NBA FINALS : Jordan, Doing 55, Passes Suns : Game 4: But it takes his three-point play in final minute to put away Phoenix, 111-105, as Chicago takes a 3-1 lead.
This time, there were bullets in the chamber.
One game after missing nine of his last 27 shots in an eventual triple-overtime defeat, Michael Jordan reloaded Wednesday and worked over the Phoenix Suns, scoring 55 points to carry the Chicago Bulls to a 111-105 victory and a 3-1 advantage in the NBA finals.
It is probably a lead more convincing than Jordan’s performance, seeing as no team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the history of the championship series. Game 5--and the Bulls’ chance for a third consecutive title--is at Chicago Stadium Friday night.
In scoring nearly half of his team’s points, Jordan tied Rick Barry for the second-highest output in finals history, trailing only the 61 by Elgin Baylor against Boston in 1962. Jordan also raised his scoring average in this championship series to 43, on pace to break Barry’s 40.8 as a San Francisco Warrior in 1967.
“I kind of fell into it,” Jordan said. “I didn’t sense I was taking over the ballgame. I was just penetrating, getting easy baskets. I felt I was able to capitalize on the defense. The next thing I knew, I was into a rhythm and more or less carrying the team.
“Many times in a big game, I try to do too much, get involved in too much hype, get out of my rhythm. This time, I tried to carry the load for the team, go to the basket more. When we needed a big basket, I scored a big basket. That’s my role for this team. . . . Whatever it takes to get us over the hump.”
Said Sun Coach Paul Westphal: “He inflicted his will on us.”
It still almost wasn’t enough. Jordan got point No. 50--the Bulls had 100--by capping a three-point play with a free throw with 4:07 to go. When B.J. Armstrong made a baseline jumper the next possession, Chicago had an eight-point lead with 3 1/2 minutes left.
The Suns soon had that down to two, 106-104, after Charles Barkley finished his 32-point, 12-rebound, 10-assist triple-double with a layup with 1:01 remaining. The Bulls called time out, but any notion of regrouping disappeared in as much time as it took Barkley to intercept Scottie Pippen’s bad pass.
The first run at the tie ended when Pippen stripped Dan Majerle and knocked the ball out of bounds. The Suns called time and set up again. With about 31 seconds left, Danny Ainge threw the ball in to Kevin Johnson, at which point Johnson’s disastrous series turned worse. He lost the ball almost instantly.
Armstrong grabbed it. The Suns were done, at least for Game 4.
“Danny Ainge threw a good pass that was a little bit behind me,” said Johnson, who had 19 points, but on seven-of-16 shooting while getting only four assists against three turnovers. “The ball slipped out of my hands. There was no real profound reason it happened.”
The result was the exclamation point: Jordan going straight down the lane for a layup, getting fouled and connecting from the line for a 109-104 cushion with 13.3 seconds left. When Phoenix called time out after the free throw, Barkley grabbed the ball and threw it against the padded basket support.
The first half was a reminder Westphal had it right when, asked why the change in Game 3 to have undersized Johnson defend Jordan, said: “Nobody can guard him.” The Suns tried three people--Johnson, Richard Dumas, their most athletic player, and Majerle, their best defender--and watched as Jordan had a game in two quarters.
Averaging 33.6 points per playoff outing after 32.6 in the regular season, Jordan was awesome in collecting 33 the first half, leaving scorch marks all over Phoenix’s three chasers. Jordan had the Bulls’ first 16 points of the second quarter and, in one stretch that went back to the opening quarter, scored 20 of his team’s 22.
“We just put different guys on him,” Westphal said. “Richard did as well as anybody. Nobody can guard the guy. We just wanted to make him work for his shots.”
Jordan went out with 2:35 left in the second quarter for a breather and the Bulls up, 52-45. When the Suns got back within 55-53, Jordan returned for the final 1:20 of the half. Six seconds later, he hit a 16-footer from the right side. The next time, he blew past Majerle on the left side and charged down the lane for a one-hand slam. Two possessions later, he connected from the 19 feet out, the last of his 22-second-quarter points on nine-of-12 shooting.
That turned out to be the worst of the storm, Jordan slowing down for only 22 points the second half.
“Michael was not bad tonight,” Westphal said. “We’re going to see if he can do it again. He probably can. But we’re going to try and make him try to do it one more time.”
This was the first home victory in the best-of-seven finals and only the sixth victory for the home team in the last 22 games in the championship series. It is also the first time the home team has won in the six games this season between the Bulls and Suns. . . . Phoenix has failed to shoot 50% during the finals. The Suns’ 48.1% marked the eighth consecutive time Chicago has held its opponent to less than 50%. . . . The 33 points by Michael Jordan were two shy of the finals record for scoring in a half. Jordan scored 35 last season against Portland.
Jordan’s Big Games
MICHAEL JORDAN’S TOP PLAYOFF SCORING PERFORMANCES:
Points Date Opponent Result 63 April 20, 1986 At Boston Celtics 135, Bulls 131 (2 OT) 56 April 30, 1992 At Miami Bulls 119, Heat 114 55 June 16, 1993 Phoenix Bulls 111, Suns 105 55 May 1, 1988 Cleveland Bulls 106, Cavaliers 101 54 May 31, 1993 New York Bulls 105, Knicks 95 50 April 28, 1988 Cleveland Bulls 104, Cavaliers 93 50 May 5, 1989 Cleveland Cavaliers 108, Bulls 105 (OT)
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