INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- It's the same, old story in the 1991 NBA Finals.
The Chicago Bulls are simply too young, too quick, too athletic and too good for the Los Angeles Lakers, who find themselves on the brink of elimination after they took a 97-82 pounding at The Forum last night.
This third straight victory gave the Bulls a chance to end the series and clinch their first title here Wednesday night. No team in NBA championship history has recovered from a 3-1 deficit.
The pre-game focus was on how Bulls superstar Michael Jordan would respond after he jammed his big toe in Friday night's overtime victory. Jordan was fine, scoring a game-high 28 points and picking up 14 assists.
But it was the Lakers, under extreme pressure from the Bulls' trapping defense, who were showing signs of falling apart, mentally and physically.
Forward James Worthy left in the third quarter with a sprained ankle. Guard Byron Scott exited late in the fourth quarter with a jammed right shoulder. But, more than anything, the Lakers were suffering from bruised egos, getting beat by the Bulls in every phase of the game.
Only Magic Johnson (22 points, 11 assists) and center Vlade Divac (27 points, 11 rebounds) had any success solving the Bulls defense. Opening-game hero Sam Perkins struggled, scoring three points on 1-for-15 shooting.
Jordan, on the other hand, got tremendous help, with the Bulls' four other starters all scoring in double figures.
The Lakers hardly sounded like a team ready to face the long odds of chasing down the Bulls. Even generally upbeat Johnson voiced skepticism.
"We're frustrated and dejected," the Lakers captain said. "We anticipated a great series. We sure didn't anticipate them dominating us like they have.
"It's one thing to say we're not doing anything. But it's another thing to say we're getting beat. They're just playing better, and this one was an old-fashioned butt-kicking."
L Johnson got little argument from Lakers coach Mike Dunleavy.
"We're in a ditch, not a hole," Dunleavy said without smiling. "We played hurt, with both Worthy and Scott injured. But it didn't really matter. They're smart and athletic and playing extremely well. We got close in the fourth quarter [78-71 with 7 minutes left], and then we hit a wall."
All of Chicago's playoff opponents have run into that same wall, with the Bulls on a record-setting pace in limiting rivals to 91.7 points per game.
In winning the opener in Chicago last Sunday on Perkins' three-point shot, the Lakers were able to dictate the strategy and tempo by employing a slow-down, post-up game.
But, by Game 2, the Bulls had adjusted, forcing the Lakers farther and farther from the basket until last night, save for Divac's power moves, they were restricted to shooting from the perimeter.
The Lakers shot 37 percent from the field compared with 53 percent by the Bulls last night, but that came as no surprise to Johnson.
"They're taking the ball to the hole and getting 2-foot shots, while we're out on the perimeter shooting jumpers," Johnson said.
It got especially frustrating for Johnson in the third quarter, when the Bulls outscored the Lakers, 22-14, to build a 74-58 advantage.
"I'd drive to the hoop to draw an extra defender and kick it out to the corner to an open shooter [usually Perkins]," Johnson said. "But nothing went down. I heard myself saying, 'Hey, hit one shot, somebody.' "
But even when the Lakers, led by Johnson and Divac, made a final charge at the start of the fourth quarter to trim the deficit to 78-71 with 7 minutes left, the Bulls never lost their poise.
And it was not Jordan who took over the offense in crunch time, but rather John Paxson, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant who kept the Lakers at bay by repeatedly hitting pressure shots.
"They're not a one-man team by any means," Johnson said. "Sure, Michael has stepped up his game to an even higher level. But so has Paxson, Grant and even [center] Bill Cartwright. They're all playing big-time."
Jordan, who missed practice Saturday while nursing his sore toe, got rolling after changing shoes in the first quarter.
"The toe feels good. That's what winning does," he said with a smile. "It took me awhile to get loose, but once I got into a rhythm, I forgot about the injury."
But Jordan was hardly the only problem for the Lakers last night. His fellow starters combined for 55 points on 24-for-47 shooting. Paxson, benefiting most from the Lakers' double-teaming of Jordan, made 7 of 11 shots from the field.
"When you look at the stat sheet and see all of our starters getting involved, scoring in double figures and taking 10 or more shots, you know things are really clicking for us," Paxson said. "We know Michael will always get his points, but when the rest of us step up, it's almost impossible to stop us."
As Johnson said: "The Bulls have someone no one else has in Michael Jordan. But when their other guys are going great, you can't beat them. Right now, I've got to tip my hat to Michael and the Bulls."
But the Chicago Bulls don't want Johnson's hat. They want their first championship.
"Yeah, I want to go back to Chicago; that's my home," Jordan said. "But first, we've got some unfinished business here."
Game 1: Lakers 93, Bulls 91
Game 2: Bulls 107, Lakers 86
Game 3: Bulls 104, Lakers 96, OT
Game 4: Bulls 97, Lakers 82
Wed.: at L.A., 9 p.m., Chs. 2, 4
Friday: at Chi., 9 p.m.*, Chs. 2, 4
Sunday: at Chi., 7 p.m.*, Chs. 2, 4
* -- if necessary.