Reliving The Shot: Former Cavs Recall How It Went Down

Sam Amico

Before the playoff series that gave us The Shot, the Cavaliers were 6-0 against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.

The season was 1988-89, and the Cavs entered the playoffs as the No. 3 seed. Jordan and the Bulls were sixth.

"We beat them every time we played them," former Cavs guard Mark Price reminded viewers of a roundtable that discussed the still-famous series vs. the Bulls.

The conversation also featured former coach Lenny Wilkens, former power forward Larry Nance and former guard Craig Ehlo -- the man buried beneath Jordan's game-winner in Game 5, back in the days when the first round was a best-of-five format.

Former center Brad Daugherty acted as the host who asked the questions.

Let's set the scene.

Game 1 was in Cleveland. The Cavs owned homecourt advantage. Not only had Jordan and the Bulls lost all six regular-season meetings, but they were faced with the task of having to win one game on the road.

They did it right away.

"We just weren't healthy," Price said. "People don't realize that I didn't play the first game of that series because I had a hamstring (injury). They stole that game."

Price returned in Game 2, and the Cavs bounced back to tie the series. But then it shifted to Chicago. Jordan and the Bulls took Game 3, nabbing a 2-1 series lead.

"They had a chance to close it out in Chicago in Game 4," Price said. "We had to win a game in Chicago, and we do that, and get it back to Cleveland."

But getting the series back home was no easy task. The Cavs had to scratch and claw their way to a 108-105 victory in overtime. Price laughed at one particular memory.

"Michael got all the calls, and we know that," he said. "And I somehow got switched on him, under the basket, and when they took a shot, I just locked his arm up. He couldn't jump and the ref didn't call it, and we win that game. He was so mad; I was so happy."

LAST CHANCE

Jordan and the Bulls are the focus of "The Last Dance," a 10-part documentary that has become all the rage. One of the recent episodes focused on that Game 5 in Cleveland.

A back-and-forth affair came down to the final seconds. The Cavs trailed by a point with time winding down. Things started to look bleak. 

So Wilkens called a timeout. He drew up a play. Ehlo was to inbound the ball. Price and Ron Harper were stationed on the other side of the court. 

Wilkens' thought was that the Bulls would place so much focus on Harper and Price that they would forget about the man inbounding the ball. And forget about Ehlo they did, as he raced to the basket after throwing the inbounds pass. He return pass from Nance and sailed in for a layup. Two points.

The Cavs took a 100-99 lead with three seconds left. Celebration ensued.

But it turned out to be three seconds too many.

"We were down by one, and we set up a play, and we scored right away," Wilkens recalled. "It was too quick."

The Bulls immediately called a timeout following Ehlo's basket. That meant they would be inbounding the ball at halfcourt. 

For the Cavs, the plan was to let anyone but Jordan beat them. They did not want him to get the ball. He had other plans.

PARTING SHOT

Somehow, Jordan worked himself free. Both Nance and Ehlo were guarding him. Former Ohio State center Brad Sellers, a Northeast Ohio native, was inbounding the ball.

Jordan darted toward halfcourt. Nance went with him. But Jordan stopped and ran back toward Sellers.

"I told coach I apologize, because he trusted me to do anything defensively," Nance said. "He put me there to face Michael and deny him the ball."

Then Nance explained how Jordan got free before taking the pass from Sellers.

"He faked me going to halfcourt line and I took the bait," Nance said. "Then he ended up getting the ball. ... The breakdown came when he faked me to halfcourt. I could've just let him go and get the ball there, and we probably would've been fine. But, you know, it's not what happened."

Jordan then did what all the greats do. He made the biggest shot of his career when his team needed it most. As Daugherty said, that play "really changed their trajectory, too."

All of the former Cavs tipped their cap to Jordan and what that Bulls' core went on to accomplish, eventually emerging with six championship rings.

But Price, for one, can't shake the memories of 6-0.

"In my mind," he said, "I had no doubt who was the better team that season."

Sam Amico covers pro basketball for SI.com. Follow him @AmicoHoops.

Comments

NBA

FEATURED
COMMUNITY