Michael Jordan also took his lumps early in his career in the NBA. In Jordan’s first three years in the postseason, he was swept twice and won just one game during that span. The Boston Celtics, the Milwaukee Bucks and the Detroit Pistons just had the Chicago Bulls’ number before the ‘90s.
Jordan was already a great player and a scoring machine even in his first few seasons in the NBA. Before the 1991 championship, “His Airness” averaged 32.8 PPG, 6.3 APG, 6.0 APG, 2.8 SPG and 1.1 BPG. The superstar guard had earned MVP and Defensive Player of the Year honors during that stretch. He was a six-time All-Star and the scoring champion for four straight seasons.
Still, there were those who he couldn’t overcome or had trouble beating in the playoffs.
Here are a few players who outplayed Michael Jordan in the postseason
#5 Sidney Moncrief
Sidney Moncrief was a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year winner who starred for the Milwaukee Bucks in Michael Jordan’s first playoff series. The seventh-seeded Chicago Bulls were the underdogs against the second-ranked Bucks.
Moncrief was the Bucks’ primary defender versus Jordan in the series. “Air Jordan” still averaged 29.3 PPG, 8.5 APG, 5.8 APG, 2.8 SPG and 1.0 BPG. He was arguably the best player on both ends of the floor but could only manage to lead the Bulls to a single win in the series.
Sidney Moncrief’s defensive duties did not stop him from averaging 26.5 PPG, 4.8 APG and 4.5 RPG.
#4 Terry Cummings
One of Sidney Moncrief’s teammates on the Bucks team that booted out the Chicago Bulls in 1985 was Terry Cummings. Before he became a journeyman, the two-time All-Star was a big part of Milwaukee’s success in the ‘80s.
Cummings only had to guard Jordan on switches or help defense. The power forward was a thorn in the Bulls’ side as he led the Bucks in scoring (29.5 PPG) and rebounding (9.3 RPG).
Michael Jordan’s first playoff series didn’t end too well partly because of Terry Cummings.
#3 Dennis Johnson
In 1986, Michael Jordan’s second year in the playoffs, he led the Chicago Bulls to the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Waiting for them was none other than Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics.
The Celtics were looking to avenge their painful 1985 championship loss to the LA Lakers. Chicago, on paper, looked like a stepping stone for them.
Dennis Johnson, Boston’s defensive stalwart and playmaker, was the Celtics’ first option on defense against Jordan. It was this series that Michael Jordan showed he was for real. In Game 2, he erupted for a record-high 63 points. Larry Bird called Jordan “God” in sneakers in that game.
Still, Johnson had a solid series despite the effort it took on the defensive end. He ended up averaging 19.0 PPG, 6.3 APG, 3.3 RPG and 2.0 SPG.
#2 Isiah Thomas
Michael Jordan had a 10-12 postseason record against the Detroit Pistons. Isiah Thomas was a big part of the reason “His Airness” didn’t have a winning win-loss mark against the “Bad Boys.”
Thomas’ Pistons eliminated the Bulls in 1988, 1989 and 1990. Jordan finally got over the hump when the Bulls swept Detroit in 1991. It was a game marred by the now infamous Pistons walkout.
In 22 playoff games against Jordan, Thomas averaged 18.9 PPG, 8.3 APG and 5.1 RPG. To this day, the animosity between the two legends has only gone bitter.
#1 Larry Bird
Michael Jordan was 6-0 in the NBA Finals. He was also 0-6 in the playoffs against Larry Bird. During that six-game run, “His Airness” was stunningly great. He averaged 39.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 5.8 APG, 2.2 SPG and 1.8 BPG. He wasn’t the reason why the Bulls couldn’t get one single win against Bird’s Celtics.
“Larry Legend” was in his prime during Jordan’s early years. Bird averaged 27.2 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 8.5 APG and 1.5 SPG. He was one of those players who outplayed Jordan in a few games they’ve met in the playoffs.
Bird was the biggest reason the Boston Celtics swept Michael Jordan’s Bulls in two straight seasons.