SLAM PH Rewatch: Eight Reasons to revisit MJ’s Double Nickel Game

We all got nothing but time.

That’s why the SLAM PH Team decided to rewatch some of their favorite UAAP, PBA and NBA games. They dug up buried emotions, watched out for things that they missed and basically enjoyed two hours of good basketball.

Not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

1. No. 45

This game marked Michael Jordan’s return to the basketball court after he spent a year playing professional, albeit minor league baseball. He decided to don #45, as this was the number he wore when he played baseball as a kid, a number he wore until midway through high school.

Ironically, Jordan would wear the #45 for 22 games in the NBA before moving back to #23 in Game 2 of the 1995 semifinals match-up against the Orlando Magic. Nearly all of your Jordan highlights and memories will be of him wearing #23, so why not give a quick look at a semi-different MJ. 

2. Good old 90s basketball

Michael Jordan finished this game with a then-Madison Square Garden record of 55 points, and he went on a midrange bonanza to do so. 

Times have obviously changed since the rise of analytics and Steph Curry, so this was the era of the midrange. But Jordan was, and is, the ultimate master of that area. 

He shot 21 of 37 from the field, 10/11 from the line, but just 3 for 4 from three-point land.  To give some perspective, in this 2019-2020 season, James Harden has five 50-point games and made at least 6 threes in all but one of them.

My personal favorite from this game comes at 45:56 of the video. Jordan received the ball at the top of three point line with just 10 seconds on the shot clock. His teammates cleared out as he quickly dribbled to his favorite spot at the top of the left elbow, then drove left. Jordan’s already beaten Starks at that point, but he pulled back, faked a spin and faded into a majestic jumper. Just poetry in motion.

Photo from Getty Images

This game came well before the hand-check rule change of 2004 that completely changed defenses. It also came well before load management was a thing. 

Therefore, these teams played some INTENSE defense, especially considering that this was a regular season game in March. You’ll spend most of this game watching ball handlers harassed or shadowed starting from the backcourt. Even the comments on YouTube are filled with those addressing the hard-nosed defense.

If you move to 49:15 or 1:23:33, you’ll see a couple of hard fouls that were called as regular two-shot fouls. The first showed Patrick Ewing hitting Jordan and sending him to the ground, which does get some of the Bulls bench to stand up, but only for a brief moment. The latter foul was when Steve Kerr wrapped up Charles Smith’s shoulders, but again, not much is made of it. Hubie Brown does argue that a flagrant should be called, but this falls on deaf ears. I guess this might be more testament to how little Kerr is compared to Smith, but in today’s NBA, those were a pair of sure-fire flagrant fouls.

3. A Good Knicks team! That happened!

It’s been a while, Knicks fans. While the Knicks may have lost this game, it was actually nice to see the Garden going bonkers in that fourth quarter without it involving a demand for ownership change.

Despite giving up 55 points to Jordan, the Knicks actually played brilliant defense in the fourth quarter on MJ. At one point in the fourth, Brown pointed out that Jordan had missed 8 of his last 9 shots (which was a reverse jinx because Jordan immediately drilled a mid-range shot to get to 51 points and officially break the MSG single-game scoring record). The Knicks made Jordan look human for a few minutes during a superhuman performance, and they deserve credit for that.

Ewing was also dominant in this game, dropping 36 points with seven rebounds, three steals and four blocks. He also shot 23 free throws, fouling out Luc Longley, Tony Kukoc and Will Purdue during his rampage. 

4. One majestic Jordan fastbreak (43:59)

My dad used to always tell me that what made Jordan different from the superstars of today was that he was graceful. On one specific play in the second quarter, Jordan showed exactly that.

Ewing attempted to pass to a cutter, but instead threw it right to Jordan. MJ immediately went on a two-on-two break. In the open court, it didn’t even feel like Jordan had the elite athleticism we all knew he had. But just like Brown called in the video, it felt like Jordan was gliding, until all of a sudden he put out his tongue, hit Starks with a quick in and out and dribble, and it was over.

Bucket, and-one.

“It feels like Beethoven has come to back to write his 10th and 11th and 12th and 13th symphonies,” Bob Neal described after the play.

I watched it over and over again, and each time, I just couldn’t understand how easy he made it look. I just can’t find any player today with that mix of grace, athleticism, and force. 

5. The thick of the Bulls-Knicks 90s Rivalry

There was no love lost between these two teams in the 90s. These were two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference in a couple of the NBAs biggest markets, and both had a bunch of no nonsense SOBs. However, this rivalry wasn’t all about fights; There were several iconic performances and plays throughout the decade, and this Jordan performance was just a key entry in that chapter of the two teams.

The two teams had met in four playoffs in a row prior to this season, with the Knicks finally taking the 1994 series while Jordan was out of the league. That win helped the Knicks come into this game with a bit of swagger. But with Jordan back, it didn’t take long for the tide to turn back in Chicago’s favor in this rivalry.

Prior to tip-off, the late Craig Sager (watching 90s Craig Sager was also a minor tidbit to enjoy) started by talking about how the Knicks’ John Starks was ready to defend Jordan.

“Nobody guards Michael Jordan straight up better than John Starks… Starks told me moments ago [that] the Knicks still plan to have him go one-on-one. He wasn’t intimidated before and he’s not now, and he’s up for the challenge.”

Photo from Getty Images

After Jordan put up 35 points at halftime, Sager came out with another brilliant report.

“Although the Knicks have that six point lead, the talk going out of the locker room was all Michael Jordan.

Derek Harper was talking to John Starks and said “It’s demoralizing. You think you play great defense, and he still makes the shot!’”

The Knicks were up six at this point. 

6. Jordan gets mad at Pete Myers

This was one of my favorite random things from this game. We’ve all heard stories of Jordan as a stern teammate, but there was real proof in this game when he got noticeably irritated at Pete Myers

Late in the third quarter, Meyers got an offensive rebound off a Jordan miss. A little later on in the play, he got the ball back on the left block and tried to attack a tight Knicks defense even as Jordan was signalling him to bring the ball back out.

Myers ended up bricking a short shot. Jordan followed by drilling a pull-up three on the next Bulls possession.

There was likely a little something behind this, considering the fact that Myers lost his starting job when Jordan returned. Then early in the fourth quarter, Jordan and Myers were seen arguing on the bench.

Just a little taste of Jordan, the teammate, during this 55-point masterpiece.

7. How Earl ‘The Pearl’ Monroe would defend Jordan

The fourth quarter began with a courtside interview by Craig Sager of Knicks legend Earl ‘The Pearl’ Monroe. The Pearl was a four-time All-Star and a key member of the last Knicks team that won the title in 1973.

Craig Sager asked him how he would defend Jordan, and Monroe said, “Well first of all, I’d make sure that he didn’t get off the bus to get into the building.”

It was giggle-worthy, of course, but that’s a Hall of Famer showing major respect to a guy in the middle of his career. 

Photo from Getty Images
8. Jordan’s fourth quarter adjustment: Pass

Jordan finished with 55 points and just 2 assists, and they both came on go-ahead baskets with under 90 seconds.

As I mentioned earlier, the Knicks found a way to limit Jordan in the fourth, and they did this by finally deciding to send help on his drives and spins. But with the game on the line, Jordan made the adjustment.

Tied at 107, Jordan drove baseline and kicked it out to an open Scottie Pippen for an 18-foot bank shot from the right wing. That was his first assist.

Tied at 111 with under 10 seconds remaining, Jordan dribbled it down the court, sized up Starks and crossed over to his left. He spun back to his right and rose up at his sweet spot on the right elbow. As Jordan turned and shot, Ewing closed out, knowing Jordan would shoot.

But he didn’t. He found Bill Wennington clear as day under the basket for the game-winning dunk. It was Wennington’s only points and shot attempt of the entire game.

What was at that time the best scoring game in MSG history was won by a pair of assists. Just another one of those GOAT things Jordan did.

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