1990/1991 Chicago Bulls Dynasty: Game One

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 2nd, 1990 marked game one of the season and the first of two games to air on TNT for the evening. The second game was the Suns taking on the Jazz, 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 was the early stages of a Jordan vs. Barkley rivalry. The expectations for both teams are on the rise and they both want to get off to a hot start.

Jordan wastes no time with a turnaround jumper for the first score much to the delight of the crowd. After a Hawkins layup, the Sixers are able to prevent a fast pace score by the Bulls. But nearly turnover the ball themselves. 

Bulls are doing well early on in the first quarter with getting offensive rebounds, which led to a Horace Grant close range shot. Paxson wasn’t able to hit a wide open three on another offensive rebound. However, after some sloppy ball handling by Johnny Dawkins, Paxson drills a three. Bulls failed on a trap attempt allowing Barkley to get a forceful dunk.

Bad defense leads to bad results.

Pippen dishes the ball to Grant on the move in the paint for a dunk of his own as the pace for the first three minutes of the game has been high pace. Neither team manages to break apart and are trading points each time down. 

Barkley and Grant are a major focus early in the game with Grant getting three easy buckets and Barkley has followed up his dunk with a layup and a mid range jumper. I was quite surprised to see the fast pace nature of the game. It’s long been said that 90s basketball is slower and half court based, but this game thus far has been non-stop up and down basketball. Sixers have a two point advantage at the halfway mark in the first quarter despite being a little bit sloppier compared to the Bulls.

The Sixers have made 67 percent of their shots in the first quarter, making each possession count. Hershey Hawkins showed some physicality colliding with Pippen in the paint. Philadelphia is struggling with an up tempo offense. Each time they turnover the ball with poor dribbling, but the Bulls can’t make them pay for it.  Dawkins turned over the ball three times due to a sloppy handle. 

But, Hawkins is demonstrating some confidence drilling shots to be a good second option to Barkley.

Grant can’t be stopped in the paint, collecting eight points. Dawkins keeps the Sixers momentum going with a layup that also sends him to the line and converts on the free point. Grant gets in on the assists giving a great pass to Pippen in the paint for an easy layup. Sixers battle for the offensive rebound after a miss by Hawkins and Barkley gets another dunk. Jordan drains his first three point shot of the year. Dawkins comes back with a three of his own. Dawkins has nine points to go along with his three turnovers.

Manute Bol enters the game for the first time as there’s under three minutes left in the first quarter. Bol tosses the ball right to Grant, who hammers down an impressive left handed dunk over Bol. Grant made sure that Bol ended up on a poster there. The crowd was riled up by the dunk that they nearly missed Barkley coming back down with a three-point play. 

Bol may be tall, but not tall enough to stop Horace!

Bol recovers to provide solid defense in the paint and Dawkins comes back down for another three point play attempt after a layup and drains the free throw. Dawkins has twelve points. The Sixers went on a 8-0 run and led by 9. Sixers are on fire from the floor thus far.

Barkley continues the dominance with another dunk, which is another three point play attempt after being fouled, but can’t hit the shot. Barkley has thirteen points of his own. Sixers seemingly have no issue with getting pressure in the paint. Cliff Levingston gets the Bulls back on the board with a dunk after an offensive rebound. Bulls down by twelve after Hawkins drains another three and the Sixers are up by eleven. The Sixers have scored thirty-nine points in the first quarter. Cliff Levingston misses two free throws to keep the deficit at eleven. Bol tries for an awkward sky hook and badly misses the shot. Pippen can’t hit a last second shot to end the quarter. Sixers lead 39-28.

Leave the Sky Hook to Kareem, Bol.

Sixers are up by twelve and they are dominating the pace and flow to the action. Barkley, Dawkins and Hawkins are seemingly having their way with the Bulls. Grant had a lot of touches in the first six minutes leading to a lot of success, but the focus seemed to go to Pippen and the team started to miss several shots. Jordan didn’t get much focus hitting two shots and has only five points at the end of the quarter. Sixers shot 71% from the floor compared to just 38% for the Bulls. Chicago took thirty two shots and made twelve while the Sixers made seventeen on twenty-four shots. Again, Sixers have really broken out with the lead in large part to several three point plays.

Ron Anderson wastes no time hitting a layup to start the second quarter and the previously excited Bulls crowd has been brought back down to earth. Bol blocks Stacy King rather easily showcasing he’s a major force down low. The Bulls started the second quarter with their second unit led by Pippen and BJ Armstrong. Cliff Levingston dunks on Bol off an offensive rebound. It seems like for every dunk Bol gets he equally gets embarrassed on a dunk. Pippen has been struggling tonight missing another open shot. Bulls struggle on transition defense and Dawkins easily gets a layup.

Stay humble, Bol.

Bulls shooting woes are evident to start the second quarter as Anderson drains a long rang shot to give the Sixers a fifteen point lead. Pippen seems to be struggling as the number one option on the floor for the Bulls without Grant or Jordan on the floor with him. Jordan has gotten almost four minutes of rest. After a timeout, Phil Jackson has all bench players on the court. Sixers also have all bench players on the court. Bulls are switching to a trap base defense, which gives the Sixers some issues at first glance, but manage to get through. Sixers are up by sixteen and the Bulls continue to miss shots.

Hopson ends the drought with a layup that barely goes down. If that isn’t a sign that the ball doesn’t want to drop for the Bulls, I don’t know what would be. Sixers continue to drive towards the paint and have continued to get contact and that leads to easy points from the line. Hopson has some momentum hitting another midrange shot. Anderson continues his strong start with ten points on the night after getting a lucky bounce. It’s notable that Jordan is still on the bench. He’s not played a minute in the second quarter and we’re halfway through. Barkley is also on the bench, but he’s laughing.

Sixers bench has maintained the large advantage as they remain at fifteen points. Bulls start putting their starters back in, but Jordan has to wait for the next dead ball as he wasn’t at the table soon enough. Pippen forces another shot and misses it, but runs back and blocks Hawkins on a layup. Hawkins isn’t shy and goes for another layup and is cleanly blocked by Perdue, but a foul is called leading to two easy points. Sixers are up by nineteen. Grant gets an offensive rebound and another close range shot.

Hawkins spins away from Jordan, but misses a layup. That would have been a nice play. Pippen gets a long range pass from Jordan and slams it home to get the crowd on their feet despite being down by fourteen after a free throw. The Bulls go with a full court press, but the Sixers pull through. Jordan gets a steal and a beautiful dunk to bring the deficit down to twelve. Sixers need a timeout.

Jordan and Pippen bringing the crowd to life.

Jordan with the steal and finishing with the classic dunk.

Sixers have eight turnovers while the Bulls only have two. The Sixers have taken advantage of some poor fouls by the Bulls in the paint. Dawkins stops the crowd momentum with a long range shot. Pippen missed a wide open three as the Sixers were nowhere in sight. Barkley grabs a loose ball and gets an easy slam dunk. Jordan badly misses a three point shot. Pippen and Jordan have been shockingly poor on the offensive side tonight.

Cartwright made a nice spin move on Mark Gminski and then proceeded to make a poor attempt at finishing the ball. Jordan makes a good pass to Pippen, but Pippen can’t finish it, again. Cartwright thankfully makes a short range shot, but the Bulls are down by seventeen. Hawkins quickly makes it nineteen again. Grant makes two free throws to finish a good first half for him, at least. Sixers are going for more three point shots, but are missing them here to end the quarter. Pippen blocks Barkley on a dunk, but doesn’t avoid a foul. Barkley hits two free throws and the Sixers are up nineteen.

I’m sure this looked better in Cartwright’s head.

The first half has been rather frustrating. Sixers have better energy and are hungrier. It feels like the Sixers are pouncing on the ball and the Bulls are waiting for it. That’s evident by the Sixers dominating the boards and being far more effective from the field on less shot attempts. Horace Grant had a strong first quarter and they completely shifted their attack, likely due falling behind quickly. Pippen hasn’t been able to find his shot, so hopefully he’s not a focus on that end of the game in the second. He’s been good on the defensive side. Jordan hasn’t had anything on the offensive side for the most part. I’ve been really impressed by the Sixers. Barkley, Dawkins and Hawkins are looking like a viable threesome.

Barkley had eighteen points on seven field goals. Maunte Bol had four blocks in the first quarter. Horace Grant had fourteen points, and it’s noted that he tends to teeter off in the second half.

Bulls have a strong defensive showing to cause a turnover to start the half and Grant drains a mid range jumper. Bulls get another stop, and Cartwright blows a layup leading to another Hawkins layup and guess what? Yes, another three point play attempt. Naturally, Hawkins successfully completes it. Jordan gets an easy bucket in the paint thanks to a good pass from Grant. Pippen looks to get some momentum with a layup finish and the Bulls down by sixteen. Bulls have tightened up on the defensive side as the Sixers are making some bad passes. Cartwright fails to complete a strong finish and continues to halt momentum for the Bulls.

Barkley plays Jordan wonderfully on defensive leading to a bad pass and Dawkins finishes with a layup. Grant continues his hot hand with another short range shot, but the Bulls are still down by eighteen. Barkley overcomes three Bulls in the paint for an easy shot. Pippen misses another jumper and the Bulls are down by twenty. Jordan gets a layup and is fouled by Hawkins. Jordan has ten points and three assists thus far. Jordan completes the three point play. Sixers fail to get a shot off within the shot clock allowance. Jordan drains a jumper and has seven points in the quarter, thirteen total. Barkley comes back with a dunk and the lead is back to seventeen.

Barkley won’t be stopped.

Barkley with another jumper right in Grant’s face and they are up by nineteen. Barkley blocks Grant, but is called for a foul, which Barkley takes no exception with. It was painfully obvious, Chuck. Bulls go to their bench taking Pippen out of the game. Will Perdue finishes a pass from Paxson in the paint, something that Cartwright can’t do. Bulls get a turnover and that leads to a breakaway dunk for Jordan. Bulls down by fourteen and the Sixers sense the momentum shift, thus a timeout is called.

The fans are starting to roar back for the Bulls and Barkley gets a jumper in the paint to go down. Hawkins gets a steal and is fouled by Perdue on a layup attempt. Hawkins makes both shots and the lead is back to eighteen. Rick Mahorn stuffs Perdue on a dunk and the Sixers are showing emotion with their dominance over the Bulls tonight. Bulls get a jump ball and Grant drains a jumper despite being fouled by Hawkins. Hawkins has four fouls and has to take a seat for a bit. This could be a big moment for the Bulls to get back in the game. Grant finishes the three point play. Barkley gets a long pass off the in-bounds and makes a layup. Bulls turn the ball over with sloppy play. This has been a frustrating game for the Bulls.

Sixers rookie Brian Oliver is trying to defend Jordan and it’s hilarious. Jordan spins Oliver around leading to an easy foul and two points from the line. Oliver continues to struggle as he’s unable to get past half court due to a full court press. BJ Armstrong drains a three to bring the deficit to fourteen, but once again, Dawkins hits a three to bring it back to seventeen.

When you’re a rookie and you’re guarding Michael Jordan…

Barkley is called for goaltending a Jordan layup and the Bulls are down by thirteen. Barkley can’t get through several Bull defenders leading to a steal and Jordan layup. Bulls are down by eleven! The crowd is erupting as Jordan has got it going in the third quarter. Chicago has been on a 10-2 run to get the game more reasonable. Barkley gets an easy layup as soon as Jordan sits down. This has happened all night. Levingston steals the ball from Barkley to get a layup. Sixers need to call a timeout since they can’t get it over the mid court. Dawkins drains another jumper. Unreal performance by Dawkins tonight. Bulls entered the fourth quarter down 94-81.

Bulls start the fourth quarter with their second unit and Levingston starts the quarter with a bucket. Brian Oliver is a noticeable weak link on the Sixers as he’s struggling against the Bulls tonight. Barkley falls down, but the Sixers avoid a turnover and Barkley somehow gets a layup along with a foul by Perdue. Barkley finishes off the three point play. Hopson avoids Bol’s attempted block to get a short range shot to go down. Levingston loses control of the ball after an outlet pass for a bad turnover. Bulls are down by twelve without their first unit on the court. Mahorn easily scores in the paint.

Dawkins dishes it to Anderson for an easy layup and the Sixers are back up by sixteen. Hodges drains a three in the corner, but can the Bulls make a stop for once? They do and Hopson gets a quick layup to bring the deficit down to eleven. Mahorn hits a left handed bank shot to keep momentum in their favor. Bulls first unit still on the bench.

Jordan returns to the floor for the first time in the fourth quarter. He averaged sixteen points in the fourth against the Sixers last year. Mahorn hits two free throws as the Bulls remain down by fifteen. Bulls continue to struggle to maintain any level of momentum. Mahorn makes an easy bucket in the paint to go back to seventeen. Hodges misses an open three. Jordan dunks a missed Hopson free throw that nobody on the Sixers went for. Jordan makes Hawkins look foolish with a few sweet moves leading to a bank shot from short range. However, the small defensive lineup for Chicago is getting shredded in the fourth.

Barkley manages to get through a full court press, but Dawkins should have been there to help out and that leads to a turnover. Armstrong hits a jumper in the corner to bring the deficit down to twelve with four minutes left in the game. Jordan drains a jumper to bring the deficit to ten, which feels like a miracle. Sixers are feeling the pressure as Jordan makes a layup. Sixers getting sloppy with the ball, but Barkley regains composure with a layup. Hodges drains a three and the Bulls are down by seven. Sixers are crumbling as they are called for a double dribble. Jackson calls a timeout with the Bulls down by seven with just over two minutes left in the game.

Jordan misses a jump shot as play resumes and that miss deflates the crowd. Jackson looks like he didn’t like the shot selection. Mahorn makes two free throws, which he’s made seven out of eight in the quarter. Pippen makes a rare shot tonight with a short range attempt to keep the deficit at seven.

Barkley misses a mid-range shot, but Jordan loses control of the ball. Hawkins sprints up the court and is called for a charge, which is poor judgement when you want to kill time. Hodges misses a three point attempt. Sixers are sloppy with the ball, but Mahorn gets a layup. Hodges drains his third three point shot of the night. Sixers are playing keep away as the game looks to be out of reach for the Bulls tonight. Dawkins makes one of two from the line to bring the deficit to seven with thirty-five seconds on the clock.

Jordan hits a three and the Bulls are down by four. Mahorn can’t find someone on the inbound as the Bulls are using a full court press. Barkley runs up the court to breakaway from the Bulls, but Jordan chases him down and they fall into the cameramen under the basket. Barkley is slow to get up, but appears to be fine. Barkley’s knee buckled on the play, but thankfully avoided a serious injury. Barkley hits two free throws and he let out a fist bump after the first. Barkley obviously wanted to win this game badly.

Armstrong hits a jumper out of the corner, which was nearly a three pointer. That may be a huge mistake since the Bulls would have been down by three instead of four. Hawkins has been quiet in the second half, but hits two free throws to bring the lead to six. Jordan with a long range attempt and misses. Anderson rubs it in with a last second layup. Sixers defeat the Bulls 124-116.

The Sixers wanted this game more than the Bulls. That’s the obvious takeaway from the game. They wanted some level of revenge for their playoff loss and they were determined to get it done in Chicago. 

In the first half, the Sixers were making all of their shots. Hawkins, Dawkins and Barkley looked like a potentially dangerous trio. Dawkins maintained his play throughout the game while Hawkins noticeably dipped in the second. But Mahorn picked up the slack in the paint, which is a noticeable weakness for the Bulls. King, Cartwright and Perdue offered very little in the middle for the Bulls. With the Sixers having a strong presence down low, it was no surprise that they took full advantage.

Manute Bol provides nothing on the offensive side of the ball, but defensively he’s a force. He had four blocks in the game. Sure, Bol may have been dunked on several times, but he was still a force in the game and affected the Bulls’ plan of attack throughout the game.

I was really surprised with the decision to keep Jordan on the bench for an extended period in the second quarter. The first half was awful for the Bulls. Not having the best player in the game for nearly half of the second quarter may have prevented the Bulls from winning the game in hindsight. 

Towards the end of the game, the Sixers were almost handing the ball off to the Bulls and they couldn’t put the ball through the basket. The fans were clearly frustrated with the big men not being able to make close range shots. Pippen was off tonight only hitting five shots on fifteen attempts. Horace Grant did a really good job throughout the game and probably should have been given more touches.

Notable Performances:
PHI F: Charles Barkley: 37PTS, 10RBS, 5AST
PHI G: Johnny Dawkins: 25PTS, 7RBS, 11AST
PHI G: Hershey Hawkins: 19PTS, 4RBS, 4AST
PHI C: Rick Mahorn, 19PTS, 9RBS, 3BLKS

CHI G: Michael Jordan: 34PTS, 7AST, 5RBS, 7STL
CHI F: Horace Grant 22PTS, 4RBS

Chicago’s next available game to discuss took place on November 3rd, 1990 against the Washington Bullets. 

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