Michael Jordan usually saved his talking for the game. Whether it was in the form of scoring 50 points or whether it was actual trash talking, it usually happened on the court. When the Chicago Bulls were about to face the Indiana Pacers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in 1998, Jordan confidently said the Bulls were going to win the deciding game. Maybe it wasn’t an outright guarantee, per se, but it wasn’t Jordan’s style to make predictions before a game.
The Chicago Bulls’ final run
Before the 1997-98 NBA season began, it was known this would be the final season the core of the Chicago Bulls would be together. The team was coming off two straight NBA title and the rest of the NBA was on alert. Teams knew Michael Jordan and the Bulls would be going all out for the franchise’s second three-peat.
The Bulls wasted no time in making another return to the NBA Finals. Led once again by Jordan, Chicago captured another Central Division championship and finished the regular season with a 62-20 record. The Bulls’ major obstacle during their 1998 postseason run was the Indiana Pacers, who took the Bulls to seven games.
After the Bulls ousted the Pacers, they met the Utah Jazz in an NBA Finals rematch from 1997. The Jazz held homecourt advantage and took the opener, despite 33 points from Jordan. The Bulls took the second game to e v en the series and then thumped Utah in Chicago, holding the Jazz to a record-low 54 points. After the Jazz were down 3-1, they claimed Game 5 in the final game in Chicago before the Bulls won the championship with an 87-86 win in Utah as Jordan hit a game-winning shot.
The Indiana Pacers stood in the way
The Chicago Bulls vs. Indiana Pacers series showcased a matchup of two high-scoring guards in Michael Jordan and Reggie Miller. Jordan, as usual, was very consistent in the series, while Miller struggled at times. Jordan scored 31 and 41 points in the first two games as the Bulls maintained homecourt advantage, taking a 2-0 series lead to Indiana.
Miller was very solid in Game 3 with a 28-point performance as the Pacers cut the series deficit to 2-1 with a 107-105 victory. Miller, however, was held to 15 points in Game 4, but center Rik Smits bailed out the Pacers with 26 points as Indiana evened the series with a 96-94 win.
After the Bulls took a 3-2 series lead, Miller struggled mightily in Game 6 at home. Miller made just two of 13 shots from the floor and finished with a total of eight points, but again Smits was there for Indiana with a team-high 25 points as the series held true to form with the home team winning. Game 7 was a battle with the Pacers holding an eight-point lead after the first quarter. Jordan and the Bulls battled back with the help of Toni Kukoc‘s 21 points to post an 88-83 victory.
Jordan called the victory before the game
When Michael Jordan said “We are going to win Game 7” before Game 7 was played, he said it wasn’t a guarantee or a promise. He said he was just being confident. “I never make promises,” Jordan told the Baltimore Sun before the game. “I don’t make promises, even to my wife. I’m very confident. When we’ve needed a win, we’ve come out and showed we can conquer the situation, and I don’t have any doubt about this one. It’s a belief in my ability and a belief in my team’s ability.”
Even when the Indiana Pacers led 27-19 after one quarter when Jordan was 1-for-5 shooting with two points, Jordan remained confident. Jordan saw Reggie Miller hit three of four shots in the first 12 minutes to score seven quick points. Despite being in a slump early and being down by eight after a quarter, Jordan remained both focused and confident.
“At no time in the course of the 48 minutes did I ever think negative,” Jordan said in the Chicago Tribune after the game. “Sure, maybe we got off to a slow start. But at no point did I think negative about what we can accomplish as a team.”