Rewatching ‘The Last Shot’ and the last game of ‘The Last Dance’

Mickey Ingles
Rewatching ‘The Last Shot’ and the last game of ‘The Last Dance’
Find out what Mickey Ingles, together with Kiefer Ravena and coach Sandy Arespacochaga, think after rewatching Game 6 of the 1998 Bulls-Jazz NBA Finals

 

MANILA, Philippines – With live sports on hiatus because of COVID-19, networks have gone the route of showing game reruns.

To be honest, the return of old games hasn’t exactly been a bad thing. It’s made “more mature” sports fans a tad nostalgic of the old days.

It has also introduced younger fans to the idols and greats of decades past. And I’m sure these have led to renewed debates between parents and their children over dinner on who really is the greatest of all time (GOAT) – regardless of any particular sport.

For basketball fans, nostalgia and the ensuing debates will be ratcheted up to an even higher degree in the coming weeks with The Last Dance, the much-awaited documentary miniseries on the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls, set to air on April 20, 2020.

As a huge ’90s Bulls fan and a Michael Jordan devotee, I personally cannot wait to watch it.

With sports reruns the thing nowadays, fans stuck at home because of the enhanced community quarantine, and The Last Dance just around the corner, it was just appropriate to relive and rewatch that classic 1998 NBA Finals Game 6 between the Chicago Bulls and the Utah Jazz.

The Bulls won 87-86 in Utah, tying up their second three-peat in 8 years.

On this rewatch and to help breakdown the game, I (virtually) sat down with two great basketball minds: Batang Gilas head coach Sandy Arespacochaga and NLEX guard Kiefer Ravena.

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Mickey: So, let’s set the background for the game. The Bulls were up 3-2, but the Jazz had homecourt advantage. The Jazz finished 1st in the regular season (62-20). And while the Bulls had the same record, Utah had beat them twice during the regular season to ensure the next games were in the Delta Center.

The Jazz came into Game 6 with only two home losses the entire playoffs. So, it was looking pretty dicey for the Bulls. Of course, it wouldn’t have been smart to discount their chances, given they were pretty much dominant for the past 3 seasons (203-48) and they had MJ.

Sandy: True. Everyone expected the Bulls to have won the championship in Game 5 in Chicago. And with Karl Malone seemingly standing toe-to-toe with Jordan, and Pippen suffering from back spasms, it certainly didn’t look good for Chicago. But, Chicago had the best player in the world so you knew that Jordan would still win it. And he did.

Mickey: Coming into Game 6, the Bulls were on the brink of its second three-peat… and a break-up. You really had a sense that the dynasty was coming to an end. Jordan had said that if Phil Jackson and Scottie Pippen weren’t coming back, he wouldn’t come back the next season either.

Kiefer: All good things must come an end. I was 5 years old (lol) that time and knew this was Jordan’s last game for the Bulls. He was going to come out swinging as his future with the Bulls was already certain.

Mickey: I was a week or two into first year high school in Ateneo when I watched this game. They showed it on ESPN on Sky, I think. Do you remember when you watched it? Live on TV?

Kiefer: School had just started. I was in Kinder 2 in LSGH. I watched it when I got home from school.

Sandy:  I remember watching this with my teammates before. I was a big Bulls fan. [Coach Sandy played for the Ateneo Blue Eagles from 1993 to 1997]

First reimpressions on the rewatch 

Mickey: What were your “oo nga noh!” moments while rewatching the game? What were things you forgot about but were pleasantly surprised to see again during the rewatch? Mine were the odd free-throw routines of the Jazz. I forgot Jeff Hornacek rubbed his check to say hello to his kids before shooting and Karl Malone had his more-than-10-seconds-I’m-praying routine.

Sandy: Malone was goooood! Post-ups, attacking the basket, turn-arounds from the post, drives, drives off high post, good passer, good offensive rebounder, can shoot free throws, he was good! 

Mickey: Kaya ba niya to dominate (Can he dominate) or be effective this era, coach?

Sandy: I think so! Wala lang (He had no) three-pointer. But he’ll be your 5 man. He’s also good with the pick and roll.

Kiefer: I studied a lot of those Stockton-to-Malone pick and rolls. I realized how simple it was. 

Sandy: I liked watching Stockton. He sets great screens and isn’t afraid to hit guys guarding Malone! Very good passer. He can shoot. Imagine if he played in the modern NBA with its pace and space. How many assists could he get?

Mickey: Oo nga! I remember reading tons of articles that said Stockton was a low-key dirty player. I also forgot how good Toni Kukoc was. He finished the game with 15 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists. He was the only other Bulls player who scored in double digits after MJ. 

Kiefer: Greg Ostertag was a big what-could-have been for the Jazz. Rodman-Malone matchup was one for the ages. And I really liked Howard Eisley during that series.

Sandy: Interesting. Eisley was a +12 when on the floor. Stockton was a -13.

Mickey: I also forgot that Pippen hurt his back on the first play of the game and didn’t play the entire 2nd quarter.

Sandy: The 2nd quarter was a big key for the Bulls winning the game. With Pippen out, the Jazz should’ve been up by double digits and won the game. But Jordan knew when he was needed and turned it on. If not for Jordan in the 2nd quarter, the Jazz would’ve had control of the game.

Mickey: Yeah, he scored 15 in the 2nd to keep it close. 

Sandy: But you can see how good Pippen was on the court. In the +/- chart, he led everyone with a +16.

Mickey: Last. The NBC Theme brought back so many good memories. It was intense. Bring it back! 

 

 

The game was played differently back then…

Mickey: I’m looking at the box score. Each team attempted only 10 three-pointers. Jordan attempted 7. Stockton attempted 4. Steve Kerr, surprisingly, didn’t even take a shot the entire game. This leads us to our next category of questions. How different was basketball played then compared to how it’s played now?

Sandy: Spacing was made possible because of the old NBA illegal defense rule. So you had to stay close to your man and can’t sag ever if your man is a non-shooter. In the first half alone, the Bulls were called for 4 illegal defense violations. 

Kiefer: Pace was really different. Utah had that dump down post movement with Malone and a breakdown of a pick and roll offense that worked very well. The Bulls executed the triangle, which in my opinion is one of the most difficult systems to adapt to and fully grasp. It will take years for a team to run it smoothly and perfectly. 

Sandy: True. Pace was slow compared to how we play now. The Bulls had a very good defensive lineup and were huge with Ron Harper, Pippen, and Jordan as your perimeter players. Bulls were already slow balling with Kukoc who can play the 5 (though he was 6’11”) because of his outside shooting prowess. Interesting that Kukoc started at the 4 and the Jazz had Adam Keefe starting to match up with him.

Mickey: Would you consider this small ball? Since the Bulls played most of the game without a traditional center (because Luc Longley wasn’t that effective).

Kiefer: It wasn’t really small ball. But it was kind of multi-positional basketball. Rodman played 4 and 5. Jordan player 1, 2, and 3. Pip played 1, 2, 3, and 4. Harp played 1, 2, and 3. Kukoc played 3, 4, and 5.

Devil in the details

Mickey: The reason why I was excited to do this is because it’s a good chance to pick your basketball brains. Is there any particular move or play that you want to break down?

Kiefer: Fourth quarter, 41 seconds left. Jordan goes for a 2-for-1. It was amazing game awareness from the GOAT. Bulls were down 3. He scored within 6 seconds. He was able to give the Bulls enough time to get another attempt just in case the Jazz made a basket in their possession. Then, the steal happened. That led to that last shot.

Mickey: Love that sequence. I have that for the most rewatchable sequence of the game. But later na iyon. How about you, coach? Any general insights?

Sandy: The main offense of the Jazz revolved around post-ups. They go to the post in 3 ways: straight post, cross screen by the guard to Malone, and up screen by a guard to Malone on the UCLA screen. They scored 14 times on post-ups or passes off the post-up, especially when the Bulls double. That’s 14 times out of 40 post touches. Their best post-up options were straight post or UCLA post-ups. They only scored one time off the guard cross screen. And that last play where Jordan stripped Malone was off of the guard cross screen.

Mickey: My teenage brain remembered the Jazz being more of a pick and roll team. 

Sandy: If you think the Jazz, you think Stockton-to-Malone, two-man pick and roll game, right? Interesting with this game is that they only ran the pick and roll a total of 11 times. Three times in the first half, 8 in the second. They used the pick and roll to attack Steve Kerr. That’s why Eisley ran most of the pick and rolls and scored a lot off of him.

Interesting stat: in the first half, the total pick and rolls ran by both teams were 5. Three by the Jazz—none were Stockton-Malone. Two by the Bulls. Compare that to modern NBA! 

Mickey: How about the Bulls offense?

Sandy: They ran the triangle offense which has a lot of options. Thought it was clear also they wanted to take advantage of mismatches on the post, specifically Pippen on Hornacek in first play of the game (9:08-9:31) and Harper on Stockton in the 3rd quarter with 8:18 left (1:05:28- 1:05:49) off of cuts to seal in the post.

And of course, a lot of Jordan on the post. They scored on the post or on kick-outs 12 times out 26 attempts. They moved the Ball more and even ran different options of the triangle. 

Mickey: Example, coach?

Sandy: One of the more common options they ran in the second half was reversals to Jordan sealing and posting on the weak side, as seen in the 3rd quarter with 5:58 left (1:11:10-1:11:37) or flashing the ball on a pinch post and facing up, attacking either on drives or pull-ups like in the 4th quarter with 11:20 left (1:25:25-1:25:40). 

They went through the post a lot not just for the post-up guy to score, but as an option in their triangle continuity offense. With anyone able to play any position, almost everybody (except Steve Kerr) goes to the post and facilitates off the post.

The Bulls went to their other options in the triangle, moving the ball around and getting good looks on reversal options. On the reversal option alone, they can go pinch post, form another triangle, post up, or stagger away.

Prime example of this was the 2nd quarter, 5:12 left – from triangle post to reversal second triangle to reversal then back door lob (49:17-49:33). They scored 4 times off of these reversals out of 8 times in the first half. 

Mickey: Kiefer brought up the final plays of Jordan. Any specific Jazz plays you want to highlight, coach?

Sandy: Second quarter, 4:03 left (50:49-51:06). UCLA post play, Stockton with the hi-low pass to Malone. Stockton starts with an up screen from Malone and then pops out. Malone’s man defends the initial up screen and guards the pass to the wing. Once Stockton gets it from top, Malone reverse seals his man and Stockton immediately passes to Malone.

And then 2nd quarter, 40 seconds left (55:52-56:00), you have a good fake screen by Stockton and the slip. Malone finding him with a good pass.

In the 4th quarter, they ran a special UCLA pick and roll for Stockton and actually scored well off of this, with Stockton hitting a jumper. He also fed Malone on a pick and pop in the 4th quarter, with 2:43 left (1:45:36-1:45:54)

Mickey: Bulls plays?

Sandy: Check MJ’s post-up in the 2nd quarter, 2:33 (52:18-52:37). Good basics on the catch, he reads the defense. He starts with a fake off of a face up and then gets the defense to bite. Before the defense can adjust, his jumper is off. Then, same quarter with 1:44 left (54:07-54:15), he hits a tough fade-away jumper. 

Coach’s corner

Mickey: If you were to coach the game or a specific play differently, what would you have done?

Sandy: The Jazz should have run more pick and rolls para lang maiba din offense nila (so that their offense would be different). Also, for post-ups, I would have preferred they ran the UCLA post-up rather than the cross screen with the guard, which they only had 1/12 success rate.

Or off time-outs, they could’ve charted different plays. I noticed the Bulls ran a new play or wrinkle after every time-out. But I would’ve involved Kukoc more with the Bulls. He got off to a good start but sometimes there were stretches that he wasn’t involved in.

Mickey: Agree with the Kukoc observation, especially considering he scored 30 in Game 5.

Sandy: But I felt Jazz attacked mismatches well. Actually both teams, maganda (good) chess match in trying to match up people with each other and try to exploit the mismatches. 

Fast Forward-Rewind, Rewind, Rewind! Award 

Mickey: Let’s go through some imbento (make-believe) awards here. First off is the Fast-Forward-Rewind, Rewind, Rewind! Award for the most rewatchable moment of the game.

I have 3 nominations. Let me know what you think. First, Rodman taking a 20-footer in the early 4th quarter (1:25:58-1:26:18), making it, and then doing his own version of MJ’s shrug. Second, Rodman and Malone getting into a tripping match during the 3rd quarter.

I loved this because Bob Costas couldn’t control himself. He was pissed. He even started bashing the WCW wrestling match that Rodman and Malone had booked a month after the Finals. 

Kiefer: Rodman is Rodman. Say what you want about the guy, but he gives rings to his teams. The physical play of the ’90s is true. Players today will not survive then. LOL. It was also nice seeing how Pip started the multi-positional type of players that Bron, Kawhi, PG are playing right now. 

Sandy: Jordan layup, steal on Malone, and game-winning jumper!

Mickey: That was my third! And I think that’s the unanimous rewatchable moment of the game. Jazz up 86-83 off a Stockton trey (1:50:25-1:50:43). MJ in God mode. Quick layup. Stole the ball from Malone. Brought it up himself. Crossed Russell so bad he fell. The shot. The picture. It was amazing. I remember MJ said he kept his hand up to make sure he got his follow-through right because his shots were short.

On the rewatch, he was right. His fourth-quarter misses were short. He even had the exact same move and shot with 4:30 left in the 3rd quarter. Crossed a defender, pulled up, but came out short. I love how MJ adjusted, even with the fatigue.

Another gem from the rewatch, Jordan had already stripped Malone in the post with 5 minutes left in the first quarter. It was nearly identical. I love the symmetry.  

Funny Ka, Ghorl? Comedy Award 

Mickey: Next award goes to the unintentional funny moments of the game. Let’s call it the “Funny Ka, Ghorl?” Award. I had Steve Kerr 3 times here: covering his ears during the Jazz intro (maingay, sir?), setting a screen and Malone just bulldozing him into the ground, and happily dropping the f-bomb on MJ after the game.

For the Jazz, it was Hornacek who ran so weirdly close to Stockton during introductions. Parang nahihiya siyang tawagin (It’s like he was embarrassed to be called). And then Scott Foster with two really dumb turnovers in the second quarter.

Sandy: During Jordan’s game-winning jumper, biglang may tumalon at nag-celebrate sa crowd na Bulls fans sa front row na hindi ko napansin all game. Sa dulo, biglang tumapang mag-cheer.

(During Jordan’s game-winning jumper, someone jumped and celebrated in the crowd, a Bulls fans at the front row, which I didn’t notice the entire game. In the end, there were many brave souls who cheered.) 

Kiefer: Greg Ostertag. SMH. 

Mr. Good Job, Bro! Apir Naman! Award 

Mickey: How about for the “Mr. Good Job, Bro! Apir Naman!” Award for the best cheerleader on the bench?

Kiefer: Jud Buechler and Randy Brown for the Bulls.

Mickey: I got Antoine Carr and Scott Foster for the Jazz.  Lots of close-ups on them in the first half cheering from the bench.

Hot take pancake — What ifs?

Mickey: What if the Bulls lost this game and the series, would it have hurt Jordan’s legacy?

Kiefer: Not really, the difference would be in Stockton and Malone’s careers.

Sandy: Malone was, again, really good. He almost had a triple-double. He shot well from the field and from the foul line. Only blemish was his 5 turnovers. 

 MVP 

Mickey: Who won the game for you? Which player stood out the most? I think it’s a pretty obvious answer, but what do you think?

Sandy: A lot of players played well for the Bulls, but no way can it not be Jordan.

Mickey: Agree. Can’t have a better ending to his Bulls career than that game. It was like a fairy tale. He ended with 45 points, 4 steals, 1 rebound, 1 assist. And the stat that struck me the most – he played every single game since his comeback in March 1995. EVERY. SINGLE. GAME. No rest. Pure GOAT-ness.

Kiefer: No question. MJ. Sorry, he’s my GOAT. 

Final thoughts

Mickey: It was fun doing this! Good way to have some sports during this ECQ. Any final thoughts rewatching the game?

Kiefer: Actually, it was a lot of reminiscing for me because I was really young back then, yet I really loved the game. It was really physical how the Bulls and the Jazz played all throughout the series. It was a different style back then and iyon ‘yung nakasanayan ko laruin (that’s the style of play I got used to playing).

Sandy: Fan ako ng Bulls so it was a good exercise for me to actually watch the Jazz and try to see how they played. Now I appreciate Malone, Stockton, and Hornacek more. But by appreciating those 3 and the Jazz, it made me all the more impressed with Jordan and the Bulls. Imagine, how many great players didn’t win a championship in this era because of Jordan and the Bulls?

Mickey: True. People tend to forget how good the Jazz were. And people right now discount the Bulls because they didn’t see how good their opponents were, because those opponents didn’t have any championships to show and prove their caliber.

Sandy: Jazz should have won one. Phoenix and Barkley should have won one too. Swerte Rockets nag-retire si Jordan, and naging bwakaw pa sila when they won two. Haha! Pacers din could’ve contested had they made it to the Finals. Kasalanan ng Bulls! (The Rockets were lucky that Jordan retired, they even got two. Haha! Pacers could’ve contested had they made it to the Finals. It’s all the Bulls’ fault!)

It’s true. Yes, and calling back to that iconic commercial, it was your fault, MJ. And we’re all the better because of it. – Rappler.com 

 

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