Part VI: Jordan's Bulls take a step forward, page 2
Michael Jordan claimed NBA MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, All-Star game MVP and slam dunk champion honors during the 1987-88 season, his fourth as a pro. His Bulls finally advanced beyond the postseason’s first round. But it was the additions of Scott
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Jordan scored 50 points in the Game 1 victory and then 55 in Game 2 in the classic protecting your home court strategy.
Cavs coach Lenny Wilkens, a Hall of Famer as a coach and player, would be forever bedeviled by Jordan. The Cavs thought they had the Jordan rules with a trio of shot blockers in Larry Nance, John Williams and Brad Daugherty to have the guards funnel Jordan toward. But there was no directing Jordan as he was just too quick for the strategy.
In Game 1, Ron Harper, the most athletic of the Cavs, was out with an ankle injury and Jordan was defended, in a manner of speaking, by Craig Ehlo. Harper said afterward Jordan never scored 50 on him. Jordan scored that 55 in Game 2 against Harper.
When would these guys learn to keep their mouths shut? Though Jordan loved it. The greater the challenge, the more fun to shut them up.
The young Cavs, who would be foil for Jordan for the next several years before finally breaking apart even as many had said they would be a better all around team than the Bulls, won Games 3 and 4 back home as Jordan had 38 and 44 points, respectively.
In Game 5, Collins decided to give Pippen his first start of the season in place of Brad Sellers to give the team more toughness and defense. It paid off, as Pippen made three crucial steals late along with scoring 24 points and Jordan finished with 39 points and the Bulls with a 107-101 victory and a trip to Detroit for the conference semifinals.
That’s what missing in the NBA today, rivalries like the Bulls and Pistons, born from regular season bitterness and nurtured in the playoff cooker. The Bulls/Pistons games in the 1980s were some of the best the NBA ever has seen and one of the best rivalries in league history.
But Jordan had been getting the upper hand, and coach Chuck Daly knew he had to do something. As great as Jordan was, he was even better against Detroit, spurred on by his belief in Thomas’ role in the alleged All-Star freezeout of 1985 and the Pistons players’ cheap shot tactics. Thus, the Jordan Rules were born going into the 1988 playoffs.
It also gave me a heck of a book title a few years later.
Daly’s assistants were Dick Versace and Brendan Malone, and with Daly they devised the so-called “Jordan Rules” defense that got so much attention as the teams played memorable playoff series in 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1991.
At its core, it was a helping defense with everyone having double teaming assignments depending on where Jordan was on the floor. But there were other defensive elements, many common in this era. Of course, another element was now having the defensive personnel to implement it. The defense was to zone up the middle with the big guys like Laimbeer, John Salley, Mahorn and James Edwards, and then use the electric Dennis Rodman as a weak side help defender and shot blocker when Jordan drove. The ploy also was to dare Jordan to give up the ball knowing his teammates were so young and inexperienced.
The Pistons won Game 1, but the Bulls stole home court advantage in Game 2 with a 105-95 victory in Detroit as Jordan had 36 points and his second straight game of 11 rebounds.
However, the defense was having its effect. Jordan never attempted more than 22 shots in any game in the series and was held to 25 or fewer points in the last three games, all Pistons wins as they took the series 4-1. Game 5 and the series ended quietly with a 102-95 Detroit win.
Jordan was named the league’s MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, All-Star game MVP and was slam dunk champion. He also led the league in scoring at 35 points per game. There was little doubt Jordan was now the greatest individual talent in the game. The question remained among some, though, whether that could translate into being the greatest winner.
The Bulls’ run was just beginning.