Chicago’s first game of the 1990-91 season was against the Charles Barkley-led Philadelphia 76ers. The Bulls were able to get past the Sixers in the conference semifinals four games to one the year prior.
Barkley has been statistically the best player on the team since the 1985 season, but hasn’t gotten the team past the conference semifinals yet. The Sixers have only missed the playoffs once during the timeframe. Barkley was determined to advance further in the postseason.
November 2, 1990 marked game one of the season and the first of two games to air on TNT for the evening. The Suns took on the Jazz in the second game, in case you’re wondering.
It’s notable how loud and excited the Chicago fans are. The team was on the cusp of winning a championship just one year prior. This sets the early stages of Michael Jordan’s rivalry against Barkley. The expectations for both teams are on the rise and they both want to get off to a hot start.
The first quarter started off well for the Bulls with Jordan and Horace Grant leading the way. Grant was a focal point for the offense, putting away four easy buckets in the opening minutes of the game. While the Chicago crowd provided fantastic energy for the home team, the Sixers were showing more intensity on the court.
Barkley made it very clear that he was on a mission and the team followed suit. While the Bulls had a clear advantage with rebounds, the Sixers team were putting their bodies on the court for any loose ball. Oftentimes Barkley would reward the teams’s efforts with a dunk to silence the crowd.
People typically see 90s basketball as being a slower pace and half-court-dominant era. The uptempo and almost reckless style of play surprised me. It was likely due to Barkley’s quest for redemption for the playoff loss and having to beat Jordan on his court to do so. Both teams were reckless with the ball.
Barkley had plenty of help during the game with Johnny Dawkins stepping up to collect 25 points. Rick Mahorn had a field day with Bill Cartwright in the paint. Cartwright is by far the worst Bulls player on the team at this point. His play is truly baffling and frustrating. Sure, Will Perdue isn’t much better, but at least he’s not a liability.
You might be wondering what Scottie Pippen provided in the game and the answer would be absolutely nothing. Pippen’s offensive display was shockingly horrible. His performance was so ineffective that it left me feeling like Jordan was a one-man show. Pippen gets a lot of praise for being a great player, and obviously he is, but the performance here had to be seen as a major disappointment.
While Grant had a strong first quarter for the Bulls, he was later forgotten about on the offensive side. I’m wondering if they fell behind so much that feeding the ball to Grant in the paint wasn’t their game plan. That’s going to be something I’ll keep an eye on moving forward. The announcers had noted that Grant tends to start off well and fades off as the game continues. If Pippen is going to have a slow start, Grant needs to be able to step up and be a scoring threat. There’s no hope if the Bulls have to rely on a guy like Cartwright.
Manute Bol had a breakout game for a man that just stood in the paint and put his arms up. I suppose there’s not much else required when you’re 7’6’’. When your presence makes Jordan rethink his decision to drive to the paint, you’re doing something right. Take a minute and ponder how the Bulls centers handled playing against Bol. Yeah, it wasn’t a fun experience. Bol had four blocks in only twenty minutes of play.
The Bulls fell behind early and were down 19 at halftime. The Sixers were stepping on their throats and the look in Barkley’s eyes of pure determination is admirable. He’s not trying to be anyone’s role model, don’t forget that. The Bulls outscored the Sixers by eleven points in the second half, but it wasn’t enough. The Sixers won the game 124-116.
Perhaps the most baffling decision in the game was keeping Jordan on the bench for an extended period of time in the second quarter. The Bulls don’t have a strong second unit. Coupled with Pippen having an off night, their lackluster play created a hole they were not going to get out of.
While the Bulls lost by only eight, it should have been much worse. However, the Sixers must have felt a little guilty for ruining opening night in Chicago because they played sloppily, allowing the Bulls to get back into the game.
The style of basketball in 1990 is drastically different compared to it in 2020, if only for one stat. Take a guess on how many three-point shots were made during this game. If you answered five then you won. There were only sixteen three-point shots attempted between both teams.
By comparison during a Blazers-Mavericks game on August 11, both teams combined for 82 attempted three pointers. Between the two teams, there were 35 made shots. Damian Lillard made 9 out of 17 attempts.
That’s right, Lillard attempted and made more three-point shots in one game then two teams combined in one game in 1990. The game has evolved quite a bit. Back in 1990 the three point shot was still seen as a rarity and a specialist kind of shot. Now it’s expected that you can hit the shot or you won’t survive in the league.
I’m looking forward to seeing just how the game evolves and if Jordan can adapt despite never being a true three point threat.
F: Charles Barkley: 37PTS, 10RBS, 5AST
G: Johnny Dawkins: 25PTS, 7RBS, 11AST
G: Hershey Hawkins: 19PTS, 4RBS, 4AST
C: Rick Mahorn, 19PTS, 9RBS, 3BLKS
G: Michael Jordan: 34PTS, 7AST, 5RBS, 7STL
F: Horace Grant 22PTS, 4RBS
Chicago’s next available game to discuss took place on November 3, 1990 against the Washington Bullets.