The 1992 NBA Finals: Jordan Shrugs His Way To Another Title

The Chicago Bulls were looking for a repeat championship in the 1992 NBA Finals. The Portland Trail Blazers were no strangers to the big stage themselves, having reached the Finals in 1990 before losing to the Detroit Pistons. The question for the postseason was, could anyone slow down Chicago?

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Michael Jordan averaged 30 ppg in 1992 and won the MVP award. The Bulls won 67 games, ten more than anyone else in the league. But the Eastern Conference playoffs didn’t go quite as smoothly.

Chicago was pushed to seven games by the up-and-coming New York Knicks of Pat Riley, and then split the first four games against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference finals before taking the series in six games.

Portland had the talent to match up with Chicago. They were built around a great backcourt of Terry Porter and Clyde Drexler. Porter averaged 18 ppg, and Drexler was a terrific all-around talent who went 6’7” and averaged 25 points/6 rebounds/6 assists. The Blazers had a good interior rebounding trio of Jerome Kersey, Buck Williams and Kevin Duckworth.

With the Bulls having shown some vulnerability, the question now shifted to whether Drexler could at least come close to cancelling out Jordan, and then allow Portland’s superior supporting cast—beyond the all-around talent of Scottie Pippen and the rebounding prowess of Horace Grant, Jordan didn’t have a lot of help—to prevail.

If Jordan’s game had a weakness it was three-point shooting. He hit 51 percent behind the arc, but only 27 percent on the three-ball. In Game 1, the theory of giving him the trey, and the theory that he and Drexler could cancel each other out, went into the trash. Jordan was electric, hitting six straight three-pointers in the first quarter. At one point he turned and simply shrugged, a brief move that’s now a part of NBA lore.  Jordan finished with 39 points and the Bulls took a 122-89 rout.

Jordan had 39 more in Game 2, but unlike Game 1, Pippen struggled, shooting 6-for-19, and Portland got a big road win, 115-104. Just as the Blazers had in 1990, they would go home for the middle three games with homecourt advantage.

Drexler did what he could to help the cause, scoring 32 points in Game 3, but this time it was balance from Chicago that made the difference. Jordan knocked down 26 and the Bulls got 18 apiece from Pippen and Grant in a 94-84 win. Portland came out in Game 4 and played like a desperate team. The trailed in the fourth quarter, but hit the boards hard and rallied. The Blazers outrebounded the Bulls 45-33 and eventually won 93-88. It’s perhaps indicative of where this series was headed though, that this was the only game where Portland’s superior inside personnel produced a significant edge on the glass.

Game 5 provided the other big difference in the series and it was that between Jordan and Drexler. The latter was an extremely good player and he scored 30 points in the biggest game of his career. But he shot 9-for-21, and while that’s not bad, it’s not great. Meanwhile, Jordan knocked down 46 and did it on ruthlessly efficient 14-of-23 shooting. It was, for all practical purposes, the game that settled the series and the game that finished the theory of the two off-guards being on the same level.

There was still time for some more magic. Portland looked like they would force a Game 7 when they took a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 6. Drexler got his points, with 24, but again failed to do it efficiently, shooting 8-of-24.  Jordan, taking the same 24 shots, produced 33 points and the Bulls put on a big rally and won 97-93.

Chicago had its second straight title, and they were just getting started.