Jordan's stretch run closes down Bullets Bulls star takes over near end of 107-99 win

December 18, 1992|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

LANDOVER -- The Chicago Bulls, critics say, have been playing at three-quarter speed in defense of their back-to-back NBA titles.

But even in cruise control, the Bulls proved too quick and efficient for the Washington Bullets last night, holding off a late rally for a 107-99 victory before a sellout crowd of 18,756.

Despite lacking leading scorer Harvey Grant (shin splints) and Pervis Ellison (foul problems) the Bullets remained competitive.

Twice, in the closing minutes, they drew within four, but Michael Jordan always responded in typical fashion.

Jordan scored 28 points, but 10 of those came in the last five minutes to help Chicago boost its record to 15-6. The Bullets, losing their fifth straight game, dropped to 7-15.

Rookie forward Tom Gugliotta led Washington with 25 points and 13 rebounds.

In the last quarter, Jordan informed Bullets rookie Doug Overton he was "ready to take over."

It was more than brash talk as the Bulls superstar scored on jumpers, baseline drives, stuffs and free throws to keep his team in front.

"I was really struggling the first three quarters," said Jordan, who finished a sub-par 12 of 29 from the field. "But in the last quarter I was able to take advantage of my height by posting up Overton."

Said Overton, "When you're going against someone like Jordan, you can be intimidated or go down fighting. I went down clawing and scratching as best I could. He knew I was out there."

For Bullets coach Wes Unseld, the game boiled down to the Bulls having a "go-to" guy in Jordan in crunch time.

"When you have someone like that on your team, it makes all the difference in the world," said Unseld, who had previously tried to control Jordan with the taller Rex Chapman and Buck Johnson.

Most teams would not have to apologize for winning 70 percent of their games, but the two-time and defending champion Bulls find themselves in this unusual predicament and agree with the critics that they need "fine-tuning."

There is definitely something to this three-peat business, both mentally and physically, acknowledged Jordan.

"It's human nature," Jordan said. "You do the same thing over and over again, and it's hard to push yourself. It's hard to explain. We've got the same basic nine players we've used the last two seasons, but we're just not playing with the same intensity."

Statistically, power forward Horace Grant -- Harvey's twin brother -- has seen his scoring average drop three points from last year to the current 11.2 per game.

"That's mainly because our transition game has been terrible," said Jordan. "Horace usually benefits by getting a lot of layups off our break or me or Scottie [Pippen] penetrating. But that hasn't happened often enough this season."

Grant has his own theory as to why the Bulls aren't on a pace to match their record 67 victories of last season.

"I think Michael and Scottie were worn down by the Olympic experience," he said. "It slowed them early in the season. Now they're just starting to catch their second wind."

Grant got the Bulls off to a 6-0 start with a pair of putbacks. But the Bullets, after missing their first four shots, answered with five straight points.

Washington then committed three turnovers and Chicago capitalized by boosting its lead to 15-7 with Jordan getting a pair of slam dunks.

Gugliotta joined Johnson in sparking a 7-2 run to trim the deficit to 21-19, with Gugliotta's three-pointer capping the spurt. The Bullets finally pulled even on Chapman's 15-footer. But Jordan countered with a jam off a lob pass.

A three-point play by Ellison put the Bullets on top, 30-29, to start the second quarter. Stacey King and Rodney McCray came off '' the Bulls bench to sponsor an 11-4 spurt. But the Bullets regrouped to tie it at 40 with rookie Don MacLean doing most of the damage.

After two more ties, the Bulls broke loose for seven straight points to forge ahead, 53-46.

Chicago's lead ballooned to 72-58 in the first four minutes of the second half. B. J. Armstrong accounted for six of the Bulls' points.

Michael Adams and MacLean then sparked a Bullets comeback, slicing the deficit to 76-68 while Jordan took a breather.

When Jordan returned, MacLean had the unenviable job of policing him. The Bullets tried double-teaming him, but that left Armstrong free on the wing for open jumpers. After three quarters, the Bulls led, 82-74.

Chicago increased its lead to 86-74 in the opening minutes of the final quarter before Overton hit a baseline jumper and Adams followed with a three-pointer.

Jordan answered with a jam when Overton fell down defending him. But Adams made it 88-83 with a free throw and 20-foot jump shot.

Pippen stopped this Bullets rally by hitting a three-pointer. Moments later, he converted a rebound.

Washington, led by Overton, mounted another comeback, trimming the margin to 94-90 with 5 1/2 minutes left, but Jordan beat Overton on the baseline and followed moments later with a layup for a 98-90 Chicago lead.

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