Skip to main content

MJ deconstructs Riley's Heat in 1997 EC Finals

michael jordan

Faced with the rising Miami Heat squad, which featured superstars Tim Hardaway and Zo Mourning, 34-year old Michael Jordan had to reach deep into his bag full of basketball tricks in order to win the crucial game for the eventual 1997 World Champions - the Chicago Bulls.

NBA Coach of the year Pat Riley invested a couple of seasons into building a legit contender in Miami.
That season Heat would become Atlantic Division champions with 61-21 record, trailing only to the eventual champions Chicago Bulls with 69-13 record on the Eastern Conference leather.

All season long, the Miami Heat knew that in order to reach the NBA finals for the first time in history the world needs to overcome not just the New York Knicks but also the defending champions Chicago Bulls lead by the leading NBA scorer Michael Jordan (29.6ppg), who was getting in shape for Space Jam.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

So, Riley tried to construct the defensive 'wall' for the Eastern Conference nemesis, with the first line consisting of the players who were eager to leave their hart on the court for the Heat - Voshon Lenard, Dan Majerle, Keith Askins. Of course, if MJ somehow went around them it was Zo Mourning who averaged 2.9 blocks per game that year waiting on his shift in the paint, alongside P.J. Brown.

But MJ wasn't intimidated at all - with his focus on the ‘bold one’ (the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship trophy) he opened up the series with 37 point-performance (15-31 from the field) and added 23 points in the Game 2 for second straight Bulls home win, before series shifted southwards, to Florida.

In the crucial Game 3 of the series in Miami, with Bulls holding 2-0 lead, Jordan was relentless - he again proved to be merciless when the season was on the line and did some of his usual scoring ‘magic’, pouring in 34 points with ease, while hitting 14 of his 25 well-contested shots from the field and all five of his free-throws.

Bulls would lose the Game 4 in Miami (MJ 29 pts) and finish off the Heat in Chicago in Game 5 (MJ 28 pts), before taking on Utah Jazz in 1997 NBA Finals and repeating as the NBA Champions.

Marjan Crnogaj is BN contributor and the author of the book ‘Drazen – The Years of the Dragon’ which can be found here.

Brandon Jennings

Brandon Jennings goes off on the state of the NBA - “It’s only a couple of guys in the NBA that love the game”

Jennings' opinions are certainly divisive, but it's clear that without change the NBA would get stale, and that's why it's necessary to continue exploring ways to evolve the game

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan’s secret tattoo and the meaning behind it revealed

It's barely visible and not something MJ liked to talk about.

Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan

Zach Snyder on directing Michael Jordan in "Playground" — “He’s a natural.”

One went on to make Space Jam, the other 300, Justice League, Army of the Dead, Man of Steel, Watchmen, and Dawn of the Dead. Two great movie careers, starting in 1990.

Miami Heat forward LeBron James and team president Pat Riley

The moment Pat Riley should've known LeBron James would one day leave Miami

Upon his arrival to Miami, LeBron made a request that should've let Riley know a new era was coming.

Dennis Rodman

How Dennis Rodman's gay bar double-date led to the Chicago Bulls winning the 1996 NBA Championship

Remember Jack Haley? It turns out he was crucial for the Bulls winning in 1996 because he was “the only person who speaks fluent Rodman,” and knew how to convince Dennis not to quit the team before Game 6 of the Finals.

Detroit Pistons center Bill Laimbeer and guard Isiah Thomas

“I don't need to take that s**t!” — when Isiah Thomas broke his hand after punching Bill Laimbeer

Isiah Thomas punched Bill Laimbeer so hard he broke his hand during one of Detroit Pistons' practices.

Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan

“I don’t know if I could’ve survived in this Twitter (era)” — Michael Jordan on social media and cancel culture

There's no hand-checking and hard fouls in 2022. But there's Twitter, political correctness and almost no privacy whatsoever.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Remember when KCP played with an ankle monitor?

In terms of serving time, continuing to play games while in prison is not that bad.