PHILADELPHIA -- After losing the first two games of their Eastern Division semifinal playoff series to the Chicago Bulls, the Philadelphia 76ers vowed to push the National Basketball Association's hottest team to the brink.
The Sixers did just that last night at the sold-out Spectrum. Seemingly headed for a 3-0 deficit -- and the brink of elimination -- Philadelphia finds itself back in the hunt, trailing two games to one after a dramatic 99-97 victory.
A three-point shot by Hersey Hawkins with a little over 10 seconds left gave Philadelphia a 98-97 lead.
After a missed 18-footer by Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley was fouled on the rebound and made one of two free throws with 1.5 seconds left. Hawkins led the Sixers with 29 points, 24 in second half, and Armon Gilliam had 25.
"To be honest, I didn't have to watch the game to know they were coming for the kill," said Philadelphia coach Jim Lynam. "Last year, we tapped out in Game 3 after they made a monster run and we hung on. I think we flipped the tables. I think the emotion is on our side."
It was the first defeat in the playoffs for the Bulls after five straight victories, and, strangely, it was Michael Jordan who opened the door for the Sixers. Though he scored a game-high 46, tying a team season high, Jordan missed two crucial free throws down the stretch.
Bothered by some tendinitis in his left knee, Jordan missed the first of two free throws with 14.9 seconds to go. After he hit the second, Chicago led, 97-95. Earlier, with 1 minute, 22 seconds remaining, Jordan failed to convert a four-point play that would -- have given the Bulls a commanding four-point lead.
"It wasn't a Michael-like situation," said Chicago coach Phil Jackson, whose team was outshot, 40-19, at the free-throw line. "He was suffering at the end and he couldn't use his legs on his free throws. We paid for it dearly."
Said Jordan, "I was trying to focus, but I couldn't get away from the pain."
For most of the night, Jordan was merely a pain for Philadelphia. But with Jordan limping, and Pippen (22 points, 13 rebounds) in foul trouble, the Sixers erased a 10-point third-quarter deficit and stormed back behind Hawkins.
After six lead changes in a little over six minutes left Chicago with a 93-92 deficit, Jordan put the Bulls back in the lead and seemingly in control with a drive over Manute Bol, who fouled him on the play and was ejected from the game for arguing with referee Hue Hollins.
"We should have put them away earlier, and definitely then," said Pippen. "We lost our poise, and we didn't take care of the ball."
Philadelphia pulled to within 96-95 on an 17-footer by backup point guard Andre Turner with 43.2 seconds left. With the 24-second clock running out, Pippen's forced 20-footer missed, but Chicago controlled the boards and Jordan was fouled with 14.9 seconds left.
After Jordan made the second of two free throws, for a 97-95 lead, a succession of timeouts eventually led to Hawkins. The third-year guard from Bradley, who had hit three of his first five three-point attempts last night, calmly hit another one from the right side. He was left open when Jordan tried to help double-team Barkley.