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Pistons Respond to Challenge, 97-83

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Really, they were just hanging around. Michael Jordan made two of eight shots and the Chicago Bulls shot only 36.6% from the field, and yet they trailed by only five at halftime.

In the first four minutes of the third quarter, Chicago scored only eight points, and yet the margin remained at five.

It was not until the fourth quarter that the Detroit Pistons took control, using a 14-3 run over 4:19 to earn a 97-83 victory Wednesday night at the Palace of Auburn Hills and take the lead in the Eastern Conference best-of-seven finals, three games to two.

Detroit’s last field goal of Game 5 came with 4:27 to play. The Pistons had three during the last eight minutes. And still won.

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Not hung on. Won. Now either the Bulls win the next two, starting Friday at Chicago Stadium, or the Pistons go to the NBA finals for a third consecutive season.

Jordan finished with 22 points, on seven-of-19 shooting, 17 of which came in the first three quarters. He and Scottie Pippen tied for team-high honors with five points in the last 12 minutes, meaning Jordan did not do it alone, for a change. They struggled together.

“He was 100% tonight,” Coach Phil Jackson said of Jordan. “That was just a good defensive job.”

Good enough to hold the Bulls to a 33.3% (28 of 84) and limit all but Jordan, Pippen (19) and Horace Grant (15) to less than double figures.

Four Pistons made it, led by Joe Dumars’ 20. Mark Aguirre had 19 off the bench, including 13 in the fourth quarter.

Detroit’s lead was 72-66 after Jordan scored inside with 11:17 to play. But Aguirre, a post player, showed off a complete game. In succession, he made a three-pointer with the shot clock down to four, put a spin move on Pippen along the right baseline to break free for a layup and had another layin and free throw for a three-point play.

“If I get going, all the plays go to me at that point,” Aguirre said. “Chuck does a lot of that. If a guy is going good, he’ll ride him all the way.”

Chuck Daly, the Piston coach, does a lot of things with Aguirre, including bench him. That happened in Game 4, when Dennis Rodman’s success limited Aguirre to nine minutes. Wednesday, with Rodman hobbled by a bad ankle, Aguirre got a more workable portion.

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“I could tell by his body language that he was not happy,” Daly said. “I don’t know if we’re still friends or not.”

Daly laughed, which meant they must be. Especially after this showing.

It was Aguirre’s three-point play with 8:52 left that gave the Pistons an 80-68 lead. It was his 19-footer with 6:51 to play that made it 85-69. Aguirre’s tip-in of Dumars’ miss pushed the advantage to 89-71 with 5:27 remaining.

The Bulls--despite getting 13 rebounds in the fourth quarter, seven on the offensive end--never got closer than 13 the rest of the way.

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“Mark was fantastic in Game 3 (22 points, seven rebounds),” teammate Isiah Thomas said. “I don’t know why he didn’t play in Game 4. When he gets the time, he produces.”

It was typical bench play for the series, a Piston strong point. Their three reserves--Vinnie Johnson, John Salley and Aguirre-- combined for 13 of 21 and 35 points; Chicago’s five reserves made five of 17 shots for 13 points, none contributing more than four points or three rebounds.

The entire Piston team shot much better, finishing at 55.9%, and Bill Laimbeer ended his two-game slump to sink seven of 13 attempts en route to 16 points.

Eastern Conference Notes

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Dennis Rodman, who jammed his ankle in the first quarter of Game 4, played only 27 minutes. But he didn’t spend a lot of time sitting. Rodman, the NBA defensive player of the year, spent most of his non-playing time standing and bouncing off to the end of the Pistons’ bench, trying to keep the ankle from stiffening. His lost minutes meant Joe Dumars had to spend extra time guarding Michael Jordan. Told afterward he didn’t look worn out, Dumars smiled. “Good acting,” he said. . . . Before Monday, the Pistons had not lost two in a row to the Bulls since 1982-83.

Michigan native Magic Johnson was in attendance. “It was nice of him to come,” said close friend Isiah Thomas. “But in terms of how he helped me on the court, his magic’s in L.A.” . . . Jordan made a shot just inside half court late in the first quarter, except that 10.9 seconds remained. Problem was, he looked at one of the clocks and read two seconds. “It wasn’t a designed play,” Jordan said.


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