CHICAGO, JUNE 1 -- If any necks were going to be broken here tonight in Chicago Stadium, Michael Jordan was determined to do the stomping. The Eastern Conference finals are going back to Detroit for Game 7 on Sunday because that's what he did, but also because the Chicago Bulls got the performance of a lifetime from reserve guard Craig Hodges.
If the defending champion Pistons are to make a third straight trip to the NBA finals, they will have to stop Jordan and a Bulls team that fought off elimination tonight by scoring the most lopsided victory in this series, 109-91.
The Bulls won so overwhelmingly, so convincingly in the deafening din of the Stadium that Jordan was able to rest for the final 3:07. That was okay, because the Bulls -- with Hodges leading the way -- had a vise grip on Game 6. Through the first five games of this series, Hodges was thought to have gone AWOL. The league's second-leading three-point shooter in the regular season, Hodges had made only 17 percent of his three-point attempts and just 21 percent of his shots from the field.
But tonight he scored 16 of his 19 points in the second half, complementing Jordan's game-high 29 and Scottie Pippen's 19. Hodges hit seven of nine shots, including all four of his three-point tries. As a result, the Bulls hardly missed guard John Paxson, who re-sprained his right ankle but who still plans to play Sunday.
"Seeing Craig hit those threes was really a great sight for us," Jordan said.
Hodges, probably the most criticized of all the Bulls reserves, said, "Just because we hadn't been playing well doesn't mean we hadn't been trying hard. We were trying our hearts out. Tonight the difference was whoever had the opportunity to score stepped up and stroked it."
Hodges was left open largely because the Pistons, trailing all but one possession the entire game, tried a trapping defense. Chicago moved the ball deftly, finding the open man. The ball movement wasn't necessarily any better than it was Wednesday night. The difference was, the Bulls shot 48 percent and the Pistons made only 37.6 percent of their field goal attempts.
The big culprits were Isiah Thomas (five for 17) and Vinnie Johnson (zero for 10). Bill Laimbeer (11 points, eight rebounds) picking up his fourth foul with more than three minutes to play in the third quarter didn't help matters for Detroit.
It was Laimbeer who allegedly said he would break Jordan's neck tonight, in retaliation for the clothesline-body slam put on him in Game 5 by Pippen (who today was fined $2,000 by the league).
For the time Laimbeer was in the game, he was outplayed around the basket by Horace Grant, whose 14 rebounds and five assists helped the Bulls immeasurably.
When several Bulls are contributing in whatever ways, it leaves a defense -- even Detroit's, normally the best in the league -- at Jordan's mercy. Tonight he exploded in the third quarter, scoring 18 points to Detroit's 19. He hit lean-in jumpers, pull-up jumpers and one driving layup.
Strangely enough, the Bulls had built a 12-point lead (34-22) in the first half while Jordan was sitting on the bench getting a rest. When he came back midway through the second quarter, Detroit outscored the Bulls, 20-9.
But in the third quarter, "I hit my first shot and felt in a great rhythm," he said. The double-teaming didn't work because Hodges was hitting too. Jordan was no spectator in the third. He and Hodges pushed Chicago's lead from 51-50 to 80-63 at the end of the period.
"With four minutes to go in the second quarter, they only had 36 points," said Joe Dumars, who led the Pistons with 23 points on nine-for-16 shooting. "I thought we were in good shape. Then, Michael had that big quarter. We never felt out of it, but just couldn't get in it. Michael has so many offensive weapons and tonight he was hitting that jumper. Also, Hodges is a great spot-up shooter. He came up big, shot after shot."
Hodges really got the blowout started with a three-pointer, running Chicago's lead to 70-57. Mark Aguirre hit a jumper for the Pistons, but Will Perdue made two free throws and Jordan nailed a three-pointer for 75-59.
John Salley (two for six) scored, but Hodges answered again. James Edwards hit a pair of foul shots, but Jordan scored three the hard way (basket and foul shot) for a 17-point Bulls lead at the end of the third.
A big Detroit run, like the one the Pistons used last year to close out the Bulls in Game 6 here one year ago tonight, loomed. But with Johnson and Thomas cold and Laimbeer on the bench with four fouls, the Pistons were punchless.
"They're a perimeter team on offense," Hodges said, "and when their guards aren't hitting, they're in trouble."
Thomas threatened to start something to open the fourth when he hit consecutive driving layups, stole the ball and fed it to Aguirre for a layup, then worked inside for two free throws to get Detroit to 87-75.
But there was Hodges again, spotting up for a three-pointer on a beautiful play that beat Detroit's full-court press. When Aguirre and Dumars hit consecutive baskets, it was Hodges who fed Bill Cartwright for the dunk that made it 92-79.
The Pistons threatened to get the lead down under 10 again after Johnson's free throws made it 94-83, but Hodges answered. And after Salley dunked, he could only watch as Hodges nailed another three-pointer (99-84) and sapped all the life out of the champions.