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10 must-watch 1990s NBA Finals games on NBA App

The 'Bad Boys'-era Pistons, prime Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon and more mark these classic NBA Finals contests.

Michael Jordan and the Bulls won 6 of the NBA’s 10 championships in the 1990s.

The “Bad Boys”-era Pistons going back-to-back.

Hakeem Olajuwon denying John Starks’ last-second 3-pointer.

The Bulls’ dynasty concluding upon Michael Jordan’s herculean final sequence.

Each are a pivotal part of the 1990s, a decade that enriched the NBA Finals’ historical tapestry. But beyond those unforgettable moments in time were some the most riveting games ever played on the championship stage. For the first time, straight out of the vault, all NBA Finals games from the 1990s are now available on the NBA App, free to watch with your NBA ID — and here’s a game from each series that you need to see.

The 1990 NBA Finals

Game 4 | June 12, 1990

Pistons 112, Blazers 109

The 1990 NBA Finals: Game 4

Hidden amidst the lore of the “Bad Boys,” amongst a slew of characters, moments, and bravado, is the great games of which they were the central figure. And few were better than Game 4 of the 1990 Finals.

Isiah Thomas, permanent card-carrying member of anyone’s list of the greatest point guards ever, had among his many wonderful qualities the ability to unleash points in bunches — and he was seldom greater than in the third quarter, when he erupted for 22 points to put Detroit in a commanding position. Clyde Drexler, Portland’s own iconic star, dragged his team back from a 16-point second half deficit, the last of his 34 points giving the Blazers the lead in the final half-minute. Thomas’ response was typically clutch: a long jumper from deep in the corner that gave Detroit back the lead for good. But the outcome of this classic wasn’t decided until the agonizing final seconds: Danny Young’s launch from inside half-court came just after the final buzzer — the Pistons moving within a victory of back-to-back titles, a final step before cementing their status as an all-time team.

DID YOU KNOW?: Thomas, with his 22 points in the third, became the first player in Finals history to record multiple quarters of 20-or-more points. Thomas had previously established the single-period record in championship play with his heroic 25-point third quarter in Game 6 of the 1988 Finals against the Lakers.

A NEW GENERATION: For the first time since 1979, the league’s championship series didn’t feature either the Los Angeles Lakers or Boston Celtics. Together, the teams had appeared in every Finals of the 1980s, combining to capture eight titles.

The 1991 NBA Finals

Game 3 | June 7, 1991

Bulls 104, Lakers 96 (OT)

The 1991 NBA Finals: Game 3

Go ahead and submit your application for the most dominant Bulls team of the decade. The obvious candidate is the 72-win team from 1995-96, or perhaps your preference is for an earlier iteration, the 67-win squad from 1992. But consider the stampede of the 1991 Bulls: they won 31 of their last 38 in the regular season, lost just twice in 17 playoff games (by a combined four points); and ran off four straight postseason wins against each the defending-champion Pistons and, later, the Lakers (after losing the opener in the Finals). The fork in the road of that breakthrough first championship indeed might have been Game 3 in Los Angeles. In a series tied 1-1, the Lakers took a 13-point lead late in the third quarter. The Bulls managed to battle back but when Scottie Pippen fouled out in the closing moments, trying to prevent an eventual (and spectacular) three-point play by Vlade Divac, those efforts seemed destined for naught. Enter Michael Jordan. Following a timeout, he took the ball the length of the floor, rid himself of Byron Scott, then elevated to release over an outstretched Divac. That shot was good — and all the Bulls needed. Chicago dominated the overtime period, highlighted by two incredible Jordan drives, setting the stage for a gutty win and a series lead they failed to relinquish.

DID YOU KNOW?: The 1991 NBA Finals was the last time The Forum hosted championship competition. From 1968-91, the building hosted 42 Finals games — the second most all-time behind the Boston Garden (60). The Bulls claimed victory there to wrap up the title in 1991, remarkably, the sixth instance in the prior 10 seasons where the champion was crowned in Los Angeles (1982, ’83, ’87, ’88, and ’89).

BONUS BASKETBALL: Game 3 of the 1991 Finals was the 261st championship contest in league history — but just the 20th that required an extra session (or one in every 13). As of 1991, overtime games in the Finals by decade: 1950s (4), 1960s (4), 1970s (8) and 1980s (2). As of 2022, that rate has held, with just 35 of the league’s 439 championship games (or one in 12.5) going to OT.

The 1992 NBA Finals 

Game 2 | June 5, 1992

Blazers 115, Bulls 104 (OT)

The 1992 NBA Finals: Game 2

The clock showed 4:36 remaining in the fourth quarter when Clyde Drexler committed his sixth personal foul. Drexler, second in the league’s Most Valuable Player voting in 1992, a certified All-Star, and a month from taking residence on the hallowed Dream Team, was through for the evening. His Blazers, already in an 1-0 series hole, trailed by 10. Had the advanced metrics existed at the time that could spit out a number to give us the probability of a Blazers win, one would presume it sat comfortably in whatever range was titled “insurmountable.” Yet this Blazers team — a 1990 finalist, the owners of the best record in 1991 and again a contender in 1992 — found its resolve at seemingly its most inopportune time. A 15-5 burst to end regulation was completed when Kevin Duckworth hit a baseline jumper to force overtime. In the extra session, Danny Ainge scored nine points, exceeding the Bulls’ total by himself, as Portland came storming back in what remains among the most unexpected late-game turns in championship history.

DID YOU KNOW?: Portland lost Game 1 against the Bulls by 33 points, yet managed to claim the next game. At the time, they became just the fifth team to win immediately following a loss by 30 or more points in a Finals series, joining San Francisco (Game 3, 1967 vs. Philadelphia), Los Angeles (Game 6, 1982 vs. Philadelphia), Boston (Game 4, 1984 vs. Los Angeles) and Los Angeles (Game 2, 1985 vs. Boston).

FAMILIAR FACE: Portland coach Rick Adelman was going against a team, Chicago, that he had once played for. At the time, the only other instance of a coach playing in the Finals against a franchise he had once played for was when Ed Macauley (then coach of St. Louis) took on Boston in 1960.

The 1993 NBA Finals

Game 2 | June 11, 1993

Bulls 111, Suns 108

The 1993 NBA Finals: Game 2

The Chicago-Phoenix championship series of 1993 seemed at the time the perfect capper to a wondrous 12 months of basketball that included the Dream Team experience in Barcelona, a regular season loaded with more stars than ever and a thrilling postseason full of iconic performances. So, yes, the reward was to then see Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley do battle with a title at stake.

If ever there were any doubts whether the product would match the hype, look no further than Game 2. Jordan was his incomparable best, a finely-calibrated mid-range game devastated with equal force as his evasive drives. Barkley, meanwhile, took a sledgehammer to the painted area, made a mess of anything and everything in his way and was simply relentless. Despite a complete stylistic difference, those stars mirrored each other with 42 points apiece in this game, which ended in a tight Bulls victory. Chicago had a 2-0 lead with the series headed back home and a sinking feeling this dream season was about to wrap promptly. But as history would suggest, this series, this odyssey of basketball nirvana, was far from done.

DID YOU KNOW?: Johnny “Red” Kerr served as the inaugural coach for each the Bulls and Suns franchises. Kerr was named Chicago’s first coach on May 3, 1966 and on April 26, 1968, he was introduced as likewise for Phoenix. That thread of commonality extends to Jerry Colangelo, who was also an integral part of the front office for both franchises during their NBA introductory seasons.

OPPOSING PLAYERS GOING FOR 40+: Jordan and Barkley became the second set of opposing players to reach 40-or-more points in the same Finals game. The only prior instance occurred in 1969, when John Havlicek (43 points) and Jerry West (41) did so in Game 2 of that series.

The 1994 NBA Finals

Game 3 | June 12, 1994

Rockets 93, Knicks 89

The 1994 NBA Finals: Game 3

If someone, as of 1994, were to pen the past contributions of rookies in the NBA Finals, it would be less a tome than a mere leaflet. The outliers, sure, were celebrated, those rare players capable of impacting the outcome of a championship series regardless of their age or experience — notably Bill Russell and Tom Heinsohn in 1957, and Magic Johnson in 1980. But in the thrilling third game of the tied 1994 Finals between the Rockets and Knicks, it was indeed a rookie who came to the fore and gave Houston the boost it needed.

Sam Cassell heard 23 names before his own in the prior draft, but few taken before him could have showed the bravery of Cassell down the stretch. Taking a kick-out pass from Hakeem Olajuwon, with a capacity Madison Square Garden crowd chanting “de-fense!” at deafening volume, Cassell caught, squared up, and fired a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Only the net rippled with 32.6 seconds left, and he had given the Rockets an 89-88 lead. It proved to be the game’s decisive field goal, and after four more free throws over the closing moments, it was Cassell, with Houston’s final seven points, who had proven the difference. In a series that ultimately went the distance and was claimed by the Rockets, they had needed every one of them.

DID YOU KNOW?: The Houston Rockets won the 1994 championship with only one player (Olajuwon) representing them in that season’s All-Star Game. On the surface, that may seem unlikely, but four champions in the decade — the ’91 Bulls, ’94 and ’95 Rockets, and ’98 Bulls — each only had a single player selected to the mid-season classic. (Note: there was no All-Star Game in the lockout-shortened 1999 season).

GO-AHEAD 3-POINTERS: Cassell’s triple was huge, but it was not the first time in Finals play that a player had given his team the lead in the final minute on a three-pointer. Prior instances included: Larry Bird (Game 4, 1987 vs Los Angeles), Bill Laimbeer (Game 2, 1990 vs Portland), Sam Perkins (Game 1, 1991 vs Chicago), and John Paxson (Game 6, 1993 vs Phoenix).

The 1995 NBA Finals

Game 4 | June 14, 1995

Rockets 113, Magic 101

The 1995 NBA Finals: Game 4

Clyde Drexler threw his arms in the air upon Hakeem Olajuwon’s final basket in the 1995 Finals, a shot to close a most improbable postseason run. But before examining, one must understand the unlikelihood of the road traveled. Olajuwon and Drexler had once been college teammates at the University of Houston, and stood on the doorstep of a national championship in 1983, only to be cruelly denied. They had chartered Hall of Fame careers in separate cities before a sudden reunion in the form of a 1995 mid-season trade, with Drexler joining an indifferent Rockets team struggling to recapture its championship form. As it turned out, all that stood between these legends and championship retribution a decade in the making was the 60-win Jazz (check), a 3-1 deficit against the Suns (check), and the powerful Spurs (check).

Waiting in the Finals was “The Team of the Future,” a youthful Orlando squad of Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee Hardaway. But these Rockets, led by an older, wiser firm, had a final bridge to cross — and they weren’t about to be denied. In the clinching fourth game, when Olajuwon sealed his second straight Finals MVP, and Drexler his first title, together they wrote the final chapter of their partnership in grand style, and remain the lowest-seeded team (sixth in their conference) to be crowned champion.

DID YOU KNOW?: In claiming Finals MVP honors for the second consecutive Finals, at the time Olajuwon joined Michael Jordan as the only players to have won the award in back-to-back years. He also joined Willis Reed (1970 and ’73) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (’71 and ’85) as the only centers to have been awarded it on multiple occasions.

SWEPT ASIDE Houston’s 4-0 defeat of Orlando marked just the sixth sweep in NBA Finals history. The prior instances occurred in 1959 (Boston over Minneapolis), 1971 (Milwaukee over Baltimore), 1975 (Golden State over Washington), 1983 (Philadelphia over Los Angeles) and 1989 (Detroit over Los Angeles). Of those six series, the “closest” sweep was the Warriors over the Bullets in 1975, with the four games decided by a total of just 16 points.

The 1996 NBA Finals

Game 2 | June 7, 1996

Bulls 92, Sonics 88

The 1996 NBA Finals: Game 2

If for one brief moment, for a single game, individual statistics went unrecorded and the focus was solely on effort exerted, then Game 2 of the 1996 Finals would provide a startling revelation: Dennis Rodman is the most pivotal player on the floor. Alas, in the age of statistics, both simple and advanced, effort remains in the quantifiable grey area. But for Rodman — in that particular contest, with his Bulls ahead 1-0 in the series — his will was undeniable. He garnered 10 rebounds alone in the third quarter. In the fourth, his Bulls failed to register a field goal over the final six minutes, and with the Sonics surging back, time and again it was Rodman who rescued possessions by pursuing his ultimate passion — rebounding. Three times in the final half-minute a ball in dispute was controlled by Rodman, who eventually tied the championship record for offensive rebounds with 11. And when it came to the sealing free throw, appropriately, it was Rodman who came through to ensure his Bulls went ahead 2-0.

DID YOU KNOW?: Rodman led the league in rebounding in 1996 with an average of 14.8 rpg. The previous rebounding champion to appear in the NBA Finals was Moses Malone of Philadelphia, who did so in 1983.

UNANIMOUS IT WASN’T: The 1996 Finals represented the only championship series of the decade where the voting for the series MVP was not unanimous. Michael Jordan earned six of the 11 votes, while Seattle’s Shawn Kemp (three votes) and Rodman (two) got the others. Kemp became the first player from a losing team to receive MVP votes since Julius Erving in 1977, while Rodman was the only Bulls player other than Jordan to receive a Finals MVP vote during the team’s six Finals appearances during that period.

The 1997 NBA Finals

Game 6 | June 13, 1997

Bulls 90, Jazz 86

The 1997 NBA Finals: Game 6

Upon your next visit to the United Center in Chicago, take a moment to acknowledge a tiny detail on each of the six championship banners that hang in the rafters. The names of each member of those wonderful title teams are represented in small font around the border — some names, oh so famous, others less so. But within that gesture lies the true greatness of those teams. One title, in 1991, was secured not by All-Stars, but on the heels of John Paxson’s awesome fourth quarter shooting. In 1992, it came about by an overwhelming final quarter rally when facing a major deficit, when Pippen and four reserves bolted past Portland in Game 6. On the last, magical sequence in 1993, five sets of hands touched the ball on a possession that resulted in a Paxson game-winner.

The 1997 series was yet another example of the egalitarian essence of the Bulls that hid in plain sight. The play began in the prior huddle, when Michael Jordan, lips hidden behind cup, advised Steve Kerr that he be ready to shoot. Jordan’s vision proved prophetic: a double-team came and Jordan hit Kerr with a pass that led to a rhythm jumper that unlocked a tie in the dying seconds. Victory was assured when Scottie Pippen dived to secure a steal off Utah’s inbounds pass, with Toni Kukoc — the fourth member of the Bulls who impacted the final result, for those counting — sealing the win with a jam in front of a delirious home crowd.

DID YOU KNOW?: Kerr became just the third player in Finals history to record a go-ahead field goal with five seconds or fewer remaining in a title-clinching game. Coincidentally, the other two instances — in this the league’s 51st season — had also occurred in the 1990s: Vinnie Johnson of Detroit (1990) and Paxson.

GREATNESS IS HERE: The NBA celebrated its 50th anniversary season in 1997, and as part of that celebration named its 50 Greatest Players. Five of those players — Jordan, Pippen and Robert Parish for Chicago and Karl Malone and John Stockton for Utah — suited up for action in the Finals.

The 1998 NBA Finals

Game 5 | June 12, 1998

Jazz 83, Bulls 81

The 1998 NBA Finals: Game 5

If the assignment is to conjure up the greatest performance by the most prolific power forward in the game’s history, then there is really only one true answer: Karl Malone’s 39 points in Game 5 of the 1998 NBA Finals. The ramifications were straightforward.

Lose, and Utah’s season, for the second straight time, had ended at the hands of Chicago. Win, and hope remained for the Jazz to secure an elusive first title. Malone was simply relentless, whether on his patented turnaround out of the block or scoops in traffic, and was responsible for almost half his team’s point total. The masterpiece wasn’t yet etched in stone until Michael Jordan’s fading 26-foot 3-point attempt — one that would have capped what proved to be his final home game as a member of the Bulls — fell harmlessly to the Earth as time expired.

DID YOU KNOW?: This Bulls-Jazz series was the only repeat Finals matchup in the 1990 and entering 1998, teams had met in consecutive Finals on 11 prior occasions, with the Celtics and Lakers being responsible for four of them.

BACKS TO THE WALL: The prospect of facing elimination on the road is daunting enough for any team. Just how tough was it to emerge victorious in the situation Utah faced in Game 5? Entering the 1998 Finals, teams facing a 3-1 deficit with the fifth game on the road had survived just four times: Rochester (1951 vs. New York); Los Angeles (1966 vs. Boston); San Francisco (1967 vs. Philadelphia); and Phoenix (1993 vs. Chicago).

The 1999 NBA Finals

Game 5 | June 25, 1999

Spurs 78, Knicks 77

The 1995 NBA Finals: Game 5

The maiden championship of the glorious Tim Duncan era, a period that ultimately resulted in five titles and near-unmatched consistent greatness in San Antonio, began within the confines of Madison Square Garden and against an unlikely opponent. A feisty, never-say-die eighth-seeded Knicks squad and 48 minutes of gruelling half-court basketball stood between the Spurs and their first title. It was Duncan, as he had all series, who led the way — 31 points in a dominant performance, going shot-for-shot down the stretch with New York’s own indomitable spirit, Latrell Sprewell. Avery Johnson, aka “The Little General,” hit the go-ahead shot in the final minute. When Sprewell sought to answer with a potential game-winner, it was Duncan and David Robinson — the franchise’s two pillars — who were there to ensure it didn’t happen.

DID YOU KNOW?: San Antonio was the first former ABA franchise to advance to the NBA Finals. In 1976, the Spurs, Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets and the then-New York Nets each survived the ABA’s merger with the NBA. Prior to the Spurs’ breaking through, those four teams had made a combined 10 conference finals appearances in the NBA — failing to advance in each.

YOUTH MOVEMENT: Duncan averaged 27.4 ppg and 14 rpg in the series, claiming Finals MVP honors exactly two months following his 23rd birthday. At the time, only Magic Johnson — at 20 years old in 1980 and 22 in 1982 — was younger when tagged as Finals MVP.