The 1990-91 season and postseason saw the contending Chicago Bulls mature. Led by the eventual MVP Michael Jordan, the Bulls surged to a 61-21 regular-season record and won the Central Division crown. In the ’91 postseason, the Bulls eliminated the New York Knicks (3-0), Philadelphia 76ers (4-1) before clashing with and eventually finally overtaking their longtime nemesis – Detroit Pistons (4-1).
In the West, it was the Lakers who prevailed in the Western Conference finals series with the surging Portland Trail Blazers squad and thus advanced in their third NBA finals since 1988. We were in for a spectacular match-up of two of the most publicized NBA stars at the time – 1990 MVP Magic Johnson and 1991 MVP Michael Jordan. A sweet dessert at the season’s end!
But, it was the other Bull who stole the show – Scottie Pippen – his smothering defensive play on Magic Johnson and offensive creativity at the point forward position, throughout the series, changed the nominal odds and pushed the Chicago Bulls toward their 1st NBA championship title ever. The Bulls lost the opening game in Chicago, then came awake in the game 2 in the Windy City, before storming out to the City of Angels, where they won three consecutive games and concluded the mission.
The decisive game 5 of the series brought great basketball with neither team backing down. Bull’s head coach, Phil Jackson, repeatedly seeing that his team’s leading star loses too much energy while having to battle through Lakers double-teams continually, used the time-out and suggested Jordan to pass the ball to a wide-open Paxson on the perimeter.
“You don’t have to shoot that shot. Run around to the point. John’s open right there. You can still create. All right? He’s hitting shots.”Phil Jackson, The Last Dance
And Jordan did just what Jackson told him to do – he fed Paxson for a series for uncontested jumpers!
“Phil said, you know, forcefully, ‘Paxson is open, get him the ball.‘ And I started looking for Paxson. Once Pax his that first shot, ‘Oh, okay. Fine. Let me do this again. Penetrate, find ‘Pax’. And he kept hitting ’em, kept hitting ’em.”Michael Jordan, The Last Dance
With the game on the line, the Bulls guard was in a spot where Jackson visualized him, and right on the mark on each of the perimeter jumpers, he took in the game five clutch time.
After Pippen tied the game at 93-93 with a triple, it was Paxson who propelled the Bulls to the win by scoring 10 out of the Bulls last 12 points in the game. Overall, the Bulls sharpshooter made 9-12 shots from the field and 2-2 free-throws for a total of 20 points and was named the player of the game.
That was exactly what Phil was trying to get Michael to understand and believe in over the couple years, is that ‘These other guys can help you out.’John Paxson, The Last Dance
But, ‘The Last Dance’ fails to mention the bold fact that Paxson wasn’t on fire just in the game 5 of that historic series. Throughout all five games of the series, Paxson was constantly on fire, having scored a total of 77 points for an average of 15.4ppg, while hitting 65.3% of his field-goal attempts (32-49).
Paxson’s unconscious shooting streak had been going on from the very beginning of the 1990-91 season, which he finished as the only guard among the league Top10 leaders in the category of field goal percentage. During that season, Paxson averaged 8.7ppg over 24.0 minutes per contest, while shooting 54.8% from the field (10th in the league) and 82.9 from behind the charity stripe.
Over the total of seventeen 1991 postseason appearances, Paxson averaged 8.2ppg over 28.6 minutes per game, while hitting all of his free-throw attempts! He also displayed excellent ball-handling skills averaging 3.1 assists, and reaching a surprisingly remarkable 8.83/1 (53/6) assist-to-turnover ratio!
Interestingly, Paxson teamed-up with his future teammate Michael Jordan already nine years earlier. Back in the summer of 1982, Team USA toured Europe, with the games being played in Switzerland, Hungary, and ex-Yugoslavia. Pax and MJ shared the same uniform and played great basketball!
Basketball Network contributor Murray A. a.k.a. Marjan Crnogaj, the 1980s and 1990s basketball specialist, is the proud co-author of the Amazon.com TOP 100 basketball biography ‘Drazen – The Years of the Dragon.’