Chapter 37: The triple double run
Jordan take the reins
When it became obvious that relying on Michael Jordan alone to win games was no longer working, the Chicago Bulls tried a move that surprised everyone. They shifted Michael Jordan to the point guard position.
The move had an immediate impact for the Bulls. In Michael’s first game as a point guard, he dished out 15 assists in a blowout win over the Seattle Supersonics. In his next game, Michael recorded a triple double with 21 points, 14 rebounds, and 14 assists in another blowout of the Indiana Pacers. The results were almost too good to believe, and it seemed as if the Bulls had found the magic bullet. But will it last?
On March 21st, the Bulls played the defending champs the Lakers in LA. In what turned out to be an epic showdown, Michael Jordan went head to head against another elite point guard in Magic Johnson. Michael used the opportunity to outshine Magic by dishing out 16 assists to Magic’s 12. The Bulls used a balanced attack and had 3 players with 20 or more points (Jordan, Pippen, Hodges) and 5 players scoring in double digits. Magic missed the game tying free throw late in the game and the Bulls won with a final score of 104-103.
Below are the highlights from the game.
As Jordan became more used to his new role, the Bulls became more used to winning. The team would go on to win 11 out of the 14 games after the switch, and was again in contention for the fourth playoff spot and home court advantage in the Eastern conference.
“For the most part, I’m starting to like it.” Michael Jordan said “I never dreamed I’d play that position – me, a lifelong (shooting) guard. But it helps. I can call my own plays and get everyone else involved in the offense.”
The assists started to pile up, and Michael began to collect triple doubles like he collected 30+ point games, which is to say he could have them any night he wished.
Triple double run
On March 25, Michael began a run of 10 triple doubles in 11 games, including 7 straight before missing one against the Pistons where he had 40 points, 11 assists, and 7 rebounds. He would finish the season with 15 triple doubles, 3 shy of Magic Johnson’s record among active players.
Michael Jordan always had the ball handling and passing skills to play the point guard position, and a mere month after the switch, he was already proving to be one of the elite point guards in the league.
Here is a game on April 9th, 1989, where Jordan scored 40 points and dished out 12 assists.You can hear from the announcers the fact that other teams were having trouble dealing with Michael as the point guard.
A renewed Bulls team
Michael was very happy with the outcome of the move. “It’s a challenge, and that basically is what Michael Jordan is all about,” Jordan said. “I’ve been bothered for some time about the Bulls being a one-dimensional team, a Michael Jordan team. The thing I’ve been harping about all year has come true. The other guys are getting into the game. They now believe in themselves, and that’s what we needed.
Not only was Michael’s play improving, but his teammates were also beginning to contribute more on offense. After the switch, Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen increased their scoring average by a combined 10 points. The reason for the increase was simple, and the opposing players understood it the best.
Clyde Drexler had this to say, “Everybody has to watch (Jordan) with the ball. The other guys are free to roam, and their shooting percentages are going to soar. I think (Jordan) handles the ball better than Magic. (Jordan) just makes everybody else better.”
“So many people key on Michael that you’re usually going to have one or two guys open all the time,” Hawks forward Dominique Wilkins said. “It makes them that much more effective. It depends on how the other players respond to it, and they’ve responded very well.”
Signs of trouble
While Michael was enjoying his triple double run, the other teams had quickly adjusted to the new Bulls offense. And in early April, the Bulls slumped again.
In another all around performance near the end of the regular season, Jordan score 47 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and dished out 13 assists against the Indiana Pacers.
However, despite Jordan’s stellar play, the Bulls lost that game and finished the month of April with a 4-8 record.
Michael’s move to point guard showed some mixed results. The big question still remained. How will the Bulls perform in the upcoming playoffs? In the previous four seasons, the Bulls had a combined 5-15 record with Jordan playing as the shooting guard. Going into the 1989 playoffs, the Bulls had a reason to be optimistic.
Having Jordan as a point guard “certainly makes them a better team,” Knicks coach Rick Pitino said. In the playoffs, when the point guard takes pre-eminence, there is “no doubt about them being a force,” Pitino said.
Unfortunately, the Bulls’ first round opponents were the Cleveland Cavaliers, an up and coming team with a lot of potential. The Bulls had lost all 6 games to the Cavs that year, including the last game of the regular season. The critics were doubting the Bulls’ chances, and many of them called the series in four games, in favor of the Cavs.
Hey MJ fans, have you ever had an interesting experience adjusting to a new role? How did you overcome those challenges? Please leave a comment below and share your experiences.