The Bulls were trying to become just the third team in NBA history to complete a “three-peat” after defeating Magic and the Lakers in the 1991 NBA Finals and Clyde Drexler and the Blazers in the 1992 NBA Finals. However, Jordan and the gang (which included Horace Grant, Bill Cartwright and John Paxson), did not finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference that season. The number one seed in the Eastern Conference went to the New York Knicks, who had revamped their roster in the 1992 offseason adding Charles Smith, Doc Rivers, Tony Campbell and Rolando Blackman. The Knicks won 60 games under second-year coach Pat Riley, besting the Bulls by three games and giving them the all important home court advantage.
In the Western Conference, the Phoenix Suns finished with the NBA’s best record (62-20) after adding future Hall of Famer Charles Barkley to an already impressive cast of Kevin Johnson, Tom Chambers, Dan Majerle and Cedric Ceballos. The Suns stiffest competition in the West figured to come from the Sonics, who won 55 games behind Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp, and Hakeem Olajuwon’s Rockets, who won the Midwest Division also winning 55 games.
Lakers push the Suns to the limit
History was almost made in the first round, as the Suns were taken to the limit by the eighth seeded Los Angeles Lakers, who were the only playoff team with a losing record (39-43). Behind strong performances by Sedale Threat, Byron Scott and Vlade Divac, the Lakers won the first two games of their best-of-five series at Phoenix. Since the NBA went to their current playoff format in 1985, no eight seed had ever beaten a one seed. Shocked after he watched his team lose the first two games at home, Suns head coach Paul Westphal boldly predicted his team would win Games 3 and 4 in Los Angeles before coming back and winning Game 5 in Phoenix.
Taking their cue from their head coach, Charles Barkley and company won Games 3 and 4 in L.A. but trailed in the closing seconds at home in Game 5. “Thunder” Dan Majerle then saved the day hitting a fade away jumper with James Worthy draped all over him to send the game into overtime. There, the Lakers finally gave out as the Suns won 112-104.
Knicks KO Pacers despite Reggie Miller’s head games with John Starks
After earning the number one seed in the Eastern Conference, the Knicks defeated the eighth seeded Indiana Pacers convincingly in the first two games at Madison Square Garden in their best-of-five series. Looking for the sweep in Game 3, Reggie Miller began his historic feud with the Knicks by baiting John Starks into head-butting him, thus getting Starks kicked out of the Pacers 116-93 win. The Knicks regained their composure in Game 4 however, rallying to defeat the Pacers in OT 109-100. The Reggie Miller/Knicks playoff battles were born in this first round series.
Western Conference provides excitement
Along with the Suns victory over the Lakers in the first round, five of the seven Western Conference series went the distance. In the first round, three of the four series went five games. Along with the Suns-Lakers, the Rockets defeated the Clippers in five games, while the Sonics rallied from a 2-1 series deficit to defeat the Utah Jazz in five games.
In the second round, the Sonics eliminated the Rockets in a hard fought series that went seven games, then fell to the Suns in seven games in the Western Conference Finals.
Number five defeats number four
Both first round series saw the five seed defeat the four seed in the only upsets of the first round. In the East the Charlotte Hornets won their first ever playoff series with a 3-1 series win over the Boston Celtics (see individual performances for how the series ended). In the Western Conference, the San Antonio Spurs defeated the defending Western Conference champion Portland Trail Blazers in four games.
Home court advantage?
The Western Conference champion Phoenix Suns were just 7-6 at home in the playoffs, losing all three of their home games in the NBA Finals to the Chicago Bulls. The Chicago Bulls went 7-2 on the road, winning their final four road games. In winning their third straight NBA title, the Bulls were an amazing 20-7 on the road in the postseason over that span, including winning eight of their nine NBA Finals games on the road.
Knicks-Bulls rivalry reaches amazing heights in Eastern Conference Finals
Two-time defending champion Chicago found themselves immediately behind the eight-ball after a 98-90 Knicks win in Game 1 at Madison Square Garden. Hoping to earn a split and take away home court advantage in Game 2, the Bulls were trailing by three points with just under a minute remaining. After Patrick Ewing shoved B.J. Armstrong into the first row on a screen, Starks threw a dunk down on two Bulls (Michael Jordan and Horace Grant) giving the Knicks a five-point lead and sending them to Chicago up two games to none.
Despite a less that stellar performance from Michael Jordan in Game 3 (22 points, 3-18 from the field), the Bulls dominated the Knicks 103-83. Knowing they needed a win to avoid an elimination game at MSG in Game 5, Jordan showed the Knicks who is still king in Game 4. Jordan scored 54 points on 18-30 shooting, toying with whomever Pat Riley tried to defend him with. The Bulls 105-95 win evened the series at two games.
With the pressure back on their shoulders, the Knicks took comfort in knowing that what they worked so hard for during the regular season (owning home court advantage) would be the edge they needed in winning the series. The Knicks entered game 5 with a 27-game home win streak at Madison Square Garden. With just under 29 seconds remaining, the Knicks trailed Chicago 95-94, but had a chance to win or tie the game. The Knicks tried to recreate the success they had with Ewing and Starks in Game 2, but Phil Jackson went with Stacey King instead of Bill Cartwright to defend Ewing, and instead of over playing Ewing like Cartwright did, King stayed put and positioned himself to defend the baseline, thus making the ability for Starks to penetrate much more difficult. Instead of trying to penetrate past King, Starks pulled up, faking a jump shot before almost turning the ball over with an up-and-down. Starks just got a pass off to Ewing, who started to drive to the basket against King, but lost his balance. As he was falling, Ewing noticed Charles Smith all alone on the left side of the basket, right near the block. What followed was seven seconds of torture for Knicks fans, as Smith (who received the pass with 14.1 seconds left) missed FOUR attempts to give the Knicks the lead. Perhaps in shock, the Knicks just watched as the Bulls threw the ball up court and B.J. Armstrong scored to give the Bulls a 97-94 win.
Back in Chicago the Bulls easily defeated the Knicks 96-88, to eliminate the Knicks from the postseason for the third straight year and the fourth time in five years.
NBA loses two sensational young shooting guards
Two of the NBA’s rising stars at shooting guard, the Boston Celtics Reggie Lewis and the New Jersey Nets Drazen Petrovic, each played their final NBA game. For Lewis, after fainting in Game 1 of the Celtics playoff series against the Hornets, he never returned. On July 27, 1993 Lewis died shooting around after a pickup game. For Petrovic, he played his final game against the Cavaliers in Game 5 of the Nets first round loss. Petrovic passed away on June 7, 1993 in an auto accident.
Individual performances to remember
Alonzo Mourning’s GW buzzer-beater to eliminate the Celtics in Game 4 of their first round series.
Charles Barkley’s GW buzzer-beater to eliminate the Spurs in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals.
John Starks dunk over three Bulls in the Knicks 96-91 Game 2 victory over the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Michael Jordan’s 54-point display against the Knicks in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Charles Barkley’s 44-point, 24-rebound effort to help eliminate the Sonics in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals.
Michael Jordan’s 55-point effort in Game 4 of the NBA Finals to give the Bulls a 3-1 series lead.
John Paxson’s GW 3-pointer with 3.9 seconds remaining in Game 6 of the NBA Finals at Phoenix to clinch the Bulls third straight NBA title.