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The Last Dance

The Last Dance: How Michael Jordan dominated his rivalry with Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler

The famous shrug after nailing his sixth straight triple during Game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals wasn't just Michael Jordan's way of showing that he couldn't miss - it was him saying to the world he had no peer on the basketball court.

Jordan came into the 1991-92 season having finally gotten the monkey off his back. He got past the Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals and defeated the player of the 1980s in Magic Johnson in the Finals to capture his first NBA title.

He added his third MVP trophy to his collection, a sixth consecutive scoring title and was widely regarded as the best player on the planet. Very few players were put in the same class as MJ, but Clyde Drexler was one of them.

Drexler in his own right was no slouch. By the time the 1992 Finals rolled around, the Portland Trail Blazers' superstar had been an All-Star six times and had been named All-NBA four times, receiving First Team honours in 1992 alongside Jordan. He finished second in MVP voting that season and had carried his team to the Finals for the second time in three years.

There should have been no doubt that Jordan was the man, but in a lot of people's minds, Drexler was 1B.

If you haven't learned by now, it was best not to piss Jordan off. Although Drexler did nothing to add fuel to Jordan's competitive fire, there was enough chatter, doubt or maybe even optimism from Chicago Bulls haters that Drexler could knock MJ off the throne.

After Jordan went for 39 points and 11 assists in the Game 1 blowout win, Drexler responded in Game 2 in Chicago with a 26-point, eight-assist, seven-rebound performance. He picked up his sixth and final foul in the fourth quarter of that game, but the Blazers came alive with him on the bench and bounced back from a double-digit deficit to force overtime and steal Game 2 to tie the series up.

With the series now tied at 1-1 and the Blazers hosting the next three games with the 2-3-2 format, Jordan would assert his dominance and rock the Blazers' and Drexler's foundation. MJ averaged 34.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists on 50.7% shooting from the field and 36.4% from 3-point range in Games 3-5 of the series. The Bulls regained control of the series and would close it out in Game 6 to repeat as champions.

Jordan outplayed Drexler over the six-game series, silencing any and all who might have put the Trail Blazer star on the same level as him.

1992 NBA Finals Stats
Mins FG FGA FG% Rebs Asts Stls Blks Pts
Michael Jordan 42.3 13.5 25.7 52.6 4.8 6.5 1.7 0.3 35.8
Clyde Drexler 39.7 8.0 19.7 40.7 7.8 5.3 1.3 1.0 24.8

It wasn't just the Finals where MJ would want to prove a point. In fact, he made sure to remind everyone every time he played Drexler.

In 17 regular season games, Jordan averaged 34.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 2.7 steals in head-to-head games against Drexler. For his career, Jordan averaged more points per game against the Trail Blazers than any other franchise.

Drexler still had a Hall of Fame career and even won an NBA title with the Houston Rockets in 1995, but the nightmares of having to deal with a motivated Jordan probably still haunt him.

The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.

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