1991 had been a breakthrough year for Michael Jordan, as he won the first championship of his career. The sequel was even better. The 1992 Chicago Bulls repeated as champs and were the best edition of the great Jordan squads in the early part of the 1990s.
It was business as usual for Jordan in 1992. He poured in 30ppg, while shooting 52 percent, averaging six rebounds and six assists and being 1st-team All-Defense. He won the third MVP of his career and his second in a row.
Scottie Pippen had officially come into his own as a running mate, making 2nd-team All-NBA, and averaging a 21/8/7 line. Horace Grant manned the low post and put up 14 points/10 rebounds per night.
The Bulls did not have exceptional depth and were heavily dependent on Jordan, and to a lesser extent Pippen, to be great each night. But they had some functionable contributors. B.J. Armstrong ran the floor show and John Paxson could knock down a three-ball when you needed it. Bill Cartwright and Stacey King helped out up front.
Chicago wasted no time blazing out of the gate, with a 14-game winning streak in November. By the end of January, they were 37-7 and running away from the rest of the league. There was a brief dip in February when the Bulls lost four of six on a road trip West. They also dropped a tough one-point game to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the best challenger in the East.
But the beginning of March saw the Bulls blow out Western Conference frontrunner Portland 111-191. It kick started a 14-2 stretch that helped Chicago close the year with a 67-15 record, clearing the field by ten games.
The Miami Heat, with a 38-44 record were the cannon fodder served up in a first round that was a best-of-five series at this time. The Heat had good players in Glen Rice, who scored 22 ppg and Rony Seikaly, who averaged 16/12. But they were a very young roster, with no notable players older than 26-years-old.
Jordan set the tone immediately, shooting 21-for-34 and dropping 46 in a Game 1 blowout. He went off for 33/13 in Game 2, as Pippen added 30 more and the Bulls again cruised to an easy win. After taking the first two games by a combined 49 points, Game 3 on the road was tougher. Miami led 33-19 at the first quarter break, but Jordan still went off for 56 points, Pippen poured in 31 more and the 119-114 win closed the series.
Chicago’s stumbling block in 1989 and 1990 had been The Bad Boy Detroit Pistons, and a 1991 sweep of the Pistons had been the signature moment in the first championship run. A fourth straight showdown was looming, but instead of an old rival, the Bulls found a new one. The New York Knicks, led by Pat Riley, knocked off Detroit and began a blood feud with the Bulls that would last for the next three years.
New York was anchored by center Patrick Ewing and renowned for an extremely physical style of play, one that has since been clamped down on by the league in the interest of allowing offense to flow more freely. While Jordan got 31 in the opener, he didn’t get help, while Ewing went off for 34/16 and the Knicks stole homecourt advantage with a 94-89 upset.
Jordan hit 12-for-24 shots in the second game, again the only notable contributor on offense. This time the Chicago defense forced 23 turnovers and evened the series 86-78. In Game 3 at Madison Square Garden, Jordan again shot 12-for-24, knocking down 27. This time Pippen joined him with 26 in a 94-86 win. Chicago had a chance to put a stranglehold on the series in Game 4 and led by a point going into the fourth quarter. But they were crushed on the boards, got another poor game from Pippen and lost 93-86. But the Bulls had reclaimed homecourt as the series hit its crunch point.
Chicago’s defense was the story in Game 5, holding Ewing to 14 points/5 rebounds, while Jordan efficiently knocked down 37 in a 96-88 win. Game 6 saw Jordan have his worst performance of the series, going 9-for-25. Pippen was 5-for-15 and the result was a decisive 100-86 loss that forced a Game 7.
The greatest player of all time on his home floor is virtually unbeatable in the NBA and so it was on this Sunday afternoon in old Chicago Stadium. Jordan poured in 42. Pippen had his best game of the series, with a 17/11/11 line. The Bulls held the Knicks to 38% from the floor and coasted into the conference finals with a 110-81 win.
Cleveland was waiting in the conference finals, having survived a seven-game test of their own against the Boston Celtics. The Cavs had a deep and balanced team, led by prolific center Brad Daugherty and sharpshooting guard Mark Price. But Chicago was ready for the first game of this series. Pippen knocked down 29 and grabbed 12 rebounds, while Grant chipped in a 12/10 line. And…ho-hum, Jordan hit for 33 in a comfortable 103-89 win.
Jordan and Pippen both shot poorly in Game 2, a game the Bulls essentially no-showed and were blown out. Once again, they would need to win a middle game of a series on the road and once again, they did it right away in Game 3. Chicago attacked the glass and outrebounded the bigger Cavs. Jordan got 36, while Pippen was exquisite, with a 23/9/7 line. Grant added 15/11 and the 105-96 win put the Bulls back in charge of the series.
Everyone but Jordan seemed to take off for Game 4. Michael got his 35, but Cleveland’s balance gave them a 99-85 win, and the fifth game back in Chicago was tight into the fourth quarter. Chicago showed its championship pedigree. Grant and Pippen would combine for 29 rebounds, keying a decisive edge on the glass. It supported Jordan’s 37 and the close game turned into a 112-89 blowout.
Game 6 was another tight one going into the fourth quarter, but this time the Bulls would not let the series go any further. They forced Price into a miserable 5-for-18 shooting night. Pippen finished his excellent series with 29/12, while Jordan delivered a 29/8/8 line. The 99-94 win gave Chicago its second straight trip to the NBA Finals.
The opponent was the Portland Trail Blazers. The Blazers had been in the Finals in 1990 and in 1991 been the West’s top regular season team before being knocked off by the Lakers. In 1992, Portland was again the West’s #1 seed and this time they validated in the playoffs.
Much like Cleveland, Portland was deeper and more balanced than Chicago. Unlike Cleveland—or anyone else—they had their own superstar guard, 6’7” Clyde Drexler, who joined Jordan as 1st-team All-NBA. The theory went that Drexler could negate Jordan, or at least minimize his control of the series and the Blazers could win everywhere else on the floor. That was the theory anyway.
The theory came crashing down in the first quarter of Game 1, as an offended Jordan banged him six three-point shots and turned to the NBC broadcast table where Magic Johnson was calling the game and shrugged his shoulders. “The Shrug” remains an iconic NBA moment.
Jordan ended the night with 39 points, while Drexler struggled to shoot 5-for-14. Pippen scored 24 and dished 10 assists in the 122-89 rout.
To his credit, Drexler bounced back with 26 in Game 2. Jordan scored 39 more, but his supporting cast disappeared and Chicago lost in overtime. For the third straight round, the Bulls would need a road win in the middle of a series. And given that the NBA Finals format was 2-3-2 from 1985 thru 2013, Chicago would need two road wins to avoid coming home with their back to the wall.
Defense carried the Bulls on the road in Game 3. They held the Blazers to 38 percent shooting. While Drexler had a nice 32/9 night, it was Chicago who played the relatively balanced game, with Jordan, Pippen and Grant all playing well and leading a 94-84 win. When the Bulls held a three-point lead going into the fourth quarter of Game 4, it looked like they might be ready to duplicate their feat of 1991, when they went into Los Angeles tied at a game apiece and swept three in a row.
But Chicago got beat on the boards down the stretch in Game 4 and lost 93-88, setting up a big Game 5. It was statement time again for the two stars. Jordan poured in 46. Drexler got 30, but also shot just 9-for-21. The Bulls led by thirteen after the first quarter and held serve the rest of the way in a 119-106 win.
The Game 5 win effectively ended the Finals, although the Blazers did come back to Chicago and led by 15 after three quarters in Game 6. Drexler, Terry Porter and Jerome Kersey combined for 70 points, while the Jordan-Pippen parlay went for “only” 59. But at the right time, Chicago got production from an X factor. John Paxson hit six of nine shots from the floor, scored 13 points and was the difference-maker as the Bulls pulled out a 97-93 win and got the celebration underway.
Jordan averaged 36 points/5 rebounds/7 assists per game, while shooting 53 percent in the 1992 NBA Finals. It was an easy MVP decision. Drexler had a respectable line of 25/8/5, but his 41 percent shooting was the biggest difference between him and Jordan.
Chicago certainly wasn’t finished. They came back in 1993 and won a third straight title. Jordan took a couple years off to try his hand at minor league baseball, then returned in the late 1990s and ripped off three more championships in succession. The Jordan Dynasty can essentially be separated into a first term and a second term. The 1992 team was the best of Jordan’s First Term.