Episodes 7 and 8 of “The Last Dance” explored a number of potent topics Sunday night, including Michael Jordan’s foray into baseball and his hard-wired reputation as a teammate (ahem, practice punches were a regularity). It also delved into the Chicago Bulls’ 72-win season in 1995-96 after their playoff exit the previous year at the hands of Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway’s Orlando Magic.
While previous episodes covered the 1993 playoff challenges the Bulls faced from the New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns, future installments will focus on near-setbacks in the Bulls’ second three-peat, namely against the Indiana Pacers and Utah Jazz. With that in mind, here’s a look at the five teams that came closest to upending the Bulls’ dynasty in the 1990s.
1. 1997-98 Indiana Pacers. Chicago’s in-house adversity throughout its final championship run is well chronicled. The team that came closest to capitalizing on an aging and scrutiny-filled Bulls team was Reggie Miller’s Pacers in the ’98 Eastern Conference finals. The squads were evenly matched: They split four regular-season matchups and the first six games of the series. But Chicago’s defense came up clutch late in Game 7, holding Indiana to four points in the final six minutes. That Pacers team, coached by Larry Bird, was stacked alongside the sharpshooting Miller. It featured Mark Jackson running the point, Rik Smits at center, Chris Mullin on the wing and Dale and Antonio Davis in the paint. It also had a young Jalen Rose coming off the bench. After falling behind in the series 2-0, Miller spearheaded Indiana to nail-biter wins in Games 3 and 4.
Miller’s Game 4 push-off on Jordan and subsequent dagger might still live in MJ’s nightmares.
Game 7 had Bulls fans barely exhaling. “It’s a seven-game series and we’re up three on the road with just over six minutes to go,” Jackson said in a recent interview. “There’s been some great teams in the history of this league that just ran into better teams.”
2. 1992-93 New York Knicks. The ’93 playoffs were a central focus of Episode 6 of “The Last Dance” — when the Knicks took a 2-0 lead on the Bulls in the East finals before Jordan silenced doubters in leading Chicago to four consecutive wins. Game 5 saw New York a possession away from altering the series and dynasty before Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant denied Charles Smith four(!) times at the rim in the closing seconds. That Knicks team, led by Patrick Ewing and coached by Pat Riley, had a better regular-season record than Chicago and stole the former “Bad Boy” Pistons’ physical edge to become the Bulls’ main East nemesis. It took great teams to elevate Jordan’s play to otherworldly levels, and there’s no greater example than this New York team. But John Starks was the second-best player and the offensive ammunition just didn’t compare to Jordan’s Bulls.
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3. 1992-93 Phoenix Suns. The 62-win Suns went into the NBA Finals with the league’s best record and regular-season MVP Charles Barkley. The supporting cast was stellar with Kevin Johnson at point guard, 3-point specialist Dan Majerle and former Celtic Danny Ainge on the wing. While the Suns won Games 3 and 5, every game in this series was close, including a triple overtime Game 3. Jordan averaged 41 points in the series and played his best basketball perhaps ever. But if he hadn’t, and if John Paxson didn’t hit a championship-winning 3 in Game 6 with 3.9 seconds left, this Suns squad could’ve played ultimate spoiler.
4. 1996-97 Utah Jazz. Karl Malone and John Stockton lost twice to Jordan’s Bulls in the 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals. This team went 31-4 after the All-Star break behind regular-season MVP Malone (27.4 points and 9.9 rebounds per game) and tied the series 2-2 before Jordan’s infamous “Flu Game” in Game 5. Had Jordan not scored 38 points in a win, the Bulls could’ve returned to Chicago trailing 3-2.
5. 1991-92 Portland Trail Blazers. This NBA Finals is remembered most for Jordan’s “Shrug Game” in which he scored 35 first-half points to give the Bulls a 1-0 lead. But it was also a serious test for Chicago in its quest to repeat as champion. Led by Clyde Drexler and supported by Terry Porter, Danny Ainge and Cliff Robinson, the Blazers won Game 2 in overtime and Game 4 on their home court to tie the series 2-2. Jordan’s 46 points in Game 5 and 33 in Game 6 proved to be the difference-maker.
Sports video of the day
That time John Starks put Jordan and Horace Grant on a poster in the ’93 playoffs.
This day in sports: May 10
A documentary on the 1970s Bruins is set to air at 8 p.m. ET Sunday on NHL Network. It comes 50 years to the day after the team won the Stanley Cup. Bobby Orr scored the famous overtime winner as Boston defeated the St. Louis Blues 4-3 for the 4-0 series sweep and the Bruins’ first title since 1941.
Classic games to watch
MLB Network pays tribute to mom with replays of memorable games that occurred on On Mother’s Day. At 11 a.m. ET, check out the “Mother’s Day Miracle” between the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox from May 13, 2007.
At 1 p.m. ET, enjoy Bill Hall’s walk-off homer on May 14, 2006, as the Milwaukee Brewers defeat the New York Mets. (Replay at 10:30 p.m.)
At 3 p.m. ET, watch the Minnesota Twins’ Torii Hunter rack up 7 RBI in a 2007 win over the Detroit Tigers.
And at 5:30 p.m., perhaps the best of them all as Dallas Braden of the Oakland A’s throws a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays on May 9, 2010.
At 5 p.m ET, it’s the 2107 Week 2 game pitting the Patriots against the New Orleans Saints.
At 8 p.m. ET, catch the 2019 Week 3 matchup of the Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs.
Then at 11 p.m. ET, it’s the 2019 Week 14 shootout between the Saints and San Francisco 49ers.
NBA TV offers up several classic games from last year’s playoffs.
At 3:30 p.m. ET, it’s Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics.
At 9 p.m. ET, catch Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks.
At 11 p.m. ET, it’s on to Game 5 of the NBA finals as the Raptors take on the Golden State Warriors.
NBC has one of the greatest games of all time, the 2018 Olympic Gold Medal Game between the USA and Canada at 3 p.m. ET.
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Sports we’re missing
NBA and NHL playoffs
- Los Angeles Angels @ Baltimore Orioles
- Cleveland Indians @ Detroit Tigers
- Texas Rangers @ Tampa Bay Rays
- Miami Marlins @ Atlanta Braves
- Philadelphia Phillies @ Pittsburgh Pirates
- Seattle Mariners @ Houston Astros
- Arizona D’Backs @ Milwaukee Brewers
- Kansas City Royals @ Minnesota Twins
- New York Mets @ St. Louis Cardinals
- Washington Nationals @ Chicago Cubs
- Cincinnati Reds @ Colorado Rockies
- Chicago White Sox @ San Francisco Giants
- Toronto Blue Jays @ Oakland Athletics
- San Diego Padres @ Los Angeles Dodgers
- Boston Red Sox @ New York Yankees
- LA Galaxy vs. New York Red Bulls
Follow reporter Scott Gleeson on Twitter @ScottMGleeson.