Michael Jordan is not only the league’s greatest player but one could easily make the case that he is also the NBA’s greatest performer. Few players have been able to consistently raise the level of their play in conjunction with the stakes. Indeed, for all the clamoring about LeBron James being the next great thing, his showing in the 2011 NBA Finals made us realize that not everyone is ready and willing to accept the pressure that comes with battling for a title.
Jordan on the other hand shined brightest in the biggest of games and turned himself into an almost mythical figure. In this day and age, any comparison to Michael Jordan is seen almost as a form of basketball blasphemy; an attack on the jewels of the king’s crown.
And frankly, it would be hard to argue otherwise given MJ’s accomplishments during his playing career. Jordan may have scored a multitude of points, but more impressively he managed to get himself into scoring position in key stretches of games to help his team emerge victorious. In addition, he defended like a mad man and eventually understood the fine balance of keeping his teammates involved and taking over ball games.
During the 1993 NBA Finals, Michael Jordan became what the league had feared: the best player in the game who had now hit his prime. The five-time league MVP had perfectly blended his physical skills to go along with his basketball IQ and thus proceeded to tear apart the Phoenix Suns on his way to his third championship ring.
Many will argue that Jordan’s performance in the ’93 Finals is by far the best of his career given his total evisceration of the Phoenix defense during the six-game series. The Hall of Fame guard averaged 41.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game on 50.8 percent field goal shooting and put the world on notice with a 55-point explosion in Game 4.
This version of Jordan was just too much for anyone to deal with. When defenses tried to be physical with him, Michael simply stood up for himself as well as his teammates and went on his own personal scoring runs to demoralize his opponents and their coaching staffs. In a nutshell, Jordan was unstoppable in 1993; and yet one could make the case that it was not his best Finals performance.
Flashback to the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals, and you will notice a much different version of Michael Jordan that fans had grown accustomed to at that point in his career. He was still a dominant scorer, mind you he was much more eager to bring his teammates along the ride with him. Consequently, the Chicago Bulls not only stood up to the Bad Boys Pistons, they took them apart and swept them despite their rough physical play.
When the Bulls reached the 1991 NBA Finals, an experienced Los Angeles Lakers team spearheaded by Magic Johnson was there waiting for them. The Lakers maestro is by far the best point guard the league has ever seen and he caused a myriad of match up problems given his 6’9 frame, his ball-handling abilities and his uncanny court vision.
And yet, the championship round belonged to the Bulls’ star.
Michael Jordan was clearly the most dominant player in the series and it was not close. Jordan scored often and efficiently, thanks in large part to his willingness to regularly take high percentage shots. Indeed, other than field goal attempts that came late in the shot clock, every shot by Jordan was either at the rim or from midrange with one defender guarding him.
Also, as much as bonus points are not supposed to count, it would be awfully tough to ignore his jaw-dropping displays of athleticism when he skied to the basket for a dunk or an impossible left-handed reverse lay up.
As good as the flash was, it also matched the substance. In the series against the Lakers, Jordan kept his teammates involved by consistently passing them the ball and allowing them to get a feel for the game by putting up shots and making decisions on their own. In addition, he figured out how to get them easy shot opportunities simply by attracting the defense towards him.
For instance, the former Tar Heel often drove to the rim and left his feet only to find the likes of Vlade Divac, A.C. Green or Elden Campbell waiting for him at the basket while Horace Grant and Bill Cartwright were left open for uncontested lay-ins. Thus, Michael would promptly dish off to his big men instead of taking it in for a spectacular finish.
Also, when the Lakers sent extra help at his Airness on the strong side of the court, Jordan would toy with defenders by beating his man as well as the help defender for an acrobatic finish at the rim; but then the next trip down he would fake the drive and then feed a wide open shooter (such as John Paxson, Craig Hodges or B.J. Armstrong). Consequently, there was no way to guard the Bulls’ starting guard at that point in time given his willingness to share the spotlight with his teammates whenever his path was impeded by defenders.
Michael Jordan was a great offensive force but his performance on defense during the 1991 NBA Finals has rarely been a topic of conversation given the more glamorous aspects in his game.
The 14-time NBA All-Star often picked up Magic Johnson full court and exerted a tremendous amount of energy guarding the former Michigan State Spartan. He applied great pressure on the Lakers point guard and made him earn every inch on the court by beating him to spots and playing physical defense with Johnson. In addition to his brilliant one-on-one defense, Jordan also did an impressive job as a team defender; figuring out when to roam on defense to block shots and also to get into passing lanes to deflect passes and then get out in transition.
The one area where Jordan probably should have faired better was in the rebounding department; as he at times failed to properly box out his man. Nonetheless, his performance during the 1991 title round is by far his most underrated.
Jordan was responsible for scoring, creating offense for others, setting the tone on defense and also making sure to bring his teammates along for the ride. That may not sound like much, but here we are 20 years later, and no perimeter player has been able to duplicate Jordan’s feats from the 1991 NBA Finals. Many will point to Kobe Bryant’s heroics in his multiple Finals appearances as well as Dwyane Wade’s performance in the 2006 Finals, but both those players come close and yet are so far at the same time.
During the championship round against the Los Angeles Lakers, Michael Jordan averaged a staggering 31.2 points, 11.4 assists, 6.6 rebounds, 2.8 steals and 1.4 blocks per game on 55.8 percent field goal shooting on his way to the title. Forget other players altogether, MJ himself has never played better in the NBA Finals.