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The Unthinkabull

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Chicago Bulls’ sprint to the NBA championship turned into a marathon Friday night, complete with a new finish line.

Illinois.

Their second chance to win a fourth title in six years disappeared under the blanket of a Seattle defense that at times allowed Michael Jordan the appearance of superiority but nothing when it mattered most, the fourth quarter. Rather, with the game--and the season--on the line, the SuperSonics reached down for a signature move, a stifling showing against the league’s No. 1 offense and an 11-0 run that propelled them to an 89-78 victory before 17,072 at Key Arena.

“Well,” Bull Coach Phil Jackson said, “we got a series now.”

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Out of nowhere. The SuperSonics, once down 3-0 and 22-point losers at home in that Game 3, have recovered to make it 3-2 and send the series back to Chicago for Game 6 on Sunday. A deciding seventh, if necessary, would be Wednesday at the United Center.

Just getting this far is something of an accomplishment for the SuperSonics, a notion that didn’t escape their coach, George Karl. Not only in that they handed the Bulls their second two-game losing streak of the season--the first came Feb. 4-6, at Denver and Phoenix--but seemingly doing it as a matter of pride instead of tangible value considering no team has ever come back from a 0-3 deficit in any NBA playoff series.

The SuperSonics could have gone south. But today, they’re heading east.

“I think tonight’s game was the biggest test we’ve ever had as a basketball team, andwe’ve had a lot of them this season,” Karl said. “Our men showed up. It was a great privilege to be part of what went down out there.

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“I hope this team has shown it’s got some class. It takes a lot of courage to go back to Chicago, and I don’t think anybody doubted we could do it.”

Anybody on their payroll, at least.

Unlike Game 4, when the SuperSonics took control at the start and only had to turn back a couple of brief challenges along the way, Friday provided another fourth-quarter finish, just as Chicagoans got to enjoy in the first two contests. This time, it was 71-69, Seattle ahead, with eight minutes left. Jordan--having recently returned from a considerable rest that stretched from the end of the third period through the lengthy break and into the first 2:11 of the fourth--had already scored 26 points.

Then the SuperSonics threw a canvas on him, sometimes Gary Payton, sometimes Hersey Hawkins, sometimes three guys at once. No matter. The result was usually the same--Jordan disappearing into thin Air.

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In the Bulls’ next eight possessions after 71-69, Jordan managed only one shot, a straight-away three-pointer. It missed, like everything else in that stretch.

When Hawkins, his shadow on that bomb, released after the shot and got behind the Chicago defense, Payton found him streaking down court and delivered a long pass. Hawkins did the rest, completing the driving layup and the 11-0 charge.

Just like that, it was 82-69 with 4:21 remaining. Long live the SuperSonics, or at least for another couple of days.

“The last four timeouts, we were saying the same thing,” Karl noted. “ ‘You’ve got the defensive mentality to win it.’ ”

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Added Hawkins, who also had 21 points: “It’s very difficult to deny him [Jordan] the basketball, because they have so many options in the triangle set. I think we did a good job of [double-teaming] him quickly tonight and not letting him shoot the quick shot, so he had to pass the basketball and other guys had to make decisions.

“I think that works in your favor, whenever you’re playing the Bulls and you have someone else shooting the basketball instead of Michael.”

Friday, it worked in their favor.

Jordan, one for four in the final quarter, finished 11 of 22 and with the same 26 points he had with 9:10 left. And no one else really showed.

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Scottie Pippen made five of 20 shots. Toni Kukoc, back in the starting lineup at shooting guard for the tendinitis-plagued Ron Harper, was five for 13. Steve Kerr was only two for eight.

The Bulls made only three of 26 three-point shots and had missed 20 in a row at one point.

In all, the 10 other Bulls who played shot 37.2% and scored 52 points. The SuperSonics’ starting backcourt of Payton and Hawkins had 44 alone, and Shawn Kemp added 22 more, along with 10 rebounds.

The 78 points was the second-lowest total of the season for the Bulls, behind only the 72 they had March 10 at New York. It was also their worst offensive output in the finals . . . surpassing the 86 from Game 4.

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“We just didn’t hit shots, it’s as simple as that,” the Bulls’ Dennis Rodman said. “They hit shots and we should have capitalized on things they did wrong, but you know, that’s the way it goes.”

“A lot of people on this team have a lot of confidence, and it should have come earlier,” Payton said. “It might be a different story in the series.”

“They played with more desire than we did in the fourth quarter,” Jordan said. “Hopefully the home court will work in our favor, but by no means can we rely on that.”

* HOLD THE PARTY

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Chicago’s police enjoyed another quiet night of overtime. Mark Heisler’s column. C4

* NOTES

NBC’s Peter Vecsey was charged with fourth-degree assault in an attack on a man who reportedly called him “an idiot.” C4


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