NEW YORK -- After beating the New York Knicks in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Madison Square Garden on Saturday afternoon, Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan said: "Everybody says we're a finesse team, and to beat us, you have to be physical. But we can be physical, too."
But Jordan's bold words had a hollow ring last night as the aggressive, young Knicks manhandled the defending NBA champions in rolling to a 93-86 victory before a roaring capacity crowd of 19,763.
It evened the best-of-seven series, 2-2, with the scene shifting to Chicago for the fifth game tomorrow night.
Bulls coach Phil Jackson, who was ejected by head official Dick Bavetta after being charged with a second technical in the closing seconds of the third quarter, said his team had accomplished its mission by splitting the two games in New York and taking the home-court advantage back to Chicago.
But Jackson had to be concerned by the way his Bulls were dominated on the boards, 51-33, including a 32-21 disparity on the offensive end.
And every loose ball seemed to be controlled by the Knicks. As Knicks coach Pat Riley said: "It took 48 minutes of unbelievable effort. And now I think it puts more pressure on the Bulls than us. They know if they lose at home, we can wrap it up here on Thursday."
The aggressive rebounding of Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, Xavier McDaniel and Knicks newcomer Anthony Mason and the physical Knicks defense sent a message to Jordan and his supporting cast that they will not advance without being severely tested.
Said Mason, who has become a Garden favorite after an apprenticeship in Turkey and the CBA, "They're still the champions, and they don't scare easily. But it has to be in the back of the minds of Jordan and [Scottie] Pippen that they can't fly to the basket without expecting contact. We have to try to even things with a physical presence."
Expectedly, Jackson felt the Knicks carried things to an extreme and was ejected "for defending my team."
"Their guards were shoving our dribblers with two hands, which is supposed to be illegal, unless it's football," he said. "And on the boards, the officials were catching the second foul after a lot of pushing. But it seems that this is the kind of basketball the league wants -- a foul on every play."
Chicago's players tried to blame the loss on Jackson's ejection and the loss of his leadership in the fourth quarter, which began with the Bulls leading, 67-66. But the Bulls, who trailed by only four with three minutes left, simply couldn't match the Knicks' intensity.
Surprisingly, the Knicks gained control with a foul-hampered Ewing (15 points) on the bench at the start of the fourth quarter.
John Starks (16 points) ignited a 7-0 run with a reverse slam. Mason followed with a spinning layup. McDaniel capped the surge with a three-point play for a 73-67 cushion, and the Knicks never were headed.
McDaniel, who had been criticized for his play during the regular season, stepped up to fill Ewing's void with 24 points, including a number of aggressive drives.
"Xavier was definitely more differential during the season," said Riley. "He was trying to fill a specific role. But he's definitely stepped it up in the playoffs, and he basically took over the game when Patrick was on the bench."
Conversely, the Bulls had no one to give Jordan (29 points) significant help. Pippen managed 13 shots in being held to 13 points.
And Jordan, who usually takes over a game in the fourth quarter, was limited to seven points in the last 12 minutes while being dogged by Gerald Wilkins and a slightly sprained ankle.
Booed consistently by Knicks fans, Wilkins drew praise last night for scoring 17 points and pressuring Jordan.
"I compare my matchup with Jordan to a young heavyweight challenging Mike Tyson to a fight," said Wilkins. "Either I'm going to fall down in the first round or I'm going to battle him toe-to-toe. If I'm still standing in the 12th round, I figure it will go to a decision, and I've really won the war."
Said Jordan: "Wilkins does a good job -- a lot of elbows and arms to my back, but nothing I haven't seen before. But we can't cry about it. This is real physical combat, and we have to play above the referees."