Jordan was not only a lethal offensive player, but he was also elite on the defensive end. He made nine All-Defensive teams, won three steals titles, and was named the 1987-88 Defensive Player of the Year. The Bulls icon took great pride in being a complete basketball player and knew he had to give maximum effort on defense.
Most of Jordan’s opponents feared him on offense. However, they also knew that His Airness took defense seriously, especially once the playoffs started.
Michael Jordan raised his defensive intensity in the playoffs
During an interview with Chicago sports historian Jack M Silverstein, former NBA small forward Kendall Gill said Jordan ramped up his defense in the playoffs since he knew it was time to impose his will.
“He will always ramp his defense up in the playoffs,” Gill said about Jordan. “You could tell a distinct difference in him, regular season and playoffs. His defense went up about three or four notches. His intensity. He’s going harder at you, his shuffles are harder, a lot quicker. His hands are a lot more active. You can see it on his face. This is game time. He’s not playing around.”
Jordan played in 179 playoff games with the Bulls. His postseason scoring average of 33.4 is first in NBA history, but he’s also one of the top pickpocketers of all time.
Michael Jordan recorded 376 steals in the playoffs
Jordan is third in NBA history in playoff steals. He recorded 376. MJ’s biggest steal came in Game 6 of the 1998 Finals against the Utah Jazz when he stole the ball from Karl Malone with 18.0 seconds left in regulation. The Hall of Famer talked about the famous play in Episode 10 of The Last Dance docuseries.
“I knew they were gonna run their patented play though Karl Malone,” Jordan said. “They ran that play a couple times prior, and Dennis [Rodman] and Malone had been fighting all game, and Karl just totally forgot that I was on the weak side.”
After stealing the ball from Malone, Jordan hit a jumper over Bryon Russell to give the Bulls a one-point lead with 5.0 seconds remaining. The Jazz missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer, and Chicago won its sixth title in eight years.
Jordan played every game hard and did whatever it took to win. However, there was something different about him when the playoffs started.
MJ on playoffs: The highest level of competition in our game
In Episode 7 of The Last Dance, Jordan revealed why he loved the postseason and took his game to another level.
“The playoffs is the highest level of competition that we have in our game,” Jordan said. “You got 82 games in the regular season, but you can kick all that aside. The playoffs is the playoffs, and to be able to play against the best competition, that was the driving force for me, without a doubt.”
Jordan compiled a record of 119-60 in the playoffs during his run with the Bulls. He only lost one postseason series from 1991 to 1998. That was when Black Jesus came back from baseball in 1994-95 and fell to the Orlando Magic in the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals.
Jordan finished his stellar career with averages of 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 2.3 steals. He’s not only first all-time in points per game, but he’s also third in steals per game, proving that he was a fantastic all-around talent.