December 18, 2018
The Marquee Matchup: Michael vs Malone
Reliving the Bulls 5th title was something of a bittersweet experience, taking me back to an earlier less-complicated time in my life (single, no kids). Coming off a record setting 72-10 the year before, the Bulls cruised through the Eastern Conference playoffs before running into arguably their most formidable foe of any of their championship runs.

Featuring John Stockton and Karl Malone, the Jazz were a gritty, no-nonsense team in the mold of their coach, former Bulls player and coach Jerry Sloan. Fortified by tough pros like Jeff Hornacek and Bryon Russell, the Jazz were able to push the Bulls to six games, the longest series the Bulls had that year.

The Jazz held a 6-8 point lead throughout much of this game. Due to the slow pace, an 8 point lead seemed much larger. With Michael Jordan resting to start the 4th, the Bulls went on a big run to tie the game. It was testament to the Bulls growth as a team that they were able to do this all season long by holding the fort down til Michael came back and did his 4th quarter magic.

Jud Beuchler’s 3 at the end of the 3rd got them going a bit, and Scottie Pippen harassed the Jazz into turnovers and hit another crucial 3 in the middle of the fourth. However, Scottie’s gambling on defense almost cost the Bulls the game, as Stockton made several beautiful passes to a cutting Shandon Anderson (Scottie’s man) for layups. Unfortunately for Jazz fans, Anderson bricked a reverse layup, got a dunk blocked, and with 30 seconds left, had another reverse roll off the rim. That miss proved crucial, particularly because Pippen grabbed the rim and pulled it down, shaking the support. There is no question this affected the bounce of the ball. But that’s not the question as far as goaltending – once Scottie grabbed the rim on the shot attempt, it is simply goaltending.

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Imagine the Bulls coming down the court with under 20 seconds to go, down by 2 instead of tied. The whole complexion of the game, and the series changes. If the Bulls don’t win Game 6 and have to go to a game 7 – something they rarely ever did in the playoffs and never did in the Finals, there’s no telling the outcome. Perhaps the Bulls break up the nucleus of that team if they don’t win again, Michael doesn’t get 6 rings, and the ripple effects continue. Steve Kerr is not the hero – does he then get a shot at general managing the Suns? Does he get a shot at doing color commentary on TV?

We can play “It’s A Wonderful Life” all day, but for Utah Jazz fans, this represented a bitter defeat after another let down by the referees. I’m sure they have no problem seeing David Stern retire in a year from now.

Box Score Courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com
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