The Indiana Pacers and the Chicago Bulls meet for the second time this season on Saturday night, with Indiana already up 1-0 in their regular season series. This Central Division rivalry has heated up since the 1990s… when Michael Jordan and Reggie Miller led their teams in some of the most epic matchups in NBA history.
While Derrick Rose seems to be the odd man out in believing that the Bulls and Pacers aren’t rivals, this battle marks every checkmark on the list of what makes a true rivalry:
– Geographic location: The fact that they are in the same division and just a three-hour drive in-between home courts provides several opportunities for this rivalry to be displayed on the court, whether it’s during the regular or postseason.
– Similar style of play: The Bulls and Pacers might be the closest mirror of each as far as playing style. Both emphasize defense and physicality. Each has athletic wing players (Rose, Jimmy Butler, Lance Stephenson, Paul George), defensive anchors in the post (Roy Hibbert, Joakim Noah), and power forwards that love the midrange (David West, Carlos Boozer).
– History: This must be checked off on the list to make it a genuine rivalry. The two teams in a true rivalry must have historical significance that makes their fans still debate games from the past. The Bulls and Pacers have this with one of the most memorable and compelling rivalries of the 1990s. Jordan’s brilliance in the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals still haunts Pacers fans, just as Reggie Miller’s antics and clutch shots are still in the nightmares of Bulls fans.
Speaking of the history of this rivalry, let’s look back at the five greatest moments of the 1990s rivalry between the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers (any excuse to do so is always welcomed). While the rivalry faded in the 2000s, it made its reappearance in the 2011 Playoffs, and is poised to get back into full-swing this season. The moments on this list will boost any fan’s nostalgia of some of the best basketball performances of any era. After all, this ’90s rivalry surrounded one of the best shooters to ever grace the court versus the best player to ever play the game.
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5. The Bulls Shut Reggie Miller Up in 1991
In March of 1991, Reggie Miller had one of his greatest performances in his then-young career when he put up 40 points in the Pacers’ big win over the Bulls. In very Reggie-like fashion, he declared afterward that the Bulls were nothing without Michael Jordan. After the Pacers’ rather convincing win in March of 1991, Miller had the following to say about their Central Division rivals:
“Trade Michael Jordan off their team and who have they got over there? Nobody. Michael Jordan makes their team and justifiably so, because he’ s probably the greatest player in the game right now.”
Needless to say, the hype for their next matchup skyrocketed. After competing throughout their next matchup, the Pacers eventually lost total control of the game with the ejections of Detlef Schrempf and Chuck Person, who infamously drop kicked the ball about 30 rows up in the stands. Michael Jordan scored 39 points on 15-for-25 shooting in 40 minutes of action. Miller’s comments earlier in the month were in the minds of Jordan’s teammates as they combined to add 94 points to Jordan’s 39. The Pacers still recorded 119 points, led by Miller’s 34, but the Bulls were in higher gear all night. This Bulls victory marked their record 26th straight home win in the 1990-91 season.
4. Michael Jordan and Reggie Miller Brawl in 1993
What made this 90s rivalry so interesting was watching the dynamic between Michael Jordan and Reggie Miller. Their relationship was heated as the back-and-forth continued throughout the decade. In a regular season match in February of 1993, their dislike for each other boiled over and resulted in a full-out brawl on the court. After Miller made a put-back of a missed transition layup, Miller came down and checked Jordan with his forearm. Jordan then chased down and confronted Miller, which resulted in a downright fight between the two Hall-of-Famers (Jordan actually punched Miller in the chin) and the benches being cleared. Miller was eventually tossed from the game, while Jordan received no foul or technical and was allowed to finish the game. Controversy ensued as Miller and others claimed the NBA was showing favoritism and protecting Jordan by not punishing his Airness for his involvement in the brawl. Later, the NBA suspended Jordan for one game and fined him $10,000, and fined Miller $6,000 but he was not suspended.
However, the story did not end there, as Jordan talked about his rivalry with Reggie, specifically in regards to their brawl in 1993, to Jet Magazine in 1998 before meeting each other in the Eastern Conference Finals. Jordan hilariously recalled their fight, saying:
“It’s like chicken-fighting with a woman. His game is all this flopping type thing. He weighs only 185 pounds, so you have to be careful. Don’t touch him, or it’s a foul. On offense I use all my 215 pounds and just move him out. But he has his hands on you all the time, like a woman holding your waist. I just want to beat his hands off because it’s illegal. It irritates me.”
Don’t you just miss 90s basketball like crazy?
3. Reggie Miller’s Game-Winner in Game 4 of 1998 Eastern Conference Finals
With the 1998 ECF at 2-1 in favor of Chicago, the Pacers knew they had to protect their homecourt if they wanted a real chance to prevail in this series. Just as in the closing minutes of Game 3, this game switched to “Miller Time,” especially in the final seconds of Game 4. In addition to being known for his clutch gene and impeccable shooting, Miller was known for creating space by using his hands and arms (along with other antics). With 2.7 seconds left and down by one, Reggie was able to break free from Michael Jordan by using his hands, got the ball, and nailed a game-winning three-pointer. It should be noted that Jordan’s final attempt to win the game was a shot that was about halfway down. Apart from Miller’s stunning eight points in the final 8.9 seconds against the New York Knicks, his Game 4 game winner was his best “Miller Time” moment, and it was against one of his great rivals in the Bulls.
2. Reggie Miller’s “The Bow” Followed By Toni Kukoc’s Game Winner
First of all, I should note that “The Bow” is second on this list only because the best moment from the 1990s Bulls-Pacers rivalry occurred during the playoffs. On January 1, 1994 in another epic regular season battle between these two Central Division rivals, Reggie Miller nailed a go-ahead jumper to put the Pacers up by one with two seconds remaining. Then, in one of the most well-known examples of celebrating too early in sports, Miller stopped at halfcourt after the Bulls called a timeout, and decided to take a bow (twice) for all the fans in Chicago Stadium. While Reggie and Indiana thought they had the game in the bag, Toni Kukoc came up with a miraculous bank shot with 0.8 seconds left to win the game and take the wind out of Miller and the Pacers for a bit. The NBA named Kukoc’s game-winner in 1994 after “The Bow” as one of the top ten greatest shots in Chicago’s franchise history.
The next night, the Bulls and Pacers were in Market Square Arena, where the Bulls beat the Pacers by double-digits. After the final buzzer sounded, Scottie Pippen found himself at center court, taking a bow to Pacer fans. “I just couldn’t resist,” Pippen said after the game.
1. Game 7 1998 Eastern Conference Finals
Game 7 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals between the Pacers and the Bulls was one for the ages. If you witnessed the best two words in sports â€” Game 7 â€” between these two division rivals, consider yourself very lucky. In fact, ESPN ranked this epic matchup in the Central Division as one of the 10 best Game 7’s in basketball history a few years back. The penultimate Game 7 of the 1998 Bulls-Pacers series got a 20.7 overnight rating (a ratings point represents 980,000 households). Before this ECF showdown, the Bulls had not been challenged to a Game 7 since 1992 against the New York Knicks. Scottie Pippen, who owned the glass in Game 7 with 12 boards, said after the Bulls prevailed in the game and the series (before going on to 3-peat):
“This was probably the toughest series of my career. There was the pressure, and being expected to win. They gave us everything we could ask for.”
Michael Jordan struggled throughout the game with his shot, shooting just 9-for-25 from the field, but was able to do some damage at the charity stripe, where he was 10-of-15. Scottie Pippen added 17 points, while a starting Toni Kukoc scored 21 points, while knocking in 3-of-4 three-pointers. Meanwhile, Reggie Miller led the Pacers with 22 points on 4-for-7 shooting from three-point range. Mark Jackson and Rik Smits were the only other Pacers to score in double-digits with 11 and 13, respectively. While the focus of the entire series remained on Jordan versus Miller, Game 7 came down to a three by Steve Kerr, a jump shot by Pippen, and a clutch steal, via Ron Harper, to close the game on Indiana and secure Chicago’s spot in the 1998 Finals.
What’s your favorite moment from the 1990s Indiana-Chicago rivalry?
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