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Rice: "[Jordan] came in and told me, 'Keep stroking.'"
Rice couldn’t advance beyond the semifinals of the Three-Point Shootout, failing to overcome the strong showing of eventual champ Steve Kerr and runner-up Tim Legler. He went straight to the winner’s circle the next day, thanks to his re-heated stroke and a cast of teammates more than willing to keep him well fed. It was a classic example of how the shooter’s rhythm is a fickle quality but how lethal it can be when it appears.
By the time the East had its 132-120 victory, Rice had set records for most points in a quarter (20 in the third) and half (24), en route to a game-high 26, and of course, the MVP trophy. Although he entered the game as a substitute and managed just two points in the first half, Rice was the game’s big story by the time the day ended. He made 4-of-7 three-pointers and 10-of-24 overall.
“He shot with ease,” says Penny Hardaway, who started at guard and was then with Orlando. “He never struggled. His form was perfect and effortless from anywhere.”
Not that Rice was all alone on the stage. His East teammates were pretty impressive, too, especially Chicago’s Michael Jordan. Content to play a supporting role as Rice heated up, Jordan still managed 14 points, but his 11 rebounds and 11 assists gave him the first triple-double in All-Star Game history. Hardaway joined Vin Baker as the East’s second-highest scorer, with 19. Baker added a game-high 12 rebounds.
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“A lot of guys back then didn’t have egos,” Hardaway says. “It was about having a good time first, and if somebody got hot, we would feed him. Everybody thought the first three quarters were a show, and in the fourth, it was time to play. That was the unwritten rule back then. The East had good teams, and it wanted to win.”
The prelude to the game was interesting. Jordan received 2,451,136 votes, a record total, not a surprise exactly but certainly an impressive feat. Then there were the stand-ins. Five players (Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Patrick Ewing, Clyde Drexler) who were voted or selected for the team opted out due to injury, opening the doors for the annually neglected and the new stars—Joe Dumars, Detlef Schrempf, Chris Webber, Chris Gatling and 20-year old second-year man Kevin Garnett took their spots.
The main event kicked off on Sunday, and the West looked ready to avenge the previous year’s 129-118 defeat by bolting to a 34-21 lead after one quarter, thanks to seven points by SuperSonic Gary Payton. The lead swelled to 53-30 in the second, thanks to hot shooting from the Lakers’ Eddie Jones, Minnesota’s Tom Gugliotta and Golden State’s Latrell Sprewell. Jones was particularly impressive, scoring all nine points in a 9-4 run that bridged the first and second quarters. Sprewell, who ended with a West-high 19 points, did his damage from the perimeter.
But like Hardaway said, the early part of an All-Star Game doesn’t indicate what the outcome will be. With the West threatening to pull away, Jordan, Hardaway and Hill went to work. Hardaway teamed with Jordan on the defensive end, and Hill partnered with MJ to cash in on the West’s turnovers. All three scored seven in a 23-4 run which narrowed the margin to 60-57 at the half and set the stage for Rice’s big third stanza.
The big play came with 41.7 seconds left. Hill was shooting a couple of free throws, and Jordan stood at midcourt, chatting amiably with West guard Mitch Richmond of Golden State. All of a sudden, Jordan took off for the basket, leapt high over the unsuspecting West rebounders to collect Hill’s wayward second free throw and stuffed it home with two hands, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Even Jordan seemed a little impressed. He skipped and laughed his way back downcourt.
When the second half began. Rice had scored just two points in the first two quarters and made a mere 1-of-7 shots. Baker gave the East a 61-60 lead with a couple dunks early in the third, and then Rice went to work. He made 8-of-11 field goals, including four three pointers in just five tries. It didn’t take long for Rice’s teammates to realize something special was happening, and it was up to them to help keep it going.
“[Jordan] came in and told me, ‘Keep stroking,’” Rice said.
“He said, ‘I’m going to get you the ball. All the guys are going to be looking for you.’”
Even though Rice had struggled in the Three-Point Shootout the night before, his outburst in the game itself was hardly surprising, given the roll he had been on heading into All-Star. Rice had hit opponents for 30 or more in 12 of his last 20 games and topped 40 three times during that stretch. His performance was even more impressive when one considers the style of play that ruled at the time—strangulating defense and a variety of disguised zones designed to stifle offense—and Rice’s perimeter-oriented game that relied primarily on his jump shot. For Rice to have such sustained success in that climate was remarkable and watching him shine in the free-form All-Star atmosphere was a delight.
“Sometimes you see the basketball going in before you release it; you feel everything you throw up is going in,” he said. “And it’s one of the greatest feelings you can imagine. I love to shoot.”
Rice was outstanding from long range, but he mixed it up a bit. He showed the ability to do some damage inside by hammering home three dunks on fastbreaks, as all of the East players tried to set him up. When he converted a Webber pass into a jam, Rice capped a 15-minute, 60-19 East binge that had broken open the game.
“I’m happy for Glen,” Jordan said afterwards. “He didn’t do well in the three-point shooting yesterday. He wanted to do well. Today, it was an encore for him, so I’m happy for him.”
Rice’s 20 points in the period broke Philadelphia guard Hal Greer’s record (19), set in 1968. By scoring 24 in a half, Rice surpassed the previous mark of 23, owned by Wilt Chamberlain and Tom Chambers.
By the end of the third quarter, the East held a 97-87 advantage. Though the West made a slight charge in the final 12 minutes, the game had been decided by Rice’s lethal right hand. The final was 132-120, giving the East the second of what would be three consecutive triumphs.
All thanks to a heaping serving of hot Rice.