Threeturn Engagement This Time It's Scottie, Not Michael

Posted: June 05, 1993

CHICAGO — Michael Jordan actually appeared mortal, or at least a little winded, for one of the few times in his brilliant career.

True, he did finish with 25 points, but His Airness failed to record a field goal in the final 22 minutes.

So instead, all eyes last night were on Chicago's talented, but oft- maligned forward Scottie Pippen.

Pippen, long hidden behind Jordan's enormous shadow, scored 16 of his 24 points in the second half and broke New York's heart in the fourth quarter as the Bulls went on to defeat New York, 96-88, and advance to the NBA finals for the third consecutive year.

Pippen appeared exhausted after this marathon, but he had proven his point. He belongs in the pantheon of the NBA's top players.

"Do you think you've finally arrived?" a reporter asked.

"I don't know," he said. "What do you think? I have two rings. I think I arrived two years ago.

"Damn the critics."

The championship series is scheduled to begin Wednesday, and the Bulls will play the winner of today's seventh and deciding game in the Western Conference finals between Phoenix and Seattle.

"We don't know who we'll be facing," Pippen said. "But hopefully, they have to go four or five overtimes and wind up really tired."

Bulls coach Phil Jackson found it tough to summon words to describe Pippen's performance, particularly in the second half.

"Is there anything else to be said?" Jackson asked. "He had a great series. He was unjustly labeled as somewhat of a pussyfooter out there. But he came back, as he did today.

"He really stepped up in the second half after a dismal, powderpuff performance on boards in the first half."

Pippen had a pair of enormous shots in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter that solidified the Bulls' victory. He stuck a 22-foot jumper to give the Bulls an 85-80 lead with 3 minutes, 34 seconds remaining. Then, after Knicks center Patrick Ewing made it 87-82 with a 10-footer, Pippen came back an drilled a three-point jumper on the next possession just before the shot clock expired.

The Knicks will be forever haunted by the sight of Pippen flashing the No. 1 sign he ran upcourt after the lead expanded to eight.

"Scottie was simply an All-Star," Knicks coach Pat Riley said. "He played as well as I've ever seen him play. I think you all motivated him very well."

In New York, the media called him soft, inconsistent, and claimed he would not hold up against a phyiscal opponent.

But Pippen survived, even flourished, under the microscope. He scored 29 points in Game 3, had 28 in Game 5, and played a huge role as the Bulls stormed back from a 2-0 deficit to sweep the next four games.

"I think Scottie was the key to the whole series," a dejected Ewing said. ''We didn't stop him. When we shut him down, we were able to win both games in New York. But we weren't able to shut him down the rest of the way."

Ewing played with the ferocity of a lion, scoring 26 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. But he walked away disappointed.

"This is very tough," Ewing said. "I'm very disappointed. I thought this was my year to win a championship. We had it in the palm of our hands and we let it slip away."

The Knicks put forth a courageous effort in defeat. They outrebounded the Bulls, 42-26, and 16-7 on offensive boards. More impressive, they shut out Jordan from the field in the fourth quarter.

And still came up short.

"We were so committed," Riley said. "There wasn't one player on the team who didn't think couldn't win a world championship. But every game was a fight. The last four games, I don't think we were ever ahead more than four- five minutes.

"I think our team played as hard as they could tonight. We didn't play well, but we made the effort."

New York arrived at Chicago Stadium about 6:55 p.m. (Central time) for the 8 p.m. tipoff and kept the locker room closed to the media. NBA rules call for the locker rooms to be open to the media until 45 minutes before the game and the Knicks will be fined for failure to make players available. The amount of the fine will be announced in the next day or two.

Not that Pat Riley or his team cared.

The Knicks had to fight off a hostile crowd that was preparing for the kill. This game was so big that it even attracted Madonna, who found her way to a front row seat opposite the scorer's table.

If she had come to see Jordan, she may have been disappointed. Jordan shot just 8-for-24 and appeared fatigued down the stretch.

Jordan has been under enormous strain lately, fighting off reports that he lost $1.25 million in high-stakes wagering on the golf course. Jordan refused to meet with the media again after the game and no one knows how he will deal with nagging questions about sports gambling that should dog him as he prepares for the finals.

"I'm not concerned," Jackson said. "This will pass."

Jackson can finally exhale. The Bulls got 11 points and 11 rebounds from Horace Grant and played strong enough halfcourt defense to survive a major test against a feisty team. It got as close as 83-80, when Knicks forward Charles Smith stuck an 18-footer with 4:38 remaining.

"We never let them gain full control of momentum," Pippen said. "We never let the game reach a point where we had to just give Michael the ball."

The Bulls can enjoy this one for a day, at least. They can relax and watch TV this afternoon while the Suns and Sonics do battle.

"This year was much sweeter than last," Grant said. "Coming into this series, we were supposed to be the underdog. But our defense came up big when it had do."

"We were beaten by a great team" Riley said. "I don't see any team beating them."

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