How are your eardrums now, Phil?
Phil Jackson, upset at the noise at Game 3, wore earplugs for the fireworks before Game 4, but the Delta Center got louder after that and his Bulls’ predicament more precarious. By the end, when the Jazz snatched the game out of their jaws, Jackson must have wished for his plugs back and a blindfold, too.
Not to mention a way to forget.
“I’m pretty sure it’s going to play over and over tonight that I could have got that pass,” said Michael Jordan, of the one John Stockton completed over his head to Karl Malone for the decisive basket in Utah’s 78-73 victory.
So, as visions of a pass two inches lower wafted through Mike’s dreams, a question must have also: You don’t think we can . . . uh . . . lose this thing, do you?
The Bulls aren’t used to being challenged in the finals. They’ve trailed only once in five appearances, 1-0 to the Lakers in 1991, after which they won the next four games. They haven’t been tied since 1992, when they were 2-2 with the Blazers, won Game 5 in Portland and closed it out in six.
But now they’re older--yes, Jordan had another of those nights--and far from home, from the bright lights of the Loop, from even whatever passes for night life here, ensconced in their retreat in Park City, unable to find any peace even there.
On the Bulls’ first morning in town, a high school marching band came by at 6 a.m.
“I was already awake,” said Jackson. “It was 6 in the morning but that’s 7 in Chicago.”
It hasn’t been determined if this was an official act of harassment, but if it was, the high school can look forward to added funding from the district board and was a nice riposte to Jonathan Brandmeier, the Chicago sports talk host who has delighted in waking up Bulls opponents by telephoning their hotel rooms throughout the playoffs.
This series turned around soon thereafter, although let’s not give the high school that much credit. The Jazz has been far better in Utah and the Bulls have looked far older.
Despite Jordan’s stony denials that the altitude is bothering him, Jackson entertained the possibility taking him out earlier than usual in Game 3--a move that reportedly upset Jordan.
Jordan admitted to pacing himself and did it again Sunday. He had eight points in the first quarter, two in the second, none in the third. In the second and third quarters of Games 3 and 4, he had 12 points.
Of course, there’s always the fourth quarter. Having missed nine of his previous 10 shots, Jordan drove to the hoop early in the period and dunked, then made five of his next nine, giving him 12 of the Bulls’ 14 points and a 73-69 lead with 2:02 left.
Unfortunately for him and them, those were the last points he or they scored Sunday.
Afterward, a foreign reporter asked if Jordan has turned mortal after all these years.
Jordan, who knows better but likes to pretend he is Superman, winced but kept smiling.
“Mortal in the sense that we lost or mortal in the sense that I didn’t score 60 points?” he asked.
“I didn’t really score what you’re accustomed to seeing, my average of 31, 32, career average, whatever. I felt in the fourth quarter I was able to find a rhythm to play. I’m pretty sure you were happy when you were watching at that time because I was stroking it pretty good.”
Scottie Pippen, who was already mortal, turned more so. He was supposed to post up the smaller Jeff Hornacek to pay the Jazz back for putting the 6-8 Bryon Russell on Jordan but never got around to it.
“I don’t think it’s difficult, I’m not the player Michael Jordan is,” said Pippen later, in a frank admission of what they can expect from him. “I’m not looking to score 30 points.”
Nor did the old Dennis Rodman show up. His teammates bashed him for two days, trying to fire him up. Rodman vowed to come ready and characterized Mormons with an obscenity, as if trying to get the entire state to rise against him. The Bulls didn’t complain; they were willing to put up with an antic or two if Rodman could give them 20 rebounds.
Rodman got six in 25 minutes. Afterward, Pippen asked about Rodman, answered, “What do you want me to say?” By now, it’s obvious to the Bulls that what they’re seeing is all Rodman has.
Whew! The longer this dynasty thing goes, the harder it gets.
“We need to win,” said Jordan, “that’s pretty obvious. You know, very rarely have we been in a 2-2 situation. But also, we haven’t lost a finals either since I’ve been playing. This is crunch time.”