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Celtics History Week: Easter upset of 1991

Holiday hoops history: How an aging Larry Legend led Boston past MJ and the Bulls in double OT on Easter Sunday, 1991

Michael Jordan

Easter arrived very early on the calendar in 1991, on March 31 to be exact.

With an epic battle between the East’s top two teams led by all-time great superstars, basketball fans (and NBC) would receive a nice basket from the Easter bunny in the era before the Internet, constant score updates scrolling at the bottom of the screen and social media.

It was the first year NBC broadcast NBA games after CBS had been the major network home of the league from 1974-90.

Despite TV ratings darlings Boston and Los Angeles slightly in decline due to age and injury - and the polarizing two-time defending champion Bad Boy Pistons atop the league - NBA and NBC discovered a new cash cow to milk in the big-market, telegenic Chicago Bulls, with Michael Jordan in his ascendancy.

In 1986 and 1987, Boston swept Chicago and Jordan in the first round of playoffs 3-0 each time. Then the Bulls could not get by the Pistons, first losing to them in five games in 1988 in the conference semis.

In 1989 the Bulls lost to Detroit 4-2 in the conference finals, and then they lost 4-3 to the Pistons in 1990 at the same round, one step short of the championship series. Clearly Chicago was making incremental steps toward their first championship but had yet to learn how to get over the last hump.

Yet by 1991 Jordan was not quite yet the megastar he was to become later in the 1990s after the retirements of Bird and Earvin Johnson. The Bulls were on the cusp but had yet to take the next step past the Pistons and Celtics to their first NBA title.

And on that Easter Sunday in the Boston Garden, the Celtics showed they were not ready to pass the baton to MJ and company just yet.

Jordan’s spectacular style of play appealed to the casual fan, bringing in more viewers while playing in the nation’s third-largest market, a city with little NBA history of note.

Several prior Chicago franchises had failed in the first 15 years of the NBA, including the Stags, Gears and Packers. Only the 1966 expansion Bulls survived, and they gradually rose to NBA contender status in the early/mid 1970s, featuring original Bull Jerry Sloan, Chet Walker and Bob Love.

But after losing to the eventual champion Warriors in the 1975 western finals (the Bulls played in the Midwest Division of the Western Conference until moving to the East in 1980), Chicago’s championship window closed as they got old in a hurry.

Mainstays Sloan and Walker retired by 1976 as the Bulls sank into mediocrity, fan apathy and boring basketball until Jordan’s arrival in 1984.

Even then, it took four seasons before the Bulls would advance in the playoffs. From 1976 through 1987, Chicago won exactly one playoff series - and that was a 2-0 mini-series over the Knicks in 1981 before Bston swept them 4-0 in the east semifinals.

In fact, Jordan’s Bulls went a combined 1-9 in his first three playoff forays, all quick first round exits. Their initial best of seven post-season series win since 1975 finally came in a 4-2 win over the Knicks in the east semis.

Before that their last best of seven win was a 4-2 western semifinal triumph in 1975 over the Kings of Kansas City, led by future Celtics Nate Archibald and Scott Wedman, who was then a rookie.

But by 1991 the Bulls were ready to clear the last hurdle to the NBA Finals. Still the younger Chicago club they had a bit of a mental block against the veteran Celtics, who had beaten them 17 times in a row in the mid to late 1980s.

In the second game of the 1989-90 season (Bird’s comeback year from double Achilles surgery) at Chicago Stadium, a nearly 33-year old Larry Legend showed MJ that HE was still the master of the game-winning shot.

With the score tied and time running out, Bird drained a high-arching 13-foot fadeaway over BOTH Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan with 3.6 seconds left to give Boston a 102-100 lead. Kevin McHale then blocked Jordan’s last second three-point try from behind to preserve the victory.

The Bulls managed to go 2-2 vs. Boston that season, and led the season series 2-1 the next campaign of 1990-91 when the teams met on Easter in late March. Once again the Celtics won an early November game by two at Chicago Stadium at the end, this time 110-108 on a Brian Shaw buzzer-beater.

Chicago was seeking its first season series win over Boston in the healthy Bird era. Boston, which came in 31-4 at home, was determined not to let that happen.

The Bulls, on their way to a first division title since 1975 (they won the Midwest Division that year), came in with a 52-18 record while Boston was 51-20. Chicago had the best record in the NBA, just ahead of Portland and Boston. Early in his NBA coaching career, Phil Jackson’s hair was still more dark than gray.

Their starting lineup consisted of Jordan, Pippen, Bill Cartwright, John Paxson and Horace Grant. The Celtics countered with Bird, Reggie Lewis, Shaw, Robert Parish and Kevin Gamble, with McHale back in the sixth man role he spent his first four years filling.

The teams played to a seesaw tie at the end of the first period. Boston led 6-2 out of the gate, but the Bulls pulled ahead 11-10 on an old-fashioned three-point play by Cartwright.

A 21-ppg scorer for the Knicks as a rookie the same year Bird came out in 1979-80, Cartwright had become a nearly forgotten starter known more for his extremely sharp elbows by 1991.

The 6-7 Lewis blocked a right baseline fadeaway by a surprised Jordan. Bird’s long left wing deuce put Boston in front, 13-12. Lewis tried to post up the 6-2 Paxson, but the heady Bull guard stripped him down low with quick hands, and the turnover led to a breakaway dunk by Pippen.

Bird faked a top of the key jumper and drove right past Grant for a layin, showing deceptive quickness. Larry always had a good first step, but it was made even better by his shooting prowess, which forced defenders to play him tighter, therefore making them easier to blow by.

Pippen drained a right side 19-footer, but Bird answered by swishing a 20-footer from straight out to pull within 24-18. Larry then missed a driving 11-foot left-hander under heavy pressure. Having been held on his drive by Grant, he was still barking at official Ed F. Rush at the other end.

Paxson’s third jumper in four tries found the bottom of the net. Bird’s post-up right baseline jump hook bounced twice on the rim before falling off.

Still angry, Bird swished a 17-footer over Grant from the circle to edge within four. Shaw’s lane pull-up shot cut it to 26-24. Later, Larry drove hard down the left baseline and was hacked by Grant on the layup try. His two clean foul shots tied it.

Jordan went one on one vs. Lewis and drove by him for a pull-up in the lane. Hanging in the air, he appeared to have an open shot. But as MJ shot on the way down, Lewis recovered quickly and cleanly swatted Jordan’s 12-footer, bringing a roar from the crowd.

Jordan came back with just his second basket moments later, but Lewis splashed a left wing 19-footer at the first period buzzer to tie it, 28-28.

Bosotn edged ahead 53-47 by halftime as MJ wa sheld to just seven markers. Lewis and Jordan traded baskets for a 75-71 Celtic lead with three minutes left. Hustling reserve forward Ed Pinckney muscled in a three-point layup for a seven-point bulge.

Brown nailed an open 20-footer off a crisp Bird feed, and Larry thnen stole a Jordan pass with fine anticipation. However his right corner trey try rimmed out.

Paxson splashed a right side triple to cut it to 80-76. Brown responded by hitting a long deuce at the one-minute mark. Reserve center Will Perdue missed two foul shots and Brown sank a leaning lane double pumper.

Pippen drove by Pinckney and had his shot rejected by McHale, but he was whistled for a questionable body foul. His free tosses sliced the deficit to six.

McHale found Lewis out of a double team with a cross-court pass, and Reggie buried the left side 16-footer in the final seconds. After a high-scoring 33-31 third quarter, Boston had extended its lead to 86-78. The Celtics had shot a sizzling 16 of 22 from the fiel din the third period, a 73 percent pace.

But there was plenty of drama to come.

Perdue blocked a Brown drive, and then Jordan and Bird faced off in a rare one on one duel. Jordan drove and pulled up, then jumpe dinto Bird to draw a shooting foul. A displeased Bird muttered an expletive at the dubious call.

Jordan guarded Bird at the other end, and Larry fed Brown for a baseline jumper three-point play over B.J. Armstrong. Jordan missed a pretty lefty drive, and Boston capitalized.

McHale scored a finger roll over Grant and Perdue off a nice Pinckney interior feed for a 91-80 Celtic lead, prompting a Jackson timeout.

Bird posted up MJ, and muscled into the lane for a lefty hook that rolled off but was tipped in by Pinckney. McHale then stole a long pass and trailed the play upcourt before taking a Bird feed.

From straight out top, Kevin let fly with a trifecta that hit the front rim, the glass, and bounced on the iron three more times before falling through the net for a 96-82 margin.

”He’ll take it,” noted ubiquitous NBC play-by-play man Marv Albert. “He has discovered the joys of long-range shooting this year.”

Indeed, Kevin hit 15 of 37 triple tries that season (good for 41 percent), the second-most such makes and takes of his long career.

An excited McHale back-pedaled on defense as the crowd roared. Armstrong canned two free tosses on another dubious call as he drov einto traffic in the lane and lost the ball in a crowd of Celtic big men.

Pippen’s defense helped force a rare airball by Bird and then the Bulls’ number 33 banked in a pretty hanging double-clutch shot in transition to pull the visitors within 96-86 with 8:35 left in the fourth period.

Jackson called another timeout to rally his team. After an open Lewis miss, Jordan sank a wrong-footed drive to the left side against three defenders.

Another Lewis miss in the lane led to a pull-up jumper in transition by Pippen. The 8-0 run caused Celtic mentor Chris Ford to call timeout with the lead having been whittled to six.

Bird sought to stem the Bull run by drilling a quick-release trey from out top. Grant answered by hitting a 12-foot turnaround over Bird.

Jordan swished a foul line pull-up to get within 99-94. Shaw drileld a 17-footer as the clubs showed how to master the lost art of the mid-range game.

Lewis then took a lookaway pass from Bird and his reverse layup was goal-tended by Perdue. Paxson responded by nailing another right side three-point goal, his third without a miss.

Both team’s offensive execution reached a higehr level as the competition level rose.

Lewis canned a right baseline 16-footer but Jordan drove for two. Parish missed a short hook as he fell off-balance.

Pippen took a spinning Jordan’s pass and banked in a six-footer. But Bird again stiemmed the Bull rush as he swished a 15-foot fadeaway from the right side over Grant, giving Boston a 107-101 lead at the 4:04 mark.

Cartwright’s clutch putback of an MJ miss cut it to four. Pippen, who had been a poor shooter when he entered the league in 1988, nailed a right baseline triple as the defense dared him to shoot. The triple inched the Bulls within 107-106.

Paxson drew an offensive foul on Shaw, and Pippen gave Chicago its first lead of day since 38-37 with a pair of foul shota. Pippen then stripped Bird from behin don a post-up drive , and Pinckney hammered Jordan.

His two free throws gave Chicago a 110-107 lead. Lewis missed a contested 20-footer which Cartwright rebounded. Surrounded by the Boston big three under the hoop after missing a double-clutch drive, Jordan called timeout with 54.4 ticks to go.

Lewis redeemed himself by getting apiec eof another Jordan hanging jumper. Bir dmissed an open three that would have tied it, but Shaw rebounded and alertly found Lewis.

The Northeasstern product drained a left top side tripleover a tardy-closeout from MJ to knot it up at 110-all with 19.4 seconds to go.

Amazingly, it was the very first three-point goal - in the 72nd game of the season - made by Lewis, a fine mid-range shooter.

Under heavy pressure by Lewis, s backdoor pass from Cartwright to a cutting Jordan went off MJ’s hands out of bounds with three seconds to go.

After a timeout, Boston got the ball at halfcourt. Bird passed in to McHale, who was doubled up by Pippen and Grant.

Kevin passed back to a wide-open Bird, who got a clean look from beyond the arc on the left wing. His shot was a bit of a line-drive and it hit the rim, bounced off the top of the backboard, caromed back down off the front of the rim, and fell off at the horn as the crowd let out a huge gasp.

Larry tried to body English the shot in as he backe dup following the release, knowing it was just long. He showed a brief moment of displeasure with the miss, but then quickly regained his composure.

The first OT

It was the first overtime game of the season for Chicago, while Boston came in 1-1 in extra session play.

Bird drove hard to the hoop on the very first play of OT, but his lefty shot rolled off. Yet the ever-present McHale tipped in the miss.

Parish kncocked down a short lane jumper for a 114-111 lead. But Pippen banked in a right side 17-footer. Bird drove down an open lane but left a relatively easy lefty floater short. But the Chief swished another turnaround shot to rebuild the lead to three.

Pippen’s hanging one-handed drive was rejected by Bird. McHale’s patented fadeaway was waved off for a non-existent push-off, yet another strange call for the sixth foul on the Celtic sixth man.

Bodied up by Bird, Pippen had his up-and-under shot stuffed cleanly out of bounds by McHale. Scottie then had his three-pointer thrown off by Bird’s pressure defense.

Larry tried to apply the dagger on a trey, but his shot was short. Yet Parish managed to bounce in a foul line jumper for a 118-113 lead.

However, the Chief was called for his sixth foul on an apparently clean block of Jordan’s lefty drive. MJ’s two free throws cut the lead to three. Curiously, the calls were definitely not going Boston’s way, despite playing at home.

Lewis drove the lane and appeared to have a clean shot, but Jordan stripped him clean. Chicago came up with the loose ball and Pippen hit a trailing Paxson in transition. The Notre Damer swished his fourth three-pointer in a row to tie it 118-118 with 32.4 seconds left.

Bird was stuffed by Grant on a double team, and Jordan missed a one-footed runner with three seconds left, his seventh straight misfire. After by a Celtic timeout, an alley-oop lob to Brown was intercepted by Grant, and the Bulls quickly called time.

However, in spite of the protests by coach Ford, the refs gave Chicago 0.4 on the clock, enough to get a shot off.

The near winner

The Bulls got the ball at halfcourt and Cartwright passed over little-used 7-2 reserve center Stojko Vrankovic to Jordan in the deep right corner.

MJ caught ball in front of the Boston bench, turned and fired...but his long jumper was quickly waved off correctly by offficial Mike Mathis before he even released the shot, which miraculously went in after the buzzer sounded.

Jordan and Jackson protested, but deep down they knew there was no way he could catch, turn as he elevated, hang briefly and release in 0.4. The red light was clearly off when the ball was still in Jordan’s hands.

On the Celtic sideline, reserve center Joe Kleine, Jordan’s teammate on the 1984 amateur Olympic team coached by Bob Knight, waved the complaining Bulls back to their bench repeatedly.

”It was a good call by Mike Mathis,” acknowledged Mike Fratello, Albert’s announcing partner whom he had playfully dubbed the “Czar of the tele-strator.”

OT #2

Paxson’s leaning 20-footer rimmed in and out, and Bird rebounded to start the second OT. Larry swished a right side fadeaway from 17 over Grant. It was his first made shot after eight straight misses. But Paxson splashed a 20-footer to tie it again.

Larry swished yet another right side fade over a flailing Grant, this time from 14 feet. A Pippen turnover led to yet another Bird fade over grant, but this one was off right.

Jordan’s triple-pumping drive between Bird and McHale missed, with the audacious move drawing oohs and ahhs from the pro-Celtic crowd. Ever-present, Larry rebounded and seconds later, Brown swished an open 18-footer from the right side.

MxHale fouled out after playing just 20 minutses (and scoring 10 points) on another highly questionable call. He went to the bench, hands on hips in disbelief, and let the refs have it. If anything, Grant had pushed Kevin in the back under the boards before MJ was sandwiched by three Celts.

Yet Jordan ended up with two virtually free points at the line to inch within 124-122.

With Grant pushing and crowding him, Bird up-faked the 6-10 Bull, drew contact, and bounced in a right elbow jumper as he was fouled. The crowd roared, an angry McHale swung his arm while yelling his support from the sidelines, and the usually poker-faced Bird pumped his arm in delight.

His successful foul shot made it 127-122. Cartwright wheeled into the lane for a hook, but the quick hands of Bird stripped him clean. Pippen recovered the loose ball but missed a short shot. At the other end, Lewis was fouled hard by MJ but missed both shots.

Not to be outdone, Jordan did a reasonable facsimile of Bird’s improbable up and under three-point play against Shaw. His own off-balance shot bounced in for a three-point play to edge within 127-125. MJ balled his fist and pounded the parquet floor three times after his shot danced all over the rim before dropping through.

But Larry responded by swishing an 18-footer from the right baseline over the helpless Grant to put Boston back up by four. The back and forth between larry and MJ was starting to look similar to the famous Bird/Wilkins game seven shootout in 1988.

”Grant just shook his head and said this guy’s too much,” said ex-coach Fratello, whose Hawk teams had been burned time and again by the Legend.

MJ tried to answer again but he missed a right baseline turnaround. Showing off his great hands Bird tipped the ball to himself in a crowd to come up with the tough, critical rebound, then he quickly outletted the ball softly to Shaw.

”He had, maybe, the best hand-eye coordination ever” in basketball history said legendary coach Bob Knight in the ESPN SportsCentury profile of Bird.

”LAR-RY, LAR-RY, LAR-RY,” chanted the sold-out Garden crowd.

At the other end, Bird set a screen for Brown, who drove as Grant failed to help out (probably because he was afraid to leave Larry), allowing the 1991 slam dunk champion to elevate for a layup past the late-arriving Pippen and Cartwright to make it a six-point lead.

”Larry Bird does so many things to help his team out,” observed an admiring Fratello.

A fired-up McHale bounced off the bench and high-fived Bird.

Just when it looked like Boston was in control, the Bulls came up with a big play to stay in contention. Remarkably, Paxson nailed a three-pointer from way out top as he was foolishly fouled by Lewis. After drilling the free throw Paxson’s rare four-point play cut the margin from six to just two.

Yet a big shot by Shaw from 15 feet out on the right wing at the 55-second mark rebuilt the lead to four. Jordan drove but Bird, knowing MJ would try to score, angled him off with great anticipatoryhelp defense and forced a fadeaway shot that fell short.

Under heavy fullcourt pressure after the rebound, Boston barely beat the 10-second call via a fine Bird pass upcourt to Lewis. Shaw and Brown crashed into each other and went to the hardwood going for the pass, which was caught by Reggie at the count of nine as he was fouled hard by MJ.

Once again Bird’s quick thinking, vision and skill had saved Boston.

Lewis, an 84 percent foul shooter, missed his third free throw in a row, but made the second shot for a 134-129 lead. Yet in a game of numerous big shots in the can-you-top-this battle, Pippen swished a right wing three to again pull the spunky Bulls within a basket.

It had to be the best game of the long NBA regular season.

Jordan again hacked a driving Lewis with 15 seconds left. Once again, Lewis clanked the free throw, his fourth miss in five tries. He took his time and nailed the second free toss for a 135-132 lead. Chicago called timeout.

Would another miracle three by Paxson or MJ force a third OT?

But this time Jordan dribbled upcourt, pulled up and launched a three from out top that rimmed out. The 6-1 Brown soared high above the trees to get his hands on the ball, but couldn’t control the rebound.

Grant grabbed the board and threw the ball back out to MJ, who selfishly forced a double-pump three-pointer under heavy duress by Lewis. The shot missed badly.

In forcing the second straight triple in a few seconds he ignored Paxson, who had made all five of his three-point tries, wide open on the left side. Bird and Pippen hustled after the wildly-caroming rebound, which Scottie knocked out of bounds with just 0.5 left.

Fittingly, Bird in-bounded to Brown with a quick bounce pass and the truly epic game was finally, finally over.

Bird patted Grant on the backside and took a hug from McHale as the teams walked off the court following the classic double OT win.

Jackson congratulatorily patted Ford on the shoulder and injured Celtic Derek Smith on the back as the weary players and coaches crowded into the tunnel leading to the ancient Garden locker rooms.

The final score was alost identical to the double OT 135-131 Celtic win over the Bulls in game two of the 1986 playoffs, the epic where Jordan poured in a playoff-record 63 points.

Appropriately, the never-say-die Bird was named NBC’s Miller Lite Player of the Game.

Pulling out all the stops, Larry sank 15 of his season-high 36 shots, including one of five beyond the arc. He hit four big baskets and a foul shot in the second overtime, leading Boston to a 17-14 second extra session edge.

Other than his 0-8 stretch late in regulation and first OT, he shot well under intense pressure against younger, longer foes.

At age 34 he scored 34 points, grabbed 15 rebounds, dished out eight assists and blocked four shots in 52 grueling minutes. “Not bad for a guy with a bad back and an injured finger,” noted Albert.

The Celtics blistered the nets at a 55.6 percent clip, canning 60 of 108 from the field. Lewis scored 25 points and rookie guard Dee Brown came off the bench to make 10 of 12 shots en route to 21 points.

Jordan scored 37 points, but made only a third of his field tries while shooting a miserable 12-of-36 against the long-armed, hounding defense of the sinewy Lewis. He sank all 13 of his foul shots and was credited with nine assists, seven rebounds and two steals.

Pippen tossed in 35 points on 12-24 accuracy. Sharpshooting Paxson nailed 11 of 18 shots for 28 points, including a perfect five for five on three-point tries.

The Bulls shot just 45 percent from the field and made 14 fewer field goals than Boston, but stayed close by knocking down 32 of 35 at the charity stripe. The Celtics, at home, attempted just 19 foul shots in 58 minutes and missed seven.

Lewis was the main culprit, missing four late at the line, yet he did sink 10 of 20 from the field and block four Jordan shots.

But the Boston bench, led by Brown and McHale, outscored Chicago’s reserves, 38-12.

Epilogue/1991 playoffs:

The younger Bulls rebounded from the wrenching loss to go 8-3 the rest of the way and finish with a conference-best 61-21 record, second only in the NBA to Portland’s 63-19 mark. Boston went just 4-6 down the stretch, losing their last four games yet still winning the Atlantic Division with a 56-26 mark.

Ominously, Bird played just three of the final 10 regular season games after the double OT win as his balky back acted up. The Celtics went 2-5 in the seven games he missed.

On Easter Sunday, the two eastern powers seemed almost destined to meet in a dream conference finals in two months time. But Father Time and a surprisingly tough first round series took their toll on Boston, and showed the ship was lilting.

Second-seeded Boston barely scraped by talented young Indiana 3-2 in a memorable series, led by Bird’s epic game five “Willis Reed-like” comeback from injury in a 32-point masterpiece. It was the last truly great playoff game of his illustrious career.

After edging past Indiana 124-121 in the decisive game, the aging Celtics had to take on a familar foe - rugged defending champion Detroit, the fifth time in seven years they had met in the post-season since 1985 -- before they could take on top seed Chicago.

It was a predictably contentious conference semis, and Boston led 2-1 before losing the next two after Parish was injured early in game four. Dennis Rodman, Bill Laimbeer, John Salley and the bruising Piston defense battered a weary Bird, holding him to just 38 percent shooting and 13.4 ppg in the series.

With the Chief back in Boston resting hopefully for a seventh game, Boston faced a backs-to-the-wall game six in Detroit before a rabid Palace crowd. The Celtics trailed by 17 points in the second half but mustered an incredibly gutty rally behind McHale, who scored a game-high 34 points on 11-19/11-14 shooting.

Executing well on virtually every possession down the stretch amid a hostile atmosphere when any miss might mean the season was over at the hands of a truly hated rival, the Celtics gamely showed their championship mettle by coming back to tie it near the end.

The classic rally appeared complete when McHale came off the baseline to convert a tie-breaking tip-in of a Lewis miss in the final minute of regulation. But the nearby Piston bench and partisan crowd influenced official Jack Madden to wave off the obviously legal hoop, eventually forcing overtime.

An incredulous McHale and the Boston bench vehemently protested the bad call to no avail, as did ex-Piston/Celtic guard and Boston coach Chris Ford.

Even TNT TV analyst Hubie Brown said “I disagree with that one...we had a pretty good angle right here.” His partner, veteran play-by-play announcer Pete Van Wieren, agreed that the call was missed.

Brown correctly observed during a replay that the ball and McHale’s tipping hand were not only clearly outside of/to the left of the cylinder when contacting the ball, but that Kevin’s hand was also just BELOW the rim when he nudged in his acrobatic tip-in.

But back in the era before video replay, the erroneous call stood.

In overtime, Boston scored the first four points. But then they ran out of gas, spent by the energy expended in their rally. As the shot clock expired, Isiah Thomas BANKED in a desperation three-pointer to spark Detroit to a 12-4 closing run and avoid a seventh game back at Boston.

Had the McHale tap counted and Detroit blown game six at home after holding a big second half lead, it is unlikely they would have recovered to win a game seven at the Garden - especially with Parish back in the lineup and all the momentum in Boston’s favor.

Bothered by a wrist injury himself, Thomas averaged a mere 8.5 ppg in the series and shot only 35 percent from the floor. He made just two of seven triples in the series, but hit the biggest one when it counted most, albeit luckily, and added two other long dagger jumpers in OT.

”It wasn’t skill, it was all luck...I wasn’t trying to bank the shot,” Thomas admitted in reference to the backbreaking OT triple in a TNT post-game interview. “I was just trying to get it up on the backboard so we could get a rebound. The Garden is great, but damn it I don’t want to see it again this year,” he said, happily laughing about avoiding a seventh game in Boston.

Boston and basketball fans thus were robbed of a potential Boston/Chicago series for the ages.

The Bulls then exacted a measure of revenge for three straight playoff defeats at the hands of the hated Pistons by sweeping Detroit 4-0 in an anticlimactic conference final.

The main drama of that series came at the end of game four, when the “Bad Boy” Pistons executed the infamous no handshake walk-off by the Bulls bench before the final buzzer as their home crowd cheered.

Detroit simply had nothing left for the hungry Bulls after using up all their bullets against Boston in the prior series, and it was the end of the Bad Boy era of dominance. The Pistons did not return to the Finals again until 2004.

Chicago then went on to beat the Lakers 4-1 to win the first of their six titles in the 1990s.

But the Bulls were certainly glad they got to avoid the Celtics in the conference finals. Boston would likely have given them a much tougher series than either Detroit or LA did.

For basketball fans, the NBA and NBC, missing out on a dream Boston/Chicago conference finals was a big loss artistically and competitive-wise.

A Bird vs. Jordan showdown and all the underlying sub-plots would have made for great drama and greater basketball, as was on display in their Easter Sunday masterpiece.

To contact the author, you can email Cort Reynolds at

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