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Chapter 32: The Pistons and the “Jordan Rules”


Last chapter: Round 1 vs. the Cavs

The 1988 playoffs was the first time Jordan and the Bulls faced the Detroit Pistons in the post season. The two teams were bitter rivals, and played many tough games against each other in the regular season. Detroit, being a more veteran team, decided to use this opportunity to teach Michael Jordan and the young Bulls a lesson.

Michael Jordan loved to play well against Detroit, and had some of his most memorable games against them. Part of the reason was his belief that the Pistons captain Isiah Thomas had led other players to freeze Jordan out during the 1985 all-star game by not passing Jordan the ball. The rumor was never substantiated. But for a competitor like Jordan, he would not let such a slight slide, and was determined to prove himself against Thomas.

In the previous series, the Cavs had used a strategy of using the guards to funnel Jordan towards their shot blockers. That strategy proved ineffective because Jordan was too quick for the guards to control. The Pistons head coach Chuck Daly knew he had to devise a way of stopping Jordan, and came up with a team defensive strategy nicknamed the “Jordan Rules”.

The “Jordan rules” was essentially a help defense with double team assignments based on where Jordan was attacking from. The Pistons would use their big men to clog up the middle to force Jordan to the sides of the floor where Dennis Rodman was waiting as a shot blocker. The goal was to get the ball out of Jordan’s hands and put the pressure on the other young and inexperienced Bulls players.

The plan seemed to work during game 1. Michael Jordan started very slowly and did not play well until the 2nd half. His drives were being shutdown and he scored most of his points from under the basket. Jordan finished with 29 points and 11 rebounds in a 93-82 loss.

In game 2 Michael found his jump shot and was able to avoid the double teams with his speed. The Bulls came out of the gates running and held a lead all the way to the end of the game. The Pistons came as close as 5 points before finally losing the game 105-95. Jordan finished with 36 points in his highest scoring effort in the series.

Tied at 1-1 and going back to Chicago, things were looking good for the upstart Bulls. However, the “Jordan rules” and the lack of experience proved too much for the Bulls to overcome. Michael never had more than 22 shots in any game and was held to 25 points or less in the last 3 games. The Pistons won the next 3 games and defeated the Chicago Bulls 4-1 in the series.

Detroit would go on to the NBA finals where they would lose to Magic Johnson and the LA Lakers in a tight 7 game series.

Michael Jordan had taken the Bulls to the next level by reaching the 2nd round of the playoffs, but the “Jordan rules” had effectively shut them down. The 1988 playoffs would be the first episode of a long dramatic series between the bitter rivals. And things would only get more interesting the next season.

Readers, what do you think of Detroit using the “Jordan Rules”?

Next chapter: Heightened expectations and early challenges


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