Pistons Go to Body, Wear Down Bulls : Eastern Conference: Jordan scores 34 but gets slammed and Detroit gains an 86-77 victory over Chicago in Game 1.
Jordan Rules, the team defensive strategy employed by the Detroit Pistons, had no effect on Michael Jordan Sunday afternoon, but a hard fall on his left hip sure did. With Jordan limping in the second half, the Pistons kept the ball in the hot hands of Joe Dumars, who victimized Jordan for many of his 18 third-quarter points.
Detroit’s hellish defense did the rest, holding the Bulls to 38% shooting to take Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals, 86-77, at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Both teams had as many turnovers as assists, and Dumars was the only player on either team to shoot significantly better than 50% in a game Chicago Coach Phil Jackson described as “a rugby game more than basketball.”
The Bulls’ defense was almost as effective as Detroit’s. The Pistons shot only 42%, suffered through a three-for-12, five-turnover performance by Isiah Thomas, and needed every one of Dumars’ 27 points to pull this one out. Dumars outscored the Bulls, 18-17, in the third quarter, as Detroit turned a four-point halftime deficit into a 67-60 lead that Chicago never seriously dented.
The one thing the Bulls absolutely cannot afford in this series is an injury. Not one. The offense already was ragged with point guard John Paxson playing only 16 minutes because of a sprained ankle. So when Jordan crashed to the floor 10 minutes into the game, the Bulls’ chance of stealing Game 1 diminished significantly. And they have no idea how effective Paxson and Jordan will be in Game 2 on Tuesday night.
Jordan, who averaged 40.3 points in the Bulls’ first nine playoff games, scored 34 points, but 26 came in the first half, after which Chicago led, 43-39. He missed nine of 12 second-half shots after making nine of 15 in the first half.
“The injury certainly limited my motion in the second half,” Jordan said. “I played the rest of the half without much trouble because I was already loose. But after sitting through halftime, I couldn’t get my motion back. I thought I could get the lift I needed for my jumper, but I couldn’t push off.”
Jordan need not expect a sympathy card from the Pistons.
“I like you, Michael,” John Salley said, “but I didn’t feel bad when you hit the floor hard.”
It wasn’t one of Detroit’s vintage body slams that got Jordan, but it was effective enough. Jordan soared into the lane, got sandwiched by Vinnie Johnson, Salley and Dennis Rodman, and appeared to be hit by Salley and pushed by Rodman.
No foul was called, even though Jordan landed on his hip and stayed on he floor for several seconds while play continued.
The Pistons, of course, pleaded not guilty.
“No one on our team hit him,” Salley said. “Who could? Nobody could get close to him the first half. He did his Air Jordan thing and nobody was there to catch him. Nobody from our team slammed him, I don’t think.”
Jordan, who seldom passes up a chance to take a verbal shot at the Pistons’ tactics, said, “I think I had my legs cut out from under me, but I don’t know who did it.”
Somehow, gimpy as he was, Jordan was sublime the rest of the half, going on to score 26 points against the best defense in the league.
Jordan had a spinning, hanging move that put the Bulls ahead, 33-32, and there was a flying dunk on which Jordan got up so high, he hurt his hip landing.
On Chicago’s next possession he unleashed a Wilt-like finger roll, and he closed the half with a buzzer-beating three-pointer between two defenders.
The Bulls had a chance to extend their lead to start the second half, but committed three turnovers before scoring. And by that time, Dumars was taking over.
The other Pistons were as cold as ice, but Dumars hit Detroit’s first 12 points of the quarter, pushing the Pistons ahead for good, 48-47, on a breakaway layup after Paxson’s air ball.
“It’s well-documented,” he said, “that with this team if you get hot, you get the ball.”
Not only was Dumars hot, he was making Jordan work on defense. Jordan couldn’t carry the load at both ends, and the Bulls fell further behind. Jordan didn’t drive once the second half; he limped visibly.
The Pistons say they didn’t go to Dumars specifically to make Jordan work on defense.
“The other team doesn’t know where it’s coming from; we don’t even know where it’s coming from,” center Bill Laimbeer said. “It just happens. Then, we find the right guy.”
Salley added, “Jordan Rules, Jordan Rules, Jordan Rules. Hey, Jordan also has to play defense. We made him play defense today, too.”
Had Jordan been healthy all game, he might have been able to shoot the Bulls into the series lead. Detroit’s Jordan Rules, which involve trapping, double-teaming, sometimes even triple-teaming Jordan, depending on the score and other circumstances, were ineffective in the first half.
“We didn’t play our best, and we’re still up, 1-0,” Laimbeer said.
A big problem for the Bulls was lack of support for Jordan. Scottie Pippen was the only other Bull to score in double figures and 12 of his 16 points came in two bursts, a three-layup sequence in the first half and two three-pointers that kept the Bulls close in the fourth.
Chicago’s Craig Hodges missed all three of his shots. Stacey King, the 6-foot-11 rookie, missed four of six and didn’t grab a rebound.
Backup point guard B.J. Armstrong had five turnovers in 29 minutes. Center Bill Cartwright couldn’t catch the ball, couldn’t pass it and couldn’t shoot it, which makes him a triple threat to his own team.
And Paxson’s 0-for-five shooting on his bad ankle may force the Bulls to start King in Game 2 and move Pippen to guard.