Originally published March 29, 1995.
NEW YORK — Message delivered. Message accepted.
Michael Jordan, in only the fifth game of his comeback, used the NBA’s biggest stage to offer some irrefutable evidence that he still is the game’s best — hands down, no doubt about it.
Jordan lit up Broadway for 55 points — the most ever against the New York Knicks at the current Madison Square Garden — Tuesday night in leading the Bulls to a dramatic 113-111 victory.
The 55 points, which came on 21-for-37 shooting, also established a new high for points scored in an NBA game this season. The previous high was 53 points by Willie Burton, but Jordan needed only four games and eight practices to beat that total.
Some statement, huh?
“I just let my game go, let my game come to me,” he said.
“I forgot how to make a statement.”
“It was a statement Michael Jordan is back to play basketball, no question,” Bulls coach Phil Jackson said. “But I don’t know if it’s a statement that we’re back to playing our kind of basketball.”
That is true. The Bulls (37-33) have played better this season. Their defense was spotty and they still had rebounding lapses, but they did get the big ones down the stretch.
But none of that was the least bit comforting to the Knicks (44-24) or the sellout crowd of 19,763, who came to see a New York victory and some evidence that this Knicks team can beat a Jordan-led Bulls team come playoff time.
They got neither.
“This is a game where you have to make everything count, especially when you have a guy like Michael Jordan going off,” Knicks coach Pat Riley said. “The implications? We have to look at it as a regular-season game. We have to get ready for the playoffs.”
Yes, it was a regular-season game, but few playoff games can compare with the intensity in the Garden. All the stars were out — too numerous to name — and the ticket scalpers were living large.
Jordan seemed to feed off that energy and came out firing. He began by opening the game’s scoring with a 15-footer. He then stretched out on the next possession and drilled an 18-footer.
Before the dust settled, Jordan had pumped in 20 points on 9-for-11 shooting in the first quarter. By halftime, he had 35 points on 14-for-19 shooting.
But the exploits weren’t enough to give the Bulls — who trailed by as many as 14 points — the lead, as they trailed 56-50 at the intermission. Because his team was ahead, Riley decided against aggressively double-teaming Jordan.
Jordan continued to rack up the points in the third quarter, and the Bulls pulled even at 82 heading into the fourth. At that point, Jordan rested.
Trailing 88-87, the Jordanaires — that’s what they had been to that point — produced a 12-2 run for a 99-90 lead with 7:33 to play, with Scottie Pippen (19 points), B.J. Armstrong (16) and Luc Longley leading the way.
Jordan came back and so did the Knicks. Finally, the game came down to a series of can-you-top-this offensive plays. Not the sort of match you want to get into with a hot Jordan.
Jordan hit a short jumper after a pump fake for a 111-109 lead with 25.8 seconds to go. The Knicks came down and tied the score as John Starks (14 points) hit two free throws. But there were still 14.6 seconds left. Plenty of time for Jordan.
That’s what the Knicks thought, and they ran Patrick Ewing - who had blocked a shot a couple of possessions earlier - at him. Jordan fed the ball to a wide-open Bill Wennington for a game-ending dunk with 3.1 seconds left.
He then completed the great performance by forcing Starks to lose the ball at the other end, wrapping things up.
Amazingly, Jordan, who scored 50-plus points 33 other times, was asked if he could do it again.
“I don’t know,” he said with a slight, sly grin. “That’s the fun thing about it. Tomorrow, you don’t know what I can do.”