What if I told you that Mark Price and Craig Ehlo would combine for 57 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists against Michael Jordan and the vaunted Chicago Bulls? And that John “Hot Rod” Williams, coming off of the bench, would produce a fantasy owner’s dream—23 points, 10 rebounds, five steals and two blocks. How about Scottie Pippen, BJ Armstrong and John Paxson combining to go 6-for-21? What if I also told you that the Cleveland Cavaliers would lose?
On March 28, 1990, a game was housed in Richfield Coliseum between the two teams, and only two members of the Bulls would even break double-digits in scoring. The only problem: One of those Bulls was named Michael Jordan and his double-digit outing was a career-best 69 points to go with 18 rebounds, six assists and four steals. The Cavs would lose by four in overtime.
Here’s the short-and-sweet game recap from the Associated Press on this very night:
RICHFIELD, Ohio — Michael Jordan scored 69 points tonight, the ninth-highest total in National Basketball Association history, as Chicago beat Cleveland by 117-113 in overtime and clinched a spot in the playoffs.
Jordan made 23 of 37 field-goal attempts and 21 of 23 foul shots. He also had a career-high 18 rebounds, plus 6 assists and 4 steals.
It was the fourth time Jordan had scored more than 60 points. His previous career high was 63 against Boston in the 1986 playoffs. He also scored 61 twice in 1987.
“This would have to be my greatest game,” Jordan said. “When I scored 63 against Boston, we lost. It sure feels a lot better.”
Only three players have scored more points than Jordan: Wilt Chamberlain, who did it six times (100, 78, 73, 73, 72, 70); David Thompson (73), and Elgin Baylor (71).
Jordan, who was averaging 33 points a game, scored 16 in the first quarter, 15 in the second, 20 in the third, 10 in the fourth and 8 in overtime.
“He’s one in a million, one in a billion,” said John Williams, a Cleveland forward.
Twenty-three foul shots. Eighteen rebounds. For a shooting guard.
The broadcast of this game was national, aired on TNT. The Bulls were creeping up 50 wins and the Cavaliers were floating around .500. An article was printed in the Cleveland paper that was titled “Mission Impossible: Ehlo to try and ground Air Jordan.” The entire piece was rooted in how good of a defender Ehlo was, and included a quote from No. 23 about the defensive prowess of the Cavs guard. Closer to game time, Doug Collins, who was on the TNT broadcast team, said that Cleveland’s best chance to win would be to keep the ball out of Jordan’s hands. Jordan would drop 16 points in the first quarter and finish the game with a 42.6 percent usage rate.
Price was playing a sensational game, scoring efficiently and playing solid defense on Paxson which led to some immense frustration. Conversely, Daugherty struggled in this contest, large in part to swarming defense from the Bulls front-court and Jordan helping on the weak side.
Perhaps the most amazing variable in this contest: Jordan did almost all of his damage while being double- and triple-teamed, and had just one dunk. Ehlo played defense for much of the contest, but the Lenny Wilkens-led Cavs also utilized Winston Bennett to help ease the burden. Turn-around jumpers, dribble drives—when he wasn’t scoring, he was being fouled and cashing in at the line. Sometimes, he was doing both, sinking ridiculous and-ones from the elbow and block. At halftime alone, Jordan hit 11-of-15 for 31 points, seven rebounds and three steals—a quality game for most superstars. Unfortunately for the Cavs, Jordan wasn’t like most superstars. The only reason the contest went into overtime was because Bulls coach Phil Jackson sat Jordan for a portion of the third quarter, allowing the Cavs to come back from a substantial deficit.
Jordan was the leading scorer in 1989-90, averaging 33.6 points per game, but averaged an insane 44.8 points per game against the Cavs that season. The 1990s version of the Cavaliers was one of the best in the history of the franchise. That they’re so well known for being on the receiving end of such rich Michael Jordan-based history is remarkable.