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Greatest Games Ever Played: 1993 NBA Eastern Conference Finals - Game 5
Basketball enthusiasts often look back on the 1992-1993 NBA playoffs as one of the most exciting and competitive in the sports' history. So many series went the distance from the early rounds on. There were unexpected upsets, big shots and amazing comebacks. Nowhere was the drama greater than in the Conference Finals. Out west the Phoenix Suns, after years of heartbreak and mediocrity overcame the determined Seattle Supersonics in a grueling seven-game series to reach their first Finals since 1976. Their opponent would come out of a stacked eastern conference, which featured one of the most memorable series in playoff history.
Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks
By 1993 there was no question the best rivalry in basketball was the Chicago Bulls against the New York Knicks. It was two blue collar cities, two brilliant head coaches in Phil Jackson and Pat Riley, featuring two teams that had met regularly in the playoffs since 1989. Up to that point though Chicago had owned the Knicks, beating them in all three series before their meeting in the Eastern Conference Finals that year. Yet what had people intrigued was how much the Knicks had improved since the Bulls swept them in 1991. The very next year New York put them through a bitter, physical seven-game war. After another solid off-season of improving the roster many expected New York to finally dethrone Chicago after two-straight championships.
They certainly played like it. The Knicks overcame a brief hiccup against Indiana and cruised past Charlotte in the second round in five games. They had home court advantage and lost at Madison Square Garden only four times all season. Not that the Bulls had any reason to feel afraid. After sweeping through Atlanta in the first round they sent the rest of the basketball world a clear message when they systematically took apart the Cleveland Cavaliers, another team that had played them well in the past, for a second sweep. They felt prepared and confident going into the Big Apple.
Patrick Ewing and John Starks set the tone
Clearly the Bulls weren't as ready as they thought. Bolstered by their strong roster led by future Hall of Fame center Patrick Ewing, and fueled by an energized Garden crowd, the Knicks came out early in the series displaying intensity and suffocating defense. While Chicago averaged over 100 points through the first two rounds, New York held them to under 91 in the first two games. No player epitomized their transformation more than shooting guard John Starks. His disciplined defense was the key reason the Knicks were able to hold down Bulls superstar Michael Jordan from his usual scoring frenzies. Ewing led the way from there and New York sent a message of their own, taking a stunning two-games-to-none lead in the series. Experts began to smell a sweep.
Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen even things up
Unfortunately those thoughts were a tad premature. Determined and desperate, Jordan and teammate Scottie Pippen sparked a comeback when the series shifted to Chicago. Riding a defensive resurgence of their own, the Bulls suffocated the Knicks to just 83 points. Ewing was the only starter to score in double figures. Meanwhile Jordan and Pippen combined for 51 in leading a 20-point blowout in Game 3. Then, in Game 4, the ever determined Jordan seemed to grow tired of the pesky defense from Starks. As only he could, his game suddenly went up another notch. The Knicks watched helplessly as he scorched them for 54 points. Chicago tied the series, setting up a decisive showdown in Game 5.
Clash at Madison Square Garden
One announcer fittingly called the game like a "heavyweight fight." Indeed it lived up to that kind of hype. The two teams came out strong in the first quarter. Chicago, emboldened by their turnaround, scored 31 points. New York used their home floor to recapture their swagger and kept pace, using a strong push in the second quarter to take a one-point lead into the half. The game featured a little of everything: buzzer beaters, alley oops, hard fouls and constant lead changes. Ewing even added to the crazy nature of the atmosphere when he hit just his second 3-point shot the entire year.
Chicago took the lead into the 4th quarter but another furious run by New York took it back. As the game reached the final minute Jordan set up the pivotal sequence of the series when he drove towards the hoop and instead of going for the score kicked the ball out to B.J. Armstrong on the wing who hit a 3-pointer to give the Bulls a 95-93 lead. A Knicks free throw cut the lead to one and they soon regained possession with a chance to go ahead. With 28 seconds left New York got the ball inside to Ewing. As he drove for the basket, a bump from Chicago defender Horace Grant knocked him off balance. Ewing dumped the ball to teammate Charles Smith under the basket.
The following play went as follows: Smith put up a shot that went wide, got the offensive rebound, was stripped by Jordan, got the ball back again and went up for a second shot that was blocked by Pippen. Smith regained the ball a third time and was again blocked by Pippen.
Chicago forward Horace Grant finally got the rebound, passed it to Jordan who got it down the court to Armstrong who hit a layup at the buzzer to clinch the game 97-94.
The stunning end to Game 5 gave the Bulls a 3-2 series lead heading back to Chicago. New York, stunned and reeling from the defeat, fell behind early in Game 6 and never got closer than three points after the first quarter. The Bulls closed them out and went on to win their third title in a row.