21 years ago today, Michael Jordan had the greatest half in NBA Finals history.
HoopsVibe Very Quick Call: Doesn't it seem like Michael Jordan was involved in every great Finals moment ever?
The Bulls defeated Portland 122-89 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on June 3rd, 1992. Michael Jordan, who finished with a game-high 39 points, set NBA Finals records for points scored in a half (35) and three-point field goals made in one half (6).
After the sixth made three-pointer, Jordan turned to the mid court TV camera and shrugged as if to say, “I guess everything’s going in.” Unknowingly, his shrug created one of the most indelible images in NBA history and added further to his legacy in the process.
The two teams appeared headed to face each other for most of the season and comparisons were made between Clyde Drexler and Michael Jordan throughout the season. Portland came out super hot to start the game, making their first seven field goal attempts, and took an eight point lead.
Then, Michael Jordan turned it on. Portland was leading by 1 at 45-44, but then Chicago went on a 22-6 run to grab a 66-51 halftime lead and take control, ultimately winning the game by 33 points.
"I started running for the three-point line; it felt like a free throw," Jordan famously said after the game. "I set another goal … a reasonable, manageable goal that I could realistically achieve if I worked hard enough. I approached everything step by step."
In any different era, the Portland Trailblazers squads of the early 90's would've walked away with at least one ring. The Seattle Supersonics of the late 90's would later feel the same sting of a Bulls team that is considered one of the greatest dynasties in NBA history.
The Bulls would go on to win the series in six games. Michael Jordan was named Finals Most Valuable Player for the second year in a row, to go with his sixth straight regular season scoring titles.
The NBA Finals are where new stars are born and new styles are formed.
HoopsVibe Very Quick Call: An entire year of league history is compressed into and remembered by the outcome of the NBA Finals.
2009-2010 LA Lakers vs. Boston Celtics - 7 Games
The NBA needed this Finals from a business standpoint as much as anything else. Interest in the game was waining and the league was struggling financially. So what was the best recipe to get the league to be relevant and exciting again? A classic match-up between the Lakers and Celtics, which the Lakers won.
1993-1994 Houston Rockets vs. New York Knicks- 7 Games
This was as grueling an NBA Finals in history. Both teams were rugged, relied on tough defense and games were low scoring. Every possession was hotly contested and featured even personnel match-ups across the board, most notably reigning MVP Hakeem Olajuwon versus Patrick Ewing. The Rockets prevailed and won back to back titles, starting with this one.
1987-1988 LA Lakers vs. Detroit Pistons - 7 Games
The Lakers won this series in the ultimate stylistic clash between the finesse "Showtime" Lakers and the physical, brutish Pistons. Between 1980-1989 the Lakers won five titles, including this series versus the Pistons.This series represented a shift in NBA style of play. Even though the Lakers won and continued their dominance in this series, the Pistons swept the Finals the following season against the Lakers and eventually won two and a row, giving birth to the "Bad Boys" and their imposing style, a style that would be picked up and empolyed by NBA teams moving forward.
1979-1980 LA Lakers vs. Philadelphia 76ers - 6 Games
This series was all about the emergence of Magic Johnson. Magic changed the NBA game forever as the Lakers "Showtime" style was born. Instead of plodding half court sets that had been the norm, the Lakers relied on the transition game and became the most dominant team of the era, changing the entire direction of the league.
1973-1974 Boston Celtics vs. Milwaukee Bucks - 7 Games
This series was littered with several future NBA Hall of Fame players who not only evolved their respective positions, but brought the game to a new level. The Bucks featured Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, while the Celtics had Dave Cowens and John Havlicek. Abdul-Jabbar was so dominant the Celtics frequently triple teamed him when he got the ball. The strategy paid off as the C's prevailed in seven games.
So it got me thinking: Who are the best one on one match-ups in NBA history?
Here are the first batlles that came to mind.
Shaquille O'Neal vs. Hakeem Olajuwon
Their match-up in the 1995 NBA Finals has been washed asunder by the tides of history, but at the time, this may have been the best duel I have ever witness. Hakeem was paying the best basketball of his career this season (in the playoffs particularly)and maybe the best stretch for any center in NBA history. Shaq led the NBA in scoring this season (29.3 ppg) and was in the midst of establishing himself as the most physically dominant center ever. In the Finals, Hakeem averaged 32.8 ppg and Shaq scored 28.0 ppg.
They played against each other 27 times, including 11 games in the playoffs of 1971 and 1972. In their first 11 meetings, Chamberlain was still able to (i.e. inclined to) score with Jabbar. In those first 11 games, Wilt averaged 22.8 ppg and 17.6 rebounds, while Kareem averaged 26.0 ppg and 15.6 rebounds.
50 ppg, 30.1 ppg over his career, 23 rebounds/game over his career, the only non-guard ever to lead the league in assists, 100 points in one game, the list goes on...Wilt was simply more dominating.
Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James
This is absolutely the most exciting match-up in the current NBA, with both players battling every night for supremacy. In five playoff games (last year's NBA Finals), KD outscored LBJ 30.6 ppg to 28.6 ppg. But James dominated in every other statistical category and also won the title, by a margin of 4-1. In 11 regular season match-ups it's the same story; Durant averages 29.0 to LBJ's 28.1, "Bron Bron" has the edge in rebounds, assists, steals and blocks and has won nine of the 11 games. "Durantula" has some work to do, potentially in this years NBA Finals.
Dominique Wilkins vs. Michael Jordan
Of their era, these were the two most athletically gifted, electrifying players. WIlkins at times, looked like he almost had too much energy for his body, while MJ was always smooooooth. In 45 career games against each other, Jordan won 27 while "Nique" won 18. MJ averaged 31.6, while Wilkins poured in 29.8 as both players had almost identical stat lines. In one playoff series that the Bulls swept, Jordan averaged 34.3, 6.7 rpg, 4.3 apg to Nique's 30.0, 5.3 rpg and 3.0 apg.
Kobe Bryant vs. Michael Jordan
The significance of this rivalry isn't as much about the head to head play, though that was extremely entertaining, but about what it meant to the league- was it not old MJ versus a young version of himself? Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan played each other 8 times, four when Jordan was with the Chicago Bulls and 4 when he was with the Washington Wizards. The Lakers won 5 of those games. Across these games, Bryant scored an average of 22.8 points, while Jordan scored 24.5 points.
With LeBron sidelined, Chalmers comes through to dominate the 4th quarter.
HoopsVibe's Very Quick Call: Mario will not be denied.
One thing Mario Chalmers has never lacked is confidence. On a team star studded with sure-fire Hall-of-Famers, he still humbly sees himself as a go-to option and in game 4 he showed the world why.
Game 4 was like a lot of the Thunder vs. Heat series, ugly, grinding, hard-nosed basketball. These are the types of games where it's tough for the refs to not get involved. On every play bodies are going flying. This is a Finals dominated by names like Wade, Durant, James, Westbrook, Bosh, and Harden, but Mario added Chalmers to the mix in a big way Tuesday night.
Chalmers came into a virtually tied game and dominated the 4th quarter wit h 12 points including a clutch layup with under a minute to go to push Miami on to victory. He ended the game with 25 points on 9-15 shooting and 3-9 from downtown. When LeBron went out of the game with cramps, it wasn't Wade, but Chalmers that took over the game. His confidence is perhaps his greatest strength. And although he's the 4th or 5th option on this high-powered offense, he knows how to turn it on when it counts. If Miami goes on to win the NBA Championship this year, let the record show it was Chalmers that brought them game 4.
HoopsVibe's Very Quick Call: Miami has the momentum up 2-1 and homecourt advantage. Maybe the King will finally be crowned.
The Heat started off strong building a 20-26 first quarter lead, but as we all know Oklahoma has a history of starting slow. The Thunder game roaring back winning the 2nd and 3rd quarters to set up the fourth quarter showdown we've all come to expect in these playoffs.
The Thunder didn't quite look like themselves going into the 4th. James Harden was having a horrible game with just 9 points on 2-10 shooting and Kevin Durant had sad a large portion of the 2nd and 3rd quarters with early foul trouble in the game.
On the other side of the ball, LeBron was able to get good looks largely inside the paint. When LeBron receives the ball from 17 feet and in, his shooting percentages go way up. In game three LeBron lived in the paint in the first half. This is a recipe for success as it give him more confidence in knocking down the jumper when it presents himself, but prevents his settling for long fade-away shots the Thunder are relieved to see him attempt.
In the 4th it was really anyone's game. The Heat build up a 7 point lead with about 5 minutes left and it looked like Miami would cruise to their second NBA Finals win, but 30 seconds and 2 Wade turnovers later it was a 1 point game. Sefolosha is a defensive machine and has proved capable of picking Wade's pocket multiple times late in games.
In the end Miami won it at the free throw line. It wasn't the most glamorous win in NBA history watching LeBron and Wade knock down free throws, but it was still a win. LeBron ended up with 29 points and 14 rebounds as Wade had 25 points. Durant had 25 points on limited minutes due to foul trouble and Russell Westbrook 19 points.
For the last two days, all we've heard about is how a non-call on a supposed "obvious" foul committed by LeBron James on Kevin Durant cost OKC a chance at tying, and possibly winning, game two of the NBA Finals.
HoopsVibe Very Quick Call: Non-calls go both ways, folks. Quit whining, OKC.
We know the Thunder are supposed to be the "Good Guys" and we know the Heat are the "Bad Guys" and that somehow the non-call at the end of the game makes LeBron even more of a villiain, but let's not let that cloud our sense of logic, people.
If we're going to venture into the always grey area of call vs. non-call, what about the obvious charge on Durant with 3:21 left where a blocking foul was called on Shane Battier in lieu of giving Durant his 6th foul and an early exit? You could FEEL the entire arena come to a standstill because everyone knew what they saw; a CHARGE, by definition. Watch it again here, it is an absolute textbook charge:
You could also feel the collective butthole of the referees pucker up because they HAD to make a call. Imagine if they would've made the correct call; for as hot as Durant was in the 4th there would have been no comeback for the Thunder, the game would've been over.
This is bigger than two missed calls; this all boils down to the prevailing hate for LeBron James. But why?
I've always fallen on the Kobe side of the "Kobe vs. LeBron who is better" argument, so I am no LBJ fanboy. But watching him absolutely CARRY the Heat this postseason has been amazing to watch. With no consistency from D-Wade, and an injured Chris Bosh, you see in a hurry how thin the Heat are in terms of talent and depth. If you put Nick Collison on the Heat RIGHT NOW, he'd start at power forward and offer more of an inside presence than anyone else. He's expected to score, rebound, bring the ball up the floor and then defend Russell Westbrook, a top five scorer. Durant, Westbrook and Harden have each other; LBJ gets Wade and Bosh on occasion.
Other than "The Decision", what has LeBron really done to make people dislike him? Guaranteeing winning six or seven titles didn't win him a lot of friends outside of Miami, but if you're a Heat fan isn't that EXACTLY what you want to hear? He makes his free throws, he never gets arrested. By and large it is safe to say he's a good dude; not a villain.
Even if the Heat win the series, LeBron will never "win". If we're going to speculate about the "No call" at the end of the game, then let's call it both ways.
Here are your position-by-position Finals matchups.
HoopsVibe's Very Quick Call: It all starts with Lebron vs. Durant. The matchup of the year. This is the head-to-head mathup everyone wants to see.
CENTER: Kendrick Perkins vs. Udonis Haslem.
Perkis is tough as nails, but isn't much of an offesnive threat. Haslem's been battling it out with Garnett for 7 games, so it's difficult to see Perkins bing any more intimidating that KG. Plus, Haslem has a mid-range jumper he can knock down. Edge: Heat.
POWER FORWARD: Serge Ibaka vs. Shane Battier or Chris Bosh.
Ibaka has always been regarded as a shot-blocking machine and with his recent addition of consistent mid-range shooter he is a true threat on both ends of the court. The real question is whether he can continue to shoot lights out or if his 11-11 night of shooting was a fluke. Bosh is still getting his legs under him, but dropping 17 points and 3 3-pointers in game seven is only going to help. Edge: even.
SMALL FORWARD: Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James.
Durant shoots the 3-pointer better than Durant, but will he be able to get the looks he needs with LeBron on him. LeBron is unstopable from 17-feet and in, but tends to settle for too many outside jumpers, instead of taking the ball to the rim. The real benefit of Durant is he is better at getting his entire team involved. LeBron's the MVP, but Durant is a better franchise player. Edge: Thunder (barely).
SHOOTING GUARD: Thabo Sefolosha vs. Dwyane Wade.
Dwayne Wade hasn't exactly been himself this playoffs. He's been putting up descent numbers, but never really taking over. Sefolosha will put the defensive clamps down on Wade, but Sefolosha lacks offensive skills Wade bring to the table. Edge: Heat.
POINT GUARD: Russell Westbrook vs. Mario Chalmers.
Chalmers is quick by normal standards and a descent shot, but Westbrook is lightening fast and a better shooter. Chalmers will have his hands full trying to keep Westbrook from penetrating at will. Edge: Thunder (By far).
Tyson Chandler has come a long way. Originally drafted by the Bulls in 2001, Chandler came directly out of high school and was teamed with Eddy Curry, another big man coming straight out of high school.
Who is Rick Carlisle? For a lot of NBA fans coming into the 2011 NBA playoffs, that was a tough answer. Sure, you knew he had coached a few teams in the past, but he was largely nondescript and unheralded; you knew his name but weren’t sure why, exactly.