Bulls are showing strain, but Jordan still reigns

May 28, 1992|By Bill Lyon | Bill Lyon,Philadelphia Inquirer

CHICAGO -- For a long time last night, they weren't the Raging Bulls but the Waiting Bulls.

Michael Jordan waited.

Waited for Scottie Pippen.

Waited for Horace Grant.

Waited for the bench.

Waited for someone, anyone, to step to the front of the line.

In the NBA playoffs, waiting can get you waylaid.

So Jordan went ahead and jumped out of the plane first, and the rest of the Chicago Bulls finally got their chutes adjusted and followed, floating past the Cleveland Cavaliers, 112-89, in Game 5 of a series that hasn't had a tight finish yet.

Chicago is one victory away from advancing to the NBA Finals.

Or, from the Cavaliers' hopeful viewpoint, Chicago is one loss away from having to play a seventh game.

"Rather not," said Jordan.

"Rather close this out and steal a little rest. But these guys are tough to shake. They're playing better than y'all said they would."

Jordan scored 37 points and was able to retire for the evening with four minutes remaining.

But it wasn't nearly as easy as the defending champions, who are showing wear, had hoped.

The Bulls finally began to shake the Cavaliers four minutes into the final quarter, building a 14-point lead, and it wasn't so much what Chicago had at the time as who Cleveland did not have.

Mark Price.

Fresh off a long liquid diet necessitated by a stomach virus, Price had offset a wretched night by the Cavaliers' front line with his long-range shooting. But in the second minute of the fourth quarter, Price turned his left ankle and had to limp off for a re-taping.

The Cavaliers were down four points at the time, and the Bulls were playing uncertainly, apparently ready to be had. By the time they could tape up Price's ankle and get him back, the Bulls had run off to a 12-point lead.

And from there they blew out to a 25-point lead and coasted in.

Game 6 will be in Cleveland tomorrow night, and presumably the Cavaliers' frontcourt will have located its shot by then.

Brad Daugherty shot 1-for-10 and didn't score a point until the third quarter was almost over. Afterward, he said he had dislocated the middle finger on his shooting hand when he caught it in the netting early in the game.

Larry Nance was 4-for-12.

John "Hot Rod" Williams was 1-for-6.

They had no such excuses.

So that's 6-for-28 for the Cavaliers' big men, and only Price, with 24 points; the gritty Craig Ehlo, with 12; and the surprising Mike Sanders, who scored 13 but is normally used just to bump and grind and distract Pippen, made it a close game for as long as it was.

The Cavaliers missed 54 shots and shot only 37 percent.

"That'll get you beat every time," Price said.

This was supposed to be Pippen's night of atonement after his scoreless second half and petulant whining about lack of involvement after Game 4.

But Pippen missed five of his first six shots, missed four of his first five free throws, repeatedly turned the ball over, spent more time complaining to the referees than running back to play defense, got into foul trouble because of his frustration, and was pretty much a non-factor until late.

Until it no longer mattered.

He ended with respectable numbers -- 14 points, 15 rebounds and six assists -- but he missed eight shots and four free throws.

Naturally, he blamed the media.

"You guys had me competing against my own teammates," he said.

The Bulls' bench, which had been as invisible as Pippen in Game 4, contributed heavily in the fourth quarter. Actually, it was Scott Williams who contributed, playing 23 minutes, scoring 12 points and snagging eight rebounds.

The others had numbers, but they were long after the game was over.

"That'll teach you guys to criticize our bench," said B.J. Armstrong, citing the numbers but conveniently overlooking when they were amassed.

But his pique is understandable. The Bulls are feeling the heat of trying to repeat.

"It sure doesn't seem to get any easier," Jordan sighed.

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