Originally published May 8, 1989.
RICHFIELD, Ohio — It all came down to one shot, and Michael Jordan used it to vindicate himself in spectacular fashion Sunday.
Jordan scored a game-high 44 points - including the 15-foot game-winning jump shot at the buzzer - to lead the Bulls to a 101-100 victory over the favored Cleveland Cavaliers in the deciding game of a best-of-five Eastern Conference quarterfinal playoff series.
Jordan’s shot stunned a Coliseum capacity crowd of 20,273, sent the Cavaliers to an early summer vacation and vaulted the Bulls into a best-of-seven semifinal series that begins tomorrow night in New York vs. the Atlantic Division champion Knicks.
”This is the biggest shot I’ve ever hit in the NBA, mainly because I put my (credibility) on the line,” Jordan said.
”I had predicted that we would win this series in four games and we didn’t because I missed some crucial free throws at the end of Friday night’s game.
”I was very disappointed after that game. It was my second worst hurt in basketball. My worst hurt was when I got cut (trying out the first time for his old high school team). I cried then. I almost cried Friday. I had to swallow my prediction. I had to swallow my pride. But then Rev. Jesse Jackson gave me some strong words of encouragement.
”I pay a lot of attention to what Jesse says. He said, `You can’t play this game Sunday. You’ve got to wash it out of your mind. Then Sunday, you just start all over again and play your best.’ And that’s the attitude I went into the game with.
”I was a little bit off in my prediction - but we won.”
”This is the most pleasing victory I’ve yet coached with the Bulls,” coach Doug Collins said.
”And I think it’s real justice that Michael could make that shot today after scoring 50 points the other night and being so hard on himself for missing a foul shot. I think you saw one of the great clutch performances you’ll ever see from Michael Jordan.”
All Bulls starters scored in double figures. Center Bill Cartwright had 16 points, forwards Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant had 13 and 12, respectively, and guardCraigHodges had 10.
”This is the most exciting game I’ve ever played in,” Dave Corzine said. “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
”When the game is on the line, you want that ball in Michael’s hands,” Hodges said.
”I’m trying to forget it,” said Cavaliers guardCraigEhlo, who was trying to guard Jordan when he hit the game-winner. “That’s something I guess I’ll be having a nightmare over all summer.”
Earlier,Ehlohad done all he could to foil the Bulls in a game that was tied six times and featured 20 lead changes. Neither team led by more than eight.
Ehlopaced the Cavs’ attack with a team-high 24 points - 15 in the fourth quarter - while fellow guards Mark Price and Ron Harper added 23 and 22 points, respectively.
It was alsoEhlowho sneaked away from Hodges’ coverage, ran a textbook give-and-go with forward Larry Nance off an inbounds play and scored a layup to give the Cavaliers a 100-99 lead with three seconds left.
”Craighad just made a heck of a play,” Cavs center Brad Daugherty said.
”We played tremendous defense at the end, and I just didn’t think they could do it.”
”Three seconds is a lot of time,” Collins said. “We ran a set . . . to get Michael into a crack where he could drive the ball to the basket and either get fouled or getthe shot.”
Forward Brad Sellers inbounded the ball and had Pippen as a secondary target in case Jordan was not free. Pippen appeared to be open first as he cut free in front of Sellers, but Jordan managed to shake loose a second later. Sellers inbounded directly to Jordan, who dribbled a couple of times toward the middle againstEhlo, jumped, double-pumped and shot withEhlo’s hand in his face. The ball swished cleanly through the net as the horn sounded.
”Once I got the ball, I just penetrated,” Jordan said.
”I went up.Ehlocame over to try to blockthe shot. I hesitated. I don’t know how I did it. But I hesitated and I shot the basketball and made it.
”The play was designed for me to go to the hole and try to draw a foul. But I didn’t have too much confidence in my free throws the way I’ve been shooting them lately. So, I decided to pull up.”
”I don’t see how he stayed in the air that long,” said Cavs center Brad Daugherty, Jordan’s old North Carolina teammate whose last-second free throws Friday night enabled Cleveland to win 108-105 in overtime. “It’s the most outstanding shot I’ve ever seen.”