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Paxson Suddenly Becomes a Big Shot : Bulls: Lakers left guard alone in crunch time of Game 5, and he took advantage--scoring 10 points in the final four minutes.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There is something to be said for being considered the lesser of three Chicago Bull evils. Simply ask Bull guard John Paxson, who flourished as the forgotten scorer, the man the Lakers took their chances with.

When it mattered most--in the last four minutes of the fourth quarter--Paxson did what has long been considered the job of No. 1 Bull Michael Jordan, or even No. 2 Chicago threat Scottie Pippen.

He scored. A lot.

In those crucial four minutes, Paxson scored 10 points, enough to put an end to any thoughts of a Laker victory, enough to begin a Chicago victory celebration.

If there was a shot to be taken, Paxson took it. He was what the Lakers had hoped Byron Scott would be during the NBA finals: the great equalizer, the perimeter player every team needs.

“They made every big shot they had to make,” Magic Johnson said. He could have been referring just to Paxson.

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“It’s clearly a dream come true,” Paxson said.

Paxson’s 20 points in Wednesday’s fifth and deciding game were no accident. For most of the series, Paxson took advantage of the Laker strategy, which was to double-team Jordan or Pippen, leaving the off-guard open for jump shot opportunities.

No dummy, Paxson did the obvious: he simply shot away.

“We were trying to double Michael down the stretch and (Paxson) hit some big shots,” Laker guard Tony Smith said. “We really didn’t want to come off Paxson, but if it’s a choice between Michael on the free-throw line or Paxson out there, well, you go with Michael.”

Not even Paxson blamed the Laker coaches for placing him low on the priority list. With Jordan, you have the league’s premier offensive player. With Pippen, you have one of the NBA’s most athletic players. With Paxson, you have a jump shooter, supposedly capable of the same cold streaks that afflicted Scott.

Except in this series, there were few frosty moments for Paxson, who seemingly couldn’t miss. Wednesday night, he made nine of 12 shots, and his first two free throws of the series. He scored 15 points in Game 4, 10 in Game 3, 16 in Game 2 and what turned out to be an un-Paxson-like six in Game 1.

“Three or four years ago, we depended on Michael to pull games out for us down the stretch and that was unfair to him,” said Paxson, who was bathed in sweat and reeking of champagne. “That’s why it was satisfying for us to be able to win the championship as a team.”

Paxson said the Bulls’ accomplishment won’t hit him until today. When it does, he’ll savor the decisive fourth quarter, when the game was still in doubt.

With the score tied, 93-93, and just 3:54 remaining, Paxson hit a 19-foot jumper to give Chicago a lead it would never relinquish.

Then he hit another shot. And few minutes after that, another. And another. And another after that. Ten points in the time it took to say goodby to the Lakers.

“When I’m in my rhythm, I feel like I’m going to make them,” he said. “At the end of the game, I was able to find some openings, and my job is to shoot the open jumpers. Magic (Johnson) had to worry about Michael and Scottie, so that left me with some room. What they create makes my game a lot easier.”

And Laker chances a lot tougher.

One of the first people to visit Paxson in the champagne-drenched Bull locker room was his father, Jim.

They exchanged hugs and knowing looks. After all, Jim Paxson had seen his son do this sort of thing before.

“His team won the triple-A tournament when he was in high school,” he said. “He did it at Notre Dame a number of times. He’s the perfect complement to this team.”

But will he stay? Paxson will be a free agent and already has put his house up for sale. He said he wants stay in Chicago, but. . . .

“I’m not going to worry about it right now,” he said.

Paxson-ing a Punch

The five consecutive shots that Chicago Bull guard John Paxson made after the score was tied, 93-93, in Game 5 of the NBA finals.

Time Type of Shot Score 3:54 19-foot jumper Bulls, 95-93 3:29 18-foot jumper Bulls, 97-93 3:03 Driving layup Bulls, 99-93 1:58 Jumper, top of key Bulls, 103-96 0:56 18-foot jumper Bulls, 105-101


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