Phil Jackson on Detroit Pistons beating up MJ and the Bulls in the 1990 ECF: "The game was a rugby match”

phil jackson on detroit pistons beating up mj and the bulls in the 1990 ecf:

phil-jackson--michael-jordan

The 1990 Eastern Conference Finals pitted the Detroit Pistons against the Chicago Bulls. Although the Motor City squad had championship experience, the main goal of that series was to contain Michael Jordan.

The Pistons needed to find a way to prevent MJ from going off on offense. Considering he had averaged his career-best of 33.6 points on 53.6% shooting from the field and 37.6% from the three-point land, the Bulls offense relied heavily on the 6-foot-6 star.

It was practically impossible to shut down Jordan. Hence, the next best thing the Pistons could do was limit his offensive production. One ploy to do so was Detroit's rugged defense, something they were known for throughout the entire NBA. Given the physicality they use, it was bound to result in something inappropriate.

Tough as nails

The Pistons won Game 1 of the ECF 86-77 despite Jordan dropping 34 points for the Bulls. However, the big development at the time was Jordan's injury. Although head coach Phil Jackson knew Jordan was as tough as nails, he was concerned about how the rest of the game would play out after that incident.

"I was more concerned that the game was a rugby match rather than a basketball game. It was played in Detroit's tempo and Detroit's style. …I knew Michael was running with a lot of pain," Jackson said at the time via the New York Times.

Jackson was referring to a play in the second quarter in which Jordan suffered a deep bruise to his left buttocks. The injury had a heavy impact on Jordan and the Bulls, as the top pick of the 1984 NBA Draft managed to score only 8 of his 34 points in the second half.

It wasn't the first time that the Pistons succeeded in throwing MJ off his game. Detroit did the same in the 1988 Eastern Conference semifinals, employing a physical game that Jordan admitted threw him off his game.

The main culprit at the time was Bill Laimbeer. Jordan ended up sprawling to the floor after an illegal pick by Lambs. MJ took exception and threw a series of punches, which resulted in a technical foul.

Rodman takes credit

Dennis Rodman also took some of the blame for Jordan's fall in the second quarter. However, "The Worm" insisted it wasn't intentional and was purely part of the game.

"He was sideways while in the air. He fell, and I think I might have nudged him, and he hit the floor. It wasn't intentional, and I didn't mean to bump him," Rodman explained.

Jordan admitted that the injury bothered him the rest of the way. The All-Star guard was out of sync in the second half, which was one less worry Chuck Daly and the company had to deal with in that game.

"In the third period, they jumped at me to see what I had. They didn't do that in the last quarter; I guess they had pity on me," the North Carolina product said.

Can't keep a good man down

Despite getting hurt, Jordan was still a tough player to keep down. His heavy scoring continued for Chicago until Game 7. But in the end, the lack of scoring effort from the supporting cast cost the Bulls a ticket to the NBA Finals.

Although Jordan averaged 32.1 points in the EC Finals, the Bulls failed to provide him with some scoring support. Scottie Pippen (16.6 points) and Horace Grant (11.6 points) did their share, but the effort wasn't to push Chicago past Detroit.

The Pistons would win the NBA title, defeating the Portland Trail Blazers in 5 games, copping the 1990 NBA crown. They also became only the third team in NBA history up until that point when they were able to win back-to-back titles.

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