CHICAGO – One of the great things about looking back on a large period of time is to see the little moments that pop back into your memory.
“The Last Dance” has been full of them, with a few being expanded on more than others in the first six of the ten-episode series on ESPN. Some might even argue that more time should have been spent on a particular moment during this time.
One of those last Sunday was the Bulls’ big comeback to clinch their second championship in the 1992 NBA Finals against the Blazers. Down 15 points to start the fourth quarter with both Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen on the bench, the reserves sparked a rally that ended with a 97-93 victory and a repeat title.
It received only a small mention last Sunday, but it’s a memory that stood out to a number of people who remember the excitement of the Bulls clinching a title for the first time on their homecourt.
While that was in my mind as well, a more prominent moment was on my mind from the run that would take place the next year. In the midst of controversy surrounding the best player in the NBA, and in the midst of a difficult battle for the Eastern Conference title came perhaps the best game of the entire dynasty.
Of all the Bulls’ six championship runs, this series against the Knicks was the most doubt I’d had in the team winning, considering what a physical, formidable foe they’d become.
June 2, 1993 wasn’t an NBA Finals game or even a series clincher – yet it would have a significant impact on getting the team a third-consecutive championship.
It was Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Knicks on a Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. For the first time since the 1990 East Finals, the Bulls lost the first two games of the series on the road, yet had rallied back to win two at Chicago Stadium to tie the series.
Despite their pedigree as a two-time champion, New York was full galvanized in the style of second year head coach Pat Riley and was poised to knock the Bulls from the top of the league. For Phil Jackson’s team to advance to the NBA Finals, they’d have to beat the Knicks once at home, and doing so before a Game 7 would be ideal.
That was a rare feat in the 1992-1993 campaign, where the Knicks were 41-4 in regular season and playoff games at the Garden. Oh, and this was also occurring during Jordan’s media blackout after controversy swirled about his gambling before a Game 2 loss earlier in the series.
The contest was tight all the way, with the Knicks leading by one at the half and the Bulls by three at the end of the third quarter. New York would grab an advantage in the final two minutes, but BJ Armstrong’s corner three-pointer with 1:16 left put the Bulls up 95-93.
The competition level was fierce, with each team playing up to the level of the importance of the contest. Then in the final seconds came “The Stand.”
With the Knicks still down one with 15 seconds left, Patrick Ewing drove inside and dished it to Charles Smith, who had a look at the game-tying bucket. Horace Grant rose up to block the first attempt, yet the New York forward got it again but was stripped by Jordan before getting up a shot.
Again, Smith got the rebound, but this time it was Scottie Pippen that knocked down the try. This time Grant was able to corral the loose ball and push it out to Jordan in the corner. With the Knicks trying to foul him, Jordan pushed it up the floor then found Armstrong racing downcourt and hit him with a pass in stride.
He’d put in the layup just before the horn to make it a 97-94 Bulls’ victory. A jubilant team, led by Jordan, hurried through the hallway located behind the scorer’s table in joy as they took a 3-2 series lead.
It was the first time the Knicks had been defeated at home since January 28th of that year, and for the record, my television gave out at halftime. This epic game I watched on a tiny Sony portable television, and in the process watched the third march to a championship continue for the team.
Two days later, the Bulls beat the Knicks in Game 6 at Chicago Stadium 96-88 to clinch their third-straight Eastern Conference title. They became just the third team in the past 15 years at that point to rally from a 2-0 deficit to win a series.
A few weeks later, the Bulls won their third-consecutive championship, completing another incredible run of basketball. Yet that triumph over the Suns might not have happened if it weren’t for “The Stop” on June 2nd of that year.
It was a memorable moment and a historic venue that produced a rare NBA feat. It may not have been profiled much in “The Last Dance,” but in my memories, no game was better.