Chapter 38: Tight series vs. Cleveland
Last chapter: The triple double run
The Chicago Bulls were the heavy underdogs going into the opening series of the 1989 playoffs against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Bulls had lost all 6 regular season meetings against the Cleveland Cavaliers by an average of more than 12 points, including the last game of the regular season. Even the Chicago sports writers called the series in favor of Cleveland. Lacy Banks predicted a sweep, Kent Mcdill called it in four games, and Sam Smith, being the optimist out of the group, called the series in five. These predictions were taken by Michael Jordan as a challenge, and he was determined to prove his critics wrong, again.
Lucky break in game 1
Cleveland point guard Mark Price could not play in game 1 due to an ankle injury, which prompted coach Lenny Wilkens to put Ron Harper in as the point guard. Cleveland was not familiar with this lineup, which allowed Chicago to take advantage of the situation and win game one in Cleveland with a score of 95-88. Jordan scored 31 points and dished out 11 assists during the game.
After the win, Michael Jordan walked by Lacy Banks, who had predicted a sweep for the Cavs, and said “Sweep, my butt.” One critic down, two more to go.
Cleveland in trouble
Losing home court advantage was a huge blow to the Cavs, who now had a tough fight on their hands. Mark Price returned from his ankle injury in game two and brought his passing skills and leadership back to the Cavs. The Cavs played the game with great energy and hustle, and was able to even the series at 1-1 with a 96-88 win over Chicago.
However, with the next 2 games being played in Chicago, the Bulls looked to be in good shape to take the series in four games.
In game 3 the Cavs had to play without Craig Ehlo, who is usually charged with the unenviable task of guarding Michael Jordan. As a result Jordan was almost unstoppable on his way to a 44 point, 10 assist, 7 rebound, and 5 steal performance in the most exciting game of the series so far.
The series was now 2-1 in favor of the Bulls, proving Ken Mcdill’s prediction of the Cavs in four wrong. Two critics down, one more to go.
Game 4 was the critical game of the series. If Chicago wins, they would have finished the series 3-1 over the favorite Cavs. But if they lost, they would have to fight for survival in game 5 in Cleveland. The Bulls knew what was on the line, and came out wanting to finish the series in Chicago.
Both teams fought hard and the score was close throughout the game. Jordan struggled to find his shot early in the game and depended on free throws for his scoring. Ironically, it was his free throws that eventually cost the Bulls the game.
Jordan missed 3 out of 6 free throws late in the fourth quarter which allowed the Cavs to tie the game and send it into overtime. In overtime the Cavs out-performed the Bulls, and a turnover by Bill Cartwright with 15 seconds remaining gave Cleveland the win. Jordan scored 50 points, but was extremely disappointed in his performance, and vowed that “This won’t ever happen again.”
One game for all the marbles
Now it was down to the final game of the series, and everything was on the line for the Bulls. With Mark Price and Craig Ehlo both back from injuries, the Cleveland Cavaliers was playing at full strength. They also had home court advantage which made things even more difficult for the Bulls.
Could Michael Jordan deliver a miracle?
Next chapter: Game 5 and “The Shot”