Bulls Put Jazz On the Brink
By Ric Bucher
CHICAGO, June 10 Bullhorn-toting drill sergeants, ruler-wielding school teachers and anyone else who holds dear discipline and the strict adherence to regulations took one on the chin tonight, along with the Utah Jazz. Courtesy of Dennis Rodman.
Rodman, after being both maligned and fined for skipping practice on Monday and flying to Detroit to participate in a pro-wrestling event, grabbed all the big rebounds and made all the important free throws down the stretch to help the Bulls to an 86-82 victory and a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven NBA finals. With Rodman making 5 of 6 free throws over the final 6o minutes and snaring 14 rebounds, the Bulls now have a chance to wrap up their third consecutive title, and sixth in eight years, on their home court Friday. No team has recovered from a 3-1 deficit in league finals' history.
"Dennis likes to back himself into a corner and then come out with shining laurels," said Bulls Coach Phil Jackson, offering his praise through a tight smile. "He did it tonight."
A 55 percent free throw shooter, Rodman did what neither the team's more illustrious stars (Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen) or any other Bull could do at crunch-time-he was perfect from the line, making his last four in the final three minutes.
Jordan, who finished with 34 points but missed three of his last six free throws, was baffled by Rodman's performance, taking note of his strong defense on Jazz forward Karl Malone as well. Malone finished with 21 points, but he nearly went scoreless in both the second and fourth quarters, avoiding that inauspicious feat by hitting a meaningless jumper with 9 seconds left and the Bulls ahead by seven.
"I'll never figure this guy out, I won't even start," Jordan said of Rodman. "Somehow he's always ready to play the game of basketball, especially when the game is of the essence. I think he went to Detroit to put the pressure on himself. Then the guy steps up and makes four free throws. He may go wrestle tomorrow, he may not show up for practice, I don't know. But he seems to excel in adversity. It's amazing."
With the Bulls trying to protect a 69-66 lead, Jordan missed a pair of free throws. After their edge had dwindled to 71-70, Ron Harper missed the first of two foul shots. With 81 seconds left and the Bulls leading 78-75, Scottie Pippen had a chance to put the game out of reach but he, too, missed his first attempt before making the second.
Rodman to the rescue. Fouled after snaring the sixth of his seven offensive rebounds with the score tied at 74, Rodman made both of his free throws, pushing the Bulls ahead by two, and for good. It was still at two (79-77), though, with 43.8 seconds left when he was fouled again, this time grabbing the by-product of an air ball jump shot by Jordan and hit both free throws again.
"He was our most reliable free throw shooter tonight," Jackson said.
The Jazz came out with all the energy and determination expected from a team that had expended so little of either three days earlier in getting whipped by 42 points-but continued problems on the defensive glass prevented them from reaping many dividends. The Bulls, on their first possession, missed a pair of shots and nearly turned the ball over (Bryon Russell ripping the ball loose from Pippen in the lane) but each time a Chicago player got to the loose ball a step ahead of his Utah counterpart.
End result: Pippen buried a three-pointer, erasing whatever momentum the Jazz had after lobbing into Malone for an easy layup on their first possession. The same slip-up on Chicago's next possession turned a missed jumper by Jordan into a Pippen-assisted layup by Jordan.
"Scottie obviously came out with guns blazing," Jackson said.
In fact, Chicago's first eight points were scored off second chances, and the Jazz visibly dropped their shoulders after each basket.
But unlike earlier in the series, at least the Jazz was just as successful harvesting the rebounds of its missed shots, grabbing 11 offensive rebounds in the first half to the Bulls' 12. Credit Adam Keefe, who Coach Jerry Sloan started at center for the first time this season, for closing the gap. In 13 first-half minutes, Keefe grabbed six rebounds, including three offensive ones, and Toni Kukoc to four first-half points, the same Kukoc who scored in double digits in the first halfs of both Games 2 and 3.
"Tonight was like an appetizer, Friday could be an entree," Jordan said. "We can't just fill ourselves up on an appetizer. This job is not done. We can taste it sure, we're in control, but the job is not done."
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