Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Historical Footnotes

The 72-10 record of the Chicago Bulls in 1995-’96 is sometimes hard to comprehend. That winning percentage is absurd considering the 82-game season is such a grind of back-to-backs, injuries and cold-shooting spells. You’d have to be off your nut to think that an NBA team could ever go 82-0. That Bulls team might be as close as it will ever get. Here is a closer look at the 10 blemishes that season:

Nov. 14, 1995
Magic 94, Bulls 88: This was Chicago's first meeting with Orlando since the Magic bounced the Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinals the previous season. In fact, Orlando had won eight of the last 11 meetings. Michael Jordan had spent the summer trying to get into top basketball shape in his first NBA off-season since his baseball hiatus. But Jordan seemed to tire against the Magic in the sixth game of the season with only five points in the second half. Shaquille O'Neal sat this one out with a thumb injury, so the Magic leaned heavily on Penny Hardaway (36 points). The Bulls struggled with 14 points in the third quarter but tied the game with two minutes left. Hardaway, Dennis Scott and Nick Anderson hit key buckets to salt away the victory.

Nov. 26, 1995
SuperSonics 97, Bulls 92: The Bulls also struggled in the third quarter of their second loss, shooting 4 of 20 against the team they would eventually face in the NBA Finals. Jordan had just four points after halftime. With Dennis Rodman unavailable because of a strained calf, Shawn Kemp busted loose for 25 points on 10-for-13 shooting. On the plus side for the Bulls, Luc Longley had a rare star performance with 21 points and eight rebounds.

Dec. 26, 1995
Pacers 103, Bulls 97: At Market Square Arena, Indiana snapped Chicago's 13-game winning streak. This time a bad start doomed the Bulls, who fell behind 24 points in the first half while committing 10 turnovers. Chicago shot 8 for 25 in the first quarter. Jordan had 30 points but needed 28 shots to get there.

Feb. 4, 1996
Nuggets 105, Bulls 99: Chicago's 18-game winning streak was halted by a Denver team that came into the game 18-26. Another slow first half (31.9% shooting) put the Bulls in a 31-point deficit. Jordan had 22 points in the third quarter to give Chicago a shot, but it wasn't enough against a jacked-up Denver team led by Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (32 points, nine assists) and Dikembe Mutombo (17 rebounds).

Feb. 6, 1996
Suns 106, Bulls 96: Amazingly, the Bulls had a losing streak this season. There was one more game after this matchup before the all-star break, so maybe Chicago was caught looking ahead. Jordan shot 9 for 22, continuing a cold stretch in which he shot 40.9% over five games. Phoenix was carried by a monster game from Charles Barkley, who had 35 points and 16 rebounds.

Feb. 23, 1996
Heat 113, Bulls 104: Miami pulled off the shocker despite a short roster. Tim Hardaway, Chris Gatling, Walt Williams and Ty Corbin were all unavailable after joining the Heat in a blockbuster multi-team trade. Miami still had Rex Chapman, who scorched the nets for 39 points, including 9 three-pointers. Jordan (9 of 21) and Scottie Pippen (4 of 18) suffered through tough shooting nights.

March 10, 1996
Knicks 104, Bulls 72: Jeff Van Gundy was coaching his second game in New York after Don Nelson stepped down. Van Gundy got his first victory on the strength of the Knicks' defense, which limited the Bulls to 32 points in the second half, including 12 in the fourth quarter. Patrick Ewing was a force in the middle with 26 points and 14 rebounds.

March 24, 1996
Raptors 109, Bulls 108: This ranks with the Heat loss as the most shocking defeats of the season for the Bulls. The expansion team scored the upset at the Sky Dome in front of 36,131 fans, the largest crowd for an NBA game that season. Damon Stoudamire hit 6 three-pointers and finished with 30 points and 11 assists. The immortal Oliver Miller hit the go-ahead free throw in the final minute and Tracy Murray knocked the ball away on the Bulls' final possession, leading to Steve Kerr hurrying a three-pointer that clanged off the rim after the buzzer.

April 8, 1996
Hornets 98, Bulls 97: This loss ended Chicago's 44-game winning streak at home. The Bulls, who were playing their fourth game in five nights, squandered a 10-point lead at halftime. Dell Curry sank two free throws to give Charlotte the lead. Toni Kukoc missed a shot at close range, then Jordan and Pippen each couldn't convert taps.

April 20, 1996
Pacers 100, Bulls 99: Indiana was the only team to beat Chicago twice, spoiling the Bulls' regular-season home finale. Chicago fans can point their fingers at a familiar scapegoat. Referee Hue Hollins called a foul on Jordan for closely guarding Eddie Johnson on the Pacers' last possession. Johnson hit a free throw with five-tenths of a second remaining. In the waning seconds of Game 5 in the 1994 Eastern Conference semifinals, Hollins had called a borderline foul on Pippen against the Knicks' Hubert Davis, who sank two winning free throws.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting look back at these rare losses for the 95-96 Bulls. That loss at Denver was the most memorable for me. Chicago was just getting killed in that game and MJ brought them back. It was one of those games where they easily could have quit, but Michael wouldn't let them. That game always stands out to me from the great season.