During his legendary run with the Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan played in only three Game 7s in the playoffs. He went 2-1, with his lone loss coming in the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons.
The two Game 7s the Bulls won during the Jordan era took place in 1992 and 1998. They beat the New York Knicks in the 1992 Eastern Conference semifinals and the Indiana Pacers in the 1998 conference finals. The Indiana series was physical and personal for Jordan, so much so that he guaranteed Chicago would win Game 7 at home despite never making promises.
Michael Jordan: ‘We will win Game 7’
The Bulls won the first two games of the 1998 conference finals at home. However, they lost Games 3 and 4 in Indiana. Jordan also suffered a cut above his eye in Game 4.
Chicago bounced back in Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead. It appeared Jordan and Co. would finish the series in Game 6 since they won Game 5 by 19 points. However, the Pacers survived Game 6 by three points, sending the series back to Chicago for Game 7. During his postgame media session with reporters following the Game 6 loss, Jordan said the Bulls would win at the United Center.
“I never make promises. I don’t even promise to my wife,” Jordan said. “But we will win Game 7.”
Game 7 was a back-and-forth contest. There was a period of time in the fourth quarter where it looked like the Pacers would upset the Bulls and advance to the Finals. However, Jordan and Scottie Pippen wouldn’t allow Reggie Miller‘s group to get the best of them.
Bulls won Game 7 by five points
The Pacers outscored the Bulls 27-19 in the first quarter. However, Chicago responded by outscoring Indiana 29-18 in the second. The third and fourth quarters were tight, but the Bulls used their championship experience to finish the Pacers off.
Chicago outscored Indiana 21-20 in the third quarter and 19-18 in the fourth. Jordan finished with 28 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists in 42 minutes while shooting 9-of-25 from the field. Meanwhile, Pippen had 21 points, and Toni Kukoc poured in 17.
Jordan kept his promise to Bulls fans by winning Game 7 against the Pacers. He averaged 31.7 points in the seven-game series and played a significant role in limiting Miller to only 41.6% shooting overall. MJ and his teammates, though, didn’t have much time to celebrate. Game 1 of the 1998 Finals against the Utah Jazz was three days after the Pacers series ended, and the Bulls looked like a fatigued team on June 3.
Michael Jordan and Bulls lost Game 1 of ’98 Finals
Even though Jordan scored 33 points in Game 1, the Bulls lost in overtime by a final score of 88-85. It was only the second time His Airness trailed a series in the Finals. Chicago shot 41.5% from the field and committed 14 turnovers.
As they did throughout the Jordan-Pippen-Phil Jackson era, the Bulls responded to adversity and didn’t shy away from it. They won Game 2 in Utah by five points behind 37 points from Jordan. Chicago then made Finals history in Game 3 by winning by 42 points, the largest margin of victory in a Finals game.
Jordan scored 34 points in Game 4 to lead the Bulls to a 86-82 win. Black Jesus was one away from his sixth championship and second three-peat, and since it was his last year in Chicago, it would have been special for the UNC product to win his sixth ring at home.
However, the Jazz had other plans. They won Game 5 by two points to send the series back to Utah. No one on the Bulls looked forward to flying back to Salt Lake City and playing at the Delta Center since the Jazz fans were raucous. Jordan would have to dig deep for Game 6 since Pippen had a back injury and could barely run up and down the floor. The 10-time scoring champion played 43 minutes and had arguably the greatest closing sequence in sports history.
Jordan scored four points and recorded one steal to close out Game 6. He hit a layup to bring the Bulls within one and then stole the ball from Karl Malone and hit a jumper to give Chicago a one-point lead. John Stockton missed a 3-pointer on the Jazz’s final possession, and the Bulls completed their second three-peat.
The Pacers series prepared the Bulls for the Finals against the Jazz. Indiana was a tough team and challenged Chicago both mentally and physically. Jordan would have certainly preferred the Bulls beat the Pacers in less than seven games, but the Hall of Famer used what he learned in the series to defeat the Jazz.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference
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