CHICAGO -- It's probably only appropriate, when referring to Doberman defense and killer-shark mentality, that the Chicago Bulls would be talking about catching the scent.
But one victory shy from reaching their second consecutive NBA Finals, they apparently are on the trail.
"You have to taste it and smell it," Michael Jordan said. "We're one game away, so that should be incentive enough to come out and play a lot harder and lay it all on the court."
The Bulls, indeed, laid it all on the court in the fourth quarter of Wednesday's 112-89 rout of Cleveland to take a 3-2 lead into tonight's sixth game of the Eastern Conference finals. A 15-0 run to begin the final period keyed a blowout victory in a game the Bulls had led by just two points at the end of three quarters.
In any other series, Wednesday's fourth quarter might be an oddity. In this one, however, it's practically the norm -- the third time one team has outscored the other by 16 points or more in one quarter.
"It's weird," said Cleveland's Craig Ehlo. "There's no explaining it."
In the other two instances -- in Game 2 in Chicago and Game 3 in Cleveland, the lopsided scores occurred in the first quarter. In both cases, the team on the receiving end was unable to recover.
Not necessarily an unusual phenomenon during the regular season -- the Bulls made a habit this year of blowing open games in one quarter -- it has been a surprise between two rather evenly matched teams in the playoffs.
A surprise, that is, to most.
"The intensity that has to be played in playoff games is so terrific that sometimes just a little bit of a letdown, even the crowd's infusion of energy into the team, has a noticeable effect on the game," Bulls coach Phil Jackson offered.
Jordan said it is a simple matter of adjustments.
"You have two teams that are very knowledgeable about adjustments and you have players who can make them from quarter to quarter that can change the game from quarter to quarter," he said. "So I think one of the reasons for the up-and-down series is that both coaches and both teams have perfected the adjustment periods."
In the Bulls' case Wednesday, the adjustment was one with which fans should be familiar. The Bulls' raising of their defensive intensity, coupled with the Cavs' foul problems, proved a lethal combination.
"Defense is our biggest key," Jordan said. "Defense wins tournaments and it wins championships. We know that, and it's been one of the biggest characteristics of this team."
The scouting report that goes out to each player before games, Jackson explained, has the Bulls' motto written atop it in capital letters: Defense wins.
"You're not always going to make shots," Jackson said. "But teams that get to this level have great defense. If your defense can hang in there, you can always stay around to win a game."
All that leaves the Bulls at Richfield Coliseum tonight with the very real possibility of once again following a victory with a defeat.
The Cavs, despite injuries to key players Brad Daugherty (hyperextended middle finger on his shooting hand) and Mark Price (mild ankle sprain), don't seem overwhelmed by the challenge.
"We played 40 very good minutes [Wednesday night]," a philosophical Ehlo said. "And Boston blew us out in Game 6 [of the conference semifinals], so we can reflect on that."
As for the Bulls, Jackson said, the mission gets less and less complicated all the time.
"The most important thing is winning right now and just getting it done," he said. "Who contributes and how it's done is not important. Just getting it on the board is important."
"The big key," Jordan said, "is if we can carry that momentum [from the fourth quarter] from Chicago Stadium to Richfield Coliseum. This is a time of unity with our team, and we have to do it together on the basketball court.
"We expect them to come out with a lot of intensity at home. The crowd is going to give them more encouragement.