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Prologue: By 1988, the Chicago Bulls were immensely popular. Not only did they have an international icon(Michael Jordan), but a glut of young talent that had been barely scratched. The possibilities seemed endless; But, the team still had a lot of dysfunction that it would have to overcome.
Michael Jeffrey Jordan had burst on the NBA scene in a way that was amazing but not eye-popping. As a rookie in 1984-85, he was awesome but not yet world-changing. But a new look was on the horizon. The previously dysfunctional organization would change ownership with a new franchise cornerstone. But the emotional intelligence issues that caused extremely poor play on court largely still remained. So, new owner Jerry Reinsdorf decided that the product he paid to be on the court should resemble the 1970s New York Knicks. But he had a huge problem.
The Bulls coach was Kevin Michael Loughery. Though not a top guide on the sideline, he had been seminal for rookie Jordan. Playing for North Carolina, Jordan’s confidence in his ability to dominate in the pros was unknown, even to himself. But Loughery had been a good one on one player himself, plus he coached Julius Erving in the ABA. In short, he knew a potential great when he saw one, and so he unleashed Jordan to play one-on-one basketball. Loughery, though, did not meet the “Reinsdorff method”, and so he was dismissed for his excessive focus on Jordan. Then, new General Manager Jerry Krause was hired, and he bought in former San Antonio Spurs Coach Charles Stanley Albeck. This was a better Reinsdorff fit, but then there was another problem.
On October 29th, 1985, in a win in Golden State, Jordan would tear the navicular bone in his foot. He would miss 64 games; He would immediately run afoul of the new ownership and management. The team’s doctor’s wanted Jordan to stay sidelined less his foot not heal entirely. Jordan and his supporters, though, would come to believe that the team was intentionally tanking to secure a top pick in the coming draft. Jordan would eventually question the team’s commitment to excel; Krause then reportedly told Jordan “You’re our property, you will do as we tell you”. Jordan wasn’t what you would call a “black militant”; he was, however, aware of racial condescension when it stared him right in the face. Though he didn’t make much of a fuss(even then he was image-conscious), he would never forgive Krause for this. Check out the best new sportsbooks!
Eventually, a compromise would be worked out. Jordan could play, but he had to play on a minutes restriction. Now, Coach Albeck was caught in the middle. Like Jordan, he had an invested stake in winning, which dictated Jordan being on the court. On the other hand, defying management openly meant the possibility of being dismissed. So, an event took place in which free agent John Paxson hit a game-winning shot with Jordan on the sideline. Jordan seethed; But what made it worse was that Reinsdorff said that he too didn’t understand why Michael was on the bench when the Bulls had a chance to win. With that, Albeck saw the double-cross, and knew he would be fired once the season was over.
The Bulls snuck into the playoffs with a 30-52 record. They would play the great Boston Celtics, a team they had no chance to beat. No one, though, told Mr Jordan. In the opening games in Boston, he would average 56 points a game. In-game 2, he set a playoff record of 63, a mark that still endures. It was here that the Jordan mystique was born, as soon to be 3 time MVP said “Maybe that is God disguised as Michael Jordan”. But, while the mystique was born, so was the essential dilemma. When the series reached Chicago, Boston’s Kevin McHale would remark that Jordan’s teammates included Sidney Green. The message? Make someone else beat us. In the final game, Jordan would get (for him) a paltry 19 points and he fouled out with around 6 minutes. This would not be the last time someone followed McHale on the issue of Jordan.
Now, Albeck was dismissed, and Krause went unconventional. He did not look for a college hotshot coach or a veteran NBAer; Rather, he went to television. No joke. The man he had in mind was an articulate, preppy former NBA player named Paul Douglas(Doug) Collins. Reinsdorff was incredulous;” You mean the TV guy”? had been his response. But Collins was more than an unconventional choice. He was a very good one. He had been a very good(though oft-injured) player, making several all-star games. Second, he had played with Julius Erving, so he understood how to treat an enormously gifted player(and one whom Jordan already was being compared to). Finally, he himself had just recently left the game, and so understood the nuances of pro players at exactly the same time their commercial appeal was on the rise. Reinsdorff would give in but remain wary. With a new coach in place, the next order of business was the draft. Jordan would forever want a Carolina Tar Heel or at least someone from the ACC; With that in mind, he wanted Duke’s, Johnny Dawkins. Collins, like Albeck, was now caught between Jordan and management. He , too, wanted Dawkins, but he was Krause’s “discovery” so he had to toe the party line. Krause, meanwhile, wanted a 7-0 Center masquerading as a forward named Bradley Donnell Sellers. Krause then made the mistake of selling Sellers as a potential superstar; instead, he was a soft player out of position. Jordan, would hold a grudge against Krause, and treat Sellers like trash in practice. This was a wound that would endure, and Jordan emphatically distrusted Krause from this point on.
But, on the court itself, Jordan was becoming transcendent. In 1986-87, he would average 37.1 points per game. The concerns about his foot were nonsense; He played every game, and if anything he looked even better. He would insert himself as the league’s most popular player, something the enormously aware Jordan would realize with some sarcasm. “ I think the average fan would like to see me get 50 and their team win” had been the Jordan comeback. Usually, fans would get their goal but the Bulls would improve by 10 games.
Now, in the summer of 1987, the Bulls had some more improvement to go. Once again, Jordan had his desires. He wanted another ACC player, this time Carolina’s Joe Wolf. But Krause and his scouts saw Wolf’s running motion and decided that a back issue would interrupt his pro career. But Jordan(and Collins), would disagree, with Collins going to Reinsdorff directly to request the dismissal of Krause. This would not help Collins going forward, as Reinsdorff hadn’t wanted Collins to coach anyways. He had only agreed after a desperate plea from Krause. Instead, Krause had his eye on another ACC player, Horace Grant. Though at the time a pretzel, Grant was exceptionally fast, with long arms and Krause was in love. But it was another player from a small college that enraptured Krause the most. He was Scottie Maurice Pippen, but he was raw. It was not until the NBA combine that Pippen started to get notice; Krause, now desperate, had actually asked Pippen to fake an injury to turn other scouts away(the irony of this). Krause was able to arrange a deal with the Seattle Supersonics(who already had Xavier McDaniel and Tom Chambers) where they picked Olden Polynice and Seattle picked Pippen for the Bulls. Now the Bulls had Jordan and two gems that were largely unpolished. Jordan himself, however, was less than impressed. Once again, Krause talked up his picks, in particular Pippen. Jordan would say “ well you said that about Brad Sellers” and walked away.
Jordan, once again had on court goals above the internal team turmoil. He would tell the Sporting News he wanted to be league MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. Jan Hubbard, then of the Dallas Morning News, thought this was a joke and practically impossible. It would take a lot of energy(especially a league-leading scorer like Jordan) to accomplish both goals. But Jordan took a look at his stats on defense in 86-87 (236 steals, 125 blocked shots) and that of the eventual DPOY (Michael Cooper, 78 steals, 43 blocks) and said “Michael Cooper is a great ball-denial, but his stats leave a lot”. Jordan would maintain his scoring (35.0) and become a great ball stopper. The Bulls got off to a superb start at 12-3 and never looked back. But, even with the success, controversy brewed. Pippen felt (to say the least) discomfort with his back. It was almost a replay of the foot situation with Jordan. Only this time virtually the entire organization was aligned against Pippen; Trainer Mark Pfeil felt strongly that Pippen was just malingering, and Jordan and Collins interpreted this as soft. It would open up a wound in Pippen’s psyche as he knew something was wrong. Meanwhile, Jordan would become the toast of basketball as he won nearly every conceivable award(MVP, DPOY, All-Star MVP, Slam Dunk Champion) and replaced the Magic-Bird combination as the most entertaining ticket in all of basketball (and sport). The Bulls would improve to 50-32 and finish third-best in the Eastern Conference. Also, they would capture their first playoff series win since 1981, as Jordan had another phenomenal opening round. Against six seeded Cleveland, Jordan would average 45.2 points, then receive timely support from Pippen(who would replace Sellers) in the Final Game(25 points). Chicago advanced, but waiting would be the team that would cause nightmares for generations; the Detroit Pistons. On Easter Sunday, 1988, Jordan delivered a 59 point masterpiece that infuriated Piston Coach Chuck Daly. He would establish a supposedly secret defense only the Pistons could execute called the “Jordan Rules”. The “secret” was mainly to challenge Jordan’s manhood by leading him to believe he had to beat Detroit single-handedly. Then, when he did just that, funnelled him to the middle(his jump shot in 1988 wasn’t perfected) where triple teams awaited. Then, force him to make poor passes out of desperation were bad shots were inevitable. This, then, would cause Jordan to lose confidence in his teammates, which weren’t strong, to begin with. So, with that in mind, Detroit won game 1 easily. Jordan defied Detroit’s trap in game 2( as Sam Vincent had 31 along with 36 from Jordan), but the games in Chicago proved the point. The Pistons took the Boston strategy from the 3rd game of the 1986 first round and made a culture of it. The result? In games 3 and 4, the Bulls could not score over 80 as the Pistons took a 3-1 lead. Then, in game 5, Jordan showed some of his frustration with an elbow that knocked the hated Isiah Thomas(some say intentionally) out of the game. Thomas, though, would return to help the Pistons eliminate the Bulls out of the playoffs 102-95. Still, the season had been an unqualified success. Jordan had more or less been deified in public, and the Bulls had a host of youngsters to use for future success or potential trade. The Bulls would opt for the second choice. Check out the best bookmakers!
Charles Oakley had been a very valuable player. Through hard work, he had become the best rebounder in the NBA(to complement Jordan’s scoring). He was also extremely tough, and he served as a bodyguard whenever they played the Pistons(having recently taken them on in an on-court brawl). Moreover, he was loved by both Collins and Jordan. Management, however, was not enthralled.
Oakley in some ways had exposed the Bulls dysfunction. Always outspoken, he would criticize the Chicago offense which essentially was to give the ball to Michael. Let Michael create, and be ready for a bail outshot if necessary. Even though he was Jordan’s best friend and protector on the team, Oakley saw the eventual failure in this strategy. He would say” how are we supposed to make shots when we are not used to shooting”? Management took that as criticism and made Oakley available in trade discussions. Management felt a center that could score in the paint was needed, and they looked to the Big Apple for a solution. New York Knicks star Patrick Ewing wasn’t available, but his backup Bill Cartwright was. So Chicago secretly entered negotiations that would last most of the second half of 87-88. Finally, the day before the draft(06-27-88), the trade was finalized. The problem? Jordan happened to be with Oakley attending the Tyson-Spinks fight, and was unaware that the trade even happened. He felt betrayed by this, as this was one more reason to distrust Krause. Plus, they had not drafted Joe Wolf supposedly because of back problem potential, but Cartwright? Jordan hadn’t been impressed with Cartwright’s shooting style, which resembled a swooping crane. Plus, he knew enough to know Cartwright could not stay on the court. Once practices started, he then noticed Cartwright had abominable reflexes. He started throwing zip passes to Cartwright’s face to emphasize this. Jordan in the fall of 1988 was a decidedly unhappy man.
He was not alone. Pippen required back surgery and would miss most of the first month of the season. He did not trust the team trainer Pfeil(no one did), and he and Grant began to resent some of the “Jordan rules “ within the team. Jordan would miss a game, and the team did not require him to come to practice as he recovered. Grant, thrust into a starting role, was a better all around player than Oakley but nowhere near the rebounder or enforcer Jordan wanted from that position. Jordan, in fact, had even less respect for Grant than Cartwright. He began lobbying management to get rid of Grant(whom he called “dumb”) for then New Jersey Net Buck Williams. But the person most unhappy was Collins.
With Jordan, the youngsters, and the Center who was supposedly the missing piece, Collins was tightly wound. He sensed Pippen and Grant were beginning to tune him out. Also, winning was now expected instead of a pleasant surprise. He could not go to management, as he and Krause were now bitter enemies. He secretly suspected his assistant Phil Jackson was plotting with Krause to replace him. Like Jordan, he had little respect for Cartwright’s game and in fact had concerns on how to coach the position itself. Finally, he had cast his situation too much in Jordan’s favor. He sided with Jordan thinking this would help keep his job, but it really alienated him from his bosses and caused most of the team to lose respect for him. Even Jordan himself privately expressed doubts” A young Coach”. Lastly, a particular “Jordan Rule” would cause major problems for Collins.
On December 23rd, 1988, the Bulls faced the expansion Charlotte Hornets. Of course, by now Jordan was a rock star ten times over, and this was his first pro game in his home state. Since this was the holiday season, the idea of traveling back to Chicago after this game was hardly enticing. So, Jordan requested that practice be canceled after the game’s conclusion so that way he would not have to leave Carolina. Collins tacitly agreed until the game’s outcome. The Bulls would lose to the 6-17 Hornets, and after the game, a dejected Bulls team would watch Collins write “ Practice at the MultiPlex, 10 am”. Jordan was enraged. So, the next morning, as the team prepared for the flight, a frantic Collins noticed Jordan was M.I.A. So, he sent Pfeil to Jordans suite; Jordan told Pfeil that he wasn’t traveling back to Chicago just because Collins was angry. He made plans, and he could tell Collins just that. Pfeil did just that and Collins said that if Michael would come for just five minutes, the practice would be canceled. But he had to show up or else this would not look good. Told this, Jordan said, “five minutes and I am gone”. So, as Jordan arrived, and out of breath Collins said as a holiday gratuity he was canceling practice. Jordan walked away, and John Paxson noticed Jordan wasn’t wearing socks. Going to December in blistering, snowy Chicago with no socks? The players knew why Collins canceled practice.
Collins had more to deal with than the team’s resentments toward Jordan’s rock star status. On December 17th, the Bulls traveled to Milwaukee to play the Bucks. In the first half , Collins would be ejected after arguing with referee Walter Rooney. Jackson took over; Collins would leave an explicit set of instructions for Jackson to follow. Instead, he focused on defense and the Bulls turned a 9 point halftime deficit into a 19 point victory. Collins was livid and paranoid, and a few games later Jackson was sent away on a scouting trip. He would receive a call from Krause that he should stay with the team for the rest of the season no matter what Collins asked. Finally, a few days after that Milwaukee game Krause and his wife invited June Jackson to sit with them at a game. Collins was being pushed aside, but he had the last card he could pull.
By now, Jordan’s on-court popular rival was Magic Johnson(and Isiah). Both were point guards. Would Jordan be willing to play the point? The idea had been that while Jordan was the better individual player, Magic made guys around him better. Jordan would seeth at this(how hard was it to make Kareem and Worthy better?), but it was worth a try. Maybe, it would be a way to show that these “plow horseplayers” were not really that good. But, starting on March 11th, 1989, Jordan would play the point. The Bulls would win 8 of ten, including a sweep of their West trip for the first time. Don Nelson, then of the Golden State Warriors, would say “ I would have played you at that point the moment you were my player”. But the season would not end well; Once again, Jordan’s trust in his teammates would ebb, and the Bulls would lose 8 of their last ten games. Jordan then told Collins that he wished to return to shooting guard as the season ended, because the smaller point guards forced him to exert too much defensive energy. This was most likely a smokescreen. Collins, by now fearing for his job, would offer a compromise; If Jordan would play point for the first half of games, he could shoot the second half and freelance more. But, Jordan was too much of the team’s offense. Jordan nodded his head but took Collins’ suggestion as A.) Criticism B.) A lack of faith on Collins’ part in his(Jordan’s ) ability to deliver victory. The playoffs would test this compromise.
Chicago Bulls 1988-89 47-35 Doug Collins
Shooting /Point Guard- Michael Jordan 32.5 Pts/8.0 Reb/8.0 Ast
Point Guard- John Paxson 7.3 Pts/1.2 Reb/3.9 Ast,
Small Forward- Scottie Pippen , 14.4 Pts/6.1 Reb/3.5 Ast
Power Forward- Horace Grant 12.0 Pts/8.6 Reb/2.1 Ast
Center- Bill Cartwright 12.4 Pts/6.7 Reb/1.2 Ast,
Reserves: Craig Hodges, Sam Vincent, Will Perdue, Dave Corzine, Charles Davis, Jack Haley, Brad Sellers, Ed Nealy
Strengths: Jordan, youth, athleticism, speed, coaching talent. At their best, Chicago possessed the ability of a devastating fast break. Jordan was himself, Pippen with his long swooping strides was emerging as a transition threat, and Grant was the fastest man in the league at his size. Although not complete, the Bulls had both a youth movement and a core to build upon for the future. Jordan had another magnificent season as there was now a “new Jordan”. A point guard who not only challenged Magic Johnson for most triple-doubles (which he certainly enjoyed) and also finally received accolades for making the team better(which he liked even better). The first game he played point guard against Indiana had shown how devastating the “New Bulls” could be. Jordan would get a triple-double, and the Bulls would win by 32. It was this Bulls version that was both the envy and scourge of the league. Another example had been when the Bulls faced the two-time champion LA Lakers. Jordan would get 42, and Pippen had solved the mystery of Laker forward James Worthy as he was too quick for him. In Collins, they had a coach that was good at X’s and O’s but even better at the rhythm of the game. Assistant John Bach would say that if calling timeouts (and knowing when to do so) was an art, then Collins was the greatest ever. In Jackson, the staff had a future great and in Morice “Tex” Winter they had the most influential offensive strategist in NBA history. This team was well rounded.
Weaknesses: Too much Jordan internal organization dysfunction, inexperience, mental toughness, discipline.
As Collins knew, Jordan’s brilliance obscured his usage rate. The more observant teams(like Detroit), understood that you had to force Jordan to lose confidence in his teammates. This then would expose the secret(but very real) self-doubts Jordan often had then, such as his jump shot. As the examples with Krause and Jackson show, Collins felt virtually alone (save Bach) in who to trust within the organization. He distrusted Jackson, despised Krause, and treated Winter as cheap antique furniture to avoid unless you wanted physical injury. Also, no one on the Bulls had advanced(playing wise) beyond the second round. They would (including Jordan) have to learn about playing at that level in the NBA. Pippen would (along with Sellers, by now a bit player Jordan wanted to get rid of) remain psychologically fragile. Cartwright and Paxson were strong, but neither had shown they could stay healthy for a season. In addition, Jordan trusted Paxson, but he reviled Cartwright. New addition Craig Hodges would wow the team with his 3 point shooting. Then he would annoy them because that was his sole strength. Disciplined wise, the team would watch opponents execute an offensive play to success and then try the play itself. There was no cohesiveness, and this affected Grant more than anyone. Already, he was something of a whipping boy, being blamed for poor rebounding performances. The coaching staff(Bach was close to Grant) realized that the team (save Jordan) would rally to Grant’s emotional outbursts; He was generally a good guy, and so he served as a rallying cry. But Grant ( along with Pippen) had tired of Collins’ verbal abuse, and they as the season advanced began to tune him out. Going to the postseason, they looked like a disoriented squad.
Eastern Conference QuarterFinals Cleveland Cavaliers 3-2
The irony is that for most of his career Jordan hated playing in Cleveland. The irony would grow even greater in his retirement since the only man to challenge his popularity was then a 4 year old kid living 30 minutes away. Long before that, Jordan collaborator Spike Lee would ask why Cleveland and not Detroit? Jordan would respond that the fanbase would actually cheer players getting injured. Maybe. Anyway, the Cavaliers had what many were touting as the team of the future(Magic Johnson among them). What was worse is the Cavs were the surprise team of the year(at least in the East) with 3 All-Stars, a Jordan like guard in Ron Harper, and a 6-0 record against the Bulls. The Cavs played most unlike Detroit; Instead of crippling triple teams, the Cavs played clean, single team coverage on Jordan. The most humiliating of those losses had been the season’s final game; resting their starters(the Bulls played theirs, including Jordan), the Cavs would win 90-84. With this body of work, not a single prognosticator picked the Bulls to win the series. Did Jordan trust his teammates to play differently? Not really, but he trusted himself and felt Cleveland’s defensive schemes were an insult(he felt to his core Harper could not guard him). He predicted that the Bulls would win the series in 4 games. This bought hilarious laughter.
Game 1 Sweep my Butt
The Bulls jumped out to a 24-14 first-quarter lead. Pippen would score 22 points on a perfect(4-4) night of three-point shooting. He perfectly complemented Jordan’s 31 points to go along with 11 assists. The Bulls would shoot almost 80% from 3 point shooting as they coasted to a 95-88 victory. Despite that 6-0 regular-season record, the Cavs had the disadvantage of not being completely healthy come playoff time. All-Star Point Guard Mark Price was not available for this game. During a timeout, Jordan told the announcers at the scorer’s table “sweep my butt”
Game 2- Out of Control
With Price back, Harper would benefit as he would outplay Jordan; Really, Jordan would outplay himself as he had 30 points and 10 assists along with 7 turnovers. But this time his teammates didn’t deliver; They would shoot just 33% of their threes and 41% for the game. Harper would offset Jordan’s 30 with 31 of his own. After trailing after one quarter, the Cavs would tie the series by winning each quarter thereafter.
Game 3- I have to do this on my own
Like 1988, Jordan played brilliantly at home vs the Cavs in the playoffs. He would get 44 points with 10 assists, and Grant and Pippen would combine for 28 rebounds. It was an aggressive performance on all corners for Chicago as they opened up with a 35-20 at the end of the first quarter. Though the Cavs would again chip away, it was not enough to make up for the big deficit and the Bulls would win, 101-94 for a 2-1 series lead. Jordan’s prediction was now within reach.
Game 4- A missed opportunity
In a close nip and tuck game, Jordan would get 50 points as the game went into overtime. Finally, the Cavalier trio of All Stars ( Brad Daughtery, Larry Nance, and Price) would play well at the same time. Price would get 24, Daughtery 17 rebounds, and Nance would get a team high 27. Jordan, once again exploded for 50, but he would never remember this game fondly. He would miss a key jumper, and then two free throws(while Daughtery converted his). He would finally foul out as the Chicago crowd and team was silent as the Cavs evened the series at two. The two teams would head back to Cleveland.
Game 5- Hey, Bulls win, they win
With the season on the line for both teams, this would perhaps be the most famous ever NBA first round playoff game. The lead changed 9 times, as Jordan followed the “point” compromise. In the first half, he played the classic point role; He dished and distributed as every single Bull starter would get double figures. But in the 2nd half, he would get 30 points as he looked to end the Cavs season. Harper, Price, and Craig Ehlo would get 20 points, including a beautifully executed layup by Ehlo with 3 seconds left. The Bulls called timeout, and Collins inexplicably called a play for Dave Corzine. Collins explained that they wouldn’t be looking for a shot by Corzine, and Jordan exploded. “Gimme the f..kin ball”, was the response. So, Collins would draw up the desired play, and Jordan hit a hanging jumper as time expired. Known now as the “shot” , it would send both franchises in opposite directions. By 1991, the Cavs had yet to beat Chicago again and would miss the playoffs entirely. Meanwhile, the Bulls were on their way to the Big Apple, to face the New York Knicks.
Eastern Conference SemiFinals New York Knicks 4-2
The Knicks had been something of a surprise . With Larry Bird being shelved with ankle surgery, the Atlantic Division was wide open. And the Knicks had had a gimmick style of play. They ran a style of defense called the “Pitino Press”, in which they double teamed all over the court opposing offenses. On offense, they became perhaps the first team to use the three point shot as a weapon, to compliment their superstar center Patrick Ewing. They caused matchup problems for the league. For instance, Detroit had the league’s best record and did not win a single regular season game against New York. But things were different against Chicago. For one, Ewing and Charles Oakley were “friends” of Jordan, and Oakley especially had mixed feelings competing against a man he practically considered a brother. Though not as close, Ewing shared an agent with Jordan,and clearly did not have Jordans stardom (despite playing in the nation’s media capital). Furthermore,the Bulls had a secret Cartwright weapon. He happened to know Ewing’s moves and psychology better than anyone. Last, Ewing was virtually the only obvious win matchup the Knicks had. He would have to play at Jordan-like levels or at least command a double team to allow his team the best opportunity to win. Collins and the coaching staff knew that relying on 3 point shooting in playoff games spelled doom. In short, despite the home court disadvantage, the Bulls matched up well with the Knicks. With Pitino rumored to be seeking a college gig, the Knicks looked to be more than vulnerable. That coupled with Jordan’s love of playing in New York, the Bulls loved their chances.
Game 1 Stealing One
The Bulls would steal game one for the second consecutive series. The Knicks had led by as much as 12, but in this game Jordan’s teammates stepped up. Craig Hodges would get 24 off wide open shots, and every other starter had double figures. Ewing, was largely average(22 points) as the game spoiled a good performance by forward Johnny Newman. Meanwhile, Jordan would get the obligatory triple double and score all 11 of the teams over time points. The Bulls would win 120-109.
Game 2- Bull Out
Jordan would only get 15 in this one. The Knicks, playing with a sense of urgency, would get 20 points and 16 assists from their own all star guard Mark Jackson as they evened the series at 1.
Game 3- Jordan Air Force
Supposedly, Jordan would have hip issues coming into this game. Pitino, though, publicly called it fake and so this was the backdrop for the game. Jordan was magnificent with 40 points and one assist short of another triple double. Ewing again was ordinary(19 points). This game was essentially over by halftime as the Bulls routed the Knicks 111-88.
Game 4- Happy Mother’s Day Mom
With Mrs. Delores Jordan in attendance, Jordan would put on a show for his mother. Ewing, meanwhile, would have a paltry 10 points as Jordan (47 points) and a vengeful Cartwright(21 points) would lead the Bulls to a 2nd consecutive blowout victory. The CBS announcers, in honor of Mother’s day, would make Mrs. Jordan the player of the game.
Game 5- Last stand for the New Yorkers
Back in New York, Jordan was once again fantastic. He would get 38 points . But finally, Ewing and Oakley showed up. Ewing would get 32 and 11 points, while Oakley would get 18 points and 13 rebounds. That and the New York press would put the Knicks up by 17 to close the third quarter. A late Bulls run made the game seem closer than it was, as the Knicks won 121-114 to close the series 3-2.
Game 6- See you in Detroit
Ewing and Jackson were good enough in game 6, as each put up 22 points. Along with Gerald Wilkins’s 22, this would keep the Knicks within reach. Then, Pitino would pull an old Red Auerbach trick. He would put in 1989 Slam Dunk champ Kenny “Skywalker” Walker in on Pippen. Up to that point, Pippen had played well with 19 points. With about 2 minutes left in the third, Walker and Pippen would get into a fight and both would be ejected. The tradeoff clearly favored the Knicks; With Pippen out, the game would be close as the Knicks pulled to within 4. Then the unthinkable happened. Trent Tucker, reserve guard, would execute a four-point play that tied the game at 111. Jordan fouled, would convert both free throws for another 40. A wild three-point miss by Newman would end the Knicks season, 113-111. In the post-game, Collins would address the doubts about beating Detroit. He would say,” With Michael, I always love our chances”. The Bulls had already achieved the improbable. Would Detroit be the next victim? The Bulls had won only 1 of their last 12, but then again no one anticipated a run this deep into the playoffs.
Eastern Conference Finals Detroit Pistons 2-4
Game 1 Bulls 94, Pistons 88
The Bulls would catch the flat-footed Pistons not ready. They would take as much as a 24 point lead in the second quarter. Detroit, though, was neither New York or Cleveland. They were a mature, behemoth who knew exactly how to play(and frustrate) the Bulls. But a 6-day layoff and a red hot Jordan were too much for the Pistons in this game. Though they made a run(with a brief lead), it wasn’t enough. Jordan’s 32 was matched by Pippen’s double-double, and strangely the Piston strength was not present in this game. Detroit’s guard trio is the best in the history of the NBA, but in this game Thomas, Dumars, and Vinnie Johnson shot 11-45. The rest of the bunch could not make up for this, and the Bulls had their third consecutive game 1 upset on the road.
Game 2 Bulls 91, Pistons 100
A game of Strengths
The Bulls only had three scorers(Jordan, Grant, Pippen) in this game. Grant would be sensational on the boards, with 20. Meanwhile, Detroit would also have 3(Thomas, Dumars, Johnson). Other than that, the game was evenly played. But Thomas would outscore Jordan, but he was wise enough to not give Jordan any competitive ammunition. He would say”, any battle directly between me and Jordan he wins. Any battle between Detroit and Chicago, we should win. That’s what happened tonight”.
Game 3 Bulls 99, Pistons 97
One more miracle
This game was even more unusual than game 2. Until 7 minutes left in the game, it had been all Detroit. By now, homegrown Mark Aguirre of Detroit was intimidating Pippen(who had 7 points) while Johnson was very good(19 points). Meanwhile, Jordan was scoring easily, but he had now once again abandoned the compromise to play point. He was now shooting at will, and the Pistons despite the poor play of Thomas (2-8) and Dumars (3-8). Then, Isiah noticed a wind of change. It wasn’t that noticeable, but soon Jordan was scoring without resistance. An 89-75 lead was tied with seconds left. The Pistons called a pick and roll screen for Thomas and Bill Laimbeer; The call was an offensive foul. The Bulls had one more chance. With 3 seconds left, Jordan would hit a bank shot for the lead. Detroit would miss the buzzer-beater, and the Bulls would again take a 2-1 series lead. Afterwards, Collins would say “That was for Michael and everyone else to get the f..k out the way”. Detroit coach Chuck Daly, though, would target Isiah as the man who would need to exert himself more if Detroit was to establish supremacy. Check out the latest gambling news!
Game 4- Bulls 80, Pistons 86
Before the game, Thomas would tell Daly that the Bulls would not get 80 in this game. The Bulls, though, picked up where they left off in game 3. They took a 23-18 lead at the end of one. But the Pistons finally remembered their strength. They needed to outhustle and outmuscle the Bulls and pound Jordan whenever he drove to the basket. The Pistons had concluded the same in the 1988 Finals going into game 4 against the LA Lakers; Now, they would pound and intimidate Grant and Pippen. The Bulls, though, were confident as they had only lost one home game in the playoffs. But the Pistons were nothing relentless. They would box out and outrebound the Bulls 56-40. Thomas, with a broken wrist, would shoot 9-20 and get 10 rebounds. This would show that the Pistons were winning in the trenches, the most powerful part of their arsenal as a team. Jordan had 23, but this was (compared to game 3) an ordinary performance as it was half his game 3 output. The Pistons simply beat up the Bulls in this game and tied the series at two. Collins, though, was concerned. Once again, Jordan was too much of the Bulls offense. He had pretty much-abandoned playing point and the other players were uninvolved in the offense. He instructed Jordan to return to playing point to keep everyone else involved. Jordan took this as criticism. He decided he’d show Collins better than he could tell him.
Game 5 Bulls 85, Pistons 94
Jordan would decide to prove to Collins that the rest of the team wasn’t ready. He would take a paltry 8 shots; with the tide of the series in the balance, taking shots this small was unbelievable. But Jordan was insulted by Collins, and so he let the team shoot. For the first time in memory, two other starters (Cartwright and Hodges) attempted more shots, and this spoiled a strong double double by Cartwright. Despite this, the Bulls would take a 8 point lead at the end of one as Detroit came out flat. Detroit, though, was in full “Bad Boys” mode, and they were going to chip bit by bit at this lead. With Jordan holding back, there was no one to stop the Piston avalanche. Hodges was outstanding with 5 3 pointers, but he was matched by Vinnie Johnson who had 22 off the bench. The Bulls would get only 60 points over the last 3 quarters, and they now trailed in the series for the first time in the playoffs. After the game, Jordan and Collins would give the standard responses about double teams, but both men knew better. On the bus back to Chicago, Jordan would attack Grant verbally. Grant, had one rebound, and so despite his own hesitancy, he would blame Grant for this loss as Detroit asserted supremacy. He would once again say that Grant should be evicted for Buck Williams. In tears, Grant would lunge at Jordan. It was not a happy ride back.
Game 6 Bulls 94, Detroit 103
The tide of this game would be determined early, as Pippen would suffer a concussion at the hands of Detroit’s Bill Laimbeer. Despite that, the Bulls played with a surge of emotion that produced an early 12 point lead. Jordan, once again awoke, would get 32 points and 13 assists. It was the best Jordan at point the entire series, but his most gorgeous move was several sequences after Pippen’s concussion. On a transition, he would save the ball from going out of bounce, get it back, and then throw up a wild reverse that had the CBS announcers yelling as if they were fans. Meanwhile, the bench of Sellers and Paxson played well, but the Pistons just began to wear the Bulls down. For the first time in the series, the Bulls began to look outclassed against Detroit. Meanwhile, like a locomotive, the Pistons just kept coming. And coming. And coming. Led by Isiah (33 points), The Pistons had this one wrapped up by 3 minutes left. Exhausted, Jordan would exit to a standing ovation and the amazement of the announcers. He had a magnificent season; The Pistons, though, were deeper and better and made a statement on their way back to the NBA Finals. Meanwhile, the Bulls showed that they were legitimately the second-best team in the East. Graciously, Jordan would shake the hands of Joe Dumars and say “ Bring back the bacon for the East”.
Epilogue: Despite the setback, the Bulls were still flush. They would have 3 # 1 picks in the upcoming draft. Also, all of their top players were 26 or under and none were yet in their prime. In the draft, the Bulls would add Ronald “Stacey” King and Benjamin Roy “B.J.” Armstrong Jr. Although neither was a star, both would become regular rotation players. This boded well for the Bulls. But a major ax was about to fall. With the deep, unexpected playoff run, Collins(and nearly everyone else) thought he job was secure. But Krause was nothing if not unconventional. He despised Collins by now, and he concluded that A.) He could not assert authority enough over Jordan B.) He lost the interest of Grant and Pippen C.) He was too emotionally fragile to coach the team past Detroit. Though it would take some weeks for him to make a final decision, he had largely concluded Collins had to go. He would call Jackson at the end of June and ask” How would you feel about being Head Coach”? Jackson was mildly surprised but eager to try, as he too saw a potential title contender on the cusp. Reinsdorff was on board since he knew Jackson would coach in the mold of the early 70s Knicks (defense, team-oriented); All that was left was to dismiss Collins. There was one problem. Collins, as a TV man, was very popular with the media and fans. Firing him after this successful run ( as it turned out, the Bulls reversed the fortunes of Cleveland and New York while handing the Pistons their only playoff defeats) would be very bad for public relations. The only thing to cure it would be a success. But Krause, unpopular anyways, decided enough was enough and called Collins in. Despite his in season paranoia, Collins came with his agent fully expecting a contract extension. He thought the playoff success was bringing everyone together with one destination. It was, but everyone who mattered decided the future would be without him. Jordan, ever loyal, didn’t speak for or against Collins being retained. And so, on July 6th, Paul Douglas Collins was relieved of his duties. Now, the nucleus and the coach were in place for the Bulls.
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