On June 16, 1993 Michael Jordan had arguably his greatest individual performance in the NBA Finals. There is a lot to love about the Bulls/Suns finals in 1993. Overall, it was Jordan’s most dominant finals series; his duel with Charles Barkley was nothing short of spectacular, and every game, because neither team could hold a lead or win at home (the road team won all but one game), was an unpredictable, frantic, and probably unhealthy affair in the final minutes.
Game 4 was in Chicago Stadium and the Bulls were up 2-1 after losing Game 3 to the Suns 129-121 in triple overtime despite Jordan’s 44 points, his second consecutive 40 point game of the series. However, it was not the best 40 point game of his career. He shot only 19 of 43 from the field (only 1 of 10 in the fourth quarter), and was admittedly tired and disappointed with the way he played. Whatever the reasons, the Bulls had let one slip away but still had the opportunity to take a 3-1 lead in the series, with one more home game remaining, not that home court meant anything in the 1993 finals.
With two days rest before Game 4, Jordan looked to be on a mission from the start, and his shooting performance was the exact opposite of Game 3 where he missed 14 of his first 20 shots. Dan Majerle, Richard Dumas, and Kevin Johnson all took turns guarding him, but the Suns had no answer. Jordan began the game with an 11 point first quarter and then exploded in the second period for 22, which included the Bulls’ first sixteen points on a barrage of dunks, layups, and fadaway jumpers.
By halftime he was 14 for 20 and had 33 points. His point total was two shy of his own record for points in the first half of a finals game set in Game 1 the year before against Portland, and his 14 field goals, again, tied Isaiah Thomas’ finals record for field goals in a half. Jordan was getting any shot he wanted on the court, had over half of his team’s points, but the Suns kept the game close and only trailed 61-58 at halftime.
In the third quarter Chicago gradually built the lead to double digits. It was 77-66 halfway through the third period and 84-71 late in the quarter. Jordan had a relatively quiet third period but hit the 40 point threshold at about the three minute mark for the third consecutive game and ended the third period with 43 points on 17 for 28 shooting. As they had the entire series, the Suns charged back into the game and ended the quarter on a 10-2 run to trim the lead to five points.
Chicago was up 86-81 when the final quarter began, but Phoenix cut the lead to 86-85 before Michael Jordan’s 44th and 45th points ended Chicago’s drought. For much of the fourth quarter Chicago maintained an uncomfortable five to seven point lead over the Suns. Jordan scored his 48th, 49th, and 50th points on a three point play with four minutes left in the game, and with 3:33 to play, the Bulls were up 102-94.
For the next few minutes the Suns chipped away at the Bulls’ lead and with one minute remaining a Barkley dunk cut the Bulls lead to 106-104. In the final minute of Game 4 it was the Suns that missed opportunities to steal the game. With .45 seconds left Barkley intercepted a bad pass by Scottie Pippen but the Suns failed to convert the fast break. Kevin Johnson fumbled an inbounds pass, with Phoenix sill down 106-104, into the arms of B.J. Armstrong with .30 seconds left, which opened the door for Michael Jordan to seal the game with a spectacular three point play.
The game went on for thirteen more seconds but nothing mattered after Jordan’s shot and subsequent free throw that gave him is 55th point of the game and the Bulls a 109-104 lead.
“Michael was spectacular,” said Charles Barkley after the 111-105 loss that put his team down 3-1. Barkley was pretty good himself, recording a triple-double with 32 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists, but his best could not match Jordan’s who finished with 55 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists. If there was a negative to the performance it was Jordan’s subpar 13 for 18 from the foul line that robbed him of what could have been only the second 60 point game in NBA Finals history.
“I tried to carry the load for the team,” Jordan said. “When we needed the big basket, I scored a big basket. That’s my role.” His 55 points shattered his previous finals record of 46 points posted in Game 5 against Portland in 1992, tied Rick Barry for the second highest point total in NBA Finals history, and made him only the fifth player in NBA Finals history to score 50 or more points in a game.
The elite company includes:
Elgin Baylor – 61 (1962)
Rick Barry – 55 (1967)
Jerry West – 53 (1969)
Bob Petit – 50 (1958)
June 16, 1993 was the last time a player scored 50 or more points in a finals game. Ultimately the Suns did not go away, and the Bulls went on to lose Game 5 108-98 despite 41 points from Jordan, his fourth straight 40-plus point game. The Bulls eventually won the series on a John Paxson three pointer in the closing seconds of Game 6 after one of the (if not the) worst fourth quarters in NBA history, but Michael Jordan’s performance in Game 4 put an exclamation on what was not only his most dominant individual NBA Finals series but also one of the most exciting series in NBA history. “The biggest difference in the game…was they had Michael Jordan and we didn’t,” said Paul Westphal. That was the story of the series.
In the 1993 NBA Finals Michael Jordan averaged an absurd 41 points (an NBA Finals record), 8.5 rebounds, and 6.3 assists. Here is the breakdown for each game:
Game 1 – 31/7/5
Game 2 – 42/12/9
Game 3 – 44/9/6
Game 4 – 55/8/4
Game 5 – 41/7/7
Game 6 – 33/8/7
All stats on the series via Basketball Reference
Full game highlights here:
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