Michael Jordan’s legacy is filled with moments of him taking opponents by the jugular and making them pay. Perhaps, no opponent experienced this as often as the Cavaliers. Years before LeBron James helped elevate the franchise, Cleveland may have been best known for what Jordan did to them.
While his shot over Craig Ehlo may have been his defining moment against the Cavaliers, Jordan’s career-high against Cleveland showed how dominant he was versus his favorite opponent.
Michael Jordan’s Bulls face off against Cleveland
The 1989-90 season was not a high mark for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Their leading scorer, Ron Harper, only played in seven games before being traded to the Los Angeles Clippers. So, the team had to rely on leader Mark Price along with Ehlo, Brad Daugherty, Hot Rod Williams, Larry Nance, and further down the bench, Jordan’s future teammate Steve Kerr, to keep the team afloat.
At 32-37 on the season heading into the game, Cleveland had failed to find the consistency needed to compete in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls, still a year removed from the first NBA Championship of Jordan’s run, had a monster season.
Not only did His Airness give the team nearly 34 points, six assists, seven rebounds, and three steals per game, but the role players showed up, too. Scottie Pippen was on the rise, scoring nearly 17 points, seven rebounds, and five assists per game. The other players provided depth for Jordan, too.
Entering the March 28, 1990 game, the Bulls were still fighting for a place in the playoff picture while the Cavaliers were barely clinging to the season as a whole.
Jordan’s performance against the Cavaliers
Although Jordan had help from the roster that season, the Chicago team was definitively his. On nights like this one, he put on a show of terror for the team he had disposed of spectacularly just months before.
Jordan hit the ball from everywhere, going 23-for-37 from the field and two-for-six from three-point range. He also got to the line at a frightening rate, shooting 21-for-23. Nothing the Cavaliers did could stop him from his 69-point outburst.
Even more impressive was the fact that the Cavaliers stretched the game to overtime despite Jordan’s hot shooting. However, the greatest player of his generation was just too much for the team in the end. Aside from his 69-point performance, Jordan grabbed 18 rebounds, threw six assists, and swiped the ball from Cavaliers’ hands four times.
To the Cavaliers’ credit, they put up a strong fight. Mark Price put up 31 points and eight assists, and Craig Ehlo earned 26 points and nine rebounds. Hot Rod Williams got the team a 23-point, 10-rebound double-double off the bench, too. However, when a generational talent is at the top of his game, his opponents have to tip their hats and accept their fates.
Jordan’s signature scoring performance may be his 63-point outburst in the playoffs against the Celtics years earlier, but this 69-point performance at the dawn of a decade he would utterly dominate still lives on in legend.
Jordan’s far-reaching legacy
While Jordan’s legacy has always involved his overall package, MJ’s ability to take over games, make teams suffer, and still be the greatest game-to-game scorer of the modern era is what makes him the greatest to ever play basketball.
Jordan has so many candidates for “best performance” that his career-high may get lost in the pack. But what he did against the Cavaliers so late in the season cannot go unnoticed.