Alright, I just got done watching Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals between the Bulls and the Jazz.
This game is going to be covered in tonight’s Episodes of The Last Dance but I wanted to do a deep dive on it.
Any casual sports fan has seen the immortal sequence from Jordan to end the game: steal from Malone, push-off jumper over Bryon Russell.
I wanted to know what else happened during the game and what lead up to that amazing moment.
Let’s get into it:
For some context the Bulls were leading the series 3-2 coming into this game. The Jazz had just won game 5 in Chicago 83-81 thanks to 39/9/5 from Karl Malone.
The Jazz had both this Game 6 and Game 7 at home in Utah.
Right off the bat, NBC presented the NBA in such an epic fashion. Way better than ESPN/ABC do nowadays.
The broadcast starts with Bob Costas doing a voiceover narrating what happened in Game 5 over some orchestra instrumental, sort of like a “Previously On” at the beginning of a show like Game of Thrones.
The theme song for the NBA on NBC is incredible and there’s no need for a fucking Kesha or Pitbull music video montage of TheirLatestHitSingle that has nothing to do with basketball and has Kia and Beats by Dre product placements.
The difference between playing up the romance of the game vs. maximizing financial gains. Actually I don’t even know how this works. When a Pitbull song is the soundtrack for the NBA playoffs is ESPN/ABC/Disney paying Pitbull and his boys for the rights to the song? They must be, right? What a waste. Whatever moving on, point is ESPN/ABC should take their cues from the NBA on NBC.
Before the game starts we find out that Scottie Pippen is dealing with a back injury he suffered in Game 3, Ron Harper has the flu, and Howard Eisley has vertigo? Clearly the players are bruised and battered at this point in the season.
First thing I noticed to start the game is that the Jazz, specifically John Stockton, are doubling hard every time someone on the Bulls catches in the post.
Why they are doing this I have no clue. Pippen will get the ball in the post, Stockton charges over, Pippen kicks it out, and a pass or two later someone on the Bulls is wide open.
Not sure what the strategy is here. I get that teams were more worried about post-ups back in the day but Pippen is hurt and it’s not like the Jazz waited for him to score a few baskets, this was the strategy from the jump.
Another takeaway I had is that Pippen and Stockton were both great passers. Stockton throws some of the most amazing entry passes into the post I’ve ever seen.
This entire game was played at a snail’s pace; you can count on 2 hands how many fast breaks there are.
Pippen looks like he can barely move and goes into the locker room to get treatment on his back.
Jordan’s midrange shots and turnaround fadeaways from the post were beautiful to watch. It was shocking any time he missed a jumpshot.
What was shocking to the fans was anytime a player shot a 3. You could feel and hear the excited reaction anytime a player rose from deep.
It’s also amazing how almost every possession for both teams on offense revolved around trying to get the ball into the post.
Utah lead 25-22 at the end of the first behind 12 on 4/4 shooting from Malone and 9 points on 3/5 shooting from Jeff Hornacek who seemed to the Jazz’s second option on offense.
Malone was a complete beast in the post, just insanely strong. He had more touch around the basket and on his jumpers than I expected. He wasn’t super fluid, kind of looked like a stiff bodybuilder, but hustled more than you might think a star big man would. Neither the Bulls’ center Luc Longley or Dennis Rodman had much of a shot stopping him when he lowered his shoulder and went to the basket.
Malone was also a super willing passer. He never forced any bad shots up or played hero ball. If he got doubled in the post he always kicked it out to the open man. Sometimes he did get a little sloppy and end up fumbling the ball away though. He ended up with 5 turnovers.
The 2nd quarter had some nice back and forth moments between Jordan and Malone.
At one point when the game was 39-39, Jordan, after hitting a 3, had 19 of the Bulls’ points. The next possession Malone hit a turnaround jumper to make it 41-39, and gave him 20 of the Jazz’s 41 points.
Jordan was hitting everything, in the second quarter he goes for 15 points on 6/11 shooting. No clue why the Jazz aren’t double-teaming him every time he touches the ball especially when Kukoc is off the floor.
With Pippen hurt, there was a lineup of Longley, Harper, Rodman, and Kerr with Jordan. If you’re on the Jazz and not guarding Kerr I don’t see why you wouldn’t double-team Jordan almost any chance you get.
To give you an idea: Harper ends up with 8 points on 3/4 shooting for the game, Longley 0 points on 0/1, Kerr 0 points on 0/0 shooting, and Rodman ends up with 7 points on 3/3 shooting, with 2 of those shots being tip-ins and the other being an absolute prayer of a 20 foot jumper.
My point is this: if Jordan is roasting you over and over again in isolation maybe try your luck with one of his teammates trying to create offense.
As for the Jazz their entire offense is get Malone the ball in the post and see what happens. Stockton was throwing incredible entry passes, but why no pick-and-roll? I thought Stockton and Malone were this dynamic pick-and-roll duo but I don’t know if they ran more than 1 or 2 the entire game.
Harper was doing a solid job defensively on Stockton, but it still seems like Stockton should be looking for his own shot a little more. He ends up taking only 10 for the entire game.
I liked Jeff Hornacek’s game. He could hit 3’s, create some offense for himself off the dribble, and gave effort on defense.
During the 2nd quarter Bob Costas who is calling the game, gives a shoutout to Skip Bayless of the Chicago Tribune, mentioning that Skip described Jordan as, “the rarest of blends: a supremely talented overachiever.”
Shoutout to our guy Skip, that is the perfect description.
It was 49-45 Jazz at halftime. Jordan had 23 on 9/19 shooting and Toni Kukoc had 10 points and 4 assists on 5/8 shooting for the Bulls. We might as well talk about Kukoc now because he doesn’t do much in the 2nd half.
He was very skilled for a guy his size at 6’11”, having a solid handle, and both the willingness and court vision to rack up assists. However, he was all finesse, seemed to struggle finishing inside at times, and didn’t mix it up on the glass, or play much defense.
Definitely not a #2 on a championship team, though that’s exactly what he was on offense for the Bulls in this game.
For the Jazz at half Malone had 20/4 on 8/11 shooting and Hornacek had 11 points on 4/8 shooting.
The 3rd quarter is an absolute trainwreck. It finished 17-16 Jazz.
Pippen comes back in the game, and limps around for 9 minutes.
The most entertaining part of the quarter was Malone and Rodman wrestling and battling with each other on the boards and going after loose balls. I couldn’t tell whether they hated or respected each other or a little bit of both.
Pippen went back into the locker room during the 3rd quarter, and Stockton also left to get, “a chiropractic adjustment” in the locker room as well.
Everyone’s backs were messed up I guess.
Nobody on either team except for Hornacek (6 points on 2/3 shooting) had a good offensive quarter but Harper did continue to do a solid job on Stockton defensively. So there’s that I guess.
Again, the 3rd quarter was 17-16 Jazz, not much to report.
So going into the 4th quarter starts it is, 66-61 Jazz.
As the quarter is starting Costas let’s us know that Jordan is 29 on 10-24 shooting, but has missed 8 of his last 9 shots, having played 34/36 minutes in the game at that point. Jordan must have been tired because it’s not until the 4th quarter that he really puts his head down and starts driving to the basket and drawing fouls.
Also, Isiah Thomas, who is announcing the game, mentions how Jordan is resting on defense in order to conserve his energy on the offensive end. This makes sense considering the Bulls entire offense is, “Throw it to Jordan” and the Jazz’s entire offense is, “Throw it to Malone” who Jordan isn’t guarding.
Jordan just starts putting his head down and getting fouled on his way to the rim. He goes 8-8 from the line in the 4th. Most from what I remember were good calls. We’ll get to the one questionable one later.
Why the Jazz almost never hard-double Jordan is baffling.
So we have Jordan on the left wing being single-covered by Bryon Russell who has done a decent job throughout the game. Malone is guarding Kukoc at the top of the key. Don’t want to leave Kukoc wide open so I get that. Stockton is down in the paint guarding Ron Harper. If he comes over to Jordan it’s an easy pass for a layup. But what the fuck are Hornacek and Antoine Carr doing? Hornacek is guarding Pippen who might as well be paralyzed with the way he’s moving. Scottie is not even bothering to pretend to be involved in the play. And Carr is guarding Rodman, who is completely useless with the ball in his hands. Why doesn’t one of them sprint over and force Jordan to give it up??? Jordan missed this time but this sort of scenario played out over and over again this whole game.
Also, the Jazz’s entire offense being force the ball to Malone in the post got stale as the game went on. I guess Stockton’s back is bothering him but the dude seems like he’s allergic to going for his own shot.
Every time the Jazz set a ball screen like this they get a great look.
Watch Pippen on this play. He can barely move. Why not have the guy Pippen is guarding set a ball screen on every possession? He can’t defend space with his back bothering him like that.
It’s 79-77 Jazz with 4 minutes left when this happens.
I mean, that’s so clearly a 24-second violation. In real-time its easy to see.
So 2 free points for the Bulls there and what makes it worse is this.
Is that the worst 24-second violation call you’ve ever seen in your entire life? The ball is damn hear halfway to the hoop when the buzzer sounds.
That was in the 2nd quarter with the Jazz leading 28-24.
So 3 points taken off the board for the Jazz and 2 points given to the Bulls. Kind of a big deal no?
Malone hits a jumper to put the Jazz up 4, 83-79 with 2:30 left. In this game a 4 point lead is like an 8 point lead.
So next possession this happens.
I mean, I guess? It’s Game 6 of the Finals and you call that to give Jordan 2 free throws?
If you can watch the next 9 minutes of the video please do because that’s the remainder of the game.
83-81 Jazz 2 minutes left
Stockton misses wide open jumper
Russell offensive rebound, terrible turnover
Jordan missed jumper
Stockton misses wide open dagger 3 with around 1:10 left
Jordan drives, Stockton called for a block (good call) Jordan makes 2 free throws
83-83 with 1 minute left
Malone great pass out of the post to Stockton wide open for 3, makes it
86-83 Jazz with 41.9 left
Jordan layup as the Jazz continue to refuse to double-team him.
86-85 Jazz with 37.1 left
Jordan great steal on Malone, Jazz refuse to double-team, Jordan jumper.
87-86 Bulls with 5.2 left
Stockton, with Carr WIDE OPEN under the basket, pulls up for an off-balance 3 with 3.2 seconds left, misses, Bulls win
Jordan goes for 45/1/1 with 4 steals and 1 turnover on 15/35 shooting and 12/15 from the line.
Malone finishes with 31/11/7 on 11/19 and 9/11 from the line with 5 turnovers.
Stockton goes for 10/5/3 on 4/10 from the field and 1/4 from three and 1/2 from the line.
Hornacek puts up 17/6 on 6/12 shooting, 1/3 from 3 and 4/4 for the line.
Kukoc is the Bull’s second leading scorer putting up 15/4/3 on 7/14 from the field.
Pippen guts out 8/4/3 on 4/7 shooting with 2 steals and a block while Rodman puts up 7 points and 8 boards with 2 steals and a block.
My takeaway is this: The Jazz deserved to lose for barely running any pick and rolls and more importantly for not doubling Jordan when he was the only one doing anything on offense for the Bulls.
Jordan’s closing sequence in this game is iconic and he kept enough energy in the tank to drive to the basket and get easy points at the line, when his jumper wasn’t clicking as the game wore on.
And now, we watch The Last Dance.