NEW YORK -- With four minutes left in the first half and his team leading the New York Knicks by nine, Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan broke loose at midcourt and went airborne near the foul line for one of his patented slam-dunks.
But this time, Air Jordan flew a trifle too high and came down too hard. The ball slammed off the back rim, and the Madison Square Garden capacity crowd of 19,763 began flashing derogatory signs that read, "Michael, It Ain't The Shoes," and "Eat Your Wheaties!"
The Knicks took advantage of Jordan's rare miscue to cut the halftime deficit to one.
Now fast forward to the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter. Jordan finds a small crack in the lane and takes off again. Xavier McDaniel and Patrick Ewing rise to challenge him, but Jordan soars over them to slam the ball home and also draws a foul.
The three-point play stretched the Bulls' lead to 10 and the Knicks never threatened again in losing both the game, 94-86, and the home-court advantage in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Chicago leads the best-of-seven series, 2-1, with Game 4 tonight.
"That was just an inspirational play," Jordan said of his timely slam that cost him a bloody nose. "Hopefully, it inspired my teammates to finish the job."
Oddly, that was Jordan's only field goal in the last quarter. But he scored 12 of his game-high 32 points in the first quarter to jump-start the Bulls to a 32-23 lead.
And this time Jordan got a major assist from Scottie Pippen, who bounced back from a six-point effort in Game 2 to contribute 26 points.
Pippen, who has been bothered by an ankle sprain, made a pair of three-point shots in the fourth quarter to stifle the Knicks' comeback.
New York, which had won Game 1 in Chicago, again relied chiefly on the shooting and rebounding of All-NBA center Patrick Ewing, who finished with 27 points and 11 rebounds.
In fact, Ewing accounted for 15 of his team's 19 points in one second-half stretch while the Bulls out-hustled the Knicks to gain control of the game.
"Obviously, this game was determined in the second half by their superior rebounding and beating us to all the loose balls," said Knicks coach Pat Riley. "And you compound that with us missing half of our free throws [11-for-22]. We played hard as usual, but we didn't finish the job in pursuing the ball."
The defending champion Bulls grew more aggressive after a halftime tirade by coach Phil Jackson.
"We were embarrassed by what happened to us in the second quarter when the Knicks grabbed the momentum," said Jackson. "Charles Oakley was knocking our big guys all around and getting all these put-backs on the offensive glass. We were hanging on for dear life."
But forward Horace Grant (13 rebounds) joined Jordan and backup center Will Perdue in gaining control of the boards in the third quarter when the Knicks were held to just 14 points on 6-for-17 shooting.
New York used a three-pointer by John Starks to gain a 61-61 tie, but the Bulls, led by Pippen, went on a 17-7 tear to gain command.
"You can't keep a player like Pippen down for a long time," said Riley. "But our problem started in the first quarter when the Bulls made nine of their first 11 shots with us rarely getting a hand in their face. We allowed Jordan to take a lot of open jumpers. We got more intense defensively in the second half, and that's what we have to do."
Riley would not chastise Starks, a graduate from the Continental Basketball Association, and rookie guard Greg Anthony for taking low-percentage shots in the second half instead of seeking out Ewing in the low post.
"We're playing a great defensive team in the Bulls," said Riley. "You can diagram all the plays you want at the end of a game, but, ultimately, you take what you can get.