Bulls Are Keeping It All in Family
Bulls will be Bulls.
Veterans at this in-fighting thing, they practically had to be reminded Thursday about occasionally being at odds the night before in Utah’s 88-85 victory. They barely paused to consider the latest events or what they could mean for the long term and probably were more disappointed that they couldn’t somehow pin this one on Jerry Krause.
Coach Phil Jackson dinged Dennis Rodman. Jackson took a shot at a shot by Scottie Pippen. Starter Ron Harper sat for the entire fourth quarter and overtime, as the opener of the NBA finals was being decided. But he went with the party line before practice Thursday, at least after being told by reporters that the party line had him not being aggressive enough on offense.
The good thing around Chicagoland is that this hardly registers on any storm watch and probably passed before practice, meaning the Bulls will play on without breaking stride, united for Game 2 tonight at the Delta Center against the real enemies, the Utah Jazz and their own front office.
“We are a very relaxed basketball team,” Harper said, sounding believable.
Such are the benefits of having endured far greater strains through the years. This was nothing in the grand scheme, but still noteworthy because it came in the championship series and in a close loss, at what could be the end of the line, leaving one final impression of the soap opera before it’s great run ends in the name of free agency.
“Y’all are making something out of nothing,” Harper insisted.
Or at least something out of a little.
“That’s just finals pressure and making a couple of bonehead plays and guys getting on each other,” said Steve Kerr, who got Harper’s minutes down the stretch. “It’s not like we’re not going to never ever argue with each other. But I think we also know it’s very rare.
“We were just frustrated with the way things went. We gave away a great opportunity, so if you saw a little bickering out there, I don’t think it’s anything to be concerned about.”
The apparent bickering that got the most attention probably was nothing. TV cameras captured Michael Jordan shouting at Pippen after Pippen did not throw the ball inside to Jordan posting up Jeff Hornacek and instead went for the 24-footer that tied the score with 2:36 remaining. They said the volume and demonstrative conversation was merely to counter the noise in the arena.
No problem. The real deal was only 33 seconds away, after Rodman had made a huge defensive play by blocking a layup by Karl Malone. Pippen quickly went for another three-point shot, but this time it bounced off the heel, setting the stage for Malone to finally find his rhythm by making two in a row from the perimeter at the other end.
It couldn’t help but look as if Pippen was pushing it.
“Yeah, he was,” Jackson said, “You like to see the intensity of a player that feels that confident about a shot that he’s willing to step up and take that shot again, but we had just executed something I thought was very good [Jordan’s back-to-back jumpers just before the successful three-pointer]. And with the score tied at that time, I thought Scottie could have used better judgment. But I liked the moxie that he showed.”
Said Pippen: “I just got caught up in the game. If it goes, it’s a good shot.”
Unlike one early in the fourth quarter by Rodman, when Jackson would have preferred to see him as a passer and instead got a bad miss as the Bulls were trying to erase an eight-point lead. Another time, Rodman did not properly rotate on a defensive assignment, prompting a timeout.
“Not angry,” Jackson said. “I did not so much rebuke him. . . . It was just to say to him, ‘Get on base with the rest of us, we’re all on the same page.’ ”
This is the first time the Bulls have trailed in a playoff series since after the opener of the 1995 Eastern Conference semifinals against Orlando and the first time it has happened in the championship series since Sam Perkins’ three-point basket gave the Lakers a Game 1 victory in 1991 at Chicago Stadium, but it’s not quite the death knell. Around this kingdom, it’s more like another day.