Scottie, come home.
See if this sounds familiar: Knicks win two games, come here, stand idly around while Bulls’ star extracts himself from latest controversy, lose two games, go home unhappy.
It happened a year ago around Michael Jordan’s jaunt to Atlantic City and it happened again Sunday when Pippen, pilloried after pulling himself out of Friday’s game, returned to score 25 points with eight rebounds and six assists, leading Chicago to a 95-83 victory, tying the series, 2-2.
Pippen got a few boos upon introduction but was cheered wildly thereafter. As long as he helps beat New York, Bull fans will forgive him mutiny, getting caught with a gun in his car or even kicking the lantern over in Mrs. O’Leary’s shed.
“This team has many lives,” Bull Coach Phil Jackson said. “Sometimes you grow closer out of the things that happen to ball clubs and individuals, to bring them together even closer.
“Tension brings weird experiences to people.”
Said Knick Coach Pat Riley: “The perception of other people was it was hectic. For them, it could be normal.
“There’s been a lot of things happen to this team over the years and they’ve continued to win.”
Pippen left the locker room before reporters were admitted, yet another return to normalcy for the Bulls. A year ago, Jordan began a boycott of the media after reports of his gambling junket.
Pippen’s buddy, Horace Grant also left.
The other Bulls, still working on their togetherness, said it had been a game like any other.
“I think you all were the only ones worried,” guard Pete Myers told reporters. “You all did all the writing. This is a team. We have responsibilities like a family. I had no doubt Scottie was going to come out and play well.”
Said guard Steve Kerr: “He got introduced, the crowd goes nuts. All of a sudden, it’s Game 4. . . . I don’t think anybody on the bench mentioned it.”
Maybe they were tired of the subject. As late as Saturday afternoon, Jackson told ESPN, “Scottie was muddled. He thought he was the team.”
Also, the Bulls had more to worry about than their embattled star, such as the fast-approaching end of their season.
Down, 2-1, in the series, they saw the Knicks take a 12-0 lead with Riley’s new lineup.
Tired of playing catch-up, he took punchless Anthony Bonner and slumping Hubert Davis out of the starting lineup and put John Starks and Charles Smith back in. With Greg Anthony replacing the suspended Derek Harper, the Knicks were back to their lineup before Riley’s March shakeup, when he ended a slump by taking them on an impromptu gambling excursion to Reno. Desperate for scoring all season, Riley is running out of ideas and recycling old ones.
Starks scored on a driving layup off the opening tip. Smith made a 17-footer on the second possession. Pippen’s first shot, from 18 feet, missed badly. The Knicks scored 12 points; the Bulls missed six shots.
They had come back to trail, 16-8, when Pippen picked up his second foul and was replaced by his former arch-rival, Toni Kukoc.
The Bulls kept surging. Kukoc, running with the offense as deftly as Pippen, had five assists by halftime. The Bulls had the lead by the end of the first quarter and led, 53-41, by halftime.
It was 66-47 early in the third quarter and 79-65 going into the fourth. For the first time in the series, the Knicks couldn’t mount a closing rally and Riley went home to re-draft the game plan.
“We have to gather our forces and take a good, hard look at our defense and what they’re doing to our offense,” Riley said. “They totally flattened us out.”
Said Patrick Ewing: “We lost. We went south. . . . I’m disappointed we lost this game. This series should be over by now.”
Who should have won by now is a matter of perspective.
In a series in which the Bulls are supposed to be underdogs, they have led going into every fourth quarter--by an average of 11 points.
They have had leads of 15, eight, 22 and 19 points in the third quarters.
The Knicks’ only successful technique for stopping them has been to wear them down physically and try to get them to wilt.
The Knicks still have their home-court advantage, but they will play one more game without Harper. Sunday, Anthony played 42 minutes, shot two for 13 and committed four turnovers.
It was late in last spring’s Game 5 that New York’s Smith saw four of his layups blocked, turning the series in Chicago’s favor. History can’t keep repeating itself, but he had better be ready.