Rest of Bulls show up, throw a cast party

MIKE LITTWIN

June 06, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

CHICAGO -- Michael Jordan, and America, discovered the Chicago Bulls last night.

Basketball is not a shoe commercial. It's not one guy dunking through a voice-over. No, it's a lot of guys dunking. It's the roar of the crowd as a John Paxson shot comes flying from the corner -- the roar goes up, and the shot goes down.

Of course, it was Jordan who broke the game open. It was Jordan making the unlikely look almost ordinary, playing the game over everyone else's head -- heck, even over his own head -- making 13 often incredible shots in a row. This was not your routine exhibition. This was an epiphany. I kept looking for the heavens to part.

I know the earth moved, or at least the earth under Chicago Stadium, which rocks like no place you've ever been. The fans here turn the volume up to 11. In the second half, when the Bulls broke the game open and Jordan scaled the heights, the place went completely nuts. For Jordan, none of the adjectives, starting with incomparable, begins to work.

I've got to tell you about one shot: Jordan driving the lane, ball in his right hand, looking as if he were going for the dunk, except he shifts in midair to the left hand and scoops the ball off the glass. You'll see it on highlights for only about a hundred years, and he did it -- bless him -- just to show off. This was basketball. This was art.

But the real beauty of this game was that it wasn't only Jordan. It was Paxson, who hit all eight of his field-goal attempts. It was Horace Grant, who had 10 in the first quarter -- four more than he had scored in all of Game 1. It was even Bill Cartwright. Jordan got everyone going, and then he took over. That's how you get a 107-86 blowout.

In the first quarter, Jordan took only two shots. Honest to gosh.

"I thought Michael set the tone in that first quarter, and Paxson was on fire," Magic Johnson said. "They did what they had to do. They got the crowd involved, and, after that, it was just their game.

"Michael can do the unbelievable, and he smelled the win."

We know all about Michael, but here's one more thing, this from his coach, Phil Jackson: "Michael is a challenge type of guy. He's not the type who's going to go over and commiserate and put an arm around someone's shoulder. He's going to say, 'Step up, chump, and make some shots.' "

So, let me introduce you to some of the chumps, in case you missed them in Game 1. They were the ones that Jordan said were nervous. Maybe they were. No team since the '77 Portland Trail Blazers has won an NBA championship its first year in the finals.

But no one, not even Jordan, was going to win without them.

We can begin with Horace Grant, who usually goes by the-much-improved Horace Grant. He's the power forward whose presence made possible the Bulls' emergence as legitimate contenders.

By the first quarter, he had already scored 10 points, which is four more than he scored in the entire first game. He had 14 at the half, hitting on seven of nine shots, many of them power dunks. It was clear early that the bigger, but slower, Lakers weren't going to overpower the Bulls this time around.

"I need to score more," Grant had said.

Well, yes. He needed to. And so did Bill Cartwright, the veteran center, who had eight in the quarter.

And then there's John Paxson. Remember John Paxson? He's the, uh, shooting guard, who hit 55 percent of his shots in the regular season. And when he knocked in the shots last night, all from long range, the game looked remarkably easy.

You spread the ball around, everyone gets in the flow, everyone does his job and you win games, particularly when you shoot 61.7 percent. In the first game, Jordan outscored the other four starters, 37-36. This time they got him, 68-33.

The Bulls won 61 games in the regular season and 11 more in the playoffs playing that way before running afoul of the Lakers in Game 1.

But this time, the Bulls were the Bulls. The defense stepped up, starting with Grant and Scottie Pippen, who guarded Johnson for much of the game. Everything worked. And everyone worked. That was the key -- that everyone had to be involved.

Before the game, Jordan didn't seem as sure of the message or of, as he likes to call them, his supporting cast.

"You get them started first," Jordan said of his teammates. "You come out and see if they get over their nervous period and get themselves involved in the offense. This is something they've got to want to do.

"I'll be glad to pass them the ball, but they've still got to take the shot. I can't take the shot for them."

He did often set the shot up for them, however. In the first quarter, Jordan made like, say, John Stockton. Or maybe it was Earvin Johnson. He passed up open shots, looking for Grant underneath. He'd work to get double-teamed and then fire the ball over to an open Paxson.

But Jackson also likes Jordan to be Jordan.

"I had to find a way to get him more involved in the scoring," Jackson said.

That really isn't much of a problem. It's like trying to persuade Madonna to pose.

"We just reverted back to what we've been doing," Jordan said.

And so, the series is tied at one, as they go back to Los Angeles for three games. And the beauty of it is that after two games of a final that everyone had thought might be great, there is no way possible to tell what's going to happen next.

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