Get your brooms, folks, we’re going to the NBA Finals. The Bulls came back from down eight at the half to clinch an Eastern Conference Finals sweep of the Magic on their home floor, 106-101. Observations:
The Bulls single-handedly shipped Shaquille O’Neal off to Los Angeles
OK, that’s a bit strong. But this was O’Neal’s last game in an Orlando Magic uniform, and it wasn’t necessarily ceremonious.
Yes, he had his moments of dominance and finished the night with a team-high 28 points on a fiery 11-for-13 shooting and nine rebounds (he even sank 6 of 9 free throws). Embedded in that were shows of freaking physical dominance that the Bulls were largely able to mitigate throughout this series.
But it was hard to watch Dennis Rodman’s persistent prodding of O’Neal, and the waxing and waning nature of that dominance, without the context that O’Neal would a month-and-a-half later ink a big-money, seven-year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers nagging in the back of your mind.
Dennis gives Shaq a *hearty* butt tap after Shaq chucks the ball at Dennis as hard as he can.
I love this game. #BullsRewind
— Matt Peck (@Bulls_Peck) April 7, 2020
Overall, O’Neal (averaging 27 points and 10.8 rebounds on 64% shooting) and Penny Hardaway (25.5 points, 4.3 assists, 46.9% shooting) got theirs throughout this series – just not when it counted. A familiar third quarter Bulls flurry swung this one, just as they seemed to swing many games back in the day. The Bulls outscored the Magic 28-18 in the third quarter and 58-45 in the second half en route to a comeback victory that would have felt predestined even if we didn’t all already know the outcome.
This was Michael Jordan’s night
That feeling of predetermination largely derives from, who else, Michael Jordan. He bounced back splendidly from a pedestrian 17-point outing in Game 3 that saw him hobble off the floor nicked up in the waning moments of the fourth – by all accounts, he single-handedly willed the Bulls comeback detailed above.
Even as the Bulls staggered through the first half (trailing 56-48 at the break while allowing the most points in a half they did all playoffs, Jordan had that look in his eyes. He poured in 21 in the first half, and largely kept the Bulls afloat. Little did we know (or maybe we did) that he’d top even that with 24 in the second half en route to 45 points on the game.
The symbolism of that figure isn’t lost on this blogger – tender-aged as I may be. Remember: This (almost) same Magic team just one year earlier knocked the Bulls out of the Eastern Conference semis, and carried former Bull Horace Grant off the United Center floor in celebration. After that series, Nick Anderson famously gave the line: “No. 45 doesn’t explode like No. 23 used to.”
Jordan – who donned No. 45 in the first part of his post-baseball-playing days but switched back to No. 23 before the ’95-96 season – took that to heart (no, I don’t know that for certain, but come on). He averaged 29.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.3 steals in this series on *rubs eyes* 52/63.6/75 shooting splits. But never was he more determined, dominant and downright terrifying than in the decisive Game 4, the one that sealed the sweep. He simply wasn’t being denied this one.
RELATED: Michael Jordan played the numbers game during Bulls’ sweep of Magic
In the game, Jordan scored 45 points on 16-for-23 (69.6%) shooting. The rest of the Bulls: 51 points on 20-for-47 (42.6%).
Some role player love
Textbook handlebar. These Bulls really had something for everybody.
The 1996 Finals – a six-game affair with Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton and the Seattle SuperSonics – kicks off on NBC Sports Chicago on Wednesday at 7 p.m. CT.
Entering the NBA Finals, the Bulls were 83-11 in the regular season and playoffs combined. #BullsRewind
— Jeff Mangurten (@JeffGurt) April 7, 2020
Sheesh. Join us, won’t you?
Every other night through April 15, NBC Sports Chicago is airing the entirety of the Bulls’ 1996 NBA championship run. Find the full schedule here.
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Bulls observations: Michael Jordan symbolically shows out and Bulls complete sweep originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago