This game was played on 4th May 1991, and was covered live on Screensport on a Saturday evening. The continuity announcers in the UK were Mike Shaft and Mike Carlson, with the game covered in the US by NBC with Marv Albert and Mike Fratello. I wasn’t able to watch this live as Millwall were away at Sheffield Wednesday and I didn’t get home until near the end. God bless mum who videotaped it for me. She was brilliant like that!
The Bulls had comfortably disposed of the Knicks in the 1st round, which was no surprise. The Sixers had swept the Bucks, winning both road games before completing the sweep at home. The Sixers worried the Bulls a little as they had taken three of the four regular season games between the two teams in the regular season. They had won both games at the Chicago Stadium. They had, though, won just 44 games in the regular season, good for the 5th seed, while the Bulls went 61-21. The Sixers were carrying injuries, especially with the star player, Charles Barkley, who played with a brace on his knee.
The game got off to a bizarre start. The Bulls first basket was a remarkable tip in by Arman Gilliam, who, of course, was playing for the Sixers. This would not be a good series for the “Hammer” who needed to step up to support Barkley who Mike Carlson thought was playing at 60%. The Bulls would get out to a quick lead behind a barrage of early baskets by Bill Cartwright and Scottie Pippen. Both would get to double figures by the end of the 1st quarter, with MJ, of course, not far behind. The lead was 8-2, 12-4, 19-6, 21-8, 25-10, 27-10 until, at the high point, it got to 34-14 and you could really already call it game over. The Chicago Bulls had made a statement. Expecting a rough, physical defence, the Bulls just overwhelmed the struggling Sixers, shooting 16 of 23 for the quarter.
So although Philly got it back to 34-20 (my copy is plagued with bad picture quality that affected the broadcast that night), with some late baskets, the hole was massive. But in the second quarter the Sixers scrapped, even though they really had just one offensive outlet. Barkley, defying the pain and the knee brace had 23 at the half, but the Sixers were even further behind. They did get the lead down to 10, indeed they started off the quarter with a Hersey Hawkins three pointer (just after his father had been interviewed by Ahmad Rashad), but Cartwright and Perdue still maintained decent scoring from the center position. Just as it looked as though the Sixers had stopped the bleeding, the Bulls ran off a 14-6 run to end the half, culminating in a steal and buzzer beater from Michael Jordan to seal the deal. At the half the Bulls held a 59-42 lead.
The half-time interval for the UK (and European viewers had their own commentators as Screensport was also shown in Germany, Netherlands and other countries) was Shaft and Carlson going through each series. This Game 1 would be followed by a Game 5 between the Blazers (number 1 seed) and Sonics (number 8), which I have managed to locate highlights of. Two Game 5 contests would follow in the East the following day – the Celtics at home to the Pacers and the Pistons at home to the Hawks. I have the first game, but not the latter one. I’m not sure if it is out there.
For there to be any semblance of a contest, the Sixers had to start the second half quickly, but other than Barkley, they didn’t. The Bulls used the first three minutes of the third quarter to extend out to a 69-46 lead, and then hold the lead in that range for the rest of the quarter, having Marv on commentary bemoaning that there would be extended gar-BARGE time upcoming. Of the first 51 points scored by the Sixers, Barkley had 31 of them.
The Bulls applied the coup de grace with their trap defence giving the Sixers’ outlet passers fits. Two successive turnovers as a result drained what spirit was left. At 81-59 when the second happened, I’m not sure there was much. At the half Jim Lynam, the Sixers coach, was bemoaning how soft his team had started. Rick Mahorn, the former Bad Boy, was an utter non-factor, and Cartwright had had his way with him. The Bulls had the game in the bag. At the end of the 3rd it was 83-63.
Barkley and Jordan would not see action in a 4th quarter that was played just to see out time. Barkley had needed support from the other three potential scorers, Hawkins, Gillian and Anderson and in return had received a 6/27 shooting effort from them combined. Mike Shaft ridiculously, on one interlude, said the Bulls had been “lucky” which rather wasn’t supported by the action. The Bulls had been criticised as being a one-man team, but this was a Barkley and the Charlies effort from Philadelphia. Manute Bol, all 7 feet 7 inches of him, was the only other noticeable offensive factor, and that was because he was being treated as a comedy act.
So while Barkley had 34 of the 63 points on his exit, the Bulls had spread the wealth. Jordan got his, of course, with 29 on 8 for 15 shooting, while Pippen was excellent with 24 points on 11 for 16. Jordan won the Player of the Game from NBC which had Shaft spitting out his dummy. Carlson sort of talked him down, and rightly said that Cartwright had been very impressive at the highest leverage time, so there was an argument to make for him.
The game finished in a not as close as even the score suggests 105-92. The Bulls had been ruthless, aggressive, quicker, sharper and better in execution than the Sixers and this did not bode well for the rest of the series.
Game 2 to follow some time this week. I have this downloaded, so looking forward to watching it because I don’t think I’ve ever seen this game before.
A run-of-the-mill play off win for the 91 Bulls. Never threatened, top players on form but with still that little bit more to give. Entertaining until it became a blow out, the Bulls got up early, stamped on the throat, and then eased off. Awesome stuff.
In the words of Hersey Hawkins sr, “I don’t think there is anyone in the world who can guard Jordan”.