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.
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.