We all know Michael Jordan was so good that sometimes there was no other way of stopping him than playing dirty. The "Bad Boys" Pistons are most notorious for that with their "Jordan Rules," but they weren't the only ones to use that approach when playing MJ and the Bulls. The Knicks of the 90s' were a crazy team filled with some stern and authoritarian personalities, and the 1992 playoff battle versus the Bulls was one for the ages.
The Knicks-Bulls rivalry
In his first season in New York, Pat Riley took charge of a subpar team, but he would rejuvenate them through the season and build a formidable squad that competed for the decade ahead of them. That would lead them to the playoffs as the #4 seed, facing Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
Chicago was coming off their first championship, riding high as the favorites versus the Knicks. But this would turn out to be a long and tense seven-game series. Nevertheless, Jordan was dominating and humiliating his defenders, causing a problem of pride in the Knicks locker room.
Riley fires up his team
After MJ torched the Knicks in Game 5, coach Riley decided to take some drastic measures, taking his best players to the video room, continually showing them video footage of MJ humiliating them. The blueprint was apparent; somebody had to step up, knock MJ down and not help him up. Having the likes of Oakley, Mason, McDaniel, Ewing, and Starks on the roster meant this should be no problem.
Riley's words reached MJ himself, who was aware of the situation and fearful of a serious injury coming his way. Chris Herring described in his new book Blood in the Garden how that impacted Jordan's play in Game 6: "Seeing that the Knicks were prepared to take a heavy-handed approach, Jordan played passively in Game 6...Even if he got past one defender, he tiptoed around, knowing the next man might blow him up...as he neared the free-throw line, three players-Anthony, Oakley and Mason-collapsed towards him. Hearing the footsteps, the superstar uncharacteristically lost the ball on his own, without a defender poking it away."
The Knicks would show some toughness on the defensive side of the floor and tie the series at 3-a-piece, forcing Game 7 in Chicago. Some would argue that was Jordan's worst playoff performance:
"Jordan shot plenty. But 22 of his 25 shots came outside the paint. The result, a 9-25 showing for 21 points, was arguably the worst shooting performance of Jordan's playoff career to that point."
Chris Herring, Blood in the Garden
For the talent and character Jordan was, seeing him passive and out of his comfort zone was something brand new. Many would argue this was the only instance in which MJ didn't have control of the game. But being the GOAT he is, Jordan would recuperate after that game and get back into his mindset. MJ was hell-bent on not letting the Knicks' psychical play diminish his aggressiveness.
In an intense Game 7 between these two teams, the Bulls would break off in the third quarter, tipping the game in their favor and blowing out the Knicks 110-81. Jordan's 42-point performance and Pippen's triple-double were too much as the Bulls advanced to the Conference Finals. Nobody was happy about losing, but forcing the defending champs to Game 7 while managing to get the great Michael Jordan out of his rhythm at least for one game was the first step in the right direction of the great decade for the New York Knicks.