Editor’s note: Part 4 in a five-part series highlighting five “What If” scenarios involving Cleveland pro sports played out in a Strat-O-Matic simulation. Today: What if “The Shot” by Michael Jordan missed against the Cavaliers in the 1989 NBA playoffs?
Simply say “The Shot” and they’re aren’t many basketball fans who won’t understand what player was involved.
Of course, it’s Michael Jordan, whose “Shot” against the Cavaliers during the 1988-89 NBA playoffs was the first truly signature play of his storied NBA career.
Seven years earlier, Jordan made another memorable “Shot” when he swished a mid-range jump while at North Carolina to beat Georgetown in the 1982 NCAA national championship game. That play put Jordan on the basketball map.
“The Shot” took Jordan into the next stratosphere. Even though Jordan’s Bulls needed two more seasons to break through with the first of six NBA titles, “The Shot” was no doubt one of the most legendary and iconic plays of his career. A few years after, Jordan and Gatorade coincided on its iconic “Be Like Mike” commercial — which included the highlight of “The Shot” at the end of it.
For the Cavaliers, it was a devastating moment. They entered the playoffs that season with high hopes as the No. 3 seed in the East with a 57-25 record, and the second-best record in the conference. The Bulls were the 6 seed at 47-35. The Cavs swept all six games they played against Chicago in the regular season.
Then the Bulls won two of the first three in the series before Cleveland won in Chicago, 108-105, to force a winner-take-all Game 5 at the old Richfield Coliseum. It was a close game throughout and the Cavs led, 101-100 after Craig Ehlo’s layup with three seconds remaining. A few seconds was all Jordan needed. He took an inbounds pass, dribbled twice and rattled in a shot from just beyond the free-throw line at the buzzer and eliminated the Cavs.
But what if Jordan’s shot missed, and the Cavs advanced to the second round of the playoffs? It would have set up a matchup against the No. 2 seed New York Knicks, who at 52-30 won five fewer games than Cleveland in 1988-89.
Strat-O-Matic — the longtime simulation sports game — provided the answers. John Garcia, the Chief Content Officer for Strat-O-Matic, recently ran a simulation of a Knicks-Cavs second-round playoff series. Here are the details:
The Cavaliers dropped Game 1 of the series to New York, 101-94, but took Game 2 with a overtime win, 129-124, to even the series at 1-1 behind Cavs center Brad Daugherty’s 34 points.
Then in Game 2 it was all Cavaliers, 108-81, for a 2-1 series lead. That’s as far as Cleveland got in trying to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Knicks responded with two straight wins, 102-98 and 113-107, for a 3-2 series advantage. In Game 6, the Cavs were close to taking the series to a seventh game but New York escaped with a 102-100 victory in overtime.
Daugherty was the series’ leading scorer, averaging 24.5 points and added 10.5 rebounds per contest.
In reality, the Bulls took out the Knicks in six games before falling the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals, 4-2. Detroit then swept the Lakers for its first NBA Championship.