In Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals 25 years ago today, the Chicago Bulls defeated the Phoenix Suns, 99-98, and won their third consecutive championship.
The Bulls led the Phoenix Suns after three quarters, 87-79. Michael Jordan led all scorers with 24 points, while the Bulls were just 12 minutes from history. Then, the Bulls offense started to be very inefficient. In the first 6:09 of the fourth quarter, the Bulls didn’t score. They committed three shot-clock violations in that span and American West Arena was rocking, as the Suns home crowd (and their defense) sparked them right back into the ballgame. Jordan ended the scoreless drought with a made free throw with 5:51 left in the game and would score the next eight points, as the Bulls trailed 98-96 with 14.1 seconds left, but had possession after a Dan Majerle airball, which was rare in the series.
The final defensive play was simple for Phoenix: don’t let Michael Jordan beat you. They succeed in that after they double team him in the backcourt, but they forgot about the best shooter on the floor. Jordan pushed the ball to Scottie Pippen, who attempted to drive the lane and was cut off by Suns big man Mark West. After Pippen’s lane was shut, he dished the ball to Horace Grant in the post, who had a quick look at the basket with just under seven seconds left. Grant made a great pass to a wide-open John Paxson on the left-wing, and Paxson made a three with 03.9 left in the game to give the Bulls a 99-98 lead.
After a Phoenix timeout, the Suns had one last chance that was blocked by Horace Grant, who made the right pass on the other end just a possession ago.
Jordan had a famous quote after the game, Bulls not only win their road game of the series but their third straight title.
“Once Paxson got the ball, I knew it was over,” Jordan said.
Despite only taking three prior shot attempts in the game, Paxson was “cold as ice” when asked about the decisive three.
“There was no one around me, and it felt good when it left. I just caught the ball and shot it, as I have my whole life. I’ve been playing basketball since I was 8 years old, and I’ve shot like that in my driveway hundreds of thousands of times. It was just a reaction.”
The significance of the shot and of the game: It was impossible to imagine at the time that would be Jordan’s final game before announcing his retirement for the first time. With any doubt, Paxson’s wide-open jumper from the left side had the historical importance of clinching the first three-peat since the Celtics of the 1960s. And when Phoenix’s Danny Ainge was forced to leave Paxson to help inside on defense, then could not recover in time to challenge Paxson’s shot on the perimeter, the guard who had spent years as a long-range marksman but never distinguished himself as more than a role player had earned a spot in the lore of the game. It also was the difference in the Bulls having to play a Game 7 on the road for the championship.