Why Kevin Durant’s game-winning shot sparked memories of Jordan for members of the ’89 Bulls

Why Kevin Durant’s game-winning shot sparked memories of Jordan for members of the ’89 Bulls

PHOENIX — The comparison surfaced not long after Kevin Durant finished off the Chicago Bulls on Monday. In the final seconds, the Phoenix Suns forward buried a double-pump, did-he-just-do-that jumper to give the Suns a 115-113 win.

If you thought Durant’s incredible shot resembled Michael Jordan’s iconic double-pump jumper to eliminate the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5 of the first round of the 1989 playoffs, you’re not alone. A couple of the Bulls from that very team agree.

An analyst for NBC Sports Chicago, Will Perdue watched Monday night’s game from a studio in Chicago. As soon as he saw Durant’s shot drop, he immediately recognized the significance.

“That was a double-pump!” said Perdue, who was in his rookie season out of Vanderbilt with the Bulls during the 1989 playoffs. “That’s the same thing Jordan did against (Craig) Ehlo in ’89. I was there!”

Those around him weren’t convinced.

“Watch it again,” Perdue said.

Obviously, the circumstances were different. Chicago’s win in 1989 came in a first-round elimination game, win or go home. Phoenix’s game Monday night unfolded during the middle of the season. And unlike the 1989 game, when Chicago trailed Cleveland 100-99 when Jordan got the ball, this game was tied when Suns guard Grayson Allen prepared to inbound with 6.3 seconds left.

But like 1989, everybody in the building knew where the ball was going. In 1989, it was Jordan. On Monday at Footprint Center, it was Durant. Jordan had to double-pump to keep Ehlo from blocking it. Durant had to do so to keep streaking Alex Caruso from deflecting it from behind.

Phoenix’s inbounds pass went to big man Jusuf Nurkic, who dished back to Durant. Chicago’s went directly to Jordan. Durant took one left-handed dribble. Jordan took two.

Durant double-pumped and shot from 17 — good.

Jordan double-pumped and shot from 17 — good.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Perdue said he remembered Jordan’s shot like it was yesterday. In 1989, he was stuck behind Bill Cartwright and Dave Corzine in the Bulls’ rotation. The play had unfolded on the far end of the court, away from the Chicago bench. Perdue stood on the baseline in Cleveland’s Richfield Coliseum. He saw Jordan jump. He saw him double-pump.

On Monday, he saw Durant do the same, changing his shot mid-air because Durant saw Caruso coming from behind.

“Caruso almost blocked it — and there’s a defender in the front?” Perdue said. “That’s one of those things, it’s almost like spidey sense. He’s got a third eye. Or an eye in the back of his head or something. … The perfect timing of the pump and then to take it back up, after Caruso had swung through to go up and shoot it. And if you notice, it was so pure the net barely moved.”

How hard is it to make such a shot?

“Basically, like taking a car that’s going 100 mph, jam on the brakes, throw it in reverse and go the opposite direction,” Perdue said. “And then still jam it back in first gear and go back the way you’re going. To try to be able to stop all that inertia in order to do that, on a scale of 1 to 10, it’s 12.”

The similarities don’t end with Durant’s final shot. In fact, his performance Monday night pretty much mirrored Jordan’s from 1989. Check this out:

In the first half …

Durant was 4 of 13 from the field.

Jordan was 5 of 13.

In the second half …

Durant scored 30 points.

Jordan scored 30 points.

In the fourth quarter …

Durant scored 17 points.

Jordan scored 17 points.

For the game …

Durant finished 16 of 32 for 43 points.

Jordan finished 17 of 32 for 44.

In 1989, Sam Vincent was a reserve guard for the Bulls. In the Game 5 win over the Cavs, he played eight minutes, collecting two points and two assists. He was on the bench when Jordan broke Cleveland’s heart.

“We realized how big the moment was in terms of the win and advancing in the playoffs, but we didn’t realize the history that would be created around ‘The Shot,’” Vincent said. “A very impactful shot. An amazing shot. One of many for Michael. But it had significant importance for how the Bulls kind of grew up from there.”

Vincent missed Durant’s shot. As men’s basketball coach at Beacon College in Leesburg, Fla., he was watching film Monday night, preparing for Friday’s game against Keep Striving Prep. But after The Athletic sent him the video, Vincent agreed to take a look.

His reaction: Oh, wow.

“After looking at it a couple times,” Vincent said, “I did see the incredible, uncanny comparison to that shot Michael took in Cleveland.”

Vincent said both players used their unique skills to their advantage. For Jordan, it was his ability to hang. (“I don’t see how he stayed in the air that long,” stunned Cleveland center Brad Daugherty had said after the 1989 game.) For Durant, it was his length.

“I don’t think it’s a shot that you practice, but I think a shot that you do practice — which I know Michael practiced a lot and I’m sure I’ve seen footage of Kevin doing it as well — and that’s being able to take a hard penetration dribble to a spot and then really elevate,” Vincent said. “You practice that shot over and over and in a game, the defense closes out. But because you worked on that shot, it’s a little bit easier to maneuver the ball to be able to get that shot off.”

Durant, 35, has played well all season, but lately he’s taken his game to a higher level. The Western Conference Player of the Week, he had 40 points in a home win over Indiana. A night later, he torched the Bulls. On Wednesday, he had 12 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists as Phoenix routed Dallas, 132-109.  After a slow start, Phoenix (26-18) has won seven in a row. Suddenly, those preseason championship hopes do not look so unrealistic.

In his 17th season, Durant has played a leading role in the reversal.

“I hope that the Phoenix Suns fans truly understand what they’re witnessing,” Perdue said. “And this has nothing to do with age. This has to do with greatness.”

(Photo of Durant’s game-winner Monday against the Bulls: Garrett Ellwood / NBAE via Getty Images)