A questionable defensive decision in the final seconds led to getting pierced through the heart in the final second by Michael Jordan, a tough loss and a missed opportunity to beat the Chicago Bulls at home in the playoffs. But enough of the Utah Jazz’s fond memories.
Come Wednesday night, problems were mounting faster than the odds against the Western Conference champions, though not by much. They were dismantled by both the Bulls, 97-85, at the United Center in Game 2 of the NBA finals and their Coach Jerry Sloan, who then offered the most daunting news of all:
“They probably haven’t taken their best shot.”
They being the Bulls, who have a 2-0 advantage in the best-of-seven series without benefit of being in a groove. At least not collectively, since Jordan followed up his game-winner Sunday by going 11 of 20 from the field, 15 of 21 from the line and scoring 38 points to go with 13 rebounds and nine assists.
With every bit of rational saying it’s over--the Bulls lose four of the next five?--the Jazz insist it won’t give up now. Or at least, not anymore.
“I expected them [the Bulls] to come out and play harder than they did the other night, but I expected our guys to compete,” Sloan said, ripping his team better than the opposition. “We played the first half, [committed] seven or eight fouls. We were three for 12 inside on layups. And to me, that’s really not attacking anybody. If you don’t do that, then you don’t deserve to win.
“I’ve always been amazed how easy it is intimidate people in this business. And I thought we were intimidated right from the beginning of the game. If you allow yourself to be intimidated, it will destroy your will to win.
“I thought we were easily deflected and did not keep our noses in there and stay active. You are going to have to get your hands on the basketball, to screen a little bit more, and I still think you can foul people, rather than giving it to them, regardless of who they are.”
Meaning Jordan, and how the Jazz let him run unchecked for 45 minutes, doing enough damage to compensate for no other Bull scoring more than the 13 points of Ron Harper, no other Bull grabbing more than the seven rebounds of Dennis Rodman, no other Bull passing off for more than the four assists of Harper and Scottie Pippen.
“To me,” Karl Malone said after missing 14 of 20 shots from the field, “it was embarrassing.”
Individually and collectively.
“It was embarrassing the way I played, and I’ll try to correct that,” he said. “I’ll be the first to admit that.”
Just not the only Jazz going for the mea culpa. John Stockton, after tying his playoff career high in Game 1 by committing seven turnovers, was four of 12 shooting this time, with four more turnovers against seven assists. Bryon Russell was four of 10.
In all, Utah’s starters shot 19 of 52 (36.5%). The work of the reserves brought that up to 40.3% overall.
Of course, there was plenty of opportunities for the reserves--26 minutes for Shandon Anderson, 17 for Adam Keefe--the way the opening unit was going. As in, needing nearly 4 1/2 minutes for the first field goal, falling behind by 10 points in the first quarter and then 16 in the second. The halftime deficit was 47-31, tying the Jazz for the second-worst offensive output in finals history, one better than the Houston Rockets managed against the Boston Celtics on May 9, 1981.
The biggest concern at this stage was Pippen blocking Russell’s shot from behind on the first possession of the game and re-injuring his sore left foot. He managed 39 minutes, but the concern lasted even longer.
“I just had a bad landing,” Pippen said. “And it pretty much took me out of my game, had me frustrated.”
Meanwhile, with 2:02 left, the deficit was down to 11. When Hornacek made a three-point shot with 1:34 showing, Utah was within 93-85.
It didn’t have a complete recovery, though because that proved to be the final Jazz basket. The Bulls could have gone tamely into the night, but instead, after Jordan’s free throw with 1:11 remaining, got a three-point basket from Rodman with 8.7 seconds left.
Jordan was at first credited with an assist, which would have meant his first finals triple-double, then had it removed. So much for the Bulls’ losses.
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