Tuesday, August 26, 2008

1991 NBA Finals Lakers at Bulls Game 1

The Bulls had to crawl before they could walk. They had paid their playoff dues and after sweeping the Pistons, the team they had lost to in the playoffs three years in a row, they finally had found themselves in the Finals against a seasoned Lakers squad.

Jordan wasn’t particularly young when he reached the big stage (29), and Magic wasn’t all that old (31) as he was exiting stage left. It was the ninth time Magic had played in a finals, but this wasn’t his Showtime Lakers of the 80's. This team liked to slow things down and get a good look in a half court set. Magic himself had lost some quickness and endurance, but he was as crafty as ever and could run the point blindfolded. He was still good for a triple-double in almost any game, but the run-and-gun style he became famous for had vanished almost completely by then.

James Worthy had sprained his ankle in the series before against Portland and wasn’t the high flyer of his youth. He still could knock down his turnaround jumper and rebound well enough to be pretty effective. Sleepy Sam Perkins was the assassin who could hit shots from all over the floor. Similar to the clutch shooting of Big Shot Bob Horry later in the decade, Perkins knocked down key buckets during crucial stretches for his team. Kareem was retired and Vlade Divac was the new Lakers center. The Yugoslavian silly guy didn’t have the majestical passing skills he would later demonstrate in Sac but he was far more active and could even jump a little back then. While never a defensive enforcer, in ‘91 he had good timing on his shot block attempts and seemed good for two or three a game. Byron Scott was there too, always flying under the radar. Scott could shoot (53 percent from 3-point in '91 playoffs), could dunk and could play aggressive defense (had over 100 steals in 1990-91 season).

The one thing the Lakers didn’t have was a bench. AC Green could help spell Perkins or Worthy for a bit, and Terry Teagle found some minutes on this team but that was about it. An aged team coupled with a light bench doesn’t work out well.

Chicago on the other hand was young and hungry. The superstars drafted in the mid-80's had blossomed and Jordan was the crown jewel of them all. He and Pippen had slugged it out with the Detroit Bad Boys for what seemed like decades, and had finally overcame them in ‘91. The dynamic duo were slasher extraordinaires that easily found their way into the paint and glided past defenders in the air. Neither was the shooter they would later become, but they hit enough to keep the defense honest. Chicago started the triangle offense, but in it’s infancy, it was a face-the-basket variety. Horace Grant and Bill Cartwright would post up but the shots were designed to come from the two slashers and the spot up shooter John Paxson. No one tried to back you down on the Bulls team then. Instead, they would either shoot jumpers over you or take it to the rim showing off their controlled acrobatics. John Paxson had the quickest release in the game and he could knock down threes with consistency. It was easy for defenses to lose track of Paxson when Pippen and MJ demanded so much attention. If he snuck off and found an open shot, you could mark it down as good. Like the Lakers, the Bulls also had a very limited bench. Will Perdue, Cliff Levingston, Craig Hodges and a light dose of BJ Armstrong was about it.

The Bulls were fast and wanted to push the ball when they got it. Typically, Pippen ran point guard and let Michael take the shots. Big guys underneath were to stay around the basket and clean up misses when necessary.

Many of the Bulls admitted to being nervous in the first game of the finals. For the Lakers, it was simply that time of year again.

Jordan blew up early in Game 1 scoring 15 points in the first quarter which came mostly on dunks. Perkins kept the Lakers in it with his stroke from the outside. LA started throwing the whole team at Jordan when he got the ball. The strategy worked limiting MJ to under ten points in the second and third quarters combined and wearing him out in the process. Jordan became winded late in the third quarter and had to check himself out of the game. The breather helped him take over when he returned, as he shot on every possession for the Bulls. Chicago was up two and looking good with the Lakers down to their last possession.

Sam Perkins cooly knocked down a big three, his third of the game, and gave the Lakers a 1-0 lead as MJ’s eighteen foot game-winner rimmed out.

Magic ended with his day-at-the-office triple-double (19 10 10), and MJ ended with 36 points and 12 assists in the loss. The Bulls role players failed to hit some key shots when they got the chance, and Sam Perkins made points when the Lakers absolutely needed them. The Czar, Mike Fratello, expected the Bulls to change their strategy for game two.

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