Are you ready for some basketball?
Sep. 7, 2007 | feedback
Good news for NBA junkies: Leading up to the 2007-08 season, ESPN Classic asked me to pick games for a limited seven-week run on Wednesday nights. So, I steered away from staples like the Bird-Dominique shootout and the MJ Flu Game and picked seven games that slipped through the cracks over the past two decades. If you love the NBA, watch these games so the ratings are good, and they'll keep letting me pick more of them. No, seriously. Do it for me.
Here's the schedule:
Sept. 12: Cleveland at Boston, Game 3, 1992
From Bird's final season, the spring when he was playing in a bulky back brace and spending nights in traction. In fact, he doesn't even play in this game. But this was a great series and none of the games ever get shown -- you had the Garden on its last legs, Mark Price and Reggie Lewis at their peaks, and a number of entertaining guys on both teams. (This Cavs team could have made a Utah-like run in the East if Price and Brad Daugherty had stayed healthy.) The energy in the building was particularly incredible for the Boston home games -- we knew it was the last run with Bird, Parish and McHale -- and this particular Celtics team was especially lovable. With Bird out of Game 3, every fan and player stepped up. It's the kind of thing that just doesn't happen any more in the Luxury Suite Era. Most importantly, everyone forgets about Lewis, who had 36 points and carried a crunch-time comeback in this one. We never see him on ESPN Classic or NBA-TV so that's why I picked this one.
Sept. 19: Seattle at Phoenix, Game 5, 1993
You can't go wrong with any game involving the '93 Suns, but this one features two superb matchups (Barkley in his prime vs. a young Shawn Kemp, KJ in his prime vs. a young GP) and Dan Majerle going nuts with a then-record eight 3s. Up until this point, the series sucked ... then Game 5 turned out to be a classic. By the way, anyone who thinks the NBA hasn't been diluted by expansion needs to check out the talent in this game: Barkley, KJ, Kemp, Payton, Majerle, Danny Ainge, Tom Chambers, Sam Perkins, Eddie Johnson, Ricky Pierce, Derrick McKey, Ced Ceballos, Nate McMillan, Dana Barros, Oliver Miller during his one skinny year, Richard Dumas during one of his drugs-free years ... holy crap.
Sept. 26: Golden State at L.A. Lakers, Game 2, 1991
The Lakers' last extended playoff run with Magic, G-State at the peak of the TMC Era, and if that's not enough, Chris Mullin and Magic both catch fire during the game. If I remember correctly, the final score ends up in the mid-120s, Mullin finishes with 45 and Magic finishes with 48 or 49 ... it's a legitimate shootout. Also, check out a pre-ACL injury Tim Hardaway when he literally couldn't be guarded; a goofy-but-effective Warriors bench that included Sarunas Marciulionis, Tom Tolbert, Rod Higgins and Mario Elie; a skinny Sam Perkins on the Lakers; and especially, how unstoppable Magic was in this game. Remember, this was his 13th NBA season and nobody could guard him. How long could he have been great if not for the HIV diagnosis?
Oct. 3: Chicago at New York, Game 3, 1996
Now we're entering the stretch of games that have never been seen on ESPN Classic or NBA TV before. This was an epic game involving the 72-win Bulls and a Knicks team that wasn't nearly as good, but they were still allowed to knock the Bulls around because the league hadn't totally cracked down on the flagrants and the intimidation stuff yet. In particular, Charles Oakley acts like a crazed bar bouncer in this game -- it's like his goal was to make Scottie Pippen cry. Meanwhile, MJ plays out of his mind and singlehandedly drags the Bulls into OT ... this was one of their three playoff defeats that year, but anyone who thinks LeBron James (or anyone else) compares to MJ in his prime needs to sit down and watch this game. Also, look at the guys that the '96 Bulls threw out in crunch-time (Bill Wennington???) and tell me you honestly believe this was the greatest team ever.
Oct. 10: Chicago at Detroit, Game 3, 1991
The Bulls break the Pistons to take a commanding 3-0 lead and control of the Eastern Conference for the rest of the decade. I haven't seen this game since it happened but remember it being inhumanly intense. These teams hated each other. Don't you miss the days when teams hated each other?
Oct. 17: Boston at Milwaukee, Game 4, 1986
The greatest team ever completes a sweep on the road and clinches a trip to the Finals ... unfortunately, the Lakers don't have the balls to show up. I haven't seen this game since it happened but specifically remember Bird ripping Milwaukee's hearts out with four 3s in the final quarter, including one last 3-pointer after the game had been decided just to make sure they were dead. The Legend was at his absolute peak this spring, as was Kevin McHale. By the way, in the '86 team video, they show the Celts re-entering their locker room after the game as a giddy Bill Walton keeps singing, "Larry Bird! Larry Bird!" and laughing in disbelief at the four 3s.
Oct. 24: Orlando at Chicago, Game 6, 1995
And you thought David Stern destroyed all the evidence of this game! Yup, this was the only time from 1991 to 1998 that MJ walked off the floor as a loser in a deciding playoff game ... although it happened with an asterisk because he was still in baseball shape, but still. Check out a loaded Magic team with Shaq, Penny, Horace Grant, Nick Anderson, Dennis Scott and Brian Shaw. Could they have been a dynasty if Anderson hadn't miss those four free throws in Game 1 of the Finals? We'll never know.