Today in 90s NBA (07/06/1995)

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The blog’s time machine, which can travel only in the past and the 90s decade in particular, goes back 20 years (my God how the years gone by…), to the 7th of June, 1995 and the Orlando Arena, where the Orlando Magic hosted the Houston Rockets for the first game of the 1995 NBA Finals. 1995 was a crazy season for the young Orlando team that had never been to the Finals before; the team had entered the league in 1989, but with excellent draft choices Shaquille O’Neal (1992) and Anfernee Hardaway (1993) it turned into a contender by winning 57 games (1st in the East) that year. The most amazing thing that Orlando team was able to pull off, was to eliminate MJ45’s (the mortal one) Chicago Bulls in the ECSF. However, they needed 7 games to beat the very good Indiana Pacers in the ECF.

Houston on the other hand was the defending champion (it had defeated the Knicks 4-3 in 1994 NBA Finals) and it was coming to the 1995 after an even crazier season: a) traded 2/5 of last year’s starting five to acquire Olajuwon’s Phi-Slamma-Jamma brother Clyde Drexler form Portland, b) finished 6th in the West with 47-35 record, c) beating everybody in the West without a home-court advantage (2-3 against Utah – 60-22 record; 3-4 against Phoenix – they were down 3-1; and 2-4 against the MVP’s, David Robinson, Spurs), to reach the NBA Finals. On the 7th of June 1995, then, the Rockets were going to begin another series without home-court advantage against the enthusiastic and extremely talented, but inexperienced Magic team.

There was great anticipation for the game, as Olajuwon was going to face O’Neal, who was the last of the great centers of the 90s that he hadn’t played against, to that point; he had defeated Ewing’s Knicks last year in the Finals and Robinson’s Spurs just a few days ago in the WCF. It was only, the young O’Neal that was standing in his way to the ultimate recognition of his superiority among ‘the beasts’ of the 90s; Charles Barkley and Karl Malone had been taken care off as well – Sir Charles in probably the worst way (Barkley’s Suns were up 2-0 in 1994 after winning the first two games in Houston, to finally lose 4-3; while they were up 3-1 in 1995, to end up losing 4-3 again). There was also the Anfernee Hardaway-Clyde Drexler battle that was attracting a lot of interest as well; two tall 6’7 all-around guards going against each other.

The young and athletic Orlando started the game strong and at the end of the 1st quarter Magic were up 30-19. Orlando’s GM at that time, Pat Williams (the man that basically created that team by picking Shaq and Penny) said recently that: ‘I remember vividly standing in my little corner and we were taking it to Houston and it felt like we were picking up where we had left off in Game 7 against Indiana.’ ‘I remember sitting there thinking, “Oh boy, (then-NBA Commissioner) David Stern is not going to be happy if this series turns into a rout. He won’t be happy and it won’t be good for the league,”’ Williams added. But he didn’t know what was coming to his young Orlando.

Houston started picking up and at the end of the third quarter was up by 7 points; 87-80. In the fourth quarter Orlando reacted and regained the lead, but then the unthinkable happened; Nick Anderson (Magic’s first ever draft that had 22p. 11r. and 5a. in that game) went to the line and missed four consecutive free throws, to give the opportunity to the Rockets’ starting point-guard and current NBA TV’s commentator Kenny Smith to score one of his seven made three-pointers that night, to tie the game 110-110 with 1.6 seconds remaining. The game went to overtime were Hakeem ‘The Dream’ (31p. 6r. 7a. 4b.)gave Orlando a nightmare for many years to come, as he won the game with a tip-in, 0.3 seconds before the end of the overtime; final score 120-118 for the Rockets.

Even now Orlando fans find it difficult to ‘digest’ the closing sequence of Gm1. ‘For years I had nightmares, honestly, about Game 1,’ Nick Anderson told recently Fox Sports Florida. `I’ve had other coaches and people around the league tell me that if we had won that first game that they think we would have won the series,’ Brian Hill said, Orlando’s head coach at the time. `I still believe that to this minute. If we had won Game 1 our team would have had a whole different mindset. It seems like Game 1 took so much out of our guys. Losing that game because we were playing so well for such a long period of time, and then it was so hard to get them back after that,’ he added.

The box score for that game can be found here: http://www.basketball-reference.com/boxscores/199506070ORL.html

While if you want to watch the whole game, it is available on YouTube (thanks to the user Alex GrOZ):

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Today in 90s NBA (03/06/1990)

Isaih 03061990

This is the first post of a new category that starts today. I will dub this category ‘today in 90s NBA’ and as it becomes apparent from its name it will consist of posts about things that happened at the same day in one of the 1990s NBA seasons. Today is the 3rd of June 2015 and I will be looking 25 years back at what happened in the NBA in 03/06/1990. I am sure that anybody that loves the NBA at 90s knows and remembers that the Bulls, in order to become the Bulls of the 90s, had to overcome the obstacle of the Detroit Pistons. In the same sense, the Pistons in order to get to the NBA Finals had to defeat the Bulls and this is how one of the great rivalries of the NBA was born.

I suppose that the rivalry between the two franchises originates in the fact that they are both located in Midwestern US and thus there is a geographical rivalry among them. However, the rivalry between these two teams in particular, the late 80s-early 90s Pistons and Bulls, began in 1988; when they first played each other at the ECSF. In 1988, Pistons were too much for the Bulls and beat them in 5 games (4-1), to finally lose to the Lakers in the NBA Finals . Next season, the Pistons did it again; this time though was a bit harder as the Bulls were able to win two – in fact the Bulls were up 2-1 after three games in the series.

In 1990, the Bulls looked stronger and they entered the play-offs as the 3rd seed in the East with only 4 wins less than their rivals Pistons that finished first with 59 wins. So, both teams, after defeating easily their opponents in the first and second round of the play-offs, were able to reach the ECF, as it was expected and anticipated by every NBA fan around the world. Following a series of six very physical games, both teams defended their home courts successfully and the series was tied at 3-3 with the seventh and final game scheduled for the 3rd of June, 1990. The question was whether the Bulls were ready to make the break or the Pistons would be able to defend their home court one more time to win the series.

The answer came from the Pistons and it came in an emphatic way with a big win against their rivals at the Palace of Auburn Hills in front of almost 22.000 of their fans; 93-74 was the final score and the Pistons were once again the champions of the Eastern Conference. As Sam Smith wrote the next day in the Chicago Tribune: ‘the Pistons, it turned out, let the Bulls only close enough to dream.’ Isiah Thomas, the leader of the ‘Bad Boys’ that had a great game with 21p., 11a., 8r and 2s., said that it was just another play-off game, to irritate the Bulls’ fans even more. Meanwhile, Chuck Daly, the coach of the Pistons, emphasized on the inexperience of the Bulls and Thomas’ great performance.

Michael Jordan, on the other hand, devastated by another play-off elimination and a super effort against the ‘Jordan Rules’ defence employed by the Pistons admitted that Detroit was a better team on paper as well as on the court. MJ had a near triple-double performance with 31p., 9a., and 8r., but did not get any help from his teammates, especially on offence. The key, however, to Pistons decisive victory over the Bulls was Scottie Pippen’s performance, who had migraine issues and scored 2p. hitting only  1 out of 10 from the field. Pippen, who according to the Bulls physician John Hefferon had suffered from migraines earlier in the season due to adrenaline surge, said that he was feeling well at that morning but the migraines came back during the warm up.

The box score for that game can be found here: http://www.basketball-reference.com/boxscores/199006030DET.html

While if you want to watch the whole game, it is available on YouTube (thanks to the user Alex GrOZ):

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4. Mitch Richmond

mitch-richmond-sacramento

Mitchell James Richmond (born June 30, 1965 at Fort Lauderdale, Florida)

Mitch Richmond was drafted by the Golden State Warriors at number 5 overall in 1988 NBA Draft. His first season (1988-89) as an NBA player Richmond averaged 22ppg., 5.9rpg., 4.2apg. and was selected as the NBA’s Rookie of the Year. His special scoring ability alongside Chris Mullin’s (26.5ppg. in 1988-89) made the Warriors a play-offs team immediately. He was a perfect fit for Don Nelson’s offense that involved a lot of fast breaks and quick shooting. That year, the last season of the 80s, Warriors made it to the Western Conference Semi-finals, where they lost 4-1 to the Phoenix Suns.

Unfortunately, Western Conference Semi-finals would be the furthest Richmond would reach into the play-offs throughout the 90s (Warrios 90-91)and this is something that definitely hurt him personally as well as his reputation. I believe that even in the ranking of this blog he would have been higher if he had achieved more things on a team-level. However, individually Richmond was definitely one of the finest stars the 90s had to offer and probably one of the most underrated players ever. Personally, I have underestimated him as a player, when he was active, and only felt his presence when he won the MVP award at the 1995 All-Star Game.

Richmond will always be remembered as a member of the trio of the run n’ gun offense Don Nelson employed at the Warriors’ team during 1990-1991, aka Run TMC. The trio was composed of Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin and made to the Western Conference Semi-finals in 1991. All three members of the Run TMC averaged over 20 points per game in 1990-91; Tim 22.9, Mitch 23.9 and Chris 25.7. This team despite the fact that it didn’t accomplish anything big, will always be remembered by those witnessed it as it played an up-tempo, high scoring and spectacular game.

The Run-TMC era lasted only two years as the 1991-92 season found Mitch Richmond in Sacramento; traded for Billy Owens. This was something like the beginning of a nightmare for him. This is how he described his years at Sacramento:

“I was trying to get out of there every year—I tell you the truth. I tried to play a mental game with myself. Don’t even look at the score. Try to go out every night and just play hard and don’t worry about the score. Just get the respect of your peers.” (SLAM)

I remember watching him striving every year, to achieve team goals all by himself. I always thought that David Robinson did not have the necessary help to win a championship but looking back now, I think Richmond was in the worst position comparing with the other superstars of the 90s. I wish the Spurs had traded for him and paired him with Robinson…imagine that. I think a Richmond-Robinson duo probably in 1994 would have changed the NBA-history of the 90s. Unfortunately this is something I can only dream of.

The more I think about it the more I am convinced that the best characterization for Richmond is that of a superstar an unlucky superstar; if MJ identifies you as the toughest opponent he had faced then I think you must be at the superstar level. Their duels were a special treatment for us NBA fans of the 90s (whenever they were televised and broadcasted in Greece…) What made Richmond so special is that he had very few weaknesses in his game, he was a great shooter and he was really strong and competent in both ends of the floor.

He only made it once to the play-offs, with the Kings, in 1996 as the 8th team of the West and played against the powerful Seattle Supersonics that defeated them 3-1 and advanced all the way to the NBA Finals to lose 4-2 to the Chicago Bulls. Statistically his best season was the one that followed; in 1996-97 he averaged a career high 25.9ppg. (5th overall). During the summer of 1996 he was also selected as a member of what it was known as Dream Team III and won the Gold Medal at Atlanta’s Olympic Games. Even in this case there were many that thought of him as an unexpected selection – just for the record, I did not belong to that group of people.

Richmond, or ‘the Rock’, as his nickname was, participated in 6 consecutive all-star games during the 90s (from 1993 to 1998), but he was a starter only in 1994. He was also selected three times in the all-NBA second team (1994,1995,1997) and two times in the all-NBA third team (1996, 1998). He finally left Sacramento at the end of 1997-98 season as he got traded to Washington for Chris Webber. His fate, however, unlike that of the Kings, did not change after the trade. During the last season of the 90s he averaged below 20ppg. (19.7) for the first time in his NBA career. Richmond was basically at the end of his career when he got traded to the Wizards and he was lucky enough to win a championship in his last year as a member of the Lakers (2001-02), even though not in the fashion he would wanted it to be (he was a bench warmer in that Lakers team).

Points Rebounds Assists Steals Blocks
Career 21.0 3.9 3.5 1.2 0.3
1996-97 25.9 3.9 4.2 1.5 0.3
1990-1999 23.0 4.0 3.8 1.3 0.3

http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/r/richmmi01.html

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