Having begun his career under the guidance of Kevin Loughery then Stan Albeck and moving into the late eighties under Doug Collins the previously sleepy franchise had become a fixture in the playoffs. Under Doug Collins however, the Bulls management decided the team had gone as far as they could and needed a little shake up at the helm. Collins’ squads had gone 40-42, 50-32, then 47-35 and were unable to advance to the NBA Finals. In Doug’s last two seasons as head coach the Bulls were eliminated by the Bad Boys from Detroit in the Eastern Semi-Finals and the Eastern Conference Finals. Under first year coaching of Phil Jackson despite an eight game improvement the team still was subdued by a relentless Pistons squad in a tough seven game series. However as stated in Retrospective #1 the MJ led Bulls were not to be denied in 90-91 and won the first of six titles this article will look at the second.
A notable achievement in the first championship run was establishment of a club record 155 point effort against the Phoenix Suns the second highest scoring output ever, a link to the box score can be found here: http://www.basketball-reference.com/boxscores/199012040CHI.html. What is notable is that one may expect a plethora of scoring from MJ and justly so. While he did have a game high the number was a pedestrian 27, just about at his season average of 31.5. A review of this box score is a good launching point because it illustrates the depth of the Bulls’ rotation under the guidance of Phil Jackson. All five starters plus BJ Armstrong and Stacey King scored in double digits, Scottie Williams and Craig Hodges each scored 9 while Dennis Hopson contributed another eight. Horace Grant and Scottie Pippien each double-doubled (25 pts./12 rebs. & pts./11 asts.) Scotttie was one TO away from an ugly triple-double though. Bill Cartwright added 16 and 8, even Cliff Levingston in only 14 minutes contributed well with four points three assists, two rebounds and a block, finally Will Perdue’s six minutes netted four rebounds, two points, two assists, and a steal. This balance was attributable to Phil’s triangle offense which involved the post position as a focal point of the attack and is evidenced by six assists from the three centers (two each).
The season commenced with two stumbles out of the first three games. Notably we would then only lose back-to-back twice more on the season (Game One was a win over the Sixers followed by losses at Milwaukee and a rare home loss to the GS Warriors of post-Run TMC Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin remaining in place. On this season’s ‘circus trip,’ the Bulls would sweep six western teams including three OT periods two in future final’s opponent’s home of the Rose Garden in Portland Oregon. This continues the trend I spoke of in yesterday’s column. The second western swing is the time when the squad suffered b-2-b losses. These occurred at the beginning and end of our second long west-coast trip in SA/HOU and UTH/PHO (mid-January). As I said before the Texas teams often caused MJ led Bulls teams problems, ironically we were never destined a finals match-up with a Texas team as MJ was an outfielder for the Barons when Houston rose up in 93-94 and 94-95.
Since the Bulls had won nineteen out of twenty games going into that western swing they came out of that 2-4 road trip at a 39-9 season record well on the way to a dominate regular season mark of 67-15. A 28-6 finish maintained the aggressive +80% pace the Bulls had established early on. Again this is a trend the Jordan led teams of the nineties would continue. Season highlights included two long winning streaks of 13 and 14 games with three smaller ones of 5,6 & 8. Counterbalanced with three back-to-back losses as season long losing skids. In January the Bulls bounced back from a Jan. 3rd loss at Milwaukee by dropping 140 on the Nets the next night in the stadium. A unique feature of the regular season was a triple overtime loss in Utah to future back-to-back finals opponents the Jazz ineffably steered by former Bulls and Bulls coach Jerry Sloan. Indeed the team’s constant resilience was demonstrated by the stretch of games after the aforementioned western conference trip a run of win triplets interrupted by a solitary loss, then as winter’s frost is lessening in Chicagoland March opens with an eight game winning streak a loss and a six game win streak for 14 up and one down from March 5th through April 3rd.
The final eight games saw two losses at Boston and Cleveland. Again, I emphasize the team throughout the regular season employed a deep and versatile bench featuring the three point shooting of BJ Armstrong and Craig Hodges, the energy of power forwards Cliff Levingston and Scottie Williams plus the two bench centers Stacey King and Will Perdue permitting Phil to limit the aging Bill Cartwright’s minutes and keeping him fresh for the playoffs. The Cavalier’s loss is a good example of this as Bill was kept to twenty minutes, bench guys Cliff Levingston and Scottie Williams each equaled or exceeded this total. Additionally Perdue and Stacey King combined for thirty minutes backing up the low post or going big occasionally keeping two centers on the court at one time. The nuance here is Cleveland was deep in the post themselves with Brad Daugherty, Larry Nance, Mike Sanders and Danny Ferry rotating in. They would prove to be a formidable Eastern Conference opponent on late May.
The playoffs began with a sweep of current playoff combatant Miami Heat. After that things get tougher (even Miami featured a physical match-up with center Rony Seikaly and Grant Long and Glen Rice at forward positions). The next opponent was New York Knicks led by Patrick Ewing and the constant heckling of a courtside Spike “Mars Blackmon” Lee. This was one of a seemingly annual rite of passage confrontations between New York and Chicago. It was fun times two of the top three markets, the league’s marquee player against one of the top centers in the game going to war with a trip to the Conference Finals at stake. Make no mistake these series, (there would be three more similar series in the mid-nineties,) were physical tests of endurance and inevitably kept the victor primed for their next opponent. Of course New York would fall to Houston after finally beating a Jordan-less Bulls squad in 93-94.
These Knicks also featured our former first round selection Charles Oakley, Xavier McDaniel and Anthony Mason in the low post. Even their guards Mark Jackson and Jon Starks most notably were quite physical in these contests. This series went the distance with each team winning a game on the road during the first four games. Another unique feature was that these Bulls lost one of their two initial home games in the last three series of this Championship run. Against the Knicks only twice would a team score in triple digits at one each. Recall this was the era when it was the norm to score big and the NBA would transition at least in the East into a more defense minded league later in the decade. The series ended with the teams trading home court wins and Chicago moving on to a match-up versus fellow lakeside dweller Cleveland.
I previously introduced the Cavaliers who featured decent low post players complimenting Craig Ehlo, Mark Price, and future Bull current TV analyst Steve Kerr in the guard rotation. They also boasted the talents of Hot Rod Williams coming off the bench at F-C. This formidable opponent during this era took game two in a stunning 107-81 rout. However the Cavaliers played their best game of the series in Chicago losing three of the next four games and sending the Bulls to a finals match with the Portland Trail Blazers. Pre-series hype featured Jordan versus Clyde “the Glide” Drexler. The announcers and analysts picked a fight the ‘Blazers in retrospect would’ve preferred they hadn’t. They said MJ had a weakness in that he had no reliable outside shot.
Mike came out raining threes all over the Trail Blazers en route to a six of ten shooting performance leading him to a thirty-nine point night and setting the tone for the series. The Portland franchise would bounce back two nights later led by Terry Porter and Clyde Drexler with 26 and 24 respectively, to overcome another thirty-nine point effort of MJ. This game went OT and Chicago got its threes from a more likely source as Paxson made four of seven from downtown. However the engine of MJ was not to be denied continuing the Bulls trend on no back-to-back losses since mid-January MJ and the Bulls took games one and three in the Rose Garden and closed out their second title in Chicago in Game Six. This season’s run went a long way in establishing Jordan’s legacy. He led the season in scoring, was an All Star starter regular season and post season MVP for the second year in a row. He was also first team NBA all-defensive team-member and first team All-NBA.