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Chicago Bulls

Ranking the 10 best games of Michael Jordan's career

How ironic is it that two of the best performances of the great Michael Jordan's career would fall on the same day?

On March 28, 1990, Jordan would score a career-high 69 points in a huge double-double effort that included 18 rebounds in an overtime win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Five years later on March 28, 1995, Jordan walked into Madison Square Garden and dropped 55 points on the New York Knicks in just his fifth game since returning from retirement.

In honour of the two legendary games, let's take a look at the 10 best games of MJ's historic career, as well as a couple honourable mentions that just missed the cut.

Michael Jordan's 10 greatest games

10. The "Double-Nickel"

1995 regular season vs. New York Knicks

A year and a half passed since Jordan had retired from basketball but he couldn't stay away. Following his famous "I'm back" press release, putting an end to his stint as a professional baseball player, MJ returned to the hardwood.

"One of the most asked questions in America is, 'is he as good now as he was before?'," the TV broadcaster vocalized over footage of MJ getting off the team bus at Madison Square Garden. It didn't take long for Jordan to give "America" the response they were searching for.

Rocking No. 45 since the Bulls had already retired his No. 23 jersey, Jordan gave the second-place New York Knicks all they could handle in his fifth game back. He dropped 55 points shooting 21-for-37 from the field, breaking his own record for most points scored by an opponent at MSG. On top of that, he made the game-winning play.

With the game on the line, Jordan forced the Knicks to double-team him after a nasty hesitation move nearly sent point guard John Starks to the floor. Patrick Ewing stepped up to try and block what appeared to be a game-winning shot attempt from Jordan, but MJ made a smooth adjustment in midair to find centre Bill Wennington for an easy dunk that would win the game for Chicago.

The game became widely renowned as "The Double-Nickel" - a statement game from Mike, putting the league on notice that he wasn't done terrorizing the NBA just yet.

9. "A spectacular move"

Game 2, 1991 NBA Finals vs. Los Angeles Lakers

You've seen this highlight dozens of times, but lets put some context behind it.

The Bulls had dropped Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals in Chicago, putting themselves at risk of going down 2-0 heading back to Los Angeles. Jordan's Game 2 performance assured that his team wouldn't hit the West Coast with their backs against the wall, delivering one of the most well-rounded games of his career.

MJ had 13 assists, seven rebounds, two steals and a block to go with his game-high 33 points in a blowout win for the Bulls. Jordan was locked in, shooting 15-for-18 from the field including a stretch of 13-consecutive makes. Talk about having a hot hand.

"A spectacular move by Michael Jordan!," was the historic call from Marv Albert when His Airness pulled off the famous right-left switch in midair. But it was a spectacular game overall, sparking the first of four-straight wins as the Bulls would take the next three games in L.A. to win the 1991 NBA title.

8. 54 points to even the series

Game 4, 1993 Eastern Conference Finals vs. New York Knicks

The Bulls had a perfect start to the 1993 NBA Playoffs, sweeping the Atlanta Hawks in the first round and the Cavaliers in the second round to reach the Eastern Conference Finals unscathed. Matched up against a true title contender in the Knicks, Chicago had their work cut out for them for the first time that postseason. New York won the first two games of the series, putting the defending champions on the ropes.

The Bulls would pull off a marginal victory in Game 3 despite a lacklustre 3-for-18 shooting from Jordan, but he'd make up for it in Game 4.

MJ poured in 54 points shooting 18-for-30 from the field with six 3-pointers to beat the Knicks and even the series at 2-2. Chicago would ride that momentum, taking the next two games to win the East and return to the NBA Finals for the third year in a row.

7. "The Shrug"

Game 1, 1992 NBA Finals vs. Portland Trail Blazers

Jordan was never known for his 3-point shooting and that's what makes this particular performance that much more special.

Through the first 16 games of the 1992 NBA Playoffs, he had knocked down a total of five 3-pointers. What he did in the first two quarters of Game 1 of the 1992 NBA Finals was something we had never seen before.

MJ would torch the Trail Blazers for 35 points in the first half, knocking down six 3-pointers - both of which set an NBA Finals record. After his sixth made 3 of the half, even he was impressed with himself, giving us the classic "Jordan Shrug" moment.

To this day, his 35 points in the first half is still a Finals record, whereas Ray Allen would break the record for 3s in a half with seven in the 2010 NBA Finals.

Jordan would finish the game with 39 points and 11 assists shooting 16-for-27 from the field and 6-for-10 from 3 in a 33-point win for the Bulls. Chicago would go on to defeat Portland in six games to win their second-consecutive NBA title.

6. "The Flu Game"

Game 5, 1997 NBA Finals vs. Utah Jazz

In the 1997 NBA Finals, each team protected home court through the first four games to tie the series at 2-2.

Heading into Game 5, Utah had everything leaning in their favour to put themselves one win away from an NBA title. It was more than just playing on their home court; Jordan was competing through flu-like symptoms, but nothing was going to prevent him from missing a Finals game.

His illness was evident in the first quarter as the Jazz got out to a 16-point lead but even in horrible physical condition, MJ was able to turn things up a notch. He'd score 17 points in the second quarter alone to bring Chicago back in the game, then drop 15 points in the fourth quarter to put the game away.

"I almost played myself into passing out," Jordan said after the game. "I came in and I was almost dehydrated, and it was all just to win a basketball game. I couldn't breathe. My energy level was really low. My mouth was really dry. They started giving me Gatorade, and I thought about IV."

He would finish with 38 points, seven rebounds, five assists and a clutch game-sealing 3-pointer, leaving us with one of the most iconic photos in sports history as Scottie Pippen had to carry his teammate off of the court.

5. Battle with Charles Barkley

Game 4, 1993 NBA Finals vs. Phoenix Suns

The Bulls were chasing their third-consecutive NBA title in 1993, leading the series 2-1 heading into Game 4. They had stolen Games 1 and 2 on the road in Phoenix but the Suns returned the favour in Chicago in Game 3 to make things interesting.

In one of the best battles in NBA Finals history, MJ prevented Phoenix from tying the series with a historic performance on the stage he was so familiar with.

Barkley gave the Bulls everything he had, going for a triple-double of 32 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. It brought out the best in Mike, who countered that stellar stat line by going for 55 points shooting 21-for-37 from the field. His 55 points is still tied for the second-most in NBA Finals history, only trailing Elgin Baylor's 61-point outing in the 1962 Finals.

4. Career-high 69 points

1990 regular season vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

Even though it was just the regular season, it's hard to challenge this being toward the top of all-time great Jordan games.

The year after "The Shot" that knocked Cleveland out of the playoffs, MJ was back to torture the Cavaliers again.

The Bulls needed every single one of MJ's career-high 69 points to defeat the Cavs on the road in overtime. His scoring total came at an extremely efficient clip shooting 23-for-37 (62.2%) from the field to go with two 3s, making 21-of-23 tries from the free throw line. To add to his scoring efforts, Jordan recorded a double-double with a career-high 18 rebounds in the contest, too.

Doing just about everything through 50 minutes of play, Mike said after the game that he didn't even think about his fatigue, "I didn't think about being tired because I wanted to win the game.

"I've been in that situation where I've scored a lot of points and we lost, and I didn't want that to happen. So I kept pushing myself, kept talking to myself, saying, 'Don't stop, don't stop. Keep going.' You feel better about the effort when you win."

Even without playoff implications, this was one of the greatest individual performances of Jordan's career.

3. "The Shot"

Game 5, 1989 Eastern Conference First Round vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

Prior to the Bulls run of dominance, they found themselves as an underdog No. 6 seed taking on the No. 3 seed Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs in 1989.

With the series tied at 2-2 - back when the first round of the NBA Playoffs was best-of-five - Chicago trailed Cleveland 100-99 in the final seconds of the "win or go home" game. Jordan received the inbound pass with the opportunity to either send the Bulls on to the next round or home to their couches.

He took one dribble and pulled up, hanging in the air as Craig Ehlo's outstretched arm contested his game-winning attempt.

"It's good! Michael Jordan has won it at the buzzer for Chicago!"

Jordan finished with 44 points shooting 17-for-32 from the field. The Bulls would advance as far as the Eastern Conference Finals before falling to the Detroit Pistons.

2. NBA Playoff-record 63 points

Game 2, 1986 Eastern Conference First Round vs. Boston Celtics

Everything about this game defies all odds.

In just his second season in the NBA, Jordan broke his foot, forcing him to miss 64 games. He was able to come back for the final 15 games of the regular season, getting back into a rhythm right before the playoffs.

The Bulls would draw the Celtics in the first round - one of the greatest teams in NBA history. They went 67-15 in the regular season going an NBA-record 40-1 at home with a roster that had five future Hall of Famers in Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Bill Walton and Dennis Johnson.

Chicago would be swept in three games, but Jordan's Game 2 performance still stands in the history books. MJ went for an NBA Playoff-record 63 points shooting 22-for-41 from the field and 19-for-21 from the free throw line. He reached that scoring total without attempting a single 3-pointer.

Even though the Bulls lost the game, it is undeniably one of the marquee games of Jordan's career.

1. "The Last Shot"

Game 6, 1998 NBA Finals vs. Utah Jazz

This was much more than just "The Last Shot".

At 35 years old, Jordan was playing in his 331st-consecutive game. He hadn't missed a single contest since returning from retirement back in 1995. Averaging 41.5 minutes per game in the playoffs, MJ was operating like a robot with a limitless battery.

The Bulls had a 3-2 series lead and a loss would force a Game 7 with the series staying in Utah due to the old 2-3-2 NBA Finals format. Pippen was dealing with a back injury and only played 26 minutes in the contest, forcing Jordan to play 44 of 48 minutes in the game.

Jazz fans had to feel good after John Stockton knocked down a 3-ball to give Utah a three-point lead with just over 40 seconds to go, but you can never count out MJ. He'd quickly score at the rim to bring the Bulls within one, then come up with a clutch steal on Karl Malone to give his team a chance to win the game.

Jordan would hit Bryon Russell with a filthy crossover, putting the Jazz defender on skates. MJ would rise up and bury what would become the game-winning bucket. Sixth NBA title. Sixth Finals MVP trophy.

While Jordan's 45 points were only complimented by one assist and one rebound, it was a defining moment to cap off his legacy - his final bucket as a member of the Chicago Bulls.

Honourable mentions

51 points at age 38 - 2002

In the game prior, Jordan had just snapped his NBA record of 866-consecutive games scoring in double figures when he had what was then a career-low six points against the Indiana Pacers.

Even at 38 years old, you knew that was bad news for his next opponent, the Charlotte Hornets. Jordan dropped 51 points shooting 21-for-38 from the field - another legendary scoring performance without making a single 3-pointer. He set an NBA record for most points scored by a player of his age.

What's equally impressive is that he'd score 45 points against the New Jersey Nets in the very next game, showing that the old man still had plenty of game.

59 points on 27 shots - 1988

59 points shooting 21-for-27 (77.8%) from the field and 17-for-19 from the free throw line. That type of efficiency would be hard to accomplish in a video game playing on rookie with the sliders turned all the way up.

In a classic battle with the Pistons, the rest of Jordan's teammates combined for 46 points shooting 18-for-41 from the field. MJ's 59 points would be enought to lead Chicago to a two-point win over their Eastern Conference rivals.

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