’s 12.  Almost unbelievably, that would be Chicago’s only three-point attempt of the game.

The Bulls kept the lead in the 2nd quarter as King started out with two more buckets.  STACEY G. BUCKETS!!! THE G STANDS FOR GETS, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!! sorry, had to (only people who listen to Stacey King as a Bulls broadcaster will understand that reference).

But the Bulls could never run away and hide.  Their poor shooting and the Jazz bench, led by Edwards, kept them in the game, along with the offensive contributions of John Stockton and Thurl Bailey.  B.J. Armstrong, who had been a big key in the Bulls three previous victories, contributed with back-to-back baskets.  John Paxson also hit two jumpers.

The Bulls would get 1 point combined from Pippen and Jordan in the 2nd quarter but managed to hold a 46-42 halftime lead when Horace Grant found Bill Cartwright for a baseline jumper with 2.9 seconds remaining.

The 3rd quarter started out badly for the Bulls.  Paxson picked up his 4th foul and Chicago missed their first 8 shots.  Meanwhile, Stockton hit two free throws after the Paxson foul and then found Jeff Malone for a breakaway and Karl for a jumper from the top.  A baseline jumper by Jeff Malone after Karl found him on an inbounds pass gave Utah a 50-46 lead and forced a Phil Jackson timeout with 9:47 to go.

But then Utah missed their next 10 shots and Jordan scored 8 points in a row after Cartwright initially broke Chicago’s drought with a jumper from the foul line.  Sloan was forced to use a timeout at the 6:03 mark of the quarter with the Bulls up 56-50.  Karl Malone then closed the quarter with 9 points to bring his total to 23 and bring Utah back into a 64-all tie entering the 4th quarter.

Utah would then take the lead as Darrell Griffith hit back-to-back buckets.  It increased to as much as 77-72 when Stockton hit a pull-up from the top.  But Pippen found Jordan for a baseline jumper and then MJ found Grant for a transition layup.  Jordan finally tied the game at 80 with a pull-up from the foul line with 3:13 to go.

The Jazz responded as Mark Eaton rebounded a Karl Malone airball and slammed it back in.  The Jazz had a few chances to increase that lead but never could.  Pippen found Paxson for a pull-up in transition to tie it at 82 with 1:35 remaining.

Karl Malone then missed a long wing jumper at the end of the shot clock.  Pippen then had his jumper blocked by Eaton, which concluded a 2-for-15 shooting day from Scottie Pippen (it would be one of only five times that Pippen didn’t score in double figures during the season).

Then with under 30 seconds remaining, Stockton dropped a pass down to Karl Malone on their usual pick and roll.  But Malone missed a driving hook against three guys and Chicago rebounded.  Jackson used a timeout with 15.9 seconds remaining.

The Bulls had advanced the ball before their timeout call so they had to inbound in the back court.  It turned out to be no problem as Paxson brought it up against Stockton and found Grant at the top.  Horace found Pippen at the left wing while superman (MJ) was getting free in the post.

Pippen dropped the ball into Jordan against Jeff Malone.  Bailey immediately doubled but Michael ran away from both of them and got off a fadeaway jumper from the wing that fell through at the buzzer.  Michael Jordan had saved the day for Chicago again and now the Bulls were over .500 for the first time all season.

The Bulls would eventually get going with a 7-game winning streak after a 5-6 start.  They had another 7-game winning streak in January that pulled them into a game lead over Detroit in the Central Division.  The Bulls had gotten killed in Detroit on December 19 (as Pippen had a worse game than he did in Utah, shooting 2-for-16) but managed to beat the Pistons on Christmas Day in Chicago.

But as the Bulls pulled into Detroit on February 7 (just before the All-Star break), they trailed the Pistons by a game and a half and hadn’t won in the Motor City since Game 1 of the 1989 Eastern Conference Finals.

For Utah, this was the 2nd loss of what turned into a 4-game losing streak.  Sloan moved Blue Edwards into the starting lineup in Thurl Bailey’s place (Bailey would be traded to Minnesota in November, 1991 for Tyrone Corbin).  The Jazz then got going with a couple of 6-game winning streaks and battled San Antonio for the Midwest Division crown for the 2nd straight season.

But for the 2nd straight season, Utah would finish a game behind the Spurs as the Jazz concluded at 54-28.  Then, for the 2nd straight season, Utah took on Phoenix in the 1st round and this time the Suns had home court advantage.  But the Jazz won Game 1 in Phoenix by a whopping score of 129-90 and went on to win the series in 4 games.  They lost in the next round to top-seeded Portland 4-1.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (5) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (8) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (8) – Center

John Paxson (8) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (29) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (10)

Stacey King (6)

Dennis Hopson (4)

Will Perdue (2)

Cliff Levingston (4)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Utah starters (points scored)

Thurl Bailey (7) – Small Forward

Karl Malone (28) – Power Forward

Mark Eaton (2) – Center

John Stockton (13) – Point Guard

Jeff Malone (8) – Shooting Guard

Utah bench (points scored)

Blue Edwards (10)

Darrell Griffith (10)

Mike Brown (0)

Delaney Rudd (4)

Utah Coach: Jerry Sloan

November 13, 1990 – Phoenix Suns 112 @Los Angeles Lakers 111

The Bulls weren’t the only future ’91 Finalist to get off to a slow start.  The Los Angeles Lakers, under their new coach Mike Dunleavy, had lost in the NBA on NBC opener in San Antonio and had suffered two home losses to Portland in overtime and to New York.  Their only victory was against the Sacramento Kings.

Dunleavy came in looking to transition the Lakers to the half-court game.  The key would be post ups for Magic Johnson and James Worthy, and getting Byron Scott open off screens.  It was a slow transition to this point as the Lakers looked stagnant on offense and were inconsistent, at best.

The Lakers had lost Michael Cooper to the Italian League.  Orlando Woolridge and Mark McNamara were traded away for conditional draft picks.  But Sam Perkins was signed as a free agent and Terry Teagle was acquired from Golden State for a 1991 1st round pick.  Perkins and Teagle had some good games in the first few but had not quite found their niche.

Mychal Thompson, who was in his last season, was now coming off the bench and 2nd year Serb Vlade Divac was starting in the middle to go with Magic, Scott, Worthy and A.C. Green.  Larry Drew was now Magic’s backup at point and 1st round pick Elden Campbell and 2nd round pick Tony Smith would get some key playing time as the season went on.

While the Lakers were off to a slow start, Portland was already well on their way to overtaking the division title.  But another team from the Pacific Division was trying to do the same.  The Phoenix Suns had beaten the Lakers in the playoffs the previous season and now were trying to show off how much they had grown.

Phoenix’s main scorers came from the perimeter in Kevin Johnson, Jeff Hornacek and Tom Chambers.  Hornacek had been injured earlier in the season and was coming off the bench until he fully returned to form.  3rd year defensive ace Dan Majerle was starting in his place.  Mark West still manned the middle with great defense and some unexpected offense.  Former Laker Kurt Rambis was still the Suns starting power forward, but not for long.

The bench, along with Hornacek, featured 1989 6th man of the year Eddie Johnson, but not for long.  Rookies Cedric Ceballos and Negele Knight (both 2nd round picks) and 2nd year man Kenny Battle were contributing along with 3rd year players Andrew Lang and Tim Perry.  Ed Nealy was signed away from the Bulls to add depth in the middle.

For this game, James Worthy was determined to get off to a fast start.  He hit a jumper from the foul line, put back a Divac miss, and then went coast-to-coast for a swooping breakaway dunk.  His 6-0 run put the Lakers up 10-6 and forced Cotton Fitzsimmons to use a Phoenix timeout.

The Lakers ended up taking as much as an 8-point lead as Worthy had 11 1st quarter points.  But Phoenix managed to stay in it despite 12 1st quarter turnovers.  A corner three from Hornacek cut the Lakers lead to 28-23 at the end of the quarter.

Cedric Ceballos and Kenny Battle made contributions off the bench to help bring Phoenix back.  A breakaway three-point play from K.J. (Kevin Johnson) after a steal cut the lead to 34-32.  But Worthy would keep L.A. ahead with 11 more points in the 2nd quarter, including a three.

L.A. retook a 52-44 lead when Magic found Teagle for a turnaround jumper from the baseline.  This was Magic’s 9,000th career assist and he got an ovation for it at the next timeout.

But the momentum didn’t sustain as Ceballos led Phoenix back with 6 points to cut the Lakers halftime lead to 56-54.

The lead changed hands in the 3rd quarter before Phoenix ran off 8 straight points to take a 74-69 lead, done with a three from Hornacek, a transition three-point play by K.J. and a slam from West on the break on a Chambers assist.

Chambers and Hornacek then led the way for the rest of the 3rd quarter, with K.J. contributing a pull-up jumper with 1 seconds remaining, as Phoenix took an 88-84 lead heading into the 4th.

But then with the game heading towards winnin’ time, Magic took control to bring the Lakers back.  He answered a field goal by Chambers by putting back his own miss and then going coast-to-coast with a running hook to give L.A. a 94-92 lead.  He later connected on a pull-up from the wing at the end of the shot clock.

The Lakers took a 4-point lead but K.J. brought the Suns back by morphing into K.J. from the 1990 playoffs.  He hit two big jumpers to keep the Suns in range but his biggest contribution came after the Lakers retook a 104-102 lead and Chambers and Hornacek each had 5 fouls.

K.J. penetrated and found West for a layup to tie the game and then he found Hornacek in transition for a pull-up jumper to give Phoenix the lead with 3:01 left.  He later found Hornacek for another jumper to put the Suns ahead 108-104.  But then Worthy tipped in a missed three from Scott for his 35th point and then Phoenix had a 24-second violation with 1:40 left.

Scott then connected on a pull-up jumper in the lane to tie the game at 108 with 1:23 left.  Fitzsimmons called a timeout and went to Chambers, who connected on a driving banker to give Phoenix the lead again.  Then after Scott missed a jumper, K.J. got out for a breakaway layup and a 112-108 Suns lead.

Dunleavy used a timeout with 41.3 seconds remaining.  He went to Magic, naturally, and he penetrated and found Divac for a layup and a foul.  But Vlade missed the free throw and Phoenix rebounded.  However, there was still a 6-second differential between the shot clock and the game clock, so the Lakers decided to play it out defensively.  It ended up working better than expected when Majerle took a jumper with still 6 seconds on the shot clock.  He missed, Divac rebounded and the Lakers called a timeout with 9.6 seconds left.

On this final possession, the Lakers disfluency on offense came to a head.  There was no movement and they seemed unsure what to do.  Finally, Worthy went 1-on-1 against his former teammate Rambis, and drew a foul when Rambis reached in with 1.1 seconds left.

Big Game James had uncharacteristically struggled from the foul line in the early season.  He was 6-for-9 on the game going into these two attempts, after going 9-for-14 in the first 4 games.  He made the first but he missed the second.  Majerle rebounded and the game ended just like that.

The Lakers had the most heartbreaking of their 4 losses in 5 games.  They would get off to a 2-5 start before winning 8 games in a row (including a victory at Phoenix).  But their big streak came just before the All-Star break as the Lakers won 16 games in a row.  At the All-Star break, they were 35-11, good for 2nd best record in the league behind the 39-9 Portland Trailblazers.  Phoenix was 30-16 at the break and would have to play catch-up again.

There was no bad losing streak or anything for Phoenix but they couldn’t match the Lakers 16-game winning streak.  There were some bad losses as the Suns lost to the Clippers one night after this great win over the Lakers.  Kurt Rambis was taken out of the starting lineup after that loss and replaced by Kenny Battle.

Battle could not contribute as a starter as much as he did off the bench and was released in January.  Rambis moved back into the lineup before the Suns made a move to try and add some muscle and scoring inside.  On December 7, Eddie Johnson and two future draft picks were traded to Seattle for Xavier McDaniel.

McDaniel, Chambers, Hornacek and K.J. gave the Suns some scoring punch but not much defense.  It all came to a head in the 1st round of the playoffs against Utah (after a 55-27 season) when the Suns 4 stars played inconsistently on offense and gave up 15 and 12 points to Utah’s backup big man Mike Brown (a career 5 points per game scorer) in the last two games in which Phoenix lost the series 3-1.

McDaniel would be traded to New York before the start of the 1992 season and Phoenix would have to wait another season to get its inside scoring, muscle and toughness.  But when they got it, they were off and running.

Phoenix starters (points scored)

Tom Chambers (20) – Small Forward

Kurt Rambis (2) – Power Forward

Mark West (16) – Center

Kevin Johnson (24) – Point Guard

Dan Majerle (10) – Shooting Guard

Phoenix bench (points scored)

Jeff Hornacek (18)

Eddie Johnson (2)

Cedric Ceballos (10)

Kenny Battle (8)

Tim Perry (2)

Phoenix Coach: Cotton Fitzsimmons

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (36) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (7) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (15) – Center

Magic Johnson (20) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (17) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Sam Perkins (8)

Terry Teagle (8)

Larry Drew (0)

Elden Campbell (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

February 7, 1991 – Chicago Bulls 95 @Detroit Pistons 93

So now the All-Star break was just about here and the Chicago Bulls were once again behind the Detroit Pistons in the standings of the Central Division.  Detroit was 34-14 going into this game and Chicago was 31-14.

After a 13-2 start, Chuck Daly’s club had a stretch where they lost 7 of 8 games.  But then Chicago came up on the schedule for the first time that season and the site was where the Pistons had beaten the Bulls decisively in Game 7 in 1990, the Palace at Auburn Hills.  Detroit and Chicago gave a repeat performance as the Pistons won handily 105-84.  Scottie Pippen, who had the infamous migraine headache in Game 7, was 2-for-16 from the floor and Jordan was the only Bulls player in double figures.

The teams matched up again on Christmas Day in Chicago and Jordan’s 37 points carried the Bulls to a 98-86 win as they pulled away in the 2nd half.  Detroit followed up that loss with 11 straight wins and an 18-3 stretch heading into this Bulls game.  But in late January, their star was felled by the injury bug.  Isiah Thomas had, perhaps, been playing with torn ligaments in his wrist for awhile but finally had to settle for surgery and wouldn’t be back until April.

This meant that Joe Dumars moved to the point and Vinnie Johnson moved into the starting lineup (Vinnie was not shooting well that season).  Detroit signed veteran John Long to be the third guard.  Other than that, Detroit remained the same from 1990.  Dennis Rodman, James Edwards and Bill Laimbeer were still the starters up front, with Mark Aguirre and John Salley coming off the bench.

Detroit’s offense suffered without Isiah but its defense held opponents to 94.9 points per game at mid-season, which at the time was among the tops in league history since the advent of the shot clock.

Chicago now had its opportunity to take control in the Central Divsion.  They had 5 and 7-game winning streaks in December and January but needed that extra boost.  A win in Detroit would certainly do that.  The Bulls were 0-6 at the Palace all-time in the regular season (the building had opened before the 1989 season) and were 1-12 including the playoffs.

Scottie Pippen certainly seemed to have more confidence then he had in, at least, his last two appearances at the Palace.  He got a coast-to-coast flying slam in transition early on.  But Detroit, as usual, was up to the task as Vinnie Johnson scored 10 early points and the Pistons made 6 straight field goals at one stretch to take a 20-15 lead.

Back-to-back jumpers by Horace Grant cut into that lead and Chicago cut Detroit’s advantage to 26-25 at the end of the 1st quarter.  Pippen had 9 points for the Bulls and Jordan had 8.

The 2nd quarter was a struggle-fest offensively as each team’s bench got into the game.  Aguirre did score 11 of Detroit’s 15 points in the quarter, including the last 10 (the Pistons bench had all 15).  The Bulls bench hadn’t quite come together and Phil Jackson had to keep Pippen and Jordan in the game (usually, either Pippen or Jordan was in the game for the entire 48 minutes).

The two stars put the Bulls ahead late in the quarter and they held a 44-41 halftime lead.  Pippen had 13 points and Jordan 12.

For the 2nd half, Detroit got James Edwards and Dennis Rodman involved offensively early on.  Neither scored a field goal in the 1st half but Edwards got a driving scoop shot in the lane and Rodman got two transition layups.  Bill Laimbeer also got going with 5 points.

Despite that, the Bulls stayed with the Pistons and Edwards was forced to the bench after committing his 4th foul.  A pivotal moment came with 6:28 remaining in the 3rd.  Bill Cartwright was setting up for low post position when he was called for an offensive foul against Laimbeer and it looked like Bill was hit in the face with an elbow.  Cartwright argued the call and got ejected (strangely Detroit got 1 free throw out of it, you’d think they’d get two if Cartwright was ejected for two technicals).

Cartwright had been known for “inadvertently” hitting opponents (and teammates) with rogue elbows.  But upon looking at the replay, Cartwright’s elbows never contacted Laimbeer (but perhaps his head did).  Billy had gotten away with another flop (Laimbeer wore a nose protector for most of that season, could we really be sure that Laimbeer’s nose was broken?).

Although Cartwright wasn’t much of a scorer, the Bulls felt his loss and one particular important aspect of the game.  Defensive rebounding.  Laimbeer and Rodman gave the Pistons an ample amount of second shots as both finished with double figure rebounds.

Laimbeer also contributed 10 points in the quarter as Detroit took a 70-69 lead heading into the 4th.  Early in the 4th, a putback and then two free throws from Laimbeer put the Pistons up 80-76.

Detroit would gain as much as a 5-point lead three times as it looked to be slipping away from the Bulls.  But a member of Chicago’s maligned bench did step up and would continue to grow to the point of becoming a starter two years later.  B.J. Armstrong hit two big jumpers during that stretch and was in the game down the stretch along with another player who would become a key cog but was still a rookie this season, Scott Williams.

The Bulls managed to cut it back to 87-85 as Edwards and Aguirre each picked up their 5th fouls.  Laimbeer hit two free throws and then it became Michael Jordan time.

Jordan drove baseline and double-pumped a shot while he was fouled.  Incredibly (because, you know, Michael Jordan was never lucky on a basketball court), Jordan had the ball knocked away from him but managed to more-or-less fist it into the basket for a three-point play.  It was 89-88 with 2:10 left.

Then after Edwards missed a jumper, Aguirre went over the back of Jordan for his 6th foul.  MJ hit two free throws to give the Bulls the lead.  After an exchange of turnovers, Laimbeer’s corner jumper to give Detroit the advantage back went in-and-out and Grant rebounded.

Dumars was then called for a foul on Jordan away from the ball and Michael made two more free throws with 55.5 seconds left.  Vinnie Johnson came right back with a pull-up from the foul line but Jordan responded by beating the trap for a jumper from the left wing.  The Bulls led 94-91 with 37.1 seconds to go.

Edwards hit a turnaround from the baseline after rebounding a miss from Vinnie.  There was 28.2 seconds remaining and Detroit decided to play straight up defense and not foul.  But after Chicago called a timeout with 14.7 left, Dumars fouled Jordan on the inbounds pass.

Michael missed the first free throw but made the second.  After a Detroit timeout, Laimbeer got free for a three from the corner.  He back-rimmed it as Pippen challenged but the rebound was tipped to Dumars.  Joe D front-rimmed a high-arcing jumper.  Detroit got one more shot as Vinnie got the ball but his shot was back-rimmed.  Rodman got one more tip at the ball but the buzzer had finally sounded and the Bulls had escaped with a win.

For Chicago, this would be the 2nd win of what turned into an 11-game winning streak and a 20-1 stretch to not only take control of the Central Division but the Eastern Conference.

Detroit would find life tough without Isiah Thomas as they lost 5 in a row in late February and had only one stretch during the second half of the season in which they would win more than two games in a row.  Detroit finished 3rd in the East with a 50-32 record but did have Isiah back for the playoffs.

The Pistons also beat the Bulls at the Palace late in the year.  But could the teams get back to the Eastern Conference Finals to face each other?

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (20) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (9) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (4) – Center

John Paxson (8) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (30) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (12)

Stacey King (4)

Dennis Hopson (4)

Will Perdue (0)

Cliff Levingston (4)

Scott Williams (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Detroit starters (points scored)

Dennis Rodman (11) – Small Forward

James Edwards (7) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (25) – Center

Joe Dumars (11) – Point Guard

Vinnie Johnson (12) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (19)

John Salley (6)

John Long (2)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

February 10, 1991 – NBA All-Star Game @ Charlotte: East 116, West 114

It was time for a second expansion city to host All-Star Weekend.  The Charlotte Hornets were in their 3rd year in the league and didn’t have the likes of Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning yet, so they didn’t have any all-stars.

But Michael Jordan was making a return to his home state and, in essence, became the “hometown favorite,” although James Worthy and Brad Daugherty were also from North Carolina and went to UNC.

The highlight of All-Star Saturday may have been this:

Or if you like the Dunk Contest, you had this:

All in all, Saturday may have been the most exciting part of the weekend as the crowd was pretty subdued for the actual All-Star Game on Sunday.  The play was pretty sloppy most of the time but you can’t expect players who don’t play together often to look like a well-drilled machine (although I suppose you could go by today’s standards and let the offense do whatever it pleases).

It was a special comeback story for Bernard King, who was starting with Larry Bird injured.  King was a more than worthy candidate as he was averaging 28.4 points per game for the Washington Bullets.  It was his highest average since before he had torn ligaments in his knee in 1985.

With Isiah Thomas also injured, his teammate Joe Dumars took his starting spot.  But Dumars only played 15 minutes and was the East’s only true point guard.  Jordan assumed the role of point guard most of the time and had 10 turnovers to go with his 5 assists.

But the East was bigger than the West and Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing took advantage by out-rebounding the West thoroughly.  Barkley actually received the MVP award based on his rebounding performance.

Barkley had originally not wanted to play because of a minor fracture in his ankle, but Barkley had played in Philadelphia’s last 4 games and the NBA told him he needed to be in Charlotte.

Barkley got going with a baseline jumper and then a putback of a Bernard King miss to give the East a 12-6 lead.  Jordan tried his best to excite the crowd as he drove to the line, extended his right arm up in the air with the ball and then pulled it back for a double-pump runner.  Barkley also found Jordan for a slam but Magic Johnson kept the West in it with a lefty banker over Ewing and then a three-pointer from the wing.

Barkley then showed off his skills by going coast-to-coast for an over-the-head two-handed slam.  The East held the lead until Dominique Wilkins came up short on a breakaway windmill slam.

Tom Chambers drove for a layup and James Worthy followed with a steal and pull-up jumper with 4.4 seconds remaining to put the West ahead 23-22 after 1 quarter.  For an All-Star Game, that was a low scoring quarter, and it was due to the sloppiness.

Each team’s bench became a factor early on in the 2nd quarter as the teams matched each other.  Kevin McHale, Kevin Duckworth, Ricky Pierce, Alvin Robertson, Worthy, Wilkins, Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, Tim Hardaway and Brad Daugherty got involved in the scoring column.

The West took a bit of a lead midway through the quarter when Magic hit a three, Hardaway found David Robinson for an alley-oop slam, and then Robinson put back a miss to make the score 49-43.

But then Jordan came right back, drove down the lane, hung in the air, and finished a double-pump reverse while drawing Robinson’s 4th foul.  The Admiral (who had a chance, he felt, of getting called to the Persian Gulf.. who knows if it may have happened had Operation Dessert Storm gone on longer) had to sit down and the West lost what little size they had (Hakeem Olajuwon was out for two months with an eye injury).

The teams went back and forth until the last two minutes of the half with the West up 58-56.  Barkley put back a miss to get his double-double in the 1st half and then he split a pair of free throws (he finished the 1st half with 11 points and 11 rebounds).

Hersey Hawkins went coast-to-coast from half-court to finish a breakaway layup.  Then Jordan took over with two free throws, a flying slam and then a pull-up jumper from the wing with 6.8 seconds remaining to give the East a 67-58 halftime lead.  Jordan finished with 19 points.

The 3rd quarter became a little bit more of a foul fest as each team shot a bunch of free throws.  The West did come back and cut the lead to 94-92 after 3 quarters.

The 4th quarter was also a defensive struggle.  Jumpers from Chambers and Hardaway gave the West the lead and were the only field goals scored in the first two minutes of the quarter.

Clyde Drexler put back a miss and then John Stockton found Chambers for a slam on a 4-on-2 break.  The West now had a 100-95 lead.  But Patrick Ewing rebounded a Wilkins miss and scored.  Then Jordan found Barkley on the break for a layup.  A turnaround jumper by Ewing over Chambers, who was now playing center for the West, gave the East the lead.  Then Jordan went coast-to-coast past three guys for a layup.

The East eventually took a 112-107 lead with 2:46 to go before Kevin Johnson hit a free throw.  K.J. missed the second shot but Robinson rebounded and scored to cut the lead to two.  Jordan then drove down the lane off a Barkley pick and scored.  K.J. came back with a pull-up jumper.  Ewing hit a baseline jumper.  Chris Mullin hit two free throws with a minute and a half to go.  The East led 116-114.

The East ran down the shot clock but couldn’t get a good shot.  Barkley finally got the ball, pump faked three times, and had his shot blocked by K.J.  Johnson then saved the ball from going out of bounds as the shot clock went off, but he saved it back to the East.

However, it appeared to be West’s ball because of the shot clock violation.  The officials ruled though that the East would get possession, in essence saying that K.J. had possession when he blocked the shot and then saved the ball.  It was a bad call but it didn’t end up costing the West.

Mullin rebounded a miss from Ricky Pierce (who would only be on the Milwaukee Bucks for 5 more days before being traded to Seattle for Dale Ellis).

Robinson then turned the ball over but gave the West a chance to get it back when he tied up Barkley.  The West won the jump ball and called a timeout with 15.5 seconds remaining.

Portland coach Rick Adelman called for a two-man play between Magic Johnson and David Robinson.  The pick-and-roll was botched and Robinson kicked back out to Magic, who found K.J. at the right wing.  K.J. launched a three for the win that looked good but would be touched by Karl Malone before hitting the front rim (the ball actually was probably short and the Mailman mis-timed his jump, Mailman don’t deliver on Sundays).

Malone was called for an offensive goaltending with 2.9 seconds remaining and it finished off the game as Jordan took the inbounds and ran out the clock.

The East had escaped and Barkley had his All-Star MVP with 17 points and 22 rebounds (the most in an All-Star Game since Wilt Chamberlain in 1967).

The second half of the season started with the 1st place Celtics taking on the 2nd place Lakers.  It would turn out to have a special meaning in retrospect.

West starters (teams) and point totals

Chris Mullin (Golden State Warriors) 13 – Small Forward

Karl Malone (Utah Jazz) 16 – Power Forward

David Robinson (San Antonio Spurs) 16 – Center

Magic Johnson (Los Angeles Lakers) 16 – Point Guard

Kevin Johnson (Phoenix Suns) 5 – Shooting Guard

West bench (teams) and point totals

Kevin Duckworth (Portland Blazers) 6

Clyde Drexler (Portland Blazers) 12

James Worthy (Los Angeles Lakers) 9

Terry Porter (Portland Blazers) 4

Tom Chambers (Phoenix Suns) 8

John Stockton (Utah Jazz) 4

Tim Hardaway (Golden State Warriors) 5

West Coach: Rick Adelman (Portland Blazers)

East starters (teams) and point totals

Bernard King (Washington Bullets) 8 – Small Forward

Charles Barkley (Philadelphia 76ers) 17 – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (New York Knicks) 18 – Center

Joe Dumars (Detroit Pistons) 2 – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (Chicago Bulls) 26 – Shooting Guard

East bench (teams) and point totals

Alvin Robertson (Milwaukee Bucks) 6

Dominique Wilkins (Atlanta Hawks) 12

Robert Parish (Boston Celtics) 2

Kevin McHale (Boston Celtics) 2

Ricky Pierce (Milwaukee Bucks) 9

Brad Daugherty (Cleveland Cavaliers) 8

Hersey Hawkins (Philadelphia 76ers) 6

East Coach: Chris Ford (Boston Celtics)

1991-All-Star-Game-Fleer barkley MVP

The five starters for the East squad in 1991 (from left to right: Michael Jordan, Joe Dumars, Patrick Ewing, Bernard King, and Charles Barkley).  It was the guy on the right end that ended up getting the MVP *photos courtesy of basketballchannel.fr and Pinterest

February 15, 1991 – Boston Celtics 98 @Los Angeles Lakers 85

At this moment during the NBA season, it was almost like it was the’80’s all over again.  The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers had two of the three best records in the league.  Boston was 37-12 and the Lakers were 36-12.

For Boston, Larry Bird had returned from his back injury that kept him out a month on February 6.  The Celtics were 3-0 with Bird back in the lineup and on a 5-game winning streak.  However, Kevin McHale was now out for a few weeks with a sprained ankle.  Still, Boston had won their last two games at Seattle and Golden State.  They would get set for perhaps their best performance of the year.

The Lakers had gotten back to the top of the standings with a 16-game winning streak that went from January 9 until the All-Star break (this included a blowout win over the Larry Bird-less Celtics at Boston Garden).  They lost their first game after the break at Phoenix but rebounded with a win against Minnesota.

But they ran into trouble early on against Boston when Robert Parish got going offensively, with help from some great passes from Bird.  Bird had a casual drop-off feed to Parish for a layup to give Boston a 4-0 lead.  The Lakers came back with 6 points in a row but then Brian Shaw found Parish twice for layups (one of which resulted in a three-point play).  Then Bird hit a jumper and found Shaw on a 4-on-2 break for a layup.  Boston led 13-6 halfway through the 1st quarter.

The 37-year-old Parish just kept it going from there as he scored 9 field goals and 21 points in the 1st quarter.  This included a slam after a baseline drop-step, as well as a number of turnaround fadeaway jumpers from the post.  Nearly single-handedly, Parish gave Boston a 35-27 lead at the end of the 1st quarter.

The Lakers scored the first 6 points of the 2nd quarter and forced Chris Ford to call a timeout 2 minutes in.  Terry Teagle came off the bench to score 6 points and Sam Perkins, who was normally in the starting lineup but not in this game, hit a hook shot from the post to tie the game at 39.  Parish played most of the 2nd quarter before taking an extended break, so it wouldn’t Parish this time that would carry the Celtics.

Reggie Lewis and Kevin Gamble took advantage of their matchups and got open shots from the lane, as well as out in transition.  They scored all of the Celtics points on their 11-0 run to take a 50-39 lead, and the Celtics finished the 1st half ahead 58-47 when Lewis made a fall-away from the baseline at the buzzer.  Gamble had scored 10 2nd quarter points and Lewis had 9.

Again the Lakers started out strong in the 2nd half and cut the Celtics lead to five several times, but it was Parish and Lewis that made several baskets to hold them off.  Parish scored 6 points and Lewis had 9 more as the quarter got to its late stages.

An A.C. Green tip-in cut the Celtics lead to 75-72 with under a minute and a half to go.  But then Lewis hit two pull-up jumpers to being his total to 22 points (all of which came after the 1st quarter).  Gamble then hit two free throws with 0.5 seconds remaining in the quarter to put Boston ahead 81-72 going into the 4th.

Bird would seem more or less lost in the shuffle of some of his teammates performance.  But Larry finished with a triple-double despite not shooting well.  The Lakers could not make a sustained run in the 4th quarter as they started 3-for-13 from the field and only scored 13 points.

The closest they got was 85-79 when Terry Teagle hit back-to-back baskets.  But a lefty layup from Gamble and a high-arcing turnaround by Parish, for his 29th point, kept the Lakers at bay.  Bird would then stick a big nail in the coffin with a three to put the Celtics up 92-81.

The Lakers wouldn’t recover in this game but they would beat Portland two days later to get closer to the Blazers in the standings.  The teams would face off again at the Forum in late March, with the Lakers still a game and a half behind.

The Celtics would take their winning streak to 7 games and played very well over the next month.  But they would be passed in the standings by the scalding hot Chicago Bulls, who won 20 of 21 games.  Those two teams would face off in a classic on the final day of March with Boston now 2 and a half games behind Chicago in the standings.

But this particular game between Boston and L.A. would end up taking some underlying significance.  It would be the last time that Larry Bird and Magic Johnson faced each other in an NBA game, and perhaps in any game anywhere.

Boston starters (points scored)

Kevin Gamble (14) – Small Forward

Larry Bird (11) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (29) – Center

Brian Shaw (10) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (26) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Dee Brown (2)

Ed Pinckney (4)

Michael Smith (2)

Joe Kleine (0)

Boston Coach: Chris Ford

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (23) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (8) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (10) – Center

Magic Johnson (21) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (4) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Sam Perkins (7)

Terry Teagle (12)

Mychal Thompson (0)

Tony Smith (0)

Elden Campbell (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

bird magic

At the Great Western Forum on February 15, 1991, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson faced off for the final time in their careers *photo courtesy of Vox

March 12, 1991 – Philadelphia 76ers 133 @Atlanta Hawks 129 (2OT)

The Atlanta Hawks were getting pretty tired of the Philadelphia 76ers.  Not only had Philly beaten them three times, but Atlanta had blown two games against them.  At the end of this game, the Hawks would be petrified.

In the standings, the Hawks were one game ahead of Philly at 35-27, while the 76ers were 33-27.  The Hawks had finished at 41-41 in 1990 and missed the playoffs by a game.  Mike Fratello resigned as coach and was replaced a month later by Bob Weiss.

The Hawks still had the core of Dominique Wilkins, Kevin Willis, and Doc Rivers as their main stars.  Spud Webb, John Battle, and Jon Koncak were still around.  Moses Malone had turned 35 at the tail end of the 1990 season and was starting to fade.  He wasn’t an all-star for the first time since 1977.

But the team around those guys that made three straight Eastern Conference semifinal appearances from 1986-88 was going away.  Randy Wittman, Tree Rollins, and Scott Hastings had left after the 1988 season.  Antoine Carr was traded to Sacramento in February, 1990.  Cliff Levingston signed with the Bulls prior to the 1991 season.

The Hawks didn’t have much new blood to replace them.  Tim McCormick had been acquired from Houston in a trade.  Sidney Moncrief came out of retirement for one last go-around.  Players like Duane Ferrell, Rumeal Robinson and Sean Higgins had been drafted but hadn’t helped out much.  But the Hawks were back in the playoff race.

Philadelphia had won the Atlantic Division in 1990 but were 12 games behind Boston at the moment.  Head Coach Jim Lynam’s big loss had come earlier in the season when point guard Johnny Dawkins tore ligaments in his knee and was lost for the season.  The 76ers had signed Rickey Green at the beginning of the season as a backup, but he became a starter and averaged 10 points per game (his highest average since 1985-86) despite turning 36 over the summer.  Andre Turner was signed as a backup after the Dawkins injury.

Charles Barkley was still at his All-Star level as he won the MVP of the All-Star Game, although he had been struggling with injuries throughout the season, most notably a foot injury that had been lingering since January and almost kept him out of the All-Star Game.  Hersey Hawkins had joined him in the game as the 3rd year guard averaged 22.1 points per game.  Rick Mahorn was still the enforcer down low.

To add more scoring, the 76ers acquired Armen Gilliam from Charlotte in exchange for Mike Gminski.  Gilliam and 6th man Ron Anderson provided some punch at the forward position.  Philly also had 7’7″ Manute Bol as perhaps a little more than a novelty.

Lynam’s team had won 7 games in a row after going 6-16 from the end of December until the middle of February.  But they had now lost 3 out of 4 games.

They got off to an early 6-2 lead against the Hawks before Atlanta scored 6 in a row.  Philly retook a 12-10 advantage halfway through after Barkley got two slams, including a double-pump breakaway dunk.  Green then hit two jumpers but Doc Rivers got the Hawks back into it with two three-pointers.

It stayed back and forth as Atlanta took a 27-26 lead into the 2nd quarter.

The benches then became a factor as John Battle got 4 points early in the 2nd quarter.  Then a three-point play by Moses Malone on a turnaround jumper gave the Hawks a 34-28 lead.  But then Ron Anderson hit two jumpers, rookie Brian Oliver (who, being a Georgia Tech alum, got a nice hand from the crowd when he entered the game) went coast-to-coast for a layup.  Turner then found Gilliam for a layup to give Philly a 36-34 lead.  It would be their last advantage for awhile.

Battle and Moncrief drove for layups.  Kevin Willis tipped in a miss and then hit a short jumper.  Battle then drove coast-to-coast for a layup to put Atlanta ahead 44-38 and force Lynam to call a timeout with 5:07 left.

The Hawks continued their momentum and took as much as a 15-point lead.  But a reverse slam from Barkley and then a pull-up jumper from Hawkins (his first two points of the game) with 6.8 seconds remaining cut Atlanta’s halftime lead to 60-49.

Atlanta’s balance had counteracted Philly’s attack, which was mainly Barkley.  But the 3rd quarter was different.

Gilliam hit a turnaround from the post and Hawkins hit a three.  Then Mahorn and Gilliam hit jumpers to cut the lead to 62-58.  But Atlanta ran off 6 in a row and would continue to hold onto the lead.

But Hawkins got going a little bit and big field goals by Green and Anderson had cut Atlanta’s lead to 77-76 heading into the 4th quarter.

Atlanta increased its lead again as Moncrief hit two field goals, including a three, and Doc Rivers scored 8 points.  Atlanta took a 94-86 lead halfway through the 4th quarter.

Barkley then slammed on Moncrief and drew a foul.  Gilliam got a layup to cut the lead to three but Moncrief and Wilkins responded with jumpers.  Battle then hit four free throws to put Atlanta ahead 102-93 with 3 minutes left.

But a significant portion of the last three minutes were mishandled by the Hawks.  Their only points for most of it were two free throws from Wilkins.  But Dominique did not help the cause by committing two big turnovers.

Hawkins drove and finished with the left hand against Malone.  Gilliam scored the other 7 points, culminating with a running hook across the lane, on Philly’s 9-2 run to cut the lead to 104-102 with 36.2 seconds remaining.

Atlanta ran down the shot clock and Battle went 1-on-1 against Hawkins.  He spun in the lane, double-pumped in the air, and got the roll on a tough shot that seemed to finish Philly off with 18.5 remaining.  But they couldn’t get a rebound after Green missed a three and the Hawks ended up knocking the ball out of bounds with 8 seconds left.

Anderson then inbounded to Barkley, who launched a long three-pointer and nailed it with 5.4 remaining.  Oliver then fouled Wilkins after a timeout and Dominique nailed both with 4.4 to go.  Philadelphia used a timeout.

Anderson inbounded to Moses this time.  But before Atlanta could foul him, he returned the ball to Anderson for an open three from the right wing.  Ron nailed it with 1.5 left to tie the game.

Weiss designed a seemingly brilliant play in the Hawks timeout as they lobbed it to Wilkins near the basket.  But he missed a turnaround and the game was heading into overtime.  Atlanta had blown another opportunity to beat Philadelphia.

The teams battled to a 112-all tie before Battle nailed back-to-back jumpers to put the Hawks ahead again with 1:41 left.  Atlanta had a chance to increase that lead after Gilliam was called for a travel.  They ran down the shot clock and Doc Rivers missed a three.

At the other end, Barkley nailed another triple to cut it to 116-115 with 33.3 seconds left.  The 76ers then played straight up defense and rebounded a miss by Rivers.  Wilkins then stole the ball but missed a driving shot instead of holding it to run out the clock and/or get fouled.  Mahorn then controlled that rebound and called a timeout with 5.9 left.

They went to Barkley up top against Wilkins.  Charles pump faked Dominique into the air and drew a foul with 2.2 left.  But Barkley missed the first and could only tie the game as he made the second free throw.  Weiss then designed the same play but this one, more than the last one, should have worked.

Wilkins got a perfect lob facing the basket but missed a layup.  Atlanta had blown another chance to beat Philadelphia in 1991 but they could still win the second overtime.

They got off to a good start again and took a 126-122 lead with just over a minute remaining when Spud Webb drove the lane for a banker.  But Philadelphia came right back at the Hawks and Hawkins was grabbed by Battle on a breakaway with 1:02 remaining.  It was called a flagrant foul on Battle, which meant two shots for Hawkins and the ball to Philadelphia.

Hawkins made both of his shots and then Barkley connected on a pull-up from the baseline to tie the game at 126.  Battle penetrated and hit a pull-up banker from the elbow and forced a Philly timeout with 33.8 to play.

Barkley got it in the post and was doubled.  He kicked out to Green who swung the ball to Anderson in the corner beyond the three-point line.  Anderson nailed it with 22 seconds left to give the 76ers their first lead since 36-34.

Atlanta called a timeout and then Barkley gave Philly’s foul to give and made the Hawks inbound it again.  Hawkins then stole Webb’s inbounds pass to Wilkins.  Anderson was fouled with 8.3 to go and made both free throws.

After another Atlanta timeout, Philly went with the strategy that the Hawks had failed at at the end of regulation and fouled Moncrief before he could launch a game-tying three.  With 5.3 seconds left, Moncrief made the first and missed the second on purpose.  But Anderson grabbed the rebound and finished off the game with two free throws.

Atlanta, after being swept by Philadelphia in the season series, finished one game behind the 76ers in the standings at 43-39, good for 6th in the East.  They took Detroit to 5 games before getting throttled 113-81 in the 5th game.

The Hawks would then go through some changes in the back court before the 1992 season.

Philadelphia starters (points scored)

Armen Gilliam (25) – Small Forward

Charles Barkley (34) – Power Forward

Rick Mahorn (10) – Center

Rickey Green (14) – Point Guard

Hersey Hawkins (16) – Shooting Guard

Philadelphia bench (points scored)

Ron Anderson (27)

Andre Turner (3)

Brian Oliver (2)

Manute Bol (2)

Philadelphia Coach: Jim Lynam

Atlanta starters (points scored)

Dominique Wilkins (29) – Small Forward

Kevin Willis (17) – Power Forward

Tim McCormick (10) – Center

Spud Webb (12) – Point Guard

Doc Rivers (16) – Shooting Guard

Atlanta bench (points scored)

John Battle (26)

Moses Malone (9)

Sidney Moncrief (10)

Duane Ferrell (0)

Jon Koncak (0)

Atlanta Coach: Bob Weiss

March 13, 1991 – Chicago Bulls 102 @Milwaukee Bucks 101

The Bulls were in the midst of a 20-1 stretch in which they were routinely blowing teams out.  This was one of the few times they were threatened in this streak.

Chicago was now 45-15 and 1/2 a game behind Boston for the best record in the East.  Detroit was now 7 1/2 games behind the Bulls and Milwaukee was 8 1/2 games back.

The Bucks had just come off a 96-85 win over the reeling Pistons in the Palace.  For Del Harris’ team, it snapped a 2-game losing streak.  But that was far from their worst streak of the season.  On a 20-day stretch in January, the Bucks were 2-10.  This halted them after a 25-8 start, which put them 1st in the Central Division.

Milwaukee’s strength for most of the season was their trio of guards.  There was point guard Jay Humphries, shooting guard Alvin Robertson and 1990 6th man of the year Ricky Pierce.  Despite coming off the bench, Pierce was the Bucks’ leading scorer at 22.5 points per game.  But he wanted to renegotiate his contract and the Bucks refused.

As the trade deadline approached, rumors were flying rampant that Pierce would be traded.  He finally was on February 15 when he was dealt to Seattle for Dale Ellis.  Ellis had averaged over 20 points per game in 4 seasons with the Sonics, but was only at 15 ppg in 1991 as he missed 17 games with a foot injury.

Ellis would now become the 6th man for Milwaukee behind Humphries and defensive ace Robertson, who was acquired from San Antonio in 1989 for Terry Cummings.

The front court looked a lot different in Milwaukee than before.  Fred Roberts and Jack Sikma were still there, they were 2 of 7 players to average in double figures for Milwaukee.  But gone were Randy Breuer and Paul Mokeski.  Breuer was traded to Minnesota for Brad Lohaus in 1990 and Mokeski had signed with Cleveland in 1989 as a free agent.

Larry Krystkowiak was still recovering from his knee injury that he suffered in the 1989 playoffs.  He played briefly at the end of the 1990 season but was lost for the entirety of 1991.  To help fill the void, Milwaukee drafted Michigan’s Terry Mills with the 16th pick in the 1990 NBA draft.

But Mills would be traded in August to Denver for Danny Schayes.  On that same day, veteran Paul Pressey would be traded to San Antonio for Frank Brickowski.  Just like that, Milwaukee had its big people for 1991.  Schayes, Brickowski, Roberts, Sikma, and Lohaus would be the white-wash frontcourt in Milwaukee for the next few seasons (minus Sikma, who would retire following the 1991 season).

Milwaukee’s shooting gave them the early lead over the Bulls in this game.  Robertson hit two three-pointers and Roberts hit another to put the Bucks up 13-8.  Later, two driving layups by Jay Humphries put the Bucks up 19-12.

Michael Jordan and Horace Grant were the main scorers for the Bulls.  Jordan had 12 1st quarter points and led the Bulls back into a 27-24 lead after an 8-0 run.

But Jeff Grayer, Milwaukee’s 1st round pick in 1988 who hadn’t panned out, hit a baseline jumper and then Lester Conner, a backup guard acquired from New Jersey earlier in the year, found Ellis for a layup with 2.8 seconds left to give Milwaukee a 28-27 lead heading into the 2nd quarter.

An 8-0 Bulls run put them up 40-32 and forced Del Harris to call a timeout with 7:55 left in the 2nd quarter.  The Bulls grew that lead to as much as 10.  Jordan, Grant and Scottie Pippen led the way.  Jordan had 19 points at halftime and Grant had 16.

But Milwaukee cut it back to 55-50 at halftime as Schayes led the way with 14 points.  Humphries also had two more driving layups to finish with 8 points.

The Bulls went cold in the 3rd as Jordan had to score 9 of the first 11 points to keep Chicago afloat.  Brickowksi and Schayes each got two field goals inside, Robertson hit a three, and Fred Roberts scored 5 points, including a three-point play to give Milwaukee a 68-66 lead.  Humphries then drove down the lane for a lefty layup to force Phil Jackson to use a timeout at the 3:50 mark.

The Bulls were able to right themselves and pull back into a 78-all tie entering the 4th quarter.

Milwaukee surged ahead again helped by a technical on Will Perdue.  Two free throws from Dale Ellis made it 85-80.  Then a three-point play by Ellis thwarted a Bulls rally and put the Bucks ahead 88-84.

While Milwaukee was able to hold off the Bulls for awhile, they couldn’t put the game away.  Their best chance came with under 3 minutes to go and the Bucks leading 97-92.  Milwaukee had the ball but Fred Roberts missed a runner from the baseline.  Pippen hit a free throw to cut it to four.

Then Grant got a steal and Pippen pushed it ahead to John Paxson.  Paxson nailed a pull-up three from the right wing to cut the lead to 97-96 with 1:18 left.

After a timeout, Roberts tipped in a Schayes miss to make it 99-96.  Robertson then committed a foul on Jordan in the post with 55.2 seconds left.  MJ made only 1 of 2 as he was 9-for-14 from the line that night.  Schayes rebounded the missed second free throw and Milwaukee used a timeout with 45.5 seconds to go.

But the Bulls defense forced a 5-second inbounds violation.  With a chance to tie it, Pippen drove the lane but committed an offensive foul with 37.4 left.

With a chance to, again, put the game away, Milwaukee ran down the shot clock and Humphries drove.  He threw up an airball on a runner and Pippen rebounded.  He got the ball ahead to Paxson who, again, nailed a pull-up three (this time from the left wing) to give Chicago a 100-99 lead with 16.7 seconds left.  Milwaukee used their last timeout.

The Bucks worked the ball to Schayes at the foul line but Jordan came up with a steal.  MJ was fouled by Humphries with 5.4 left and made the two free throws this time.  Milwaukee had to go quickly without any timeouts.

Roberts got the ball ahead to Frank Brickowski, who nailed a pull-up jumper from the wing at the buzzer that looked to be the tying three-pointer.  However, replay showed that Brickowski had both toes on the three-point line.

The referees conferred (at the time, they couldn’t look at the replay) and made the right ruling.  The shot was called a two-pointer and the Bucks lost by one.  This was obviously a very unpopular call in Milwaukee, although there were also a lot of Bulls fans there.

Milwaukee would finish at 48-34, two games behind Detroit for 2nd in the Central and 3rd in the East.  But they would be at a disadvantage for the playoffs.  Dale Ellis had suffered an injury during this game with the Bulls when he appeared to come down awkwardly after going up for a driving shot that was blocked.

It didn’t look serious at the time and Ellis played for two more weeks.  But it ended up being a herniated disk in his lower back that had caused weakness and numbness in his leg muscles.  It finished him for the season and required surgery over the summer.

The Bucks signed Adrian Dantley at the tail end of his career to try and fill the void for the playoffs, but he couldn’t.  The Bucks were swept by Philadelphia in the 1st round.

Milwaukee would not make the playoffs again until 1999.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (14) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (22) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (3) – Center

John Paxson (10) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (39) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (4)

Craig Hodges (2)

Will Perdue (8)

Dennis Hopson (0)

Cliff Levingston (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Milwaukee starters (points scored)

Fred Roberts (18) – Small Forward

Frank Brickowski (10) – Power Forward

Danny Schayes (19) – Center

Jay Humphries (12) – Point Guard

Alvin Robertson (11) – Shooting Guard

Milwaukee bench (points scored)

Dale Ellis (17)

Jack Sikma (3)

Brad Lohaus (5)

Jeff Grayer (6)

Lester Conner (0)

Milwaukee Coach: Del Harris

March 17, 1991 – Philadelphia 76ers 105 @Boston Celtics 110

Less than a week after polishing off the Atlanta Hawks in double overtime, Philadelphia had passed them in the standings and were now in 5th place in the East.

But they were 12 games behind Boston in the Atlantic Division and, before the game, Boston’s magic number to clinch the division was 7.  But the Celtics had been passed in the East standings by the Bulls, who was now a game ahead of Boston.

The Celtics had won 6 of their last 7 games despite not having Kevin McHale for a portion of them.  McHale was still out for this game with a sprained ankle.  Boston had tried to help their depth by signing former 76er Derek Smith.  But Smith still hadn’t played that season after knee surgery.  He would get some time later and made a big impact in a big playoff game.

But for now, Boston went with Ed Pinckney and Joe Kleine as the backups.  Neither had been getting playing time or giving production lately.  But still, Boston’s starters were intact with Larry Bird back from his back injury.

Bird hit three straight jumpers after missing his first few shots to give Boston an early lead.  But Charles Barkley and Hersey Hawkins led Philadelphia back.

The 76ers’ All-stars hit back-to-back threes to give Philly a 20-16 lead.  Barkley then lobbed a ball to Armen Gilliam for a layup.  Soon, after Barkley and Hawkins hit field goals, Philadelphia had a 26-18 lead with just over 2 minutes left in the 1st quarter.

But then Boston got on a roll with their ball movement.  Kevin Gamble got a layup after Reggie Lewis, Robert Parish and Brian Shaw each threw a pass without a dribble.  Shaw later found Gamble with a behind-the-back pass for a baseline jumper.

Dee Brown got into the act off the bench with a jumper, Parish hit two free throws and then Shaw hit a hook shot as Boston finished the quarter on a 10-0 run and took a 28-26 lead into the 2nd quarter.

The Celtics then took an 8-point lead three minutes into the 2nd quarter as Gamble hit two jumpers and then found Brown for another.  But Philadelphia’s bench came alive as Ron Anderson scored 6 points and Andre Turner did the same with two three-pointers.  They tied the game at 44 before the Celtics went inside.

The 76ers really didn’t have anybody to match Robert Parish down low.  Bird found him for a hook and then a turnaround jumper from the post.  Parish then put back a Lewis miss and, finally, the 37-year-old got out on the break and scored on a lead pass from Brown.

The Celtics were also helped when Barkley committed his 3rd foul just before the half.  All of this contributed to a 56-48 halftime lead for Boston.

Parish got two more field goals to start the 3rd.  Kevin Gamble hit three more from the floor, but Philly was able to within range and cut it to 68-63 when Gilliam blocked a shot and then finished on the break.

But Boston pushed it right back to 75-65 when Bird made a three from the top.  Barkley committed his 4th foul late in the 3rd but stayed in the game.  Boston took their biggest lead to that point when Brown made a three to make the score 82-69.  The 76ers cut it back to 84-74 going into the 4th quarter.

The Celtics then executed their offense to near perfection early on in the 4th quarter.  Lewis hit a jumper in the lane.  Brown found Shaw on a cut for a layup.  Parish hit a running hook in the lane.  Bird hit a three after a Parish handoff and then Shaw found Parish for a layup on a pick-and-roll.

Boston took their biggest lead at 98-82 when Bird nailed his third three-pointer.  It looked to be the nail in the coffin.  But Philly wasn’t like they are 25 years later, they didn’t give up.

Gilliam started the run with a turnaround fall-away jumper from the baseline.  Barkley then put back an Anderson airball and drew Gamble’s 5th foul.  Hawkins would later foul Gamble out with a double-pump runner from the baseline.  This cut Boston’s lead to 100-91 with about 3 1/2 minutes left.

But then Parish hit a high-arcing fall-away jumper in the lane.  Brown followed by getting a steal and going coast-to-coast on a 2-on-1.  Still, Barkley hit two jumpers to cut it back to nine with under 2:00 left.

Then Hawkins hit two free throws, got a steal, and fed Gilliam for a breakaway.  Chris Ford had to use a Boston timeout with 1:16 left and the lead down to 104-99.

But Boston got a big basket from their young star, Reggie Lewis, to stem the tide at the end of the shot clock.  That and an offensive rebound by Shaw on the next possession followed by free throws helped hold off Philly for this ball game.

Philadelphia would end up finishing with a 44-38 record, good for 5th in the East.  They swept a depleted Milwaukee Bucks team before taking on the Bulls in the 2nd round.

Boston could not keep pace with Chicago as they lost 3 of their next 4 games.  But they would host the Bulls two weeks later, still trailing by only 2.5 games.

Philadelphia starters (points scored)

Armen Gilliam (12) – Small Forward

Charles Barkley (38) – Power Forward

Rick Mahorn (2) – Center

Rickey Green (11) – Point Guard

Hersey Hawkins (23) – Shooting Guard

Philadelphia bench (points scored)

Ron Anderson (9)

Andre Turner (10)

Kenny Payne (0)

Manute Bol (0)

Philadelphia Coach: Jim Lynam

Boston starters (points scored)

Kevin Gamble (16) – Small Forward

Larry Bird (23) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (28) – Center

Brian Shaw (10) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (14) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Dee Brown (15)

Ed Pinckney (2)

Joe Kleine (2)

Boston Coach: Chris Ford

March 29, 1991 – Portland Blazers 109 @Los Angeles Lakers 105 (OT)

Every season since 1981, the Pacific Division champion had been the Los Angeles Lakers.  But now they were 1 1/2 games behind the Portland Blazers with just 4 weeks left.

The Blazers had started the season 19-1 and held the best record in the league for the entire campaign.  They were suddenly the new team on the block after getting to the Finals against Detroit in 1990.  Rick Adelman’s Blazers had returned everybody and even added some pieces.

The starting lineup of Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter in the backcourt, Jerome Kersey and Buck Williams at the forwards and Kevin Duckworth in the middle remained intact.  Cliff Robinson had made major strides in his second season.  Guards Danny Young and Drazen Petrovic were retained but their playing time diminished because of an off-season addition.  Wayne Cooper and Mark Bryant remained from the front court.

But Portland’s big addition came when they traded 1989 1st round pick Byron Irvin and two future picks to the Sacramento Kings for veteran guard Danny Ainge.  Ainge provided championship experience from his days in Boston.  But it took away playing time from a young star in Drazen Petrovic.  Petro would be traded to New Jersey in January in part of a 3-team deal that brought Walter Davis to Portland.

With all of that, the Blazers felt they were set.  Although they had a 3-8 stretch from the end of February until mid-March, the Blazers kept their lead tenuously.  But then they ripped off 4 straight, including a win at Seattle in which they were down 24 points in the 3rd quarter.  Their comeback ability would be tested again.

The Lakers had beaten Portland in 2 of their 3 matchups so far during the season.  But the Lakers had seen only 10 minutes of Jerome Kersey in those three games.  Kersey got a field goal early on in this one but the Portland offense was carried by Porter, as he scored 9 quick points to give the Blazers an 11-4 lead.  Mike Dunleavy had to use a Laker timeout with just 3 1/2 minutes gone by.

But then L.A. got it together led, as usual, by Magic Johnson and James Worthy.  Magic scored 8 points, including a three-pointer, and had at least 4 assists on feeds to Worthy and Byron Scott.  Worthy had 10 points to lead the way and a Lakers 9-0 run late in the quarter helped put them ahead 28-22 going into the 2nd quarter.

The going was slow for the Trailblazers as they didn’t score a field goal in the first 7 minutes of the 2nd quarter.  They didn’t get on the boards, a very big key to their success, and just looked sluggish overall, not an uncommon thing in the dog days of an NBA season.

L.A. increased its lead to double digits as Worthy kept his attack going and the Lakers got help from their bench, most notably in rookie Tony Smith.  L.A. went on a 7-0 run late in the half as Scott got two breakaway layups and then Worthy hit a three for his 20th point and a 53-34 Lakers lead.  A layup by Kersey with 2.8 seconds left in the half cut it to 53-36 at halftime.

The Lakers kept the attack going for the first 3 minutes of the 3rd quarter and had a 65-44 lead when Sam Perkins hit a turnaround jumper from the post.  Magic had a chance to increase that advantage but missed a layup.

Portland had not been able to get out on the break, their strength, because of a lack of rebounding and effort defensively.  They had also not gotten Kevin Duckworth, an All-Star in 1991, involved down low.

But then Duck hit his first field goal on a lefty runner to cut it to 65-46.  Then Portland got out on a 4-on-1 break and Porter found Duckworth for a slam.  The Blazers energy picked up and they got stops defensively.  A big key to this was switching Buck Williams onto James Worthy to neutralize his low post game.

Williams also contributed offensively with a three-point play on a running banker, after Portland recovered a loose ball at half-court, to cut it to 65-53.  Kersey and Drexler got steals on the next few possessions, leading to layups by Porter and Kersey, respectively.  Dunleavy had to use a Lakers timeout with 4:23 left, and that may have been a possession or two too late.  Portland trailed 65-57.

Drexler penetrated and found Kersey at the top for a jumper.  Drexler then drove down the lane for a finger roll and the lead was four.  A lefty layup by Magic stopped the 17-0 run but didn’t switch the momentum.  Kersey hit another jumper and Porter went coast-to-coast for a layup and the score was 67-66 L.A.

Drexler then nailed a pull-up three from the top to give Portland the lead in the same quarter in which they were trailing by 21.  The Blazers did not make a substitution until the final minute of the quarter.  They took a 71-69 lead into the 4th when Drexler drove coast-to-coast for a layup in the matter of 4 seconds to end the period.

The Blazers had the momentum but Worthy kept L.A. in it with two jumpers on feeds from Tony Smith.  Smith and L.A.’s bench helped give the Lakers the advantage again.  This time, Terry Teagle was the main cog with 7 points to give the Lakers an 84-80 lead.  Teagle later came up with a steal and drew Jerome Kersey’s 5th foul.

Magic would hit four straight free throws to give the Lakers a 92-84 lead with under 4 minutes to go.  But Portland turned the switch on again (or the Lakers turned their switch off) and suddenly, Cliff Robinson hit a turnaround jumper from the post and Porter hit a step-back jumper from the corner.

The Blazers would also show off their hustle again as they recovered another loose ball before Porter penetrated and found Duckworth for a slam and a foul.  Duckworth would follow that with a hook shot from the baseline to give Portland a 93-92 lead.  Magic came back with a driving layup and Porter hit a free throw to tie the game at 94 with a minute to go.

The Blazers recovered Porter’s missed second free throw but couldn’t get a good shot as Porter airballed a driving shot.  But then Worthy threw a swing pass to the wing out of bounds when a teammate wasn’t where he may (or may not) have been supposed to be (Worthy also threw that pass before looking).

The Blazers used a timeout with 24.4 seconds left.  Drexler missed a pull-up jumper and Byron Scott rebounded.  The Lakers had no timeouts so Scott had to dribble the length of the floor and just barely missed a long three at the buzzer.  The game was headed to overtime.

The teams would then trade baskets for most of it.  Drexler found Porter for a jumper.  Magic hit Perkins on a cut for a three-point play to foul out Cliff Robinson.  Kersey hit two free throws.  Perkins hit two more with 3 minutes left after drawing Duckworth’s 6th foul.  Danny Ainge nailed a corner three.  Byron Scott connected on a three from the top.  Drexler banged into Perkins and hit a finger roll in the lane.

Magic responded by hitting a runner in the post after a baseline spin and drawing the foul.  The three-point play gave the Lakers a 105-103 lead.  But Porter hit a pull-up from the baseline to tie it with 35.5 seconds left.  It was, literally, who will blink first.

The Lakers would thanks to a blocked shot from Terry Porter.  Magic got past Ainge in the post and seemed to be in for another layup when Porter came over and blocked his shot like a big man.

The Blazers then went on the transition and Drexler found Williams for a layup and a foul.  Buck missed the free throw and Worthy rebounded and called timeout with 19.5 seconds left.

L.A. went to Worthy in the post.  He found a cutting Perkins for a seemingly easy shot, but Sam missed the layup.  The rebound was up for grabs and there was a scramble for it before Buck Williams dove on it and got it ahead to Drexler for the game-sealing breakaway slam with 3.3 seconds left.

It also turned out to be a Division-sealing win.  For Portland, this was win number 4 in what would become a 16-game winning streak.  They finished at 63-19, good for the best record in the league.  L.A. would have the 2nd best record in the West at 58-24 but would be relegated to the 3rd seed and a date with the 52-win Houston Rockets.

But, as it turned out, Portland didn’t have things as rosy as it seemed and L.A. would get another chance at the team who overtook their Pacific Division title streak.

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (25) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (12) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (9) – Center

Terry Porter (26) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (22) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (10)

Danny Ainge (3)

Danny Young (2)

Wayne Cooper (0)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (26) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (12) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (6) – Center

Magic Johnson (23) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (17) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Terry Teagle (7)

A.C. Green (4)

Mychal Thompson (6)

Tony Smith (4)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

March 31, 1991 – Chicago Bulls 132 @Boston Celtics 135 (2OT)

It was a regular season Sunday afternoon classic.  The Chicago Bulls were 2.5 games ahead of the Celtics for the best record in the East, and with 3 weeks remaining in the season, Boston had to make their final move to try and take the top spot.

The Bulls had finally comeback to earth a bit after winning 20 of 21 games.  They were 3-2 in their last five games and their long home court winning streak had come to an end at the hands of Houston.  But the Bulls still had a 9 game lead in the Central Division with 12 left to play.

Boston had clinched the Atlantic Division two days earlier when Robert Parish hit a game-winner to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers.  The Celtics would even have an answer for Michael Jordan early on as Reggie Lewis blocked two of his jump shots.

Lewis was an inch taller than Jordan, even if he was a little thinner, and had the same athletic ability.  But it turned out to be a big moment in his short career as he ended up blocking 4 shots of Jordan’s.

Michael finished the 1st half 3-for-11 from the field and only 7 points as Boston led 53-47 at the half.  Lewis was a big factor offensively as well.  He hit a step-back jumper from the wing at the buzzer to end the 1st quarter with the game tied at 28.

Boston was also welcoming back Kevin McHale for the first time in 16 days.  McHale had been out with a sprained ankle and played a little bit in the first half but became a difference maker down the stretch.

Boston held the lead through much of the 2nd and 3rd quarters but their biggest advantage was 8 points.  Dee Brown was a major factor off the bench along with Lewis and Larry Bird.  Kevin Gamble, Robert Parish, and Brian Shaw all played steadily as well.

Jordan got it going in the 3rd as he scored 10 points to bring his total to 17.  Scottie Pippen led the Bulls with 19 at that point, but there wasn’t much contribution from anyone else and the Bulls trailed 86-78 heading into the 4th quarter.

Boston’s lead would then increase.  Brown got a three-point play to bring his point total to 17.  McHale then got a layup off a feed from Ed Pinckney to put Boston up 91-80 and force Phil Jackson to use a timeout with 10:29 left.

Later, McHale got the bounce on a three-pointer that put Boston up 96-82 and led Marv Albert to comment that it just might not be the Bulls day.  But this game was far from over and craziness was just beginning.

Bird committed his 4th foul and Jordan and Pippen led the Bulls on an 8-0 run.  Bird halted it briefly with a three to bring his point total to 23.  The teams then traded baskets for the next few minutes before a banker from Pippen got it to 105-101.  Bird answered with a turnaround fall-away from the post and Chicago used another timeout with 4:04 to go.

But Boston would be held scoreless for almost the rest of regulation.  Meanwhile, Cartwright put back a Jordan miss.  Pippen nailed a three from the wing and then hit two free throws after drawing Parish’s 5th foul.  Pippen now had 30 points.  Jordan later hit two free throws to put the Bulls up 110-107.

The Bulls twice had a chance to increase that lead and put the game away but they couldn’t.  Finally, Bird got a chance to tie the game with a three.  He missed long but Brian Shaw got the rebound and kicked out to Reggie Lewis.  Lewis rose up and connected on his only three-pointer of the season (!) and tied the game with 19.4 seconds left.

Lewis then defensed Jordan on the next possession and the Bulls threw the ball away with 3 seconds left trying to find MJ.  Lewis had given Boston a chance to win it and Bird came oh so close to doing so.

Bird inbounded to McHale after a timeout.  McHale was then doubled by Bird’s man, Pippen, but was able to give Larry a return pass for an open three.  The ball hit the back rim, bounced high and hit nearly the top of the backboard, it then hit the front rim and bounced away.  The crowd let out a huge groan while Pippen, amongst all of Chicago, gave a big sigh of relief.  The Bulls were playing their first overtime game of the season.

Robert Parish was the big factor in the first 4 minutes of overtime as he hit three jumpers from the post to give Boston a 118-113 lead.  But then he fouled out with 1 minute to go and Jordan hit two free throws to cut the lead to three.

Jordan then stripped Lewis on the drive and Pippen took the loose ball away from McHale and pushed it.  Pippen settled and then found John Paxson behind him for a game-tying three-pointer from the left wing with 32.4 seconds left.

Boston used a timeout and went to Bird inside.  He would be doubled by Pippen and Grant, each blocked an attempt from Bird before Chicago controlled it with 10 seconds left.  Phil Jackson signaled to Jordan to push the ball and not use a timeout.  Michael came up short on a pull-up jumper and Bird rebounded.  Boston called timeout with 1.1 seconds left.

Chris Ford decided to go with a lob play for the high jumping Dee Brown.  But Pippen and Grant saw it coming and defended it.  Grant ended up with the interception and called timeout with 0.4 seconds left.

This would give the Bulls one last chance at a catch-and-shoot.  They almost pulled it off.  Pippen inbounded to Jordan at the right baseline.  Michael went up with a long turnaround jumper from the baseline with Lewis in his face.

As Jordan released the shot, referee Mike Mathis was indicating that the attempt came too late.  This would turn out to be a heart-breaker for the Bulls as Jordan nailed the fall-away and the Bulls were celebrating for a second before realizing that Mathis was frantically blowing his whistle waving off the basket.

The replays seemed to me to confirm that Jordan just took a little too much time in turning around and releasing the ball.  The call was correct and they didn’t even need replay.

With that adding to the craziness of Bird’s miss at the end of regulation (5:34 of same video), one wasn’t quite sure what to expect in the 2nd overtime, or how it will end.

Bird hit two turnaround jumpers from the mid-post area and then Brown nailed a baseline jumper to give Boston a 124-120 lead with 3:08 left.  Bird then got the bounce on another fall-away after drawing a foul.  The three-point play put Boston up 127-122.

But the Celtics’ chance to increase the lead went by the wayside as Lewis missed two free throws.  Jordan then answered Bird’s three-point play by essentially doing the same thing.  He pump faked a man from the elbow, drew a foul, and got the bounce on a field goal.

But then Shaw found Bird for a baseline jumper and then Brown drove down the lane off a Bird screen for a layup.  Boston was up 131-125 with just about a minute to go and Chicago used a timeout.

The craziness continued.  Pippen handed off to Paxson while setting a screen on John’s man.  Paxson launched a three while Pippen’s man, Lewis, went out to challenge.  The three went in and Lewis was called for a foul.  The four-point play cut the lead back to 131-129.

Brian Shaw answered with a wing jumper and then Ed Pinckney rebounded a Jordan miss.  But Lewis couldn’t put it away at the foul line as he split a pair.  Pippen then connected on a three to make it 134-132 Boston.  Lewis again couldn’t put it away as he split a pair of free throws.

Chicago used its last timeout with 15 seconds left.  But they couldn’t add to this crazy game as Jordan missed two game-tying three-point attempts and Boston held on.  Jordan finished a 12-for-36 from the field, but was 13-for-13 from the line.  The Bulls had a 35 to 19 advantage in free throw attempts and a 32 to 12 advantage in makes.  All in all, it didn’t matter.

Chicago went on a rare two-game home losing streak a week later.  They would look to end it against the New York Knicks, the team they would match up against in the 1st round.  The Bulls held a 1-game lead against the Celtics at that moment.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (35) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (15) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (5) – Center

John Paxson (28) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (37) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (8)

Craig Hodges (0)

Will Perdue (2)

Cliff Levingston (2)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Boston starters (points scored)

Kevin Gamble (12) – Small Forward

Larry Bird (34) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (15) – Center

Brian Shaw (11) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (25) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Dee Brown (21)

Kevin McHale (10)

Ed Pinckney (7)

Stojko Vrankovic (0)

Boston Coach: Chris Ford

Reggie-Lewis-Michael-Jordan

On this day at least, Reggie Lewis got the better of Michael Jordan (Bill Cartwright and Robert Parish look on) *photo courtesy of In All Airness

April 9, 1991 – New York Knicks 106 @Chicago Bulls 108

With a little less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Chicago Bulls were hanging onto the top spot in the East by one game over Boston.  The Celtics had nearly caught up to the Bulls because Chicago had lost back-to-back home games, including an overtime decision to a Charles Barkley-less Philadelphia team.

Meanwhile, New York was one game behind the Indiana Pacers for the 7th spot in the East.  The Knicks had won an Atlantic Division title in 1989 but they fell off in the 2nd half of the 1990 season before rebounding to beat Boston in the 1st round.

They fell off more in 1991 and fired head coach Stu Jackson after a 7-8 start.  Jackson was replaced by veteran coach John MacLeod, who was in his last NBA head coaching duty (he would go on to coach at Notre Dame).

New York had lost Johnny Newman in the off-season to free agency but filled that void by signing John Starks.  Starks had played in the CBA and WBL the previous season after 36 games with Golden State in 1989.  He would take advantage of his opportunity with the Knicks.

The 25-year-old Starks would come off the bench along with Trent Tucker and Mark Jackson in the back court as veteran Maurice Cheeks and Gerald Wilkins started.  Jackson’s play had not quite recovered after getting benched at the end of the 1990 season.  He would never fully regain his confidence in New York after an all-star 1989 season.

The back court was solid but the weakness may have been in the front court for New York behind the starters of Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley and Kiki Vandeweghe.  Kenny Walker’s minutes and play went down considerably in what would be his last season in New York.  1st round pick Jerrod Mustaf would not make it.  Brian Quinnett could shoot and had some good games as a result.

Despite being stabilized by MacLeod, who did a good job despite players not being happy that Jackson was fired, the Knicks could never get any streak together.  Their longest win streak was 5 and their longest losing streak was 4.  They teetered around the .500 mark the entire year but were guaranteed a playoff spot with Cleveland, the closest team to New York in the standings, being 8 games behind them.

But would they face the Bulls who were going for their 4th win in 4 games against New York in 1991, or Boston who they beat in 1990.

Either way, they weren’t healthy at this moment.  Gerald Wilkins had gone on the injured list at the end of March with a severely sprained ankle.  He would miss the rest of the regular season but be back for the playoffs.  Charles Oakley was also out for this game with a knee injury that put him on the pine for the better part of two weeks.  Tucker and Walker would be in the starting lineup for them.

Despite Walker picking up two early fouls, New York pulled to an early 8-8 tie.  But then Scottie Pippen kicked out to Michael Jordan for a three from the wing.  Pippen followed with two slams, one on an offensive rebound and the other in transition.  MacLeod had to use a timeout with 7:24 left in the 1st quarter.

The Bulls increased that lead to 9 when Bill Cartwright got a steal and fed Jordan in transition for a slam.  MacLeod had to call another timeout 2 minutes after calling the first one.  But then he brought in Starks who scored 7 quick points.  This sparked a 9-0 run that tied the game at 21.

But Jordan hit five free throws and then a pull-up jumper after fending off Starks.  Cartwright also added two buckets and Chicago increased their lead back to 33-23 at the end of the 1st quarter.

But then the Bulls bench came in and were out-played.  Starks, Quinnett, Jackson, and Eddie Lee Wilkins all scored field goals to bring New York to within 33-31 and force Phil Jackson to use a timeout with 9:34 left.

Six points from Pippen put the lead back briefly at 43-33 before Kiki Vandeweghe led a Knicks run to tie the game at 45.  Vandeweghe was usually a spot-up shooter but, in this game, he was driving to the hole and finishing.  Kiki finished the 1st half with 11 points to lead New York along with Starks and Quinnett.

But Jordan took over at the end of the 2nd quarter with a hanging bank shot in the lane and then a drive and score with 0.9 seconds left to put the Bulls up 57-54 at the half.  Jordan had 22 and Pippen 13.

Pippen would lead the way in the 3rd quarter with 11 points.  Late in the quarter, B.J. Armstrong found Scottie for a corner three that put the Bulls up 79-74 and gave Pippen his 10th field goal in 10 attempts.  He would miss his next two but Scottie was showing how much he had come on after a slow start to the regular season.

A tip-slam by Cartwright on a Jordan miss with 5.2 seconds left in the 3rd put Chicago up 84-76 heading into the 4th quarter.

The Bulls bench would help increase that lead to as much as 13 in the first 5 minutes of the quarter.  Jackson even took Jordan out with the Bulls announcers hoping they wouldn’t have to see Michael for the rest of the game.

But the Knicks turned up their intensity with a three-guard lineup.  Mark Jackson led the way with 6 points as the Knicks rattled off an 8-1 run that made Jackson put Jordan back in.

The Knicks doubled MJ every time he got the ball and Jordan was content to pass it out and rely on teammates.  Jordan only scored 6 points in the 2nd half and 2 in the 4th quarter.

A banker by Ewing cut the Bulls lead to 101-97 and then, after a steal, Jackson was fouled with 2:35 left.  He split the free throws but the Bulls announcers were being reminded of the game Chicago blew to Philly two days earlier in which the Bulls had the lead throughout.

But Pippen would ease the reminder for a minute as he nailed a big three from the top after Cartwright swung the ball out to him.  Walker put back a miss with under 2 minutes left but then John Paxson, who had hit some clutch shots in 1991 (but the best was yet to come), nailed a pull-up at the end of the shot clock.

Chicago led 106-100 with 1:32 left but Ewing hit two free throws after a Cartwright foul.  New York then got a steal and Jackson found Ewing for a short jumper in the lane.  The Bulls tried to go to Jordan, but he was doubled and passed outside.  Paxson this time missed a pull-up at the end of the shot clock and Horace Grant fouled Walker on the rebound.

Kenny tied the game at 106 with two free throws at the 42.5 second mark.  The Bulls were forced to use a timeout as their killer instinct lacked.

Jordan again got the ball and was doubled.  So he kicked out to Pippen at the top.  Scottie looked like he was going to launch a three but spotted Paxson at the baseline and gave him the ball.  Paxson faked a lunging Walker and then nailed a pull-up with 22.2 seconds left.

Cartwright then came up big defensively as he first knocked the ball away from Ewing as Patrick was going up for a shot in the lane and then stole a pass to seal the game.

The unsung tandem of Paxson and Cartwright may have ended up saving the top seed in the East for the Bulls.  This win kicked off a 6-1 finish to the season for Chicago.  Their record was 61-21 and they would match up with the 39-43 Knicks in the 1st round, and New York would rue the day.

The Bulls would also be helped by Boston finishing the season at 2-6 as Larry Bird sat out all but one of those games with back problems.  Boston would finish at 56-26 and had a much tougher time with Indiana then the Bulls had with New York.

New York starters (points scored)

Kiki Vandeweghe (19) – Small Forward

Kenny Walker (6) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (21) – Center

Maurice Cheeks (8) – Point Guard

Trent Tucker (6) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

Mark Jackson (15)

John Starks (13)

Brian Quinnett (11)

Jerrod Mustaf (3)

Eddie Lee Wilkins (4)

Greg Grant (0)

New York Coach: John MacLeod

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (27) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (10) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (11) – Center

John Paxson (13) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (28) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (5)

Stacey King (0)

Craig Hodges (4)

Will Perdue (6)

Cliff Levingston (4)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

April 25, 1991 – West Quarterfinals, Game 1: Houston Rockets 92 @Los Angeles Lakers 94

Nothing like kicking off the NBA playoffs with some controversy.  For the first time since 1981, the Los Angeles Lakers did not win the Pacific Division.  This meant they got a chance to play a decent 52-30 Houston Rockets team.

The Rockets had been a so-so 41-41 team in 1990.  They started off the season as a so-so team but a peculiar thing got them going.  On January 3, in a game against the Chicago Bulls, superstar center Hakeem Olajuwon was elbowed in the face by Bill Cartwright.  The blow broke the orbital bone around Olajuwon’s right eye and forced him to miss about 2 months.

Without their superstar, Don Chaney’s Rockets seemed to be in trouble.  They were 20-20 on January 22 but then won 7 of their next 8 games.  They went 9-3 in February and then, once Olajuwon came back, had a 13-game winning streak in March.

The difference was that they upped their intensity on defense and shared the ball on offense, as opposed to looking for one guy.  The Rockets still had cornerstones in Otis Thorpe, Vernon Maxwell, Buck Johnson and Sleepy Floyd.  But they had made some moves to improve.  Kenny Smith was acquired from Atlanta for two players and a draft pick.

Smith and Maxwell were the key catalysts from the backcourt who spearheaded Chaney’s team.  They, along with Thorpe, averaged over 17 points per game to help the offense without Olajuwon.  Hakeem still averaged 21.2 points per game but took less shots once he came back and everyone was involved.

Even with 52 wins, the Rockets still finished 6th in a strong Western Conference.  But many figured they’d challenge the Lakers, they were the only team in the West to beat L.A. in a playoff series in the 1980’s.

However, Houston’s reliance on the jump shot hurt them early in Game 1 as they got off to a slow start.  Meanwhile, Byron Scott was hitting his jump shot.  He hit three of them in the first 4 minutes to give L.A. a 9-4 lead.

Then it was James Worthy and Sam Perkins who got going to give the Lakers a 9-point lead.  L.A. was up 25-18 at the end of the 1st quarter as Scott led the way with 9 points.

The Lakers took as much as an 11-point lead in the 2nd quarter as Don Chaney searched for anyone who could get it going.  He finally found a guy in rookie Dave Jamerson.  Jamerson was a 6’5″ guard from Ohio University who would only play in 3 NBA seasons.

But in the 2nd quarter of this game, he got attention for two reasons.  First, he sparked the team by hitting a jump shot and then putting back a miss.  Second, he drew two punches from Lakers reserve Terry Teagle that cost Los Angeles his services for the rest of this game and Game 2.

Suddenly, Jamerson was the target to L.A. boos and he didn’t flinch.  He hit three more free throws to cut the Lakers lead to 35-31 before Sam Perkins nailed a three.

But the Rockets were sparked (pun absolutely intended) and, for the rest of the 1st half, played like the team that had come together in February and March.  Floyd, Thorpe, Smith, Johnson, and Maxwell all got involved (Hakeem only scored 2 points in the quarter) and Houston came back to take a 50-49 lead on a putback from Thorpe.

But then Magic penetrated and found Perkins for a layup with 3.6 seconds left in the half to take a 51-50 lead to the locker room.

The good things did not continue for Houston as they became a jump shooting team in the 3rd quarter, and not the kind that was making the jumpers.  But L.A. could not take full advantage as nobody seemed to be picking up the spark.

The Lakers held a lead throughout the quarter and went into the 4th ahead 71-66.  Byron Scott still led the way with 16 points, including 7 in the 3rd quarter.

The benches sparked the teams early on in the 4th quarter.  Jamerson scored 5 more points, including a technical free throw after an L.A. illegal defense, and took a lot of playing time from an uneven Vernon Maxwell (uneven in terms of shooting the ball, this time) in the late going.  Larry Drew contributed big for the Lakers a Teagle’s absence.

The Lakers continued to lead until Scott picked up his 5th foul and Kenny Smith made two free throws to tie the game at 80.  A Worthy touch-pass found Perkins for a slam and then a Perkins steal led to a break opportunity that ended with a three-point play from Magic.  This put L.A. ahead 85-81 as Houston was mounting up missed opportunities.

But back they came with under 5 minutes to go.  Smith penetrated and found Thorpe for a baseline jumper.  Then Hakeem kicked out to Kenny Smith for a jumper from the top to tie the game.

Magic gave L.A. the lead again when he put back his own miss.  But Houston would hustle its own offensive rebound and Olajuwon hit a turnaround jumper in the lane and drew a foul.  The three-point play put the Rockets up 88-87 with 3 minutes left.

But Houston would go scoreless for the next 2 1/2 minutes.  L.A. couldn’t fully take advantage but had a 91-88 lead after two free throws from Vlade Divac and then a layup from Divac off a Worthy feed.

The Lakers had the ball too with under a minute to go but Magic missed a driving shot.  Maxwell then got a breakaway basket on a goaltend from Divac to cut it to 91-90 with 28.8 seconds left.

With the 4 second difference between the shot clock and the game clock, Houston decided to play straight up defense.  It almost worked and perhaps should have.

Magic backed in and then kicked out to Byron Scott with the shot clock running down.  Scott pump faked, dribbled into the elbow area on the right side, and made a jumper over two guys with 3.5 seconds left.

Originally, it was called a shot clock violation.  But then after the officials discussed the play, they gave Scott the basket.  Houston argued vehemently but the officials weren’t allowed to look at replay yet in the NBA.  The replay was also inconclusive as they graphic shot clock showed 0 with the ball still in Scott’s hands but there was no definitive red light on the basket at that time in the NBA.

With it still being the dark ages, the basket counted and the Lakers had a 93-90 lead with 3.5 seconds left.  It would hold as Houston threw their inbounds pass out of bounds.

The Lakers had survived and would win Game 2 without Teagle.  But the Lakers, and Teagle, would have to deal with a Houston crowd in Game 3.

Houston starters (points scored)

Buck Johnson (8) – Small Forward

Otis Thorpe (10) – Power Forward

Hakeem Olajuwon (22) – Center

Kenny Smith (15) – Point Guard

Vernon Maxwell (12) – Shooting Guard

Houston bench (points scored)

Dave Jamerson (12)

Sleepy Floyd (8)

David Wood (5)

Larry Smith (0)

Houston Coach: Don Chaney

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (14) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (17) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (17) – Center

Magic Johnson (17) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (20) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Larry Drew (8)

Terry Teagle (1)

A.C. Green (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

teagle

Terry Teagle had to be restrained by Houston’s “Mr. Mean” Larry Smith after throwing two punches at Dave Jamerson for, what seemed like, no good reason *photo courtesy of itunes

April 26, 1991 – West Quarterfinals, Game 1: Seattle Sonics 102 @Portland Blazers 110

The Portland Trailblazers had stormed into the playoffs by winning 16 of their final 17 games of the regular season.  They looked to be the prohibitive favorite to win it all.  They had set a franchise record with 63 wins after a Finals appearance the year before.

The Seattle Supersonics had missed the playoffs in 1990 and now had almost a whole new look to their team.  Bernie Bickerstaff left to become the general manager of the Denver Nuggets.  K.C. Jones was brought out of retirement to coach the Sonics.

They drafted Oregon State’s Gary Payton with the 2nd pick to add to the young nucleus of Dana Barros and Shawn Kemp (who were back-to-back 1st round picks in 1989).  When he was drafted, Kemp had actually not played basketball since graduating high school in 1988.  He had committed to Kentucky but had a low SAT score and would be ineligible for his freshman year.  He left the team in November 1988 after he was accused of pawning two gold chains that had been reported stolen from his teammate Sean Sutton, the son of then Kentucky head coach Eddie Sutton.  Sean Sutton did not press charges, but Kemp transferred to Trinity Valley Community College in Texas.  After a semester at TVCC, where he did not play, 19-year-old Shawn Kemp declared himself eligible for the 1989 NBA draft.

After averaging only 6.5 points per game as a rookie, Kemp upped it to 15 in 1991, along with 8.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks.  Kemp would average a double-double over the next 6 seasons.

While Kemp and Payton were stars in the making, they were not quite there in 1991.  The Sonics did some wheeling and dealing to try and further their development.  Xavier McDaniel was traded to Phoenix for Eddie Johnson.  Dale Ellis was shipped to Milwaukee for Ricky Pierce.  Olden Polynice was traded to the Clippers for Benoit Benjamin.

Kemp, Payton, Johnson and Benjamin would be starters along with Sedale Threatt over the last half of the year.  Pierce came off the bench along with Barros, Derrick McKey, Michael Cage and Nate McMillan.

The play was inconsistent throughout the year as the new players were still getting used to each other.  But a 5-game winning streak in April clinched a playoff spot for Seattle.  They finished at 41-41, which was the same record they had in 1990.

They then would show their metal against Portland despite not being given a chance.  Kemp started the scoring with a three-point play and then Payton found him for a slam in transition.

But Portland’s starters played like a well-gelled unit and took the lead.  Jerome Kersey and Clyde Drexler led the way, with Buck Williams and Kevin Duckworth contributing.  Terry Porter didn’t quite get into the act as he scored his only field goal of the game on a reverse layup with just over 3 minutes left in the quarter.

But Portland still steadily grew their lead with Kersey leading the way.  Jerome scored 12 points in the 1st quarter and gave the Blazers their biggest lead at 29-19 with a slam on a 4-on-1 break.  But two jumpers from Ricky Pierce cut the lead to 31-23 at the end of the 1st quarter.

The 2nd quarter was a helluva lot more sloppy as neither bench came in and contributed much.  Kersey would bring his 1st half point total to 18 with two free throws to give the Blazers a 50-43 halftime lead.

Portland kept their lead in the 3rd as Shawn Kemp helped with a technical after pushing a Blazers player.  But Seattle made a run led by Eddie Johnson.  E.J. scored 10 straight Seattle points to cut the lead to 62-61.

But the Sonics could never grab the lead as Portland answered with baskets when Seattle cut their lead to one point.  Drexler would hit three big baskets in that stretch to eventually put Portland ahead 73-68.  Then Clyde got a steal and fed Kersey for a slam on a 4-on-2 break.

Kersey finished the quarter with 28 points and Portland was further helped when Ricky Pierce was called for a technical after arguing a call.  But even with all of that, Portland led only by 6 at 78-72 going into the 4th quarter.

The Sonics player that had helped Eddie Johnson the most in the 3rd quarter was Payton.  The rookie scored 6 points to keep Seattle in the game and was actually doing a stellar job on Drexler at the defensive end.  Meanwhile, Porter was being shut down by Sedale Threatt.

Despite Payton’s stellar game, he would be benched in the 4th quarter in favor of Ricky Pierce.  A logical move going in but it exploded in K.C. Jones’ face.  Pierce could not get going offensively but, more importantly, Drexler exploded on his offensive end.

Portland’s bench would finally get some buckets as Cliff Robinson and Danny Ainge started the 4th quarter with field goals.  But six points from Eddie Johnson cut the lead to 85-82.

Drexler then started a Portland run by hitting a three from the top.  Later, Clyde back cut Pierce for a layup off a Buck Williams feed.  Drexler would then feed Danny Ainge on a cut for a layup.  This put Portland up 93-85 with 6:09 to go and forced a Seattle timeout.

But Seattle would not go away.  After committing his 5th foul, E.J. nailed a three from the top to cut the lead to 96-92.  But Drexler hit two free throws and, with under 2 minutes left, hit a driving banker after switching to his left hand.

That shot gave Portland a 100-96 lead.  Then with under a minute left when Kersey nailed a pull-up jumper from the top to give Portland a 104-98 lead.  Kersey later found Drexler for a layup with 32.4 seconds left.

The icing on the cake would be thrown in when Ainge threw a long pass to Drexler for a breakaway slam.  This gave Portland a 108-102 lead.  Drexler finished the 4th quarter with 19 points and finished the game with 39.

Game 2 would prove to be more of the same.  Seven Blazers finished in double figures but needed a 4th quarter run to put the game away 115-106.  The same thing was happening in Game 3 as well.  But a different result would be had.

Seattle starters (points scored)

Eddie Johnson (33) – Small Forward

Shawn Kemp (10) – Power Forward

Benoit Benjamin (12) – Center

Gary Payton (6) – Point Guard

Sedale Threatt (15) – Shooting Guard

Seattle bench (points scored)

Ricky Pierce (17)

Derrick McKey (6)

Michael Cage (2)

Dana Barros (0)

Nate McMillan (1)

Seattle Coach: K.C. Jones

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (31) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (10) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (12) – Center

Terry Porter (7) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (39) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (3)

Danny Ainge (6)

Walter Davis (2)

Mark Bryant (0)

Danny Young (0)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

drexler_payton

Gary Payton had done a credible job on Clyde Drexler in Game 1 of the playoffs, but Drexler scored 19 points in the 4th quarter to lead Portland to a win while Payton was on the bench *photo courtesy of Sonics Rising

April 27, 1991 – West Quarterfinals, Game 2: Golden State Warriors 111 @San Antonio Spurs 98

We’ve now come to the peak time of Run TMC.  They would be together for only 2 seasons and this was their only playoff appearance.

The Golden State Warriors finished the season at 44-38 (their best record since 1982, a year they didn’t make the playoffs) and won their last 5 games to hold off Seattle and grab the 7th spot in the West.

Their final regular season victory came over the Utah Jazz.  This would give the Midwest Division championship to the San Antonio Spurs for the second straight year (and, for the second straight year, they finished one game ahead of Utah).

The Spurs followed up their 56 win 1990 season by going 55-27 in 1991.  They had the same coach in Larry Brown and the same starters in Rod Strickland and Willie Anderson at guard, Sean Elliott and Terry Cummings at forward, and superstar center David Robinson.  But they were much harder hit by injuries.

This led to a bit more inconsistency in their regular season, but the Spurs finished it out by winning 14 of their final 19 games, all with those five starters in tact.

The bench would be a bit different for Brown.  Paul Pressey was acquired from Milwaukee for Frank Brickowski.  Sidney Green would be acquired from Orlando.  Avery Johnson would be signed at mid-season after being let go by Denver.  David Wingate would be the only main bench player who remained from 1990, and he was slowed by a hamstring injury.

Golden State also made some small alterations to their bench during the season.  Steve Johnson was let go.  Paul Mokeski and Mario Elie were signed.  Vincent Askew would then be added late in the year.

Don Nelson pulled a surprise when he started the less known of those three guys in Game 2.  Mokeski had been a fixture (for better or worse) in Milwaukee through the ’80’s and Vincent Askew was, at least, familiar to college basketball fans who remember him from Memphis State.

Mario Elie had gone to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s high school in New York and actually played a year with Chris Mullin.  Elie then went to American International before being a 7th round pick of Don Nelson’s Bucks in 1985.  He didn’t make the team and played in Ireland, Argentina, Portugal, the USBL and the CBA before finally getting his chance with the Philadelphia 76ers on December 28, 1990.

That was when Elie signed a 10-day contract with Philly.  He didn’t get a second 10-day contract.  But he did get a second chance with the Warriors on February 23.  He would sign for the rest of the season on March 5.

Elie was a 6’5″ bull of a forward who would develop into an outstanding shooter.  But for now he was a driver and defensive player, perhaps the reason he moved up the depth chart in Golden State.

He would get the chance to start Game 2 after the Warriors were torched in Game 1.  Although the final score was only 130-121, it wasn’t that close.  Willie Anderson led the way with 38 points.  Rod Strickland added 30 and severely out-played Tim Hardaway.  David Robinson also added 30.

The Warriors had tried to be physical with Robinson, almost setting off two altercations, but that had not been effective.

The Spurs looked to do the same thing in Game 2 as they hit their first 5 shots.  Cummings hit a turnaround from the baseline.  Anderson fed Robinson on a cut for a three-point play (those two shots happened before the Warriors even attempted a field goal).

Anderson then stuck a three and Cummings drop-stepped to the baseline for a layup.  The Spurs led 10-2 with 9:34 left and Don Nelson used a timeout.

Mitch Richmond then got the Warriors going with two jumpers.  Tim Hardaway followed with two more as the Warriors climbed back into it.  Richmond put back a Hardaway miss on the break and then Sarunas Marciulionis tied it at 18 with a driving layup past Sean Elliott.

The Spurs re-took a 5-point lead after Richmond picked up his 3rd foul.  But then an 8-0 run by the Warriors put them ahead where they stayed.  Golden State led 27-26 at the end of the 1st quarter.

Marciulionis scored 6 points early in the 2nd quarter and then a Tim Hardaway three put Golden State up 36-29 and forced a Larry Brown timeout with 7:35 left.  Brown would soon lose Elliott to a broken nose for the rest of the game.

The first timeout didn’t help either as Brown had to call another after back-to-back field goals from Tyrone Hill.  The Warriors then took a 42-31 lead after Mullin blocked an Anderson shot and Hardaway found Marciulionis for a transition layup.

The Spurs made some noise late in the 2nd quarter with a 10-0 run to cut the lead back to 46-45.  A three from Hardaway versus two defenders put Golden State up 51-47 and kicked off the run that ended up finishing the Spurs.

The half ended with Marciulionis scoring his 12th point on a driving layup and then Jim Petersen (Golden State’s “center” for the day) hitting a running hook against Robinson.

In Game 1, the 4 Warriors “centers” had put up 0 points against Robinson.  In this game, Hill and Petersen already contributed with Tom Tolbert’s to come in the 2nd half.  This helped the Warriors gain a 55-47 halftime lead.

Golden State used its speed and quickness to get off to a good 2nd half start as well.  Hardaway hit a wing jumper.  Mullin found Richmond for a layup on a 4-on-1 break.  Elie penetrated and found Petersen on a cut for a layup against Robinson.  Richmond then hit two free throws and got a slam off great passing.

The Warriors now led 65-47 and were on a 17-0 run.  Robinson finally broke it with a tip-in but the Admiral’s problem was that he wasn’t getting the ball enough.  Strickland and Anderson struggled in the 2nd half while trying to get their shots (Strickland struggled all game while Anderson had 14 points in the 1st half).  Cummings was effective as well, but he and Robinson didn’t see the ball nearly enough to take advantage of the smaller Warriors.

Golden State would hold that advantage for the rest of the 3rd as Mullin got going after hitting 1 of his first 8 shots from the field.  The Warriors led 84-67 heading into the 4th.

Nellie had gone away from his fast-moving free-wheeling game a bit toward the end of the 3rd quarter and started playing the clock.  At first, it didn’t matter as the Warriors were hitting their jumpers, led by Tom Tolbert.

San Antonio went on a 7-2 run to cut the lead to 90-78.  But then Elie hit a tough runner against Cummings and Tolbert nailed his second and third jumper of the period.  A corner three by Mullin after penetration from Hardaway put the Warriors ahead 99-81.

But then they went cold and San Antonio made their run of the 2nd half.  It wouldn’t turn out to be much of one as they went on a 10-0 run over the span of about 4 minutes.  The closest they got was 101-93 with around 3 minutes left.

But then Elie hit two free throws and the Spurs committed back-to-back turnovers to end their cause.  Golden State had gotten their split with the favored Spurs and now San Antonio had to deal with the prospect of going to Oakland and dealing with the raucous Golden State fans.

Golden State starters (points scored)

Mario Elie (6) – Small Forward

Chris Mullin (27) – Power Forward

Jim Petersen (5) – Center

Tim Hardaway (20) – Point Guard

Mitch Richmond (16) – Shooting Guard

Golden State bench (points scored)

Sarunas Marciulionis (16)

Rod Higgins (6)

Tom Tolbert (6)

Tyrone Hill (9)

Vincent Askew (0)

Golden State Coach: Don Nelson

San Antonio starters (points scored)

Sean Elliott (1) – Small Forward

Terry Cummings (26) – Power Forward

David Robinson (28) – Center

Rod Strickland (8) – Point Guard

Willie Anderson (19) – Shooting Guard

San Antonio bench (points scored)

Paul Pressey (12)

Sidney Green (4)

David Wingate (0)

Avery Johnson (0)

Sean Higgins (0)

San Antonio Coach: Larry Brown

April 30, 1991 – East Quarterfinals, Game 3: Chicago Bulls 103 @New York Knicks 94

It turned out that the new top dog in the Eastern Conference came into the playoffs on a mission.  In Game 1, the Bulls held Patrick Ewing to 6 points and destroyed the Knicks 126-85.  The Bulls then used a 4th quarter run to pull away in Game 2 89-79.

The Knicks had Gerald Wilkins returning for the playoffs and had Charles Oakley back.  But their overall structure was still lacking and, while they played well for a bit, they weren’t much of a match for the Bulls.

Wilkins had struggled in the first two games but came out strong in Game 3.  He hit a three-pointer from the top and then got a breakaway slam that forced Phil Jackson to use an early timeout.

Scottie Pippen would be the early factor for the Bulls as he scored 9 points to help Chicago come back and tie it at 19.  But then Kiki Vandeweghe scored his 8th point on a drive down the lane.  Ewing put back a miss by Wilkins.  Wilkins then scored on a finger roll in transition that forced another Jackson timeout with 3:33 left and New York ahead 25-19.

Wilkins and Pippen each had 11 points in the 1st quarter as New York went ahead 31-25 at the period break.

The Knicks bench then got going in the 2nd as Trent Tucker and Jerrod Mustaf, who were each playing their final games in a Knicks uniform, provided a spark.

The Bulls only answer seemed to be Pippen as New York ran to a 45-33 lead on Vandeweghe’s three-pointer.

But then things turned around as the Bulls hustled two offensive rebounds before Michael Jordan hit a jumper in the lane.  Jordan followed with a steal and B.J. Armstrong got a breakaway layup.  Then Armstrong came up with a steal and Craig Hodges got a breakaway layup.

After a Vandeweghe free throw was taken away by a lane violation, Pippen drove down the lane and, with the left hand, slammed one down on Ewing (it wouldn’t be the best dunk on Ewing in this game and it wouldn’t be Pippen’s best dunk on Ewing in their careers, poor Patrick).  John Paxson then got a breakaway layup to cut the lead to 46-43 and force John MacLeod to use a timeout with 3:24 left.

The Bulls would stay within four before Jordan unleashed his dunking ferocity on Ewing.  Michael originally drove baseline but was cut off by Oakley.  But MJ pivoted and then quickly spun baseline.  Ewing was there to help with no avail (poor Patrick, he was one of the best rim protectors in NBA history).  Jordan dunked on him and drew a foul.

The three-point play cut the Knicks lead to 54-53 at the half.  Pippen finished with 17 points while Jordan had 13.

The teams continued to trade baskets for the first 3 minutes of the 3rd quarter before the Bulls started to take control.  Jordan drove down the lane for a layup to put Chicago up 61-60.  Then MJ found Pippen for a transition slam to force a Knicks timeout.

Jordan then connected on a fall-away from the mid post after driving and reverse pivoting.  Later, MJ stole a rebound from Oakley and hit a jumper to put the Bulls ahead 67-63.

Jordan later nailed another pull-up from the elbow and then Paxson made a jumper at the end of the shot clock to put the Bulls up 71-67.  Jordan, later, hit a turnaround fall-away jumper from the post and then drove baseline for a score to make it 76-69 Bulls.

Jordan would finish the 3rd quarter with 15 points.  Will Perdue ended the quarter with 5 points on two offensive rebounds.  His latest tip-in put Chicago ahead 83-71 going into the 4th quarter.

The Knicks disorganization on offense came out at this time.  Instead of getting Ewing the ball, they settled for jumpers and not very good ones.  But when Ewing did get the ball, he couldn’t deliver either.

The closest New York got in the quarter was 8 points.  But they would be held off by the 6 offensive rebounds and 16 points from Will Perdue, who was playing so well that Bill Cartwright didn’t come back into the game after picking up his 4th foul in the 3rd quarter.

Chicago would move on to play the Philadelphia 76ers for the second straight season in the playoffs.  It was the first time in the Michael Jordan era that the Bulls swept a playoff series.

For New York, John MacLeod would be fired 2 days later and eventually replaced by former Lakers coach Pat Riley.  With that and a few trades and signings, a new identity would take shape in New York.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (21) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (9) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (4) – Center

John Paxson (14) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (33) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Will Perdue (16)

B.J. Armstrong (2)

Craig Hodges (2)

Stacey King (2)

Cliff Levingston (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

New York starters (points scored)

Kiki Vandeweghe (20) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (8) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (20) – Center

Maurice Cheeks (11) – Point Guard

Gerald Wilkins (15) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

Trent Tucker (12)

Jerrod Mustaf (8)

Mark Jackson (0)

John Starks (0)

Brian Quinnett (0)

Kenny Walker (0)

New York Coach: John MacLeod

April 30, 1991 – West Quarterfinals, Game 3: Los Angeles Lakers 94 @Houston Rockets 90

The jump shooting Rockets were dying by the jump shot in the first two games.  They were also dying with Lakers such as Vlade Divac and Byron Scott killing them, along with Magic and Worthy.

Meanwhile, Houston’s role players were not coming through.  The biggest examples were the struggles of Buck Johnson and Sleepy Floyd off the bench.

But now on their home court, the Rockets figured to come with their biggest charge.  Houston was not the most welcoming place for James Worthy after he had gotten arrested there earlier in the season for attempting to solicit prostitutes.  It would also not be the most welcoming place for Terry Teagle, who was booed after punching Dave Jamerson in Game 1.  Teagle was 0-for-4 and a non-factor.

Houston did come out with energy early on as they forced 3 Laker turnovers and Otis Thorpe, who had not been in the offense enough, got two buckets.  Buck Johnson also hit an early wing jumper after Hakeem Olajuwon kicked the ball out of a double team.

The Lakers though were able to stay with them as Magic and Worthy led the way.  But the supporting cast wasn’t getting off for L.A. unlike the first two games.

Otis Thorpe led the way with 12 points as Houston took a 24-23 advantage going into the 2nd quarter.

Thorpe then started the 2nd quarter by going coast-to-coast for a layup and then he kicked out to Kenny Smith for a jumper to put the Rockets up 30-23.

Later, Olajuwon hit two turnaround jumpers and then Vernon Maxwell connected on a three to put Houston up 39-29 and force a Lakers timeout with 5:07 left in the half.

The Lakers wouldn’t let the lead grow any bigger as Worthy finished the half with 16 points while Magic had 14.  Houston held a 46-39 lead at the break.

Magic got started quickly in the 2nd half with two field goals and a feed to Worthy for a layup.  Magic kept going as he was realizing that he needed to score to keep L.A. in it.  He went coast-to-coast twice for layups to give the Lakers a 55-54 lead.

The teams traded baskets for the rest of the quarter.  Most of the Lakers baskets came from Magic, who had 16 points in the 3rd quarter.  His latest was a drive for a three-point play that put L.A. up 66-65 going into the 4th quarter.

Houston regained momentum and took a 74-70 lead when Kenny Smith nailed a three-pointer on a kickout from Olajuwon.  But Magic scored twice from the post and then Byron Scott got going with a runner in transition to tie the game at 76 with 6:46 left.

The Lakers then took a three-point lead and Houston looked done after Byron Scott stole a bad outlet pass and Magic hit on a scoop.  But Magic turned the ball over on the next possession and the Rockets got a 3-on-1 break.

It was more like a fast break that would be run today.  Instead of everyone going toward the basket, Maxwell camped at the three-point line and got a pass from Thorpe.  He settled for the three and nailed it to tie the game at 84.  Today, we see people run to the three-point line often on a 3-on-1 break.  In 1991, it was absolutely blasphemous but it got the Houston crowd going after they had been relatively quiet for most of the game.

Then after another turnover from Magic, Kenny Smith hit a pull-up jumper with 1:35 left to give Houston a lead.  But then after a Lakers timeout, Sam Perkins hit a pull-up from the wing after Magic kicked out from the post.

Olajuwon responded with a fall-away in the lane but then Byron Scott nailed another big jumper after Magic kicked out of another double-team in the post.

The Rockets could not answer on their next possession as Kenny Smith barely missed a jumper from the top.  Perkins rebounded and L.A. used a timeout with 30.8 seconds left.

Again, the Lakers went down low to Magic Johnson.  He was doubled and kicked out to Worthy.  James then swung the ball to Scott on the baseline.  Byron connected on another jumper and L.A. led 90-88 with 16.9 seconds left.

After a Houston timeout, Don Chaney had Otis Thorpe throw the ball inbounds.  Thorpe couldn’t find anybody and tried to call a timeout.  Instead, he was called for a 5-second violation (I think the count was a bit quick) and the Lakers got the ball.

The game pretty much ended there as Perkins and then Divac hit a pair of free throws and the sweep was a reality.

Houston had overachieved in many people’s eyes in 1991.  In 1992, they came back down to earth as they finished at 42-40 and missed the playoffs.  Don Chaney was fired at mid-season and replaced by Rudy Tomjanovich.  Hakeem Olajuwon repeatedly requested to be traded up until the early part of the 1993 season.  But all would soon be fixed in Houston.

For the Lakers, it was old hat… on to the next round.

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (22) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (16) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (8) – Center

Magic Johnson (38) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (8) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

A.C. Green (4)

Terry Teagle (0)

Larry Drew (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

Houston starters (points scored)

Buck Johnson (12) – Small Forward

Otis Thorpe (21) – Power Forward

Hakeem Olajuwon (21) – Center

Kenny Smith (12) – Point Guard

Vernon Maxwell (13) – Shooting Guard

Houston bench (points scored)

Larry Smith (4)

Dave Jamerson (4)

Sleepy Floyd (2)

David Wood (1)

Houston Coach: Don Chaney

May 2, 1991 – West Quarterfinals, Game 4: Portland Blazers 89 @Seattle Sonics 101

In the first two games in Portland, Seattle had hung around but could not overtake the Blazers in close games.  It would be different in Game 3 as Seattle only trailed by two with 10 seconds left.

Sedale Threatt then hit a tough three from the top to give the Sonics the lead.  Gary Payton then stole the inbounds pass and Seattle had forced a Game 4.  Now the Sonics were looking to do something that no #8 seed had done since the NBA went to an 8-team per conference format.  They were looking to force an all-or-nothing Game 5.

The Sonics had gotten big performances from Eddie Johnson in Games 1 & 2.  He was 3-for-11 in Game 3 but Threatt and Benoit Benjamin, who became a factor for the first time all series, scored 29 and 26 points, respectively.  Derrick McKey had also contributed off the bench with 13 points and 7 rebounds.

Johnson came back to life in Game 4 as he scored 6 points in the first 5 minutes to give Seattle a 14-9 lead.  The other Sonics starters had gotten into the scoring column at that point as well.  That balance made Seattle look like Portland.

The Blazers starters had been pretty consistent throughout the series.  Other than Terry Porter’s 7 points in Game 1, all five starters had scored in double figures in all three games.  Cliff Robinson also contributed double figures in Games 2 & 3.

But Eddie Johnson continued to pull away from the pack as he nailed a three to put the Sonics up 17-11.  Threatt followed with a pull-up jumper in transition to give Seattle an 8-point lead.

Shawn Kemp then scored 8 of Seattle’s final 10 points of the 1st quarter.  This helped hold off Portland, who cut the lead to 29-27 at the end of the quarter.  Jerome Kersey led the way with 13 points.

McKey would start his contribution in this game with a three-point play that put the Sonics up 36-29 early in the 2nd quarter.  But 5 straight points from Cliff Robinson cut the lead back to two.

Seattle then surged as McKey scored 3 points, Eddie Johnson got a three-point play and Benoit Benjamin got a layup off a feed from Nate McMillan.  This put Seattle up 44-34.  Porter then scored 7 straight Blazer points but Seattle still held a 50-43 lead at the half.  Eddie Johnson led the way with 16 points.

Portland started the 3rd quarter on an 8-2 run and cut the lead to 54-52.  But a problem was starting to arise for the visiting Trailblazers, and it manifested in the 3rd and 4th quarters.

Portland was really struggling from the foul line and this, in essence, would keep them behind on the scoreboard.  They would finish the game at 20-for-39 from the foul line.  In a game that they lost by 12, they would have a great chance had they shot a halfway decent percentage.

The contribution of Eddie Johnson also helped hold off the Blazers as he scored 10 points in the 3rd quarter, including 6 in a row when Portland had cut the lead to 66-64.

But the Blazers were still charging and hanging around, only trailing 76-72 entering the 4th quarter.

They would then tie the game at 76 when Cliff Robinson got a layup with 2 1/2 gone by.  Danny Young then hit a driving banker at the end of the shot clock to give Portland their first lead since 5-4.

The Blazers had a chance to increase that lead but Benjamin blocked a shot by Robinson.  McKey then tied it with two free throws.  Portland would take two more leads on the next few possessions but Seattle would come right back.

A pull-up by Threatt gave Seattle an 84-82 lead.  Clyde Drexler tied it with a wing jumper.  But then Nate McMillan gave Seattle a lead by putting back his own miss with 4:49 to go.

McKey then scored back-to-back baskets as Portland continued to miss free throws.  Then, with 2:38 left, Threatt hit a high-arcing pull-up jumper from the wing at the end of the shot clock to put Seattle ahead 92-85.

Kevin Duckworth, who was a non-factor for Portland, then missed two free throws as the pressure from the Seattle crowd was amped.  Eddie Johnson would get two breakaway layups and Threatt hit another three at the end of the shot clock that put the game away.

What also hadn’t helped Portland in this game was 20 turnovers and then 17 offensive rebounds by Seattle.  As a result, the Trailblazers would be the first #1 seed to be pushed to a Game 5 by a #8 seed.

But they would not be the first #1 seed to lose to a #8 (Seattle would later be involved in that).  The Trailblazers won Game 5 119-107, as 6 players finished in double figures and helped Portland to a 20-point halftime lead.

The Trailblazers would have an easier time with Utah in the 2nd round, despite most of the games being close.  Portland beat the Jazz in 5 games and then awaited a Pacific Division rival in the Western Finals.

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (20) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (8) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (5) – Center

Terry Porter (17) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (19) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (13)

Danny Ainge (1)

Danny Young (6)

Mark Bryant (0)

Walter Davis (0)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

Seattle starters (points scored)

Eddie Johnson (34) – Small Forward

Shawn Kemp (12) – Power Forward

Benoit Benjamin (14) – Center

Gary Payton (6) – Point Guard

Sedale Threatt (15) – Shooting Guard

Seattle bench (points scored)

Derrick McKey (15)

Ricky Pierce (2)

Michael Cage (1)

Nate McMillan (2)

Seattle Coach: K.C. Jones

May 3, 1991 – East Quarterfinals, Game 4: Boston Celtics 113 @Indiana Pacers 116

The Indiana Pacers came into this series having won only one playoff game in their NBA history.  But after losing a close Game 1 in Boston Garden, Chuck Person personally delivered their first ever NBA road playoff win in Game 2.

The “Rifleman” nailed a then-playoff record 7 three-pointers and scored 39 points.  Included in this output was a lot of trash-talk that made him popular with the Boston crowd (especially since most of his gyrations were directed at Larry Bird).  All in all, it contributed to a 130-118 Pacers win.

But, with all that momentum, the Pacers came home and laid an egg.  Person scored 6 points and took only 8 shots.  Indiana had to make a comeback to cut their defeat to 112-105.

Boston had 5 guys average in double figures so far (Bird, Parish, Lewis, Shaw, and McHale off the bench).  Indiana had been getting a contribution from their young back court of Michael Williams and Reggie Miller and from the 6th man of the year in Detlef Schrempf.

Players like Person, Miller, Rik Smits, and Vern Fleming had been drafted by Indiana in the 80’s.  Schrempf and big man LaSalle Thompson had been acquired in 1989 trade deadline deals.  Williams and veteran forward Mike Sanders had been signed as free agents.

All except Williams had contributed to a playoff team in 1990.  That team had been swept by eventual champion Detroit.  But things weren’t going as smoothly in 1991 under coach Dick Versace.  On December 20, Versace was replaced by Bob Hill.  Hill eventually turned around the defense and Indiana got back into it with a 6-game winning streak in February (including a win over Boston).

They finished at 41-41, two games ahead of the Knicks for the final playoff spot.  But, on the verge of being eliminated, Reggie Miller came out aggressive in the 1st quarter after getting off to slow starts in the first 3 games.

Miller hit three of his first four shots, but Boston was up to the challenge early on.  Brian Shaw and Kevin Gamble hit two field goals and Bird also hit his first jumper.  The Celtics took an 18-12 lead before Miller led Indiana back.

Indiana then raced to a 29-23 lead despite their big men of LaSalle Thompson, Rik Smits and Greg Dreiling getting into early foul trouble.  But then Boston came back to tie it at 36 at the end of the 1st quarter.

The quick pace continued in the 2nd quarter.  Dee Brown and Kevin McHale contributed off the Celtics bench to help Boston grab a 53-46 lead 5 minutes into the quarter.

But Miller and Person brought the Pacers back.  Miller had 23 points at halftime, which included no three-pointers.  But Boston’s big 3 from the last 11 seasons also had big halves.  McHale had 16 off the bench, Parish had 14 and Bird added 12.  All of this helped Boston take a 69-64 halftime lead.

In the 3rd quarter, Reggie Lewis joined the party.  Lewis went right at Reggie Miller and drew his 3rd and 4th fouls, forcing him to the bench.  He also scored 9 points in the first 5 minutes to help Boston build an 84-71 lead.

Although they couldn’t keep up that pace, the Celtics maintained a lead and had it at 95-85 after Bird nailed a turnaround fall-away in the post.  Indiana then went for the last shot of the quarter.

They almost didn’t get it off but, just before the buzzer, Mike Sanders, not your typical three-point shooter, nailed a trey from the corner to cut the lead to 95-88.  That shot seemed to get the Pacers going.

Michael Williams attacked the basket early on in the 4th quarter and either got buckets for himself or a teammate or got to the foul line.  Williams, who would set the NBA record for most consecutive free throws made at 97 in 1993, made four straight that cut the lead to 103-100.

From there, Chuck Person and his mouth took over.  He scored 7 straight points to give Indiana a 107-105 lead with 3:38 left.  With the lineup Indiana had on the floor, Larry Bird had to guard Person.  And while Person didn’t go to the basket (Chuck topped out at 3.8 free throw attempts per game during his best season, so he didn’t get to the line often at all), he nailed three straight jumpers including a three with Larry playing off of him.

Lewis hit a step-back jumper from the baseline over Miller to tie the game at 107.  Person then got the ball back guarded by McHale, who was coming off foot injuries all season.  Person hit a pull-up from the top over Kevin and continued to talk.  But McHale came back with a turnaround in the lane for his 24th point to lead Boston.

Person was guarded by Parish on the next possession but didn’t end up scoring.  Boston got the ball back but gave it up on a turnover.  Person then pulled up and nailed a deep three for a 112-109 Pacers lead.

Indiana then got the ball back and ran down the shot clock.  Vern Fleming then found LaSalle Thompson for a deep corner jumper at the buzzer to put Indiana up by 5 with 1:24 to go.  It seemed like Indiana couldn’t miss and the game looked over.

But Boston cut it back to 116-113 when Bird nailed a runner with 28.7 seconds left.  With a 4-second differential between shot clock and game clock, Boston decided not to foul and played straight up defense.

Then Person did something he hadn’t done in awhile, he missed a jumper.  Following was a rebound scramble, there was a jump ball between Schrempf and Lewis with 5.9 seconds left.  Lewis and Boston controlled and called a timeout at 4.1.

With Bird and McHale, and his improved three-point weapon, on the floor, the inbounds went to rookie Dee Brown.  Brown couldn’t find anyone and ended up launching a three that went in-and-out.

The Pacers had forced the older Celtics to a do-or-die Game 5 and were making an impact in the NBA playoffs for the first time in their history.  But they would have to deal with pride, mystique, and history in Boston Garden, where Larry Bird put on one of his last impact performances on the big stage.

Boston starters (points scored)

Kevin Gamble (6) – Small Forward

Larry Bird (18) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (18) – Center

Brian Shaw (9) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (22) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Kevin McHale (24)

Dee Brown (14)

Ed Pinckney (2)

Derek Smith (0)

Boston Coach: Chris Ford

Indiana starters (points scored)

Chuck Person (30) – Small Forward

LaSalle Thompson (10) – Power Forward

Greg Dreiling (1) – Center

Michael Williams (18) – Point Guard

Reggie Miller (27) – Shooting Guard

Indiana bench (points scored)

Detlef Schrempf (11)

Vern Fleming (10)

Rik Smits (2)

Mike Sanders (7)

Kenny Williams (0)

Indiana Coach: Bob Hill

bird person

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Antonio starters (points scored)

Sean Elliott (23) – Small Forward

Terry Cummings (11) – Power Forward

David Robinson (18) – Center

Rod Strickland (21) – Point Guard

Willie Anderson (8) – Shooting Guard

San Antonio bench (points scored)

Paul Pressey (6)

David Wingate (10)

Sean Higgins (0)

San Antonio Coach: Larry Brown

Golden State starters (points scored)

Mario Elie (4) – Small Forward

Chris Mullin (23) – Power Forward

Jim Petersen (2) – Center

Tim Hardaway (32) – Point Guard

Mitch Richmond (17) – Shooting Guard

Golden State bench (points scored)

Sarunas Marciulionis (14)

Rod Higgins (14)

Tom Tolbert (4)

Tyrone Hill (0)

Golden State Coach: Don Nelson

OAKLAND, CA - 1989: (L) Tim Hardaway #10, (C) Mitch Richmond #23 and (R) Chris Mullin #17 of the Golden State Warriors sit on the bench during a game played in 1989 at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1989 NBAE (Photo by NBA Photos/NBAE via Getty Images)

OAKLAND, CA – 1989: (L) Tim Hardaway #10, (C) Mitch Richmond #23 and (R) Chris Mullin #17 of the Golden State Warriors sit on the bench during a game played in 1989 at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1989 NBAE (Photo by NBA Photos/NBAE via Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indiana starters (points scored)

Chuck Person (32) – Small Forward

LaSalle Thompson (8) – Power Forward

Greg Dreiling (0) – Center

Michael Williams (23) – Point Guard

Reggie Miller (22) – Shooting Guard

Indiana bench (points scored)

Detlef Schrempf (20)

Vern Fleming (6)

Rik Smits (6)

Mike Sanders (4)

Indiana Coach: Bob Hill

Boston starters (points scored)

Kevin Gamble (2) – Small Forward

Larry Bird (32) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (21) – Center

Brian Shaw (13) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (22) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Kevin McHale (13)

Derek Smith (12)

Dee Brown (4)

Ed Pinckney (5)

Boston Coach: Chris Ford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Golden State starters (points scored)

Mario Elie (9) – Small Forward

Chris Mullin (41) – Power Forward

Alton Lister (4) – Center

Tim Hardaway (28) – Point Guard

Mitch Richmond (22) – Shooting Guard

Golden State bench (points scored)

Sarunas Marciulionis (5)

Rod Higgins (11)

Tom Tolbert (0)

Tyrone Hill (3)

Vincent Askew (0)

Jim Petersen (2)

Golden State Coach: Don Nelson

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (23) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (24) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (4) – Center

Magic Johnson (44) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (5) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Terry Teagle (7)

A.C. Green (11)

Larry Drew (0)

Elden Campbell (6)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (22) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (10) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (9) – Center

John Paxson (2) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (46) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Craig Hodges (5)

Will Perdue (3)

B.J. Armstrong (0)

Stacey King (0)

Cliff Levingston (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Philadelphia starters (points scored)

Armen Gilliam (25) – Small Forward

Charles Barkley (19) – Power Forward

Rick Mahorn (2) – Center

Rickey Green (9) – Point Guard

Hersey Hawkins (29) – Shooting Guard

Philadelphia bench (points scored)

Andre Turner (8)

Ron Anderson (5)

Manute Bol (2)

Philadelphia Coach: Jim Lynam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (36) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (15) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (7) – Center

Magic Johnson (15) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (23) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Terry Teagle (12)

A.C. Green (6)

Larry Drew (0)

Elden Campbell (1)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

Golden State starters (points scored)

Mario Elie (8) – Small Forward

Chris Mullin (13) – Power Forward

Alton Lister (3) – Center

Tim Hardaway (24) – Point Guard

Mitch Richmond (24) – Shooting Guard

Golden State bench (points scored)

Sarunas Marciulionis (13)

Rod Higgins (12)

Tom Tolbert (5)

Tyrone Hill (2)

Jim Petersen (8)

Paul Mokeski (0)

Golden State Coach: Don Nelson

hardaway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philadelphia starters (points scored)

Armen Gilliam (21) – Small Forward

Charles Barkley (30) – Power Forward

Rick Mahorn (2) – Center

Rickey Green (16) – Point Guard

Hersey Hawkins (15) – Shooting Guard

Philadelphia bench (points scored)

Ron Anderson (4)

Andre Turner (2)

Manute Bol (1)

Robert Reid (4)

Philadelphia Coach: Jim Lynam

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (28) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (9) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (8) – Center

John Paxson (5) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (38) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (2)

Will Perdue (8)

Cliff Levingston (2)

Stacey King (0)

Craig Hodges (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Golden State starters (points scored)

Chris Mullin (26) – Small Forward

Rod Higgins (17) – Power Forward

Alton Lister (4) – Center

Tim Hardaway (27) – Point Guard

Mitch Richmond (26) – Shooting Guard

Golden State bench (points scored)

Sarunas Marciulionis (4)

Jim Petersen (9)

Tom Tolbert (2)

Tyrone Hill (4)

Mario Elie (0)

Golden State Coach: Don Nelson

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (25) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (19) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (6) – Center

Magic Johnson (28) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (13) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Terry Teagle (17)

Elden Campbell (11)

A.C. Green (4)

Larry Drew (1)

Tony Smith (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

magic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boston starters (points scored)

Kevin Gamble (0) – Small Forward

Larry Bird (12) – Power Forward

Joe Kleine (2) – Center

Brian Shaw (8) – Point Guard

Reggie Lewis (23) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Kevin McHale (34)

Dee Brown (21)

Ed Pinckney (13)

Michael Smith (0)

Boston Coach: Chris Ford

Detroit starters (points scored)

Dennis Rodman (4) – Small Forward

James Edwards (17) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (15) – Center

Joe Dumars (32) – Point Guard

Vinnie Johnson (10) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Isiah Thomas (17)

Mark Aguirre (10)

John Salley (12)

Scott Hastings (0)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (28) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (18) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (12) – Center

Magic Johnson (15) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (19) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Terry Teagle (14)

A.C. Green (2)

Elden Campbell (3)

Mychal Thompson (0)

Larry Drew (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (21) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (6) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (14) – Center

Terry Porter (9) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (28) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (14)

Danny Ainge (12)

Walter Davis (0)

Mark Bryant (2)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (26) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (17) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (13) – Center

John Paxson (6) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (33) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (7)

Craig Hodges (6)

Will Perdue (2)

Cliff Levingston (0)

Scott Williams (3)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Detroit starters (points scored)

Dennis Rodman (0) – Small Forward

James Edwards (2) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (10) – Center

Isiah Thomas (29) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (11) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Vinnie Johnson (25)

Mark Aguirre (17)

John Salley (13)

Gerald Henderson (0)

Tree Rollins (0)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (23) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (16) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (6) – Center

John Paxson (12) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (29) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (4)

Stacey King (4)

Craig Hodges (4)

Dennis Hopson (1)

Will Perdue (1)

Cliff Levingston (10)

Scott Williams (5)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

Detroit starters (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (9) – Small Forward

James Edwards (14) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (11) – Center

Isiah Thomas (16) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (6) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Vinnie Johnson (9)

Dennis Rodman (6)

John Salley (12)

Gerald Henderson (2)

William Bedford (4)

Scott Hastings (5)

Tree Rollins (0)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

pistons-bulls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (10) – Small Forward

Buck Williams (14) – Power Forward

Kevin Duckworth (8) – Center

Terry Porter (24) – Point Guard

Clyde Drexler (23) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (11)

Danny Ainge (0)

Portland Coach: Rick Adelman

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (8) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (26) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (8) – Center

Magic Johnson (25) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (9) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

A.C. Green (15)

Terry Teagle (0)

Mychal Thompson (0)

Larry Drew (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

magic vs portland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (22) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (22) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (16) – Center

Magic Johnson (19) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (9) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Terry Teagle (2)

A.C. Green (3)

Larry Drew (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (19) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (6) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (6) – Center

John Paxson (6) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (36) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (6)

Craig Hodges (4)

Will Perdue (6)

Cliff Levingston (2)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

michael-jordan-career-photos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (24) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (11) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (16) – Center

Magic Johnson (14) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (5) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Terry Teagle (6)

A.C. Green (6)

Mychal Thompson (0)

Larry Drew (4)

Elden Campbell (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (20) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (20) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (12) – Center

John Paxson (16) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (33) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Craig Hodges (2)

Will Perdue (2)

Scott Williams (2)

B.J. Armstrong (0)

Cliff Levingston (0)

Stacey King (0)

Dennis Hopson (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (19) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (22) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (6) – Center

John Paxson (10) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (29) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Cliff Levingston (10)

Scott Williams (4)

Craig Hodges (2)

B.J. Armstrong (0)

Stacey King (2)

Will Perdue (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (19) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (25) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (24) – Center

Magic Johnson (22) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (0) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Terry Teagle (2)

A.C. Green (2)

Elden Campbell (2)

Larry Drew (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago starters (points scored)

Scottie Pippen (32) – Small Forward

Horace Grant (11) – Power Forward

Bill Cartwright (8) – Center

John Paxson (20) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (30) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

B.J. Armstrong (2)

Craig Hodges (5)

Cliff Levingston (0)

Will Perdue (0)

Scott Williams (0)

Chicago Coach: Phil Jackson

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

A.C. Green (13) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (22) – Power Forward

Vlade Divac (8) – Center

Magic Johnson (16) – Point Guard

Terry Teagle (9) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Elden Campbell (21)

Tony Smith (12)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Mike Dunleavy

finals1991_100922 pippen_mj_1991 jordan trophy

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

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