Michael Jordan had one of the greatest performances in NBA history as the Chicago Bulls completed their three-peat in the 1993 NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns. But for all of Jordan’s individual brilliance, the series was largely defined by Chicago’s ability to shut down All-Star point guard Kevin Johnson in the first two games, which set the tone for a Bulls triumph.
Charles Barkley performed up to his superstar standards throughout the course of the Finals. However, Johnson — who was Chuck’s second lieutenant at the time — really struggled early, a detail that stunned Jordan.
Michael Jordan as the Bulls made history in the first two games of the 1993 NBA Finals, whereas Kevin Johnson struggled mightily
The first two games of the 1993 NBA Finals could not have gone any differently for Michael Jordan and Kevin Johnson.
Jordan took matters into his own hands early. He shined on both ends of the floor in Game 1, scoring 31 points on 14-for-28 shooting and recording five steals. His Airness ratcheted things up another notch in Game 2, nearly recording a triple-double with 42 points, 12 rebounds, and nine assists.
Johnson, on the other hand, fell flat. The Sacramento native had already made a pair of All-Star teams with the Suns at this stage of his career, but he struggled to meet the challenge on the game’s biggest stage. Johnson scored 11 points on 4-for-13 shooting and committed five turnovers in the series opener. Game 2 was even worse, as he scored just four points on 2-for-8 shooting and coughed the ball up four more times while also fouling out of the game.
With Jordan excelling and the Suns struggling to get the most out of their second star, the Bulls stampeded to history. They became the first team to win the opening two contests of the NBA Finals on the road.
In many ways, Johnson’s struggles made all the difference. The Suns lost the first two games by a combined 11 points despite getting strong performances from unsung heroes like Richard Dumas in Game 1 and Danny Ainge in Game 2. They also failed to capitalize on a 42-point masterpiece from Barkley in Game 2.
For his part, MJ was shocked that the Bulls had been able to shackle Johnson.
Jordan was taken aback by KJ’s woeful performances
Kevin Johnson’s mystifying early-series performances came as a detriment to the Suns. They also mystified his superstar opponent.
Michael Jordan spoke about the Bulls’ ability to contain Johnson after Game 2, though he painted that small victory as an unexpected development.
Indeed, Johnson’s struggles should have come as a surprise.
Jordan typically shadowed Suns swingman Dan Majerle throughout the series, often leaving KJ matched up against one of either B.J. Armstrong or John Paxson. Both one-on-one matchups seemed to be favorable for Johnson. He was a terrific ball-handler who outclassed Armstrong and Paxson in the athleticism department, as well as having the explosiveness to finish through contact at the rim or score via an assortment of pull-ups and runners. Yet, despite the supposed advantages, he failed to exploit those matchups.
Johnson would perform closer to his usual standards for the remainder of the series. By that time, however, it was too late. The Bulls had taken a commanding lead, and Jordan ensured they would not squander it.
Michael Jordan elevated his play as the Bulls took advantage of the 2-0 cushion
The Bulls were not going to lose after taking a 2-0 lead, not with Michael Jordan embodying his persona by raising his play to stratospheric heights.
Phoenix clawed back into the Finals with a gutsy, draining triple-overtime win in Game 3. But MJ overpowered the Suns in Game 4, scoring 55 points and pacing the Bulls to a 3-1 series lead. Johnson scored 25 points in Game 5 to help propel the Suns back to Phoenix. Ultimately, though, Jordan and the Bulls would not be denied.
The Suns had a two-point lead in the closing seconds of Game 6. Head coach Paul Westphal refused to let Jordan beat his team, sending an early double at MJ before he crossed the timeline. But the Suns were suddenly spread thin. The ball found its way into the hands of Paxson, who drilled a go-ahead three-pointer. Johnson’s ensuing game-winning effort was blocked by Horace Grant, giving the Bulls their third consecutive NBA championship.
Phoenix hung with MJ and the Bulls till the bitter end, but Johnson’s poor early efforts and the 2-0 deficit proved too great to overcome. Perhaps the Suns would have pushed Chicago to the limit if KJ had performed up to MJ’s expectations from the jump.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.