In the last installment, I'll be watching Game 1 of the 1996 Eastern Conference Finals, between the Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic. I'm watching it because it's one of my favorite games, one of the more dominant examples of both-ends basketball I've ever seen, and because I don't know if I'll ever be afforded a chance to give me thoughts on an 11-year old game on a forum like this again. This is gonna be sweet.
The Bulls start Ron Harper, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and Luc Longley. The Magic start Shaquille O'Neal, Horace Grant and Dennis Scott up front, with Nick Anderson and Anfernee Hardaway at the guard slots. The Magic are a year removed from beating the Bulls in the playoffs. The Bulls are a few weeks removed from winning 72 out of 82 regular season games.
Here's Ahmad Rashad, just before tip-off (my thoughts in parenthesis):
"Michael Jordan and I always have a little ritual we go through (after I pick up his dry cleaning), we ride to the games together (Ahmad in front, MJ in back, 'natch). And today, I noticed a very difference (sic) in his attitude (through the partition, looking in the rearview mirror). It was different from last year at this time, and I asked him about it (whilst pouring him some Earl Grey at a stop light). He said that last year, he did not have the confidence he had before (last year, Will Perdue was on the team). He had the motivation, but he didn't feel like his physical skills were there (the skills needed to force starting power forward Toni Kukoc into the lane, and the physicality needed to lift Toni's arms up for him to grab a rebound). This year, he feels like he has the skills he needs - and one other 'plus.' He feels like he has the edge he had when Chicago won those three championships (thank you, Earl Grey)."
1Q, 10:44: Luc Longley follows a dunk in Horace Grant's face with a rolling hook on Shaq. Luc 4, Magic 0.
1Q, 10:35: Already the Magic look freaked out. They're playing as if the Bulls have six defenders on the floor, passing the ball as soon as they get the rock, shooting without jumping to the top of their arc. Penny Hardaway looked comfortable posting up Pippen, but Pippen responded with an all-out smother, and knocked the ball out of bounds. Dennis Scott missed a half-hearted runner which led to a breakaway Pippen dunk on the other end.
1Q, 10:02: Dennis Rodman converts a 3-point play, the Bulls lead 9-0, and we've seen the first of 829 camera shots of Brian Hill standing with his lips pursed, not saying a word. Not calling a play, and definitely not making eye contact with any of his players. The Bulls are wildly overplaying the wings - we've realized that two minutes in. Hill won't change a thing, won't set up any reverses, and won't react at all. Trust me; I've seen this game a few times.
1Q, 9:29: Hill makes eye contact with Penny Hardaway after yelling (you can hear it) "Penny!" three times. The Magic call a timeout, already down ten.
1Q, 9:21: Hill calls a clear-out for Penny, who misses a jumper in Pippen's face. This feels like the last shot Hardaway misses in the game.
1Q, 8:57: The Magic finally scores, as Nick Anderson hits one of two free throws. Dennis Rodman has four rebounds already.
1Q, 8:20: Hardaway dunks from two steps inside the foul line with his left hand, in Longley's face. Darrell Armstrong, resplendent in a mustard-yellow suit that my father STILL hasn't stopped talking about, jumps off the bench in exultation.
1Q, 4:00: With Longley out with two fouls, 220-pound Dennis Rodman takes over Shaq duty, and forces him into a ten-foot turnaround (airball) in his first attempt. Rodman has seven rebounds by now.
1Q, 3:27: Penny gets what Orlando's coaching staff doesn't, and goes back-door after Pippen fronts the post, and slams home his third basket.
1Q, 2:26: Rodman falls out of bounds while grabbing a rebound, and calls timeout (which was legal back then). Bill Walton chides Dennis for wasting a timeout "for a solitary possession, when you're up six points, in the first half;" but this is a different ballgame. There were more timeouts back then, Phil Jackson rarely used his 20-second timeout in the first half, and the added postseason TV timeouts made fatigue a non-factor. As if to prove my point, made 11 years later, NBC turns the 20 into a full timeout.
1Q, 2:20: Rodman's gambit works. Jackson calls a play where Michael Jordan is to nail a 20-footer off one pass, Brian Shaw is to throw a lazy inbounds pass, and Kukoc is make the steal and quick lay-in. Executed to perfection, four points in six seconds.
1Q, 1:10: Just an amazing 22-second possession for Orlando; or, more specifically, Penny Hardaway. Hardaway has the ball for 18 seconds, trying to dribble around or post up Pippen, who refuses to let him. He finally is able to pull off one magnificent spin move to get a rolling hook off just over Pippen's outstretched hand, which goes in. Astonishingly-good defense, better offense.
1Q, 0:00: Hardaway's 49-foot three-pointer brings the Magic to within 13 to end the first quarter, 32-19. Hardaway has 11 points. Dennis Rodman has eight rebounds, the Magic have five.
2Q, 9:12: Shaq's already ticked. He's not talking, smiling, looking interested, or making any eye contact. You can tell he already wants off this team.
2Q, 7:33: Dennis Rodman is dominating the boards, so who does Brian Hill send in? Donald Royal! Rodman responds by picking up his ninth rebound and throwing in a lay-up.
2Q, 6:47: Penny eviscerates Toni Kukoc as TK tries to bring the ball up, steals the ball, gets it back from Shaw, and lays it in. 17 points, Bulls up four. The NBA Draft Lottery is at halftime, I really wish I'd taped that. The 1996 Draft is a month later, and I really wish I'd taped that - one of the best in NBA history. "Mad About You" is on later that night, no regrets there. Actually, I did tape "Homerpalooza" ("the competent drum work of Don Brewer") later that evening, very happy about that.
2Q, 5:30: Anthony Bowie has now moved on to Dennis Rodman, and he's making Royal look like Nate Thurmond. Dennis has 11 rebounds, and just hit Longley with a pass for his tenth point.
2Q, 3:43: Jud Buechler, who actually boasts a great vertical and is quite the athlete, essentially jumps about two feet too far away from the rim on a finger-roll attempt, and misses horribly. "That was not Dr. J," Walton reminds.
2Q, 1:01: The Bulls are just running at all costs, Jackson had to be in the team's ear like this. The team was willing to selectively run all season, but the Bulls are getting out on the Magic even when there isn't a distinct advantage. Hardly matters, Bulls up 12.
Halftime. Hardaway, who has scored 22 points, sits dejectedly under his own hoop after John Salley blocked his final shot attempt of the half, and the Bulls lead by ten, 55 to 45.
3Q, 11:50: Things are about to fall apart for Orlando. Pippen grabs an offensive rebound after a Jordan miss, stops on the baseline (with a live dribble) some eight feet away from the hoop, and every Magic defender runs away from him. Pippen gets an uncontested layup. Hardaway throws it away on the next possession - the Magic were trying to post up Dennis Scott on Ron Harper. That's Brian Hill's answer. More post-ups for Dennis Scott.
3Q, 11:20: Harper drives into the lane unfettered, and he drops the ba
ll off to Luc Longley for a dunk. He then forces Shaq into a traveling violation on the next possession.
3Q, 10:22: Longley hits a jumper over Shaq. Both centers have 14 points.
3Q, 9:50: Dennis Scott attempts a three-pointer with 23 seconds left on the shot clock. It misses. Bulls up 14.
3Q, 6:53: Rodman's still taking over, nine points by now, shutting down Shaq. Hardaway is keeping the Magic in it - 27 points.
3Q, 6:33: Rodman with another tip-in, 11 points and 16 boards with a quarter left to play. Horace Grant, meanwhile, has one rebound and no points. Bulls haven't shot a free throw since the first quarter, even with Bennett Salvatore calling the game.
3Q, 4:38: Pippen dunks it after a Scott turnover. Bulls up 17. Bill Walton: "This is a clinic."
3Q, 3:50: Rodman's making Shaq look like Jerome James, with uglier shoes.
3Q, 3:23: Jordan hits a fadeaway with one second left on the shot clock. Rodman has more rebounds than the entire Orlando Magic. The Bulls are up 21. Walton: "Brian Hill looks like somebody stole his luggage."
3Q, 3:00: The United Center begins the derisive "Ho-race" chant.
3Q, 2:06: Shaq runs into Horace while trying to block a Pippen lay-in, Grant sprains his left elbow, and he's out for the series.
4Q, 11:51: A young Antoine Walker's in the house, on press row. He's wearing a tracksuit. He wants to shoot the ball. He wants to shoot a three-pointer, preferably.
4Q, 11:09: In the fourth quarter of an Eastern Conference final, with Jordan and Kukoc on the weak side, the two-man game involving Steve Kerr and Bill Wennington results in a Wennington dunk after a behind-the-back pass from Kerr.
4Q, 10:51: After Shaq misses his second dunk of the game, Bill Wennington throws another one down. Bulls by 27.
4Q, 9:32: The Magic are being outrebounded by 30, 49-to-19. Dennis Rodman has 19 rebounds. He's also shut down Shaq, for stretches. He's also scored 11 points. This guy is a Hall of Famer.
4Q, 8:02: Steve Kerr just crossed over Penny Hardaway, drove left, and beat the entire Magic defense for a lefty layup in the lane. No joke. Next possession, he goes right-to-left and pulls up for a 3-pointer in Donald Royal's face.
4Q, 7:21: Hardaway abuses Pippen in the post, spins for the glass shot, and has 34 points. Bulls up 24.
4Q, 6:06: Penny splits a pair at the line, and the Magic are 6 of 19 from the charity stripe. They'll finish the game hitting 8 of 24.
4Q, 4:55: Rodman hits a jumper. 13 points, 21 rebounds, in 32 minutes.
4Q, 3:40: Bulls up 25. Shaq's still on the court, for some reason.
4Q, 3:07: Kerr hits a trey, Bulls up 27. Horace Grant, Nick Anderson, and Dennis Scott combined to average about 53 points per game in 1995-96. They have two points today.
4Q, 2:45: Brooks Thompson!
4Q, 1:42: John Salley lays it in, Bulls 32. Bill Walton: "I don't think John Salley can dunk anymore."
4Q, .24.9: John Salley throws down a two-handed tomahawk jam.
Bulls win by 38. The Magic franchise hasn't been the same, Penny (38 points on 21 shots) never played that well again (even against the Miami Heat in the 1997 Playoffs), and I thank you for your indulgence.
It was a trip, cats and kittens. I'd like to thank the readers with their help on the Bullets and Wizards this week, and thanks to everyone who read. Cheers.