AUBURN HILLS, MICH. -- When there was no way around it, when Michael Jordan was absolutely at the point when he had to spend two minutes on the Chicago Bulls' bench with his team trailing by only nine points early in the fourth quarter, he asked to come out. And Game 5 was over.

Jordan has kicked chairs, he has screamed, he has been completely and totally silent. But when the action switched back to The Palace Wednesday night, Jordan was alone again. Some tenacious work on the offensive backboards from Horace Grant was the only help he got, and it was enough to keep the Bulls closer than they should have been until early in the fourth quarter.

The Pistons dared Chicago to win, and the Bulls backed down. The Pistons allowed the Bulls 15 offensive rebounds, and they committed 15 turnovers to Chicago's nine. If the Bulls were waiting for a road game to steal, this one was it.

There were so many signs. At the end of the first quarter, the Bulls scored the final eight points to tie the game. The last three came on a freak play, resulting from the fact that Jordan misread the clock. Perhaps his mind was on the five straight shots he had missed, when he stepped across midcourt with 10.9 seconds left (he thought there were 1.9 left) and fired a 45-footer that swished.

What an omen. There would be more. Jordan took one shot the second quarter. But the Bulls stayed within 46-41 at halftime because Jordan assisted on three consecutive baskets, including one while he was sitting on the floor, double-teamed by Joe Dumars and Isiah Thomas. So what you had at halftime was the Bulls trailing by five even though Jordan had two field goals and six points, three from midcourt.

If you're Phil Jackson at halftime, you're telling your team the field goal shooting will improve because it can't get any worse than 36.6 percent. You're proud of the offensive rebounding, you're happy with the trapping pressure defense, which the Pistons still haven't solved. All those incredible passes Jordan is dishing won't go to waste. "I felt good," Jackson said candidly.

It all went to waste. On one possession the Bulls grabbed four offensive rebounds and missed three layups and a short jumper. If the Bulls had hit half of the shots they took when no Piston was within six feet, Jordan would have an NBA playoff record for assists; instead he recorded nine.

The worst shot of the night, the worst shot of this series, perhaps the worst shot since James Naismith nailed up peach baskets, came toward the end of the third quarter with the Bulls down, 70-64. Jordan created yet another open shot for a teammate. All Will Perdue had to do was turn and shoot. Perdue is 7 feet tall. One giant step and perhaps he could have dunked. Instead, with 21,000 looking on in disbelief, Perdue shot a two-foot air ball. Incredible.

Jordan not only shouldn't speak to his teammates, he should sue them for lack of support. Here are the important numbers: Three Detroit reserves -- John Salley, Vinnie Johnson and Mark Aguirre -- grabbed 18 rebounds, handed out 14 assists and scored 35 points.

How about the five Bulls coming off the bench? Try 13 points, 3 assists and 7 rebounds.

Some of us were ready to accuse Jackson of making the worst substitution in the history of the NBA playoffs when he rested Jordan (in favor of B.J. Armstrong) with 10:06 to play and the Bulls still within nine. But Jackson said Jordan asked to come out. "He had to," the coach said. "He was tired, exhausted. We had to get him a couple of minutes of rest."

You can't get mad at Jordan for being human, but you can get mad at professional players for failing to make open shots. A lot was said in the postgame analysis about Detroit's defense being vastly improved. It wasn't. Bulls were open all night long, even if Jordan wasn't one of them. "B.J. had several open shots, Scott {Pippen} had open shots, Will Perdue had a couple of point-blank six-footers, Horace missed a couple of left-handed hooks. We had about six shots on one possession and couldn't get it down," Jackson said.

Some of the Pistons were also talking about how they handled the press so much better than last weekend. Nonsense. The Pistons still haven't solved the trapping, swarming Chicago defense. Jackson saw what most everyone else did: "Them throwing the ball away all night long."

Salley has a theory about the Eastern Conference finals. He says, "We're Chicago's Celtics." By that Salley means the Bulls are as frustrated by Detroit as the Pistons were by the Celtics in the mid-'80s, when Detroit was probably just as good, but couldn't win the critical games. It was three years ago Wednesday, in Game 5 of the Boston-Detroit Eastern Conference finals, that the Pistons had the critical game all wrapped up, only to see Thomas throw a lazy inbounds pass that Larry Bird intercepted and fed to Dennis Johnson for the basket that changed the series. Nothing that dramatic happened in Detroit's 97-83 victory Wednesday night, but Salley knows exactly what he's talking about.

If the embarrassment from Jordan's stormy silence is all that motivates the Bulls, then it's time His Highness chase his sorry teammates out back to the woodshed before it's too late.