For Coach Phil Jackson, who said his Chicago Bulls didn’t have an edge at any position in this series, this game’s for you.
The Portland Trail Blazers may be better rested, stronger, deeper and faster, but the Bulls have Michael Jordan, who scored 35 points before halftime Wednesday night in a 122-89 massacre that gave his team a 1-0 lead in the NBA finals.
Included was an awesome burst in which he made 13 of 17 shots and six three-pointers in a row. But with Elgin Baylor’s finals record of 61 points in his sights, Jordan put his six-guns away, taking only six shots in the second half, settling for 39 points and 11 assists.
“That was an incredible performance,” Jackson said, “and one I don’t think you will see too often again.”
“He shot the ball unbelievable,” said Terry Porter, Portland’s three-point ace. “We didn’t want to give him wide-open looks with a chance to measure them. We’d have liked to have a hand in his face.
“But all things equal, we don’t mind him shooting threes. We really don’t. . . . I give Michael a lot of credit, but I don’t know if he can match my three-point skill.”
Jordan is a 29% three-point shooter in his career, though he clearly believes he’s better than his statistics. He recently conceded that Clyde Drexler is a better three-point shooter “than I choose to be.”
Wednesday, Jordan made a new choice.
After days of talk about the colossal Jordan-Drexler matchup, Jordan tiptoed out, determined not to be drawn into a one-on-one duel.
He didn’t take a shot in the first three possessions, while the Trail Blazers took a 7-2lead.
He then missed three of his first four shots as the lead grew to 17-9.
Then he drilled a three-pointer, and suddenly he was alone in his own world.
“Next thing you know, shots started dropping from everywhere.” Jordan said, grinning. “I started running for the three-point line. It felt like a free throw, really.
“Let me tell you, I surprised them as much as I surprised you and myself, the way I was shooting today. I had to ride the wave when I had it, and everyone picked up on it.”
That wave swamped the Trail Blazers in the midst of a great start.
They made their first seven shots and led most of the first quarter.
They were within 45-44 halfway through the second period when Jordan came back from a long rest.
Jordan doesn’t like it when Jackson keeps him out for long stretches, and this one had lasted 5 minutes 26 seconds.
“I’ve had situations where I’ve gotten into a groove and Phil took me out, and I kind of lose that rhythm,” Jordan said. “I came back in the game, not looking for it but waiting for it to come to me. And when it came to me, I had to test it again, and it was there. So I just rode it again.”
Actually, he didn’t have to wait that long. He made his first shot, a turnaround 14-footer over Drexler, 17 seconds after returning. Some nights, Jordan just can’t get out of the way of superstardom.
In quick order and without missing, he then dropped in a three-pointer, an 18-footer, another 18-footer, a three-pointer, dunked a rebound and made another three-pointer.
When he made his fifth three-pointer in a row, he turned to run upcourt, grinned at the Bulls’ bench and gave the palms-up sign.
“I couldn’t miss,” he said. “I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t know exactly how to explain it.”
In all, he scored 17 points in the last 6:34 of the half, to go along with the 18 he had scored in the first quarter.
In that last 6:34, the Bulls outscored the Trail Blazers, 21-7.
After that, the Trail Blazers were out on their feet. With Jordan content to make plays in the second half, Chicago cruised into a lead that grew as large as 121-82.
“They jumped on us,” Trail Blazer Coach Rick Adelman said. “Only thing I can tell you is offensively, we were terrible. We allowed different people to post up and shoot the ball in our faces. Our defense got softer as our offense got worse, and you can’t do that.”
The Trail Blazers have a growing list of things you can’t do, such as guarding Jordan the same way all the time, with one player.
“I had a feeling that question was going to be asked,” Adelman said, laughing. “We’re going to look at it very closely, believe me. When he gets it going like that, we’ve got to do something else.
“If he took 10 threes against us, that wasn’t going to bother us, but after he made the first four, I started wondering a little bit. I had a feeling he was going to make them after that.
“When a guy starts making shots like that, an offensive player, he gets in a groove, and you’ve got to make him do something else. We wanted to play off him, obviously, but the book was thrown out the window tonight (in) the first half. There wasn’t anything that he didn’t do.”
Anyway, the Trail Blazers know what they’re up against now.
Michael Jordan’s six three-pointers tied the NBA finals record held by the Lakers’ Michael Cooper against Boston in 1987 and the Pistons’ Bill Laimbeer against Portland in 1990.
BY DESIGN: The Portland Trail Blazers wanted Michael Jordan to shoot from outside, and the Chicago guard made them pay for that strategy with 35 points in the first half. Scott Howard-Cooper’s story, C8.
The largest margins of victory in NBA championship series games. Number in parentheses indicates game of series: 35:
Year Score 1978 Washington 117, Seattle 82 (6)
Year Score 1961 Boston 129, St. Louis 95 (1) 1985 Boston 148, Lakers 114 (1)
Year Score 1965 Boston 129, Lakers 96 (5) 1982 Philadelphia 135, Lakers 102 (5) 1984 Lakers 137, Boston 104 (3) 1992 Chicago 122, Portland 89 (1)
Year Score 1965 Boston 142, Lakers 110 (1) 1977 Portland 130, Philadelphia 98 (4)