Malone Delivers Game 5 to Utah
By Ric Bucher
CHICAGO, June 12 There may come a night when this town celebrates another championship, but it won't be this one.
The Utah Jazz, led by Karl Malone with 39 points and nine rebounds, brought the NBA finals back to their home court with a 83-81 win over the Chicago Bulls, trimming the Bulls' lead in the best-of-seven series to 3-2. Game 6 is scheduled for Sunday at the Delta Center.
Scottie Pippen contributed 11 rebounds and 11 assists before fouling out with 1.1 seconds left, but he'll probably be better remembered for his 2-for-16 shooting night and six points.
The outcome remained in doubt until the final second. The Jazz appeared to have victory in hand, leading 82-78 with 10.4 seconds, but Toni Kukoc buried a three-pointer from nearly 30 feet with 5.5 seconds to slice the margin to one.
Utah did a superb job getting the ball downcourt after Kukoc's bomb, and they even got it into the hands of their best free throw shooter, Jeff Hornacek. But Hornacek proved to be the last of several players to tighten up under the pressure of a potentially series-deciding, missing his first free throw before hitting his second.
That opened the door for one last opportunity by the Bulls and it went to Michael Jordan, who had 28 points before his desperation three-pointer went up. He still had 28 when it came down and the Jazz had spoiled the Bulls' party. But the Jazz came back with possibly their best 12 minutes of the series, thanks in large part to another lineup switch by Sloan and the aggressiveness of Malone.
Sloan, making his third switch at the center position, started Antoine Carr for the second half and Carr responded with 10 second-half points, giving the Jazz the offensive firepower they'd been missing when Adam Keefe, Greg Foster or Greg Ostertag was in the lineup.
There was an end-of-it-all atmosphere building long before tipoff. Maybe it was the flashback documentaries to the song "Bittersweet Memories" filling the airwaves, or the newspapers filled with stories about the "Last Dance" or the 200 pounds of confetti loaded into the rafters.
The crowd picked up on all of it, and the firing of flash bulbs from the stands during introductions made the court seem as if it were inside a disco ball rather than the United Center. The roar reached a frightening pitch when Jordan was introduced for what could have been the final time.
A number of players seemed affected by the magnitude of the moment as well, to their detriment. Pippen fired an uncontested air ball on the game's opening possession and Luc Longley missed a putback dunk, while Utah's Jeff Hornacek (88.5 percent regular season free throw shooter) clanked a pair of free throws and Howard Eisley committed two turnovers in a span of 37 seconds.
The only player inspired by the grandeur seemed to be Kukoc, who scored 13 of the Bulls' first 14 points, tying the score when the Jazz could have easily built a sizeable lead. Kukoc started off by getting a step on Adam Keefe cutting to the basket twice, resulting in layups both times. Kukoc also proved to be the only Bull who could make a jumper, hitting a three-pointer for a 14-14 tie with 2 minutes, 16 seconds left in the first quarter.
But even Jordan, who handles pressure the same way a tire does (the more there is, the better he rolls), seemed slightly out of kilter. He was the only other Bull besides Kukoc to score in the early going, but that one point came after missing a free throw. The Jazz had Bryon Russell guard him instead of Hornacek, but only two of the four jumpers Jordan missed were actually contested.
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