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Friday, June 14, 2013
Happy anniversary: MJ's final Bulls shot

By Ernest Tolden

Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan scored 45 points, which was the third-highest scoring mark in an NBA Finals game.
Today marks the 15th anniversary of one of the greatest shots in NBA history.

In Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, Michael Jordan drained his infamous 17-footer to give the Bulls an 87-86 lead over the Jazz with 5.2 second remaining. That shot proved to be the game-winner, sealing Chicago's sixth and last NBA title.

Jordan finished with a game-high 45 points. It marked his third-highest scoring mark in an NBA Finals game. It also was his sixth career 40-point game in the NBA Finals. Only Jerry West recorded more 40-point games in NBA Finals history with 10.

Let's take a deeper historical and statistical look inside Jordan's final performance in a Bulls uniform.

The game winner came over Jazz guard Bryon Russell, who often guarded Jordan throughout the series. Of Jordan's 33 points scored from the field (12 points on free throws), 24 were scored with Russell as the primary defender.

Jordan was the best closer on the game's biggest stage in his era and ever since. That shot marked his third game-tying or go-ahead field goal with fewer than six seconds remaining in the fourth quarter or overtime in an NBA Finals game. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, 11 other players have made such a shot since Jordan's first NBA Finals appearance in 1991, but none has more than one.

His other two shots in that situation came in Game 3 of the 1991 Finals against the Lakers (game-tying FG to force OT) and in Game 1 of the 1997 NBA Finals against the Jazz (Game-winning FG as time expired).

Leading up to the closing seconds, Jordan dominated clutch time, which is defined as the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with the score margin five points or less. Jordan scored eight of the Bulls' 11 points over that span, connecting on two of his field goal attempts. Jordan also recorded two steals in clutch time, most notably stripping Karl Malone of the ball with the Bulls trailing 86-85 with 20 remaining. That defensive stand gave the Bulls the ball, which led to Jordan's game winner.

In six games in the 1998 NBA Finals, Jordan scored a total of 30 clutch-time points. Since 1997, that remains the most by a player in a single NBA Finals series. The next highest total over that span is 26 by Dirk Nowitzki in 2011 and Dwyane Wade in 2006.

Despite his high point total, Jordan actually struggled with his mid-range shot in the clinching game, an area that covers anywhere outside the paint and inside the three-point line. MJ shot 34 percent (8-23 FG) on such shots and was 2-for-7 in the fourth quarter prior to his game-winning mid-range basket. He shot an efficient 58.3 percent (7-12 FG) on all other shots, including 3-for-7 from three-point range.

Jordan closed his Chicago Bulls career with a scoring average of 33.6 points in 35 NBA Finals games. Only Rick Barry (36.3) has a higher all-time scoring average in the NBA.