Bulls’ Title Run Will Continue
This was not the expiration date for the Chicago Bulls. Their dynasty has survived to see another series.
The Bulls made it back to the NBA Finals on Sunday night and kept alive their quest for a sixth championship by outlasting the Indiana Pacers 88-83 in a riveting Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
In a tight, back-and-forth game that culminated two weeks of struggle and drama, the Bulls used their ability to excel in pressure situations to overcome the Pacers’ determination and grit.
It all came down to the final five minutes, and Michael Jordan and his teammates displayed intensity and control as they came up with all the clutch plays.
The Bulls scored nine of the game’s final 13 points and watched the Pacers fail to find ways to match them as they moved on to a date with the Utah Jazz beginning Wednesday night.
Chicago will be playing for its sixth championship this decade, and perhaps to somehow keep their dynasty intact -- quite an accomplishment for a team that was greeted on its home court Sunday by a mood of desperation and finality.
In this city where fans have become spoiled by the routineness of titles and the greatness of Jordan, there was a strange feeling surrounding this game.
Could this really be the end of the run, the “Last Dance” as coach Phil Jackson keeps calling it?
It might have been, if not for the way Chicago played at the end.
The game was tied 79-79 going into the final five minutes, and that’s when the Bulls showed exactly how valuable five years of championship run experience can be.
Scottie Pippen scored on a jumper after grabbing one of Chicago’s 22 offensive rebounds, and Jordan drew a double-team and fed Luc Longley for a corner jumper while the Pacers were committing three turnovers and missing a shot.
A putback by Antonio Davis made it 85-83 with 2:12 left, but Pippen came right back with a running hook shot with 1:59 left -- although he missed a chance to convert a three-point play.
Mark Jackson threw away a pass on Indiana’s next possession -- one of 13 miscues by the Pacers. The Bulls would miss their next two shots, running the clock inside of 30 seconds as they retained possession with another offensive rebound.
Still trailing by four, Derrick McKey took the first open shot presented to the Pacers and missed a wide-open jumper. Jordan rebounded, the Pacers fouled Ron Harper and his free throw with 8.9 seconds left completed the scoring.
Jordan, who struggled mightily with his shooting accuracy at times, still finished with 28 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and two steals.
Toni Kukoc contributed 21 points, including 13 in the third quarter when no one else was producing, and Pippen had 17 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and two steals.